Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
When DC Comics published the final issue of Geoff Johns’ eight-year, 150-ish issue run on the Green Lantern character in May, it came in a massive package: An 80-page, $7.99 comic book with a spine, its 66-page story by Johns and his many artistic collaborators complemented by eight pages or so of “Congratulations, Geoff Johns!” from his bosses, his colleagues, his collaborators, his admirers, his family members, a few celebrities and a few “celebrities.”
When DC published the final issue of Grant Morrison’s seven-year run on the Batman character this July, it was simply a regular, $2.99, 24-page issue of Batman Incorporated, the second ongoing monthly created specifically for Morrison to tell his Batman story.
The actual celebration and send-off of Morrison’s tenure on the character— or at least the last few years of it – came out this week, and, in a move that seems appropriately off-beat, Morrison himself had next to nothing to do with Batman Incorporated Special #1, a series of short stories featuring Morrison creations and resurrections of long-retired characters by various creators, only one of whom actually worked with the writer during any of those seven years’ worth of comics.
What accounts for the difference in send-offs? It’s not the simple matter that Johns spent a bit longer with Green Lantern than Morrison did with Batman and company, is it?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Johns’ run had a bit more alchemy to it, turning a dead-on-its-feet, tertiary franchise of a single comic book into a whole line that generated some of the company’s biggest and best sales during the time he was writing it. As of right this second, there are five titles — Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Lanterns and Larfleeze — but it’s entirely possible that, by the time you finish reading this, DC will have announced another Green Lantern series (I’m hoping it’s Green Lantern: The Baz and The Bd’g).
But probably not.
Sure, Batman was already a hot commodity when Morrison came on, and while he expanded it with characters and a few books, at least two of which are sticking around — Batman and Robin, created to feature his Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne team, and Batwing, a book he never wrote featuring a character he didn’t create, but tied to the Batman Inc. concept and starring a character he revived from obscurity.
For DC franchise resuscitation on par from Morrison, one need only look back to a decade and a half or so to his JLA.
One can’t really measure Morrison’s and Johns’ careers into some kind of Batman vs. Superman comic book match based on those two title. Morrison’s first DC comics were decades ago, and his career with the company is very different and at a very different point than Johns’ is. (Certainly our grown children can meet back here in another 40 years or so and argue the legacies of DC’s two most popular writers of the ’00s, though.)
I don’t think the differences in send-offs has all that much to do with which of the pair is more of a “company man”, either (a term I realize is loaded with negative connotation, but I really only use to refer to the health of their relationship with the publisher).
Yeah, Johns is DC Entertainment’s chief creative officer and is still writing multiple titles for them, while Morrison has been talking about leaving the company after a few more projects for a few years now to apparently follow a more Mark Millar-ish path to comics-to-film success (see the creator-owned, Image Comics-published series Happy for example).
But Morrison’s been awfully loyal to the company, suffering through an occasionally terribly managed run on his Batman books in terms of matching him with competent artists (it wasn’t until very late in those seven years he found a partner who was incredibly skillful, could tell not only a story but a Morrison story and was able/interested enough to draw an issue a month; that would be Chris Burnham), not only tolerating the publisher sidelining and fiddling with his years-in-the-telling storyline during the New 52 relaunch but also gamely attempting to recreate Superman for them but also by going above and beyond the call of duty (and, I would argue, common sense and good taste) to defend the National/DC Comics of the Golden Age in its dealings with Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
In interviews and in his too-nebulous memoir/comics history prose book Supergods, Morrison perpetuated a myth to counteract the “myth” that Siegel and Shuster got screwed over when they sold their creation of the original superhero for a paltry sum.
If I had to guess why Johns got such an embarrassingly effusive show of goodwill in his last Green Lantern comic (for now) compared to Morrison’s un-remarked-upon last Batman comic (for now), I would assume it had something to do with the former sticking around while the latter was leaving, if not already gone by the time of publication. (That, or maybe because the sidelining of Batman Inc. during the New 52 launch, when Scott Snyder’s Batman became the flagship title, perhaps unintentionally demoted Morrison from the Batman writer to a Batman writer?) After all, the Batman Incorporated Special certainly has the feel of someone at the office realizing, “Hey, Grant’s leaving, we should do something special for him” on the afternoon of his last day, and then proceeding with a party despite the guest of honor already leaving for his next job.
But, as I said (too many ?) paragraphs ago, the special seems awfully appropriate to what Morrison contributed to the Batman franchise and DC.
He’s rather remote and removed from the proceedings, providing only a dozen paragraphs of prose on a single page describing his state of mind approaching a single Batman story arc that led to the longest ongoing story of his career (and, I think, Batman’s as well). In it, he reiterates ideas he’s discussed many times in interviews, describing his approach to the character as “everything happened,” everything was continuity, and then dealing with the character that emerged from that, rather than picking and choosing the elements he liked from that history, a successful attempt to find the most real — or at least truest — Batman.
The 38-story pages of the special celebrate what was at the heart of this approach, especially during Batman Incorporated, which grew out of his early story arc exploration of the “Batmen of Many Nations” concept from 1955 — the sillier aspects of the usually anathema Silver Age of Batman embraced and played straight, taken as seriously as anything else in the Batman canon, from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight to Denny O’Neil’s secret agent/detective hybrid.
So here’s the 21st-century take on Batman as an “Indian Chief,” the lost (and found) Batman manga adaptations from 1960s Japan, and even an animal mascot.
Chris Burnham writes and draws an adventure featuring Jiro Osamu, the Batman of Japan (based on Jiro Kuwata’s comics recently repackaged by Chip Kidd and company as Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan) and not to be confused with Most Excellent Super Bat of The Super Young Team, a Japanese teen Justice League Morrison created for his Final Crisis (a few members of which appear in this story).
Joe Keating writes and Emanuel Simeoni draws a story featuring The Squire Beryl Hutchinson, a legacy character Morrison co-created, taking on the mantle of The Knight, the (late) Batman of England, a character created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang in 1950.
Nathan Fairbairn writes (and colors) and John Paul Leon draws a story featuring Red Raven, the Nightwing-like grown-up sidekick of Chief Man-of-Bats (who only appears in a single panel), extrapolated from the aforementioned “Batman — Indian Chief!” story of 1954).
Mich Raicht writes and John Stanisci draws a story featuring a trio of Batman Inc. members, El Gaucho, Dark Ranger and Nightrunner, Batmen of Argentenia, Australia and France, respectively, whose origins stretch from the first appearance of the “Batmen of Many Nations” to a pair of annuals written by David Hine and Kyle Higgins from a pair of 2010 annuals.
And Dan DiDio (of all people) and artist Ethan Van Sciver present a silent adventure starring Bat-Cow, a character created by Art Baltazar and Franco for Tiny Titans (of all comics) that Morrison later incorporated into Batman Incorporated.
Taken all together, the cast of this comic-book special is a synthesis of the work of creators working on Batman-related comics from different points in time spanning some 60 years, at least one of whom lived as far away as Japan, for audience as various as the kids of the 1950s, Japanese fans of the 1960s, and kids and their parents and adult comics readers of the 21st century.
Intentionally or not, the book therefore says pretty much the same thing Morrison’s prose epilogue does: Every Batman story counts, and Batman is so long-lived that “long after all of us have come and gone, there will be a Batman.”
Morrison’s leaving Batman, and, if you read the final issue of his Batman run, you saw it ended with a sort of open-ended cliffhanger that another writer will inevitably take up some day. And, if you read the Special, you’ve no doubt seen the appeal of Morrison’s approach, as it presented a good half-dozen characters, reimagined by Morrison and his artist collaborators, into characters at least as sturdy enough to support their own book as Batwing or Larfleeze or Vibe or Katana or Animal Man or Swamp Thing or Jonah Hex … and so on.
Or, at the very least, characters compelling enough that its easy to imagine DC giving them a shot and seeing if the market would support a comic starring them for long or not.
With the possible exception of Bat-Cow, of course.