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!!!"