Thursday, January 1, 2009

Batman 666

While I considered condemning this issue passive-agressively in the annotations, I think I'll serve it the pan pizza up here in the remarks. I didn't like this one very much at all. Timothy Callahan tells me I'm wrong in his review, and seemingly the entire internet has reached a consensus that this issue kicked ass, but I'm not buying it. Am I saying this comic is completely bereft of good ideas? No, there are some very good ideas in this comic, and they, as well as the ever-talented Andy Kubert, save it from being truly bad. Is the appreciation of those ideas overshadowed by the uninteresting plot, clich├ęd setting, and the "Who's Who" of bad Grant Morrison writing fetishes packaged along with them? I'm gonna say "Yes."

In honor of the 666th installment of Batman, Morrison trots out for us the same anime future we've seen a thousand times before, complete with riot gear police force and religious end times mumbo jumbo. He even furnishes the obligatory Frank Miller news broadcast to clue us into how fucked everything is.

On its own, this isn't so bad; most of us have come to accept these banalities as natural components of a "doomed future" depiction (though they needn't be). However, Morrison aggravates things by subjecting the reader to all his worst idiosyncrasies as a writer. For example, and I'm starting small, it really irks me that both Barbara Gordon and Damian Wayne have memorized verbatim the same hundred year old poem. To be fair, this isn't only Morrison, many writers in comics have their characters rattle off fat blocks of text from old literature (Captain American comes to mind), but why? Do people really do this? In a somewhat similar scene later, Grant Morrison Damian explains didactically to his cat that "The two upright horns," which are nowhere to be found in the art by the way, "represent the triumph of matter and duality over spirit and unity." Neat!

Morrison also tends to misplace his humility, treating his excellent conceits as throwaways and placing his undeveloped character creations at the top of the character totem pole. For example, Damian's booby trapping of "every single prominent building in Gotham," an awesome and fitting twist on Batman's preparation fetish, merits at least a couple of pages of face time, but Morrison shuffles it off in half a page to pave way for more OMG BADASS moments and tired religious symbolism. The perpetrator of this badassery, the trenchcoated Damian Wayne, easily dispatches six super villains in a 22 page span, one of whom may have been the Antichrist. Oh and its also implied that he killed Dick Grayson. Yeah, just like that.

Morrison transmits the tireless excellence of Damian in another way as well, through Damian's supercool dialogue, by far the worst part of this book. Just look at the last three pages where Morrison runs a train of supercool dialogue, just cheesy line dry humping cheesy line, ad nauseum.
Tell your big, bad daddy to bring it on anytime. If he wants what I owe him, Batman's waiting. I promised my father I wouldn't kill. Looks like I let him down again. You're all free. Go and make the world a better place or I'll hunt you down one by one. The apocalypse is cancelled until I say so.
Especially that last fucking one.

Just for fun, contrast the last line of this issue with the parting line of Clown at Midnight, where Harley Quinn asks the Joker "Dontcha love me no more?" Here's this broken, messed up woman who basically gave everything for a man who can't be bothered with her any more - you know, one a dem - whatchacallit - oh yeah, compelling characters. Harley Quinn, of course, unpityingly poisoned the Joker's henchmen earlier in the issue, but the line so perfectly captures the pathos of her life that we can't help feeling some sympathy for the little devil. On the other hand, "Until I say so" captures only Damian's arrogance, which I think the four prior masturbatory remarks had more than sufficiently demonstrated.

To be fair, some redeeming elements do elevate this book out of the muck. As mentioned, the booby trap bit was too brief but still a very nice touch. The opening poem too, Yeats's The Second Coming, poses an interesting point of contention: Is the second coming that of the Devil/Antichrist, the Third Man returning for Dr. Hurt, or does The Second Coming refer to Batman, who I argue is really Christ? Morrison's depiction of Damian Wayne bolsters the latter interpretation, as he reminds us of the more brutal Christ of Revelation, the birthplace of the whole 666 thing. So yeah, despite appearances, this comic is not dumb. Morrison sprinkles a bunch of really smart bits throughout the issue. It's just a shame he makes us slog through a blood-soaked, Chuck Norris Fact foisting of Damian Wayne to find them.

Pages 2-3: The Legend of the Batman: Who He Is and How He Came to Be, a succinct run through of Damian Wayne's life, in the vein of Batman #1. Can anyone explain what the rat and the syringe signify?

Page 5: Several accounts in the Bible cite Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Page 6: Damian and Commissioner Batgirl are quoting William Butler Yeats's thunderous Second Coming, which I've reprinted below:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Page 7: I don't recognize Lexmart from anything, though I know next to nothing about Superman lore. But if it really doesn't exist in the DCU, then I think Morrison is implying that in an apocalyptic future, Lex Luthor reigns over the international retail industry.

Page 11: "That monster was responsible for the death of... of a good friend." Barbara Gordon veers away from what she was going to say, probably something along the lines of "old flame." I can't imagine this meaning anyone but Dick Grayson, as no one else fits both descriptions. Plus, nobody cares about any of her other boyfriends.

Page 12: The Third Man makes his entrance, pontificating a demonic version of John Lennon's Imagine.

Page 15: The name "Max Roboto" cracks me up.

Page 16: The Devil, in some sense, gave birth to the Third Man when Satanists murdered Officer Lane's family (recounted in 674).

Page 20: "... In return for my soul!" A Batman who "sold his soul to the Devil" embodies one third of Bruce Wayne's three nightmarish visions from the previous issue.

1 comment:

  1. The boogie man checks his closet for Damien Wayne's every night.