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.


  1. Seeing the 80's Batman of Denny and Jim battling all those hairy man-beasts is striking a chord with me somewhere ... and it's not just the classical symbolism of werewolves (also represented by were-bats, and all chemically induced rather than magically).

  2. In Alan Moore's classic Swamp Thing run (I can't tell you the issue, sadly I don't have them anymore)the werewolf embodies the primal inner urges that live inside women as a reaction to sexism. It is represented as being tied in with the menstrual cycle and having its roots tied into the humiliating treatment of menstrating women practiced by an unnamed tribe of natives (that Moore could have imagined). Don't see its relation to this instance but it is the strongest piece of werewolf imagery I know of in DC/Vertigo.