Batman: Grotesk

Grotesk, the title of the current Batman 4 part story arc, came to a close yesterday with Batman #662… thank god.
This arc, written by John Ostrander, is cliche from head to toe. The dialogue is sophomoric and the art (by Tom Mandrake) is lacking.

Grotesk ties Detective Comics #825 for title of the worst Batman story in the past few months.

It all begins with two cops, a veteran and a rookie, investigating suspicious activity at Gotham City Dock 42. They discover a man burning alive, begging to be shot. The vet does.

Later, Batman shows up in disguise and investigates the crime scene. The story follows the usual patterns of Batman following leads and running in to danger. At one point he has his first run in with the person dubbed by the media, and thus himself, as Grotesk. He is a lame hunch back slug with a mechanical arm that can produce fire. His “face” is covered in stitches, (later we find out this is a mask stitched together by his victims’ faces) and appears to be over weight. In short, Batman should have no trouble taking him out. Instead, Grotesk escapes by pulling the old which-one-will-you-choose routine when he lights a truck on fire. This over-used cliche happens twice in the Grotesk story. First in issue one and again in issue three when Batman must choose between apprehending Grotesk, saving a woman from the Geisha gang, or saving himself. Of course he chooses the latter two and Grotesk escapes.

Nothing much happens in part 2 (Batman #660). Batman investigates more goings on, gets in a couple more fights, and finishes out the issue by attacking a villain while yelling “prepare to bleed”. Yes, that’s right, prepare to bleed.

Grotesk lacks the mystery and intrigue that Ostrander tries to build around him. he is basically a Phantom of the Opera rip-off. This image is solidified when he leads a Russian gang leader and his posse to a trap at the Gotham City opera house. The gang shows up to acquire an invention done by the “late” Dr. Wayne Franklin, (what has appeared from the first issue to be the true identity of Grotesk) called the I-Gore. A Japanese gang leader is also lead in to the trap along with his geisha girl body guards. Batman also shows up. All the while Grotesk slinks around in the rafters yelling various ominous sentences. This is the most transparent Phantom of the Opera cliche I’ve seen in a while.

The new characters in this story lack any depth. The Japanese gang leader is particularly lame. He is obsessed with American crooners, thus he dresses like them and is constantly singing famous songs from the 50’s. Meanwhile, the Russian gang was malevolent, ready to shoot anything that dared oppose them (yet another cliche, this time in the form of a stereotype left over from the cold war).
The two characters appearing in the story felt like a cheap attempt to blend old campy Batman comics with the new darker Batman of today. In one panel you have a crooning, badly drawn Japanese man trying to imitate the American culture. The next thing you know, you have a pure evil Russian man getting his arm chopped off by an innocent looking geisha girl.

Then there’s Robin. No… there isn’t Robin. What happened to him? Throughout this entire story there has been no mention of the Boy Wonder, even though he was adopted by Batman a few issues ago.

DC is blowing it with Batman. They had this grand reset on the character with the end of Infinite Crisis and thus far, they’ve wasted it on two terrible stories, counting Detective Comics #825. In truth the issues preceding #825 were fairly useless and boring. Thankfully Grant Morrison will be returning with #663 along with Andy Kubert. Hopefully we can get back to some decent story telling.

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