“God be good to the man in black, who guards the door and keeps that key.”
Comics are confusing. I’d argue that nothing is quite as confusing as the world of DC comics, particularly the really out-there cosmic stuff. And Grant Morrison is famously bonkers. So the two of them together, in the wake of one of DC’s typically bloated and ridiculous crossover events (penned by the chaos magician himself) in a Batman-meets-Cloud Atlas time-hopping adventure – how confusing could it be?
If we’re comparing the big two players in the comic book industry, the cosmic side of Marvel is weird, but it’s always been better than DC, who have never quite been able to pull it off. Even before the MCU made C-list characters household names, I’d argue more people knew about Thanos and the infinity stones than Darkseid and his boom tubes. Maybe it’s because their wider universe was never quite as popular as Marvel’s, maybe it never had the chance. Either way, DC never quite got to the same level. This is all to say, I don’t love that side of the DC comics universe. It never quite works for me. I want that to be known going in. Luckily, this acts as an (almost) standalone story. And it’s pretty good.
After being hit full-pelt by Darkseid’s Omega Beams, Batman is flung backwards through time. His first stop is the dawn of time, or thereabouts. He very quickly ends up in a conflict against a group of cave-dwelling Neanderthals, led by Vandal Savage. He soon finds his trusty utility belt and fights then off, before fleeing by jumping from a waterfall. When he emerges, he’s in a different time altogether. And that’s the basic idea of the comic; Bruce Wayne appears in a time in history, gets into some scrapes, wakes up in another time. Though explaining it that simply is doing it a disservice. It’s Grant Morrison after all, so if you want something simple, go an find another book.
The times we see are the aforementioned Paleolithic Era, 16th century Puritan Gotham, a pirate-heavy 18th century, the Wild West, an unspecified noir era, and finally the end of time itself at the ‘Vanishing Point’ – a massive archive of every moment in time, balanced at the end of the universe. What makes these issues so exciting to me is that each one is drawn by a different artist, which means each issue feels entirely unique (almost – Morrison’s psychedelic style is present throughout). But this also means that some are better than others, after all you’re always going to have your own opinion when it comes to artwork. For example, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the art in the Western story, ‘Dark Night, Dark Rider’ – but it’s probably someone else’s favourite. I love the artwork in ‘Until the End of Time’, but others won’t care for it. It’s the risk you run with a project like this, but it’s well worth it.
The writing is love it or hate it. I’ve seen people call Morrison a genius, other people detest the guy. I like it. It’s over the top, a touch pretentious, but I appreciate him trying some new things with the medium. My main complaint is that it kinda falls to pieces under its own weight by the end. And ultimately, I’d rather see more time-hopping and less Justice League and minor b-list characters. And as with other Morrison stories, it probably doesn’t make complete sense to anyone but him. But I guessed as much going in.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s a fun – albeit confusing – read. If nothing else, it’s awesome just to see Bruce Wayne in all of these different incarnations as he travels through time to recover his memory and get home. And if nothing else, it’s spurred me on to pick up a few more of Grant Morrison’s Batman stories. Look out for the reviews of them in the coming weeks.