Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tales From The 50 Cent Bin! - Batman: Gothic

While there is no Batman Month this year, I felt I needed to get my Batman fix. Not only is it a Batman fix, but it is a Grant Morrison fix. Yes, I had to go back to that bald, Scottish guy again. This time, I’ll be looking at Morrison’s early work with the Dark Knight. No, it isn’t Batman: Arkham Asylum (the graphic novel). Something tells me that I might not enjoy that story all that much. I may read it one day just to say “Hey, I read Batman: Arkham Asylum!”

This five-issue story arc comes from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (issues #6-10) which was essentially an anthology title. A creative team would come on and basically do a story for a few issues and then leave. From what I’ve read, they tended to show Batman in his early years. I’ve found quite a few issues from this series in the 50 cent bin like this story and others. As I said before, Morrison is the writer. Klaus Janson provided the overall art (pencils and inks) to the story.

The story starts out with different mob bosses being killed by someone. Meanwhile, Bruce is being plagued by nightmares about his father and his horrid experience at a private school as a kid. The remaining mob bosses are freaked about the murders, so they decide to do the unthinkable: contact the Batman by using an upside down Bat Signal. Batman shows up and wonders what they want with him. They ask for help with the murders. They also tell him that the murderer was a child killer named Mr. Whisper and that he’s supposed to be dead. Batman refuses their offer but he does look into the murders for himself.  The mention of the murderer makes him remember his old headmaster, Mr. Winchester, who was pretty creepy.
What the-- Gordon, are you drinking again?!?!

Elsewhere, a young nun comes to Gotham and gets taken in by Whisper or “Mr. Wicker” as he’s called. Wicker is the one who is behind renovating the Gotham Cathedral. Things come to a head when Whisper goes to one of the remaining gangsters to kill him. Batman also shows up and Whisper displays some superhuman abilities. He gets up after being riddled with bullets and he beats up Batman for a bit. Batman also recognizes him as Mr. Winchester and notices that he’s rarely aged since his time in that school. The two fall off a building and that doesn’t stop Whisper. Whisper even notices that Batman is Bruce Wayne which freaks Batman out.
And I know you... wait, this isn't Avatar and you're not Zoe Sandala.

A pretty injured Batman heads to the Batcave and starts to investigate his old headmaster. Thanks to some recorded lectures that were done at the school, he’s able to trace it all back to Austria. He takes the Bat-Plane overseas. He heads to a monastery in Vienna and gets info about The Drowned Monastery in Lake Dess. A monk tells him about the monastery and the monk who ran it 300 years ago: Brother Manfred. Manfred was a monk who led his brothers into committing horrible acts of debauchery at the monastery. They even murdered and assaulted some nuns who came to the monastery. Their acts were only stopped by a dam rupturing and drowning the building. Before that, Manfred sold his soul to the Devil in order to be immortal for 300 years.
"Batman being scared? No, that's not true. That's impossible!"
Why yes, I do like making fun of uber-Batman fans.

After the history lesson, Batman heads to the drowned monastery to investigate. After being scared “guano less” by the ghost of a young nun, he finds plans for the Gotham Cathedral. He puts together that Manfred is Whisper. He heads home to find the remaining mobster and finds out what they did to Whisper. Apparently, they found out about Whisper’s child killing and decided to kill him. When they realized they couldn’t kill him, they decided to drown him. Batman agrees to meet the mobster and his guys to take care of Whisper at a warehouse. When Batman gets there, he finds all of them dead and Whisper knocks him out.
And Whisper has pulled off something that would make Caesar Romero blush.

When he wakes up, he finds himself in an elaborate trap set up by Whisper. Whisper tells Batman about his plan to use the Cathedral to unleash a plague in Gotham. He’s doing this in order to keep his soul from being taken by Satan since his 300 years are up. Batman is able to escape from his trap and faces Whisper for a final time. Their fight ends up in a subway and Batman uses a subway car to momentarily take care of Whisper. He then gets to the Cathedral and keeps the plague from being unleashed. Whisper meets a much worst fate when the young nun is revealed to be the Devil himself. The story ends with Batman heading back to the Drowned Monastery to drop off a mysterious gift he received.
And now, Batman radiates light like some dark angel of the night... hey, it fits this story.

This whole story was fine for the most part. It’s a weird one that has this Batman facing the supernatural for possibly the first time and that’s pretty cool. While most of Batman’s villains tend to be mostly normal, psychologically scarred,  or augmented, it’s rare he goes up against something that might give most magic-based heroes a run for his money.  Having him go up against something that can’t be beat through normal means is pretty cool and Whisper definitely fit that profile. While he wasn’t a particularly cool or interesting villain, Whisper did provide a nice challenge to Batman. I did think his elaborate trap was kind of stupid though.The backstory added to Batman was also interesting.

The artwork is fine but Klaus Janson isn’t my cup of tea. It’s mostly his pencils I don’t like. Last year, I looked at a story in the Knightfall trade that had his artwork and I didn’t like it. His artwork here is much better than it was in that story. While it has a scratchy look to it, it works for a horror story like this. There are times where it doesn’t look so good unfortunately. Still, It’s rare that anyone draws Batman being scared by a ghost.

Now, there were things about the story I didn’t necessarily like this time around. The stuff surrounding the young nun/The Devil was weird. That part wasn’t really plotted out well.  It also sucks that Batman isn’t the one who’s able to take out Whisper though I get why that happened the way it did. Also, some of the dialogue was a bit weird. Batman actually referred himself as the king of Hell to some random hoodlums and I thought that was weird. I like it when Batman doesn’t say much to the criminal element. Finally, there’s the art I mentioned earlier. Janson’s pencils are something I’m not a fan of.

Overall, it’s a fine horror story featuring Batman. It’s not Morrison at his best with the character since that time comes much later. It gets put on those “Best Batman Stories Ever” lists for some reason I kind of get. Still, it is one story that should be looked at. Well, I’m out. I’m trying to come up with something for September. Peace, God Bless, and be careful out there.

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