Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: Batman #700

Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Tony Daniel, David Finch, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely.

Although there are many awesome things about this issue, it ends up being a disappointment for a number of reasons:

1. The price. I think 4$ books are a rip off most of the time, because the extra pages are rarely worth the extra dollar. So when you price something at 5$, I expect it to have something very special in it, or at least make up for it with a longer story – quality or quantity. Although the cover claims this is a "giant-sized anniversary issue," there are only 31 pages of story inside, followed by a pin-up gallery of mostly recycled promotional images that have been floating around on the internet for a while. As a 4$ book, this would be a great value, but I don't see anything here to justify the extra dollar. Let's get something straight: "bonus" material isn't really a "bonus" if you make people pay extra for it!

2. The high expectations. Part of this comes simply from the landmark number. Part of it comes from all the hype, including stuff Grant Morrison said in interviews, features on DC's blog, and all the buzz and chatter on message boards. With all this excitement, it becomes very difficult for any comic book to hit a home run.

3. The art. The idea of having four different artists, each handling a specific time period that the epic story is set in, was good. Unfortunately, Frank Quitely (my favourite of the four artists) wasn't able to finish his section. (I've read some comments online about health problems being the reason for this, but I don't know where fans get that information or if there's any truth to it. Let's hope he's doing okay.) Quitely has a very unique style, so rather than to try to imitate it, Scott Kolins draws the remaining pages of the section in his own style. The shift becomes even more jarring because there's a different colorist working with each artist, and it occurs smack in the middle of the section, with no in-story justification for it. It's very distracting and it ruins the intended effect of having each time period in its distinct visual style.

Still, the few pages we do get from Quitely are amazing. The way he choreographs action scenes always brings a smile to my face. You're never quite sure if they're fighting or dancing a ballet, and while that might sound like negative criticism, I mean it as the highest form of praise:

Meanwhile, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert and David Finch are all competent artists and they handle their sections well, if less spectacularly (at least for my tastes). Even Scott Kolins is pretty good, and if it weren't for the fact that I can't help looking at those pages while asking myself what they would have looked like if Quitely had drawn them, I would probably be able to enjoy them on their own merit.

As for the story, I didn't like it on my first read, but as often happens with Grant Morrison's work, it got a lot better the second time around. This is probably because of the way I read comics as much as it is because of the way he writes them. I tend to go through the book quickly, eager to find out what happens next and how it all comes together in the end. Even when I don't quite understand what's going on or the significance of certain details, I tend to just move on, expecting things to get become clear eventually. Once I get that out of the way, a second read-through allows me to savour the details and catch whatever subtleties I might have missed.

So the story is fine, and there are lots of very cool little character moments, as well as plenty of references to Batman history (past, present and future). As a regular, appropriately priced issue, I would rate this highly. As an overpriced anniversary issue, it falls a bit short of the mark, but is still a fun read once you forget about your initial expectations.


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