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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Batman 681: Op Ed

Well, on the one hand, Batman 681 floats to the surface most of the major themes from Morrison's run. So that's good. It also treats the reader to a couple of "Fuck yeah!" fistpump scenes, and those are good too. On the other hand, from a plot standpoint, Batman 681 might be the biggest blue balls moment in 70 years of Batman comics. I can't help wondering if before RIP, Grant Morrison intended to employ Alfred in some capacity as a villain, and then for whatever reason changed his mind.

In a mystery, the protagonist typically suspects each red herring at some point in the story. Bruce Wayne never once suspected his butler, even though clues did point to him. Furthermore, mystery authors don't exculpate major red herrings during a crisis stage a few chapters before the climax. Yet the Black Glove lays the smack down on Alfred just three issues before the big reveal, seemingly exonerating him. I believe that this beating caused Timothy Callahan, for one, to ease his suspicion off Alfred, as reflected in his third-place ranking here.
Easing their suspicions cannot be something Morrison wants readers to do if Alfred actually is a mislead, and so, from a mystery structure POV, this "exoneration" actually inculpates Alfred.

But, since it's not Alfred, what honestly does Batman 681 disclose in its 70-year galaxy-destorying reveal? That Dr. Hurt was the Devil and not the red horns and the tail Devil, but the subtle, "Is he really?" Devil? If so, we already knew this back in 666 and 674; the Third Man told us as much: "Doctor Hurt was the Devil. Sometimes he visits this world to destroy the good and make slaves of men like me." Granted, we didn't know he was speaking of the literal Devil, but we still don't know that for sure.

Let me just say that I have no problem with Satan filling the role of Batman's mastermind enemy. On the contrary, the Devil naturally fits the bill of such a mastermind, and more importantly, the idea of Batman fighting this Enemy harmonizes beautifully with themes sounding throughout not only this Batman run, but all of Morrison's writing on the Dark Knight. What I do have a problem with, however, is the reveal being hyped as an ultra twist, when it's not even a twist at all. It's an insinuation. A mystery twist, a "shocker", cannot be ambiguous; the defintions of these words run contrary to one another.

And no, it's not just DC ad copy and solicitations that generated expectation for an epic twist. And no, it's not just that Morrison himself attested in several different interviews that this would be the most astounding reveal in 70 years of Batman comics. All of these things can be argued away as irrelevant because they are apart from the text (though I personally don't take this view). What can't be dismissed, however, is that 672-680 read like a mystery in that they fuel anticipation for the big money shot at the conclusion. Peel open 680, for example. In it we have:

  1. Who is the Black Glove?" reminding the reader what he's looking out for
  2. "You gave it all away, but that's not it, is it? That's not it at all!" hinting that the whole story has yet to unfold, but the protagonist is closing in on the truth
  3. "Now do you get it?" teasing the reader, since he obviously does not
  4. A false reveal of Jezebel Jet

All the drapings of a standard mystery, right? This story practically demands a shock unveiling at its climax.

Part of the problem is Morrison's subtle portrayal of the Devil. His "Devil" doesn't exhibit supernatural abilities, not even low key ones like Mr. Whisper's missing shadow. Hurt directs all his evil against Batman and his family, so it's easy to mistake him for someone with a grudge or an infatuation. His actions on their own are not really convincing, and as a result, Morrison is forced to explain a number of times through exposition that the good doctor is really Our Father in Hell just to get the point across. Morrison wants to pit the Dark Kngiht against a subtle, symbolic Devil, an intensely cruel and influential nonpowered human being. This is a perfectly sensible thing, as I argued before. However, he also wants to showcase this revelation as a twist. In other words, he wants the reader to be shocked that "an intensely cruel and influential nonpowered human being" is scheming Batman's downfall. Well that's not very surprising now, is it?

Though I suspected earlier in this editorial that Morrison originally planned to uncover a different hand beneath the Glove, whether he did or he didn't, there were better ways to handle the conclusion, even without sacrificing anything. For example, he could have easily played Alfred in a villainous role, which would have provided the shock value craved by the mystery's final chapter. And it would not have been gratuitous either, because that ending would cohere with clues given throughout the run (Alfred's love of "blood spattered prose", Bruce Wayne's mention of "outsider work" in Batman 656), as well as resuscitate a long dead Silver Age story, which of course, fits nicely with Morrison's superhero modus operandi. Moreover, Alfred's lapse into his Outsider persona would mirror Batman's fallback on his Zur En Arrh persona. The transformation into the Outsider could be explained, subtly of course, by Satanic possession. This version of the finale consolidates three main currents from the run: (1) Batman vs. The Devil (2) Self-Reinvention (3) Silver Age with a Dark Twist. As well as maintaining (enhancing even) the thematic unity of the currrent ending, this alternate ending resolves the plot in a much more viscerally satisfying way that would even appeal to casual readers or newcomers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Batman 681

Imagine being able to disappear and reappear at will... You would never be stuck in traffic at rush hour, your car would simply vanish and rematerialize at your destination... Imagine having X-ray eyes. You could see accidents happening from a distance [and spot] exactly where the victims were, even if they were buried under debris. Imagine being able to reach into an object without opening it. You could extract the sections from an orange without peeling or cutting it... No secrets could be kept from [you]. No treasures could be hidden from [you]. No obstructions could stop [you],
This magical proposition, pulled from physicist Michio Kaku's charming lay science text Hyperspace, isn't just idle fantasizing; when put into context, it illuminates a dark and neglected corner of the mind, a concept we take for granted with every glance and every movement we put forward, the concept of dimension.
What being could possess such God-like power? The answer: a being from a higher dimensional world.
First, know that one can't possibly fathom an entity composed of four spatial dimensions. Our eyes operate only in three dimensions, and we can't visualize something we can't see at any distance from any angle even if it was there, so don't even bother trying. Instead, consider an ordinary human being, yourself, standing above a two dimensional plane. For simplicity, imagine the two dimensional plane as a piece of paper (though a piece of paper has some small amount of depth). Imagine within the paper lives a 2-D man, call him J.

To imprison J for life, you need only draw a box around him. To free him, you need only peel him off the page and then plant him back somewhere outside the box. As you are freeing J, he will suffer the worst acid trip of his life, his two dimensional eyes absorbing only the rapidly shifting cross sections of the room, which appear to him as bands of color. For example, if you scaled J alongside an upright Dixon Ticonderoga pencil, he would perceive first bands of pink (the eraser), then bands of green (the metal brace), bands of yellow for a while, then brown, and then finally black for the point. Upon his return to the page, he will feel as though he performed teleportation, for how else could he have escaped the confines of the box?

To demonstrate the ease with which a 3-D person could execute feats impossible for J, consider the same situation with yourself enclosed in a two dimensional box. While J could never hope to penetrate this box, it would be trivial for you to step over it (or sneak under it if it's above ground). The concept of "over" does not exist to J nor could he even begin to puzzle together the implications of such a transcendent direction. To J, we gods move in mysterious ways.

Now wait. Did I just post on the wrong blog? Nope, not at all. Throughout Morrison's run, the Batman bleeds his powers out of the plane of the paper and in to higher dimensions to wage battle against his God-like foes. I hope that Morrison's run and my annotations have thoroughly evinced Dr. Hurt's Satanic qualities, that Hurt is a god of evil out to disgrace a paragon of good in the Batman. From that and the above discussion about dimensions (a concept dead center in the scope of Morrison's interests), it's not silly to extrapolate that the Black Glove's transcendence is rooted in dimensions higher than the comic world.

A lot of the art in the Club of Heroes storyline feeds this idea. For example, the Black Glove first alerts Batman to its presence by exploding his plane. Williams conveys that scene within the confines of a giant shadow hand.

The shadow hand appears as a cross sectional slice of a 3-D hand passing through the 2-D plane of the paper.

Later on in the arc, Batman ascends too, such that the very page cannot contain the cataclysm of his battle with the Black Glove.

Again, this could be thought of as a 2-D cross section of a 3-D battle, albeit a highly iconic and representative cross section.

Both of these scenes might be interpreted as Williams soaking his characteristic inventiveness into the page, but it's also a fact that Morrison instructs Mr. Williams to draw these kinds of sublime moments, playing to his strengths as an artist. Here's an extract from Morrison's Seven Soldiers #1 and its corresponding script fragment.

"Guardian seeming to become less man and more myth," in particular, echoes Morrison's sentiments about Bruce Wayne's Batman. In that panel, Morrison highlights the Guardian's mythological qualities by running him through hypercubist dimensions. Since Morrison obviously hopes to accentuate those same qualities in Batman, it seems natural that he'd go about doing that in a similar way.

Joe Chill in Hell continues this process of acquainting Batman with the world outside his comic. A young, apprehensive Bruce Wayne insists that he "can feel eyes watching. Eyes with human intelligence watching. Always watching." Of course, he's absolutely dead-on about that; his life is under constant surveillance by the comic book readers out in Spaceland.

Following that, Bruce says "I must be around five years old when I first sense the presence of a gaping, toppling void in the center of existence," just before bats swarm him from the Wayne Manor well. This scene, with Bruce at five, is likely the first in his life on panel, the earliest Bruce Wayne scene to which readers were exposed. In the annotations for 674, I connect this to Dr. Hurt who alleges to be "the hole in things." It's possible that Morrison intends Hurt to represent the ultimate Bat-fan reader. This view coalesces many of Hurt's statements under one banner, for example, "I'm something of a Batman specialist. I've studied his psychology under pressure," in 674, and, "No one knows him better than I do," in 677. Moreover, his "research" on Batman, incinerated by the Third Ghost in 674, could easily double for a Batman comic book.

Also in that issue, Batman assigns his then unknown enemy skills material to an overworld deity:

What if there existed an invisible, implacable foe who calculated my every weakness? Who had access to allies, weapons, and tactics I couldn't imagine. An adversary whose plots and grand designs were so vast, so elaborate that they went unnoticed.
Notice that Batman's foe not only accesses weapons and tactics that Batman didn't think of but those he "couldn't imagine." And all of this is happening invisibly too, or in other words, off-panel, outside of the comic realm.

The Third Ghost arc also oversees the introduction of Bat-Might, whom Morrison ties most explicitly to higher dimensions with Might's claim to come from "Space B at the fivefold expansion of Zrfff." In an obviously Morrison scene of 52, Animal Man teleports home from the far recesses of the cosmos via Space B travel. This should remind you of the first sentences I quoted from Kaku: "Imagine being able to disappear and reappear at will... You would never be stuck in traffic at rush hour, your car would simply vanish and rematerialize at your destination." Like Batman, Animal Man questions whether Space B might actually be a dream brought on by isolation trauma.

And according to this link, Might's second home of "Zrfff" lies somewhere in the fifth dimension and lodges beings whose true forms cannot be comprehended by lower dimensional people, in agreement with my earlier description.

As the run moves along, we start to see Might break out some tricks befitting of a 5-D pixie. For one, he's constantly teleporting on and off panel. What's more, he exhibits a complete knowledge of Batman's life including a nugget of info about Space B that Batman really shouldn't possess. This sort of positions Might as an attentive comic reader, like we said about Doctor Hurt a few paragraphs earlier. His omniscience extends even beyond this though as Might locates a tiny hidden tracking device in Batman's teeth in Batman 679, which recalls Kaku's nod to "x-ray eyes" (and later in the text, he notes that high dimensional beings could be master surgeons to their dimensional subordinates).

Pushing ahead to 680, Charlie Caligula develops the ability to see the prevailingly invisible Bat-Might, but then seems disoriented when he finally does, panicking "What's that thing behind you! WHERE AM I?". Perhaps this is because he's gotten a hold of some of Batman's "slow vision" from earlier in the issue or perhaps his senses are being bombarded by the flickering, amorphous color forms one perceives as he's being dragged through higher dimensions (remember J and the Ticonderoga pencil).

When Might eventually drops his infamous line in 680, he's not dispelling any of these big ideas. His smug declaration "Imagination is the fifth dimension" doesn't throw out the latter of those two notions, but rather unites it with the realm from which all comic book stories hail. The players of the DCU believe they live in four dimensions (three space and one time). We obviously live in a higher world than them, so from their vantage point, we hail from a fifth dimension. With our higher dimensionality, we can exert influence on their lives, and the way we've done this is through storytelling, through imagination. Bat-Might extends Batman in strength and in potential (both Might and Might). This hooks into issue 683 in which Batman projects his "might" outside of himself to fry his clones. Mokkari wonders, "What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?" For characters in a story, a writer can do this.

And back in 679, Batman begins to witness story blossoming all around him. He starts seeing the city for what it really is, a checkerboard grid, panels in a comic book that "lives grow around like vines on a trellis." No one within the comic book plane has any imagination (see Animal Man 26) because his story is already carved out ahead of time; It is Written. Bruce describes the grids of Gotham City as "blueprints, a machine designed to make Batman." But these machine-made Batmen consistently break down, from Bat-Bane to the Anti-Life clones. Bruce has broken free of the lockstep vine growth through which the others developed; he flies somewhere above story, in myth, as though it's his actions that dictate plot and not the other way around.

By the time 681 rolls around, we've reimagined Bruce in full Christ mode, plowing through the grave with a Bat-Crucifix slumping to the sheer force of his will. Bruce is the thematic spitting image of Dali's Corpus Hypercubus, except Morrison has already folded Bats in the elusive seventh fundamental direction.

As a consequence, the Joker can never escape his all-seeing eyes. Whatever new level the Joker scrambles onto, he's still just a comic book man living in a comic book page, and so Batman, glowering at him from on high, can simply "build a new box" around him.

Bless your soul for trying, Joker. Keep on truckin.

Page 1: Like those in 678, these notebook excerpts are pulled from the Black Casebook

Page 3: "The superior man thinks of evil that will come and guards against it." I-Ching quoted this passage at the beginning of Batman 670.

Page 4: The three-eyed Gene Simmons demon at the zenith of the page evokes the Joker's new fashion, all teeth and a bullet dent in his brow like a splintering red Hindu dot. Riffing off of that, the wikipedia entry for "The Third Eye" chats a chunk about the spiritual significance of the thing, the wisdom it embodies, and now we're seeing the eye as Batman finally begins to "get it."

Oh and you don't need three eyes to notice with no great difficulty that these scenes are awash in the Joker's prized black and red.

Page 5: "I found a hole in my mind" sounds a lot like the "toppling void" he sensed at five years old in 674 or "the hole in things" Dr. Hurt refers to later in the issue.

Also, Morrison sort of pisses on subtlety in this scene, but still zealously refuses to spell out the answer for us. "Fuck, I don't want to just tell them what I mean by 'cover personalities', that would be too obvious. Hmmmmm... Oh okay, I got it. Tony, this time I need you to draw it backwards. Subtlety lives!"

Page 6: I think that billboard is an album cover, but I don't know whose so don't quote me on that. The "Knights" are Gotham City's MLB hitters and were, I believe, killed in a bomb blast in Rucka and Brubaker's Gotham Central. Anyway, the splayed body of Pierrot Lunaire will crumple the paper so that it reads "I give up" on the next page.

Pierrot Lunaire and the jolly old Swagman have been breathing down Robin's neck since 678. Isn't it neat how the air alone just seems to magically support Pierrot's weight?

Page 7: "Dark fuckin Ranger? You're dead" --> "You're wrong! Dark Ranger and the Scout will never die!" Well not quite, but this episode screams its parallels to the much prognosticated succession of the Bat by...

Page 8: Tim! The reflection in the Ranger's helmet clearly marks Tim as heir to the cowl. The remarks for 676 exhaust all the evidence I could find that Tim will slip into the old crow's combat boots during Batman's absence.

Page 10: "Buried alive in his best cape!" explaining where Batman's purple Hefty bag blew off to. Let it be known that the Black Glove sends its guests off in style.

Cardinal Maggi and Jezebel fling some more misery Batman's way, the whole commandeering of the batcave, bludgeoning of the butler, disgracing of the parents, pumping of the meth, breaking of the heart, and burying alive proving woefully short to the task of breaking him.

"We can disfigure him to look like his worst enemy... speak of the Devil..." Oh Morrison, how your masterful double entendre does entender my heart, doubly so in fact. Signs point to "worst Enemy" meaning Hurt after that "Devil" nod. [1]

Page 11: "Reiki to the rescue!" I wonder how the Joker acquires all these little pop culture references. Just somehow I doubt he's been exposed to much Reiki and Wikipedia in between the asylum and the mass murder.

Page 12: All that build up for the Bat-Radia to shut out the lights and close the door? Watch out Satan, Bat-Mom's putting you to bed with no story tonight! Still, the Radia apparently tunes into the station that raises the dead and wraps up the plot. I'm gonna call it W-DEM and leave the meaning up to guesswork.

Page 13: The Joker butchered Bossu's face last issue. Again, I think "furruh joke" implies that he sculpted Dr. Dax's face in the image of his hunchback mask.

Page 16: Some nice symmetry in the fact that Batman is born on page 16 and also on page 32.

Page 17: Everybody and his sister started dropping this term like breadcrumbs in the forest after Morrison posted it up in 681, but here you go anyway, just in case you were method reading RIP's conclusion in an isolation chamber. Apophenia.

A double clue to Dr. Hurt's true identity, "devil is double is deuce" and "pleased to meet you, admire your work," the latter being an obvious tip of the hat to the Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. [2]

Page 18: Again, "this high" with the hands. I love her faux-cutesy dialogue about it too.

Page 19: Jezebel said "I want you to know I understand" way back in Batman 664 to get Bruce to open up about his parent's death.

Page 20: There's no defending this sequence of expository dialogue without a complete rejection of statutes for criticism or a special exemption for Morrison from scrutiny under those statutes (which really is the same thing as rejecting them). Thinking along similar lines, Thom Young slaps this scene around a bit in his Comics Bulletin review of the issue. I've reproduced my favorite part below:
The type of expository revelation that Morrison used here--in which pertinent information is suddenly revealed to the reader after the fact in a novel’s final chapter--is generally considered an example of bad writing. This poor craftsmanship usually occurs when a writer has a clever premise that wasn’t carefully considered--and so he writes himself into a corner and has to produce a resolution out of thin air that supposedly satisfies all of the earlier plot threads.
All this info really does just breeze in from nowhere.

Page 21: There's Bossu again, stitching his face up.

Page 22: "Le Gant Noir. The actors, the director -- all murdered, gone mad or vanished. The story is the Devil himself put a curse on the whole thing." The stars of The Black Glove (why did El Gaucho watch the French version?) were Mangrove Pierce and Marsha Lamar. The latter was wife to the director John Mayhew who loosed his psychosis on the Club of Heroes in 667 to 669. [3]

Page 23: Thumbs down:
  1. Poor art. - The layout makes it appear as though the ambulance is dropping onto the Batmobile.
  2. Two inhumanly cold responses - The humor Morrison is shooting for falls flat and I'm tempted to dig up my Damian Wayne FAIL pic.
  3. Ultimately pointless - No one believes the Joker died here, and the Joker remaining at large renders this page highly skippable
Page 24: "We stemmed the tide of crime in Gotham City, undermining your reason to be." In Morrison's first Batman issue, Bruce jets off to London on vacation after supercrime in Gotham had apparently vanished overnight. Before he leaves though, he spots a mysterious trenchcoated figure on the Bat-Computer that he mistakes for Killer Croc. Perhaps he suspected the presence of his Enemy as far back as that very first issue.

"We daubed the walls with a trigger phrase..." Well, there goes all that sanctimonious theory espousing I did about graffiti and ghosts and aerosolized drugs back in 665. Oh wellz.

"I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crime-fighting." From Robin Dies at Dawn:

Page 25: Dr. Hurt delivers his Darth Vader revelation, but our two-handed Bruce doesn't roar back "Nooooo!!!" Instead, he just shrugs off Hurt's claim like he knows it's Grant Morrison and not Kevin Smith on the script.

"I skinned Mangrove Pierce alive and wore him to Mayhew's party," I've hammered you guys with this one a thousand times before, but for those just stopping in on 681, wearing skin is like a physical analogue to spiritual possession.

"I am the hole in things, Bruce, the Enemy..." Christians often refer to Satan as the Enemy.

"Unless Batman agrees to serve the Black Glove. And willingly dedicate his life to the corruption of virtue. Ready to deal?" a Faustian trade. No thanks. Who do you think he is - Spider-Man?! (Couldn't resist)

"Then I curse the cape and cowl, as you will soon! The next time you wear it will be the LAST!" Silly Devil, everyone knows you can't curse in superhero comics. Seriously though, we need more jinxing in Batman comics, because it really is just a radiantly cool concept. On the other hand, I do think it would've been hilarious if some moron Final Crisis tie-in writer unwittingly scripted Bruce as changing clothes before FC 6, ruining the whole fulfilled prophecy vibe and baiting the ire of Morrison apologists everywhere.

Page 27: That's the Third Man from 672-674 piloting the helicopter.

"Pure source evil... find the Devil waiting" [5]
Do you believe yet?

Page 28: "I am the daughter of the world's greatest criminal mastermind and the mother of Batman's son. We'll take care of retribution." I always announce my lineage before vowing revenge. Turn the next page over and watch Talia mete out the promised comeuppance.

Page 29: In case you forgot...

Pages 30-31: The Ninja Man-Bats return triumphant. Even old Cardinal Maggi can't escape Talia's bodacious justice.

Page 31: "Even Batman and Robin are dead!" Bossu's line sets the stage for the pronouncement that kicked off RIP "You're wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!"

Page 32: "Zorro in Arkham" Blech. Thomas Wayne must've been slurring like a four o'clock drunk for Bruce to miss that hard "k" sound, unless only his three penultimate syllables got tattooed onto Bruce's subconscious with memory blotting out the last in procrustean compliance with Morrison's favorite Silver Age invocation ("Zur En Arrh"). It's exactly the sort of non sequitur explanation that Morrison pokes fun at in the very next issue. It's apophenia at its finest, which maybe Morrison intends but even so, it's a whole page mostly devoted to explaining something nobody was wondering about, while still hanging were a number of plot points readers were legitimately hoping Morrison would flesh out a little more. Sorry guys. You get "Lubri chupa" instead.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Batman 680

We know Morrison really buys into all the tropes of mythology and this issue is no exception. When Batman crosses a threshold his spirit guide Bat-Might can no longer follow. Might follows the model of Honor Jackson who also abandons Bruce at a key instant before transformation, supporting my claim two issues ago about the mirror structure framing RIP. Red and black, in addition to all its other significances, color the lion's share of Batman's two costumes, Zur En Arrh and Regular respectively.

What really set the internet abuzz though was, of course, the ending. Now do you get it? Morrison is toying with the readers, preying on our shakiness, our nervous uncertainty about where the roads are leading. He's trying to convince us that the patterns in his run which we have some vague inklings about - well vague until we do comprehensive annotations like these - don't really exist. Again, the character and the reader experience the story in tandem. Batman wonders whether all the correlations he's made are illusory, a product of his delirium, and we wonder whether we're going delirious trying to make correlations ourselves. This surreal narrative, can it really be resolved? Will it make sense? Will we "get it"? It's the ultimate cliff hanger, not whether the story will end well for Batman, but can it end well for us?

Page 1: David Uzumeri and David Wallace tell me this title alludes to David Bowie. I'll have to take their word for it - David's a trustworthy name right? - because I can't stomach the amount of mind altering substances required to 'get' that music.

Page 2: The Black Glove are shepherded into Arkham Aslyum's new sportsbook. Morrison names Cardinal Maggi later in the issue and Al-Khidr next issue. Also next issue, the Joker breaks the general's neck and, I guess, succeeds him in Black Glove fingerhood.

Notice one of the member's has dragged his daughter (who could pass for a young Gwen Stacy) to the festivities, which hints that perhaps President Nkele did the same with a young Jezebel Jet, emotionally scarring her into the conniving witch of a woman she is today.

Page 4: Interestingly, Le Bossu actually is a neurosurgeon. I thought he only posed as one, but I guess you really need credentials to work in a place that confuses an undisguised Nightwing with a killer mime and sets the Joker free every other week. Note the duffle bag full of razors at Le Bossu's feet.

Page 5: The Joker stands there like a bored movie star listening to a drooling fan drone off all his favorite scenes. As amypoodle puts it: "Isn’t it just great that the Joker could not give a fuck?"

Page 6: Ah, the much maligned spread, which clearly draws the eye to the right when it's supposed to go up-down. I don't know what Bat-Might means when he says "a glowing bat-signal on your chest too!" as the insignia on Batman's chest is the only down-tuned part of his gaudy geddup (which I absolutely adore, by the adore).

Page 9: "Good call to puncture the gas tank on that limo." Bleh. I hate it when exposition is used to explain something that can easily be depicted on-panel. SHOW, don't tell.

Bat-Might claims to be from imagination, about which people lie in two camps. The first camp, generally ignorant to Morrison's style of storytelling (i.e. meaning beyond just the plot), will accept Bat-Might's statement at face value; he is a figment. The second camp, generally well-versed in Morrison's style of storytelling (e.g. David Uzumeri and Amypoodle), believe this revelation is intended to be ambiguous; Might is actually something more. In my view, the first camp is right and the second camp is wrong. I don't see any ambiguity in the statement "Imagination is the 5th dimension." The only ambiguity that this statement could possibly entail is whether Bat-Might is lying or not, but anyone who adopts the "he's lying" stance, by implication, accuses Morrison of the somewhat lazy mystery-writing practice of having characters provide false information to the reader without any textual reason for the reader to suspect foulplay.

However (yay), we can extract interpretive meaning from Might's assumed true claim of imagination land citizenship without snaking our minds into Orwellian doublethink, if we take "Imagination is the 5th dimension" as literal. How exactly we go about doing that I'll (try to) explain next issue.

Anyway, after disappointing legion fans with that revelation, Bat-Might parts on a suitably ghostly note, "Batman Beware!" that only Morrison would ever really think to write.

Page 10: I wonder how many times I can invoke this panel in the annotations before I get tired of it.

David Uzumeri covers the parallels between the Black Glove and the asshats from 120 Days of Sod All in Invisibles 7, so I won't retread that ground. But I will add that in the following issue, the Joker ousts the general from "The Duke" position, which makes sense given that he's referred to as the Thin White Duke of Death.

What the fuck is going on in that bottom panel? Where did the Joker get the rope? How did he find that disembodied glass floorway/doorway in the blackest cosmos where clearly it resides? By what method of travel does he return to earth on the next page?

Page 11: "[H]ow extraordinarily... inevitable you are." It's "unbearably inevitable", "unbearably" ya hear?! Hurt channels the "Unbearable Inevitability of Batman and the Joker," the unbearably overbearing chapter 8 heading in the barely-a-comic Batman 663

Dr. Hurt seems to be outfitting the Joker's suspenders with a black corsage, but the Joker ditches that shit fast because the clown at midnight means...

Page 12: I guess we are to assume Commissioner Gordon's has passed through a motion sensor that triggered a recording, since Dr. Hurt is currently occupied entertaining guests and El Sombrero is currently occupied being dead.

Page 13: Man this subplot is so pointless and that's not even my disdain for Damian talking. As David Uzumeri says, there can be no doubt now that Commissioner Gordon knows Batman's true identity.

Page 14: "We didn't get the shipment! We're out of ammo!" Batman crashed the Martius Freight weapons shipment last issue, much to the chagrin of Charlie Caligula. And (if I'm lucky maybe one reader will get this reference) the top panel of this page reminds of me Metal Gear Solid 3 where the player could blow up the enemy's weapons storehouse, enabling terrorists to expend their once infinite ammo. Yeah, that's right, I just alluded to an obscure Easter egg from a five year old video game in the annotations for a completely unrelated comic book... bitch.

Page 14: "And you turn up dressed like clown," There's a certain, very Morrisonian irony in the fact that the new Batman is fruiting around Arkham Asylum in his new duds, tasting the rainbow, while a highly subdued Joker looks on, murmuring dry psychoanalysis at him strictly in lowercase.

Page 15: "Jezebel, I'm coming to get you." Brian Cronin from CSBG points out that this scene could be interpreted as Batman suspecting Jezebel of guilt and "coming to get her" the same way he'd come to get the Joker. Mr. Cronin thinks it's very cool, I'm not sure if it's anything at all, but you should check out the link anyway because the comments section features one of the finest bits of sarcasm (commenter named karl and not me, sad to say) ever to be visited upon the internets.

Page 16: A Batman impostor working for Dr. Hurt shot the Joker in Morrison's first issue, 655.

Page 17: "Jet-black irony with our morning coffee" isn't just a bad line of dialogue. It's also a hint to the issue's conclusion.

The Joker forks his tongue in an effort to look more snakish. Snake imagery is generally associated with Satan in the Judeo Christian tradition, so that obviously furthers the whole Bat-Christ idea, since I once overheard someone talking about Batman as if he was the PB to Joker's J, like some kind of duality between them I guess, idk.

Anyway, although I doubt Morrison was shooting for this alternate interpretation, serpents in classical Greece were often said to be apotropaic, as the medusa snakes in Athena's aegis. This falls in line with the Joker's antagonizing of the Black Glove, since all of its members may be thought of as evil spirits that he's helping Batman to ward off.

Page 18: "no, batman, that's just wikipedia." At the wikipedia website, you can learn about things.

Based on his reappearance "six months later" in Batman 681 and his statement that the Joker did it "for a joke," I assume the Joker carved Dr. Dax's face into a likeness of his Le Bossu mask, not that they were ever drawn so different to begin with.

Page 19: "and i hold the winning card" reprises the Joker's dialogue from Batman 1 and Batman 663.

Page 21: "It's only when they come together that the deadly neurotoxin is activated." Harley Quinn dispersed this neurotoxin among the Joker's henchmen in Batman 663.

Page 22: Note the clock wheeling towards midnight, fulfilling Harley's prophecy from 663: "Batman dead at midnight on the steps of Arkham Asylum, right?" When the neurotoxin hits Bruce's brain, he contorts his face into a Joker-like grin which, working in conjunction with his preposterous ensemble and his humiliating circumstance, makes Bruce the Clown at Midnight.

Actually, the details surrounding Bruce's transformation here and in the next issue, imitate those of another legendary figure... Cinderella! First, Bruce receives an invite to the ball (the Danse Macabre). Then, he arranges a transformation with his Fairy Godmother (Honor Jackson) that renovates his attire to match the lively garbs of his hosts (the Joker, Club of Villains, Dr. Hurt). At midnight, the spell begins to unravel and Bruce reverts to his original appearance (regular Batman). Finally, he is fitted for a glass slipper (punches Satan's helicopter into the Gotham river). Alright fine, but the resemblance is still a strong one.

"My good and faithful servant." Dr. Hurt isn't condescending to the Joker. The Joker really is a good and faithful servant to the Devil.

Page 23: I like Bruce hopelessly clutching the Bat-Radia. At this point, nobody knows it's anything more than just a piece of junk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Batman 679

While perusing Miracle on Crime Alley, which debuts the new BAT-man, I caught a drift of something, something hard to place, but something I could feel, something, some theme like symbolic selves. Maybe I imagined this theme (hallucinated it even) because I was looking for it after the first couple of nods, but the instances just seem to pile up in this issue. Visual cues, of course, arise naturally in the panels medium, but there's something a little extra in this one. I know I usually concretize my theories better than this, or I hope I do, but for 679 you'll have to make due with a more pointillistic approach which hopefully reading Grant Morrison comics has habituated you to.

First page, for example, Batman decked out in his garish new duds smashes through a door with a baseball bat. Now the bat, in addition to being a dusty old pun that should've died with the 50s, also embodies the brutality of the new Batman, who no longer functions as a human being but entirely as a weapon. "I'm what you get when you take Bruce out of the equation," Bat-Bum gravely intones. But the tacky hobo's-uniform undercuts this latest incarnation of the Batman, trivializing his newfound bloodlust.

Now the next pages really set the cogs off spinning in my head. Because honestly, without some thematic significance, this scene means absolutely nothing: the tailor never returns to these pages and his revelation about Le Bossu neither advances the plot nor connects the reader to any info he didn't already possess. Notice though that Morrison, like a fashion model with an abusive boyfriend, comes back again and again to the tailor motif, and there I think indwells the significance of these two pages. Clothes, especially in comic books, externalize the self of the wearer, often as if the character's very identity was sewn into the fabric of his or her outfit. Historically, it had to be this way, as comic book faces were (and often still are) sufficiently nondescript that distinguishing one person from the next necessitated characteristic fashion senses (e.g. Gordon's moustache and glasses).

Perfect example: think about the flurry of confusion storming the internet last issue over the identity of Arkham's latest captive. Even though Bossu was clearly fingering Nightwing's domino mask, since Nightwing wasn't actually wearing it in the final panel, examining that panel in isolation, the only things the reader had to work with were short dark hair, medium build, somewhere between adolescent and geriatric. That caricature doubles for Bruce. Hell, it doubles for Tim too. And though I hate to found two unrelated theories on the same ideas, consider 680's famous line, "Batman is cool! Batman wears black!" Right, so even with the same musculature, the same jaw line, the same costume even, only a different color scheme, but still operating in much the same way as always, the general can't believe that the real Batman could attire himself in these fruity fatigues.

And with Morrison spinning the threads, the clothes often don't make the man, and we've seen a lot of Batman knock-offs screw up just to prove that point. The clothes sometimes lie, broadcasting only desired associations rather than real ones. For example, to punish the depowered god-wizard Zachary Zor in Seven Soldiers, the Time Tailors knit him into a patchwork jacket that causes a lynch mob to confuse Zor with suspected killer/pedophile Cyrus Gold. "Not much of a disguise, you'd think. But watch it fool the locals," one of the tailors remarks, the implication being that comic book characters, like the audiences reading about them, have difficulty differentiating one another and frequently rely on characteristic adornments, in this case, a patchwork jacket, but other examples include Gwen Stacy's bow and Mr. Fantastic's gray streak, to tell one person from another.

Even earlier than that, Morrison's Orlando was fooling dumb kids with some of the most unconvincing skin grafts ever witnessed!

But let's not get off track. In this issue alone, we have numerous instances of characters pulling the wool over our eyes with the wool over their skins. First, Batman drapes himself in the flashy threads of a 1950's costumed do-gooder (Tlano Batman), yet doesn't follow his model in the least. In fact, the Batman of Zur En Arrh is far more brutal than even the hard-bitten original, provoking Jog's comparison to the awful Jean Paul Valley.

Moreover, this issue sees Dr. Hurt fruiting around the Batcave, defiling the costume of the first Bat-Man, trying desperately to sell the idea that he's Thomas Wayne still alive. Charlie Caligula likewise advertises a fake self in this issue, belting out his best karaoke of the Joker, eliciting Batman's comments on "the make-up, the vanity, the desperation." In a somewhat weaker way than Jezebel Jet, Wingman, and even Le Bossu / Dr. Dax in this issue, these characters anchor the theme of misrepresentation that has been floating around this run.

So yeah, I think the tailor bit matters.

Moving on, threads are but one of several ways Morrison projects personality onto physical form. For example, this issue offers a couple of insights into Bat-Might's true identity, which 680 reveals to be the personified subconscious of Bruce Wayne. Might accesses in this issue certain memories he could not possibly possess without tapping Bruce's mind or actually working out of a higher dimension as he claims he can (this is actually the stance I take, in spite of Bat-Might's apparent status as a hallucination). And not to dredge up a hoary old Frank Miller cliche, but Batman's roots do extend pretty deeply into his city, enough so to justify his naming of certain streets as "a machine designed to make Batman."

Page 9, in particular, gets much of its point across through symbolism. The second panel on that page reprises the Wayne murders but with the Waynes off-panel. That's okay though because those pearls provide a perfect pictorial summary of Thomas and Martha Wayne: rich, pure, loved, so that it would have been superfluous to depict them on-panel. Two panels later (after a suitup panel that we already got into), Zorro - or is that El Gaucho - declares "This will remind you that I have been here once and can return," presumably after signing the "Z" of his name. This obviously riffs on the whole Crime Alley rebirth current of the issue, but it also reminds us of something more relevant to this essay, namely, leaving one's mark. When you see a bandito wearing that "Z" on his hide, you know exactly what's happened to him. A writer can truck a whole mess of meaning to the reader (sometimes with the intention of misleading him) with a very simple picture, a cornerstone concept of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which I sampled in an earlier link.

It feels kind of weird to discuss iconography as a theme, as opposed to discussing what the icons actually point to, but I hope the above illustrated (Heh) the prevalence of symbolism, especially symbolism of identity, in this particular issue. God, it'd be nice if I had to picture to say all that.

Page 4: "The hunchback. Hmmm." "Heh! You said it!" Everyone in that panel is hunching over.

Page 5: The grids are almost certainly miscolored on this page. Checkerboard grids - nothing could more perfectly facilitate the use of red and black.

"A machine designed to make Batman." Batmen are born, not made.

Page 7: Batman has tied his tooth to the pigeon's leg, presumably the same pigeon that was perched atop the gargoyle's head on page 4.

Page 8: Explicitly informing the reader that the Caped Crusader hallucinated Zur En Arrh seems to swim against the current of Morrison's run, wherein we have consistently bobbed around Batman's zany past with innuendo and insinuation. What happened to "It would be far easier to consider this a dream"? Lame.

Morrison sure likes to flex that Dr. Milo muscle. He's used him in both Arkham Asylum, where he was a sane inmate in the house of crazies, and in 52, where Ralph Dibny flings Milo from his wheelchair in order to get at the black magic artifact concealed in one of its tires. Morrison divulged a while back plans for one to two issue arcs following BftC. It looks like DC's booting him off the title, but I wonder if Dr. Milo played any part in those plans.

"Paging Doctor Freud!" Bat-Might jokes, channeling my mother's awful sense of humor.

Also, I believe Morrison is the first writer to entomb the Waynes under crucifixes. Even Bruce's angry stance evokes Christ on the cross, a favorite image of Morrison's. If Grant Morrison wrote a comic book about Donald Duck, he would petrify his wingspan in a Christ pose and probably confront the suffering duck with the frozen corpse of Walt Disney, and barring that, some other incarnation of the man.

Page 9: After some fairly mundane exposition, we discover that Bruce created the Zur En Arrh identity as insurance against a psychic attack. Solidifying a main theme of the run, Bat-Might confirms that "Batman thinks of everything," an idea Batman 681 will come to beat us over the head with.

Page 10: As I explained in the annotations for 676, the Swagman gets his name from the Australian anthem Waltzing Matilda.

Page 12: "Senator Fishy" According to legend, Emperor Caligula tried to inaugurate his favorite horse into the Roman Senate. Charlie's line here obviously plays off that legend, substituting a fish for the horse in order to link himself more closely to the Joker (don't tell me you haven't read Laughing Fish), whose manner he seems to be aping.

Page 15: Morrison waxes sympathetic for Officer Nobody before shish kebobing his frontal lobe on arrow stems. Jog seems to think that Morrison is satirizing the shit writing practices inherent to this kind of event comic, but I'm not so sure, since he pulls the same pity-me fishing in Final Crisis 3 and Batman: Gothic. So I mean, how many times can you satirize the same thing before you start to satirize yourself, you know?

Pages 16-17: Dr. Hurt vastly oversells his case. Everyone knows he's not blowing the load this early in RIP, and so, Alfred dismisses his claim with a prim, butler's version of "stfu."

Page 18: "We know who you are Bruce Wayne! Everything about you!" Charlie Caligula raises a very good point. Dr. Hurt seems intent on fairplay with the Batman, always affording him an out to the Glove's death traps, but what of the other Club members? What's to keep them from blabbing Batman's alter ego around Gotham City or auctioning it off as Professor Hugo Strange once did? Six free agent nobodies in Gotham City after RIP, all coveting a ten million dollar tidbit - maybe that's what drives Bruce into retirement. We'll see tomorrow (as of posting this).

Just as the Ranger apended "Dark" to his name in order to keep pace with his increasingly sinister foes, Charlie now commits gimmick crimes in a Halloween costume to compete with the growing legions of psychopaths in a post-Joker DCU. It's the prevailing notion of The Long Halloween and, more famously, The Dark Knight of "freaks" commandeering the criminal scene, and old "Little Boots" didn't want to be left behind.

Page 19: "What's that thing behind you! Where am I?" As seen on the previous page, Bat-Might is skulking somewhere behind Bruce. Charlie's awareness of the imp's presence seemingly contradicts Bat-Might's claim to be a figment of Bruce's imagination.

Page 22: On Batman's belt dangles the leafy coronet of Charlie Caligula, who Batman... killed??? I don't think so but we never see him again, so I wonder. Remember, Batman's not himself here, so anything's possible.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Batman 678

Morrison certainly has a lot of fun this issue. Fortunately this time - and it's not always the case - fun for him equates to fun for us. First, Bruce Wayne raises the bar on high fashion, shaming Ashton Kutcher and his trucker cap by becoming the world's first billionaire bum (Be honest, you thought I was shooting for the red and purple with that "fashion" comment). Second, a pithy magical negro opens Batman's eyes to new facets of life during their tour through the seedier side of the big city. In this sense, Honor Jackson seems directly inspired by Seven Soldiers' subway pirate No-Beard who accompanies the unmagical negro Guardian (here comes my racist ban from blogspot) as a spirit guide to the literal underworld of New York. Morrison even tags the bums of this issue with little pirate monikers like "Lone Eye Lincoln," which, unintentionally I think, mashes together pirate culture and urban poor culture, both of them violently preoccupied with turf - "Hey! This is my personal stuff! Fucking junkie!" - and concentrated in small clumps of kindred spirits.

Some of this issue also riffs on the Dickens Christmas Carol beat, first tapped on by the three ghosts of Batman way back in 665. But this time we have old Ebenezer Wayne slumming how the other half lives and then warming into a kinder, gentler Batman. Well, okay maybe not those things, but he certainly slips into a kinder, gentler color scheme. Morrison must've smirked through the entire script writing process for this issue, bubbling into full-blown giggle for the last couple of pages where he spoofs all the self-serious "I am Batman!" sequences and even slates a thunderbolt to strike at just the correct narrative moment. Bat-Might admonishes from overhead - "uh-oh" - to plant our feet back on the ground after the warp jump to Schizo Central on Zur En Arrh. Might reminds us that Bruce is a guy who dresses up as a bat. This shit was almost as silly back when he wore black.

Now Batman 678 calls for a rather protracted history lesson, which I interleave with my customary speculations on the material. First, that opera costume Dr. Hurt is cavorting around the Bat-Cave in belongs to Thomas Wayne. Choosing that costume out of all the others does seem to bolster his claim about secretly being dear old Dad in 679. Interestingly, and probably not coincidentally, the origin story of that costume draws extensively from The Origin of the Batman in which Joe Chill is killed (this was discussed heavily in the annotations for Joe Chill in Hell).

In Tec 235, which occurs chronologically after Origin of the Batman, Thomas Wayne, in flashback, attends a masquerade costumed as a "Bat-Man."

Some low-level enforcers kidnap Doc Wayne from the party and demand he remove a slug from their boss Lew Moxon's stomach, which seems to cast Moxon in a similar mold as the later Carmine Falcone. Wayne Sr. manages to escape the mobsters and testify in court against their boss, putting him away for 10 years.

A resentful Moxon hires Chill from prison to whack the Waynes, and the rest... well, you know. Back in the present, Bruce, donning his father's costume for story reasons (amnesia's involved, I'm not gonna get into it), pursues the paroled Moxon who, in fearful recognition of his attacker, flees out into the street where he and a speeding big rig have an intimate conversation. For the second time, Batman marks the murder of his parents as a case closed.

The story of Tec 235 is driven by a familiar formula: "You thought you had closure when Mr. Y died but oh ho! Really Mr. X masterminded the scheme!!" It's a fairly common retcon, which you've undoubtedly seen before if you read superheroes with any regularity. Perhaps Morrison is lampooning that tradition of retcon by carrying it absurdly far:

Well it's not just Joe Chill who killed your parents, he was only acting under orders from Lew Moxon! But Lew Moxon belonged to a crime syndicate which operated under the banner of the Red Hood! But the Red Hood only turned to crime because of the evil in his heart, and we all know who made up evil -- the Devil!
I cooked up the Red Hood part myself, but still, the idea fits with the Black Glove's claim to be "operators at the highest level!" I think Morrison is playing up the proto-Villain aspect of Dr. Hurt / Devil, the Mastermind behind all masterminds.

Finally, I shouldn't have to point out that this story supplies yet another instance of father-to-son occupational inheritance in Grant Morrison's Batman. More fodder for my Tim = New Batman theory which I put forward two issues ago.

The second story, Batman - The Superman of Planet X from Batman 113, links into 678 in much more obvious ways, not the least of which being some direct dialogue swipes from the 1950s issue.

The story begins with Batman possessed by some unknown entity who compels him to pilot his Bat-Plane into outerspace where he's teleported to the mysterious world of Zur En Arrh (presumably, "Planet X" is only the "Earthian" name for that world).

I'm not entirely sure why he needed to fly into outer space to be teleported, but the date on the first page reads "1958" so we'll let it go. On this new planet, Bruce meets Tlano, a Batman-inspired crusader (what a novel concept!) who brought the original to his planet to help ward off the green, generic bug-like invaders from the cover.

Tlano has also constructed an elaborate Bat-Cave, complete with Batmobile and Bat-Plane. A psychedelic version of the latter adorns the cover to 678.

Then, the garish double breaks out a new toy for Batman, the Bat-Radia, which "issues electronic molecules that cause controlled disturbances in the atmosphere!" Sweet. Suddenly, Tlano pulls out a gun and starts blasting at Batman who, caught by surprise (this is a pre-Morrison Batman, remember, so it was possible to catch him by surprise), collides with its "ray-bullets." Fortunately, the bullets bounce off his chest causing a smug Tlano to explain how, due to the immense gravity difference between their planets, Batman now possesses god-like abilities on Zur En Arrh, and in fact, Batman fills an entire page demonstrating these Superman skills, including the now-classic coiling-of-long-metal-bar.

I'm very surprised Morrison didn't attempt to adapt "I can twist it like taffy candy!" into his run. Batman wiles away the next couple of pages testing his new powers on the invaders when Tlano finally broadcasts the full power of the Bat-Radia on them, which robs the aliens of their biggest edge against Batman.

The actual plot of the comic isn't terribly important. The dialogue and the Silver Age accoutrements are really what's pertinent to Morrison's run. After successfully warding off the invaders and their robots, Tlano returns Batman to his home, but not without a keepsake to commemorate their victory -- the Bat-Radia!

That parting line pretty well sloganizes Morrison's run on Batman, and he steals it perhaps in recognition of this. "It would be far easier to consider this a dream." Tacitly, this is what DC has asked us to do for the past 30 years, but how can we?!

Page 1: "The Bat-Radia is turned on. The electronic molecules are streaming forth. It would be far easier to consider this a dream, but how can I??" quoted from Batman 113.

The second panel riffs on the cover of Batman 134.

That cover has a kind of metatextual irony, don't you think? Batman and Robin are already two-dimensional people! What's more, the Dynamic Duo actually defeat the monster by stripping him of his color and then ramming him with what looks like a giant pencil.

I wonder if Bill Finger was intentionally layering his story with metatext or if he's just streaming it subconsciously onto the page.

The third panel pays the reader a kindness and tells its place of origin, Batman 156: Robin Dies at Dawn. The details of that issue, I've recapitulated here.

The fourth panel cobbles together several different panels from Batman 153 with the closest resemblance reprinted below.

Though he's not in this panel, an alien really does pilot a red jet ski elsewhere in the comic.

Page 2: "I don't want to know what goes on in the Joker's head. I have to know." Bruce agreed to participate in the isolation experiment to better understand the Joker.

"But when I imagine how it must feel to be him, I think of a snake with a broken back, flipping and tracing intricate, agonized arabesques in the dust." Recall from Joe Chill in Hell that for his black casebooks, Bruce practices that “self-conscious, hard-boiled style that Alfred loves to read.”

Pages 3-5: Notice that Robin's entire battle with the mime Pierrot Lunaire is silent.

Page 7: "I do know you from somewhere. Alright! Honor Jackson never forgets a good turn!" Honor Jackson knows Bruce from Batman 676, where Batman, in one "good turn," threw a couple hundred dollars his way. "Honor" honors his obligation to furnish "another" even after his death, perhaps an invocation of ghosts with "unfinished business," as Honor does vanish once he's set Bruce on course to become Batman again.

Page 10: These gladiators belong to Charlie Caligula.

Page 12: God, I just can't get bums these days to shut up about "horticulture!" Actually, Morrison could've pulled the line off if he had Honor repeat the word later in the issue, as it's been my experience that the under-educated will often exhaust the novelty of their ten-dollar words. Anyway, we can pin it on Bruce's imagination, devising that unconvincing bum dialogue, so Morrison slips away on this one.

Oh also, somebody drops some change into Honor's beggar cup on this page, which is kind of odd considering that he's dead and not really there. Maybe this person is just in the habit of throwing change. Oh be a dear won't you Two-Face and jot down for me that lovely shade of nail-polish you're wearing.

Page 13: We see Batman resurfacing, not only in the severe ass beating Bruce administers to the "Psycho Riderz" but also in his trademark scoff "Hh.

Page 14: "You have a kind face," Honor thought this even when Bruce was wearing the cowl in 676.

Bruce retains his detective prowess despite his amnesia.

Note the red and purple rolls of cloth at the bottom of the shopping cart.

Page 15: Honor Jackson hands down to Bruce the sacred Bat-Radia, which Thom Young compares to Kirby's Mother Box. Like Kirby's device, the Bat-Radia also comes equipped with a "Resolve Plot" button, which we see Batman press in the concluding chapter of RIP (where else?).

"You can fall... or you can rise." Falling was the motif around which the last issue revolved. Now Batman rises. Last time, I noted with some disaproval that Morrison was using the same visual hook in two contiguous issues: 677 and 680, but now that I think about it the repetition makes good storytelling sense. In 677, Batman falls. In 678, Batman of Zur En Arrh rises. In 680, Batman of Zur En Arrh falls. In 681, the circle joins on itself and Batman rises again. Cool huh?

Page 17: Thomas and Martha Wayne met their fates at Park Row / Crime Alley, which is like the Brooklyn Bridge of Batman comics. The building in the fourth panel could be the theater the Waynes were departing just before their run-in with Joe Chill.

Page 18: Le Bossu, posing as a doctor in Arkham, has convinced the Arkham staff (man these guys are dumb) that Nightwing, who's spewing foam from his mouth after getting stung by Scorpiana, is actually Pierrot Lunaire, the mad mime who ambushed Tim at the beginning of the issue. I guess Le Bossu assumed the other doctor wouldn't recognize that mask as belonging to Nightwing, a fair assumption, since greater than 70% of the Bat-fan/Internet overlap found the frothing patient's identity to be terribly unclear (many thought he was Tim).

Page 19: The Club of Villains drink a toast to the Black Glove, including King Kraken, who I imagine will just pour the champagne onto his face plate and wait for it to dry.

Page 20: Batman pricks his finger in... well, I'll let Jog explain it:
Oddly, Batman also pricks his finger while sewing his new duds, a possible reference to the 'snapping out of a trance' bloodletting bit from Arkham Asylum. Well, more accurately, something that was supposed to happen in Arkham Asylum, before Dave McKean transformed it into a multi-page cataclysm of self-mutilation, "which would surely have rendered Batman's hand entirely useless for the rest of the book, and possibly the remainder of his useless life," as Morrison remarked in his annotations to the 15th Anniversary Edition. There is a ritual element to it all, but what the ritual does remains to be seen.
Page 22: Apparently, Bruce ingested a lot of roids along with that weapons grade crystal meth, as his body appears grossly disproportionate. Actually, the clunky Batman enhances the silliness of the scene, so it's not really so bad of fuck-up on Daniel's part.