Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Secret Life of Batman Stories

The first four Batman stories in The Greatest Stories Ever Told are ridiculous, simplistic, and overall very poor examples of story telling. They are also the foundations for some of the best stories written for the comics medium, and vital to understanding the character and his growth during the past seventy years. The stories written by Bill Finger, are not of the quality and level of story telling that is expected by the modern audience, but these stories have been mined by the contemporary writers of Batman to build the modern character and stories that we celebrate today. Grant Morrison and Frank Miller, two of the modern writers that have come to be associated with Batman as we know today treat these early stories not as embarrassing moments to be forgotten, but as valued historical documents that need to be explored to understand our hero.

During Grant Morrison's recent stint as the writer of the Batman comic, he refers back to the story line from an old forgotten Batman tale as a major plot point of his story. In the silver age Batman story Morrison uses, Batman went through a isolation experiment similar the the one in "Robin Dies at Dawn". In both stories, Batman's mind takes him to an alien world full of danger. Morrison uses the story of Batman's hallucination as a spring board to have Batman experience a similar mental phenomenon in the present. The conceit of Morrison's story is that all Batman's adventures in his entire seventy year history have actually happened. Each individual story. Past authors have chosen to ignore the weird stories from the silver age that seem silly or naive to the modern reader. Morrison embraces these stories and uses them to build an even richer character. Morrison's Batman is great enough to even survive the silly stories.

In Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and "All-Star Batman and Robin" he deals extensively with the Robin problem. Robin is another issue from Batman's past that has caused modern writers to struggle. Would Batman, a traumatised orphan, really have taken another orphan into his personal hell? In the modern comics, writers do not even show Batman and Robin working together. The current Robin is the star of his own book and only seems to loosely associate with Batman. Miller in contrast has embraced the idea of Robin. Miller's Batman is still the Batman from "Robin Dies at Dawn" and "The Case of the Honest Crook" who is consumed by worry for his young associate. Miller's Batman is also an anti-criminal terrorist embarked on a personal jihad against crime. Batman is willing to enlist the young in what he sees as a holy war. Robin may be in danger when out fighting crime, but as Batman remarks to Alfred when the butler remarks that there are better thing for a teenager to be doing; "There is nothing better". Miller's Batman is a holy warrior who proselytizing to a young believer. Robin is not an antiquated idea to be written out of batman continuity, he or she is part of the heart of the batman character.

While the stories of Batman history may not make the cut of what is considered acceptable to a modern, sophisticated audience, they are essential to the character we know and love today.
modern masters like Morrison and Miller show us why these stories are important and worthy of remembering.

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