Thursday, July 2, 2009

Random Reviews: Batman: The Black Casebook

It would be far easier to consider this a dream... but how can I?  For in my hand I hold the BAT-RADIA! One of Grant Morrison’s themes while writing Batman was that everything in Batman’s 70 year publishing history actually happened in some manner or another.  This included the Batman stories of the 1950’s, where stories like Batman being transported to an alien planet where he has powers like Superman were common place.

Grant Morrison decided to bring these stories back into the fold by introducing the concept of Batman’s “Black Casebook”.  Sort of like Batman’s personal X-Files, this is where he cataloged all of his experiences that didn’t make any sense.

The events of the Black Casebook came up many times during Grant Morrison’s run.  They proved to be the major driving force behind Batman: R.I.P.  The only problem was that many of these old stories were somewhat obscure and difficult to find.

Well, not anymore.  Batman: The Black Casebook compiles these Batman stories from the 1950’s in one easy to read volume.  Since these stories are only connected by virtue of having been referenced during Morrison’s run (especially during Batman: The Black Glove and in Batman: R.I.P. ) I will be looking at each separately.

A Partner for Batman

This basically is a story about Robin’s insecurities.  While Robin is laid up with a broken leg, Batman takes to training another superhero named Wingman.  Robin becomes increasingly convinced that Batman intends to make Wingman a permanent replacement for him.

During Morrison’s run on Batman, Wingman pops up during the Batman: The Black Glove storyline as a member of the Club of Heroes.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (You never truly believe Robin will be replaced)

Relevance to Batman R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (Nice to know who Wingman is, but not essential)

Batman – Indian Chief

This story introduces Man-of-Bats and Little Raven, two Sioux Indians named Great Eagle and Little Eagle, who have taken Batman and Robin as inspiration.   Great Eagle is injured by his enemy Black Elk and Batman and Robin decide to impersonate the duo so that Black Elk will not be able to confirm his belief that Great Eagle and Man-of-Bats are the same person.

During Morrison’s run on Batman, Man-of-Bats and Little Raven, now know as Red Raven, are also members of the Club of Heroes.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (mostly due to the casual racism)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (Nice to know who Man-of-Bats is, but not essential)

The Batmen of All Nations…

Apparently there are Batman wannabes all around the world.  Knight & Squire from England, the Musketeer from France, the Legionary from Rome, The Gaucho from South America, and the Ranger from Australia all travel to Gotham City to learn from the legendary Batman.  Once there, the criminal “Knots” Cardine runs circles around Batman, even with all of the extra help.  What could be Caradine’s secret?

Story: 4 out of 5 bats (I liked that the other “Batmen” weren’t straight clones)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 4 out of 5 bats (This is nearly the entire cast of the Club of Heroes)

The First Batman…

Batman finds a Batman costume hidden in his father’s desk.  After a little research, Batman determines that his father had a brief (one time) career as Batman.  He also learns that his father’s death might not have been a result of random street crime after all.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (I really hate it when they mess with the origin story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 4 out of 5 bats (The costume plays a prominent role in the story)

The Club of Heroes

Batman nominates Superman for the chairman position in the Club of Heroes.  However, John Mayhew wants it to go to the most heroic member of the club, and a new superhero in Metropolis named Lightning-Man begins upstaging Superman.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (This had a lot of silver age elements that I liked the least)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 2 out of 5 bats (While this had both the Club of Heroes and John Mayhew in it, the story was really a Superman story.  Also, Superman’s presence in the club really detracts from the Batman: The Black Glove storyline)

The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career

Professor Milo manages to give Batman a phobia of bats, to the extent that he can’t hold a batarang or look at his own shadow.  Batman briefly takes on the identity of Starman, but realizes that it won’t be long until the criminals realize who he is and begin using bats against him.  It looks like Batman’s career will be over for good.

Story: 4 out of 5 bats (I like that Robin saves the day on this one)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.:  4 out of 5 bats (The concept of taking down Batman psychologically is key to the Batman: R.I.P. storyline.  Plus in Grant Morrison’s mind, it ties in to the Batman - The Superman of Planet X story)

Am I Really Batman?

Batman wakes up in an insane asylum where he finds out that “the real Batman” has dumped him.  He escapes and makes his way to stately Wayne Manor, only to find Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson both their already!  Can Batman unravel what is going on?

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (I felt the resolution did not match the build up.  It does feature Professor Milo again though, even if he looks completely different)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 2 out of 5 bats (This story could be skipped)

Batman – The Superman of Planet X!

While flying around in his Bat-Plane, he is transported to the Planet Zur-En-Arrh by the Batman of that world.  There is an alien invasion coming, and he needs our Batman’s help to repel it.  Luckily, Batman has Superman’s powers on Zur-En-Arrh.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (A very strange Batman story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 5 out of 5 bats (Batman spends a decent portion of RIP running around proclaiming himself to be “The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh” and talking about “The Bat-Radia”.)

Batman Meets Bat-Mite

This story introduces the Bat-Mite, a fourth dimensional imp like the Superman foe Mr. Myxyzptlk.  Bat-Mite tries to be helpful, but his help might be more than Batman and Robin can survive.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (this follows the template of almost any Bat-Mite story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (While Bat-Mite plays a major role in the Batman R.I.P. story, he is better known than most of the characters in these stories)

The Rainbow Creature

While visiting a “South American Republic”, Batman and Robin encounter a Rainbow Colored Creature which has various Gygaxian powers tied to its colors.

Story: 1 out of 5 bats (Seriously?)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 1 out of 5 bats (Batman mentions this in passing while flipping through the Black Casebook)

Robin Dies At Dawn

Batman wakes up on an alien planet with no knowledge of how he got there.  Robin appears to help him out, but is killed by a four-armed alien at the break of dawn.  It is then revealed that Batman had volunteered for a military experiment on the effects of sensory deprivation on the human mind.  He leaves the facility, but his problems with hallucinations are far from over.

Story: 5 out of 5 bats (This story was a lot of fun.  The way the hallucinations are resolved seemed more like a modern Batman story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 5 out of 5 bats (Without this story, there is no Batman R.I.P.)

The Batman Creature!

Batman is turned into a bestial version of himself.  So horrible in fact, that he makes Batwoman cry!  He is eventually returned to normal.

Story: 0 out of 5 bats (It didn’t even have the Gygaxian fun of the Rainbow Creature)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 0 out of 5 bats (Reading this does nothing for the Batman R.I.P. experience)

Final Thoughts

So, what do I think of Batman: The Black Casebook overall?  It is a great companion piece to Batman: R.I.P.  I would definitely recommend picking it up to read first if you are picking up Batman: R.I.P. in the trades.  In fact, my biggest complaint is that they didn’t release this while the actual Batman: R.I.P. storyline was going on in the comics!