By most, if not all. accounts, Neal Adams is one of the most significant artists to ever draw the Caped Crusader — some might even argue the most significant. You’d never guess as much, though, if you were unfamiliar with Adams’ previous work and all you ever saw of his art was the picture of a rather deranged-looking Bruce Wayne reproduced above. To be fair, though, said panel is from the pages of Batman : Odyssey, truly one of the most flabbergasting superhero comics I’ve ever laid eyes on, and which DC will be collecting in hardcover format just a few short days from now (assuming they stick to their publishing schedule, which is sometimes a rather iffy proposition).
When word first got out that Adams was returning to Batman, reaction in the fan community was ecstatic — when the first issue of the series itself came out, though, reality set in and people suddenly remembered that while Adams was — and for the most part remains, don’t let that pic sway you too much — a fantastic visual storyteller, he’s also, well — a unique, shall we say, writer, as evidenced in the past by his creations such as Ms. Mystic (still the only comic I’ve ever seen that shows a deer in the woods throwing up!) and the astonishingly stupid Skateman. Needless to say, once it became apparent (like, on page one of issue one) that Batman : Odyssey was going to have a lot more to do with Adams riding his many personal hobby-horses than it was going to concern itself with indulging in trivialities like telling an actual coherent story, negative reaction was both swift and merciless.
On the most liminal level, I suppose, the numerous (and voluminous) critics are right — there’s no doubt that Batman : Odyssey is a tremendously self-indulgent work, with Adams ensuring prominent roles for all his favorite supporting characters such as Ra’s Al Ghul (who he co-created) and contriving a “plot,” painfully circuitous as it is, that somehow manages to get Batman riding on the back of a fucking pterodactyl inside the center of the Earth, thus ensuring that he gets a chance to expound — at great length! — about the “hollow Earth,” or, as he prefers to call them, “expanding Earth,” theories that he holds near and dear to his heart. I’ve even seen this series referred to as the comics equivalent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on more than one occasion.
But you know what? I’m here today to tell you that all the naysayers out there are wrong. Sort of. Sure, Batman : Odyssey makes no rational sense whatsoever — that’s the best thing about it! Whatever happened to liking a book just because it’s pure, stupid, unadulterated fun? We’re talking about a guy who dresses up like a bat and fights crime! It’s too late to demand to “grittiness” and “realism” in a Batman story from the very outset! Just roll with it, folks, and enjoy the unhinged ride! Besides, if Grant Morrison wrote a comic that featured Batman riding around on dinosaurs inside the center of the Earth, he’d be getting praise heaped on him for being “post-ironic,” and for “celebrating the nonsensical values inherent in the super-hero genre” — yet when Adams does it it’s proof that he’s “lost a step,” is “out of touch with the modern comics readership,” and, most insultingly, that he might be just plain “losing his grip on reality.” What’s up with that double-standard?
Okay, yes, Neal’s older now, and his art is a lot more —- uhhhmmmm — “free-form,” to be generous about it, and loosey-goosey than it used to be, but it’s still head and shoulders above any of the guys working on the monthly Bat-books today, all of whom are determined to reflect in their visual renderings the oh-so-somber tones of the uber-serious writers like Scott Snyder who are handling the scripting chores. All in all, while it admittedly goes waaaaayyyyy too far in the other direction, Batman : Odyssey is the perfect antidote to the modern version of the Dark Knight Detective, which has become mired in the act of taking itself far too seriously for its own good.
Most of the book, too, is narrated by a curiously shirtless Bruce Wayne, which brings us around to , I suppose, the actual subject of today’s post, which is the next step in the plot of our hypothetical Batman I movie, namely the “official” return of Bruce Wayne to Gotham City.
As you’ll recall if you’ve been following this series of posts, when last we left things, our guy Bruce had hopped a train west in preparation for catching a flight back home that was to signal the public end to his decade-plus-long sojourn to parts unknown. Needless to say, we know what the press and public doesn’t, which is that Gotham’s favorite (read : wealthiest) son has actually been ducking in and out of town for a couple years putting his “batcave” together, and setting to work as the as-yet-unnamed “bat-vigilante” in the evenings, as well (so as to avoid one rather obvious, but to my knowledge never-before-asked, question, namely : isn’t it awfully convenient that the Batman starts to turn up in town at pretty much the same time as the return of the prodigal Mr. Wayne?). We then segued into a series of brief introductory segments featuring most of the more prominent members of the series’ supporting cast — Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Selina Kyle/Catwoman, respectively — and now it’s time to pick things back up with the media circus that’s sure to greet Brucie-Boy from the moment he touches down on the tarmac.
We’ll get to all that tomorrow, though. For now, I leave you with one last thought vis a vis all the Neal Adams-bashing that’s been going on in the comics world over the last year-plus : guess who’s getting the last laugh? Neal Adams, “senile and over the hill” as he is, just inked an apparently-quite-lucrative deal to write and draw a six-part, sure-to-be-heavily-promoted, X-Men “event”-style miniseries for Marvel. It’ll probably be scoffed at by the quasi-sophisticated “elite” readership out there — you know, the folks who, if they were so fucking discerning, wouldn’t be reading superhero comics in the first place — but sell like hotcakes regardless. And while it’s sure to make very little, if any, conventionally-defined sense, it’ll probably still be better than Avengers Vs. X-Men by a ludicrously wide margin.