Thursday, October 28, 2010
I haven't read the titles of the various bat-characters besides Batman too much since -- no typo here -- the Seventies. That's not to say none -- I read a few of the Red Robins in Yost's run, and most of the last several of Nightwing, and I've read some others along the way, including back issues pertaining to big events. But mainly it's foreign to me, and it's been a while since I've read that which I've read.
I think crossovers are usually inherently weak because a larger plot is handed to writers who operate better when they are setting their own agenda. To make the parts fit together, there has to be some pretty specific instruction about how each issue begins and ends, and constraints on what happens in the middle. I don't expect much of a crossover no matter which characters are involved, and which writers are contributing.
That may explain the feeling I got at most times, that the writer was largely going through the motions, and following familiar patterns, not much different than, say, JLA comics of the Sixties. The heroes uniformly exceed expectations, the villains are slightly overconfident, and we find those things out mainly because someone is saying them.
Heat flows from a warm body to a cool body, and the comics about Batman's supporting characters usually derive much of their energy from Batman himself. It flatters a supporting character to have Batman guest in their titles; in this case, the crossover is about Bruce Wayne although the supporting cast appear as each issue's title character (Yes, Commissioner Gordon has a tough-looking logo; doesn't your city's police commissioner?). These interactions deviate fairly little from a standard template: Bruce questions his proteges' performance but has, overall, faith in them. Given that similarity, and the requirements to start and end in predetermined places, the stories don't allow a lot of room for creativity.
Fabian Nicieza, who wrote three of the seven issues, gets the most leeway. He also wrote the beginning and ending of the crossover so he didn't, unlike the other four writers, have to pass the baton with every issue's start and finish. He takes advantage of the leeway to create some interesting situations: Bruce working against Dick and Damian, and sparring, as part of a ruse, with Tim. Nicieza also gives R'as an interesting sideplot concerning his memory; the topic of immortals' memory has also come up in Return of Bruce Wayne and before that in the works of Borges; one wonders which inspirations led to Nicieza concocting that subplot for the seventh and final issue.
Two characters who are not the title character for any issue have larger parts that spans the seven issues. Vicki Vale has Bruce's secret and takes a long time to figure out what to do with it. Her hesitancy fills her life with danger and also makes her story overlong and tiresome; we knew that she wouldn't reveal the secret anyway.
The other character to appear in each issue is, naturally, Batman himself, wearing a capeless, Iron-Man-esque version of his usual costume. When not protecting Ms. Vale, he is checking up on his allies in the guise of "the Insider", making his evaluations and generally doling out passing grades.
The compressed release schedule allowed the whole set of issues to come back in two Wednesdays a week apart. The first fourteen issues of Batman and Robin add up to only twice the number of comics but took fifteen months to come out. So, the road home was not a long one. Nor did it provide many sights relative to its length. It leads, it seems, not home at all, because the final stinger tells us to look for Batman, Inc., which will leave Gotham by the second issue. Bruce's return to the modern day earns a lot less fanfare than one might expect from the company's flagship character taking a two-year absence.