Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BATMAN in Comics - Modern Myth (2000 - 2009)


With the year 2000, the world greeted the new millennia with open arms.

The internet was on the cusp of igniting the world of communication and Hollywood was about to be swallowed whole by the franchise condition.

For comics, the decade would prove bitter sweet. While characters achieved newfound popularity through film, television and video game incarnations those same films and games made quick work of making audiences forget the true legacies of characters; through the decades worth of comic book pages. Needless to say, it’s frustrating when people can so easily call themselves fans of Batman or Iron Man with nothing to show for it save a few movie tickets and Blu-Rays.

But true fans of the character know of the rich legacy Batman and his talented writers and artists had created throughout the decades; a legacy so revered and complex it’s almost archaic.

By the beginning of the 21st century, however, the dark knight would find even himself a potential slave to gimmicky storytelling, struggling to survive a changing landscape.

The decade began by carrying over and ending the tumultuous “No Man’s Land” storyline that began in the late 90s.

The turning point of NML was made clear with the arrival of Metropolis’ own mogul supreme, Lex Luthor as he touched down in Robinson Park via helicopter to begin the process of rebuilding Gotham on his own, without the consent of the Federal Government. Of course his desire to resurrect the city was more or less a façade for his true intent.

Sending in Bane to destroy what city records weren’t lost in the quake and subsequent fires, Lex’s covert plan was to acquire the deeds on most of Gotham's property. Lucius Fox discovered his plot, however, and after saving Fox from an attempted assassination, Batman revealed that he was the one who tipped Fox off on Luthor’s plot. With that, Batman warned Luthor to leave Gotham. Even so, the road to Gotham City’s resurrection was mostly Lex’s doing and it became a key component to his being elected President of the United States in the DC Universe.

Finally, after an arduous year of death and violence, the US Government revoked their declaration and reinstated Gotham City as part of the United States. Gordon and what police stood by him were promoted and reconstruction was set to begin.

But not without one final tragedy to define and cement the “No Man’s Land” saga forever.

As Gothamites rejoiced over the resurrection of their city, the Joker made his move to break the fragile moral of the city by kidnapping all of the infants born during NML in a plot to kill Gotham’s spirit by killing them.

As Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Azrael, Oracle and the Police raced to find and save them, it was Jim Gordon’s wife and Gotham Police Officer Sarah Essen Gordon who discovered them, right in the basement of the Tri Corner police station that had served as the home base for Gordon’s ‘Blue Boys’ during ‘NML.’

Sacrificing herself for the sake of the children, Sarah was shot in the head and killed by the Joker.

As Barbara Gordon simply states at the funeral:

“I always called her Sarah and now it’s too late to call her Mom.”

With the end of “No Man’s Land,” Gotham City had been returned to some sense of normalcy; a more contemporary cosmopolitan city as the gothic spires of old had been demolished.

Legendary writer and “Batman” editor Dennis O’Neil stepped down as Bob Schreck took the reins. In the wake of high-profile storytelling like “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” it was determined that the scale should be maintained but not at the sake of competent storytelling and dynamic characterization.

Readers could no longer be taken for granted as their demands for stories with just as much resonance and humanity to balance out the action and heroics reached the fever pitch.

To meet the demand, several key comic writers that had gained acclaim during the 80s and 90s continued their attachment to the character such as Grant Morrison and Paul Dini.

Another writer whose influence on Batman allowed him a rise to prominence was Jeph Loeb.

A Hollywood screenwriter (he provided the story for the Schwarzenegger vehicle "Commando" and would go on to work on several genre television series including "Smallville" and "Heroes"), Loeb’s ability to create pitch-perfect characterization and witty dialogue (though many claim, rightfully so, that the dialogue can seem trite and contrived going from story to story) had benefited comic book works such as “Superman: For All Seasons” and Marvel’s Color Series (“Daredevil: Yellow,” “Hulk: Gray” and “Spider-Man: Blue”) and his stake in Gotham City was, for the most part, well received.

Collaborating with longtime friend and artist Tim Sale, Loeb created two dynamic 12-part maxi-series with “Batman: The Long Halloween” and its sequel “Batman: Dark Victory” in which an early Batman confronts several members of his rogues gallery including the Joker, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and Solomon Grundy while simultaneously fighting to abolish the hierarchy of organized crime; all the while investigating mysteries involving bizarre serial killers Holiday and the Hangman respectively.

The books have their charm in that they were an extension of the landscape established by Frank Miller in “Batman: Year One.” With “The Long Halloween,” Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent begin their campaign to take down Carmine “The Roman” Falcone once and for all.
In the book, there are several note-worthy homages to crime cinema (Johnny Viti’s wedding at the opening of the series is a clear reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s original “Godfather” picture, right down to the scene where Dent is writing down license plate numbers.) as well as noir and mystery thrillers.


“The Long Halloween” is also a touchstone story for Loeb and Sale’s reimagining of the origin of Two-Face and currently, their take on Dent’s tragic descent into schizophrenic madness seems to have been adopted as the definitive depiction by many fans.


Loeb and Sale also introduced their interpretation of Robin in “Dark Victory,” though admittedly that’s more of a repetitive depiction since a lot of the same scenarios (i.e. Bruce ‘working late’ while Grayson has to eat alone, etc.) were previously documented, such as in the “Robin’s Reckoning” two-part episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Fans were also given a rare treat when writer/artist Frank Miller announced a three-issue sequel to the monumentally successful 1986 mini-series "The Dark Knight Returns."


Published between November of 2001 and July of 2002, "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" was a three issue piece that carried the story from the original comic forward as Bruce comes out of dormancy to wage his one man war not just on crime...but on the benevolent, media-consumed society that's grown too unwieldy and chaotic for him to handle anymore.


With Carrie Kelley, now Catgirl, at his side along with a collection of former mutants turned high-flying Bat-Boys, Batman seeks to enact social and cultural upheaval by ramming a Batmobile into a tower in Metropolis...eerie in its depiction given the fact that the September 11th terrorist attacks were almost literally occuring right outside Miller's Manhattan window at the time of his drafting of the book.

Added to the mix are Superman and Wonder Woman, who consumate their relationship with a session of lovemaking that contains enough passion to cause earthquakes and hurricaines around the world; the end result is Superman's new super-powered Amazonian daughter.

As Batman gathers forces like Barry Allen and the Elongated Man, he's confronted by everything from Brainiac and Lex Luthor (who it turns out are running the whole country with a Computer-Generated President as a front) to a resurrected Jason Todd.

"Dark Knight Strikes Again" saw fit to recapture the magnitude of success its legendary predecessor enjoyed but the book was viewed as more of a dud meant to cash in on the popularity of the "Dark Knight" namebrand.

Turning back to the mainstream books, Jeph Loeb’s popularity eventually led to his being tapped to come on as writer for the next story arc in the mainstream comics and with artist Jim Lee by his side, Loeb set out and delivered one of the most successful runs in recent years.

 “Batman: HUSH” debuted in 2002, running for a year in “Batman” issues #608 - #619.


In the story, Batman was confronted by a new mysterious adversary simply named ‘Hush’ (though he isn’t named until the final scenes of the story), a gunman dressed in a trench coat with his head bandaged and quoting Aristotle.

The story was a mega hit as it saw Loeb and Lee confront the dark knight with everyone from Killer Croc and Poison Ivy to Ra’s Al Ghul, the Joker, even Superman, as he attempts to discover the identity of the criminal responsible for plaguing him throughout the arc. Everyone got in on the story; Leslie Thompkins, James Gordon, Oracle, Nightwing, Robin, Huntress. The arc even introduced a new character in the form of Bruce Wayne’s longtime childhood friend, Dr. Thomas Elliot.

More than the laundry list of character appearances (something Loeb is notorious for) was the decision to take Batman’s relationship with Catwoman to the next level.

Bruce Wayne revealed his identity to Selina and began a full-on romantic relationship with her! While their union didn’t last by story’s end they continue to know each other’s identities and any consequences or ramifications remain to be seen in the long term.


Even more outrageous was Loeb and Lee’s resurrection of Batman’s long dead sidekick Jason Todd! However, it was quickly deciphered by Batman that it was merely Clayface mimicking the 2nd Robin.

In the end, the character of Hush didn’t seem to catch on with readers quite in the way intended. The character has since reappeared in several stories, but he lacks the genuine appeal of such classics as the Joker or Scarecrow.

Even so, “Hush” was an enormous success, almost single handedly resurrecting comics sales to a level they hadn’t seen in decades.

Jim Lee’s first monthly comic book work in nearly a decade, “Batman” became the #1 comic series for the first time since “Batman” #500 achieved the placement on the Diamond Comic Distributors sales chart back in 1993.


The concept of resurrecting Jason Todd went on to inspire writer Judd Winick’s following run with issue’s #637 and #650 and the multi-issue epic “Under the Hood.”

Halfway into the decade, DC Comics decided to make its own variation of the Marvel ‘Ultimate’ line; comics that retained the essence of the characters but did away with all of the continuity.


Dubbed the ‘All-Star’ comic series, “All-Star Batman and Robin” was released in September of 2005. Ongoing today, the book is being written by industry giant Frank Miller with art by Jim Lee, clearly riding the coat-tails of the success of ‘Hush.’

Throughout the years following, several other heavy-hitters carved out their own niches with Batman and his cast of characters including writers such as ‘100 Bullets’ creator Brian Azzerello and Geoff Johns, who joined the ranks with Loeb, Morrison, Dini and Rucka.


2005 also led DC Comics into the high-profile “Identity Crisis” storyline (as with any ‘Crisis’ title, major ramifications were sure to follow) which saw Batman have his own memories erased by magical fellow Justice League member Zatanna in order to stop him from preventing the League lobotomizing Dr. Light after he raped Sue Dibney.


Serving as a retcon for Batman’s complete distrust for his fellow DC heroes (which had manifested sometime earlier with writer Mark Waid’s ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline in which the League discovers Batman’s extensive contingency counter-measure plans for how to kill/incapacitate each of them should they go rogue), Batman goes on to create the Brother I satellite surveillance system, a direct nod to the expansive lack of privacy we all have come to endure in the rapid growth of technological advancement, to watch over all DC meta humans on the planet.

Eventually, the satellite is co-opted by tycoon Maxwell Lord, who then kills DC hero the Blue Beetle to prevent him from informing the League of Batman’s murderous creation.

Eventually, “Infinite Crisis” sees Batman and the League destroy the satellite and the OMAC robots, but wounds run deep.

In a huge DCU event dubbed ‘52,’ several characters disappear from their established homes for the 52 weeks that make up a single year. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake retrace the steps Bruce had taken when he originally left Gotham City all those years ago in an attempt to ‘rebuild Batman’ following the Crisis at hand.


Batman and Robin returned to Gotham City in the “Face the Face” storyline following their year-long absence. At the end of the arc, Bruce Wayne officially adopts Tim Drake as his own son, following the murder of Drake’s father, Jack, and the loss of Janet, his mother.

Soon after, writer Grant Morrison became the regular on “Batman” while Paul Dini took over duties on “Detective Comics.”

Morrison reincorporated controversial elements of Batman lore (most notably, the science fiction themed storylines of the 1950s Batman comics, which Morrison revised as hallucinations Batman suffered under the influence of various mind-bending gases and extensive sensory deprivation training) into the character, much to the surprise of many fans.


Morrison’s “Batman & Son” story arc, collected in 2006’s “Batman” #655 – “658, introduced fans to Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia, daughter of eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul, and eventually it all climaxed with the controversial “Batman R.I.P” story.

In the arc, Batman is confronted by the “Black Glove” organization, which intended to drive Batman into utter madness. “R.I.P.” segued into “Final Crisis,” in which Batman is apparently caught in a blast of Darkseid’s Omega Beams and incinerated.


Just as had been done with Superman and Captain America prior, the fate of Wayne’s entire legacy was called into question as the books took on the notion of what ‘Batman’ would be like without Bruce in the costume.

2009 saw the release of the miniseries “Batman: Battle for the Cowl” as Dick Grayson, once the long-time sidekick to the caped crusader, became the new Batman. Bruce’s son Damian coincidentally became the new Robin. June of that year saw Judd Winick return to the series as Morrison was given his own title with the launch of “Batman and Robin.”


In short, the 21st century had cultivated new ground for Batman, taking the character into various bend and twists that I’m sure Bob Kane and Bill Finger could never have predicted. Of course this once again just goes to show how durable the core essence of the character had become and how versatile the mythology is.

Clearly, mythology is exactly what Batman’s history had been molded into over the decades.

As for the future, it seemed Batman was about to make his biggest stride yet.

The lone crusader was about to take his efforts to a global scale.



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