The Comic Book Club: “Batman” #700 and “Young Allies”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Douglas Wolk and Evan Narcisse discuss Batman #700 and the first issue of Young Allies.

GRAEME: God, I’m getting old. I remember Batman #400, 500 and 600 all coming out and my buying them.

#700 was… okay, I guess? I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did, and what I did like was little touches, rather than the whole thing. The idea of three different Batmen (and then some more, right at the end, including Batman One Million, which made me very happy) all working on the one case is a good one, if somewhat unoriginal, and the time travel aspect was interesting, but… I don’t know, I feel as if none of the Batmen in question really came out of it that well. Certainly, this flashforward to Damian Batman made him seem a much less interesting incarnation than he did back in #666.

Biggest disappointment? Frank Quitely not being able to finish his story. Scott Kolins’ new painted look is nice enough, but a bit jarring when compared to Quitely. Biggest surprise? I didn’t hate the David Finch pages.

DOUGLAS: On a first reading, what I liked about Batman #700 was the little touches, too. After I reread it a few times, I realized that there really are an awful lot of good little touches, despite the not-quite-there central mystery. (Although I would much rather have had eight more story pages than the Bat-editorial office burning through some of its inventory of emergency generic Batman covers.)

Some details I particularly liked:

*The suggestion that the “yesterday” sequence is the transition from the Carmine Infantino-era, TV-show-derived Batman to the meaner Neal Adams-era Batman

*The callouts to other notable Batman stories outside the scope of the three specific eras here–“No Hope in Crime Alley,” the gang from The Dark Knight Returns, the fact that the Joker-baby is Terry McGinniss

*Dick asking after the cop’s kid–he’s got that kind of personal touch that Bruce didn’t–and the hint that the kid in question grew up to become Max Roboto

*Dick and Damian eating pizza! Although I probably could have guessed that that scene was written for Frank Quitely to draw instead, even if I didn’t know.

GRAEME: I love that the pin-ups are so clearly inventory covers – One of Dustin Nguyen’s even has “Streets of Gotham” written on it.

It’s funny that the Finch pages are pretty much filler after the story is over, and yet some of my favorite stuff in the entire issue: Batman One Million! Batman Beyond! Morrison doing his “This is how people talk in the future!” schtick! All great stuff.

I’ll have to look at the issue again, but one of the things that didn’t seem to make sense to me on first read, and needed another readthrough to fall into place, was the chronology of Professors. The one Damian meets in the future looked younger, to me, than the one Bruce and Dick time-traveled with in the past.

DOUGLAS: He does, and that’s a problem–the one Damian meets (who kills his 2025 self) is supposedly “a younger Carter Nichols by some fifteen years,” meaning he’s several years older than the one in the sequence with Bruce.

Another problem: this issue is supposed to explain why we hadn’t seen Prof. Nichols since 1964: “Poor guy wound up reclusive, scared to leave his house and we lost touch,” Dick says in the second sequence. Except it turns out Nichols was actually in… Batman #600! So much for institutional memory.

EVAN: If Return of Bruce Wayne is Morrison doing Batman nearly free of recognizable trappings, then this issue just piles them on. But one of the things I like about Morrison’s Batman is how he infuses the characters with personality. It sounds trite, but lots of writers have come and gone without making Bruce, Dick or even Alfred feel like unique creatures. In this run, Bruce has felt passionate and occasionally even raw, more reactive to events than the cold, emotional Batman that’s been the staple. And Dick’s been downright personable as Batman, as Douglas notes. I also feel like this personality-shifting may speak to the way the characters are understood now. Bruce may’ve had more of a shell around him because he was of the era where comics were more misunderstood, but Dick is a perfect fit for a period of time where geek culture is ascendant.

Ok, enough meta-commentary. I can say that “No Hope in Crime Alley” is one of my favorite Bat-stories, because Leslie Tompkins represents everything that Batman can’t do. What I didn’t like was that this issue didn’t feel “special” enough. I would’ve liked more pages, some other creators from the character’s past, I dunno, more history. I like it when anniversary issues give you a sense of the character’s history and, while the story does that in a fictional sense, the publishing history is kinda on the wayside. You only get to 700 every 70 years. Why skimp?

DOUGLAS: Evan, speaking of Alfred and “unique creatures,” I was very happy to see the return of my favorite character from #666 on the title page: Alfred the cat! And you’ve given me an excuse to look at the lineups for those earlier anniversary issues:

#100: are there any survivors of this era of Batman?

#200: I guess we technically did get some Neal Adams pages in this issue! It’d be nice to know what Mike Friedrich was up to, though.

#300: David V. Reed and Dick Giordano have both left us (although I didn’t realize until I looked it up that Reed created Deadshot!). Walt Simonson, though; it’d have been nice to get a page by him–!

#400: The first one of these that I bought when it came out too. I am also old. We actually do get a page by Bill Sienkiewicz, who drew its cover and an interior chapter (and who’s drawing a Joker’s Asylum one-shot next week! About the Mad Hatter, but not the one who’s in this issue!). Doug Moench just wrote that Batman Unseen miniseries a couple of months ago…

#500: Moench wrote this one too; has anyone else written consecutive 100-multiple issues of a superhero title? Cover art is by Kelley Jones (who drew Batman Unseen) and Joe Quesada (who I suspect is otherwise engaged these days); of the interior artists, Jim Aparo’s passed away, and I think Mike Manley is now drawing “Judge Parker.”

#600: Ed Brubaker, I’m guessing, is exclusive to Marvel now; Scott McDaniel’s apparently going to be drawing Detective Comics #867-870, which is good to see.

But that also raises the question: who do you think of as the definitive Batman artists who are still alive–the ones you’d really like to have seen in a special issue like this? Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, obviously, but dream on in both cases. My personal favorites are both gone: Aparo and Don Newton. Do I hear a Trevor Von Eeden?

EVAN: Seconded for Trevor Von Eeden. I really like Norm Breyfogle’s run from the 90s, too. See, I love Aparo and Newton, too, and one of the things issues like this used to do was give you a beginner’s course of creators who left their stamp on a character. That’s how I found out who Dick Sprang was; it was thanks to some celebratory issue.

DOUGLAS: To touch on Young Allies for a minute: I like a lot of Sean McKeever’s Marvel writing; he obviously specializes in teen ensemble dramas (man, do I miss his Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane); I’ve only seen the first couple of issues of his Nomad miniseries, but I enjoyed those. But man is this a mess. David Baldeón’s rubbery, goony faces establish entirely the wrong tone. The Araña stuff happens after what we’re told are important events in issues of Amazing Spider-Man that are now not coming out until the middle of next month. And the “Bastards of Evil,” besides sounding like a name Warren Ellis would have written down and then immediately scratched out, are a terrible idea; people don’t band together to do awful things just to be awful.

It reads like the idea of keeping the trademark in play preceded the premise for the story; even all the talking-heads scenes don’t sell me on most of these characters, or why they belong together. I do think it’s pretty funny that the Toro for this incarnation of the Young Allies is a bull-type rather than a Human Torch-type, but I already can’t stand him. Also, the “origin recap” page for him at the end of this issue not only tells us what happened earlier in the issue itself, it reprints two panels from the story. That goes beyond “dumb” into “mildly insulting.”

GRAEME: My first thought about Young Allies was remembering what Tom Brevoort said about it being what people’d expected from McKeever’s run on DC’s Teen Titans, because this really, really felt like the 1980s New Teen Titans to me. As in, it felt like it came from three decades ago. I’m sure that some people will love it, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by anything here, other than (ironically, considering what you just said) the art. But from this first issue, I have no idea what makes this book any more deserving of an ongoing series than, say, Runaways or Young Avengers, both of which do the teen superheroes thing with more originality and verve. For a book about the next generation of superpowered characters, it felt very old-fashioned.

Readers: tell us what you thought!