Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chronic Review: Batman # 696

Batman # 696
DC Comics

Script: Tony Daniel

Pencils: Tony Daniel

22 pages for $ 2.99

DC Week continues with a run at the Dick Grayson version of Batman. Fans of this blog will remember that I was particularly enamored with Batman during Morrison's RIP arc. I haven't checked in on Bats since Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader", which was sort of a Bruce Wayne send-off. I was interested to see what would happen to the character with a penciller at the writing helm and a sidekick beneath the cowl. Is this amateur night in Gotham, or are these two ready for prime time?

Well.....neither Grayson nor Daniel are embarrassing themselves. Feint praise, I guess, but I'm feeling a bit lukewarm over this fifth installment of "Life After Death." Once again, I'm jumping in not even at the middle of an arc, but the end. Surely this does nothing to help my enjoyment of the story. I was able to basically keep up with the plot developments, (at least I think I was) but it took multiple readings.

Daniel's story structure was not helpful. "Mind Games" begins at the end, then jumps back nine hours and scoots forward in clumps from there. Flashbacks and chronological skips have their place, (see Christopher Nolan's "Memento" for an unorthodox time progression that helps storytelling) but I don't know what purpose it really served here. I think that young writers and pencillers-turned-writers feel a need to pop wheelies and pull rabbits out of their hats to prove something to their readers. This might be what's happening here.

The big villain for the arc is a legitimately creepy cat that goes by Black Mask, and his schtick (sorry, Miracle Keith) is mind control via gas masks. Hey, it's comic books, folks. Roll with it.

Somehow the Black Mask got one of these mind control devices on Batman, but the Mad Hatter (in conjunction with The Penguin) has usurped control of him via his ridiculous hat. It seems like Hatter's instructions then have Grayson obsessed with assassinating the Black Mask. Is there a grudge match between the Hatter and Black Mask? I don't know.

Like I said, the whole thing is very confusing what with the jumping about, and I'm coming in five bars from the end of the song trying to piece the damn thing together.

There are things to like about this issue of Batman. The opening scene has the impossibly bratty Damian Robin yell "Epic Fail!" at his mentor. And just to fully demonstrate the professionalism involved, Daniel has Damian call Batman "Grayson" in the field, which is wildly inappropriate. Meanwhile, a battered, perhaps fatally ill Dick Grayson still has the presence to refer to his partner as "Robin". It was a nice touch.

There is a character working with Catwoman named Kitrina, and she actually had some energy behind her. Daniel seems to have more fun writing and drawing these charming, goofy expressions on her facing during that bit scene than he did writing and drawing Batman. But she wasn't a large enough part of the issue to really steal the show.

Batman the detective is still very much in play here as well. Dick is able to stay ahead enough in the game to inject himself with enough antidote to Black Mask's toxins, that he's able to stay vaguely coherent and exercise a little free will instead of fully succumbing to the Mask's influence. He's able to piece together the Black Mask's identity via an Aristotle reference and investigating the bullets recovered from his chest plate as well.

And I guess that's enough to establish that Grayson is able to maintain the status quo, but it seems to me that establishing something new, unique, and more interesting would be a better goal to shoot for. I see no evidence of new, unique, or anything of particular interest here. It's not bad by any definition I know. It's clear to me that Tony Daniel is a very capable writer, this is not just a penciller pretending to the throne. But the work in this issue isn't compelling enough to make me want to continue with Batman, either.

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