Sunday, January 4, 2009

Batman 673

Being a little psychotic himself (it's the hallucinogens, the real space medicine), Morrison writes crazy better than any other person in the biz. Partly because Morrison knows that crazies cling to their skewed vision of sanity much more fervently than any sane person ever would. In Arkham Asylum, Jeremiah Arkham, draped in his mother's wedding gown, staring at his dismembered family, insists that it "all seems perfectly, perfectly rational." In Joe Chill in Hell, Batman resounds that conviction:

Hearing voices is normal. Hallucinations from the past and the present are normal. Flashing lights and intimations of mortality are normal. All of this is normal.
Only a lunatic would feel the need to justify himself like this. Bruce Wayne's rejection of the abnormal overarches Grant Morrison's treatment of the Batman character.

For example, in JLA Classified #1, when Bruce busts out his Jack Kirby deus ex machina technology, he instructs Alfred "Don't tell my friends in the GCPD about this." Batman is ashamed of these sci-fi devices. He and his writers work hard to perpetuate the notion that "Batman is cool! Batman wears black!" and throws smoke bombs and fires grappling hooks. He doesn't fool around with gay shit like motherboxes and boom tubes.

More recently, we've seen Bruce write off his inexplicable encounters from the 40's, 50's, and 60's - vampires and flying saucers - in the Black Casebook. And now he's swearing up and down that his hallucinations of Zur En Arrh, Bat-Might, and purple golem heads are all blandly normal. They're not, of course, but Batman needs to be in control. If he can reason out every eventuality, he can prepare for each one. But what if the eventuality is unreasonable? Batman must reconcile this by making it reasonable, by "building a new box" around it. And it starts to make sense to us too because we're looking for things to neatly tie together, we're looking for coherent continuity and No-Prize moments. Apophenia is like original sin for superhero fans. We were all guilty of it well before Morrison's run began, but no one ever pointed it out to us quite like this before.

To better explain this comic, I'm giving a run through the important bits of Batman 47: The Origin of the Batman and Batman 156: Robin Dies at Dawn.

After stopping a mob related crime, Batman discovers that Joe Chill, the man who murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne, is smuggling criminals in and out of Gotham City.

LOL. Totally nailed the mood they were going for. Anyway, the police can't pin anything on Chill, and Bruce Wayne, posing as Matches Malone, fails to penetrate his inner circle (ho ho, that's what she said). Frustrated, Bruce decides to confront Chill in costume, threatening as Batman to haunt his every step for the rest of his life. When Chill asks why Batman is singling him out, he unmasks, revealing himself as the son of Chill's victims.

Shaken, Chill solicits protection from his mob cronies, recounting Batman's confession to them. However, before Chill can disclose Batman's true identity, his pals shoot him for creating the vigilante responsible for so many of their woes. The story ends with Batman marking the murder of his parents as a case closed.

Now the second, and arguably more important story:

Batman and Robin, apparently stranded on an alien world, are being chased by a monstrous four armed statue, the purple creature whose face Batman envisions in 672. During the course of fleeing, at exactly dawn on the alien world, the golem flings a boulder which crushes Robin.

The tragedy of Dick Grayson's death dispirits Batman, and in guilt he surrenders himself to be eaten by an alien monster. Just as we're getting to the real juicy part, the scene suddenly shifts to a scientific-looking room where Batman is sprawled out on the floor, hooked to an electronic device. Batman hallucinated the foreign planet, it turns out, after being isolated from society for an extended period of time (though in this era, Batman often visited alien worlds). The purpose of the sequestration, a nameless doctor explains, was to gauge the effects of long-term isolation on the minds of astronauts.

Leaving the laboratory with Robin, who watched the experiment from outside the chamber, the Dynamic Duo resume their normal crime fighting routine.

Unfortunately though, Batman can't seem to shake the monster hallucinations or the guilt over his imagined failure to save Robin, and as a result, he fails to stop some retarded looking criminals known as The Gorilla Gang. Depressed, he feels compelled to retire.

After sopping up his tears, Robin (it's implied) allows himself to be kidnapped. Batman, rejuvenated by his friend in need (and friend indeed!), rescues him unhampered by his hallucinations, and the sun rises in celebration of their triumph.

Both of these stories are quite good and ought to be read if possible. Timothy Callahan even hails Robin Dies at Dawn as a pre-Morrison Morrison story, meaty praise coming from him. Okay well that's it for this time, see yo -- oh shit, that's right. I still have to do annotations for this issue. Fuck. Kinda makes me feel like this guy ↓↓↓

Page 1: The story picks up after the point in Batman 47 where Batman threatens to stalk Chill. Morrison exercises some artistic license here, as Chill's mob buddies actually do agree to protect him and a disguised Batman actually has infiltrated their group.

Page 4: "With thanks to Bill Finger," Bill Finger wrote both Batman 47 and Batman 156

Page 6: I love this. Morrison has unearthed a textual reason for the pulpy writing style smothering every choked back, self-conscious syllable framed in those blue-grey squares boxing Batman's thoughts like chalk outlines drawn around some poor sap's spilled brains. What? I thought Alfred might be reading.

Anyway, this clues us into the identity of the unknown narrator in Batman 663: The Clown at Midnight. It might be Bruce Wayne, since he confesses to practicing that style. However, since Batman's captions during Morrison's run have been in the first-person while the prose story was narrated from the third-person, I suspect Alfred is our lurid story teller.

Page 7: The sword wielders, as well as the Thogal ritual, hail from 52

Page 9: In Batman 47, the Land Sea Air Transport Company was a front for Chill's smuggling racket

Page 10: "The son I lost," this might be Morrison humanizing Joe Chill or this might be another red herring. Or maybe this ties into the line after next, "How can anybody know the compromises I had to make, the regrets I have to live with?" Chill wonders while fiddling with a deck of cards. Could Joe Chill have bargained with the Satanic Black Glove? Did he sell his son for a ticket to the top? Or perhaps, Joe Chill, grief-stricken from his son's unrelated passing, agrees to murder the Waynes in service of the Devil?

Also, immediately following this, Chill unwittingly addresses a disguised Batman, "You're just a kid, Frosty. What do kids like you know?" Even without the thug mask he's wearing, that statement still holds water, Batman really is just a kid. By design, the public Bruce Wayne is a fainéant playboy (emphasis on "boy") whose inefficacy is trumped only by his superficiality, a "reckless mask of a man who never grew up." (from 675) The private Bruce Wayne obsesses over absurd gadgets (read: "toys"), martial arts, and strategy games, squashing relationships before they can become too meaningful a distraction. The childishness of the Batman persona almost explains itself: he dresses up in a Halloween costume and beats the shit out of people. Chill's lines here, which almost look like throwaways, can spark a ton of interesting speculation if you stare hard enough at them. Incidentally, that segues quite well into...

Page 13: "I can feel eyes watching me. Eyes with human intelligence watching. Always watching." a direct quote from Robin Dies at Dawn. I would guess Morrison is using the line to establish a metatextual mislead for the architect behind Bruce's suffering. We are watching Bruce, in case that was unclear. No, I'm not putting it past Morrison to use himself or the reader as a red herring, since any one who has read his work knows he's very capable of revealing the Black Glove to secretly be Bill Finger or Dan DiDio or some other real-world person.

"I must be around five years old when I first sense the presence of a gaping, toppling void in the center of existence." That void is probably Dr. Hurt who in 681 refers to himself as the "hole in things, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning."

Page 14: Bat-Might is trying to tempt Bruce to the DarkSeid dark side, not unlike Dr. Hurt in 681. And what the fuck is going on with his nose piece on this page?

Pages 14-16: The doctor and general's dialogue are all direct quotes from the above Bill Finger stories. Thank you Batman for your "remarkable contribution to space medicine." God I cannot get over how great that is.

Page 15: Morrison is juxtaposing Batman's guilt over Dick Grayson's imagined death in Robin Dies at Dawn with his guilt over Jason Todd's real death in Batman 428. Interestingly, Morrison makes a point in Batman 683 that Bruce positively channels his guilt better than anyone in the world, but in Robin Dies at Dawn, Batman takes Robin's death so poorly that he practically throws himself into the gnashing jaws of a hungry monster.

Page 16: Morrison introduces a new rationale motivating Bruce's participation in the army experiments.

Page 18: "But her heart was weak and she died of blood loss." As he articulates in his Arkham Asylum notes, Morrison believes a wife dying of a broken heart speaks more to our subconscious than a wife being murdered, as the former is more archetypal and rooted in myth. He touches up Batman's origin story in accordance with this belief.

Page 18: "They'll all kill me if they find out." They do find out and kill him in the original story, but in this version, it looks like Batman has driven Joe Chill to suicide. Remember though, we're dipping into Bruce's mind now, so this might not be a memory at all but rather a playing-out of some deep rooted revenge fantasy.

Page 22: Batman wakes in Dr. Hurt's isolation chamber.

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