Monday, December 28, 2009

I YET LIVE: UPDATE

After months of absence, as the new year fast approaches, I've at last gotten around to updating the blog's... ENGRISH. Trudging through the archives I came across a number of foggy sentences and mysterious metaphors whose intended meanings I could only begin to guess at, and this coming from the guy who wrote them in the first place. Seeing as "morrisonbatman" is an annotation site, whose stated goal is to dispel textual difficulties, this simply would not do. So I edited the previous entries for clarity, and believe you me, it was no small feat. As anyone who's had the displeasure of revisiting his or her past writing can attest, it is an experience that can only be summed up as unmitigated agony. The process, or better yet “the ordeal,” digs up feelings of shame, guilt (since you realize someone else had to read that shit that you wrote), and inadequacy and then rolls them up into a handy cannonball to be fired at your self-worth. Not kidding, during the days of the edit, I had to swear off the blogosphere completely, since I couldn't bear to read the unbridled eloquence of site masters like Jog and Tucker Stone. Doing that would inevitably lead to self-comparisons where my writing came up woefully short. Of course, I couldn't quit the Internet entirely (it's practically 2010, who could?), so I stuck mainly to professional sites (ok, porn), whose writing I could pretend was handled exclusively by robots. Can’t expect myself to compare to robots, now, can I?

This entry is rapidly degenerating into a how-to discourse for depressives looking to revise their past writing, and that isn’t what I want. I just want for you readers out there to bear with me. I’m not a writing major, nor does my field necessitate the use of literary English in its scholastic discourse. So when I submit a barbarous sentence or ten to the site, please try to give me some latitude. Try to see through the words I’m (ab)using to the points I’m making about Morrison’s text. It’s the content of the annotations more than the style of their phrasing that comprises the heart of the site (although morrisonbatman is very much an experiment in writing for me as it is in close reading). And besides, now, after the edit, the phrasing is improved at least 0.63 units over before! (scale from 1-100)

I realize that this is not the update readers of the site were looking for. I promise you though; in front of me now sits the first Philip Tan issue, which I will get cracking on today. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll grind out the annotations for the next two issues, and that should put us right back on track, since B&R #7 (with pencils by Cam Stewart, YES!) doesn’t come out until the end of January. Till then, wish me luck.


Figure 1: Me hard at work bringing you annotations.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Batman and Robin 4_

I talked your ears off last issue so let's just dive right into the annotations, shall we?



Haw, haw, fooled ya. I actually won't be getting around to this for a while - and by "a while," I mean that #5 might be out by the time I do write these up - but fortunately, FunnybookBabylon has resumed their annotative duties, so if you're reading with this face on, you're not quite shit out of luck yet.

Also, in the meantime, you should check out frequent commenter RetroWarbird's new blog, where he discusses Freud, classic cinema, ancient religions, and some retarded paper cartoon or something where a child abuser dresses up like a cave mammal and beats the shit out of other guys in fruity costumes. Seriously, it's good stuff, so give him a read.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Batman and Robin 3

Well, well.

The Bat-Craft is banging on all cylinders now. Morrison distilled the fuel. Quitely lit the engine. Sinclair... painted the exterior? I can only stretch my metaphors so far before I get procrustean, you know?* Anyhow, BatRob #3. It's quite a good'n. Morrison here sort of skates the edge between hellish and hilarious, Professor Pyg giving form to the Adam West / David Lynch collision promised in interviews. Also to this end, the creative team treats the reader to a dance number from Hell, which in spite of its sheer nastiness, displays an impressive command of body language on Quitely's end. When Pyg presses his snout into Damian's face, buzzsaw in hand, you as the reader can breath a sigh of relief that in this cabaret, you're perched comfortably, or perhaps uncomfortably, in the audience.

Now what else did I like? Ah, the panels. I neglected to mention this in the last one, but the way Quitely jags the panels when the crazy ratchets up creates the effect of watching the action through a funhouse mirror, and this, of course, comports quite nicely with the circus motif. It would've been interesting to see if Quitely would continue this flourish now that the troupe has all been jailed or killed, but alas, we won't know till 2010.** The action itself too, Quitely unfolds with a characteristic flair for storytelling. One of his biggest strengths as an artist lies in the fact that he never swaps out story for fighting. To show what I mean, I've scanned in some pages from another recent Bat pamphlet, Batman Confidential #32 with pencils by Andy Clarke.



Looking at the above, it seems that there's one style of wide shots that indicates things happening and a very different style entirely which is reserved for people fighting. Compare this with the following BatRob #3 free-for-all.



In contrast to Clarke's extreme close-ups***, Quitely keeps the shot wide and apprises us of each character's movements. One listless Dollotron lumbers to deface a victim who is no longer there. Professor Pyg, rising from the ground, struggles to throw Robin off balance. More Dolls swarm in from all sides. Here we see that both "things happen" AND "people fight."

Nowhere is that formula more manifest than in the "dual punch," Professor Pyg knockout sequence. It's an iconic scene to be sure that hearkens back to the first issue, but Quitely doesn't use that as an excuse to arrest the story. If you scan to the far right of the panel, you'll see two gloved hands reaching out towards Batman and Robin, signaling another attack from the dolls. In some sense, Quitely's rendition of the scene is much more honest than a typical rendering (sans the hands) because it shows that the world outside the centered action of the panel did not, in fact, freeze for Batman and Robin to do something awesome. It simply progressed as natural, and when you think about it, in comics, that is a rare thing.

All of this highlights the reasons why Frank Quitely is an artist tailor-made for Morrison's writing. Both are concerned, preoccupied even, with expressing the greatest amount of story in the smallest amount of space. And yes, believe it or not, this comic was written as well as drawn, so I suppose I ought to make some effort to address that too, eh?

Way way back in 2008, I denounced with much vim and vigor a certain snarky little cock knocker who was out masquerading as the son of Bruce Wayne. This impostor hooligan-child accosted Alfred the Butler, raped my childhood, and roughed up MY Robin, the REAL Robin! How could DC reward this vandal with a starring role in his own comic book when they have yet to publish my Continuing Tales of AnnoMan which I submitted to their doorstep one rainy night two summers ago?! It's utter fucking brigandage, I tell you. It redefines wrong.

While I don't regret anything I've said about him in the past (Damian, not Morrison), it certainly seems that over the past few months, Morrison has come a long way in finding this character's voice. Damian has gone from a petulant, unlikable dipshit in Batman and Son to a bright and brutal wit with emerging shades of nobility. His pitch perfect characterization in this issue - "So we're agreed. It's Robin and Batman from now on." - has endeared the Damian character greatly to me, so much so, in fact, that now I'd be sad to see him go.

Another pleasant surprise in Batman and Robin #3 arrives in the form of a proper conclusion. For the first time in... God knows how many months since the Black Glove storyline began, Morrison delivers a complete arc that imparts a sense of much-needed closure on the reader, even fulfilling a long-hanging plot point introduced as early as Batman 676 over one year ago. It's comic book closure, of course, "to be continued," Morrison wouldn't be fool enough to tie all his loose ends just as Batman and Robin's big draw departs (see "jumping-off points"). Still, by the issue's final page, Damian and Dick ("Robin and Batman") have discovered a mutual respect for one another, Commissioner Gordon has eased into the new status quo, and Professor Pyg is tucked safely away in... some kind of oversized filing cabinet, I'm not so sure about that, actually.

Unfortunately, the issue just ducks under perfection in that it suffers a bit from Morrison's shorthanding techniques. While it may seem strange, my faulting Morrison on the very thing for which Quitely bagged my recognition, that is, economic storytelling, but with the artist, as I mentioned before, the efficiency is in service of the story, specifically its emotional weight. There is a certain emotional impact left when one absorbs the whole scope and spectacle of a battle in one single glance, which ceases to be left when the battle is broken into discrete packets.

However, with Morrison, his efficiency borders on impatience and seems almost tuned against the visceral resonance of his story. One really unsettling scene transition guarantees to disorient the reader, filling his mind with questions that distract from the core plot and, what's worse, may never be answered. Whose shop is this that Batman's breaking into? How did he find this Dollotron? For what purpose do the bad guys call attention to themselves? In fact, the whole disease sideplot seems shoehorned in to dial up the drama and sell Professor Pyg as something more than just the psycho of the week. By and large, it comes across as too little and too late.

That said though, these minor complaints don't ultimately add up to much against the otherwise phenomenal launch for this series. Quitely's leaving, yeah, but don't jump ship just yet. I get the feeling that we're thrusting toward even cooler shit ahead.

Notes:

* Actually, if you want to witness this phenomenon in action, refer yourself to the Cobblepot scene in the latest issue of Batman: SoG. Therein, you'll find the Penguin pairing each insignificant ongoing of his life to a unique species of bird. It's very funny in a sad sort of way.


** As I'm sure you're well aware by now, Frank Quitely will be replaced this coming month by the early Image stylings of Philip Tan (seriously, his pencils could interleave seamlessly with Jim Lee's, no one would notice), continuing DC's trend of following up an A-list artist with C-list counterparts. Now, I have nothing against Mr. Tan. I found his work adequate if a little muddy (I think that the coloring didn't help) on Final Crisis: Revelations. It's just that, could you imagine a visual approach farther removed from the aesthetic of Frank Quitely? Tits and biceps are great and all that, but this seems comparable to Frank Miller filling in for, let's say, Scott Adams on Dilbert. The transition will be fucking jarring. And a rough transition just seems so unnecessary when DC has a slew of artists available to them whose styles would be infinitely better suited to follow Quitely's visuals. Then again, Patrick Zircher used to make pictures like THIS, until he worked with Fraction and started making pictures like THIS, so... hope springs eternal for Philip Tan I guess. Actually, bump that, let's just get Patrick Zircher to pencil this book.

*** I realized after scanning that I wasn't playing entirely fair making an example of this Andy Clarke sequence, as Milligan's script most likely calls for the face of KGBeast to be obscured. Working under a constraint like this would obviously make the scene-encompassing wideshots we're discussing difficult to pull off, but nonetheless, I think it's fairly endemic of superhero comics to stage fight scenes in a close-up, one-action-per-panel format. In other words, you'd usually have something like this -- Panel 1: Spider-Man kicks the Goblin (Norman) in the face, Panel 2: Harry picks up a pumpkin bomb from the floor, Panel 3: Mary Jane yells from the doorway "Harry, no!" -- whereas in the Quitely approach, all three of these actions might be consolidated into a single, wide-screen panel.



UPDATE: HOLY CRAP CHECK THIS SHIT OUT RIGHT NOW!
UPDATE 2: Check out the comments in that link for an expounding of the Alan Moore connection in BatRob #3. Cliff Notes: Pyg = Joker, Kidnapped Damian = Kidnapped Gordon, Cabaret = "Looney, like a lighbulb battered bug!," and the Red Hood shows up! Brilliant!

Page 1: After the unveiling of the new Quad-Bat last issue, Batman, we see, has piloted the monstrosity back over to police HQ, where he has hogtied the villain Phosphorous Rex. Each member of the Circus of the Strange so far has been subject to Batman's hardcore interrogation techniques. I wonder if this is to prove that the new Batman's "still got it," or if it will become a recurring theme.

Page 2: Notice the taxi top light Rex plows into and how the Quad-Bat races into oncoming traffic. Evidently, Dick-Bat doesn't dick around.

Page 3: "They'll kill us all." It's true. They bumped off Toad last issue and he didn't say nanti. How do you think the squealers will fare?

I hope I'm not the only one whose head this shot over in the first two issues, but basically, Professor Pyg has been peddling some strange drugs to Russian people traffickers that, once ingested, erase the user's identity (making his or her mind like that of the dolls). Vials of this drug, I believe, constitute the mysterious contents of Niko's sports bag at the end of the first issue. Now, Pyg is positioning his dolls to unleash this poison on the city, and it falls to Batman and Robin to save the day (awesome). I might be grasping at straws, but I don't think it's a coincidence, Morrison phrasing the effect of the compound as "identity-destroying" and the drift of the arc being Damian and Dick's defining themselves as Batman and Robin.

Page 4: Professor Pyg's ramblings may be a nod to the "Tearoom of Despair" or the "Delirium Box" from Doom Patrol.



Mormo, at least according to Wikipedia, is not a goddess of formless chaos.

Page 5: Tiamat, on the other hand... In Babylonian cosmology, the goddess Tiamat embodies what would later be called the ether, a circumambient substance without form. She is slain by a great storm and splits into sea and firmament (the sea above) which is bolstered by a pillar of divine craftsmanship. If the story sounds familiar, its probably because the same thing happens in Genesis, except with God taking on the role of the storm.

"Tohu va bohu" translates from Hebrew to "formless and empty" (maybe). Sigh. I get discouraged when the annotations turn into me acting as a mouthpiece for Wikipedia.

As you might have guessed by Pyg's description, Medusa is a gorgon queen. The visage of a gorgon was thought by the Greeks to possess apotropaic powers and as such appeared in statues, vases, and coats of armor, safeguarding their owners against the touch of evil. Two panels down we see Professor Pyg's modern incarnation of a gorgon sculpture.

But before that, the professor makes some eerily premonitory comments which preambulate the circumstances of his undoing in 666.



Pwn'd.

Being a vulgar prole beyond the hope of rescue, I'm probably way off-base here, but would Pyg's effigy of the evil goddess be an example of Dadaist sculpture?

Page 9: Pyg has synthesized the drug into a contagion that spreads through the air in the Dollotron's immediate vicinity. (i.e. "like a flu").

Also, look closely at the detritus flying through the window and you can make out the word "crash."

Page 10: We met Sasha before in issue #1. Here in issue #3, she's undergone the exterior changes of the Dollotron procedure, though her mind remains to be wiped. The comely young lass being manhandled in the second-to-last strip is none other than Sasha's father Niko. We've met him before too, when he was rolling on spinners with Mr. Toad in the first wild ride of Batman and Robin.

Page 14: The free-for-all on this page recalls the 60s television series, what with the symmetric knockout punch and the set of matching henchmen.

"Big Top's choice of weapons led you here, right?" Oh, I see, it was Big Top's choice weapons that led him to the circus. So not the fact that they spoke in circus slang, not the fact that the bad guys pulled up to police headquarters in a clown car, not the fact that Dick calls them "Le Cirque D'etrange," not the fact that one of the group was a bearded lady who went by the name "Big Top," no, none of these things tipped him off. It was, in fact, the particular brand of cane-shaped pike that betrayed to him the true whereabouts of Professor's Pyg's super secret hideout at the circus. Well, who am I to question the all-knowing Batman? Moving on...

Page 16: In the first panel, Morrison is taking a shot at his favorite authorial punching bag, formalist, anarchist, and woman's suffragist Alan Moore (okay, not the last one). The panel satirizes the closing sequence of the Killing Joke, scanned in below for reference.



From past annotations, you'll recall that this abandoned circus is the one at which Commissioner Gordon was famously held captive in the 1988 graphic novel. This explains why he's so eager to see it burnt to the ground.

Page 18: What the hell is this bottom panel?

Pages 19-20: I've gone through the effort of arranging these in chronological order (so you better damn well be appreciative!)





Page 21: This photograph was brought from Wayne Manor during the move in BatRob #1. I think it's fairly obvious from the panel that Morrison and co are ramping up to the triumphant return of Ace the Bathound. I mean, who else could they be bringing back? Young Dick Grayson? Impossible. Young Dick Grayson's stuck in the past, and people, once stuck in the past, become irretrievable to the present! This is true science, my friend. All know it, and all abide by its rules!

Who left his boots on that gargoyle? Whoever he was, he's gonna have a tough go of getting them back. In all seriousness though, this seems to be a bit of a continuity error as BatRob #1 depicts the Wayne tower as easily the tallest building in the area.

Page 22: The Doll person that Sasha is suffocating is her own father.

Page 24: Now, I'm a bit confused. Generally, when one says he's "the scourge of the underworld," he, much like this guy, "administers punishment" to various malefactors, rogues, brigands, and societal ne'er-do-wells. While Mr. Hood here has done nothing which runs explicitly contrary to this definition, it does strike me as odd that a self-professed combater of ills would see fit to introduce himself by blowing away a pair of apparently blameless beat officers. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Batman and Robin 2

Big brawl this time out, so let's get to it.



Cover: The dead man's hand clutches the mysterious double dozen domino from the teaser in Batman and Robin #1. We learned in the last issue of a colloquial linkage between domino blocks and bones. Let's how that plays out this goaround.

Page 1: The pencils for this page have been floating around the DCNation column for a while, but they look even better in color. Note the "R" patch on the ground, fulfilling one fourth of the teaser last issue, wherein Damian storms out the of the cave while stripping off his costume.

Page 2: The Dynamic Duo have been falling for a month straight! High skies in Gotham City, dontchaknow? I like the way this page is laid out, the reader allowed only a glimpse at the heroes cloaked faces and figures, the atmosphere thick with inhuman mystery.

I'm not sure whether Morrison intended this or not, but Dick's salutation to the Commissoner sounds a bit unnatural - "You called, Commissioner Gordon?" - sort of like a hangover from his Boy Wonder days where he would've addressed Jim Gordon by his full title out of respect for his elders. For a great discussion, among other things, of unnatural dialogue in the first issue, trail the link over to the SavageCritic podcast on G Mo's most recent output.

Page 3: The Caped Crusaders captured Mr. Toad in the previous issue and now his pals from the Circus of the Strange have arrived to spring him (yes pun).

Check out this second panel. Now, pardon me for a moment while I rail against my favorite writer in comics. So, how does this panel go? "Sir, it's Casey at the desk... Something's up! Trouble." These guys are communicating by RADIO. Why aren't we "hearing" it? Any other writer worth his salt (in this case, the difference isn't a good thing) would script this scene in the following fashion:

Spikey Electronic Dialogue Box: Bobbo, grab the Commish quick! We got big trouble down here! *BANG* *BANG* Agggh!"
and then Batman and Robin would come swooping to the rescue. This way comes across so much more naturally, and won't give the reader pause to recognize that he's reading such a heavily "authored" work.

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm caviling, but it's so evocative of Morrison's recent narrative impatience, the whole mantra of "This isn't the part of the story that I'm excited about, so I'll just cram it through with dialogue and voiceover," that I just can't dismiss it as a one-off fuck-up. We saw this a ton towards the end of Final Crisis too - "Hey guys, here's some animal characters! Btw, Aquaman's back!" - and reading the finished product, it just feels so awkward and mechanical, even if the story itself is rolling evenly along. It's something like watching clockwork but from INSIDE the clock.

Okay, well, rant over. Back in annotation land, Commissioner Gordon "saw that kid before" in Batman RIP, I think it was 680, when Talia and Damian rescued him from a shishkebobing on the barbed traps of El Sombrero.

Page 4: Really cool stuff, a little bit reminiscent of Batman Begins (the stairwell diving, that is), the film being a confessed favorite of Morrison's.

Page 5: The hotheaded Rex picks up his thread from last issue, blazing a trail to his captive comrade Mr. Toad. We meet another of the troupe here, Big Top, a sumo-statured bearded lady who finds the prospect of killing cops quite "kushti" or "nice." For a great reference in deciphering all this circus gibber gabber, follow the link over to goodmagic's Carny-English dictionary.

Also, I missed it last issue, but doesn't this car looks suspiciously like the Batmobile? No, not that one, this one:



The 30s Batmobile, shown above in Batman 682, drawn by Lee Garbett. We've already seen a nod to The Killing Joke in the form of the "Ghost Train" sign, might this be another reach into the past? Hmmm, maybe this run is more like the last than I first supposed.

Page 6: If you look carefully, you can make out another onomatopoeia in the gunsmoke.

Page 7: Panel 2 - SMASH

Page 9: "Flick flacking" = "Hand-Springing'"

Page 10: A "raklo" is a non-Gypsy.

Page 11: Big Top is attacking Robin with circus-tent spikes (they appear in the ground on page 20).

Page 13: In this fifth panel, Batman is telling the siamese triplets that he understands their language and in it demands they surrender the name of their boss. They laugh that their boss is still on the loose, but offer some information, off-panel apparently, indicating that the Dollotrons are Russian slaves under the influence of mind control. Recall last issue, "Sasha" and "Niko," Russian names both, underwent the gruesome Dollifying procedure.

Page 14: "Gallopers" are carousels. I don't think I've ever seen a wooden one before, though.

Page 15: Note the double twelve domino resting in the deceased's palm. To be honest, Mr. Toad probably ran through all the mileage Morrison or anyone else was ever going to squeeze out of his thin gimmick last issue, so his "croaking" here in Issue 2 works for me.

Page 17: The Quad-Bat appears for the first time on the last page of the issue.

Page 19: Alfred "Beagle" performed and directed for the stage. His Hamlet, you'll recall from Batman 675, was panned by critics in "some of the cruellest reviews in the history of the English stage." He ponders the cowl here perhaps in tribute to "poor Yorick" of the famed

Page 20: The second panel on this page conceals the aforementioned "wooden gallopers." The weeping Dollo on the bottom most likely cries over her lost life as "Sasha," the young captive from BatRob #1.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Batman and Robin 1

Na na na na na na na, Na na na na na na na, BATMAN, Na na na na na na na, Na na na na na na na, BATMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN...

Anyway.

I must admit that it was with considerable trepidation that I relapsed into this project. Summer laze aside, I feared that Morrison's latest would prove too fluid and informal for my notes to penetrate. Thumbing through this new #1, unfortunately, does little to allay this dread. We're back, it seems, at Batman and Son - Steranko with fangs, y'know - and you can check for yourself how sparse my notes were for those issues.

Of course, Batman and Robin maintains the top notch craftsmanship you'd expect from a Morrison/Quitely team-up (though with a might more exposition than the tone rightly lets), but where, for example, are the clues to suss out? Where are those grand puzzles to chart in the annotations? Sure, Morrison hasn't forgotten what came before, trotting out Professor Pyg and his Dollotrons for the devotees, but everything's bubbling right there at the surface. There's none of that angst about overlooking some remote Silver Age nod, pondering in your third read, "What am I missing?"

But if we're not missing anything, then what are we getting? Well, B&R has lots of splash pages, bright primary colors, wide screen Quitely artwork, wordless panels, and iconized sound effects - all of which sum up to a type of music like the catchy tune at the top, except much more savage, with violins screeching a Psycho-esque accompaniment, while swine men and marionettes hack away at your nerves. But honestly, I'm hardselling this more than it deserves. Morrison teases a lot here, from the offbeat Circus of the Strange to a possible coup attempt by Damian, but all in all, the final product of this first issue treads mostly on familiar territory, between its easily dispatched threat to showcase the heroes in action, character moments and exposition, its fade-out on a mysterious evil mastermind, and, wow, that's really about it.

Being a Quitely/Morrison formula crank isn't such a bad thing, of course, it's just that these types of stories don't demand much in the way of annotations. To be perfectly frank, I can see myself ditching this undertaking midway through, ala Tucker Stone, but for now, let's just keep it on (and on and on and on).



Page 1: Mr. Toad, on loan from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, is seen here boasting his characteristic ego and falling pray to Le Bossu's blunder in 681, that is, assuming that Batman could die. Aptly, we follow Mr. Toad in a "wild ride," which concludes with a "brief spell in prison," just as in the novel.

Minger (from Urban Dictionary):
Although now more commonly used to define an extremely visually challenging appearance, the word "minger" originally came from Scottish Gaelic, meaning "septic vagina," now often used by chavs all over Britain to define anything remotely disgusting.
"Septic vagina," eh? I must've missed that part of the Disney ride. And beats me what a "chav" is.

Pages 4-5: It may interest all cave dwellers to learn that Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne took up the Dynamic Duo mantle after a long drudge through a Tony Daniel mini. It was called Struggle for the Mask, I think, or Row for the Utility Belt, something insipid like that, it just escapes me right now.

Page 7: Mr. Toad mentions the name "Pyg," as in "Professor Pyg," who met his final fate at the hands of a demoniac Batman in the prophetic 666. In case you've forgotten, he was...



p a ! J ! ) n J )

Do you get it? And who says this isn't the DC Age of gauche witticisms?

Page 9: "Nanti" is European circus slang for "nothing" and "dinari," without looking it up, you may guess means "money."

Page 10: The bat cave lies in wreckage after Hush's attack in Detective 850 and possibly after its invasion by Dr. Hurt in RIP.

Beaming back at us from the photograph Dick holds, the treasured heart of the Bat mythos summons our sorrow at his recent stay of absence. Ace, oh Ace, how we miss you so! Actually, with a touch of luck, Batman and Robin might yet see the return of Ace the Bathound, the tone thusfar certainly allowing the possibility.

Page 11: I like that the top of Bruce's headstone (I'm assuming) is masoned in the shape of a bat. It fits well with the series' level of camp. I don't, however, like that Thomas and Martha Wayne's grave has yet again refigured, this time as an angel. Recall that I touched on the issue of amorphous graves in the annotations for 679, and note also that the Christ pose remains constant despite the different tomb.

Page 12: Old-school-awesome artistic conceit. Nice cutaway, Quitely. Bruce Wayne installed himself in this penthouse back in the 70s, most notably in the famed Englehart stories. The complex last surfaced in 681 as a relay tower which signaled the release of Arkham's locks. Way at the bottom, the Rail-mobile was introduced by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan in their part, the only palatable part, of Knightquest.

I always thought "bones" were dice, but I suppose the two things (dice and dominoes) look similar enough that it could be either.

Page 13: Damian tinkers with the new Batmobile, which I posited way back in Batman 657 would parallel the Dark Knight's outlook. For example, in RIP, it was red and black, the shades then haunting Bruce's mind. Later, in a flashback to the Golden Age and the arrival of the first Robin (682), the Batmobile, little more than a sportscar, glitters a bright red, "adding color to [Bruce's] monochrome life." And now, it flies and wears an off-looking exterior, not terribly removed from the overall tenor of Batman and Robin, and well in keeping with Nightwing's Tomasi-established habit of taking to the skies (e.g. HALO jumps and, as we'll soon see, "paracaping").

Batman quickly downs the sandwiches Alfred prepared on the previous page, setting him apart from the old, fasting Batman and greatly boosting Chris Eckert's theory about the importance of food in Morrison's run. Not to diminish either of our efforts on the matter, but I can't help but wonder if Morrison, who is known to regularly peruse web speculation on his comics, was inspired by these possibly pre-emptive theories, and decided, based on them, to MAKE food important in his run. In other words, I wonder if reader brainstorming on the internet plays any part in Morrison's creative process. Thoughts?

You may recall the "International Club of Heroes" from the Williams III arc, numbers 667 to 669. Also, in three weeks, be sure to show your support for all things Williams by snagging yourself a copy of Detective Comics 854, (DC you may advance my compensation through PayPal; my account number is...)

Page 14: It shouldn't be more than a head-length from somebody's chin to his clavicle. Who will become Batman when Dick completes his transformation into a giraffe? Find out in 2010's Batman: Row for the Utility Belt!

Page 15: The Circus of the Strange emerges.

Page 18: Kickass. Please poster-ize. I must have this on my wall!

Page 20: Lev and this wiry fellow, Niko, managed at the beginning of the book to duck capture by Batman and Robin, who were naturally more concerned with their freakish driver, Mr. Toad. No idea what's in the bag here, though we're sure to find out soon.

Page 21: Here we meet the original Dollotrons, whose appearance strays far from Andy Kubert's original conception of them in 666. I imagine it has to do with a description of the Dollotrons as Raggedy Ann look-alikes, each of the two artists taking away a different subset of the doll's features when referencing it for the homage. Andy Kubert's dolls are pale-faced and rosy-cheeked while Frank Quitely's have fat faces and short hair.

Page 23: Real quick -

Panel 1: Damian appears to be quitting the Robin gig, as much squinting reveals the lighted circle on the floor to be a disembodied "R" patch from his costume.

Panel 2: A new Red Hood, possibly in connection with The Killing Joke, since we already have a circus freakshow, and Morrison has promised a Joker appearance. His sidekick is, with small doubt, a dollified Sasha, the teenage girl from the last three pages. Follow the link for a better view of this Devilish Duo.

Panel 3: One Batman, Dick I presume, battles Kate Kane while another rises from what looks like magma.

Panel 4: Dr. Hurt dangles the keys to Wayne Manor in front of his face, indicating, most importantly, that 681's helicopter crash failed to end his threat. As I've said elsewhere, given he is so paranoid and ready for every eventuality, you would imagine the ever-calculating Bruce Wayne would've thought better than to mark his address on his keys.

EDITED TO ADD:
I realize that it may seem odd, me going on in a big rigamarole lamenting Batman and Robin's annotative inaccessibility, and then launching into a 1000-word, page-by-page exegesis on the issue. I'll cop to hyperbole in the remarks, but there remains a big distinction. With stuff like RIP, I could simply jump to a page, think it over for a few minutes, and then clack out a few hundred words which would undoubtedly include references to at least two different eras of Bat lore. It would've been impossible to track onto the site everything that popped up at me while I was reading RIP, but with this, I've hardly spared any of my observations. Plus, I'm actively LOOKING for things to write. As I've said a couple of times, this is a very good comic, but just not a particularly challenging one. I guess we'll see how it goes next month. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome

Hi. Have no fear. Here is knowledge.

Mission Statement

More or less, it's like this: Morrison's Batman, I've observed, has become a huge stumbling block for readers, many flaring up in frustration at the impenetrability of the damn thing while others go on gleefully tangling up plot points into convoluted thickets of meaning when really the core of the work is as basic as the myths it seeks to emulate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to prop up my status here or to sell myself as any kind of inside authority on the work. I freely admit to not getting it pretty much at all during my first read-through. I only want to express to you how tragic the confusion over this work really is, because Grant Morrison's Batman, once you get into it, is good and very good.

So, to parrot Mokkari, "who do we blame when it all goes wrong" and we just don't get it? It's not unreasonable to pin it on the text. For one, it's denser than a dwarf star and for two, it's strange as all get out: 5-D space imps, purple Batmen, and even Satan, the Prince of Darkness himself, makes an appearance (I'm serious). I just recently discovered a Publisher's Weekly interview in which the God of All Comics lets on his intention for readers to approach Batman collaboratively:

I had the idea to develop an approach to comic narrative that would actually benefit from becoming entangled in internet fan speculation, gossip and research. So Batman R.I.P., with its huge canvas of potential suspects, its central mystery story (“Who Is The Black Glove?"), which has driven all kinds of inventive speculation, and its references to old stories and obscure Tibetan Buddhist practices you have to look up on Wikipedia, became an attempt to do for Batman what I’d done for The Invisibles in the ‘90s but with better technology.

My hope in these annotations is that I can become that go-to collaborator for rereaders of the run (Note: REreaders), and that my notes will hold up as worthy when read concurrently with the books. In these issues, Morrison really has fanned out the full breadth of Bat history, and for every bit he hoists from Year One or The Killing Joke, there's two more that he plucked from The Dirigible of Doom and The Superman of Planet X (that is, obscure Batman stories from the 40s and 50s). So while it's very possible to enjoy this work as a standalone, it's impossible to appreciate every plot point taking the text in isolation. This plays pretty well into my next comment, which concerns...

SPOILAZ!!!!!!1113#%6 Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers. There are super spoilers everywhere. In the annotations for any given issue, I will spoil first that issue, I will spoil at least one issue from Bat history, I will spoil at least one issue further in the run, I will spoil with 50% probability the end of RIP, and I will spoil the end of Citizen Kane. It was the sled. That's just how we roll on this blog. Like I said, these notes are for people REreading the run or for those who don't care about spoilers and just want to breathe it all in at once. You've been warned.

On a related point, these notes also will not satisfy those who want to puzzle together the thematic pieces on their own. If you feel like you match that description, then you'd do well to skip the remarks section at the top of each post, and only skim the annotations when you feel lost, as honestly, even the term "spoon feeding" doesn't adequately describe what I do in this blog. I ladle this shit down your throat. I clobber you over the head with it and grant no reprieve. I burn it onto your flesh and then color in the scars. Too far? Yeah well I go there. Trust me though, this exercise in completeness is all for the sake of widening the aggregate knowledge. I'm paying back my debt to the internet. Hordes of info await. Shove in when you're ready.

The Hub

Prelude: 52 Week 30 and 52 Week 47
Batman 655
Batman 656
Batman 657
Batman 658
Batman 663
Batman 664
Batman 665
Batman 666
Batman 667
Batman 668
Batman 669
Batman 670
Batman 671
Batman 672
Batman 673
Batman 674
Batman 675
Interlude: DC Universe 0
Batman 676
Batman 677
Batman 678
Batman 679
Batman 680
Batman 681
Batman 681: Op Ed
Batman 682
Batman 683

Themes to Look Out For

Morrison shoots for the stars in this run and falls short, yeah, but not woefully short. The God of All Comics seeds his customary ten billion ideas, and I say about seventy to eighty percent of them bear fruit with the remainder tapering off into mere speculation fodder (e.g. the Batmobile, Gordon in Wayne Manor, Damian, etc). Well, I said "customary" but that's bullshit. These 25 issues are bursting with content well beyond the author's already-tight standard of compression. Morrison really spatters the thematic firmament in Batman, sprinkling in clues and concepts from all over, spreading his idea wide enough apart for apopheniac fans to chalk in constellations of their own. Here are some mine.

Rationalization: This extends the age old conflict of order vs. chaos. For example, Batman signs up for Dr. Hurt's isolation experiment in order to push his mind to a level where it can, to some extent, blueprint the Joker's personality (the J Man representing, duh, chaos). I'm not entirely sure that Morrison actually believes in order and chaos as absolute or even definable in any way, but he knows that Batman does, and toys with this fact, developing the rationalization theme largely through ironic self-reference "Do you get it now?"

Rebirth: Morrison's run spotlights the literal rebirth of Ra's Al Ghul in the Resurrection arc and boasts only the most feathery veil of metaphor over the revival of Bruce Wayne in Batman 681. Taking a broad sense of the word, I can argue that rebirth hooks into hypercontinuity too, Batman getting born again every time a Neal Adams comes on board or Crisis strikes the DCU. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find in this run that the Batmobile serves a visual aid for the different eras of Batman. Check out, for example, that kitschy 90s Batmobile in 683, a wheeling monument to poor taste in the Knightfall era. Well, to be fair, that's less a good example and more a potshot at the decade of comics history I hate most (and sadly the one from which I own most), but still, there's tons of stuff feeding this theme throughout the text. the black and red Batmobile, the Clown at Midnight, Batman of Zur En Arrh, "Dark Ranger, formerly the Scout." You really can't miss it.

Importance of Bruce Wayne as Batman: Though less than he does in ASS, Morrison in Batman taps into the mythic force of the superhero: the superhero, Bruce Wayne in this case, as god. I harp on and on about this throughout the annotations so I'm not gonna get into it here, but people who are bitching about Morrison bumping off Batman are missing a major part of the run. Alfred's speech in 683 isn't an obligatory eulogy before DC carts Bruce Wayne off to comic book limbo. It's a logical capstone for Morrison's entire run, which testifies again and again to Bruce's irreplaceability.

Acknowledgements

These are in no particular order and are not yet complete.

Dave Wallace and Thom Young: Thom's rich knowledge of Bat continuity and of literature in general pushed me to take this run a lot more seriously back in the days when I was asking "Hey, did this guy just totally rip off Bane?" Often, I would refresh the comicsbulletin front page four or five times on Sunday waiting for Thom and Dave's stellar Slugfest manuscripts on Batman. Their reviews were often laced with an annotative flavor themselves, which helped a great deal in mining 70 years of Batman lore for Morrison's often heavily obscure references. Both these guys recently paid me a kindness by reviewing a theory of mine in spite of my total n00b status. So, for all of the above, I extend 28 blog entries worth of gratitude to them.

Timothy Callahan: What to say about the man who's literally written the book on Morrison? Hopefully more than just that, since he's probably heard that one a thousand times before. Still though, the guy really does know the lay of Morrison's god-head better than anyone short of G Mozzer himself and perhaps more than even him, given all the drugs. Mr. Callahan expertly forecasts a fucking storm of key plot points in Batman well before the rest of the pull-listing population, most of whom were still rallying behind Jason Todd as the Black Glove (lol). More importantly though, the geniusboyfiremelon beefs up his annotations by pulling from works across the Morrison canon, helping the reader to shoulder the iron weight of Morrison's grand themes and big ideas in Batman. A strong man with a strong brain this Timothy Callahan.

Jog: I've lived in America all my life. I've spoken English all my life. I've never heard anyone get as much mileage out of dry colloquial English as Jog. The man can make banalities sound like birdsong. Let me pluck a diamond from the Jog mine to show you.

Interestingly, the thoroughly disappointing illustrations of John Van Fleet probably help it out a little, weighing the story down with computer-augmented chintz while the abler style of a Dave McKean may have pushed it even further out into the ether. As it is, the book mercifully launches itself into outright kitsch by the final battle, Batman and the Joker’s big clash looking like screencaps from the world’s nerdiest Tekken 2 hack...

After scanning a couple of his Batman blog entries for a suitable caption, it dawned on me how much I've unconsciously stolen Jog's style and voice for these annotations. I can only hope that this theft has richened my writing style to even near-Jog status.

David Uzumeri: Acknowledgement on its way!

Amypoodle: We might celebrate Amypoodle of the Mindless Ones for racking up godzilla word counts that encapsulate only the smallest modicums of info, but I'll be God damned if there was a single sentence in the whole lot of them that I wasn't hanging off of. In the 70s, there was a certain young mathematician by the name of Feigenbaum who in his brilliance would divine new and complex math by the droves. Colleagues would ask why he never bothered putting to paper this often cutting-edge information, to which he'd respond "Oh, I understood it," and then spark up a cigarette. That's amypoodle all over. He/she/it just doesn't give a fuck, and that blasé magic just beams outta the poodle like a rainbow streaming from a pot of gold.

Greg Burgas: Acknowledgement on its way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Batman 683

Ah, the end. The ship is pulling into port. There's not much to say that we haven't said before. Bruce Wayne is still irreplaceable. Alfred Pennyworth is still not the Black Glove. Grant Morrison still loves Batman. It's an eminently good final issue that hands over its heart to the caretaker of Gotham City and his caretaker too. Rereading 683, now months after its publication, I remember how I came to forget my frustration at the muted reveal in 681. I think of how Morrison pushed aside expectations for these final two issues and how a double tie-in run coda wound up as a starry-eyed standalone. I imagine how I must've smiled flipping the back cover over the top of the final page, and how the cooling passions of Batfans everywhere must've thawed in the warmth of Alfred's live and loving eulogy. For all of it, I say cheers Mr. Morrison. To twenty-five amazing comics.



This Alex Ross cover riffs on Dave McKean from Arkham Asylum, right? It's funny, y'know, if you think about the contents of the issue. Ross is sort of kicking the pedestal out from Morrison's ass, warning him "Hey let's not be so quick to condemn," because really Morrison's own Arkham Asylum and the wild success of that graphic novel helped usher in the last twenty or so years of dour psychoanalysis in the Bat books.

Page 1: Lee Garbett burns down the page with crackling sexual energy between his Talia - every bit the gun moll set to page by Neal Adams - and the finally-realized hairy-chested-love-god in Bruce. With hand planted firmly on hind quarters, baby-making is go go go!

Pages 2-3: There may be some Freudian commentary in this first panel, banging swords together while topless being a tad less macho than Bruce or Ra's might care to admit. Actually, scanning down the line here, and given the title, What the Butler Saw, one could argue that all of these panels have a sort of carnal undercurrent.


Image courtesy of Batman 244 by O'Neil/Adams.

Bruce straddled that toothy behemoth back in Batman 251, also by O'Neil/Adams. Garbett and/or Morrison cobble together a couple of panels from the page below.



The pouncing beast is Anthony Lupus, a Len Wein-created pal of Bruce Wayne's whom the late Dr. Milo doomed to a lycanthropic fate by dosing him with an experimental "headache medicine." In the 90s cartoon, Wein recasts Lupus as a steroid-seeker competing in the Olympic games, with Dr. Milo all too eager to accommodate his need to win at any cost.


^From Wein's Moon of the Wolf in Batman 255^

Bruce and Talia get down in Mike W. Barr's and Jerry Bingham's Son of the Demon.



Page 4: Man-Bat first swooped into the rogues gallery in Detective 400, but I couldn't say from where exactly this panel comes. Actually, just as with the ManWolf panel on the previous page and the Deadshot panel a couple of pages from here, Morrison/Garbett depict Batman as falling down, despite the fact that, as drawn, these panels have no counterparts in the comics to which they refer. Morrison or Garbett might've intended a freefall motif to underpin the larger theme of Batman's stumbles, a theme we see emphasized throughout the issue. Of course, it could just be that the high dives are meant to pump up the drama, but meh, I like my narrative device theory better.

Page 5: Alfred/Lump, like Dr. Hurt, plays the part of a superhero fan, "I like to read, sir... Mysteries, unlikely tales. Blood and thunder."

"Chemical racketeers" - Chemicals again, scratching at Bruce's subconscious.

Page 6: As we'll discover on the next page, Catwoman, at the time of her positively egregious cat mask costume, operated under the name Elva Barr.

Page 7: Mokkari and Simyan are more Kirby creations cribbed by Morrison, these two clowns bungling Darkseid's plans as early as Jimmy Olsen 135. Generally, Mokkari and Simyan carry out their experiments on human beings, finding their first success in the creation of a giant, a creature that has theo-historically stood for violence against the gods. Everyone knows the punishment of Polyphemus the Cyclops who inverted the Zeusian practice of xenia (hospitality) in The Odyssey, but what some might not realize is that titans provoked a far more cataclysmic comeuppance in, yes, the Bible. The Book of Jubilees and the 1st Book of Enoch attribute much of the ill will ushering in the Flood to the impiety of giants called the Nephilim. While both of these texts are considered apocryphal, neither contradicts canon (as far as I know) and the latter is quoted directly in the New Testament.

What's more, given his predilection for human lab rats and the cool nestling of that cigarette between his fore and middle fingers, this version of Mokkari pretty well allegorizes Josef Mengele. Here Morrison is deliberately following through on Kirby's Fourth World treatment, in which Anti-Life bears an unmistakable resemblance to Nazi doctrine. The point of all this being that Mokkari and Simyan are really, really bad dudes.

Notice also Alfred's dialogue, in which he attempts to redirect culpability for his actions: "Your mother appears utterly convinced the dog found his way into the old well... I allowed you to talk me into this misadventure." This becomes important on the next page.

Page 8: Ace shows up outside the well. I suspect Alfred's personality, or Bruce's memory of Alfred's personality, has shone through the Lump's rouse. The butler's excuses on page 7 cover up his efforts to snap Bruce out of this unending sequence of false memories by leading him into the place where Batman was born and giving him a motivational trauma in the discovery of Dick Grayson's "never found" body (see Page 5).

Page 10: Cut to Floyd Lawton crashing through a skylight in Detective 474.




Cut to Jason Todd boosting wheels from the Batmobile.

Page 12: Morrison reimagines Robin II's death-by-democracy with black humor very much in the vein of The Killing Joke. Compare with Alan Moore's version of the joke below.

Needless to say, Alfred's watch stopping suggests that Jason's death is a moment frozen in time for Batman.

Page 13: Batman cradles the corpse of Jason Todd, as he glowers at the Reader - "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" (compare with eyes downcast in the Aparo original). Well, since you asked, it's like Mokkari says, "This is what we want! Raw emotional energy! More pain! Motivation!" Everyone knows that nobody can do anything that's great or noble unless somebody dies to make them do it.

For this last panel, Garbett apes the style used by Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke, but if you didn't know that already, then... wtf? Get on that shit.

Page 15: The first panel paraphrases the final chapter of A Lonely Place of Dying (Batman 442). It's Tim Drake in the Robin duds, just in case that's unclear.



I love the line "So who do we blame if all of this goes wrong?" It's a question one imagines being murmured through Nazi Germany in the days leading up to Nuremberg.

For Batman and Robin's vow of silence over the "death" of Alfred, see last issue's Page 21 annotations.

"Why do I feel like a book that's being read?" Uhhhh, well...

The Mad Hatter and the other rogues were sprung from Arkham during Bane's gambit in Knightfall.




Page 16: Now what in the hell is going on in this top panel? What dusty volume of Bat arcana did Morrison pluck this relic from? Well whatever, I can't be arsed to look this shit up. Good luck finding it on your own.

Bruce Lee did indeed recover fully from a spinal injury, which doctors insisted would keep him out of the martial arts for the remainder of his natural life.

Bruce fights to reclaim the cowl from Azbat in Batman 510.



Page 17: The first panel alludes to the gargantuan No Man's Land crossover consuming the Bat books at the turn of the millennium. The mummy man is, of course, Hush, and this particular panel is inspired by his "climactic" battle with the Caped Crusader in Batman 619.



Alfred's Lumpy narration stands in contrast to Batman's dialogue in the panel above, as well as to that issue's title. Maybe Morrison is placing himself at odds with the Loeb story, but who knows? He's alluded to Hush a couple of times in the past, maybe he actually digs it?

Oh my, is that a boomerang in your chest or are you just happy to see me?



The Garbett panel obviously homages the one above from Identity Crisis 6.

Page 18: Morrison appeals to recent continuity for support of his gun-toting Batman in Final Crisis 6 with this pointer to 2005's Infinite Crisis 7.



"How does Batman process this degree of stress?" For detailed discussion on the superhuman aspects of Bruce Wayne, see the annotations for 669 and 681.

Page 19: Mokkari's pistol escapes the laboratory with Batman and ultimately finds its way to Darkseid, though we don't know that just yet.


A little cloying after so much metacommentary already and over in Final Crisis too, but interesting nevertheless, the dialogue of the polymorphous Lump strongly suggests that he's a living embodiment of stories. From the previous page, "In the kingdom of pure thought, the Lump reigns supreme! In your mind, the Lump can be anything!" and more dramatically, on Page 19 he threatens "I feel nothing. I should kill you now. Your purpose is served," the purpose of stories being, of course, to strike an emotional resonance. When the feeling's all faded away, the story ought to be "killed" or ended.

Finally, consider the Lump's withering protest "Why? I did as I was told... My body dying..." which lays out the great tragedy of the story, that eventually it must be put down, even if it always does what it's told. Sometimes, however, which I think is something that Morrison is getting at throughout the comic, the tellers, like Mokkari and Simyan, lose their handle over the narrative and the "story becomes toxic... out of control," and they "must end it" for the good of the reader and the beneficence of stories on the whole, to crib some wise words from the Monitor Tahoteh.

I'm being a little terse, as I could probably go on about this for a few hundred words, but I've trumpeted the metatext in this run for pages and pages in these annotations, and to be honest I'm getting a little tired of it. I hope Morrison's recently-announced return to the Bat books sees an easing-off of the stories-about-stories and a narrowing of focus to quirky and candid tales along the lines of We3 and ASS. It's rumored (confirmed now?) that Frank Quitely will collaborate with Morrison once he resumes his Bat chores. Hopefully, Quitely can squeeze that style of him once more.

Page 20: "Leave his belt! Leave everything," ensconced somewhere in that belt is Orion's fatal bullet, as we'll see in a couple of pages.

Page 21: "These lies, these sick lies." Recall the dossier dropped in the lap of Gotham Gazette editor Mr. Sheldrake in part 2 of RIP, the file containing a lurid account of Mom and Pop Wayne's ventures into drug abuse, swinging, and murder. I hope they wrap up that plot point before Morrison's return, because otherwise that would be a terribly long time to leave the Wayne family name lying in the mud.

"Burn in hell." Yes, Dr. Hurt is the Devil. Oh and there's also Hurt's prophecy, which we'll see fulfilled (sort of) in Final Crisis 6. Given Bruce's lack of a cowl, we should assume that these four panels take place immediately after the helicopter crash in 681, and that Batman swam to safety and is now being reined into Justice League headquarters for briefing on his final mission in the corresponding Crisis.

"It began with the murder of a god," Green Lanterns discover the corpse of New God Orion in the first issue of Final Crisis.

Page 22: I'm trying to make a joke that joins in language Batman's utility belt, the New God-killing bullet, and the stellar body "Orion's belt," but I got nothing.

Though somewhat opaque in the artwork, what you're seeing on this page is the Lump in his death throes toggling off Batman's restraints.

"I shall become a bat," like most great novels, Morrison's Batman ends at the beginning.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Batman 682

Picture extravaganza! 681 examines the Silver Age of Batman with eyebrows a touch raised and tongue firmly in cheek, but the annotations deliver the original scenes to you in their full pokerfaced mania. No remarks/essays this time. Just enjoy the ride!



Pages 1-3: Bruce has just dragged himself home from an ass-beating in Frank Miller's Year One (Batman 404). David Uzumeri points out that Bruce cannot effectively fight crime in this form. He needs to get born again as a symbol, which of course is the bread and butter of Morrison's run. Achieving mythology, coalescing with the collective unconscious, this two-issue beat scales toward that five-word utterance first spoken in Tec 33 and later countless rehashes in which Bruce consigns his entire life to an ideal.



Page 4: Bruce was engaged to actress Julie Madison as early as Detective Comics 31. For the most part, she would get trotted out as arm candy or thrust artificially into distress only to be saved by Batman a few pages later (it was the 40s) but she did in her final appearance pitch in to beat Clayface, donning a Robin costume in her team-up with the Caped Crusader(again, the 40s).

Page 5: Alfred told a number of imaginary stories beginning in Batman 131 all speculating on the future exploits of "Bruce Wayne Jr." AKA Robin II and Dick Grayson who became the second Batman. Some believe that Alfred was the teller of the "imaginary story" in Batman 666, and connected this idea to theories implicating Alfred as the Black Glove. The title of this issue is a bit of fun at the expense of those theorists. Moreover, as I mention in the remarks for 676, Morrison penned a chapter in JLA entitled Imaginary Stories which followed Tim Drake and Bruce Jr. as the next generation's Batman and Robin.

Incidentally, "They're all imaginary stories!" is the standard pseudo-intellectual's sophistic defense for failure to adhere to internal story logic.

Page 6: Comic book writers in the 30s were known for their penchant to blur the line between good and evil. Comics were so mired in subtlety and understatement, you could scarcely tell who the bad guys were. From Tec 29:



Is it me, or do a lot of writers use the Batman comic book to couch their medical phobias? Dr. Hugo Strange, Dr. Hurt, Dr. Death, Dr. Phosphorous. Maybe it's an oedipal thing, Doctor Thomas Wayne and all that.

All off Alfred's dialogue in the second to last panel carries a double meaning.

Page 7: The first panel belongs to the little-known Detective Comics 27.



This vat, which I can't place anywhere in the Madison era, makes the second reference to chemicals, the first being Dr. Death's laboratory. You'd figure Batman hanging over an acid vat would have happened somewhere in that period, acid vats being a staple of the genre at the time, but no. The chronology's a little off though. For example, Robin should be established in the continuity before Julie leaves, so I'll chalk up the vat to generic Batman imagery.

Interestingly, Julie's reason for leaving in Detective 49 diametrically opposes the one she gives here. In that story, Bruce was too much of a shiftless popinjay for her tastes; she wished he was more busy, not less. Oh Morrison, you and your wanton retconning, don't you care one lick for history?!



Page 8: For this first panel, no one really drew those types of angles back in the Golden Age, so I have no idea to what this panel alludes. Although if you want to look into the matter yourself, I can name for you all the issues in which people have aimed guns at Batman. They are Detective 27, 28, 29, 30-850, Batman 1-683, The Brave and the Bold...

Oh and Bat-Christ is not touching that sandwich.

Page 9: One of the best and most heartily Morrison pages in the entire run. Also, more drugs!

Page 10: The fourth panel was ripped from Detective 33: Against the Dirigible of Doom.



In that story, Bruce suits up in a clansman uniform (not kidding) before filling the crew of that zeppelin with lead! Remember what I said about the moral ambiguity of the 30s? I guess anyone short of Hitler those days could be considered "the good guy"!

The letters are addressed in different handwritings. This and the meaning Julie Madison ascribed to personal letters earlier in the book lead me to conclude that the basket is overflowing with goodbye letters from all the ones that got away. A tragic unavoidability of Batman's lifestyle really and a punchy bit of compression on Morrison's end.

Page 11: Batman wallops Hugo Strange's Monster Men in Batman 1. Actually, that story picks up right after the Batman's first cross with the Joker! Unfortunately, not all foes can weather the test of time, and guys like this "Joker" become lost to all but the most devout Bat-archivists.



Pages 11-13: Scanned from Detective Comics 38 and The Untold Legend of the Batman 2 (the exact same panel appears earlier in Batman 213, but I figure Len Wein's work in that mini is more pertinent to the Morrisonverse), we have:





Note the slick red anachronism hugging the curves of the road in the first panel on page 13. That's a proto Batmobile, and its presence on-panel adds weight to Alfred's grieving over the lost "color" in their "monochrome lives."

The red-lit cockpit and wide-grinned Batman homage Jim Lee's All-Star Batman and Robin.

Page 14: Perhaps Alfred is conflating in memory his production of Hamlet (mentioned in 675) and a Joker fight he witnessed, maybe this one from Batman 2.



Or, I thought it would be cool if this actually was Alfred Beagle's Hamlet, which would explain why it was panned by critics.

This Joker-Copter, last seen in 655, appears to be an amalgam of the Joker-Mobile and the Joker's helicopter from Batman 186 or maybe a modernization of the Joker-Plane from Batman 37. I can only guess that it's Matt Murdock piloting this whirly bird because the view out of its front visor is completely obscured by that giant Joker face. Fuck function, the Joker rolls in style!

It would be far easier for Bruce to consider this panel a dream. But how can he?! For in his hand, he holds the Bat-Radia!

I'm fairly sure now, after much combing of the archives, that all the panels on this page (and the "laughing contest") are originals. I bet Morrison had quite the chuckle imagining all the diligent annotators like myself scouring their longboxes and persisting on Google with searches of "giant crown + Batman," "laughing contest + Joker," and the like, suffering to find the derelict corners of Bat lore from which these panels were pulled. Prick. :-P

Page 15: Could it be?! It is! Ace the motherfuckin Bat-Hound! Ace descended from the heavens into Batman 92 and comics would never be the same again. Amid a stretch of complete suck in Superman, James Robinson blessed readers with a Krypto issue that instantly elevated his run to Watchmen stature (okay, that's a lie). Here's a typical example of the kind of asskickery that a superdog can impress upon an issue:



So awesome.

The closest match I could find to this first
Kathy Kane panel is from her introduction in Detective 233.



Morrison superheroes always notify reader in advance of their team-ups.

The typewriter Robin's sitting on was lifted from Batman 115.




Notice Batman can't take chemicals off his mind. This is a great feint, a mystery threaded through the Batman ages and the answer turns out to be the clues themselves (that is, chemicals). Batman fought his first battle ("first" in real world time) at Apex Chemicals in Detective 27 and I think Alan Moore named the plant at which the Joker was possibly born "Ace Chemicals" in The Killing Joke though that may have been established earlier.

Page 16: A dream Robin had in
Batman 122 shook his nerves and (I assume) drove him to pursue this line of worrying.





I think Robin means the hyphenated "Bat-Girl" AKA Betty Kane who debuted in Batman 139.



Seems like the Tim Drake character could've been partly inspired by Betty Kane.

The bottom of the page, which Morrison has retconned into a drug trip gone awry, recounts some of the events and dialogue of
Batman 153, which receives a bit of the recap treatment here.







Page 17: "I was a circus kid." Dick and Kathy were both circus folk.

Page 18: Morrison took the Lump from the pages of Jack Kirby's
Mister Miracle 8, but not without first administering a vital sprucing-up. In Kirby's original story, the Lump could only influence thought realms. However, unlike in Morrison's revamp of the character, once one's mind was plugged into the Lump, the Lump would engage him in an ordinary fistfight, the mental winner emerging triumphant also in reality. Do you see why this is lame? So Lump, who can do anything, squares off against Mr. Miracle, who can do anything, and they both start doing anything at one another until Mr. Miracle finally beats him in a ham handed way that makes no sense given what we know about him.

You can find all the details surrounding Alfred's death and rebirth (there's rebirth again) here.

We find Bruce in reality where Final Crisis 2 left him. I will not be annotating that book as there is no deficit of Final Crisis annotations on the web and honestly my knowledge of general DC lore isn't at all up to the task.

Page 19: And
"sea" for Catwoman.

The leftmost villain, the Eraser, tried to "rub out" Bruce Wayne in
Batman 188, but was met with, shall I say, pointed resistance from the Dynamic Duo. Sorry, it's irrelevant but I just can't shy away from recapping this issue, in which Robin shoots off one of the most astoundingly hypocritical lines in 70 years of Batman comics.



Actually, the first printing looked like this:



Anyway, the Eraser, an old college acquaintance of Bruce's named Lenny Fiasco, soured toward crime after living his university days under a constant stream of taunts from his classmates. Over what, you ask? His foul habit of erasing mistakes, of course.

See, how could I make this shit up?

CHIP: Hey Len, misspell anything today?!
LEN: No, I --
CHIP: Boy do I got just the thing for you!
*Chip pulls out an eraser*
CHIP: Haw haw haw!!
LEN: Oh the humiliation! Mark my words, Bruce Wayne will pay!

So, in keeping with his MO as the Eraser, Len encases Bruce in solid ice (again, how could I make this up), but the Dynamic Duo manage to save the day anyway. This issue was penned, not surprisingly, in the wake of the TV show's runaway success and obviously apes the show's characteristic camp style. Morrison was undoubtedly seething over missing the Eraser boat, but included him anyway, perhaps to preface the Eraser's many metatextual usages in upcoming Morrison comics.

The Joker hired the feisty dwarf Gaggy in Batman 186 to, believe it or not, make him laugh. Laughter would gear the J-man up to plan the campy capers he would pull in the 50s and 60s. You can read a slightly modified version of the "Gaggy" comic here.

The Poison Ivy knockoff mounting that stripper pole is actually Catwoman in a costume she wore, I believe, exactly one time, in Batman 197. What, you're surprised Morrison went with the obscure one?

If I had to guess based on his physique and color scheme, I would say the last guy is Blockbuster. The colorist might've mistaken his bushy eyebrows for a domino mask. Time period fits perfectly for Blockbuster too.

Page 20: Creepy, no?

The Nightwing stuff didn't quite play out like this in the 80s' comics. Dick walked out on Bruce well before adopting the Nightwing persona, and when he finally came to face him eighteen months later (comic book time) in Batman 416, they weren't on such casual terms as this panel suggests. Not a complaint really, just staking out the differences.

Page 21: The Lump manages to gurgle out a couple of words through his paralysis: "hurt" and "dream." I'm not sure exactly what these mean, but I would guess that Lump is pronouncing clues to Batman's current state; he's in a "hurt dream" or a "dream of hurt," a long nightmare.

"I made up a story once... as a way of putting things in perspective." - Could this be Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" The extent to which Morrison and Gaiman collaborated before the scripting of that issue, I don't know. Got answers, Newsarama buffs?

How exactly did the Lump give himself away? See the panel below:

Bruce trusts Dick to the point where not even Alfred can convince him that Robin broke his promise.

"I'm coming to get you." Bruce said exactly these words to Jezebel in 680 before her villainy was revealed.

Page 22: I'm surprised Morrison/Garbett didn't go with a strong resemblance between Dr. Hurt and Thomas Wayne. Anyway, Papa Wayne emphasizes the words "mental patient" and "poisoned," layering some subtext into his discourse which is superficially about the Joker attack at the end of Year One, explored more fully in Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's The Man Who Laughs.

Page 23: We're running a bit long at 2000 words already, so I'll save Mokkari and Simyan for next time.