It’s reasonable at this stage to say that Grant Morrison’s Batman run stands as one of the greatest long-form achievements in superhero comics. It’s equally reasonable to suggest that it’s struggled for momentum over the past couple of years, due to a combination of scheduling delays and apparent disinterest from DC in the one truly great ongoing creative work they have on their hands at the moment (hence, a New 52 reboot that largely renders the majority of Morrison’s story technically impossible continuity-wise).
Fortunately, after going on hiatus towards the middle of 2011, the series was allowed to regroup and refocus as part of the “Second Wave” of New 52 launches earlier this year, and – despite a couple of (unavoidable and understandable) further scheduling hiccups – we were treated to a succession of outstanding, largely self-contained issues that, for arguably the first time since Batman RIP, seemed to put the series back on track towards wrapping up Morrison’s plan and vision.
There’s perhaps a sense with some of the issues that Morrison, having finally to wind things towards the conclusion of a now over-six-year story, is gathering together as many elements that he’s still yet to touch upon as he can. So in this run we’ve had an appearance from Matches Malone, a superb single issue delving into Talia’s background and motivations, a “zero issue” that told the missing story of Bruce recruiting the Incorporated gang, the long-awaited answer to the mystery of Wingman’s identity (hardly a great surprise in the end, and one that does work well in the context of Morrison’s run alone; but one of a number of elements of this run that, in order to work, rely on simply ignoring everything else that’s going on in DC altogether), and most recently a quite remarkable and horrifying return to the “Damian future” of way back in Batman #666 that suddenly slots over five-year-old pieces into place and demonstrates the deep underlying plan beneath it all.
An undoubted factor in the rejuvenation of the series has been in Morrison finally having another artistic collaborator that he simply clicks with. In an ideal world, he’d have Frank Quitely drawing everything he writes, but this isn’t an ideal world – and in fact, Chris Burnham has shown himself to be a more than adequate substitute. In fact, arguably, he’s elevated himself above that by now – it’s true that when taking over for the last few pre-relaunch issues he did seem largely preoccupied with replicating the “feel” of Quitely’s work, but over the course of this run he’s undoubtedly been developing storytelling techniques of his own (while deliberately retaining Quitely’s character styles to give a strong sense of continuity), and on the Talia issue in particular he was simply outstanding.
Unsurprisingly, DC’s focus when it comes to the Bat-books has been squarely on Scott Snyder’s run on the main title – but where that run has been very strong in places, it’s also made missteps here and there (the current Joker plotline feels misguided in a number of ways, but that discussion’s not for here). Their attitude towards Morrison seems to be that he’s had his “time” running the franchise, and he’s merely being allowed to see out his run in a way that quietly complements, rather than defines, the current version of the character. That’s a shame, as the recent Incorporated run shows him to still have a strong focus on the story he’s been telling all this time (in stark contrast to his occasionally great, but largely undefined Action Comics stretch), and DC would be better served letting it stand as the remarkable, era-defining take on Batman that it should be, rather than something shunted suddenly and casually into the background in favour of something newer and trendier.