I’ve been advised that a group of readers appear to regard Grant Morrison’s run on Batman as being something other than a franchise-defining masterpiece of scripting. While the opening of the final story to his run will do nothing to change their minds, there’s plenty of entertainment for the rest of us. The writer’s hasty departure from the book is an undoubted disappointment, but this issue thankfully services as a microcosm for what has elevated this run about the usual fare. When tackling a franchise, particularly one as long-lived as Wayne’s adventures, there’s a temptation for writers to hive off the recent story, regarding the last five years or so of the property as having occurred in real-time, and compressing all other events into a hypothetical two-year “Previously…”. Morrison has resolutely refused to take this approach, regarding the entirety of Batman’s story as a unified saga. Here, he presents the edited highlights of Bruce Wayne’s life, revisited with a degree of wit and polish that puts the original stories to shame.
After literally getting the devil off his back, you might have expected to find Batman dealing with the fallout from Hurt’s scheme, but the wider machinations of the DC universe have intervened. Taken prisoner by representatives of Darksied’s helpfully named “Dark Empire”, Wayne’s memories are being tapped to provide the perfect background for an army of super-soldiers. This provides the perfect excuse for Morrison to traipse through the franchise’s history, as his star struggles to work out what’s wrong with the picture unfolding. The dialogue is a joy, particularly Alfred’s rift on what might have been had a certain mammal not entered Wayne Manor, and the Joker’s recognition when the high camp of the Adam West TV series is played out. On the artistic side, Lee Garbett’s work is a step down from even Tony Daniel’s workman like pencils, and frankly the story deserves better. Particularly irksome is a continuity error in the final panel. Bruce symbolically removed his cowl before taking his dip in Gotham Harbour, but the last page shows him imprisoned in his full costume.
It’s a shame that editorial politics within DC appear to have denied us the full extent of Morrison’s run, which is prematurely curtailed after this issue. While it’s a nice coda, unless the writer has managed to rework the conclusion of this two-parter into the resolution of his themes, it would be as if Ed Brubaker had left Captain America after his twenty-fifth issue. This story is fine piece of work, but the potential for an inconclusive finish to such a memorable run hangs heavily over it