My unbridled love for Grant Morrison’s Batman is very well documented by now, so if you don’t want to hear this giddy cheerleader shout out a long-winded rally for the team, then please, go read some other comic blog… all you’re going to get from here on out is an extended fangasm… because really, this issue deserves it.
“Kill Box”, wherein Morrison gives us a gigantic battle set-piece yet still manages to effortlessly tie more succinct dialog, snappy character moments and subtle, yet huge plotting into a single issue than other current Batman authors have managed in 13 issue runs so far. Morrison’s writing is assured and as steadily confident as ever, certainly, but thank the fucking gods that he and Chris Burnham have become so inseparable on this series, because Burnham pulls out all the stops and presents us with some of the best work of his career thus far. Burnham effortlessly provides us with a gloriously kinetic and perfectly believable knock-down, drag-out fight scene that anchors the entire issue and is so well choreographed and oriented so coherently in a static visual space, that it sometimes looks as if he’s pioneering a new form of very low frame-rate stop motion animation. Everything fits and makes beautiful sense and honestly, it is one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen in modern comics. Take for instance the following small excerpt that comes at the very beginning of a fight which continually swells in numbers and in scope just as rapidly as it impresses:
Suffice it to say, I think Burnham is working at the peak of his powers here and I loved every small, minute detail that he masterfully combined to create what is certainly the most believable and large scale fight in all of the New 52.
But here is where the real genius of this issue lies; even though this massive fight is the centerpiece of the issue we’re still treated to exceptional character moments (The Hood and El Gaucho bickering, “Matches” enthusiasm over setting a Guinness record, Damian’s ‘hush’) and a script that does not bench the plotting of the overall story – we get the best of both worlds without any sacrifice in quality or enjoyability. Morrison again proves himself a master at utilizing an economy of words to perfectly capture the voices of the characters in use at any given time. For as many cameos as he loves to throw at the wall it is a huge achievement that he manages to make them all seem legitimate; they are simply there and they do not seem incongruous or forced, they serve purposes and are all imbued with effective agency.
Even though many continue to parrot the ridiculous notion that Morrison’s stories are “too dense” or that they require too much past context to really make sense of and comprehend, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true, not only of his entire run thus far, but especially of the issue in hand. I posit that when all is said and done this issue is approachable by any level of reader – I believe one could step into this issue with no prior knowledge of the preceding story and still walk away energized and amused. Morrison allows stories to work on many levels, which is precisely what I enjoy most about his writing style, and this issue serves the larger narrative while also working perfectly as a ‘one and done’ concept issue. Certainly there are questions which would naturally arise after reading the story if you had no previous knowledge, yet still there is enough information provided in a natural way (which doesn’t ring of forced expositions!) to orient any reader into the narrative thrust of the issue. Batman explains it perfectly well:
What else do you need? Sure, questions such as “who the fuck is that guy?” would pop up, but overall I think you’d know what you were getting into and the general gist would be strong enough, and enjoyable enough, to keep virgin readers enthralled.
Story-wise this obscenely fun fight scene serves a germane purpose to Morrison’s grand story – this is Batman’s tactical bait and switch surprise attack that manages to get almost all of Talia’s “world’s greatest assassins” into a single structure so his Batman Incorporated agents, his “front line”, could neutralize them. You know what? It fucking worked, because The goddamned Batman is, if nothing else, a master strategist and he managed to weave a myriad of disparate threads together over the past few issues that culminated in being in control of the kill box as the assassins swarm in, right on cue, for wholesale beat-downs.
Other that those broad strokes we long-term readers have some loose ends tied up for us (Wingman’s identity reveal, which was obvious to me from the start… but still, that’s a plot thread answered, Batwing’s escape from the Ninja Man-Bats, Lumina Lux, Goatboy!) – I mean christ, look at that litany of plot points – and this is all in an issue which focuses on a big, splashy fight scene! There is always so much content in Morrison’s books, even when there seemingly isn’t that it makes me want to never attempt writing again.
The ending cliffhanger may seem a bit odd, but let us keep in mind – Bruce has “seen” what happens in a possible future and intends to stop it, so the question is; are we seeing some misdirection here (Talia is still listening, after all) or a double bluff, not only for Talia’s benefit, but also Damian’s as well? Is Bruce playing both of them at once or is Damian in on the play? I guess we will find out soon enough – and holy shit I cannot wait for 666.
I unashamedly wear my Morrison fanboy-ism on my sleeve, and I still stand by my assertion that he has written the best Batman story of all time. A deliriously intricate long-con of expert story telling almost never witnessed in the medium – and as such I’ve not been disappointed yet (well, maybe issue #8 of the original volume of Inc.!) – Morrison has set the bar so high that I shudder to think what lies in store for the character once he walks away after his last issue. People proclaim Scott Snyder as the new king of the character, but for my money he is simply another in a long line of incredibly average writers plodding out cookie-cutter tropes and plots to pander to the maddening crowds. Perhaps, pandering is too harsh an assessment, because I do believe he’s doing what he wants and that he believes in what he’s writing – I just don’t think its any good. It’s a matter of personal taste and I should be careful not to cast stones. Regardless, excuse my detour, I do not wish to turn this into a soapbox from which I deride another creator’s output… I’m just putting this basic notion out there:
Reviewers have been continually giving Snyder’s books “perfect scores”; 5 out of 5 reviews are commonplace with his Batman work now… I’ve been continually baffled by this response because, as a writer myself, I see so many plot holes and missteps and inanity in his works that I cannot honestly fathom how they receive any honest reviews above an utterly average ranking. Well, professional comic journalists (yes, I laughed while typing that phrase), now is your chance for some redemption in my eyes; prove your mettle and your discernment here. I understand you’re playing a corporate game and the main Batman book, and Snyder, are DC’s golden boys, but try, just try, to look at this issue subjectively, then give it the rating it deserves. A rating which I conclude to be… wait for it… wait for the big surprise ending…
Five out of Five.
I wrote this entire, rambling mess in one sitting, directly after reading the issue – so the above is simply 30 minutes of free association ranting,
I didn’t go back and edit anything for clarity and for this, I apologize to my readers. Edit: Now I have… and yes, I still apologize ;)
I’ve decided to start updating the reader’s guide for this sexy epic, so keep your eyes peeled.