Written by, Grant Morrison
Illustrated by, Klaus Janson
Batman Gothic is a collection of the Legend of the Dark Knight series(6-10) and boy, was it really good. If you're a Batman fan, you've probably already read this or heard something about it. Well, I just got done reading it for the first time and it blew me away; a real page turner. It was written by Grant Morrison, who everyone probably knows of by now. Illustrations were done by Klaus Janson who has drawn many comics in the DC and Marvel universe. This book also has an introduction by F. Paul Wilson, the author of a bestseller called The Tomb...which I have never read or heard of. Just some quick, personal back story: I think I have read like 6 actual novels in my entire. So, obviously for information regarding an author, I default to Wikipedia. I'll start this review by trying to summarize Wilson's introduction for his words had me sucked in immediately. Lets take a look into Batman Gothic.
Wilson's intro starts with descriptions of the “soul.” He explains how it is linked with one's own integrity and asks the reader what they would do with their soul. Hold on to it or sell it, and if it was sold, how would one go about taking it back. Immediately I started thinking about this. I don't even think about things like souls nor am I a spiritual person, but Wilson's words actually started making me think how valuable I hold a soul. That's pretty impressive if you ask me. He then continues to explain the term Gothic, the architecture obviously, but also the mood it possesses. Wilson details Morrison's inspiration for writing this comic, using ideas from the German legend Faust, the noir movie M, and more...that I have no frame of reference to. I'm starting to think this may not be a great review, but I liked the book so much, I have to talk about it. I may not be able to link source material used because I am totally uneducated in these books and subjects, but I am educated in Batman. So, I'll do the best I can with this.
We open up with a couple of gangsters beating the living hell out of some poor schmuck. During their onslaught, some music plays and a goon goes to check it out. His comrade notices that his buddy hasn't returned and investigates. He finds a record player playing the English nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons, which was a singing game that refers to church bells. A note is pinned which is a line from the poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Like one that on a lonesome road, doth walk in fear and dread...which was also used in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Scenes like this happen throughout the whole book when someone dies as Morrison used plenty of source material that coincides with each person's death. A man then appears behind the gangster and screams of pain ensue. The unknown person then sets the bullied victim on fire.
|Evil opens our story|
The next pages show a dream Bruce Wayne has that ends with his father's mouth stitched. Wayne awakens and talks to Alfred about having the same nightmare. Cut to another gangster, that is trying to sneak out of a hotel with a dude....dressed like a woman, gets another card with a poem. The two enter an elevator and are dropped to their deaths. This is forming a pattern of old gangsters, seemingly, getting their just desserts. We cut to a gangster named Mr. Ottavio that is getting a call from a friend and gangster, Jack Kane. Kane describes that someone named Mr. Whisper has returned and is killing everyone. Ottavio explains that Whisper should be dead, but before they can continue, Kane is murdered and a voice on the other end says that he is coming for them all. This is creepy, and very dark. I'm so interested in how Batman is involved and why these gangsters are dropping like flies. The dark illustrations and evil mood kept me wanting more.
|Some scary shit|
The following pages are a combination of three things going on at the same time. One has Batman preventing an alley murder. Batman tells the criminals some weird shit, that this city is Hell and they are part of the reason why. Then there are scenes will a gangster attending Don Giovanni, receiving a poem, while an stranger asks an usher to deliver a package to him. Then we cut to a girl coming off a bus and being hassled by some thugs, but one look from her and they cower. Then, the gangster opens the “gift” and we see a scene of the opera house exploding. This collection of events was somewhat bizarre, but they w ere played out as if it was in a movie. It's hard for comic to pull that off(I don't know if that was the intention) in my opinion, but it's as if I can play it out in my head, like a movie. We segway to the last gangsters, Ottavio and Morgenstern, as they talk more about Mr. Whisper and that their numbers are up. In an act of desperation, they attempt to attract Batman. And they use something I don't I have seen in a Batman comic. An upside down Batsignal they put into the sky. Batman appears and they plead for his help. He denies and uses my favorite line in the whole book:
A scene appears with the girl from before that got off the bus, being hassled out of Gotham Cathedral. Apparently, this girl is a nun that is confused with a crazy person. Her scenes throughout the entire book seem useless until the end, so I won't even bring her up again until we come full circle. Continuing on, Bruce has another dream with his father trying to tell him something. The only thing he can get out of it is a message written saying “Unlock the Rose.” When Wayne awakes, he tells Alfred a story from his childhood that he has remembered. He went to a private school that had a great reputation on the outside, but was home to bullies that picked on the weak. Bruce had a friend that got picked on the most, and said that one day he stopped coming to class. Wayne investigated and was caught by a feared teacher, Mr. Winchester, a man the children said was evil and that he did not cast a shadow. Winchester brought Wayne into his office and began to hit him with a stick as he was bent over his desk. Bruce saw two things; one, the head of his dead friend IN THE TRASH BIN and that Mr. Winchester had no shadow. This is CREEPY. I had to put the book down it freaked me out so much. The story telling is so good in this book; Morrison impresses me so much throughout the whole comic.
Cut to Ottavio, who is shitting himself in his penthouse, when Mr. Whisper finally shows up. Ottavio and his goons unload on Whisper and the man still stands. Batman crashes onto the scene and gives chase to the villain. Ottavio then realizes that his henchmen was poisoned from wine they drank earlier and Ottavio falls victim to the same fate. Batman faces off against Whisper and finds out that his attacks are useless against this man. Whisper hits Batman off the balcony, but thanks to his cape getting caught, he lives. Attempting to recapture Winchester, Batman finds him on the same balcony and says that he knows Batman. He then falls off the building into the street. This villain is very tough. He ignores pain and it seems like he can not die. The suspense of seeing if Batman can prevent killings and wondering what he can do to topple this opponent had me gripping the pages. It's pretty rare when I'm asking myself so many questions about a character's intentions. You want to know why Mr. Whisper is evil. You want to know why he is doing what he is doing. Shit, everything is so damn interesting in this book!
|Winchester is Mr. Whisper|
Batman retreats to the Batcave, and tells Alfred that Mr. Whisper is Winchester. He goes to his old private school to retrieve an old recording Winchester made. Back to the Batcave where Batman examines the recording and determines that he must go to Lake Dess in Austria. Cut to some quick pages explaining that Ottavio's death wasn't at the hands of Whisper but his gangster pal, Morgenstern, in an attempt to own the Gotham underworld. Batman arrives at a monastery in Austria in which the Abbott tells a story of a man named Manfred, that was a great leader in the church 300 years ago. He was swayed by pride to try and restore another man's faith that was torn asunder by sins. Manfred gave into the sins and his followers killed and tortured and believed that by committing horrible sins would lead to salvation. During this dark time, Manfred contracted the Plague, and in return for not dying, he sold his soul to the devil for the cure and 300 additional years of life. After this, the Dess River broke through the land and drowned the monastery and all the sinners. It was told that Manfred escaped on a boat with his diseased comrades. This story was AMAZING! I don't know how much truth there was, or is Morrison took it straight from another context, but it is so well written, that I could BELIEVE that it actually happened. Did I mention how kick ass the writing was?
|Manfred sells his soul|
Batman explores the sunken monastery and finds a rose, and based on his dream, examined it and found an old drawing of a cathedral. He then makes his way back to Gotham. He makes his way to the home of Morgenstern where he explains that he knows he killed Ottavio. Batman then inquires about Mr. Whisper and we are then exposed to another story. Basically, Ottavio, Morgenstern, the Kane brothers, a bunch of young gangsters trying to make it big, were held back from making their way by a child killer. Since so many cops were on the streets, the gangsters to it upon themselves to find the killer and get him out of the way. They found Mr. Whisper. They shoot him through a window and he falls out, but lives. Then one of the Kane brothers starts hacking at him with an axe and Morgenstern explains that Whisper just kept forming back together. So they tied him to an anchor and dropped him in the sea. Morgenstern tells Batman that there will be a group meeting at a Chemical factory and he wants his help. But Batman is no where to be found. Mr. Whisper is one of the creepiest villains I have read in a Batman comic. A mass murderer, selling his soul to the devil, living through many attempted attacks; it brings something different to Batman that I have not experienced. And, once again, I am left eagerly wanting to know the conclusion.
Back at his home, Batman tells Alfred the story of when he escaped the private school and his father came. His father tore into Winchester and Bruce was taken out of the school. And then the weird part of the story is this: Bruce is so happy to be home, as well as his parents, that they decide to celebrate. By going and seeing a movie, implying that the time Bruce got back, was the night of his parents movie. A very unexpected twist that brings more importance to Batman in this comic.
Batman also explains that the cathedral drawing he found in Austria is almost the exact replica of Gotham Cathedral. Batman makes his way to the chemical factory to find Morgenstern and all with him dead and hanging, which leads to another conflict with Mr. Whisper. Once again, Batman's attempts are faulted by Whisper's lack of fear and is subdued. On thing I really like about this scene is the way it is drawn and the colors that were used. Big towering setting with a blood red background; very effective and helped the mood just reek of death.
Batman is captured and Whisper reveals that he knew him to be Bruce Wayne. Whisper explains more of how he escaped the monastery with the dead bodies of his followers, still infected with the Plague. He experimented with them to make a horrible Plague that would kill millions. He continues to explain that his study of Gothic architecture helped him build a cathedral that focuses energy. The idea being, that if could get millions of souls, he can present them to the Devil and exchange them for his own soul back. He laid his disease in Gotham Cathedral and waited for enough people to live in the city. He then tells Batman that he likes him and leaves him to die in a very, well, stupid way; reminds me of a Bond villain. Honestly, the story was great but the way he just leaves Batman to die, is terrible. The candle burns the rope, a balloon is popped, the shoe hits the ball and then MOUSE TRAP! Definitely the worse part of the comic.
Whisper thinks the day is his as we are rejoined with, what the fuck do I call her, I don't know, “bus girl” from earlier. Batman hits the scene, after his EASY ASS ESCAPE, and we see the final conflict between our hero and Whisper. Batman fights off Whisper in a subway tunnel and thwarts his plan, preventing Gotham from being infected by the Plague. We end by finding out that bus girl is the Devil and she takes Whisper down to Hell.
This comic was fucking great! It has been a long time since something like this has sucked me in and never let me go. Grant Morrison's writing was excellent and his reference to outside content got me interested in researching(trust me, that's really hard for me to do). You really get a feel for everything, the conflict, the surroundings, the history, everything. Janson's illustrations were really gloomy and fit the mood of Gothic very well. I highly recommend this book. Seriously, give it a read and get blown away.