Hi. Have no fear. Here is knowledge.
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.
Prelude: 52 Week 30 and 52 Week 47
Interlude: DC Universe 0
Batman 681: Op Ed
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!