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.

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