As mentioned previously I haven’t been buying 52 on a weekly basis, prefering to read it in collected format, but I did give in and pick up the issue for Week 24 given Jim Roeg’s allusive review. Given that precedent, then, all it took was J.G. Jones’ ingenious cover to make me pick up Week 30 no matter what was inside.
The icon of Bruce Wayne slaying his cape and cowl a la Saint George and the Dragon is perfect on so many levels, I think it is the best cover of a series without a single bad one, if not the Image of the Year outright.
Since I bought it, I figured I might as well read the insides, and while doing so I had exactly the same thoughts as Caleb Mozzocco, but since he posted them first I’ll quote him:
The history of the Batman, for example, sounds an awful lot like what Grant Morrison told Newsarama.com in an interview was his vision of Batman’s personal history, and some of the lines read like they poured right out of Morrison’s finger tips (Not only the “Defeat me and the ten-eyed surgeons of the empty quarter will come to slice out your demons,” but even the offhand comment about the Joker being “this crazy, brilliant clown running around”).
That last phrase reminded me of the same interview, in which Morrison conceived of the past 62 years of Batman continuity as fitting into Batman’s career overall. We can now see that this interview basically functions as a gloss on the first three pages of this issue, a more self-conscious elaboration of Batman’s timeline:
So before starting the book [i.e., he flagship Batman title], I read through every Batman story I own and tried to synthesize all of the portrayals — from the ’30s to the present day — and all that history into the real life of a single extraordinary man. When you condense nearly 80 years [No idea how he figures that. –Nobody] of Batman’s adventures into a little more than ten years of Bruce Wayne’s life, his descent into grimness becomes not only clear but quite understandable! And the need to get him out of it is even more urgent.
The very rough timeline I have in my head runs as follows — 19 year old Bruce Wayne returns from his journey around the world and becomes the (1930s style) Dark Avenger Gothic Vigilante Batman for his first year of adventures. Then, aged 20, he meets Robin and his whole outlook changes — now he has responsibilities, he becomes less reckless, now he has a partner, he lightens up and learns to have fun again for the first time since his parents died. The police stop chasing him, the Joker stops killing and becomes a playful crime clown, and Gotham is bright and crazy like Vegas. Batman’s having the time of his life in his early 20’s, fighting colorful villains and monsters with his irrepressible young pal.
In 52, Dick Grayson narrates:
I made him laugh, and he was like the greatest big brother you could ever imagine. Those were pretty colorful years in Gotham, when it seemed like anything could happen and it was our town. The Joker gave up being a murderer for a while and there was just this crazy, brilliant clown running around.
It’s not surprising that his terminology in the interview should match the language used in 52, since he specifically mentions issue #30 below, so he was probably working on or had recently finished the issue when he gave the interivew. To continue then:
But by the time he’s in his mid-20s things are starting to go wrong — the first Robin leaves to go to college and hang out with the Teen Titans. Batman enjoys a period as a swinging bachelor for a couple of years but it’s not long before the hammerblows start to fall — in rapid succession, the now-homicidal Joker kills Jason Todd, the new Robin, and maims Barbara (Batgirl ) Gordon, Bane breaks Batman’s back, then Gotham is devastated by earthquakes, plagues and urban warfare, the Joker kills Jim Gordon’s beloved wife, Jason Todd returns corrupted, and a betrayal by his superhero friends leads Batman to the creation of Brother Eye and leads him on to Infinite Crisis where Batman winds up pointing a gun at Alexander Luthor’s head before deciding to leave Gotham for a year.
So it turns out that this was literally a panel-by-panel description of pages 2 and 3 of 52 #30, except that the comic book leaves out the Joker killing Sarah Essen Gordon and adds the death of Tim Drake’s father.
Thinking about it this way, the grim Batman of the last decade or so makes a whole lot of sense — the guy went from cool, assured crimefighter to shattered ***-up, barely clinging on with his fingernails. His mission, his life and his sanity had all gone off the rails. His confidence was shot. After a few years of relentless pain, bad luck and betrayal like Batman’s had, any normal man would be canceling the papers, pulling the blinds, then pulling the trigger. We had to address the effect of these tragedies and then move him beyond them.
In the upcoming issue #30 of 52 we see the post-Infinite Crisis Batman reaching rock bottom. The story of how he starts his comeback is revealed in a later issue of the weekly and it’s that revitalized Batman Andy and I are picking up on in our book.
If anything, this is a lesson to us to study every word of interviews with Grant Morrison because the man’s memory is so good he can’t help but reveal the content of future issues in detail.