Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Hi. Have no fear. Here is knowledge.

Mission Statement

More or less, it's like this: Morrison's Batman, I've observed, has become a huge stumbling block for readers, many flaring up in frustration at the impenetrability of the damn thing while others go on gleefully tangling up plot points into convoluted thickets of meaning when really the core of the work is as basic as the myths it seeks to emulate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to prop up my status here or to sell myself as any kind of inside authority on the work. I freely admit to not getting it pretty much at all during my first read-through. I only want to express to you how tragic the confusion over this work really is, because Grant Morrison's Batman, once you get into it, is good and very good.

So, to parrot Mokkari, "who do we blame when it all goes wrong" and we just don't get it? It's not unreasonable to pin it on the text. For one, it's denser than a dwarf star and for two, it's strange as all get out: 5-D space imps, purple Batmen, and even Satan, the Prince of Darkness himself, makes an appearance (I'm serious). I just recently discovered a Publisher's Weekly interview in which the God of All Comics lets on his intention for readers to approach Batman collaboratively:

I had the idea to develop an approach to comic narrative that would actually benefit from becoming entangled in internet fan speculation, gossip and research. So Batman R.I.P., with its huge canvas of potential suspects, its central mystery story (“Who Is The Black Glove?"), which has driven all kinds of inventive speculation, and its references to old stories and obscure Tibetan Buddhist practices you have to look up on Wikipedia, became an attempt to do for Batman what I’d done for The Invisibles in the ‘90s but with better technology.

My hope in these annotations is that I can become that go-to collaborator for rereaders of the run (Note: REreaders), and that my notes will hold up as worthy when read concurrently with the books. In these issues, Morrison really has fanned out the full breadth of Bat history, and for every bit he hoists from Year One or The Killing Joke, there's two more that he plucked from The Dirigible of Doom and The Superman of Planet X (that is, obscure Batman stories from the 40s and 50s). So while it's very possible to enjoy this work as a standalone, it's impossible to appreciate every plot point taking the text in isolation. This plays pretty well into my next comment, which concerns...

SPOILAZ!!!!!!1113#%6 Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers. There are super spoilers everywhere. In the annotations for any given issue, I will spoil first that issue, I will spoil at least one issue from Bat history, I will spoil at least one issue further in the run, I will spoil with 50% probability the end of RIP, and I will spoil the end of Citizen Kane. It was the sled. That's just how we roll on this blog. Like I said, these notes are for people REreading the run or for those who don't care about spoilers and just want to breathe it all in at once. You've been warned.

On a related point, these notes also will not satisfy those who want to puzzle together the thematic pieces on their own. If you feel like you match that description, then you'd do well to skip the remarks section at the top of each post, and only skim the annotations when you feel lost, as honestly, even the term "spoon feeding" doesn't adequately describe what I do in this blog. I ladle this shit down your throat. I clobber you over the head with it and grant no reprieve. I burn it onto your flesh and then color in the scars. Too far? Yeah well I go there. Trust me though, this exercise in completeness is all for the sake of widening the aggregate knowledge. I'm paying back my debt to the internet. Hordes of info await. Shove in when you're ready.

The Hub

Prelude: 52 Week 30 and 52 Week 47
Batman 655
Batman 656
Batman 657
Batman 658
Batman 663
Batman 664
Batman 665
Batman 666
Batman 667
Batman 668
Batman 669
Batman 670
Batman 671
Batman 672
Batman 673
Batman 674
Batman 675
Interlude: DC Universe 0
Batman 676
Batman 677
Batman 678
Batman 679
Batman 680
Batman 681
Batman 681: Op Ed
Batman 682
Batman 683

Themes to Look Out For

Morrison shoots for the stars in this run and falls short, yeah, but not woefully short. The God of All Comics seeds his customary ten billion ideas, and I say about seventy to eighty percent of them bear fruit with the remainder tapering off into mere speculation fodder (e.g. the Batmobile, Gordon in Wayne Manor, Damian, etc). Well, I said "customary" but that's bullshit. These 25 issues are bursting with content well beyond the author's already-tight standard of compression. Morrison really spatters the thematic firmament in Batman, sprinkling in clues and concepts from all over, spreading his idea wide enough apart for apopheniac fans to chalk in constellations of their own. Here are some mine.

Rationalization: This extends the age old conflict of order vs. chaos. For example, Batman signs up for Dr. Hurt's isolation experiment in order to push his mind to a level where it can, to some extent, blueprint the Joker's personality (the J Man representing, duh, chaos). I'm not entirely sure that Morrison actually believes in order and chaos as absolute or even definable in any way, but he knows that Batman does, and toys with this fact, developing the rationalization theme largely through ironic self-reference "Do you get it now?"

Rebirth: Morrison's run spotlights the literal rebirth of Ra's Al Ghul in the Resurrection arc and boasts only the most feathery veil of metaphor over the revival of Bruce Wayne in Batman 681. Taking a broad sense of the word, I can argue that rebirth hooks into hypercontinuity too, Batman getting born again every time a Neal Adams comes on board or Crisis strikes the DCU. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll find in this run that the Batmobile serves a visual aid for the different eras of Batman. Check out, for example, that kitschy 90s Batmobile in 683, a wheeling monument to poor taste in the Knightfall era. Well, to be fair, that's less a good example and more a potshot at the decade of comics history I hate most (and sadly the one from which I own most), but still, there's tons of stuff feeding this theme throughout the text. the black and red Batmobile, the Clown at Midnight, Batman of Zur En Arrh, "Dark Ranger, formerly the Scout." You really can't miss it.

Importance of Bruce Wayne as Batman: Though less than he does in ASS, Morrison in Batman taps into the mythic force of the superhero: the superhero, Bruce Wayne in this case, as god. I harp on and on about this throughout the annotations so I'm not gonna get into it here, but people who are bitching about Morrison bumping off Batman are missing a major part of the run. Alfred's speech in 683 isn't an obligatory eulogy before DC carts Bruce Wayne off to comic book limbo. It's a logical capstone for Morrison's entire run, which testifies again and again to Bruce's irreplaceability.


These are in no particular order and are not yet complete.

Dave Wallace and Thom Young: Thom's rich knowledge of Bat continuity and of literature in general pushed me to take this run a lot more seriously back in the days when I was asking "Hey, did this guy just totally rip off Bane?" Often, I would refresh the comicsbulletin front page four or five times on Sunday waiting for Thom and Dave's stellar Slugfest manuscripts on Batman. Their reviews were often laced with an annotative flavor themselves, which helped a great deal in mining 70 years of Batman lore for Morrison's often heavily obscure references. Both these guys recently paid me a kindness by reviewing a theory of mine in spite of my total n00b status. So, for all of the above, I extend 28 blog entries worth of gratitude to them.

Timothy Callahan: What to say about the man who's literally written the book on Morrison? Hopefully more than just that, since he's probably heard that one a thousand times before. Still though, the guy really does know the lay of Morrison's god-head better than anyone short of G Mozzer himself and perhaps more than even him, given all the drugs. Mr. Callahan expertly forecasts a fucking storm of key plot points in Batman well before the rest of the pull-listing population, most of whom were still rallying behind Jason Todd as the Black Glove (lol). More importantly though, the geniusboyfiremelon beefs up his annotations by pulling from works across the Morrison canon, helping the reader to shoulder the iron weight of Morrison's grand themes and big ideas in Batman. A strong man with a strong brain this Timothy Callahan.

Jog: I've lived in America all my life. I've spoken English all my life. I've never heard anyone get as much mileage out of dry colloquial English as Jog. The man can make banalities sound like birdsong. Let me pluck a diamond from the Jog mine to show you.

Interestingly, the thoroughly disappointing illustrations of John Van Fleet probably help it out a little, weighing the story down with computer-augmented chintz while the abler style of a Dave McKean may have pushed it even further out into the ether. As it is, the book mercifully launches itself into outright kitsch by the final battle, Batman and the Joker’s big clash looking like screencaps from the world’s nerdiest Tekken 2 hack...

After scanning a couple of his Batman blog entries for a suitable caption, it dawned on me how much I've unconsciously stolen Jog's style and voice for these annotations. I can only hope that this theft has richened my writing style to even near-Jog status.

David Uzumeri: Acknowledgement on its way!

Amypoodle: We might celebrate Amypoodle of the Mindless Ones for racking up godzilla word counts that encapsulate only the smallest modicums of info, but I'll be God damned if there was a single sentence in the whole lot of them that I wasn't hanging off of. In the 70s, there was a certain young mathematician by the name of Feigenbaum who in his brilliance would divine new and complex math by the droves. Colleagues would ask why he never bothered putting to paper this often cutting-edge information, to which he'd respond "Oh, I understood it," and then spark up a cigarette. That's amypoodle all over. He/she/it just doesn't give a fuck, and that blasé magic just beams outta the poodle like a rainbow streaming from a pot of gold.

Greg Burgas: Acknowledgement on its way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Batman 683

Ah, the end. The ship is pulling into port. There's not much to say that we haven't said before. Bruce Wayne is still irreplaceable. Alfred Pennyworth is still not the Black Glove. Grant Morrison still loves Batman. It's an eminently good final issue that hands over its heart to the caretaker of Gotham City and his caretaker too. Rereading 683, now months after its publication, I remember how I came to forget my frustration at the muted reveal in 681. I think of how Morrison pushed aside expectations for these final two issues and how a double tie-in run coda wound up as a starry-eyed standalone. I imagine how I must've smiled flipping the back cover over the top of the final page, and how the cooling passions of Batfans everywhere must've thawed in the warmth of Alfred's live and loving eulogy. For all of it, I say cheers Mr. Morrison. To twenty-five amazing comics.

This Alex Ross cover riffs on Dave McKean from Arkham Asylum, right? It's funny, y'know, if you think about the contents of the issue. Ross is sort of kicking the pedestal out from Morrison's ass, warning him "Hey let's not be so quick to condemn," because really Morrison's own Arkham Asylum and the wild success of that graphic novel helped usher in the last twenty or so years of dour psychoanalysis in the Bat books.

Page 1: Lee Garbett burns down the page with crackling sexual energy between his Talia - every bit the gun moll set to page by Neal Adams - and the finally-realized hairy-chested-love-god in Bruce. With hand planted firmly on hind quarters, baby-making is go go go!

Pages 2-3: There may be some Freudian commentary in this first panel, banging swords together while topless being a tad less macho than Bruce or Ra's might care to admit. Actually, scanning down the line here, and given the title, What the Butler Saw, one could argue that all of these panels have a sort of carnal undercurrent.

Image courtesy of Batman 244 by O'Neil/Adams.

Bruce straddled that toothy behemoth back in Batman 251, also by O'Neil/Adams. Garbett and/or Morrison cobble together a couple of panels from the page below.

The pouncing beast is Anthony Lupus, a Len Wein-created pal of Bruce Wayne's whom the late Dr. Milo doomed to a lycanthropic fate by dosing him with an experimental "headache medicine." In the 90s cartoon, Wein recasts Lupus as a steroid-seeker competing in the Olympic games, with Dr. Milo all too eager to accommodate his need to win at any cost.

^From Wein's Moon of the Wolf in Batman 255^

Bruce and Talia get down in Mike W. Barr's and Jerry Bingham's Son of the Demon.

Page 4: Man-Bat first swooped into the rogues gallery in Detective 400, but I couldn't say from where exactly this panel comes. Actually, just as with the ManWolf panel on the previous page and the Deadshot panel a couple of pages from here, Morrison/Garbett depict Batman as falling down, despite the fact that, as drawn, these panels have no counterparts in the comics to which they refer. Morrison or Garbett might've intended a freefall motif to underpin the larger theme of Batman's stumbles, a theme we see emphasized throughout the issue. Of course, it could just be that the high dives are meant to pump up the drama, but meh, I like my narrative device theory better.

Page 5: Alfred/Lump, like Dr. Hurt, plays the part of a superhero fan, "I like to read, sir... Mysteries, unlikely tales. Blood and thunder."

"Chemical racketeers" - Chemicals again, scratching at Bruce's subconscious.

Page 6: As we'll discover on the next page, Catwoman, at the time of her positively egregious cat mask costume, operated under the name Elva Barr.

Page 7: Mokkari and Simyan are more Kirby creations cribbed by Morrison, these two clowns bungling Darkseid's plans as early as Jimmy Olsen 135. Generally, Mokkari and Simyan carry out their experiments on human beings, finding their first success in the creation of a giant, a creature that has theo-historically stood for violence against the gods. Everyone knows the punishment of Polyphemus the Cyclops who inverted the Zeusian practice of xenia (hospitality) in The Odyssey, but what some might not realize is that titans provoked a far more cataclysmic comeuppance in, yes, the Bible. The Book of Jubilees and the 1st Book of Enoch attribute much of the ill will ushering in the Flood to the impiety of giants called the Nephilim. While both of these texts are considered apocryphal, neither contradicts canon (as far as I know) and the latter is quoted directly in the New Testament.

What's more, given his predilection for human lab rats and the cool nestling of that cigarette between his fore and middle fingers, this version of Mokkari pretty well allegorizes Josef Mengele. Here Morrison is deliberately following through on Kirby's Fourth World treatment, in which Anti-Life bears an unmistakable resemblance to Nazi doctrine. The point of all this being that Mokkari and Simyan are really, really bad dudes.

Notice also Alfred's dialogue, in which he attempts to redirect culpability for his actions: "Your mother appears utterly convinced the dog found his way into the old well... I allowed you to talk me into this misadventure." This becomes important on the next page.

Page 8: Ace shows up outside the well. I suspect Alfred's personality, or Bruce's memory of Alfred's personality, has shone through the Lump's rouse. The butler's excuses on page 7 cover up his efforts to snap Bruce out of this unending sequence of false memories by leading him into the place where Batman was born and giving him a motivational trauma in the discovery of Dick Grayson's "never found" body (see Page 5).

Page 10: Cut to Floyd Lawton crashing through a skylight in Detective 474.

Cut to Jason Todd boosting wheels from the Batmobile.

Page 12: Morrison reimagines Robin II's death-by-democracy with black humor very much in the vein of The Killing Joke. Compare with Alan Moore's version of the joke below.

Needless to say, Alfred's watch stopping suggests that Jason's death is a moment frozen in time for Batman.

Page 13: Batman cradles the corpse of Jason Todd, as he glowers at the Reader - "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" (compare with eyes downcast in the Aparo original). Well, since you asked, it's like Mokkari says, "This is what we want! Raw emotional energy! More pain! Motivation!" Everyone knows that nobody can do anything that's great or noble unless somebody dies to make them do it.

For this last panel, Garbett apes the style used by Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke, but if you didn't know that already, then... wtf? Get on that shit.

Page 15: The first panel paraphrases the final chapter of A Lonely Place of Dying (Batman 442). It's Tim Drake in the Robin duds, just in case that's unclear.

I love the line "So who do we blame if all of this goes wrong?" It's a question one imagines being murmured through Nazi Germany in the days leading up to Nuremberg.

For Batman and Robin's vow of silence over the "death" of Alfred, see last issue's Page 21 annotations.

"Why do I feel like a book that's being read?" Uhhhh, well...

The Mad Hatter and the other rogues were sprung from Arkham during Bane's gambit in Knightfall.

Page 16: Now what in the hell is going on in this top panel? What dusty volume of Bat arcana did Morrison pluck this relic from? Well whatever, I can't be arsed to look this shit up. Good luck finding it on your own.

Bruce Lee did indeed recover fully from a spinal injury, which doctors insisted would keep him out of the martial arts for the remainder of his natural life.

Bruce fights to reclaim the cowl from Azbat in Batman 510.

Page 17: The first panel alludes to the gargantuan No Man's Land crossover consuming the Bat books at the turn of the millennium. The mummy man is, of course, Hush, and this particular panel is inspired by his "climactic" battle with the Caped Crusader in Batman 619.

Alfred's Lumpy narration stands in contrast to Batman's dialogue in the panel above, as well as to that issue's title. Maybe Morrison is placing himself at odds with the Loeb story, but who knows? He's alluded to Hush a couple of times in the past, maybe he actually digs it?

Oh my, is that a boomerang in your chest or are you just happy to see me?

The Garbett panel obviously homages the one above from Identity Crisis 6.

Page 18: Morrison appeals to recent continuity for support of his gun-toting Batman in Final Crisis 6 with this pointer to 2005's Infinite Crisis 7.

"How does Batman process this degree of stress?" For detailed discussion on the superhuman aspects of Bruce Wayne, see the annotations for 669 and 681.

Page 19: Mokkari's pistol escapes the laboratory with Batman and ultimately finds its way to Darkseid, though we don't know that just yet.

A little cloying after so much metacommentary already and over in Final Crisis too, but interesting nevertheless, the dialogue of the polymorphous Lump strongly suggests that he's a living embodiment of stories. From the previous page, "In the kingdom of pure thought, the Lump reigns supreme! In your mind, the Lump can be anything!" and more dramatically, on Page 19 he threatens "I feel nothing. I should kill you now. Your purpose is served," the purpose of stories being, of course, to strike an emotional resonance. When the feeling's all faded away, the story ought to be "killed" or ended.

Finally, consider the Lump's withering protest "Why? I did as I was told... My body dying..." which lays out the great tragedy of the story, that eventually it must be put down, even if it always does what it's told. Sometimes, however, which I think is something that Morrison is getting at throughout the comic, the tellers, like Mokkari and Simyan, lose their handle over the narrative and the "story becomes toxic... out of control," and they "must end it" for the good of the reader and the beneficence of stories on the whole, to crib some wise words from the Monitor Tahoteh.

I'm being a little terse, as I could probably go on about this for a few hundred words, but I've trumpeted the metatext in this run for pages and pages in these annotations, and to be honest I'm getting a little tired of it. I hope Morrison's recently-announced return to the Bat books sees an easing-off of the stories-about-stories and a narrowing of focus to quirky and candid tales along the lines of We3 and ASS. It's rumored (confirmed now?) that Frank Quitely will collaborate with Morrison once he resumes his Bat chores. Hopefully, Quitely can squeeze that style of him once more.

Page 20: "Leave his belt! Leave everything," ensconced somewhere in that belt is Orion's fatal bullet, as we'll see in a couple of pages.

Page 21: "These lies, these sick lies." Recall the dossier dropped in the lap of Gotham Gazette editor Mr. Sheldrake in part 2 of RIP, the file containing a lurid account of Mom and Pop Wayne's ventures into drug abuse, swinging, and murder. I hope they wrap up that plot point before Morrison's return, because otherwise that would be a terribly long time to leave the Wayne family name lying in the mud.

"Burn in hell." Yes, Dr. Hurt is the Devil. Oh and there's also Hurt's prophecy, which we'll see fulfilled (sort of) in Final Crisis 6. Given Bruce's lack of a cowl, we should assume that these four panels take place immediately after the helicopter crash in 681, and that Batman swam to safety and is now being reined into Justice League headquarters for briefing on his final mission in the corresponding Crisis.

"It began with the murder of a god," Green Lanterns discover the corpse of New God Orion in the first issue of Final Crisis.

Page 22: I'm trying to make a joke that joins in language Batman's utility belt, the New God-killing bullet, and the stellar body "Orion's belt," but I got nothing.

Though somewhat opaque in the artwork, what you're seeing on this page is the Lump in his death throes toggling off Batman's restraints.

"I shall become a bat," like most great novels, Morrison's Batman ends at the beginning.