Batman: Gothic

So. There are a lot of Batman comics on “the shelf.”

lot.

I love me some Batman but damn, I need some other colors besides grey and black every once and a while.  I’m almost missing the golden-age comics, if only for the color and absurdist, comical scenarios.

Batman is just so dark lately.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the stories, but I need some nice, light reading interspersed throughout all the death and doom.

I think it’s the holidays. Who wants nothing but dark, angsty stories around Christmas?

Drink some Eggnog and sing a few Christmas carols, Batman. That’ll turn your frown upside down (okay, probably not…)

Grant Morrison’s Batman miniseries took a sharp left turn after the somewhat uncertain tone of Batman: Venom.  Gone is the back and forth between light-hearted and dark emotions.  This comic lives up to its name, maintaining its sinister, gothic tone throughout the entire trade.

As I began to read, I almost felt as though I had stumbled into an issue of Sandman.  The panels were all washed in a dark, gloomy pall that made it clear, these comics were not to be taken lightly.

Rather, the darker, more ominous imagery evoked memories of the earlier Batman comics of the 1940’s, before it was mandated that they be made more “child-friendly.”

This collection not only revisits that older form of storytelling, it far surpasses it, bringing a new level of darkness to an already dark character.

So much happens in this story.  A group of mobsters are haunted by a man who seemingly can’t be killed, deemed Mr. Whisper.

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Whisper is an intriguing character, his calm demeanor adding to his already creepy persona.  Fearing death, the mob bosses ask Batman for help.  Batman refuses, but after a series of increasingly disturbing dreams, along with a face to face encounter with Whisper, Batman decides to look into the case.

What he discovers may be one of the most disturbing aspects of Batman’s past yet to be revealed.

Through a flashback, we learn that Whisper was the sadistic headmaster of Wayne’s childhood boarding school.  In a particularly frightening scene, we see Whisper employing corporal punishment against Bruce:

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This scene was startling enough on its own, but its severity was only heightened by the implication that Whisper has murdered a number of his students as well.

This comic continued to delve further and further into the world of sadistic, terrifying characters, as Batman soon learns that not only is Whisper his former murderous headmaster, he is a former monk who sold his soul to the devil in order to avoid the black plague of the 1600’s:

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300 years later, the devil is about to come collect on his deal, and Whisper is trying like mad to avoid spending eternity in hell.

The physical altercations between Batman and Whisper are enjoyable, but these issues are driven by the story itself.  Whisper’s history in particular is fascinating, providing more character detail than is generally given for a short-lived character (assuming he doesn’t make a reappearance at some point).

The miniseries concludes with Batman preventing city-wide death, but the true high-point of the comic is when the devil, disguised as an eerily calm child, comes to collect Whisper’s soul:

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This scene was frightening yet satisfying at the same time.  The reader comes to loathe Whisper for everything he’s done, yet one still can’t help but shudder at the thought of being damned for all eternity.

This comic’s tone was eerie, creepy, and painstakingly developed.  The characters tied into one another very well, and every facet of the comic worked together to create a truly terrifying story.  I hope future villains are as expertly crafted as Whisper was here.  Reading about him was truly fascinating, albeit disturbing.

-Jess

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