Thursday, January 1, 2009

Batman 665

We continue our trudge through the 90's with another dour, sanguinary cover that let's us know

Batman is serious.

Anyway, I like this issue. Like last issue, Morrison relies largely on Andy Kubert's art to carry across this honest tale. I wonder if, maybe not the presence, but the placement of these issues in the overall scheme of his run was dictated by Morrison's fatigue after the travail of writing 663. That is, I wonder if this fatigue caused him to bump the presumably easy-to-script Bat-Bane issues up the time scale.

The titular Black Casebook, introduced this issue, raises some serious concerns about the havoc a thing like this could wreak on Batman's brain. Jog theorizes that by forcing Batman to write these things down, he must cope with them and recognize them as real. Given that the history of any long-running comic character must teem with logical inconsistencies and tonal leaps, recording such a history runs the risk of launching the Caped Crusader's sanity out the window. I differ slightly from Jog in that I believe the actual copying of the history serves as a cathartic release for Batman, a means by which he's historically expunged these tales from his memory, literally closing the book on them. Only now that he's forced to reopen the Casebook for clues does his sanity fall into peril. Batman's journey into yesteryear mirrors the reader's, who, for pretty much the first time ever, must now reconcile Batman's impossible past with his present as he or she combs the backlogs of Bat arcana to determine the identity of the Black Glove.

Batman 665 does, at some point, digress into some irrelevant silliness with the whole testosterone business, but it's more distracting than annoying. As is often the case with Morrison's work, the most interesting thing about 665 lies outside the work itself, in the fevered speculations and hypotheses about the concepts only teased inside. I throw out a couple of these in the annotations below.

Page 1: The Zur En Arrh graffiti has vanished. David Uzumeri, in a wonderful thought, asks, "Could it somehow magically follow the Three Ghosts?" The text doesn't buttress this view 100%, as the Zur En Arrh graffiti was actually absent on the last page of the previous issue, with BatBane standing no more than two or three feet away. However, Batman is unconscious in that panel. Therefore, I suspect the "magical aura" is actually a pathogen that the Three Ghosts transmit, one keyed to alter Batman's mind state. A part of the previous issue, in which Batman claims he is able to feel the air around BatBane, supports this theory.

Page 5: Batman heads straight for the drugs. The effect of such drugs threatens to transform Batman into a numb, pitiless creature like the smack addled BatBane or the pill popping Damian of next issue. More on this in a few.

Page 7: "High dose of painkiller," more chemicals

Page 7: "Venom" is the stuff that gives Bane his super strength, and Hugo Strange dosed people with "monster serum" back in the 30's to create some of Batman's first super foes.

Page 8: First panel, Bruce snaps to wakefulness, seemingly just seconds after passing out on the previous page. Might this be one of his "Problem-Solving Microsleeps" ala 682?

Page 8: "I recently began transferring its rather lurid contents to memory stick." Interestingly, even the Black Casebook, a spiral bound monument to the Batmen of eras past, cannot remain static in time. Like Batman, it must evolve.

Page 8: "One too many exposures to Scarecrow Gas or Joker Toxin," Writing off disagreeable continuity as hallucination or subterfuge reeks of modern practices. I remember a Ditko/Lee Spider-Man story in which the Terrible Tinkerer reveals himself to be an alien out to steal military secrets. The story has since been retconned (by the great Roger Stern actually) with Mysterio and henchmen disguising themselves as aliens (though how alien costumes would help spies, I don't know). I would guess the purpose of the retcon was that a green alien rogue didn't "fit" with Spider-Man. Yet, much as Batman participates in sci-fi adventures all the time with the JLA, Spider-Man travels off-world to the Beyonder's planet just a couple of years after the Tinkerer retcon and even today battles armies of green men from outer space in the pages of Secret Invasion. Plots involving these two heavy-hitters adhere to an arbitrary set of rules depending on the title in which they occur.

In addition, Alfred's comments fix a Chestertonian, unraveling nightmare as a scapegoat for the increasingly bizarre happenings in Batman.

Page 8: "Cautionary tales, visions of what I might have become in other lives" In the next issue, Batman becomes someone who "sold his sold his soul to the Devil." We see later a Batman who uses a gun to kill his parent's murderer (he doesn't pull the trigger, but still). Finally, the climax of this issue sees the Dark Knight, high on tranquilizer and testosterone, out-brute even the bestial Bane-Bat.

Page 17: Batman sacrifices his old-fashioned looking Batmobile, clearing away the old to make way for the new. Again, Morrison is using the Batmobile as a symbol.

Page 18: "Why did you have to choose an enemy that's as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?" When I first read this, I thought Gordon was talking about crime. After reading 681, it becomes fairly clear that he's alluding to the Devil. Everything is so obvious once you already know the answer :-)

Page 22: "Oh Bruce, you hairy chested love god, take me in your arms and kiss me!" The spy cloaks his hands in... Black Gloves, DUM DUM DUM!

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