Grant Morrison is easily one of the most influential and unique comic book creators in the history of the medium. Combining powerful stories with a focus on out-of-the-box thinking, Morrison has created some of the weirdest and most high concept comic book storylines ever. While the author has shown his ability to take psychedelic thinking and push the comic book medium in new directions in stories such as The Invisibles and Flex Mentallo, Morrison also showed a flair for new forms of superhero storytelling through his work on Justice League, Superman, and more.
When Morrison returned to the world of Batman in 2006 with Batman #655, his first solo Batman story since Arkham Asylum in 1989, the author kicked off a story that would span almost a decade. His new take on the character of Batman and the creation of an engrossing storyline that would wrap around the world and centuries of human history became a defining saga. Including international heroes, time travelling, murder mysteries, the apocalypse, and more, Morrison’s Batman tale shows the unmatched power of comic books.
A Deep Dive into Batman’s History
From the very beginning, Morrison had one unique aspect to his take on Batman that previous authors had not considered: everything in the nearly 75-year history of The Caped Crusader was cannon. This means brooding vigilante tales of the 1940s, trippy 1960s cosmic adventures, psychotic 1980s detective stories, and more all truly happened to The Dark Knight featured in modern DC Comics. How did all of this happen? According to Morrison, each decade could be taken as a year or two in the hero’s superhero career.
Starting off as a dark and deadly vigilante powered by his anger and hate, Batman eventually became a hero in need of the levity brought by Robin. The many chemical exposures caused by Joker, Scarecrow, and more led to lengthy hallucinations, explaining the trippy tales of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Of course, all this took a toll, leading to a much darker Batman represented in later stories. Together, they form a diverse and highly-prepared modern Batman.
This also means that characters and story developments long ignored by authors and editors were now up for grabs once again. Faced with a reunion of The Club of Heroes, Batman and Robin are pulled into a classic murder mystery that leads to the death of many colorful and strangely dated adventurers. A hallucination of Robin’s death from 1963’s “Robin Dies at Dawn” leads to the inclusion of Dr. Hurt, a megalomaniac who is devoted to the destruction of Batman. These many different elements create a dynamic take on Batman that allowed Morrison to spread his wings and keep from being stagnant.
The colorful and wild result was nothing short of brilliant.
Batman or Bat God?
While it still requires a certain suspension of disbelief, Batman is often interpreted as a far more realistic hero than many of his compatriots in DC Comics. As a non-superpowered man using his muscles, wits, and gadgets to fight crime, he is something that the average person can aspire to be. However, Morrison never quite ascribed to the idea of Batman being limited by real world rules. Starting with his work on the character in Justice League, Batman’s superpower according to Morrison was a combination of his ability to plan ahead and his indomitable will. Given these two elements, Batman can conquer just about anything.
Throughout Morrison’s run, Batman is faced with greater and greater challenges until The Dark Knight is forced to overcome gods and the very fabric of reality itself. Of course, Batman’s ability to consistently win made him into a version of the character many have deemed “Bat God.” While the capacity to defeat any and all challenges may make the character seem boring because he will always win, Morrison still managed to make his “Bat God” always complex and the outcome of his stories never predictable.
It’s a difficult balance and one that some may not prefer, especially those who most enjoy when the character is confined by reality, like much of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. However, these new boundaries allowed for all sorts of colorful encounters and challenges that pushed Batman in ways that had not been tried previously. Because this sage could literally go anywhere in time or space, the journey was never predictable.
Damian Wayne – Real Boy Wonder
If Morrison added one irreplaceable aspect to the Batman mythology, it was the creation of Damian Wayne. As part of his idea that every part of Batman’s comic book history was cannon, Morrison took the 1987 story Son of the Demon, which was long determined to not be part of Batman’s official history, and made it legitimate. The story, which saw Batman spend the night with Talia al Ghul, daughter of the villainous Ra’s al Ghul, resulted in Talia becoming pregnant. In Morrison’s first arc, Batman and Son, Damian was introduced, proving himself to be the legitimate son of Bruce and Talia.
While Morrison was originally set on killing off Damian at the end of the four-issue arc to keep the Batman status quo intact, the author changed his mind at the last minute. Originally a violent and self-absorbed brat, Damian’s massive story arc and consistent growth became one of the greatest aspects of Morrison’s run. Transitioning from dangerous wild card to unpredictable anti-hero to unforgettable superhero, Damian was given some of the greatest moments throughout the many series that featured the new Boy Wonder.
In fact, the character of Damian became so well loved that he was quickly introduced to more and more comic books, as authors and audiences ate him up equally. There was something amazingly magnetic about a young boy who believed himself better than nearly everyone he encountered, yet was still learning to be a true hero.
However, a vision of the future where Damian has sold his soul to the devil in order to become Batman in the wake of his father’s death adds layers and wondrous dread to the character. The eventual reveal of what this apocalyptic vision means is one of the best moment’s of Morrison’s run.
Breaking the Bonds of Reality
Led by Dr. Hurt, the organization of The Black Glove was determined to destroy Batman. Throwing imitators and outlandish villains at the hero and his compatriots, Hurt and his fellow evil-doers quickly established themselves as a true threat.
When the machinations of The Black Glove pushed Batman to the limit, The Dark Knight’s mind was broken in Batman R.I.P. But the hero had a backup plan. Years ago, Batman created an alternate personality, one that would take over if he was rendered incapacitated. As the Batman of Zurr-En-Arh, a creation that harkens back to a strange sci-fi tale created in the 1960s, Bruce dresses up as a purple Batman haunted by the strange creature known as Bat-Mite. This Batman is violent and nearly feral, taking out criminals ruthlessly as he hunts down The Black Glove.
But even though Batman defeats Hurt, he faces an enemy far greater than any before. When the powerful and evil Darkseid attempts to take over Earth, Batman confronts him in his fortress. Shooting the dark god with a bullet designed to kill him (Batman’s one-time exception to his no-guns rule) The Dark Knight is hit with the villain’s Omega Beams. While it appears that he has been charred to a crisp, Bruce has actually been warped into the distant past.
In the wake of Bruce’s disappearance, Dick Grayson (the former Nightwing) takes up the mantle of Batman while Damian becomes the new Robin. As the new Dynamic Duo, the pair fights all manner of new enemies in Morrison’s Batman and Robin. With Bruce out of the picture, this stage in the Batman saga was almost a rebirth and restart to the character. Dick tackles challenges differently than Bruce and is a far more joyful character forced to shoulder a heavy burden. Meanwhile, Damian is a far more serious and dark version of Robin, fighting violent tendencies and having a pension for rebelling at the worst times possible.
The Beauty of Batman, Inc.
After travelling through time and returning to the present, Morrison’s epic journey for Batman leads him to the conclusion that the war on crime can only be won when he teams with the many heroes he has encountered in his superhero career. Starting with The Club of Heroes, Batman has slowly joined forces with more and more heroic figures across the globe. Formed together as Batman, Inc., these dozens of heroes are committed to snuffing out crime across the Earth. However, their many adventures in Batman, Inc., Volume 1 are stymied by the rise of Leviathan, a global criminal organization whose methods are just as confusing as its motives.
Just who is Leviathan? It’s the creation of Talia al Ghul, who has finally turned on Bruce and Damian after they spurned her one too many times. The war against Leviathan is the focus of Batman, Inc., Volume 2, as Batman does everything in his power to stop Talia. But Damian is caught in the crossfire of mother and father and has a target on his head in a comic book actualization of Morrison’s experience as a child when his parents divorced.. Rather than the fun and strange globe-trotting adventure in Volume 1, Morrison puts total focus on the battle between these two organizations. This is the grand climax to Morrison’s saga, with the fate of Gotham, Batman, and the many heroes involved in this war hanging in the balance.
While the end of Morrison’s Batman run was well publicized when it came to a conclusion, I won’t spoil things here. At its close, Morrison plays with the idea of the oruobos, the serpent that forever consumes itself. This theme of death and rebirth is played out throughout the entire saga, but is most evident at its close. The story of Batman will go on forever, but how does that destroy the lives of the people who care for him?