Alan Grant: Scottish Connection

Dodano: 26 August 2013

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The author of the article is Łukasz Chmielewski. You can learn more about the author here.

Alan Grant is a Scottish comic book writer who in the 80s and 90s shaped the Dark Knight character. Under the guise of a superhero comic he would often sneak in his remarks concerning current social problems, politics, culture etc. to present readers with something more than a boilerplate stories of masked crime fighters. He is one of the most distinguished creators in the history of this character along with Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, and Greg Rucka.

SCOTTISH CONNECTION

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Batman (about Ratcatcher and other psychopaths): ‘I’ve seen it so often— They start off looking for revenge, then it becomes an obsession, and they end up in a world apart!’

Alfred gives Batman a meaningful look.

Batman notices it and stays silent.

Batman: ‘Yes?’

Alfred: ‘I didn’t say a word, sir!’

     Alan Grant, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #43

 

            He launched his career in Great Britain where (together with his partner in crime John Wagner) he was glimpsed by Dennis O’Neil, the group editor of Batman comic saga. When it turned out the artistic and commercial success of Miller’s oeuvres, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, did not translate into a rise in Bat comics sales figures, O’Neil realised he had to work out a new formula. His idea was to hire British authors who, like Alan Moore with the Swamp Thing series, were supposed to revitalise the comic icon.

Shadow Of The Bat #50 pg00

            The writing duo was teamed up with an American penciller Norm Breyfogle, and the new era in Batman comics began. First of all, Breyfogle drew the Bat differently from his predecessors: he showed the character in a simplified form, taking away some of his human traits and making him more of an embodiment of elemental forces or even darkness personified. Obviously, the Dark Knight remained a man in costume, but this change in drawing style established both new standards and the direction which others took, Kelley Jones for instance. Breyfogle’s style was also marked by amazing dynamism, especially as far as incredibly drawn fight sequences are concerned. To that, Wagner and Grant added stories which not only let the penciller showcase his strengths, but also themselves carried an important message.

            Disappointed with royalties, John Wagner stepped back from writing scripts for the Detective Comics series and thus it was Grant/Breyfogle pair that for a few years became the ‘hard core’ of the Bat legend. Readers could marvel at the results of this cooperation in three series: from Detective Comics to Batman to Batman: Shadow of the Bat. The last one seemed in fact tailor-made for Alan Grant, who wrote it almost till the end, that is for more than eighty issues. In our times and in the face of the laws governing the comic industry it is a somewhat rare feat.

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            The list of artists the Scottish writer had the chance to collaborate with is of course longer. Likewise the list of stories he penned about Batman (apart from regular issues he wrote a great deal of special projects both in the official continuum and elseworlds, crossovers, and even books) and about a number of other DC universe heroes. Obviously, with such a plethora of projects not all of them are good comics, the ones you remember after many years. Not all of them a reader will want to go back to, either. Nevertheless, in Alan Grant’s output there are (and due to the nature of Gotham in the Rain we only focus on his Batman comics) several dozen outstanding stories that bear witness to his brilliant talent.

            The strong suit of the Batman adventures he wrote was the sociological bent. Grant used the Dark Knight tribulations as a bully pulpit to talk about the world around him, to denounce human greed, stupidity, and omnipresent evil. He commented on social ills, politicians’ dirty tricks; he sneaked in philosophical and ideological elements that you could disagree with but had to appreciate the skill the writer showed in building a story arc while never forgetting that he worked on a superhero comic after all. In Grant’s scripts erudition shows, as does aiming to impart a lot of his knowledge to a receptive audience. The great majority of the Scot’s comics are far more than run-of-the-mill adventure fiction, and this may be the only thing to separate a skilful craftsman from a real artist with something to say. Grant at times appears to be ‘merely’ a master of his craft, only to dazzle with the artistry of his scripts a moment later.

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            Unique sense of humour (deployed especially in Lobo, a cult figure among Polish readers) which surfaces in very well written dialogues (especially Alfred Pennyworth’s) or first-rate scenes scattered here and there* are hallmarks of the Grant’s output as well.

            His scripts are notable not only thanks to original ideas (he preferred to create both new heroes and new villains instead of using others’ creations) but also because of his technique. The comics he wrote always boast mature, downright cinematic, narration which never overwhelms visual presentation with text, and they contain deftly written dialogues which, after all, were not always easy to come by in the comics published in the 80s.

Batman & Judge Dredd - Die Laughing 1 pg21

            Alan Grant is also one of the last writers to introduce truly original characters to the motley crew surrounding the Bat. The villains he invented, such as Ventriloquist and Scarface, Mr Zsasz, Ratcatcher, Tallyman are (ig)noble comrades of such monstrous legends as the Joker, Two-Face, or Scarecrow. It is worth pointing out that in the following years no significant character joined the Batman enemies hall of fame (maybe with the exception of Dixon’s Bane), since no one would call Hush or hackneyed and caricature-like Grant Morrison creations significant. There aren’t many writers able to delve deep into the nature of evil or madness and to convincingly develop a villain in such a way that he or she becomes more than just a one-dimensional antithesis to the story’s protagonist. The Scottish author is definitely a member—and perhaps the most interesting one—of that select group. It’s obvious in the case of the terrifying Ventriloquist/Scarface duo** or Anarky seesawing between good and evil. Anarky is, by the by, a brilliantly written character that absolutely defies classification: a hero who wants to set the world right but the methods he adopts will never be understood or accepted by the world. He may be the most interesting of the Scot’s creations and the writer himself sees the Anarky four-part miniseries as one of the key comic books in his career.

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            It hurts that Grant no longer works for the Big Two—there are many characters who would only profit if such a master author were to care for them. DC Comics for rather unspecified reasons sort of forgot they could offer him a return to the Dark Knight world. But not only that. What is worse, no one in the company thinks it fitting to reissue all those cult gems*** the Scotsman wrote in the 80s and 90s. And that really is a crying shame.

 

 Shadow Of The Bat #63 pg00

 

* For instance the ones with private eye Joe Potato, the Karnak Cat final destination, or with Alfred hiding his dark passion, soap operas, and sarcastically commenting on his employer’s dark crusade.

** It only seems Arnold Wesker and his puppet are ludicrous characters: feel the atmosphere, imagine that such a person really exists, and you’ll quickly understand he is as scary as the Joker.

*** Issues with Grant’s outstanding or really good writing are: Detective Comics # 583–594, 608–611, 613, 614, 616–621, 627, 642; Batman # 455–466, 471, 475–476; Batman: Shadow of the Bat # 1–9, 11–13, 19–20, 28, 40–41, 73–82 and one-shots Batman/Scarface: A Psychodrama and Batman: The Scottish Connection (although the last one more for Frank Quitely’s artwork).

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