This week, we saw the end of Grant Morrison’s epic 7 year run on BATMAN – across various series and number ones, a line-wide relaunch and even more than a year with Bruce Wayne dead, it’s impossible to argue that Morrison didn’t pen one of the most memorable runs in the characters history. As much as Batman may be the most popular superhero character – he seems to be the one we can all agree to love, at least – he hasn’t actually had that many long runs, in the vein of FANTASTIC FOUR or THE FLASH. There’s Alan Grant, of course, and Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench, but for a character who’s over 70 years old, it’s surprising to think that Morrison is one of a few writers to spend such a long time with the character.
I can confidently say that Grant Morrison’s run is my favourite Batman story of all time – I actually broke into tears at the bleak and nihilistic ending of his very final issue, BATMAN INC. #13. Morrison’s run had plenty of fun moments – especially the pop-art camp of the three Quietly issues of BATMAN & ROBIN – but even a man intent to teach us that superheroes are here to give us hope had to end his Batman story with the endless misery of a broken man. Batman seems inherently doomed to live in darkness.
Well, unless Bob Haney was writing.
Bob Haney had an incredibly long run on BATMAN – you can read all of it by picking up three phone sized page volumes collected as SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BATMAN TEAM-UPS, over 1500 pages of Haney Batman goodness. Haney’s run is the stuff of legend for many reasons, most of them remembered in infamy – fans referred to the stories presented in BRAVE AND THE BOLD as taking place in the ‘Haneyverse’ – a bizarre world where Wildcat, a character from DC’s Earth 2, lived happily in Earth 1 and even trained a young Batman with no explanation to this reality hopping continuity breaking trick. Sgt. Rock, a soldier from World War II, was Batman’s buddy and apparent master at not aging. Strangely, one of the weirdest elements of Haney’s run I find rarely mentioned – Batman’s ‘Bat-sense’, which is exactly what it sounds like. A buzz of premonition that warned Batman of danger, this newly added superpower was frequently used and, you guessed it, never explained.
These kooky elements make for a memorable read, and of course, are perfect fodder for the internet tradition of taking a sneering look at pre-Crisis superhero comic books. But Haney’s stories are actually some of Batman’s very best – the complete disregard of continuity, logic and characterization (really the three biggest cancers of superhero storytelling) made the stories even stronger – it allowed for exploration, for taking risks. Haney showed us a Batman we’d never seen before – a mix of the grim detective that O’Neil was beginning to craft into the Batman we know today, and the campy sci-fi hero that was birthed from the comics code.
Haney wrote Batman as a pretty affable guy. Hardly seen in his alter ego as Bruce Wayne, Haney portrayed Batman as the amiable and bemused senior cop, putting up with the extreme situations he found himself in with a sort of ‘I’ve seen it all’ shrug. Haney killed Batman and had the Atom to bring him back to life, sent him to the future dystopia of Kamandi and even forced him into retirement – and Batman put up with it all with a reserved kind of good humour that surprisingly works for the character. BRAVE AND THE BOLD was a team-up series, and most striking is the respect Batman has for all of his partners. One of the central ideas of Morrison’s epic run is that the Batman has never been alone, and Haney understands this – in fact, one issue even sees Batman shocked and confused at the moody, loner qualites of…Aquaman.
It’s easy to crack a joke at that, but a moment like that shows how perfectly Haney understands Batman. As a man driven by loneliness, it makes perfect sense that Batman would fill his pain with allies, and that he couldn’t fathom a life of self-imposed solitude. This will sound like hearsay to any post-Crisis reader, but it’s an element of the character that works completely for me.
Bob Haney’s stories are remembered for living in a world of their own – a Haneyverse where Batman could develop superpowers, return from the dead or travel through time with absolutely no explanation. It’s a shame that the stories wacky plots are what they’re primarily known for – like Morrison after him, Haney understood that the best Batman stories come from placing the character in a place we’re not used to seeing him. Superman seems to work the more and more you pin him down – the very best Superman writers (here’s lookin’ at you, Maggin!) understood that it was worthwhile to find rules for the character – to find what boundaries he shouldn’t cross. Batman really is the complete opposite; he’s such a perfectly defined character that you can place him in any situation and just watch it go from there.
Haney gave us a Batman that really felt like the superhero without superpowers – a man who’d seen plenty of tragedy and couldn’t really be shocked by seeing any more, a man who dealt with the horror of his world with a relaxed and jovial sense of humour, a man who tried to cover up the hole of his loneliness with companions and friends. A truly definitive run on one of the greatest characters in comics, Haney’s monumental length on a Batman title is one of the weirdest, wackiest and most memorable the character ever had.
And that’s without any Batcow.