One of the silliest "Serious" Batman story you will ever read.
Batman: Fortunate Son is a 1999 graphic novel written by Gerard Jones and drawn Gene Ha that is well known for several things. Like Batman hating rock and doing stupid stuff. And Robin liking rock, and doing stuff. And a rock musician called Izaak Crowe hallucinating about a blonde Elvis and doing stupid stuff. Overall, this is graphic novel as stupid as it sounds.
Confession-time: This was a particular favourite of mine as a kid, and having read this a couple of times over a decade later, I still like it, but yeah, I have to agree with a lot of what people like Linkara have said about this comic: It is pretty damn stupid for a lot of reasons.
Honestly, I think this graphic novel would be a lot better with the point of view it presents if it was trying to be straight homage to the Silver Age/Adam West Batman TV series, but it isn’t. You know that nerdy posh kid that one day decides that he’s going to be “Down with the cool kids” and starts acting and dressing like them? Yeah, that’s this graphic novel. It’s a particularly stupid Silver Age story trying to be a grim and gritty Modern Age story.
But let’s deal with the central subject of this story first: Rock music. The whole thing is a critique on how rock music is apparently evil, saying it serves the sole purpose of making stupid violent people do stupid violent things. Yeah, I’m not much of a rock music fan or most music in general to be honest, but even I know how stupid that sounds. Rock music is no more likely to go and make you throw a brick through a shop window or stab someone to death as watching a Disney film is. Music, and by extension entertainment as a whole, doesn’t turn people into psychopathic killers unless said people were psychopaths in the first place.
Which leads us to one of the main characters, Izaak Crowe. Crowe is spiralling out of control thanks to all the drugs and hallucinations he has and goes off on a road trip across America. From what I gathered about the character, Crowe believes he can never live up to what I’m assuming is his idol “The God” because Crowe comes from a completely different background to him which has, in Crowe’s eyes, lead to him selling out. Therefore he wants to quit because due to apparently being a complete failure of a musician. Okay, decent enough motivation, if a slightly silly one, but why does he go on a rampage that includes making a shop orders his CDs and give them out to his fans for free?
Hell, every act he does is him rambling about how music is art and things should be free, but that might be more appealing if he didn’t start a small war after every sentence. Yes, I know people are planted in the crowds he gathers to cause the riots we see in the story, but if Jones wanted us to sympathise with the character and his viewpoint, having him in his second scene kick down a door and throw a grenade into a room, causing an explosion at a TV station that (Amazingly considering the size of the blast) didn’t kill or even hurt anyone doesn’t endear me to him.
Furthermore, people constantly go off on speeches about how “The song” was too big for Crowe, and that is why Crowe has go completely barking mad, but that’s just being deep for the sake of being deep. Famous creative people tend to derail their lives because they get too rich and too famous too quickly, surround themselves with too many idiots trying out too many things, and no one says “No” to them because they’re rich and famous. That’s why we really have so many burnt-out musicians. It’s not because there is some “Song” that is too big for them; they just let being rich and famous get to their heads too much.
Honestly, Izaak Crowe would be a much better character if he was portrayed as a relatively peaceful person who, even if his beliefs were horribly impractical, had a reasonable argument behind them. Having the actual villain of the piece (Crowe’ manager Roy Lazarus) plant some thugs in the crowd to frame him as being the inciter of huge amounts of violence would make him a sympathetic character, as all of his somewhat peaceful beliefs would be mistaken for something sinister. And then Jones could have made him a tragic character by having Crowe be unknowingly targeted for death by his manager and friend who just wants to kill Crowe and himself to make Lazarus a rock legend.
But this doesn’t work if Crowe kicks off a trail of destruction himself and takes part in that destruction. It just makes me want to sympathise with Batman’s insanely stupid viewpoint that rock music is evil.
Yeah, if you didn’t work it out from my introduction, the main conflict between Batman and Robin in this story is the fact they have differing opinions on the subject of rock, and because of their age differences and where they fall on the subject, they come off as one-dimensional stereotypes that made your eyes roll in embarrassment the first three thousand times you saw it.
Robin likes rock music, and thus, he must become a rebellious youth, while Batman hates it, and therefore must become the insanely close-minded authority figure who wants rock music sent back to whichever pit of Hell he thinks it came from. Okay, this stereotypical relationship conflict might have been a nice examination of the differences between the Dynamic Duo, but it’s so stereotypically executed that your eyes will roll when you first see them both in the graphic novel. Worse of all, it’s executed in a way that makes both these characters come across as complete bloody morons.
Robin constantly insists Crowe is innocent of his crimes and being framed, like most people who go and blow up a TV studio; burst into a shop and demands that they order his album and give the copies to his fans for free, starting a riot; break into a museum, smashing the place up and claim the body of Blonde Elvis, and cause another riot; and helping to cause another riot outside of L.A.
In fact, his naive and refusal to look at facts gets so stupid that I’m tempted to call this an Idiot Plot like I called Beyond! yesterday. This is because Robin goes around saying Crowe is being framed and innocent, but just looking at some CCTV footage of Crowe throwing a live grenade into a room at the beginning of the story would have proven to Robin Crowe’s guilt. Okay, Crowe was being manipulated throughout this story, but why doesn’t Batman use all those computers in the Batcave to pull up said CCTV footage and say “Hey Robin, have a look at this.”
Worse of all, Robin undergoes no character development whatsoever. He’s still the same naive idiot that he was at the beginning of the story. Therefore, a better story would be Robin then having to face up to the fact that the people he looks up to, whether it is Crowe or Batman, aren’t as cool and perfect as their initial image would make you believe. Just imagine being a 10 year fan of someone who the entertainment industry is selling as a nice, kind but still cool person, only to discover over time just how many problems they have, or even how completely opposite to the public image they are trying to sell they can be. That makes for a better story than being a naive idiot: Having something you believed to be true challenge completely and learning to accept that your heroes aren’t as perfect as you like to think.
And speaking of one’s heroes, let’s talk about Batman, who seems to assume every rock star is a dangerous, out of control anarchists. Why? Well, Jones gives us two explanations:
1) His father told him rock music was crap on the same day Batman’s parents died.
2) The equally stupid “Because some Sid Vicious look-a-like killed his girlfriend” explanation.
I’ll start with the latter one first. As I said before, rock music doesn’t make everyone that listens to it go out and shoot someone in the head. Therefore, Batman should be able to make the same reasonable argument. Okay, he had a bad experience with a rock musician, but one “Evil” rock musician does not mean that a whole genre of music is “Evil.” Batman should know this for God’s sake if he’s spent so much time studying the criminal mind, or did he just skip to the “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot” part?
As for the former, oh come on, just because your parents say something is crap doesn’t mean it is crap. Okay, Batman idolises his parents to the point where they seem to be portrayed in the comics as near perfect individuals, but everyone likes a couple of things their parents don’t. Are we seriously meant to believe Batman when he effectively says “I don’t like rock music because Daddy says it’s bad”? It’s as childish as it sounds.
And furthermore, just how often does Batman pull the “On the same day my parents died” card anyway? Honestly, if Batman doesn’t want to do something or like something, he (And by extension, the writers) just pull out the “On the same day my parents died” card as a cheap excuse to make whatever plot point you need instantly have a personal connection to Batman.
You know writers; Batman’s childhood wasn’t solely made up of the night his parents were killed. Yes, we have seen other periods during Batman’s childhood, but remembering all the different stories about the day Batman’s parents were murdered over the years, the moment they were killed must have been the rather sticky end to one very, very, very, very busy day. To the point where I’m now genuinely speculating that Batman’s parents didn’t die because Joe Chill decided to pump bullets into them, but from just sheer exhaustion.
But back to the story, and throughout it, we clearly see Batman shows no knowledge of rock music until he spends several hours studying it. I could understand the scene if Batman had some knowledge of the subject, and the scene was a more in-depth examination of Crowe’s life, Crowe’s work, his influences, etc. so he could figure out where the hell Crowe was going next. But Batman is clearly portrayed as having no knowledge of rock music until he spends several hours studying it, becoming an instant expert on it.
That just doesn’t work. Even if we take into account this is set in the same universe whose greatest heroes include aliens, women made of clay and space cops, there is no way in hell Batman, or any human being for that matter, could become an instant expert on rock music. And, as Linkara has pointed out, if Batman really thought this genre of music was evil, wouldn’t he have known all this stuff anyway so he could combat it?
But worse of all, and I have to ask this again, where’s the character development? I could just about put up with this stupid idea that Batman hates rock music because of Not-Sid Vicious if the story dealt with Batman having to overcome his prejudices for the genre and, while not necessary becoming a fan, accepting that it is just harmless entertainment. But like Robin, Batman is no different from at the end of the story as he is at the start. Really, the only characters who has been even slightly changed by the events of the story is Izaak Crowe and his manager. And by “Even slightly changed” I mean “Taken a one-way trip to the nearest graveyard.”
But to this story’s credit, we do get a different Batman adventure to what we usually expect, and no, I don’t mean in quality. This time, it isn’t some supervillain trying to play King of the Castle in Gotham, a mob boss, or a serial killer. While it’s still written as a Silver Age story to be a Modern Age one, in terms of content this story feels like when the Batman comics were trying not to be more socially realist and not campy superhero vs. supervillain adventures. While I enjoy Batman beating up the Joker like the next Batman fan, it is nice to have something different for a change.
Art-wise, Gene Ha’s art for this story seems to be in the spirit of the more social realism that this story is trying to be, and asides from a few problems with the faces. It does try and make Batman and Robin a bit more human in this story, which works for a story that examines their motivations, but maybe not much so for what we have here. But for what we have, it’s pretty solid and aside from the aforementioned issue with the faces, there isn’t a lot to compliant about here.
Batman: Fortunate Son has so many problems with it that it borders on the idiotic at times and I know that you’re going to say I’m insane, especially after moaning about the idiotic Beyond! series yesterday, but I actually enjoyed it. I don’t know if that’s just because it’s a Batman story or not, or its nostalgia talking, but I think its Batman’s answer to The Room. People hate the movie, but the reason it has a cult following is because it’s so entertainingly bad to watch. And that’s what separates this idiotic story with the idiotic story of Beyond! It’s not boring and it’s not chore to read. And at 96 pages, it’s shorter too. So, if you want some weirdly entertaining crap, go find an extremely cheap copy of this graphic novel.