Thursday, February 15, 2007

Batman 663 Review

Grant Morrison teams up with digital artist John Van Fleet for an issue that feels more like a short story than a comic.

I was quite shocked while flipping through Batman 663 at my local comic shop yesterday. Instead of the usual comic construction with panels, speech bubbles, and quick blurbs of dialogue I found pages filled with paragraphs and large chunks of text. It wasn't necessarily a negative surprise, like the one your dog leaves on the floor while you're out, just something I wasn't expecting to find in a comic book. Especially a mainstream title like Batman. I bought the book and brought it home, oblivious to the ride I was about to be taken on by superstar writer Grant Morison (Batman: Arkham Asylum).

After about a minute of opening the first page I knew this was going to be a long read. Not because the storyline in this issue is dry, it's not, it's just that there's so much text packed onto each page. It probably took me the better part of an hour to lumber through the book, but it was worth it.

The story focuses on Joker, who is recovering from being shot in the face a few months back during the Batman and Son storyline (also written by Morrison). He's under tight security in Arkham Asylum, as usual, but has a scheme up his sleeve. I really appreciated the way Joker was treated in this issue. He's darker, unpredictable, and seems to have regained the scare factor that has vanished from his character as of late. Harley Quinn also plays a major role in the book, and it arguably shows her true colours more than any comic put out by DC thus far.

Grant Morrison does a fairly good job with the writing here, although at times he did get under my skin. The story is great, the tension is thick, and he does an excellent job managing his characters and uncovering their true selves but I felt as if his writing was too drawn out. At times he'll ramble for a paragraph or two before progressing the story and while I enjoyed most of the disturbing imagery and metaphors he throws into the mix I felt as if he tried to pack a few too many into the potato sack. I'd have to say that it was an enjoyable read though as it toys with the psyche of both Joker and Harley Quinn, there were just a few paragraphs that really lost my interest due to their wandering nature.

John Van Fleet, the digital artist given the task of illustrating this issue was a bit hit and miss. I'm not a fan of the CGI approach to comics but I'll give it a fair shot if it's done right. While some of Fleet's panels look great, many really stick out as having poor textures and amateur construction. I think that this issue would have been much more powerful if it was illustrated with paint or a really rough pencil style. I think an artist along the lines of Dave McKean or Ashley Wood would have captured the mood perfectly, but that's just my opinion.

Batman issue 663 is a must-read. Not necessarily because it's an excellent book, but because it gives a fresh look at both the Joker and his loving accomplice Harley Quinn. I look forward to seeing if this will be added upon as part of the Batman continuum or it will be discarded as a story not part of the mythology.

Have you read Batman 663? What did you think? Post a comment.


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