Jonathan Hickman and Grant Morrison both have reputations in superhero comics for the longform structured stories. Rather than winging it on a month by month basis, they have a plan, a way ahead, they know not only the story they'll be writing next month, but the one they'll be writing in four years. And so the books are full of plot points and foreshadowing that may not pay off for many issues to come, and will then reward the long standing reader and give extra pleasure when rereading books.
And two examples of these are published today.
Batman Inc #7 by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham and FF #5 by Jonathan Hickman and Barry Kitson. Both involve lead characters trying to control their destiny for the greater good, both have a growing family and both have a future and a past they are all too aware of, and wanting to change the rules of the game.
In Batman, we meet the Sioux Indian chief and Batman Inc operative, Man-Of-Bats, working as a hospital doctor and running a shoddy-in-comparison Batman operation. His dilapidated operation in comparison to Bruce Wayne's Gotham is demonstrated time after time in quite comic fashion, a shoddy pick up truck painted black with a Bat logo painted on the side, and a Bat Cave that's not only not hidden, but a log cabin with a big sign outside, with tour offers for $15. "Batman On A Budget". And it's not enough for his son and sidekick Little Raven, full of the escape-from-the-small-town-to-the-big-city drive.
And yes, there is a Bat Horse. And we acquire a Bat Hound along the way. It's to Chris Burnham's credit that none of this seems cheesy, it just is what it is, and feels bit grotty instead. People have compared his style to Frank Quitely, and they have a point, but they mostly talk about the surface lines. Frank excels as portraying portray people and objects that feel real, but he often does that with static or flash frame images, Chris gives us more three dimensional motion that convinces, akin to certain manga styles.
The shoddy feel is also a sign of the closeness Man-Of-Bats has to the people he helps, the book opens with a door-to-door scene, this Batman doing the rounds, a public service connecting with people that the Gotham version never could. And that creates a support group that our Batman could never rely on either.
And this operation does make Man-Of-Bats far more vulnerable to the actions of Leviathan, the global crime organisation that Morrison has been building for years in the books, and who seems to play a part in the future that Batman saw – and has intentions to do something about.
There's an idea that Batman may be able to learn from the way Man-Of-Bats operates. But there's also the reflection that what has happened to the American Indian population could happen to the world as a whole, under the control of Leviathan. Oh and a cool future tease that this book does so well.
Reed Richards' nightmare is also making itself known, and it is his nemeses, that he created himself – as himself. And now Reed's secret is out, other dimensional versions of himself, we first saw when Jonathan Hickman began on his original Fantastic Four arc. What was once seen as a way to enlightenment now seems to doom him, as they try to trigger the War Of The Four Cities that our Reed is is trying to avoid.
But as with Batman, much of the future, and plans to deal with it, are shrouded from the reader. But matters become a lot more visible now for Susan Storm.
There are secrets you keep and lies you tell in marriage, just to smooth things over. Sometimes they can be a dropped towel on the floor when your partner is a little on the OCD side. Attractions to sisters, or brothers perhaps. They don't all have to be affairs, secret bank accounts, or exactly how the car fell into the river.
But I think the fact that there are four evil versions of yourself running around the place should probably have come up.
Especially since the actions of Sue Storm and the FF in dealing with this particular version may well have led to the arrival of one of the Four Cities. Gotta collect them all, you know.
But then few families have children from the future who can only tell you so much, multi-dimensional gateways and Mole Men. Not on my street anyway. The rules probably should be a little different.
But just as this book looks to its future, it also keeps with its past – a familiar cast throughout, and Ben Grimm talking over the Johnny Storm situation with Alicia Marsters, grounds much of the action-adventuring and reminds us of everyone's motivation here.
They're not just trying to save the world, they're trying to save themselves. From themselves. And right now, they're not doing a very good job of it.