Beer & Batman #20: Tomorrow Never Knows

B&B

This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair craft beer with a Batman story, working my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour). If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.

A legacy is a big and awkward concept. Everyone wants one, of course – no one invites the thought of shuffling off this mortal coil without leaving a mark. But in practice, celebrating one’s legacy is rarely a satisfactory look at what makes that individual worth remembering. It’s a greatest hits album instead of something new. Sometimes it works, sure: consider The Force Awakens, knowingly mirroring A New Hope beat for beat, simultaneously celebrating the legacy of the previous films while moving the narrative forward. But in the case of Old Tomorrow Brewing, legacy is what their marketing is hinged upon.

“Old Tomorrow” was evidently a nickname of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, whose face is stylized in graphic representation upon the bottles and cans of beer produced by Old Tomorrow Brewing. Founded in 2014 by Ian and Pat Macdonald, Old Tomorrow’s name is a clever nod to the famous Canadian whose surname they share, and they are absolutely committed to the bit: for their first beer after their flagship Canadian Pale Ale, they took inspiration from another bit of Canadiana (albeit one a little more modern). Jon Montgomery won the gold medal in skeleton at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver, and Old Tomorrow worked with “Monty” directly to craft this beer celebrating that .07 second ride.

Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham’s Batman graphic novel, Son of the Demon, hinges itself on a legacy as well: that of Denny O’Neill’s legendary sequence of comics which introduced Batman to his most epic adversary, Ra’s Al-Ghul. I discussed these stories only two weeks ago, so I might be placing Barr and Bingham’s book at a disadvantage by positioning both so close together. Continuity, however, is a bitch, and this is definitely the best place to position Son of the Demon, despite the seven-year gap between the last issue of O’Neill’s Ra’s Al-Ghul stories and the publication of this graphic novel. If you’re keeping track, that places this book’s publication in 1987, which you might recall as a rather significant year in Batman publication history. Because this book was released almost concurrently with Year One, it was always a little vague as to whether this book existed in pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity or post-Crisis, and as such, it went pretty well disregarded until Grant Morrison pulled a few threads from it into his Batman opus almost twenty years later.

While this book might have continuity geeks pulling their hair out, I’m less interested in that, and more interested in discussing whether this book and its beer counterpart do justice to the legacies they celebrate. As I’m not that into Olympic skeleton, I can’t entirely be sure, but I think the book does a little better than the beer. Because it isn’t a very appealing beer. True to its name, it is golden, but as far as I can tell, it isn’t actually a rye beer – the rye comes instead from the rye whiskey barrels in which the beer was aged. I usually like whiskey barrel aged beers, but I wonder if this one’s malt profile is a little too light to withstand the flavors imparted by the barrel, because what I get less than rye whiskey notes is actually just a whole lot of oak. That, paired with the piney bitterness of the hops used, conjures up unfortunate notes of tree sap.

The book, as mentioned, does better. Jerry Bingham at times does a better Neal Adams than Neal Adams himself, positioning this book visually as a worthy follow-up to the classic Ra’s Al-Ghul stories. Mike W. Barr’s scripting sensibilities are a little more modern than Denny O’Neill’s were, a little less expositional and dependent less upon narrative captions and thought bubbles. But nevertheless, the story hits a lot of the same beats as the Demon-centric stories which preceded it: a scientist (Dr. Harris Blaine, introduced in O’Neill’s stories) is murdered, and the clues point Batman toward Ra’s Al-Ghul, who asserts that his League of Assassins was not behind the murder; rather, it was a common enemy, a terrorist named Qayin. Qayin, as it turns out, was responsible for the death of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s wife, Talia’s mother, and, bonding over the shared loss of a parent, Batman and Talia rekindle their on-again-off-again romance. Batman allies with Ra’s Al-Ghul, fighting terrorists and thwarting Qayin’s attempts to lure the world into war using a weather controlling satellite, because comics! (This is not the only time Batman confronts a weather controlling machine, either. Comics!)

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Makin’ bat-babies. (Art by Jerry Bingham, from Batman: Son of the Demon.)

But Barr and Bingham’s success at emulating classic O’Neill and Adams comics isn’t the reason I started by waxing poetic about legacies. No – the real thematic meat at the heart of this whole comic book melodrama is about children as a legacy of their parents. This, obviously, is a pretty rich topic in the context of Batman, who has crafted his life as a vigilante in violent tribute to his murdered parents. This book, though, asks Batman to consider this topic in the context of a future generation. That’s right, folks: Talia gets pregnant with Batman’s child. It’s an interesting position to place Batman in, and Barr writes him as almost obsessively protective of Talia, determined to keep her and their unborn child safe, and to give that child a safe and secure home. Their shared concern for Talia unites Batman and Ra’s Al-Ghul, and all these themes get mirrored nicely by Ra’s Al-Ghul’s own desire for someone to carry on his own legacy, and his hope that this someone will be Batman.

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Think of the children! (Art by Jerry Bingham, from Batman: Son of the Demon.)

 

Superficially, the book seems designed to rehash old glories, but it brilliantly uses that format to blow it all up instead. (Because of course it doesn’t end happily – it is a Batman story, after all). What strikes me reading this story in the context of the stories that follow it, though, is how much it informs the dynamic of Batman, Talia and Ra’s Al-Ghul going forward. This is the last time this trio of characters enjoy a pseudo-partnership, with Ra’s Al-Ghul pretty squarely positioned as a villain henceforth and Batman not even courting the possibility of redemption for either the Demon or his daughter. We’re heading into a run of stories in which Batman is even more humorless, dour and militant than previously, and the emotional blow dealt him in this book would definitely account for his darkened outlook (and, despite Robin’s complete absence from this book, it adds an added dimension to the upcoming implosion of that dynamic duo as well).

What, then, does all this tell us about what a legacy really means? Well, if the lessons of Son of the Demon can be applied to Old Tomorrow: not much. A tribute to past greatness doesn’t amount to present greatness on its own. In Son of the Demon, Batman finds his own life is too dominated by the legacy of his parents to ever allow his own legacy to be what he hopes he can offer to his own child. But we are not Batman, and, if given the choice, I would advise always choosing “Tomorrow” over “Old.”

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3 thoughts on “Beer & Batman #20: Tomorrow Never Knows

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