Batman #656, by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert
Well, he justified the Lichtensteins, anyway. The pop-art paintings that so vexed me last month are played for beautiful effect in Grant Morrison's second issue of Batman, acting as a chorus on Batman's brouhaha with a squad of ninja man-bats and wittily interacting with the combatants. Amazingly, Morrison doesn't go for the obvious gag of William Dozier POW!s and ZAP!s illuminating the melee but he isn't exactly hiding his influences under a bushel, either. This comic gleefully excavates the strange, sexy, or just plain silly parts of the Batman saga that have been edged out of the frame by twenty years of monotonous Millerisms. Batman isn't quite as clinical about its reclamations as All-Star Superman, though; if the latter can occasionally feel like a museum exhibition of bygone tropes, the former is just a straight-ahead romp by a creator who's popular enough to ignore the entrenched mistakes of the last two decades.
The flipside is that All-Star Superman never seems to be playing down to its audience. There's still no indication why an aid for Africa charity would meet in such a frivolous locale, or why a museum of popular culture would also house a gigantic upside-down (and apparently real) dinosaur. The whole Aid for Africa set-up seems to be there largely to give the resuscitated "Bruce Wayne, fop" persona an excuse to mock the charity's mission and, come to think of it, the entire concept of charity in general. And maybe to add a touch of hip celebrity social engagement--some thirteen months out of date--before Wayne undercuts it, much to the amusement of supermodel head of state Jezebel Jet (a name that manages to try too hard and not nearly hard enough) who I'm sure is not at all a supervillain. I wouldn't want any Batman comic, especially this one, to be "about" African aid, but there's something mildly perverse about using continent-wide poverty as the staging for such frivolity. Hey, Bruce, we have something in common--I can't stand art with no content either.
And that's all I've got. This was an exasperating week for comics: the dog days of summer brought me two more installments of 52 that were monthly comics in weekly drag (it's really time to bail) and a Daredevil fill-in that squanders whatever noirish suspense Foggy's witness protection stint might have generated for a fight scene with ninjas of the non-man-bat variety. Batman #656 was the best of the lot but there is no honor in this victory. It's mildly frustrating to see Morrison speaking about his take on the character so eloquently (and hilariously--"a sour-faced, sexually-repressed, humorless, uptight, angry, and all-round grim 'n' gritty Batman would be more likely to join the Taliban surely?") while his first two issues have remained so glib. The Newsarama interview speaks to a tremendous depth--not a thematic or symbolic depth, but a depth of feeling for the character and his milieu and a simple depth of craft--that still hasn't quite worked its way to the surface.