Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and Why I Defend It

So far, the DCEU has been pretty terrible.

  • Man of Steel was an overly serious and pompous trainwreck that fundamentally misunderstood the character of Superman and managed to make the two plus hours of non-stop action dreary and tiresome.
  • Batman vs. Superman had a few decent moments of pathos that were tied more to our memories of Chris Nolan’s Batman than anything the movie actually gave us, but those were largely mired in a poorly paced mess of a plot that relied on a number of assumptions and the feeling that we’d “missed something”. Plus making Gotham Metropolis’ Jersey City was a strange choice.
  • Suicide Squad was another trainwreck that felt like it should’ve been the second movie in its own franchise and was edited so haphazardly that I think they were going for a Tarantino feel but without an ounce of finesse; fans cheered it against critics because a) they’re fans, b) everyone hates critics, even when they’re right on occasion, and c) Harley Quinn fangirls & boys.
  • Wonder Woman was heralded as brilliant because it was the first entry into the franchise that was a competently done film.
  • After watching creepo Ezra Miller try to pressure an uncomfortable and embarrassed looking Gal Gadot into saying his Smash-the-Patriarchy BS during a promo interview, I figure I’ll wait until my gym picks up Justice League to watch it.
  • The fact that they’ve hired Ava DuVernay to direct New Gods suggests that WB & DC are entirely unserious about the prospect of making good movies in the immediate future.

LuthorNow for my dangerous claim: the one bright spot of the DCEU was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. It was the one genuinely interesting thing that the films did in terms of storytelling, direction, and acting. His Luthor was not without problems, of course—the biggest being that his character was named Lex Luthor.

 

The main complaint I hear about him is “He’s not Lex Luthor; he’s not my Lex Luthor,” and no, he’s really not. Which is why it’s a damn shame they call him Luthor, because now you CANNOT do anything else with the character. Lex Luthor is usually portrayed as either a criminal mastermind, a mad scientist, or evil corporate billionaire with tons of resources at his disposal. In most cases, he’s set himself up as untouchable, and in fan favorite portrayals (StAS, L&C:NAoS) he’s often a cool, calculating and collected character—quite the opposite of Eisenberg’s portrayal. You need that aloof, powerful and untouchable nature to remain an ongoing villain to Superman. Yet the Luthor portrayed in BvS is a fantastic Batman villain and far more interesting than your typical portrayal of Luthor.

At its core, Batman vs. Superman is a story about three men who are living in the shadows cast by their absent fathers*. Their fathers have shaped who they are, what they do, what they believe, and they are constantly trying to live up to ideals that they think will make the ghosts in their memories proud. Eisenberg’s Luthor is shattered by this pressure. He’s the broken mirror that’s held up to Batman and Superman; could they turn into this broken and groveling man who is desperate to make Daddy proud? Many times in his adventures, Bruce Wayne comes close to this; he approaches the edge and often has be pulled back by his friends and loved ones. He sees himself, to a degree, in a character like Eisenberg’s Luthor, and it terrifies him. He wears the mask of the happy playboy billionaire, but every day inside he’s asking himself “Am I making my father proud?” And it makes Bats and the folks watching him wonder “How is he going to avoid ending up like that? Can he? How similar they are!” Like I said, A GREAT BATMAN VILLAIN!

Now, I understand why a lot of people don’t like him, I really do! And I agree, he’s NOT Lex Luthor, and his character should NOT have been called Lex Luthor. Calling him Lex prejudiced fans against character and ensured that this intriguing villain, great in his own right, cannot be used or explored further in future. It’s a shame, because really he was the one worthwhile thing the DCEU gave us.

*:One aspect that sets Supes & Bats apart from Luthor in the film is their love for their mother—something which Luthor is not shown to have—which brings them together against him at the movie’s climax, but that’s like an essay unto itself, right there!

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Retrospective: Batman and the Outsiders Vol.1 & Outsiders Vol. 1

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, but I’ve just been so busy that I’m only now getting around to it! A couple weeks back, I finished the original run of Outsiders. That includes Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1, Adventures of the Outsiders (a continuation of BatO vol 1 sans Batman), and Outsiders Vol. 1 (a deluxe format monthly that ran concurrently with the conclusion of BatO post-Crisis, taking place one year after).

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Outsiders was a title with peaks and valleys in its relatively brief run. By the time it was cancelled, it’s hard to not look at it as a mercy killing. I won’t say that Looker’s arrival ruined the Outsiders, but many of its best stories predate her addition to the team. After Jim Aparo left the original title, Mike Barr’s writing was still on enough to deliver some great stories, but by the time Jim had left the deluxe format title to other artists, like Erik Larsen (who drew Geo-Force’s chin longer than the rest of his head from the lip up), Mike had started writing for a main-line Batbook and was phoning it in a bit.

The Outsiders were never a great superhero team, and a lot of their team fights were run-of-the-mill Silver Age schlock (to which it was sort of an homage, if not the last gasp). The real charm of the Outsiders was in the deeply personal moments that these characters would sometimes share with each other and the reader.

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Halo didn’t exactly have it easy, either, but she’s pretty chipper about it.

 

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For instance, Katana begins as a very complex character; she’s lost her husband and her child and sworn bloody vengeance. Batman helps temper some of that vengeance, and taking care of Halo stirs her maternal instincts, though there’s the tension of being an adoptive mother of a teenage daughter that she has to work through. One of the great touches that I wish more had been done with was Bruce setting Tatsu up with her own oriental bookstore in Gotham as a front; she gets the ball rolling to open a store of her own on the West Coast in the deluxe series, but nothing ever comes of it. You can’t imagine how much I would love a series of Katana solving cozy oriental occult mysteries out of her bookstore. Unfortunately, Katana spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 just being the close-combat character with no powers who speaks in stilted English. While much of Katana’s personal drama actually does get resolved to satisfactory degrees (something I gather that gets rolled back in later books), the series misses out on opportunities to develop her further.

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Halo goes through a pretty powerful arc, and has a rough ride, learning she was never human to begin with, finding her human host body was a terrible person, and nearly being absconded with by Kobra cultists while trying to find herself. She unfortunately spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 filling in the twee teenager role, but without near as many of the touching moments, such as when she and Brion were teased at as a couple but mutually backed away—the great “you’re like a sister/I’ve never had a brother before” moment was powerful, especially given Terra’s death over in Titans, but it was a bond that never really developed deeply.

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Fans were often split as to whether Katana or Black Lightning were Batman’s #2 on the team while he was leading it. Many folks in the letters especially wished to see Black Lightning step up into the leadership role. And I’ll give Outsiders Vol 1 this: the arc where BL is wanting to try to get back on better terms with his ex-wife, but the African politician behind the food aid charity she’s working with turns out to be an evil dictator who’s stealing the money and turning his country into a Soviet satellite really was the best the deluxe run had to offer. And it was good. But Geo-Force was, for story reasons, the nominal team lead.

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Except once Batman left, Brion kinda lost his chill, and Looker showing up to cheat on her husband (and lead Brion to cheat with Denise) didn’t help things. Looker, who was something of a knock-off of Dazzler, is portrayed as a chronic narcissist, is drawn like a drag queen, and never gets any character development beyond “Thot who cheats on her husband who misses her deeply”. Which is a real shame, because her origin arc in the final issues of BatO was really good and set her up to be a potentially better character than she ultimately ended up being.

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Emily Briggs ultimately cheats on her husband because he loved her for who she was; she wanted him to be attracted to the attention seeking fame-whore persona she adopted when her physique changed. It’s pretty tragic.

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Metamorpho was pretty great throughout. I really have no complaints where Rex was concerned other than the fact that he gets killed off for the garbage Millennium Crossover. He doesn’t get Ben Grimmed too hard, but his condition does give him some motivation. Stuff with he and Sapphire Stagg was solid, and just before he’s killed off, the two of them adopt a child together.

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I get that it was a way they could end the comic and it had to tie into Millennium somehow, but making Dr. Jace a Manhunter sleeper agent was a terrible choice. After Batman left, she became the de facto team coordinator (if not leader), since Brion was usually having mantrums. She helped keep the team together, and really even played a role in starting it, since it was she who gave Brion his powers. Making Looker, who had sewn discord among them members of the team pretty much from the moment she showed up to the last battle with the Manhunters, the mole would’ve been a much better twist than making Dr. Jace suddenly evil for no reason.

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Barr wrote a brutal, violent, and often petulant Batman, yet somehow his other characters from Outsiders tended to shine the brightest when he was around. His return at the end of Outsiders Vol 1. and the appearance in the Annual (a story that made me reconsider whether Kobra was trash-tier) were bright spots not for him, but for the other team members, but it wasn’t quite enough. Halo’s haircut, Looker being foisted front-and-center on so many occasions, and the character development that made first run what it was getting kind of tossed in some cases, flatlined in others, left an ensemble title with the ensemble spread thin even when the stories themselves were solid.

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I need a better camera. I did a grid transfer enlargement of a panel of Geo-Force fighting Superman from BatO 19, one of the best issues. 

It sounds like I’m dumping really hard on a series that I do love, but I guess I kind of am. I’ll admit that a lot of the love I have for the Outsiders is for the potential that the characters and the title had that ultimately go unrealized. But I don’t want anyone to think that there weren’t high points. There were. Lots of them. And that’s why it was hard to watch a title that had so many great moments and great character development begin to grow stale and flanderize some of its best characters.

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Oh, yeah, and Atomic Knight is an Outsider for like 3 or 4 issues.

Tom King Did It (Spoilers)

Remember how I said that if Tom King started Batman 40 with a pull-back from the kiss, with Bruce saying “No” and Diana saying “Good” it would be brilliant and cathartic and illustrate that he understood both of the characters and all of that stuff?

Well, Tom pulled it off, doing it almost exactly like I said he should.

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(Black and Purple are Catwoman and the Gentle Man; the former is pissed because the Gentle Man never told Bats & Wondy how the passage of time worked there)

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Wondy tells him to “be good”.

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No, I’m not saying that Tom did what I suggested, merely that it was the obvious choice and the right choice and the choice that would relieve three weeks of nail-biting tension.

Tom King’s Batman is someone who could spend 40 years alone fighting demons with one of the most beautiful women on earth but stay true to the woman he made his promise to. It’s a good Batman.

 

Batman #39: “Revealed! The Secret of the Eternal Vow” and Pulling Off Brilliant Cliff-Hangers

For those of you not following DC comics, Batman recently proposed to Catwoman: Bat & Cat are engaged. Tom King’s run has been solid thus far, and parts one and two of his “Superfriends” mini-arc did well to capture the characters of both Batman and Superman and show why they are so beloved, having stripped away the dark layers of edgelord some writers put on them and showing why the two are friends: they are both men who try to do the right thing in spite of (or because of) the adversity they’ve faced, and they have a tremendous amount of respect for one another. Respect AND humility, because each feels deep down that the other is truly the better man.

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There’s trouble in paradise, however, and fandom is prepared to be outraged by Batman and Tom King’s betrayal:

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(Note that much of this issue is a call-back to a JLA from about 15 years ago, with Bats & Wondy’s “first kiss“)

Part 3 of “Superfriends” in Batman 39 shows the power of the cliffhanger. And the danger.

Wonder Woman and Batman have been called to spell the eternal battle of The Gentle Man. The Gentle Man is constantly fighting hordes of demons for aeons, and once Bats & Wondy promised to fill in and take his place if he ever needed a break. Well, GM needs it, and Bats & Wondy don’t go back on promises (brilliant foreshadowing, if King doesn’t drop the ball!). Unfortunately, time passes incredibly slow there, so GM’s quick vacation on Earth will be ten years for Bats & Wondy.

#39 ends with a tease that Bats & Wondy might kiss! Bats may cheat on Cat! Needless to say, there’s been a good amount of furor over this. However, there have been certain hints dropped in #39: Cat’s belief that Batman is a “Good Man”; The Gentle Man’s own devotion to his wife—he hasn’t seen her for one year in earth time, but a thousand years to him, yet he still loves her; Wonder Woman does have an intimate connection with Bats, but the Temptress role is out of character.

At the end of Thomas Burnett Swann’s The Dolphin and the Deep, the witch Circe offers the hero a choice: he may have her but abandon his friends forever, or he may keep his friends and lose her. He chooses his friends—‘Good’ Circe tells him. ‘If you had chosen me, I would have killed you.’ As his reward for choosing correctly, the hero is rewarded with true love when Circe grants the dolphin its wish to become a real girl.

I can see something similar happening in Batman #40.

If it does, Tom King will have pulled off a brilliant fake-out with his cliff hanger. If Bats stays true to Cats, he’ll be able to say to the worriers “Come on, guys, it’s BATMAN! He’s a GOOD GUY!” It will have been a nail-biting two weeks for reader, and the catharsis will be fantastic.

If Tom King drops the ball and Bats cheats on Cats with Wondy, not only will readers be disappointed at the betrayal of a fictitious character’s trust and, more importantly, the betrayal of Bats & Wondy’s core characters by a writer, he will have missed out on the chance for that brilliant cathartic moment when, after three weeks suspense, Batman says “No” and Wonder Woman says “Good, that’s what you were supposed to say”.

So, what am I getting at here? Cliff-hangers are an INCREDIBLY powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. But the payoff of the conclusion has to meet reader’s expectations of the character. Make the “will he/won’t he?” question believable enough to cause genuine suspense (and it’s working here, Tom!), where it brings doubt into the reader’s mind, but fulfill your reader’s expectations for the characters. Tarzan doesn’t get trampled by the aurochs, John Carter doesn’t get run through by a Thark, and Batman doesn’t cheat on Catwoman with Wonder Woman. The conclusion of your cliff-hanger is what will lead readers to judge whether the cliff-hanger itself was brilliant or hackneyed.

Right now, I’m crossing my fingers that Tom goes for brilliant.

DC Metal’s Dark Knights Ranked

As promised, I am ranking the Dark Knights from DC’s Metal event.

First, I’d like to note a few things about the other cross-over/tie-in titles:

Gotham Resistance was the real gem of the event. It picks up with Damian right after Batman’s disappearance, and brings in the Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, and Nightwing for an all-out-assault on a Gotham City that has been transformed into a series of Malebolges by the Batman Who Laughs and a number of Gotham Rogues he’s empowered with Nth Metal Joker cards. The story flowed well across all four titles and, despite the fact that they’re titles I’m not interested in, made me consider giving them a shot because they were ALL GOOD!

Bats Out of Hell was a disappointment. While the B-team heroes brought an A-game story, the A-team heroes’ writers brought their B-game. Despite a shot to have some really great fights between the Dark Knights and the Justice League, or some good character development to build on some of the stuff established in the one-shot tie-ins, Bats Out of Hell was largely wasted. The first two issues felt like a muddle mess of clips, failing to establish much of story in its own right. Part 3 had a decent idea of primarily featuring a Knight interacting with his counterpart, but gets an F for execution. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 32 literally uses Dawnbreaker’s power as an excuse to not draw half the comic. “Oh, he has power over light AND darkness? Let’s make ever other panel solid black and not draw backgrounds!” This meeting was nothing but wasted potential, and I much rather would’ve seen a Wonder-Woman tie-in devoted entirely to her and Merciless.

Batman Lost was really good. It may not have been a work of genius, but it’s easy to mistake a competently done Batman story in this vein as being genius because they’re so easy to mess up. It reminds me a bit of those navel gazey and introspective Bat stories that Grant Morrison is prone to writing; you know, the ones that that are tie-ins to his Bat Saga but are so off the wall that they don’t get collected in context of the works that would allow them to make the remotest amount of sense? It was like that, only you could follow it and it was enjoyable enough. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time as a Bat story, even if it was kind of filler.

Now, onto the rankings of the Knights!

7. The Drowned – The Drowned is by far my least favorite of the Dark Knights. The gulf between the 6 and 7 slots are tremendous. The art wasn’t bad, but other than the whole “Batman is a woman in this world—also she is Aquaman,” it didn’t really do much to look at the character in any sort of unique, insightful, or exciting way. It had a nice aesthetic, but it failed to do anything with it and just was not an interesting book.Batman-The-Drowned.jpg

6. Red Death – Okay, Red Death is down here in number 6, but not because it was bad, just the others were better! Batman fuses with the Flash to gain access to the Speed Force. It’s kind of Cronenbergesque. The reason why it’s ranked so low is Red Death book really just portrays one brief scene between the two. I liked the concept, but wanted something meatier.Batman-The-Red-Death.jpg

5. Dawnbreaker – Dawnbreaker gets a lot of hate because Dawnbreaker is dumb. The premise, that is. The Green Lantern ring went to Bruce Wayne, who used it for revenge against criminals and went insane with power (like that one time Green Lantern went insane, except worse, because he’s Batman and has Maximum Willpower + 200%). He ends up killing everyone and everything, plunging his world into total darkness. It’s dumb, yeah, but his book tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, and it features some really great artwork of Lantern-Ring horrors; which is what makes HJ&tGLC 32 that much more disappointing.Batman-The-Dawnbreaker.jpg

4. Batman Who Laughs – Batman Who Laughs falls in the middle because it met expectations. And meeting expectations was not easy to do, and this could’ve been a big let-down. As it is, though, we got a pretty gruesome Bat story that gives us a decent canonical reason for why, at the end of the day, Batman CAN’T kill the Joker. Imagine Return of the Joker, only with the real Batman being possessed and not schlubby middle-aged Tim Drake. Had a real “Oh, man… Oh, shit…” vibe to it; not for the faint of heart.

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3. Murder Machine – Murder Machine was kind of bizarre and surreal, but oh my gosh it had some amazing art! In MM’s universe, Bane killed Alfred instead of breaking Batman’s back, and an AI Alfred program goes crazy, Batman along with it. This is one I need to reread so it’ll make more sense in context of the rest of the Event, but it was good enough that I decided to pick up all of Metal even though the Outsiders were a bait-and-switch in The Casting.Batman_The_Murder_Machine_Vol_1_1.jpg

2. Devastator – This one was a real surprise; I expected Devastator to be in the middle, but whoa. Here we have a Batman who had to deal with a Superman who went crazy, so he injected himself with the Doomsday virus. I was not expecting that what sent this Batman off the deep end was seeing Superman kill Lois. Devastator’s interactions with Lois were some of the most powerful in the whole event (the “I’m doing this for you, Lois…”), in part because, unlike with some of the Knights, we don’t really have an “evil” Batman so much as a Batman who is broken by his worst fear—Superman going full murdergod and no force on earth able to stop him—coming true.batman devastator.jpg

1. Merciless –Another big surprise and the best of the bunch. I’m a DCAU Wonder Woman x Batman OTP guy, so this one really tugged at the heart strings. Bats and Wonder have been leading the force of good in an extensive war with Ares. Wondy dies, and it breaks the Bat. Bats takes up Ares’ Helm of War, and goes all death knight crusader. And it’s awesome. Merciless is one of the only ones of the bunch who I could see having worked as a standalone villain. In fact, a Batman corrupted by Ares would make a pretty good recurring Wonder Woman villain, especially given the weakness of her own rogue gallery. The biggest letdown of Metal so far has been that Merciless and WW haven’t gotten much page time together, and the couple panels they got Bats Out of Hell were bland and even kinda spoiled some of Merciless’ depth. But still! Of the whole bunch, this is the one I want to see more of after Metal is over.

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Addenda: Mom-Jeans Lois is smokin’ hot.

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Resurrecting Hitler: Generally the Worst Idea

The first big Outsiders arc after Looker’s origin is a second invasion of Markovia. Baron Bedlam’s back with a cadre of Soviet soldiers, he’s kidnapped the royal family and the kingdom is on the verge of falling before the Red Army and the Master of Disaster. Also, he has a harebrained scheme to resurrect Hitler. Bedlam died after the first war in Markovia, but a chubby German mad scientist lady was able to bring him back to life via cloning, memories intact. Bedlam’s great idea was to get her to do the same for Hitler. It worked out as poorly as you’d expect from this kind of thing, only with the twist that, given a Jewish maid-servant who was supposed trigger cloned-Hitler’s Jew-hate, clone-Hitler is driven mad by his memories when they start to return and he kills himself again.

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It got me thinking, though, about the cloning/resurrecting Hitler trope that comes up so often in comics. Of all the Nazis to resurrect, unless you were a Hitler-cultist (which admittedly some neo-Nazis are), Hitler seems like probably the least beneficial one to whatever evil super villain cause you might have. Unless your plan relied entirely on the charisma and oratorical skills of a man that three generations around the world have been taught to hate like the devil himself, with Hitler, you’re really getting all of the worst elements of the Reich with none of the benefits.

Best case scenario (aside from the clone killing itself), Hitler is going to unseat you from your evil plans Serpentor-style and proceed to undermine any strategic and/or tactical advantages you might have (cuz that’s what he does).

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You thought you were in charge here?

“Let’s not listen to the generals regarding realistic strategic operational objectives,” “Give the Paratroopers trucks, use them as regular infantry,” “Let’s attack Russia.” You’d really get more bang for your villain buck resurrecting/cloning Rommel, Guderian, Student, or (if you were really evil and needed a super evil underling) Peiper. There’s actually a lot of really good, nuanced comic fodder for any of those beyond what we normally see from Hitler clone stories.

Anyway, I mentioned that I thought Looker’s origin story was probably one of the best mini-arcs from Batman and the Outsiders; in the letters column, Mike Barr confirmed that it was inspired largely by Lester Dent and playing with the notion of Batman as Doc Savage and the Outsiders as his Fab Five.

Later this week, I may tease out my (admittedly ham-fisted) idea for a Force of July one-off. It will be tacky and jingoistic as suits them.

Plowing through Batman Trades

Spent a lot of the weekend reading a backlog of comics I’d gotten across various Christmases and birthdays and made a lot of headway.

I’ve got to say, I’ve actually really been enjoying the Final Crisis era Batman stories, particularly the Dick/Damien pairing (shades of Prodigal?), but I’ve got to say, the continuity of it is damnably confounding.

I’d known that Batman “died” in Final Crisis and that he would eventually pop back up and launch Batman, Inc., but when the story is being told across several titles, including special series and new titles, and collected in trades that don’t give any indication of reading order, it’s been a hassle figuring out which books to read. Sometimes Bruce’s dead, sometimes he’s back, sometimes he’s back but not really back… Early on, it also took me a bit in some of the books to go “Oh, okay, this is Dick”, because for some reason Dick Grayson gets drawn a lot like Bruce Wayne did in the 90s (sickly Dustin Hoffman from Midnight Cowboy).

The Batman & Robin series that picks up after Battle for the Cowl was really good. Trade-mark dark Grant Morrison, sure, but it’s the “good” Grant Morrison. While he’s probably my second favorite Bat writer after Dixon, the pendulum swings wide: when he’s on, he’s on, but there’s always the chance that he’ll churn out some absolutely muddled non-sense that’s damn near impossible to figure out what’s going on. And he’s on for Batman & Robin. Last Rites and Time and the Batman are a damn mess, but that’s probably because they’re respectively tacked on to a trade out of continuity or isolated from the story that would give it the context needed for them to make sense as anything but a fever dream of random Batman panels.

I also enjoy some of the arcs in the mainline titles featuring the Dick/Damian team, like the story of Vicki Vale trying to piece together the connections for her big expose on the Bat Family and the Road Home event that ties into those. Except the thing that bugs me is that they have so many overlapping and intersecting storylines that only some of them make sense.

Everything is building up to Bruce’s dramatic return from TimeTM. The main Batman books do a slow-burn story, working in some of the major threads but with the missing Bruce as a haunting spectre. The Batman & Robin book works on those same threads but in a much more serial manner, with Bruce’s absence becoming ever more pressing as the Black Glove and Joker are both fighting over Wayne’s legacy in their own ways until Batman 1.0 showing up at the last minute is a matter of life and death. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with a Bruce Wayne who has time to dick around subtly and not-so-subtly testing members of the Bat Family around the world while Dr. Hurt is in Gotham pretending to be Thomas Wayne, slandering Bruce as a deviant lunatic, and trying to murder everybody with cultists.

The storylines are good on their own, and I’m interested to see where the Vicki Vale one goes (if it goes anywhere), but when taken as a whole, they are a damn mess as far as any sort of continuity is concerned. I think I’m a few arcs away from covering everything I’m interested in from this period, and will be glad to be going back to the Pre-Knightfall stuff, mostly out of Legends of the Dark Knight.