By Alexander Webb
Welcome to the first installment of Flashback Friday with your comic book (and fitness!) consigliere, Alex. Today, we will take a look at a storyline from 2007 that eventually led into one of the most explosive events of the Modern Age of Comics. That event is Final Crisis; the lead-in, and today's topic, is Batman: The Black Glove.
(Note: As this story was pre-New 52 continuity, there are no spoilers for the current incarnation of Batman. Those of you reading storylines before 2011, however, may want to shield your eyes now.)
The graphic novel opens with a bold statement, awash in award-winning artists Tony Daniels and J.H. Williams III's impossibly gorgeous handiwork: There is an evil at work with roots planted deeply in Gotham, and it may be the one enemy Batman has not prepared for. This evil is mysterious and operates out of sight, but may or may not have a hand (get it?) in even the tightest crannies of Gotham. More on that later.
The first story sees Batman and Robin traveling to a private island for a reunion of the International Club of Heroes. The Club, created years ago in the infancy of Batman's crime-fighting career, consists of Batman-inspired heroes from across the world, with names too cool not to mention; El Guacho, the Hispanic Batman; Man-of-Bats, the Native American Batman; and Knight and Squire, England's Batman, to name only a few. Hooked already? Good, it gets better.
The gathering is interrupted when one of the Heroes is murdered and an Agatha Christie-whodunnit ensues, with clues tipping off our Batman to a certain dark-colored piece of hand apparel. This is where Williams' illustration shines. His work on Batwoman speaks for itself to this day, but his smooth textures and theatrical display in this story make it easy to forget there are word bubbles to read. Of course, writer Grant Morrison pulls readers back in and reminds us that he's no slouch, either.
In the early stages of his Batman run here, Morrison takes charge and shows us how witty and daring he can be with a cast of characters that usually don't show up in today's more serious tone of Dark Knight fare. Never saying more than what's necessary, and often using silence as an effective emotional tool, Morrison establishes The Black Glove as a force to be reckoned with, and Batman and Robin have no choice but to play ball.
The second story picks up where Morrison's initial Batman run from months earlier, Batman and Son, left off. Batman finds himself up against the third of the three enigmatic 'replacement' Batmen. Trained police officers, brainwashed in isolation chambers to be able to take up the mantle of Batman as an experiment by The Black Glove, are coming after our hero. Why? What's the driving force behind this evil power? The mystery unfolds as we dig deeper, and artist Tony Daniel shows us the way with dark tones and morose displays of these demonic Batmen. The hallucination scenes are especially dark, when Batman is medically deceased for four minutes (did you just read that right?!) and his deepest fears pour out of his subconscious. Worth the read for this story alone, folks.
Our final story of Batman: The Black Glove sees Morrison and artist Ryan Benjamin tackle the relationship between Bruce Wayne and supermodel-turned-African diplomat, Jezebel Jet. After quarreling about Bruce's evasive and masked persona, the two are attacked at the restaurant by an exiled member of the Ten-Eyed Brotherhood. Needless to say, someone must save the day. Even with son Damian and former lover Talia keeping tabs on him and Nightwing and Robin coming to aid, Bruce shows his true prowess to an unsuspecting Jezebel. All becomes clear to her as she is enlightened with the revelation of Bruce's alter-ego.
Benjamin's style comes out swinging with expressive and detailed depictions of Bruce and Jezebel. The look Bruce has in his eyes as he shows his real self to Jezebel is exactly how we would expect; pained, dark and unrelenting. Morrison's plot thickens as we see more loose ends (Did he really just reveal himself to one of his girlfriends?!) that will lead directly into follow-up Batman RIP.
Alex, enough with the paragraphs! Does this graphic novel stand the test of time, even in an outdated continuity? Yes, dear reader, it does; very much so. Even though the DC timeline has changed, many story strands leak over. No spoilers, but reading Batman: The Black Glove sheds some light on the age-old question of who controls who, Batman or Bruce Wayne. Not to mention top-notch artwork and the kind of writing we've come to expect from Grant Morrison.
Alex Webb is a fitness trainer by day, Batman-enthusiast by night. Ask him about fitness, comics, RPGs, and answering life's mysteries via Twitter and Instagram @officiallywebb