Thursday, March 04, 2010

Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson

Batman watches over Gotham, but lately, he's been plagued by Nightmares. Or rather, Daymares, since that is when he sleeps. These nightmares involve being at school with his headmaster, Winchester, and a dream of his father being unable to speak, with his lips sewn together.

At the same time, something is brewing in the darkest dens in Gotham- crime lords being done to death in vsrious ways after receiving a poem written on a piece of paper. Death by poison, falling elevator- and all due to a man named Whisper.

The Crime lords know Whisper, a man who used to control much of the Underworld of Gotham. But the new crime lords killed him 20 years ago to take over his territory for themselves. And now he's back- but how?

Batman finds it quite amazing when the crime lords build their own Bat-signal and use it to summon him. But Batman rejects their bargain and tells them they have made Gotham into a hell of hate and fear. Now they know what it's like to be a victim- rot in their own little hell.

But something one of the crimelords said strikes a chord in Batman, something he heard back when he was a child in school. The school, in upper New York state, was a horror, run like a British boarding school- Older children bullied, beat and threatened the younger, and the worst was the Headmaster, Mr. Winchester.

There, Bruce had a friend, named James. Neither boy was particularly athletic or popular, but James was also asthmatic, and was convinced he was in hell. He knew something about Mr. Winchester- that the man cast no shadow. Because of that, James thought Winchester was the Devil. And when James disappeared one day after becoming sicker and weaker, Bruce tried to find out where he had gone. But Winchester caught him, and caned him. And as he did, Bruce could see, in the headmaster's trash can, his friend's hair peeping above the crumpled-up papers. And on the sunlit wall behind them both, the truth- Winchester *did* cast no shadow.

But when he finds Mr. Whisper attempting to murder one of the crimelords, Ottavio, Batman recognizes Winchester, and since he was in his 40's, 20 years ago- and he now looks the same, something must be up. And who is the young nun who is hanging around a cathedral being restored in Gotham and being subtly terrorized by Winchester/Whisper?

Batman's path takes him to Austria and to a monastery, where he is told a terrible tale of sin and vengeance, the story of a pious monk led astray by Pride into the deepest and most terrible evil. But can Batman unravel the truth behind the story and bring Whisper to justice, preventing a more horrible evil from unfolding in Gotham? Or will Whisper's undying evil be too tough even for Batman to defeat?

Wow. This story is truly creepy, especially Bruce Wayne's memories of the school and Winchester- and the sight of the boy's hair in the trash can is just so creepy, I couldn't stifle a shiver of dread. But I also found something strange about this particular story. Even with all the really wild Batman stories out there, this didn't really seem like a Batman story. I mean, my idea of Batman is of a science hero- maybe not as much of a science hero as, say, Marvel's Iron Man, but he uses science and learning to beat crime.

So when Batman goes up against a villain who is immortal because he sold his soul to the devil, it just doesn't seem fitting to be a Batman villain. It feels rather too mystical and magick-y for a Batman story. Yes, there has always been Ra's Al Ghul, but he's an anomaly for a Batman villain. I liked that the story had such chills and such a dark tone, but it didn't stop me from feeling that this wasn't a proper Batman story.

I did find it dark and scary, but something about the story was disturbing, and not in a good way. There was a subtle sense of wrongness that didn't sit well with me. I'd still recommend it, because apparently, not all Batman fans have a problem with such stories. Recommended.


taffysaur said...

batman's been going up against mystic threats since the very start. he is a 'weird creature of teh night', after all.

LadyRhian said...

Well, he tries to appear as one to frighten criminals, who are a "Superstitious, cowardly lot".