Thursday, June 30, 2011

Batman: Gothic

Cover by Klaus Janson
Batman: Gothic (1990)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: John Costanza

In my blind desire to read as much Batman as humanly possible in as short a time as possible, I got my hands on Batman: Gothic, a relatively famous story arc written by the ultra famous Grant Morrison. In the comic book world, he’s kind of a big deal (he has many leather-bound books and his apartment smells of rich mahogany [citation needed]), though I have only read one other his works, the very influential and extremely pretentious Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Seriously, it’s so pretentious that I wanted to punch it in the face repeatedly.

But, as I was fully aware of Morrison’s influence as a comic book writer, I knew I wanted to give Batman: Gothic a chance. I figured with a title like that and with Morrison as a writer, it would just be an extremely dark story that would try very hard to be deep and smart. Well, it was dark… so dark that Satan was an actual character; and it did try hard to be very deep but in doing so, the story was buried under ill-fitting supernatural elements and a profound suspension of disbelief.

Batman: Gothic follows Bruce Wayne as he attempts to decipher a series of disturbing recurring dreams and determine just who is mysteriously killing off mob bosses one by one. Meanwhile, a time capsule from the 18th century has been discovered in the foundations of Gotham Cathedral and will be opened by the mayor on May Day. How does this all connect? By Satan.

Seriously, a mad, evil monk from the 18th century strikes a deal with the devil for immortality and somehow ends up in Gotham, kills a bunch of kids and even poses as a headmaster for a prep school that a young Bruce Wayne attends. That part I really did not get. If you’re immortal and also incredibly evil, why bother getting a bureaucratic job like that and waste your time managing a school? But then again, headmasters are always portrayed as evil (except for dear, beloved Dumbledore but even he was a bit shady) so I suppose it fits.

I’ll be the first to admit that there is very little about the Batman mythos that is realistic (I’m pretty sure direct exposure to chemicals would not bleach your skin and dye your hair. It would probably just give you cancer) but if there has been one thing I can rely on in the Batman universe, it’s that there are no ghosts, no demons, no vampires, no need for holy water, and no Bruce Wayne that is willing to believe in these things. Therefore, Batman: Gothic just struck the wrong chord with me. Morrison did not seem to give a substantial reason to just why Bruce was so quick to assume that the supernatural tales of immortality and deals with the devil were true. As I read, I kept hoping Bruce would search for the logical explanations to these murders and voila, discover that it’s all paranoia and not really the dark arts or whatever it is evil people do. Sadly, it turned out to be just that.

I suppose in its own way, Batman: Gothic was kind of spooky but I don’t read Batman to be spooked by stories of demons. I read Hellboy for that and those are rarely spooky, just cool and well-written. I know Grant Morrison is a pre-eminent writer for DC and other comics but at this point, I can’t help but feel that he’s a bit overrated.  


  1. Wait, it was really called "A Serious House on Serious Earth"? That's incredible.

    This post reminds me of how Hellboy is one movie that always makes me think of you. That, and Two Weeks Notice. And House of Wax. And there are probably many more that are embarrassing to mention.

    I hope my new icon works this time.

  2. @Kelly G Yes, it does work and it is beautiful. Team Bobby forever.

    And yes, it really was called A Serious House on Serious Earth, which is apparently a poetic reference but pretentious and awful nonetheless. There are a few magical movies that remind me of you as well...House of Wax is one too, along with Jeepers Creepers and obviously Charlie St. Cloud.