Tom Joad does not yell at his chauffeur. Scout Finch doesn't lynch people. Sherlock Holmes doesn't get stuck doing the TV Guide crossword puzzle.
That's because John Steinbeck, Harper Lee and Arthur Conan Doyle understood their characters. They don't insult their readers and waste our time by having them behave in ways that are not in keeping with their natures.
James Robinson does insult us and waste our time with the irritating Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory, perhaps the worst story told about the character in more than 70 years. Robinson in his acclaimed series of Starman comic books created many characters as memorable as any in, say, Dickens. But here he has Batman, known for more than half a century as "The World's Greatest Detective", stumble through page after page after page absolutely baffled by something that is obvious even to those of us with intellects as withered as raisins.
To make clear the dimwittedness of Robinson's Batman, it is necessary to give away a large portion of the story. This isn't spoiling anything because Robinson has already spoiled everything.
Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory begins with Batman butchering several people. Of course this is not what one expects of the hero and it quickly becomes clear that he wasn't himself. Batman had been possessed by an evil spirit that forced him to commit the carnage.
For most of the rest of the book, Commissioner James Gordon wants to butcher Batman. The Caped Crusader can't figure out why. He says he's "never known Jim this . . . vengeful. Especially against me. It's . . . ." And then he struggles for words to make sense of what mystifies him.
Much later, he is stunned when Gordon uses helicopters and sharpshooters to try to catch him. "Jim," he sputters, "I'm your friend." Gordon snarls, "Not anymore." Later still, Batman is puzzled when Gordon knows something he shouldn't. "How did he know --," Batman wonders, while Gordon pummels him with his fists. "He must be --."
That is the word Batman is searching for but doesn't find. Readers have known for more than 70 pages. Batman should know too. He remembers that he was taken over by a malevolent force and so there is no reason for it not to occur to him that perhaps the same thing has happened to Gordon. No reason, that is, besides careless storytelling.
Batman is one of the most complex characters in all of fiction. Dozens of writers and artists have made him everything from a dark avenger to a clown, from an elemental force for justice to a campy TV show punchline. But Batman has never been stupid.
Robinson's Batman is. That destroys a tale that could have been engaging, one which features supernatural elements and spotlights Deadman, a ghost who serves a divine being that embodies all the gods that have ever been.
Usually in comic books and graphic novels, the art serves the story. Here it saves it. John Estes draws on influences from Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali and others but he creates something unique. His images are surreal, dreamlike and otherworldly. The visions he conjures are as evocative as Robinson's story is clumsy.
Take a look at Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory for Estes' art but read Grant Morrison's and Dave McKean's Batman: Arkham Asylum, A Serious House on Serious Earth for a Batman book in which haunting illustrations serve a superior story.
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About the reviewer
Mar 17, 2012
Jun 22, 2012 03:59 AM UTC