Saturday, January 3, 2009

Batman 669

I thought I'd use the remarks this time to clarify something that might easily be missed in a reading, as well as sermonize on the greatness of Batman. Actually, many things might easily be missed in a reading because Morrison crams what was in all likelihood a Tolstoyesque initial draft for this final chapter into a scant 23 page allowance. Not unexpectedly, some of the details got lost in translation. For most of them, the annotations suffice, but for Wingman's resentment and why it makes sense, I think a full work up is needed. Wingman blames the Knight and Batman for ruining his shot at fame because:

  1. The Knight's tussle with the Legionary and the scandalous accusation he flings at Mayhew become publicized after (just filling in the blanks) Rachel, the disgruntled secretary, or possibly the Knight himself spills the beans to the media. Mayhew likely cuts funding from the Club of Heroes.
  2. Batman's presence at the meeting would have given the public reason to place their faith in the Club of Heroes, as well as possibly inspiring the heroes to handle the accusation and their personal differences in a more civilized way. With Batman absent, however, everything is shot to hell. "Something that might have led to global media exposure, maybe even Justice League status, led nowhere."

In his work with the character, Morrison has always tried to establish the necessity of Batman in the DCU. I've not read his JLA run yet, but from what I've heard about it, Batman exercises almost superhuman brilliance, defeats enemies that the rest of the JLA can't match, and otherwise demonstrates a surplus of talent unfeasible for any nonpowered being. That Bat-God interpretation has fallen under criticism as untrue to the character. Again, I haven't read the run, but such a portrayal of Batman seems especially reasonable in a JLA book where it's so easy to question the need for Batman at all. In terms of power, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, Green Lantern, etc could easily pound Batman into a meaty paste. As well, most members of the JLA, while not quite as clever as Batman, can still connect the dots on the majority of their cases, especially since JLA threats are generally epic in scale, and therefore not exceptionally mysterious. In short, why not have Batman occasionally consult for the Justice League, only on the real head-scratchers?

Morrison attempts to answer the question in this run; without Batman, things go to shit. In 52, while Batman trots the globe, Manheim's monsters seize control of Gotham City. In Batman 666, Armageddon strikes at Gotham, its only "protector" a doped up, ice cold killer who beats his enemies by rigging up half his jurisdiction with bombs and booby traps. Here, in the Club of Heroes arc, Batman's absence results in strife and the dissolution of the team. Superheroes, Batmen even, preside over all of these scenarios, except they're not the real deal, they're not Bruce Wayne, and so they struggle, cheat, or fail altogether.

It must be Batman that wields some supernatural quality that makes him better than his impersonators, the same quality that allowed him to transcend the comic panels last issue. His mere presence promotes order. He's risen above manhood and become an apotropaic, quasi-religious symbol (perhaps what Morrison enjoys so much about Batman Begins). People behave around Batman as they behave in Church. So in some sense, Wingman is maybe not right, but at least justified in pointing his finger at the Dark Knight. Like the Third Ghost hinted in 666, Batman's choices can alter the destiny of the whole world.

At this point, we know that DC plans to replace Bruce Wayne. In light of the above, I can't imagine things going anything but poorly for the replacement if Morrison continues on the title.

Page 2: The Knight is pinning the murder of Mayhew's wife on Mayhew himself. Later, Batman informs us that Mangrove Pierce was jailed (probably unjustly) for that crime.

Page 7: "He seemed like a smart bloke." Wingman, disguised as the Dark Ranger, validates himself here, and Batman might be testing him when he says "Wingman was too good to let this happen"

Page 8: King Kraken is yet another member of the Club of Villains, leaving just Swagman and Le Bossu unmentioned.

Page 10: Maybe I'm grasping at straws, but Harley Quinn famously dangled the Caped Crusader upside down over a piranha tank in Paul Dini's Mad Love. Regardless, a lot of Morrison Batman foes suffer from the same affliction as El Sombrero, what one might call docevilphrenia: never the bullet through the skull, always the slowly descending platform into the tank with the sharks with the laser beams on their foreheads. The Black Glove has Batman at its mercy a number of times in this run (as far back as Bane-Bats stomping his spine), but they refuse to just cap him and be done with it. In Batman Gothic, Mr. Whisper takes it even further, launching into full-on self-parody when he rigs up an actual Rube Goldberg death trap for a Caped Crusader who's already prostrate unconscious on the ground before him.

Page 10: Williams lays this page out brilliantly. He actually seems obsessed with iconography, inserting it, like a 17 year old boy, everywhere he can (KPLOW), but here he uses it to such excellent effect. With the top and bottom strips, he compresses the whole story of that page: what good guys are fighting what bad guys, and of Morrison's run: red vs. black and good vs. evil, filing everything down to its essence. Look he even fucking draws black gloved fingers pinching the insignia, letting the reader know who's really pulling the strings in this show. Williams experimented with something similar last issue, a two page spread evincing the cataclysm of Batman vs. The Black Glove, but here he nuances it much more. Williams has a knack for really exploiting the avenues opened up by storytelling in a visual medium. These are the type of narrative decisions that place artists like Williams and Darwyn Cooke far ahead of the pack and well into Will Eisner territory.

Page 11: "Success was all in the preparation," echoing Batman's advice to Damian

Page 13: "He's going nowhere!" One of the "all-purpose, semi-hypnotic phrases" with which Batman "draws criminals into familiar patterns," as explained in 663

Page 16: I've never heard an American call Beryl's weapon a "catapult" before, only a "slingshot"

Page 18: Dr. Hurt claims to be Mangrove Pierce, costar of The Black Glove film, in Batman 681, but he claims and is suspected to be several different people, and since Mangrove Pierce represents by far the lamest of those, I wouldn't lend any weight to it.

Page 18: "... But you turned me into a villain!" Wingman exerts some serious bad faith here.

Page 20: Mayhew sums up the attitudes of the Black Glove organization "[Rich] people like me live lives beyond the law, beyond morality"

Page 22-23: Lacking a textual explanation, I think it's safe to assume that the John Mayhew pelt worn in the first issue was a synthetic mock up

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