By: Grant Morrison (writer), Chris Burnham (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)

The Story: These guys are cowboys and injuns!

The Review: We all know how important fleshing out a story beyond its skeleton of plot points can be.  Going about it, however, takes a certain amount of craft, otherwise you wind up with huge swaths of exposition that rarely sits well with your audience, be they readers or viewers.  Dropping in these kinds of substantial details as you go along is a lot easier said than done.

But it seems Morrison rarely has that problem.  He never tries to coddle you when it comes to catching you up to speed on what’s going on in the story or with the characters, and here is no different.  He drops you right in the middle of Man of Bats and Raven’s mission to protect their reservation from itself, and even if you have no previous experience with these two heroes or their world, you’ll have no problem learning everything you need to know in short order.

It’s all about paying attention what’s implied than what’s said, even those details dropped in passing, because with Morrison, absolutely no word or scene is wasted; everything comes back to play a part (e.g., bulletproof ghost shirt) sooner or later.  When Man of Bats breaks into a woman’s house despite Raven’s protests and discovers her dead and her child thus abandoned, it sets you up to respect his instincts even when they seem to get discredited later.

Morrison has always made sure each of these Batman candidates has enough grit and chops to deserve the distinction, and Man of Bats is no different.  This is a man who says, without irony, “I’ll put the first five of you in full body casts for eighteen months. Even wounded.”  And by wounded he means gruesomely stabbed in the gut.  Good Lord, this guy fought in Iraq and came home to work as a doctor on his reservation—how can you not respect that?

Each of these Batmen represent an aspect of the original: Nightrunner protects the people who revile him; El Gaucho puts fighting for justice over his debonair, billionaire lifestyle; Man of Bats polices his select domain to protect it from itself.  Placing that domain on a Native American reservation could’ve opened the story to any number of politically dicey clichés, but Morrison avoids them by giving everyone some measure of depth, even Sam Black Elk, who despite being a dog-kicking, drug-dealing, wannabe gangster lord, offers a surprisingly credible motivation for his gang: they fight “the laws that keep us down.”

And through it all we get a lovely, if unconventional take on the son coming to a newfound understanding and appreciation of his father.  Raven comes across not so much ungrateful, but weary of backing up his father’s unpredictable agenda at the cost of limiting his own heroic ambitions (“I’d kill to fight just one giant robot or master-villain…”).  Having Leviathan infiltrate even their fairly forsaken community at once reminds Raven of the importance of protecting the easily forgotten, and it fulfills his dream of fighting for bigger stakes.  Well-done.

Burnham packs every panel with little details: the little bat hood ornament on Man of Bat’s pick-up, the get-well cards around his hospital bed, not to mention the loads of props in their “Bat Cave.”  Let me point out two of the most outstanding ones: a glowing blue grizzly projection, whose origins I’m dying to know, and a giant wooden nickel, an idea so clever it almost makes me vomit with envy.

Conclusion: On-the-ground storytelling at its finest, jazzed up by a Batman spin.  You can’t ask for better than that.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Would it be in bad taste for me to say that since Raven gives his dad a blood transfusion after their bonding chat, they have a literal “heart to heart”?

– Good Lord, these “Next Month” panels get you hyped.  “Calling Batman!  Big trouble in Internet 3.0!”  “Understood. I’m on my way!