Batman: Fortunate Son
Gerard Jones, writer,
Gene Ha, artist
(DC Comics, 1999)

DC doesn't release many graphic novels in hardback, so the hullabaloo surrounding the release of Fortunate Son made it seem like something great was in the offing. Although I prudently waited for its re-release in softcover form, I was still eager to take it home and read the tale.

I wish I'd resisted the urge. The story, which attempts to tap into the pop culture of rock 'n' roll, turns Batman and Robin (the original, Dick Grayson) into two-dimensional stereotypes: Robin is the rebellious youth with rock 'n' roll in his soul, while Batman is the aloof parent figure who thinks rock music is nothing but an evil influence on kids. There's a misguided and tragic rock star, worshipped by Robin (and countless others) and scorned by Batman, and the relationship between the Dynamic Duo is on the rocks because of little issues like playing rock music in the Batcave.

The story deals heavily with a thinly veiled Elvis clone, disguised with blond hair and called the God, not the King, of Rock 'n' Roll. It sets up all of the expected, tired, cliched situations between staid figures of authority and young rockers with attitudes, looking for trouble. Of course, we learn that Batman disdains rock music because of something his late father said shortly before his death -- if you look back over the years of Batman comics, you'll discover that the day Bruce Wayne's parents were killed was a very busy day indeed, packed beyond reckoning with family bonding, angst and benchmark events. And, of course, Batman seeks to understand his foes in this story by spending an afternoon in a music library where, after listening to music and scanning archived magazines for a few hours, he emerges as an unparalleled expert on the history and psyche of the rock culture.

The scene in Arkham Asylum, which is apparently populated entirely by crazed supervillains and rock 'n' roll degenerates, is particularly embarrassing writing. The art suffers there, too; the pasty-faced Joker regained his normal skin and hair coloring for a portion of the story, an error which should never have passed through editing.

There have been a lot of books of varying quality from DC in recent years, although largely I've been very pleased with the quality of the company's output. Fortunate Son, however, is the worst I've read in years.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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