Colorblind Comics: Batman’s death sparks a renewed passion for comics

Colorblind Comics
Following in his father’s footsteps — illustration from Andy Kubert’s Damian: Son of Batman

I blame Damian Wayne. Well, and Dick Grayson.

In the summer of 2009, I caught wind of the fact that Bruce Wayne was dead. Who would don Batman’s cowl? Why, Dick Grayson, the original Robin, of course. But who would be Robin? Young Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul.

Wait. What?

See, I hadn’t been keeping up with comics. In fact, I had never been a regular reader. Sure, I’d read The Dark Knight Returns back in the day. And I’d read Watchmen in my “American Novels After 1945” class at the University of Iowa in the early 1990s (odd, given that author Alan Moore is a lot of things, but American isn’t one of them). And then another class led me to Moore’s From Hell. I loved those books, but they didn’t draw me all the way into the world of comics. I was just a dabbler.

But I became interested in this new Grayson/Wayne team. The idea of the former apprentice mentoring the original mentor’s son was appealing, and so I headed to Daydreams Comics and purchased Batman and Robin #1, written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely.

I read it. I had no idea what was going on.

I might have left it at that, but instead of giving up I went back to Daydreams for help. I learned that I’d jumped in at a complicated moment both in Morrison’s ongoing Batman saga and in DC’s overall continuity—the intersecting storylines that tie this major comic publisher’s “universe” together.

With guidance from the guys at Daydreams and the aid of the excellent comics collection at the Iowa City Public Library, I set about getting caught up. I went back to the beginning of Morrison’s Batman tale, Batman and Son. I also went back to 1985-86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and read my way through the various “Crisis” events in an effort to understand, as best I could, the past and present of the entire DC universe.

I’d just about caught up when, in 2011, DC decided to relaunch its entire universe with The New 52. I was undaunted. I started looking for Pandora in all the first issues.

By this time, I was officially hooked. Along the way I had read far more than just DC superhero comics, and this column arises from my more developed (and developing) interest in comics.  As all avid fans know, part of the fun of reading comics is talking about them with other fans, and I hope this column will serve as discussion fodder.

Since I started with Damian Wayne, I thought I’d take a look at Damian: Son of Batman, a special four-issue mini-series. The first issue was released in late October, with the second following in late November. The third hit the streets on New Year’s Eve, and the conclusion is set for Jan. 29.

The story, written and drawn by Andy Kubert (with Brad Anderson, colors, and Nick Napolitano, letters), takes place in what might be called the “666” universe. First introduced by Morrison in Batman #666, this is a future in which Damian has taken over as Batman. DC has been coy about whether this is an alternate timeline “Elseworlds” tale—given that this continuity should have been destroyed by events in Morrison’s Batman Incorporated title—but Kubert takes us back to events prior to those seen in Morrison’s trips to this future, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.

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Damian: Son of Batman is an origin story, detailing the events that lead to Damian’s decision to become Gotham’s newest defender. It’s an intriguing set up, and Kubert’s art is, as always, striking and energetic. In particular, he delivers some stunning action shots, including a dynamic two-page spread in the third issue featuring Batman swooping into a moving bus.

But Kubert is a much better artist than he is writer. To his credit, he does pull off a nifty plot twist at the end of the first issue, introduces a mysterious priest who advises Damian (though I have a theory on who he is) and, in the third issue, offers an odd but intriguing change in the nature of Alfred, the Wayne’s loyal and long-suffering butler.

Unfortunately, however, Kubert’s text is so stilted it can be difficult to read. Whether it’s dialogue or Damian’s internal monologue, the words simply don’t flow well. An emblematic example of the overly mannered dialogue comes when Damian yells at a villain: “What kind of person commits an act against humanity on this scale … with children involved?”

Damian reminds me of another Batman story written by an acclaimed artist who might have been better off leaving the writing to others: Neal Adams’ Batman: Odyssey. In both cases, amazing art is sullied by weak writing.

With only one issue to go, I’m in for a (giant) penny, in for a pound on Damian. But you might save your pennies for a different title.

Born colorblind and therefore convinced he’d never enjoy graphic forms of storytelling, Rob Cline was first bitten by the comics bug in college. The resulting virus lay dormant for many years before it was activated by the inscrutable work of Grant Morrison. Now Cline seeks out the good and bad across the comics landscape as the Colorblind Comics Critic.

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