Sunday, December 28, 2008

Batman 658

We know from interviews that Morrison is trying to incorporate into the Batman mythos his notion of hypercontinuity, the idea that every comic ever written about a particular character happened canonically in that character's life. So we expect to see forgotten rogues like the Spook and nods to Aunt Agatha, stuff like that populating these pages. But Morrison doesn't stop at that. He exercises hypercontinuity even tonally.

As I said in the annotations last issue, Batman & Son is really a Golden Age story dressed as a modern comic. In Batman 655, Batman, in a symbolic gesture, hurls the Joker into a dumpster, intimating both the end of that version of the Joker and the end to the sadistic story telling we saw in the first five pages of this run and the past 20 years of Batman. After those first five pages, Batman & Son just starts flinging shit against the wall and hoping it sticks: ninja Man-Bats with machine guns, henchmen in matching clothing, battle atop a T-Rex, and my favorite, Batman skull thumping an earthbound baddie with an expertly-timed jump kick from fucking outer space.

If that doesn't sell it, just look at the way the Damian revelation was handled. Morrison plays it casually and for laughs, with Alfred and Damian jeering at one another and even Batman getting a joke in "It's actually pretty good when you don't mix it with the wall paper." No other modern superhero writer would cast Damian's reappearance in this light. They would have Batman brood, "How could this be?" and spend maybe an issue investigating or warming to his boy with some father son activities, blah blah blah, it would just be a shit serious affair. Not so in the Golden Age, where previously unheard-of relatives would emerge from out of the woodwork all the time to shake things up and rope in readers on the fence. And then, once those characters grew tiresome, they'd ebb back into the woodwork again. Aunt Agatha is a good example of this. Selina Kyle's brother (!) fucking exemplifies it.

Also, think about Talia's schemes. Why does she kidnap the prime minister's wife and attack Gibraltar? Why does she release the Man-Bats at the art exhibit? When you really consider them, Talia's motivations are paper thin: some ill-defined power play, largely an attempt to get Batman's attention? I mean, she has his son for Chrissakes! I'm sure even a phone call relaying that info would've captured his attention. But no, that's not the point, is it? Talia is being evil to provide Morrison with a narrative silo in which to dump his many insane ideas. Again, given what Morrison is trying to achieve here, Talia shouldn't necessarily have any compelling motives.

What I'm saying is that this goes beyond Grant Morrison's quirks or defects as a writer. With this arc he is consciously implementing Silver and Golden Age tropes and mimicking the creative processes responsible for the comics of those generations. He's not just doing this with the camp periods either. Morrison's Batman run traverses all the major eras in Batman history and experiments with the styles and tones prevalent in those eras. The next arc, for example, treads through a very post-Crisis style story, with Bat-Bane and those satirically graphic caption boxes. He even tops that three issue beat from 664 to 666 with a Spawn style, early Image era Elseworlds tale of blood and brimstone (kinda like this one). Following that, the Third Man subarc revisits the surreal ghost stories of Englehart's stint on Detective and its neighboring runs, as well as briefly recalling the callous, vindictive Batman created by Finger and Kane. Paying attention, you'll find that Grant Morrison's Batman is very much experimental comics. The fact that most readers don't even notice it testifies to the success of the experiment.

Page 2: Tim is sprawled out over Dick Grayson's original Robin outfit, the one with the tighty greenies

Page 4: I explained Alfred's complaint in the 657 annotations

Page 5: The Great Kubertini will now transform this red, Robin-style shirt into...

Page 6: a plain white sweater! Tadah!

Page 11: Morrison makes his characters gesture "this high" with their hands several times in his run. Like the whole beheading thing, I'm not entirely sure why.

Page 18: "Kirk Langstrom is consulting with the British army on anti-Man-Bat tactics as we speak," a Silver Age gem if I ever read one.

Page 20: "For people like us, the world is the game board, and nations are pawns," an example of the exploitative thinking characteristic of the Black Glove organization.

Page 23: For those rereading the run, does this image remind you of anything? Another, better-remembered image from later on in the run inverts this one, with the son overlooking the father's apparent fiery death. What? You want me to spell it out for you?

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