So my long-time, pre-Dork-40, readers already know this, but for the rest of you... My day job gets pretty crazy three or four times a year, and my funnybook writing slows to a crawl. Late summer/early fall is one of those times, and it's now upon me with a vengeance. So while I won't be abandoning the blog completely over the next month, the entries will probably be a lot shorter. Which brings me to today's post about Cowboy Batman...
Return of Bruce Wayne #4 (of 6)
by Grant Morrison, Georges Jeanty, and Walden Wong
The first thing I noticed about this issue, and the first thing I should point out, is the sub-par artwork. Georges Jeanty turns in the kind of work here that I'd expect to see on a third-rate Wildstorm book, or a cheaply knocked-off film adaptation, rather than a tentpole mini-series for DC's most lucrative franchise. It's clumsy stuff, with stiff figures and a distracting lack of detail. Jeanty also seems to have difficulty drawing people in hats. Which is unfortunate, considering that this issue is set in the Old West; all the cowboy hats in this comic look crooked. But not crooked in the way that hats look when someone's wearing them wrong. They're crooked in ways that could never actually happen. It's like they're free-floating, awkwardly, just a half-milimeter off the head, and turned just exactly wrong so that the hat's never quite in proper perspective with the rest of the head. I notice this perhaps because I used to have the exact same problem drawing hats as a kid, back when I had illusions of being able to draw. Whatever the reason I noticed, it drives me bugfuck.
But hats are hardly the only weakness in Jeanty's art for this issue. Other than a nice two-page spread of Wild-West-era Gotham, Jeanty does nothing to enhance the story, and in fact works to actively damage it in places. There's a key scene near the end, for instance, where it's not entirely clear who Batman's beating up. Or why he's doing it, since that character had been shown laying flat on his face only one panel before. I figured it out, but was so distracted by having to figure it out that I missed the importance of a pretty key piece of dialogue until the second reading.
Granted, the clarity of Jeanty's art was not helped by Grant Morrison's script. With this "super-compressed" style he's using right now, Morrison's artists have to really be on the ball to keep the dialogue from feeling disjointed. Jeanty was clearly not up to the task, and so some of the conversational leaps some characters are taking really stuck out this time around. This is especially bad in the case of Vandal Savage (him again!), who spends the entire issue sucking down laudanum and is thus not making the best sense anyway.
I do really like Morrison's use of Savage here, though: in this era, he's "Monsieur Sauvage," a Frenchman who fled to America following the defeat of Napoleon. He's drinking so much laudanum to deal with the pain of the cancer he's got growing in his gut; Savage can't die, but neither can the cancer, and so he's trapped in a very painful stalemate with his own biology. (As a side note, Savage may have appeared in last issue's pirate story also; the Wikipedia informs me that Savage has, in the past, claimed to have been Blackbeard!).
At any rate. Old West Vandal Savage is working with one Doctor Thomas Wayne, familiar to those of us who've been following Morrison's Batman work as the devil-worshipping Revolutionary-War-era blacksheep of the Wayne family. Here, we're told that he's 150 years old (though he barely looks a day over 30), and that he's gained immortality through "blood." Savage seems interested in finding other means of maintaining his own immortality (it seems he also wouldn't be too terribly upset if the world ended, though that might just be the drugs talking). Which is all well and good, but it's Thomas Wayne I'm most interested in here. This Thomas Wayne is a strong suspect for being the secret identity of Dr. Hurt, the primary villain of Morrison's Batman run overall. And discovering that Thomas is immortal suddenly propels him into the number one spot.
In another odd piece of the detective story Morrison's been telling in this series, this issue seems to confirm that the Miagani bat-tribe, which has mysteriously disappeared by Old West times, has apparently inter-married with the family of Van Derm, the Dutch architect who designed part of Gotham, and (if I remember correctly) Wayne Manor. The Van Derms have previously been shown as the protectors of the Bat-Casket that's played such a pivotal role in the story, and in this issue they're also shown to be in possession of a sacred Miagani artifact that dates back to the caveman days we saw in the first issue. One of these Old-West-era Miagani Van Derms also becomes Bruce Wayne's great-great grandmother in this issue, tying Our Hero, by blood, to the two families that have protected his legacy throughout time.
It also makes him a direct descendant of Anthro the Cave-Boy, now that I think of it. Which means... Bear with me here, and cast your mind back to Final Crisis... Which means that Metron actually planted the seeds of Darkseid's defeat in more ways than one when he gave Anthro the gift of fire. Yes, he gave Anthro the Life Equation symbol that freed humanity from Anti-Life. But he also set in motion a series of events that would, one day, lead to the birth of Bruce Wayne, the man who killed Darkseid. And then Bruce Wayne, himself, took an active hand in how those events played out. So... We're looking at a self-constructing god-machine built to fire the bullet that would end Darkseid's physical existence. Which means that the Wayne family, and by extension Bruce Wayne...
Well, holy shit.
Batman is a gun.
I was going to say a little more about this issue in particular, but... Wow. I think I need to go have a nap now...
Story Grade: A
Art Grade: D-
(Afterthought: Thanks to Brother Dave, Batman Fan #1 down at my Local Funnybook Store, for the title of today's post. He is a low comedy genius!)