Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Batman and Robin 2

Big brawl this time out, so let's get to it.

Cover: The dead man's hand clutches the mysterious double dozen domino from the teaser in Batman and Robin #1. We learned in the last issue of a colloquial linkage between domino blocks and bones. Let's how that plays out this goaround.

Page 1: The pencils for this page have been floating around the DCNation column for a while, but they look even better in color. Note the "R" patch on the ground, fulfilling one fourth of the teaser last issue, wherein Damian storms out the of the cave while stripping off his costume.

Page 2: The Dynamic Duo have been falling for a month straight! High skies in Gotham City, dontchaknow? I like the way this page is laid out, the reader allowed only a glimpse at the heroes cloaked faces and figures, the atmosphere thick with inhuman mystery.

I'm not sure whether Morrison intended this or not, but Dick's salutation to the Commissoner sounds a bit unnatural - "You called, Commissioner Gordon?" - sort of like a hangover from his Boy Wonder days where he would've addressed Jim Gordon by his full title out of respect for his elders. For a great discussion, among other things, of unnatural dialogue in the first issue, trail the link over to the SavageCritic podcast on G Mo's most recent output.

Page 3: The Caped Crusaders captured Mr. Toad in the previous issue and now his pals from the Circus of the Strange have arrived to spring him (yes pun).

Check out this second panel. Now, pardon me for a moment while I rail against my favorite writer in comics. So, how does this panel go? "Sir, it's Casey at the desk... Something's up! Trouble." These guys are communicating by RADIO. Why aren't we "hearing" it? Any other writer worth his salt (in this case, the difference isn't a good thing) would script this scene in the following fashion:

Spikey Electronic Dialogue Box: Bobbo, grab the Commish quick! We got big trouble down here! *BANG* *BANG* Agggh!"
and then Batman and Robin would come swooping to the rescue. This way comes across so much more naturally, and won't give the reader pause to recognize that he's reading such a heavily "authored" work.

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm caviling, but it's so evocative of Morrison's recent narrative impatience, the whole mantra of "This isn't the part of the story that I'm excited about, so I'll just cram it through with dialogue and voiceover," that I just can't dismiss it as a one-off fuck-up. We saw this a ton towards the end of Final Crisis too - "Hey guys, here's some animal characters! Btw, Aquaman's back!" - and reading the finished product, it just feels so awkward and mechanical, even if the story itself is rolling evenly along. It's something like watching clockwork but from INSIDE the clock.

Okay, well, rant over. Back in annotation land, Commissioner Gordon "saw that kid before" in Batman RIP, I think it was 680, when Talia and Damian rescued him from a shishkebobing on the barbed traps of El Sombrero.

Page 4: Really cool stuff, a little bit reminiscent of Batman Begins (the stairwell diving, that is), the film being a confessed favorite of Morrison's.

Page 5: The hotheaded Rex picks up his thread from last issue, blazing a trail to his captive comrade Mr. Toad. We meet another of the troupe here, Big Top, a sumo-statured bearded lady who finds the prospect of killing cops quite "kushti" or "nice." For a great reference in deciphering all this circus gibber gabber, follow the link over to goodmagic's Carny-English dictionary.

Also, I missed it last issue, but doesn't this car looks suspiciously like the Batmobile? No, not that one, this one:

The 30s Batmobile, shown above in Batman 682, drawn by Lee Garbett. We've already seen a nod to The Killing Joke in the form of the "Ghost Train" sign, might this be another reach into the past? Hmmm, maybe this run is more like the last than I first supposed.

Page 6: If you look carefully, you can make out another onomatopoeia in the gunsmoke.

Page 7: Panel 2 - SMASH

Page 9: "Flick flacking" = "Hand-Springing'"

Page 10: A "raklo" is a non-Gypsy.

Page 11: Big Top is attacking Robin with circus-tent spikes (they appear in the ground on page 20).

Page 13: In this fifth panel, Batman is telling the siamese triplets that he understands their language and in it demands they surrender the name of their boss. They laugh that their boss is still on the loose, but offer some information, off-panel apparently, indicating that the Dollotrons are Russian slaves under the influence of mind control. Recall last issue, "Sasha" and "Niko," Russian names both, underwent the gruesome Dollifying procedure.

Page 14: "Gallopers" are carousels. I don't think I've ever seen a wooden one before, though.

Page 15: Note the double twelve domino resting in the deceased's palm. To be honest, Mr. Toad probably ran through all the mileage Morrison or anyone else was ever going to squeeze out of his thin gimmick last issue, so his "croaking" here in Issue 2 works for me.

Page 17: The Quad-Bat appears for the first time on the last page of the issue.

Page 19: Alfred "Beagle" performed and directed for the stage. His Hamlet, you'll recall from Batman 675, was panned by critics in "some of the cruellest reviews in the history of the English stage." He ponders the cowl here perhaps in tribute to "poor Yorick" of the famed

Page 20: The second panel on this page conceals the aforementioned "wooden gallopers." The weeping Dollo on the bottom most likely cries over her lost life as "Sasha," the young captive from BatRob #1.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Batman and Robin 1

Na na na na na na na, Na na na na na na na, BATMAN, Na na na na na na na, Na na na na na na na, BATMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN...


I must admit that it was with considerable trepidation that I relapsed into this project. Summer laze aside, I feared that Morrison's latest would prove too fluid and informal for my notes to penetrate. Thumbing through this new #1, unfortunately, does little to allay this dread. We're back, it seems, at Batman and Son - Steranko with fangs, y'know - and you can check for yourself how sparse my notes were for those issues.

Of course, Batman and Robin maintains the top notch craftsmanship you'd expect from a Morrison/Quitely team-up (though with a might more exposition than the tone rightly lets), but where, for example, are the clues to suss out? Where are those grand puzzles to chart in the annotations? Sure, Morrison hasn't forgotten what came before, trotting out Professor Pyg and his Dollotrons for the devotees, but everything's bubbling right there at the surface. There's none of that angst about overlooking some remote Silver Age nod, pondering in your third read, "What am I missing?"

But if we're not missing anything, then what are we getting? Well, B&R has lots of splash pages, bright primary colors, wide screen Quitely artwork, wordless panels, and iconized sound effects - all of which sum up to a type of music like the catchy tune at the top, except much more savage, with violins screeching a Psycho-esque accompaniment, while swine men and marionettes hack away at your nerves. But honestly, I'm hardselling this more than it deserves. Morrison teases a lot here, from the offbeat Circus of the Strange to a possible coup attempt by Damian, but all in all, the final product of this first issue treads mostly on familiar territory, between its easily dispatched threat to showcase the heroes in action, character moments and exposition, its fade-out on a mysterious evil mastermind, and, wow, that's really about it.

Being a Quitely/Morrison formula crank isn't such a bad thing, of course, it's just that these types of stories don't demand much in the way of annotations. To be perfectly frank, I can see myself ditching this undertaking midway through, ala Tucker Stone, but for now, let's just keep it on (and on and on and on).

Page 1: Mr. Toad, on loan from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, is seen here boasting his characteristic ego and falling pray to Le Bossu's blunder in 681, that is, assuming that Batman could die. Aptly, we follow Mr. Toad in a "wild ride," which concludes with a "brief spell in prison," just as in the novel.

Minger (from Urban Dictionary):
Although now more commonly used to define an extremely visually challenging appearance, the word "minger" originally came from Scottish Gaelic, meaning "septic vagina," now often used by chavs all over Britain to define anything remotely disgusting.
"Septic vagina," eh? I must've missed that part of the Disney ride. And beats me what a "chav" is.

Pages 4-5: It may interest all cave dwellers to learn that Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne took up the Dynamic Duo mantle after a long drudge through a Tony Daniel mini. It was called Struggle for the Mask, I think, or Row for the Utility Belt, something insipid like that, it just escapes me right now.

Page 7: Mr. Toad mentions the name "Pyg," as in "Professor Pyg," who met his final fate at the hands of a demoniac Batman in the prophetic 666. In case you've forgotten, he was...

p a ! J ! ) n J )

Do you get it? And who says this isn't the DC Age of gauche witticisms?

Page 9: "Nanti" is European circus slang for "nothing" and "dinari," without looking it up, you may guess means "money."

Page 10: The bat cave lies in wreckage after Hush's attack in Detective 850 and possibly after its invasion by Dr. Hurt in RIP.

Beaming back at us from the photograph Dick holds, the treasured heart of the Bat mythos summons our sorrow at his recent stay of absence. Ace, oh Ace, how we miss you so! Actually, with a touch of luck, Batman and Robin might yet see the return of Ace the Bathound, the tone thusfar certainly allowing the possibility.

Page 11: I like that the top of Bruce's headstone (I'm assuming) is masoned in the shape of a bat. It fits well with the series' level of camp. I don't, however, like that Thomas and Martha Wayne's grave has yet again refigured, this time as an angel. Recall that I touched on the issue of amorphous graves in the annotations for 679, and note also that the Christ pose remains constant despite the different tomb.

Page 12: Old-school-awesome artistic conceit. Nice cutaway, Quitely. Bruce Wayne installed himself in this penthouse back in the 70s, most notably in the famed Englehart stories. The complex last surfaced in 681 as a relay tower which signaled the release of Arkham's locks. Way at the bottom, the Rail-mobile was introduced by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan in their part, the only palatable part, of Knightquest.

I always thought "bones" were dice, but I suppose the two things (dice and dominoes) look similar enough that it could be either.

Page 13: Damian tinkers with the new Batmobile, which I posited way back in Batman 657 would parallel the Dark Knight's outlook. For example, in RIP, it was red and black, the shades then haunting Bruce's mind. Later, in a flashback to the Golden Age and the arrival of the first Robin (682), the Batmobile, little more than a sportscar, glitters a bright red, "adding color to [Bruce's] monochrome life." And now, it flies and wears an off-looking exterior, not terribly removed from the overall tenor of Batman and Robin, and well in keeping with Nightwing's Tomasi-established habit of taking to the skies (e.g. HALO jumps and, as we'll soon see, "paracaping").

Batman quickly downs the sandwiches Alfred prepared on the previous page, setting him apart from the old, fasting Batman and greatly boosting Chris Eckert's theory about the importance of food in Morrison's run. Not to diminish either of our efforts on the matter, but I can't help but wonder if Morrison, who is known to regularly peruse web speculation on his comics, was inspired by these possibly pre-emptive theories, and decided, based on them, to MAKE food important in his run. In other words, I wonder if reader brainstorming on the internet plays any part in Morrison's creative process. Thoughts?

You may recall the "International Club of Heroes" from the Williams III arc, numbers 667 to 669. Also, in three weeks, be sure to show your support for all things Williams by snagging yourself a copy of Detective Comics 854, (DC you may advance my compensation through PayPal; my account number is...)

Page 14: It shouldn't be more than a head-length from somebody's chin to his clavicle. Who will become Batman when Dick completes his transformation into a giraffe? Find out in 2010's Batman: Row for the Utility Belt!

Page 15: The Circus of the Strange emerges.

Page 18: Kickass. Please poster-ize. I must have this on my wall!

Page 20: Lev and this wiry fellow, Niko, managed at the beginning of the book to duck capture by Batman and Robin, who were naturally more concerned with their freakish driver, Mr. Toad. No idea what's in the bag here, though we're sure to find out soon.

Page 21: Here we meet the original Dollotrons, whose appearance strays far from Andy Kubert's original conception of them in 666. I imagine it has to do with a description of the Dollotrons as Raggedy Ann look-alikes, each of the two artists taking away a different subset of the doll's features when referencing it for the homage. Andy Kubert's dolls are pale-faced and rosy-cheeked while Frank Quitely's have fat faces and short hair.

Page 23: Real quick -

Panel 1: Damian appears to be quitting the Robin gig, as much squinting reveals the lighted circle on the floor to be a disembodied "R" patch from his costume.

Panel 2: A new Red Hood, possibly in connection with The Killing Joke, since we already have a circus freakshow, and Morrison has promised a Joker appearance. His sidekick is, with small doubt, a dollified Sasha, the teenage girl from the last three pages. Follow the link for a better view of this Devilish Duo.

Panel 3: One Batman, Dick I presume, battles Kate Kane while another rises from what looks like magma.

Panel 4: Dr. Hurt dangles the keys to Wayne Manor in front of his face, indicating, most importantly, that 681's helicopter crash failed to end his threat. As I've said elsewhere, given he is so paranoid and ready for every eventuality, you would imagine the ever-calculating Bruce Wayne would've thought better than to mark his address on his keys.

I realize that it may seem odd, me going on in a big rigamarole lamenting Batman and Robin's annotative inaccessibility, and then launching into a 1000-word, page-by-page exegesis on the issue. I'll cop to hyperbole in the remarks, but there remains a big distinction. With stuff like RIP, I could simply jump to a page, think it over for a few minutes, and then clack out a few hundred words which would undoubtedly include references to at least two different eras of Bat lore. It would've been impossible to track onto the site everything that popped up at me while I was reading RIP, but with this, I've hardly spared any of my observations. Plus, I'm actively LOOKING for things to write. As I've said a couple of times, this is a very good comic, but just not a particularly challenging one. I guess we'll see how it goes next month. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel. Stay tuned.