Tuesday, June 14, 2005

DETECTIVE COMICS #617 DC Comics, 1990

Okay, since I’m going to go check out Batman Begins tomorrow I thought I’d check out an old Batman comic. You know, I still can’t get past the name "Batman Begins," but I guess it’s better than Batman Forever or Batman’s Dance Party or whatever that last one was called. Anyway, let’s take a look at Detective Comics #617, and most importantly, let’s do it without any profanity because it is No Profanity Week here at the Long Box.

Of all the regular monthly Batman creative teams, my favorite is the double-threat of writer Alan Grant and artist Norm Breyfogle. Those cork-sucking bastitches made some darn good comic books! They worked together on both Batman and Detective Comics, and I defy anyone to show me a creative team who delivered better work on a monthly basis than those two cats.

Alan Grant’s scripts were street-level sagas of sin and suffering. He never forgot that Batman fights crime. In almost every issue he beats up some muggers, usually while he’s en route to some other more pressing engagement, like a rampaging Hindu demon. In addition to back-alley brawling, Grant’s stories featured a hefty dose of the supernatural and a nice balance between classic Batman villains like The Penguin and The Joker and new adversaries like Scarface and The Ventriloquist, Anarky, and The Corrosive Man. One thing I particularly liked about Grant’s version of Batman was that he was human – he made mistakes, he got captured, and he got beat up a lot. Batman’s a versatile enough character to fit into different storylines and genres, but I like the urban avenger model of Batman the best, as opposed to the hyper-competent JLA version of Batman with the sci-fi closet who takes on aliens and stuff. I understand that he needs to be that way in some comics in order to keep up with the titans of the Justice League, but I can’t reconcile that version of Batman – the one that beats the um, poo out of Martians – with the Batman who works up a sweat taking out a gang of bikers. I think Batman should be the toughest mamajama in Gotham, not the “deadliest man alive.” That’s why I dig Alan Grant’s take on the character. You actually wondered, “Man, how is Batman possibly going to defeat this rampaging Hindu demon?” instead of “Why doesn’t he just bust out his Anti-Demon Mace?”

Norm Breyfogle’s art frickin’ rules! It rules, I say! Sometimes I think the way Breyfogle draws regular characters is a little too stylized and verges on caricature, but when it comes to Batman and the freaks and creeps he fights, he’s solid gold, baby.

Breyfogle’s Batman is lean, powerful, and athletic. You really believe this guy could jump around on batlines and flip around like a freakin’ monkey. Plus, Breyfogle draws a great cape. Based on the dramatic needs of the story, Batman’s cape varies in length from six feet to a full-on Spawn-size thirty foot black shroud. It looks great. Plus, his action scenes are so full of motion and energy. Don’t take my word for it – check it out, here’s Batman cutting across some rooftops trying to catch a fleeing Joker in a car:

See? I’ll take stylized speed lines like that over stiff photo-realism any day of the week.

Detective Comics #617 is a flashback issue to a previous fight between Batman and The Joker that took place three years ago. I figure that’s in comic book time, which is like dog years in reverse, which would place the story in, oh, 1973 or so. Anyway, the framing device for the flashback is a visit Batman makes to a Gotham fortune teller. I know that sounds corny, but bear with me.

In the previous issue Batman learns that The Joker is alive and back in Gotham. I’m not a continuity geek, but I believe that Batman believed Joker died at the end of the Death of Robin storyline and this is the first time he and the readers have seen the Clown Prince of Crime since then. Correct me if I’m wrong (Dan Coyle). Anyway, Batman learns The Joker is back and goes hunting for him. He stops a creep – Alan Grant’s Batman refers to all criminals as “creeps” – from robbing the aforementioned fortune teller, and on a whim, decides to see if she can help him locate The Joker.

This leads into a flashback mini-story and sets up the theme of the comic, which is all about symbolism and how both Batman and The Joker embody certain universal archetypes and symbols that appear in different cultures. That’s right, Alan Grant gets all deep and Jungian on our, um, butts. In the flashback, The Joker and his goons crash a charity exhibition called “Symbols Through the Ages” at a museum that Bruce Wayne is attending and starts phugging stuff up.

Here’s The Joker in action:

As always, Bruce manages to slip into his Batman costume and kick some butt. The Joker traps Batman under a totem pole and lights the museum on fire, making good his escape. Is this the end of Batman? Umm, no. He gets all pumped up in his internal monologue – “I – am – the BAT!!!” and with a feat of almost superhuman strength lifts the totem pole and saves the museum patrons. Then he sets off over the rooftops of Gotham after The Joker, who is fleeing in a car. Batman keeps up his internal monologue about bat symbolism as he pursues his quarry. I guess he has a copy of Hero with a Thousand Faces in the Batmobile’s glove box or something. He does a Chuck Norris move and kicks The Joker in the head through the windshield – end of flashback. (What they don’t show is The Joker going through the turnstile of the justice system, getting committed to Arkham for the 500th time, and escaping for the 501st time, killing several guards in the process, only to be stopped by Batman again, et cetera…)

Although Grant does pound the reader over the head with the symbolism thing, I still like this issue because at least it’s got something subtextual going on besides the usual fisticuffs. And hey, a well-drawn Batman jumping around and beating the snot out of people? That’s never a bad thing.

Now let’s hope the movie is as good as they say it is. If I see any Bat-Ice Skates, I’m asking for my money back.

Hey! I made it through another post with No Profanity! Ric Flair, can I get a “wooo?”

"No profanity! Wooo!!!"


gorjus said...

Man, the Breyfogyle is . . . the breyfogylist!! The Clayface trilogy was THE AWEXXOMES, and you're right about his dynamic style--his panel design, use of blacks, and "flow" are seriously underappreciated.

Brad Curran said...

Their run on Detective are the Batman comics that I started on as a kid, after seeing the movie. I followed Wolfman's run on Batman (I think it was with Aparo), too. Since I bought my comics at convenience and grocery stores, my collection of their run is bitty, but I do have the original Anarky two-parter, at least.

"One thing I particularly liked about Grant’s version of Batman was that he was human – he made mistakes, he got captured, and he got beat up a lot. Batman’s a versatile enough character to fit into different storylines and genres, but I like the urban avenger model of Batman the best, as opposed to the hyper-competent JLA version of Batman with the sci-fi closet who takes on aliens and stuff. I understand that he needs to be that way in some comics in order to keep up with the titans of the Justice League, but I can’t reconcile that version of Batman – the one that beats the um, poo out of Martians – with the Batman who works up a sweat taking out a gang of bikers."

I get what you're saying, but I don't have the same problem reconciling the different versions of the character. Beyond the fact that I adore the idea that he has a sci-fi closet, I want their to be as many takes on the archetyple characters as possible, if they're going to be so overexposed.

Me, I think every writer should be able to do their own thing with the character. What I like about Batman, especially, is that Denny O'Neil's version different from Frank Miller's different from the animated series version is different from Grant Morrison's while still being Batman. I wish more writers would do their own version of the character, instead of aping Miller's or Morrison's versions of the character, or worse, combining the worst aspects of their takes in to a grim, insufferable asshole who is also ridiculously competent, which is the vibe I get off of him in most of his appearences these days.

Brad Curran said...

All that said, you've yet again earned a whoo, which is no small distinction. I hear it took Lex Luger and Sting years to get half of one (a "wh," I guess), so you're already ahead of them.

David Campbell said...

Brad, good point, I'm with you on the different versions thing - maybe I should edit my post to make it more clear. I don't mind having different versions of Batman, I just prefer the vigilante version the best. I just prefer one version over all the others. I like Denny O'Neil's Batman international-spy version, the Giffen Justice League humorless hard-ass version, and of course, Miller's militant Dark Knight. For my money, I prefer a more stripped down Year One type guy, but I think there's room for all the other incarnations. Man, I remember how cool Grant Morrison's Batman was in that first JLA arc - where he schools all those Martians? That was effin' brilliant! So, many Batmans for many people, that's what I say.

Anonymous said...

But what happened to all the itallics we've all grown to love?

Anonymous said...

I dunno, i always thought it was weird that Batman couild kick the hell out of Superman but have a hard time with The Penguin...

Kevin Church said...

Um. Um. Um.

I loathe Breyfogle and now Campbell, by proxy.

Which is better than loving Campbell by Proty, which makes no sense at all, but lets me slide in an old-sk00l Legion reference.

But, c'mon, how can you like Breyfogle when he's responsible for abortions like this? He's never met a face that he couldn't flatten or an angle he couldn't take too far. Disappointed in you, my internet chum. So. Very. Disappointed.

Martin Wisse said...


To blame Breyfogyle for deliberately overexaggerating Prime's physique is silly.

The concept of that series was after all that Prime was the hero created from a young boy's superhero fantasies: of course it's going to be over the edge and wrong.

I'm with Dave: the Grant and Breyfogyle Batman was excellent.

kelvingreen said...

'...Alan Grant’s Batman refers to all criminals as "creeps"...'

That's probably Grant channelling his Judge Dredd days.

I love the "in Ireland, I am simply DEATH" bit. I just get this image of Irishmen sitting around refusing to use the "Batman" name.

"I'm Batman"
"No yer not, yer Simply Death to us."

David Campbell said...

Kelvin wins.

Beaucoup Kevin, no fair dragging Prime into it! You must hate freedom and democracy - yeah, that's it. Anybody that disagrees with me is an enemy of freedom!

Okay, I'd be the first to admit that Breyfogle's stuff doesn't work for every book, and that sometimes his regular people look weird, but that mudderfugger could draw Batman!

Kevin Church said...

Sure, Prime was based on some (obviously hydroencephalitic) brat's fantasies. It still looked grotesque instead of powerful. I still think the man doesn't know how to construct a person's face from anything other than a full-90-degrees frontal shot and that distracts me terribly, even if he occasionally drew something halfway dynamic.

If you expect further commentary, I'm terribly sorry; I'm going to be furiously masturbating over a copy of the constitution, since I hate America and our Freedoms so much. You only have yourself to blame for this, Campbell, since I was going to wait until I got home, but you got me so worked up at the office.

David Campbell said...


Okay, now Kevin wins.

Greg said...

Kevin masturbates over seemingly innocuous items quite a bit. Shouldn't he just check out some porn?

Breyfogle is awesome. My best friend hates him, but I'm still best friends with him. It remains a bone of contention. He and Grant on Detective remain a high point of the title.

N said...

"You actually wondered, "Man, how is Batman possibly going to defeat this rampaging Hindu demon?" instead of "Why doesn't he just bust out his Anti-Demon Mace?""

This, in a nutshell, is why continutity is impossible in the DCU. the guy in the JLA ain't the Batman who fights the Joker.

Kevin Church said...

I am now masturbating over Greg's comment. Yeah, baby, you like that, don't you? We're going to have us a bukkake party tonight.

Winterteeth said...

Do masturbation references make Ric Flair cry?

I am definitely a fan of the Breyfogle on Batman. Did anyone read his and Grant's Anarky series? Wacky stuff. I would also like to thank them for bringing back Ace the bathound in an almost ridiculous manner (he was adopted from a dead Indian, like Jim Morrison). Also, the Catman vs. Catwoman story was cool. Remember one issue stories?

Greg said...

Now I have to go shower. Thanks a lot, Kevin.

I forgot to mention that about your post, Dave - it is pretty cool that Grant had Batman fighting foes against whom he has no chance. That page of the six-armed tulpa holding Bats about to chop him into little bits is awesome. I do like that Batman better than Morrison's superhuman, although in context, Morrison's can be fun too.

David Campbell said...

Ric Flair is crying right now!

Kevin Church said...

Ric Flair's tears are that of a real American, I'm sure.

Konstantinos Stamoulis said...

Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, huh?

Well, if you dig Alan Grant's stuff, you should all check out (if you haven't, that is) Batman: Scottish Connection by him and Frank Quitely.

The cover is one of the most boring pieces of work by Frank Quitely ever and the title makes it seem a lame concept: Batman in Scotland... sheesh, as Stan Lee would put it - but no, it simply isn't like that...

Well you know Frank Quitely ; a keen grasp on what makes comics work, Monica Bellucci-jaw dropping, mouth watering beauty and Steven Hawking genius ( Dave, if you 're reading this and you 'd like to, I want those names to link to an appropriate picture - I don't know how to do it myself ). This comic ROCKS! ( link to a Van Halen picture )

And yes, photo-realism in comics sucks. Greg Horn and Alex Ross are overrated hacks and they suck. One could argue them being suxx0rz, without much effort.
Many art school students who are in to comics could easily create comics such as theirs, but who cares for soul-less and bland comics anyway?

To recap my post: Frank Quitely is god and check out 'Batman: Scottish connection'.

PS May the omnipotent Oshtur guide thee always, Dave! and grant that I may some day repay thee for exposing that over-rated hack Greg Horn and his abomination of a comic - J.U.D.G.E.

David Campbell said...

Thanks Konstantinos - I have actually not read that, but now I want to! If it's Scottish, sign me up. Except for haggis.

Adrian said...

Your review has motivated me to check some of the Grant/Breyfogle run out. It took me a while to be interested in Batman, because of the aforementioned "grim, insufferable asshole who is also ridiculously competent" vibe in most modern books, but when I started reading a friend's copy of "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" I was hooked.

I'd like to see you try to get through a Rob Liefeild comic without swearing. THEN, I'd be impressed.

Adrian said...

Also--that is such a rockin' cover. Almost as rockin' as yesterday's. They sure don't make 'em like that anymore.

Brad Curran said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brad Curran said...

"So, many Batmans for many people, that's what I say."

Cool to see we have something in common, here, Dave. I always knew there was a reason I liked you besides the fact that Ric Flair endorses you and you're hilarious. While it's also cool that I can make someone want to edit their work with a post in a comment section, I don't think that you lacked clarity in your post. It's more that the whole "many Batman for many people" thing is one of my favorite topics when it comes to superheroes.

lazy_cg said...

YAY! The clown prince of crime has come back!

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