Friday, January 2, 2009

Batman 668

Not too much new in Batman 668. It's more stellar Williams III art. More R-Rated Scooby Doo intrigue. More savory Silver Age reminiscence. It's the type of story Morrison does best, with a big cast of flawed characters and a deadpan deconstruction of juvenilia. Like The Coyote Gospel from Animal Man or Sex Secrets of the Newsboy Army from Seven Soldiers or We3 (all fantastic comics by the way), the Club of Heroes arc casts the heroes of our youth in a cynical light, asking "What would happen if these characters grew up through the comic ages?" What if Wile E. Coyote was convinced that God sent him as a martyr and a prophet? What if a Jack Kirby character committed statutory rape? What if a talking rabbit blew a soldier's brains out? That's certainly how some of these characters would be written if they were created in the stormy climate of today's comics.

It would be easy, soothing even, to resume The Club of Heroes' lives where they left off, dust them off as swashbucklers whose only goal is to break bread with the world famous Batman. But it's fake. Batman has changed so much from his 50's personality, why wouldn't they? Just because they're off-panel, they should completely stagnate? Morrison writes these characters as alive, which helps communicate them as people. Like Man-Of-Bats warns next issue "Only a little kid would ever think we were heroes." He means this in a somewhat circular way. Only a child would think of them as heroes in a childish sense of the word, as flawless bastions of good. To be sure, they do good, but they're only human.

Morrison's big hang up as a writer, the thing he's most fixated on is transformation. He almost never writes rocks. Either the character changes, or our understanding of the character changes. For heroes from the past, he doesn't just let them live in their own personal Silver Age bubble. No, he drags them screaming through the comic book ages and then drops the tattered remains into his story. For heroes of the present, he propels them backwards through time to the era where they first gained standing as myth.

Page 2: The "two new members" are Man-Of-Bats and Wingman, as the Knight mentioned last issue. This makes the photograph on the cover of 667 an anachronism, as it clearly depicts Batman and Robin, who never arrived at the last meeting, standing next to both inaugurees, Wingman and Man-Of-Bats.

Page 4: Morrison really digs into hypercontinuity here, really pressing Batman to deal with story inconsistencies... by creating a new one in actual history! Caesar on the steps of the forum, and correspondingly the Legionary, was now stabbed 23 times, whereas, one month ago in the present, Caesar was stabbed 17 times. Got it?

Pages 4-5: There's that black and red again. It strikes me that both Robin and Raven Red deck themselves out in black and red. Many people have speculated that his black and red costume points to Robin as a betrayer (and before 681, the true identity of The Black Glove). I don't think Morrison has set this up, but we have seen Tim a lot more than Dick in Morrison's run, so maybe black and red is singling out sidekicks as important (replacements maybe?). Black and red compose much of Beryl's costume too. Just a thought.

Page 7: "I'm trapped on an island on the middle of a tropical storm, by a madman who has killed and skinned our host." We know now that the madman actually is their host. Morrison only bothers with recapitulative exposition when it reinforces his lie.

Page 7: "Controlled by a gorilla!" refers to JLA Classified: #1-#3, the gorilla was Grodd

Page 9: Charlie Caligula is a member of the Club of Villains. Also, the Legionary's clue, an absurd, Velma-level clue, slots Batman in the Sherlock Holmes super detective mode of his early years.

Page 12: "That's how his Dad was killed! Spring-Heeled Jack put a bomb inside him!" Just as it designed the Three Ghosts to trigger Batman's worst fears, the Black Glove designs this scheme to reawaken in Cyril thoughts of the trauma that spiraled him into a clinical depression, and in so doing, debilitates him for the remainder of the mystery. The Black Glove always knows its enemy inside and out.

Spring-Heeled Jack, often misidentified with the Swagman, was an English urban legend commonly bandied about in Victorian times: so commonly in fact that at one point the mayor of London convened a city meeting to discuss the mythical demon. The monstrous Jack was said to have the ability to leap exceptionally far and high and breathe blue flames from his mouth. His ears pointed up like pitch fork prongs and he would claw at young women with metal talons. The locals called him the Devil, although certain illustrations - like the first one in that link - place him closer to a Bat-Man in appearance.

Could the Third Man have killed Cyril's father? The shoe certainly fits. He's a Batman who spits flames (he carries a flame thrower) and sheathes his hands in gauntlets, possibly metallic. Though he never leaps "exceptionally far and high," he does pull off a fence hop that even Batman misses in 674. The motives add up too; Mayhew wants to silence the original Knight's accusations, so he sics the Third Man on him, and in the absence of a better name for this demonic figure, the Knight settles on "Spring Heeled Jack," after the creature of lore whom he most resembles.

Page 13: "You might even be forgiven for thinking he's committing suicide and trying to take us all with him." You could especially be forgiven if you read And Then There Were None because this is exactly what the killer in that novel does. The murderous suits of armor look like they're taken directly from old Scooby Doo VHS tapes.

Pages 14-15: The avatars of good and evil, Batman and the Black Glove, do battle in a duel that transcends the normal plane of comic action. These icons fight as gods in the comic book world. More on this next issue and pretty much everywhere else, especially the 681 post.

Page 15: Beryl hears the screams of the Dark Ranger as he's lynched/burned.

Page 18: Morrison's superheroes love to announce their team-ups (see, for example, Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer)

Page 19-20: Pierrot Lunaire, Scorpiana, and El Sombrero are all members of the Club of Villains

Page 21: His face needed to be scorched beyond recognition before he was hanged? Cmon! If you didn't think that something was up when you saw this, you need to head to your local library and pick up some mysteries.

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