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Batman: Gothic. Written by Grant Morrison. Illustrated by Klaus Jansen. New York: DC Comics, 1992. 1v. (unpaged). $12.99. ISBN 0-446-39428-9.

Superheroes, horror

Adults, teens; gore, violence

NOTE: This title collects Legends of the Dark Knight, issues 6-10.

The cheerful torture of a hapless man by two thugs is interrupted by another man, who calmly and easily kills the thugs, then lights the torture victim on fire before departing. A mobster and his transvestite date are killed when their elevator plunges many stories to the ground. Another mobster and his girlfriend are killed when their seat at the opera blows up (or maybe when the chocolates they receive blow up--no way to know). The deaths are connected by quotes from the opera Don Giovanni. The mobster Ottavio is contacted by a frightened colleague, who claims Whisper, an unkillable man without a shadow, is back for revenge--just before Whisper kills the man and threatens Ottavio. The terrified crime bosses of Gotham decide to ask Batman for help. Batman isn't too thrilled about this--he's been suffering from nightmares about his school days and his father--and he curtly tells the mobsters, "You and your kind have turned Gotham City into a hell. Now rot in it."

Meanwhile, a deluded and rather spooky woman who calls herself the bride of Christ has been hanging around Gotham Cathedral, which is being restored and will be reopened to the public quite soon. Whisper is also hanging around the place as "Mr. Wicker," apparently the person behind the restoration. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce tells Alfred about his days in a private school, where he was tormented by both students and teachers, particularly a Mr. Winchester. Winchester beat Bruce for being "a dirty little sneak," and while being beaten, Bruce glimpsed the head of one of his missing classmates in the trash. Worse, Mr. Winchester had no shadow. He thought he was imagining things. Later, Bruce managed to sneak away from the school and call his father, who came storming in and took the boy away, though not until he was badly frightened by something Winchester said as Bruce's father yelled at him.

In his lavish apartment, Ottavio paces back and forth, terrified of Whisper. Whisper indeed shows up, as does Batman. Batman recognizes his old teacher, who has apparently not aged in 20 years. They fight; Whisper is knocked off the building, but gets up and runs off. Turning to question Ottavio, Batman discovers that the crime boss is dead, having drunk poison wine all unwittingly. This leaves Morgenstern as the main crime boss left in Gotham.

Batman traces Winchester to Austria and Lake Dess, which contains a "drowned monastery"--a monastery where all the monks turned to evil and were supposedly purged by water when the river Dess flooded it. The leader of these monks, one Manfred, supposedly made a deal with the devil to live for three hundred years. Batman goes diving to explore the monastery and finds a diagram of Gotham Cathedral. Returning to Gotham City, he looks up Morgenstern, who confesses to having killed Ottavio and then explains to Batman why Whisper had been taking revenge on the mobsters. Twenty years before, a serial killer of children was active, meaning more police on the streets and less opportunities for crime. The crime bosses decided to track down the killer themselves. However, they couldn't kill the man and so ended up tying him to an anchor and dumping him in the river.

Morgenstern, fearing for his own life, invites Batman to a meeting on the waterfront. However, when Batman gets there, he finds dozens of hanged bodies and is ambushed by Whisper, who, in true ultra-villain fashion, sets Batman up in a deathtrap and explains his entire plot to the helpless hero: in order to cheat Satan of his due, he's going to release a virulent plague on Gotham and trade all those millions of souls for his own and thus remain free of Hell. And what's the role of the crazy Jesus-bride? Is she a reincarnation of a nun savaged by the monks?

Well, you have to say this about Grant Morrison: He can be pretentious as all get out, but he is a good writer, especially when he's not being insane or obscure (a la Doom Patrol). Here, he's created an effectively creepy story with overtones of sadism and perversion (e.g., pederasty). The dream-scenes and flashbacks to Bruce's horrible private school were especially affecting and made a refreshing change from the usual Batman myth-fodder (though leaving private school did result in his parents getting shot; but this is only suggested, not shown). The scene where Whisper gloatingly reveals his plan to the seemingly helpless Batman is pretty corny, however, and exists (as so many of these scenes do) solely to provide exposition, as we know ol' Bats ain't gonna be stopped by some wimpy deathtrap. I was also annoyed when Batman was taken by surprise while standing over a seemingly dead Whisper. By this time, Batman knows the guy is immortal; what the heck is he doing, standing over him like an imbecile? (Especially in the middle of the subway, too!) And how come every character responds to some horrible incident with "Oh my God." or "My God."? (This is a Grant Morrison verbal idiosyncracy, much as "Oy" and "Feh" are common in Gerard Jones's scripts.)

Jansen's expressionistic art is effective, again especially in the flashback scenes. It's kind of "line-y" and blocky-angular, but he does eyes and some of the industrial backgrounds quite well indeed, and his style fits the mood of the story. The introduction (by F. Paul Wilson, whoever that is) talks about soul-selling, Gothic architecture, and Gothic literature. It's more interesting and helpful to the story by an order of magnitude over the silly intro in Batman: Shaman.

It's got a few plot problems, but Batman: Gothic is an interesting, well-written story in the canon. The elements of perversion that make the story stand out from other Batman titles also increase the average age of the reader. Recommended, not only for Batman fans but for horror-oriented readers as well.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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