Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch continue their excellent, slow burn with The Batman’s Grave #9. Considering we’re getting close to the book wrapping up, I’m sure that some readers will be disappointed in the lack of plot progression, but there is a shift in the narrative, even if it is slight, that changes the stakes for Batman.
Early in this book’s run, I made some comments about the narrative not coming together fast enough. It’s become pretty clear at this point that this book never had any intention of being one of those fast-paced, bombastic, books that race through a story. No, Ellis and Hitch both wanted to tell a nuanced, subtle story that focuses on detective work as Batman attempts to puzzle through a series of crimes. Is this story for everyone? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d make the guess that most people loving Tynion’s Batman run probably wouldn’t care for this. But for me… I’m the exact opposite.
Now that we know that Scorn is the man behind all of the recent crimes, and more importantly, who Scorn is, it’s time for Batman to start taking the fight to him. The biggest thing he needs to figure out first though is what Scorn’s motivations and endgame are. And he needs to do it quickly, because Scorn may have put his crosshairs on Batman now.
As I mentioned above, there’s not a lot in the way of plot progression here. We have pages early on and towards the end with quite a bit of dialogue, but they’re mostly just conversations. I think they’re conversations that are written incredibly well, but they’re still conversations and some people don’t want that. The earlier pages feature Gordon and Batman devising a plan to stop Scorn – both men have different opinions on how to approach it – while the latter pages feature Bruce and Alfred trying to work Scorn’s motivation.
I often mention comics lacking nuance, but The Batman’s Grave has ample amounts of it. Ellis takes his time with characters. He’s in no rush to get to the next story beat, or just hit the big moments. Instead, he lets his characters chew on the scenery a bit. He allows moments to breathe. We actually get to see our characters working through their problems to find a solution. And in a time where comics tend to do this off-panel or in between issues, then follow-up with walls of exposition to explain what happened, it’s incredibly refreshing to have a creative team actually show rather than tell.
Speaking of showing, Hitch does a lot of heavy lifting in this issue. There are multiple pages where there is no dialogue. While half of those pages are action and explosions, there are also plenty of pages that set-up those moments. It’s refreshing to see that Ellis trusts Hitch enough to tell the story, and that’s honestly how comics should be. There’s no need to have dialogue explaining what the picture shows if your artist is good enough. There’s no need for grunts or “Hrn” sound effects either. There’s not even a need for quips or one-liners. The art just tells the story.
If you’ve never understood what I mean when I talk about artists being good storytellers, the images above are a prime example. Hitch creates a narrative flow from panel to panel to tell the story (sequential art). It’s very similar to the opening scene of The Dark Knight when Joker and his goons break into the bank. There’s little to no dialogue, but you know exactly what’s taking place, and you’re intrigued by it. Quiet moments can be effective when done correctly, and I really wish writers would trust their artists more to accomplish this for them.
The biggest thing to come out of this issue is the shift in Scorn’s target. So far, Scorn has been going after the police and justice system, but with Batman hot on his trail, he has now grouped Batman into the justice system and made him his primary target. Up to this point, the entire run has been Batman chasing Scorn, and now, that chase has reversed. It’s not a huge narrative shift, but it does create more tension and suspense, and I’m eager to see how far Scorn is willing to go to try and stop Batman.
Again, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I find it effective. A lot of my praise is for the technical craft executed by both Ellis and Hitch. I discuss this every single month. The writing and art are so strong that they don’t need to rely on gimmicks to tell their story. That being said, if you feel that this book moves too slow to read on a monthly schedule, I would completely understand. In my opinion – and I’ve said this before – it’s clear that the intention of this story is to be consumed at once. Yes, it’s being released as individual issues, and Ellis has scripted it so it can work that way, but with all of the subtleties and nuance, you aren’t necessarily going to get the full impact that way. But when it is released in trade format, I believe you’ll find many more people talking about this book and how good it is.
- You like books that take their time with the narrative.
- You prefer nuance in your stories.
- Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch should be reason enough.
Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch continue to slowly unfold their narrative as Batman discovers who Scorn is, and that Scorn has turned his assault on him. We continue to get great conversations between Batman and Gordon, and Bruce and Alfred, and a rise in tension due to the new stakes. I know this book isn’t for everyone, but if you’re one of those fans who feel that writing is more than just solid stories and the art should be more than just cool pictures, then this is the book for you.