Symphony in Stone

1Don’t let the cover’s lethargic poses and crappy Hollywood logo fool you. Batman: The Scottish Connection is a superb graphic novel that showcases the transporting talents of artist Frank Quitely. From 1999, this brisk mystery (by Knightfall writer Alan Grant) had been out of print for years. It now lives in the Batman International trade paperback (2010), and contains some of comics’ rarest visual delights.

It helps that Quitely is from Scotland. His illustrations of rolling countryside and the ornate stonework of walls and castles are miraculous. And nowhere else in his body of work will you find both in such entrancing abundance–though a few issues of New X-Men are equally gorgeous.

2The tale begins on the Isle of Skye, where Bruce Wayne watches the embalmed heart of his ancestor, Sir Gaweyne de Weyne, rejoin the crusading knight’s further remains. After paying his respects (and charmingly brushing off the press), Bruce notices that other slabs of gravestone have conspicuously broken corners–the questioning of which annoys the site’s custodian. We, of course, notice the hyper-rendered bricks and emerald landscape, conveying the lushest sense of place.

This sense–and Quitely’s skill in transporting us–only increase throughout the adventure. Batman returns to the graves at night and encounters three goons with long-handled mallets (if I’ve any quibble against The Scottish Connection, it’s that these men are somehow a match for Batman–unless we agree that he’s pulling punches). Slanted panels, long shadows under a full moon, and extremely detailed choreography make this scene one for the textbooks; hardly ever do we see Batman making such a clean effort to manipulate his cape during a fight.

4The scene is interrupted by a woman named Sheona and her two barn owls. She tells Batman about a centuries-old blood feud between two Scottish clans, though her best line is: “Animals don’t lie and cheat and scheme the way people do.” The narrative continues when Wayne and butler Alfred survive a car chase through the sumptuous hills of Scotland. It’s soundly amazing, but quickly eclipsed by the chapel scene that follows; again Quitely gives us one version of the “symphony in stone” by day, and an exquisitely surreal version by night.

We also meet Fergus Slith here, the man warring against the descendants of those who sequestered his people on a doomed plague ship. He wears a mask carved with boils, honoring his dead, and possesses an ancient Templar treasure (a crystal and paper mandala) that transforms normal men into the super-strong assassin Azrael.

3Azrael, a bastardized vigilante who emerged from Knightfall, never actually appears in his orange and black costume, but seeing Quitely’s rendition would’ve been a treat. Instead, we get a foiled train hijacking and the bombing of a castle (via helicopter), both spectacular for their scope and energy.

Today, visually ambitious tales like The Scottish Connection are usually released as one-shots, annual issues, or oversized hardcovers. This nearly lost treasure belongs in the front of a gigantic “Absolute Frank Quitely” volume, should DC ever see fit to create one.

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