I peaked really, really early in my pursuit of Batman comics, getting to a lot of the best stuff first and setting the bar really, really high. Ergo, it’s been hard to recapture that level of strong, innovative writing married to superb art ever since (at least, from a borrowing from the public library perspective—no doubt the good stuff is easier to handpick if you can afford to buy it all). But that doesn’t stop me from reading new (to me) stuff.
The plot of Batman Unseen feels very much like it could have come from the Silver Age of comics. The characterization of the mad scientist is rather uninspired; like Jonathan Crane, he’s been denied funding and sacked from his research field because of his unethical experiments. Sadly, though, he totally lacks Scarecrow’s charm. I’ve dipped in and out of the Black Mask arc and only recently learned what it was all about, from reading the Batman Encyclopedia. He’s a difficult villain to reconcile with reality, but as I said, the sort of B movie plot of this particular volume causes you to hang up your disbelief like removing a hat. The drawing style of Kelley Jones seemed to me at first to be quite workaday; I don’t really like his Bruce Wayne at all, he looks too much like Solomon Grundy! However, any objections whatsoever to Jones’ style go out the window when you reach page 108. So far, Jones’ Batman has been remarkable for his stylized, almost vampire-like “ears” (which, I can see from the cover, is in common with Batman: Vampire). The whole volume, of course, owes inspiration to The Invisible Man, and I suppose the mad scientist is perhaps an homage to the loathsome Griffin. However, Jones’ tour-de-force drawings are in the final act. Add to this some really interesting drawings of the “Meat Man” going skeletal, transparent, and back again, and art-wise, the volume is really unique. It’s just a shame that Doug Moench’s dialogue gives a reader so little to work with.
And please don’t get me started on The Joker’s Last Laugh. Frankly, this was a huge disappointment. I like the opening wheeze—the Joker has been diagnosed with cancer—but Justice League of America, thousands of kooky supervillains, and an equal number of superheroes (most of them with superpowers), as well as a not-entirely-convincing-nor-that-well-drawn Joker is just not my cup of tea. It felt like it was collapsing under the weight of its own mythos. That’s my opinion, anyway.