Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by JCDoyle0
Batman and the Flaming Nun
Everyone remembers that time Batman fought the flaming nun in the underwater school in Austria? No? Just me then.
When I first started to buy the American imported comics at the end of the 80’s I was limited to what I could buy. I could only manage to get to a specialist shop once every other month but then I discovered mail order and all of a sudden I could buy long runs of a title all in one go.
The first series I ordered was Legends of the Dark Knight and I got the first 10 issues all in one massive bundle which was left, if memory serves, in the dustbin because it was too big for the letter box. Shaman, the first story arc of the series, was a retelling of the Batman origin and a good start to a new title but it was the second arc that really gripped me.
Gothic by Grant Morrison is the story of Mr Whisper, a supernatural killer seeking to cheat the Devil and rent a little revenge on the way. Mr Whisper returns to Gotham after 20 years and starts to knock off the current heads of the Mob families using cryptic poetical warnings and elaborate assassinations. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is having nightmares of his old school master Mr Winchester. The two things are linked and it’s up to Batman to make the connection through very careful investigation and a road trip to Austria.
As the story unfolds we find out that a Mr Whisper was part of a satanic monastery and he sold his soul for 300 years of life. The monastery is flooded as a punishment for the depraved acts that occur within its walls but Mr Whisper survives and hatches a plan to beat the devil when his time is up. This plan includes the construction of a cathedral in Gotham from which he can release a more virulent version of the Black Death into the city and collect the souls of the millions who will die.
Grant Morrison took a brave step in writing a supernatural horror story so early in the life of Legends of the Dark Knight. The title had been released to depict a harsher and grittier Batman which was all the rage at the time and adding supernatural elements seemed to be in contrast to this. However, Morrison was able to pull it off by making his story a true gothic horror with all the nastiness that this entails while at the same time linking it directly to the down to earth crimes that Batman would be involved with. Morrison was inspired by a host of historical material to create the Gothic storyline: everything from the legend of Faust through Don Giovanni and on to Fritz Lang’s classic film M. It also has everything, serial killers, mobsters, deals with the devil, roof top action sequences, gothic cathedrals, sunken schools, scary nuns and the Devil him/her self.
Gothic is a brilliant piece of literature and is accompanied by the creepy art work of Klaus Janson. Each of the characters show such a wide range of emotion it’s a wonder there was enough room in the five part story to feature such a large cast. Janson’s pencil work reflects the traditional gothic style from which the story was born. In places it’s rough and sketchy but it becomes simple and clear when it needs to be. There is a wonderful sequence where Batman struggles to escape an elaborate execution device set up by Mr Whisper and Janson makes it feel like a scene from the 1966 Batman TV show but it looks like something from the Tim Burton movies.
And this is the hook that this story arc has: it reflects so many different aspects of the Batman franchise but creates something new and exciting. It was one of the first Batman comics I bought and it has become one of the most read Batman arcs in my collection. If someone was to ask me to lend them a Batman story, this would be the first I would pass to them. I believe that it is a beautiful work of art and literature and that is why it is my favourite Batman story.
Title: Legends of the Dark Knight
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Klaus Janson