Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Batman #687

Batman #687

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Ed Benes
Inker: Rob Hunter
DC
Released: June 10, 2009





Battle For The Cowl was a miserable failure. Where it failed most glaringly is in its attempt to portray the immensity of the shadow of Batman and the insane near-impossibility of the task of taking up his mantle, it crossed the line so dramatically and without pity into ludicrous parody. In its wake, Gotham City has become an utter war zone engulfed by gang warfare at every level from the big crime families down to the lowliest street crews. Every cape and mask has descended upon the city in a seemingly futile attempt to quell an avalanche of lawlessness that will not be stopped until it has consumed everything in it's maniacally riotous path. The military and National Guard have been called in. Misguided vigilantes have taken to mass hangings of criminals off traffic lights. Arkham Asylum is ablaze and all the inmates are loosed on the poor innocent citizens of Gotham. It is completely ridiculous, pushing the boundaries of logic beyond what should even be acceptable for a superhero comic. It has set up a scenario in which anyone now stepping up to take over the cowl would have to be absolutely superhuman, for simply slipping on the pointy ears certainly could not be enough to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. The creators and architects of this event painted themselves into a corner with a kerosene brush, and now it is all blowing up in their face.

Batman #687 serves as the epilogue to BFTC and though it is penned by a different writer, Judd Winick, it continues along the same derisible path laid out by Tony Daniels in the mini-series. It is a clichéd mess that ricochets between moments of heavy-handed saccharine melodrama and laughably idiotic action set-pieces that only prove that Winick has no grip on the particulars of the story or understanding of the core concepts.

In an early sequence, four men armed with armor-piercing ammo and military grade body armor are able to trek FOURTEEN BLOCKS on FOOT from a botched bank heist, shooting everything in sight, setting off massive explosions and destruction along their path, holding off the Gotham Police, who seem so completely incompetent and ill-equipped to handle the situation. Apparently the GCPD has no SWAT teams or riot police, and apparently the National Guard and military units that have been supposedly patrolling the city are no where in sight, either. These four men on foot are such an overwhelming force, capable even of bringing down police helicopters, that the only thing capable of stopping them.....is a net! Yes, Nightwing swoops down in Batmobile and flings a net over the four assailants and completely incapacitates them. All their firepower, their kevlar-piercing rounds, their body-armor, all of it rendered facile by the drop of a weighted fishing net. One questions how this small militia managed to fail in their attempt to rob the bank in the first place. To describe this as farcical would be both an understatement and an insult to the word farcical.

Later, the Scarecrow manages to lay land mines and chemical weapons, as well as a surveillance system, all around a major Gotham bridge, holding the entire city hostage, threatening to unleash a city-engulfing cloud of fear toxin. Apparently, the feeble and mincing Jonathan Crane does this all single-handedly and in the blink of an eye, because he has caught all law-enforcement and military agencies completely off-guard, not to mention the collective costumed crime-fighters patrolling the city. I guess they all forgot to monitor the major bridges and tunnels leading into Gotham. Oops! It's another ridiculous contrivance that not only is altogether non-sensical but wholly insulting to the intelligence of even the most imbecilic reader. One would have to be lobotomized and drooling into their lap to find any drama or tension in this situation.

Not only do these silly plot ploys insult the reader, but they insult the concept of Batman, as well. Batman becomes a foolish caricature in the face of these overly manufactured gambits; the idea of one man being able to stop the impossible becomes laughable and anything but heroic. Everything suffers in this treatment. Gotham City has become so hellish it is a very logical and pertinent question of the reader to ask why anyone would ever choose to live in such a place. Gotham has always been meant to be New York City on steroids, a bigger-than-life melting pot megalopolis of hopes and dreams. It has now been so thoroughly besmirched it is unrecognizable as a believable home. The Gotham City police and Commissioner Gordon, too, come across as incompetent buffoons incapable of tying their own shoes let alone of being big city cops who can restore confidence and pride in the citizenry. This portrayal of James Gordon is most sad of all, as it is a far-cry from his stereotype-breaking depiction in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, where we find Gordon to be the heroic, resilient, and sharp-minded police captain working like a spy within the system to bring corruption to its knees. Here, in Batman #687, he is a blustery old fool waiting for Batman to come in and save the day. This is shameful.

On top of all this, the narration and dialogue are syrupy and trite, without an ounce of originality, but a heaping dollop of insincerity. "Do you prepare yourself for the sun to rise or for water to flow from the tap?" "No, he'd leave us in a box, with jet black hair, and the only lines on his face would be ones brought by injury." Are they kidding with this? Everyone sounds like they are reading lines from a play, the writer of which never bothered to read his dialogue out loud. Toss in manipulative close-ups of Alfred and Dick crying, and twee cameos by Superman and Wonder Woman, and the whole thing collapses under the weight of grinding exploitation.

The art of Ed Benes deserves some blame here, as well, as his storytelling is awkward and panel composition befuddling. His rough, scratchy, steroidal depictions of the characters leave them indiscernible from each other excepting for their costumes and hair styles. To be fair, this is a problem with many artists who seem incapable of understanding that the body types of their characters should stem directly from the essence of who that character is. Are not Batman and Nightwing and Robin trained in acrobatics, gymnastics, and all types of martial arts? Should they not be drawn much leaner to reflect this character attribute? Only Superman really benefits from being drawn as a Herculean He-man considering his superpowers as well as his origin and history on and off the comics page. Instead, over and over again, they are all given the same weight-lifter physique, a showcase for the artist's personal fetish more than a correct representation of the individual characters. Benes is guilty of this in much of his work and most definitely in this issue.

This book, coming as it does one week after Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's new Batman and Robin, feels completely irrelevant. Where Morrison's book is awash with energy and brightness, reveling in a new future while still honoring the past, Winick's and Benes' Batman comes across as cynical and childish, mired in tired old gimmicks, completely out of step with the times and the readership. Batman #687 is a junior-high student's idea of what a cool comic book is...in 1992. This is the type of comic indie-comics supporters point at when they want to laugh at the spandex set. Unfortunately, they would be right on target with this one.
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