Saturday, January 2, 2010

Batman and Robin 4

Spoiler Alert: I'm posting this three issues behind schedule, but just in case you're one of those "trade-waiters,"* be warned. Don't read along.

* If you made a portmanteau of “trade-waiter,” phonetically you would get the word “traitor.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Buy floppies.

Cover: Morrison makes no secret of his plans to continue the “doubling” motif from early on in the run (practically ubiquitous in the Club of Heroes arc). All of the “new” characters seem to spin off of old ones. Last issue, Morrison played Professor Pyg as a kind of Joker clone. In this one, Jason and Sasha are depicted as an aberrant outgrowth of the original Dynamic Duo concept (superheroes aren’t supposed to “grow up”). Even Dick and Damian are just stand-ins until the real Batman and Robin return.

All of these knockoffs flitting about the run, to say nothing of the exorbitant amounts of “homage” paid, one might accuse the writer of getting lazy in his old age, going back to the well a few too many times. But the God of All Comics has an answer for this also:

[Plagiarism] is democratic because everyone can plagiarize... The text takes on a whole other meaning when passed through a plagiarist. (Source, although to adhere to Morrisonian principles, I probably shouldn't be citing one)

“Plagiarism is democratic,” eh? Maybe I should spread the word around campus.

Page 1: Grim ‘n’ gritty straight away. Dig those muddy color blobs. You’d be forgiven for trying to return your copy to the LCS, thinking that the owner must've left it out in the rain.

Lightning Bug reminds us of another villain wreaking havoc in the batbooks around the time of this issue’s release: Garfield Lynns, the Firefly.

Page 2: He really can’t spare like three seconds to zip the duffel bag? All that money could have paid for the cybernetic enhancements to Quitely’s drawing hand that would have enabled him to finally get a book out on time.

Page 6: While the Hood professes to operate under higher principles of retributive justice - “let the punishment fit the crime” - it seems evident from Scarlet’s Twittering in panel 2 that there’s something disingenuous about the Dour Duo’s crime-fighting enterprise. Later, Jason's media-whoring becomes even more pronounced, when he shares with Scarlet his grand designs for the expansion of the Red Hood brand name, and explains the litany of maxims he recites as slogans he hopes the media will latch onto.

Page 7: The fact that the Lightning Bug landed on a fire truck is, I believe, meant to convey the devil-may-care attitude the Red Hood brings to his fight against crime. Unlike Batman and Robin, who will only bend the rules on occasion, Scarlet and the Hood openly break the law, in this case, “breaking” being somewhat literal.

Page 8: “Vengeance arms again his red right hand.” The line is from Milton, and while the verse from which it was drawn is much too long to reprint in this blog, here at least is the sentence:

Should intermitted vengeance / Arme again His red right hand to plague us?

The “red right hand,” as in the Bad Seeds groove of the same name, embodies the Judeo Christian God’s wrath, and the appearance of this Paradise Lost line in B&R #4 marks a resurgence of religious themes that had lately vanished from Morrison’s run.

I’ve made the point elsewhere in these annotations that Morrison interprets Bruce Wayne as a Christ figure, a representative of the New Testament God. The link from the Red Hood to the Hebrew God of the Old Testament seems to strengthen that argument, reinforcing the Biblical connection by projecting the contrast between Bruce and Jason upwards, onto an allegorical plane, where it becomes a contrast between two versions of “God.”

Since we’re being honest (and we are, aren’t we? That tie looks hideous), let me just say that I’ve come to detest theological allegory in fiction. It’s been done to death. By now, all of that Biblical thundering just seems like a halfhearted effort to supply one's work with a pretense of depth (see Troy Duffy’s The Boondock Saints). Plus, nothing blows subtlety out of the water quite like a blast of self-important religious symbolism. Morrison handles it well enough here, don’t get me wrong; it just rubs me wrong is all.

Page 10: In Batman RIP, Dr. Hurt made it his personal mission to scandalize the Wayne family name. He disseminated forged documents and doctored photographs to the press that implicated the Waynes in criminal acts ranging from drug abuse to murder. The media – in particular, the commercial media – seems to be a recurring theme (or perhaps a recurring target) in this arc, with the Hood looking to promote his brand name and later with "El Penitente" modeling his criminal machinations after certain schemes in marketing. The “message,” if we should be so gauche to believe that there is one, may be to avoid buying into the hype, although I haven’t read all three issues yet, so time will tell.

“And his odd behavior of late,” seems to be a nod to Dini’s Streets of Gotham, where Thomas Elliot is impersonating Bruce Wayne, yet the reference is sufficiently vague that Morrison could have just thrown it out there without having seen any of the other titles in the line, content in the faith that someone, somewhere was writing the alibi for Bruce Wayne's disappearance.

The ice sculpture in the background of the bottommost panel suggests that the party is a charity benefit for the Gotham City Police Department.

Page 11: Sexton’s backstory parallels that of Michael Lane, the Third Ghost of Batman, whose family, you’ll recall, was butchered by “Satanists” in the employ of Dr. Hurt. Lane is presently occupied in his own title Azrael, however it seems entirely plausible that Sexton would be yet another victim of the doctor’s experiments with “motivational trauma,” experiments he was conducting in a failed attempt to create an army of “Batmen.” Sexton's renown as a sleuth (remember that Batman is "the world’s greatest detective") and his time on the police force (more on that in a second) seem to bolster the theory.

“Mr. Graysons’s an EX-POLICEMAN himself.” The commissioner’s choice of words tells us that Sexton is also a retiree from the force. This is significant because Dr. Hurt drew his human test subjects from the police department.

Gordon’s remark also alludes to Dick’s time as an officer in the Bludhaven PD circa No Man’s Land.

Here’s David Uzumeri’s info on the “Gravedigger’s” name:
“Oberon” is the king of the faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that sets in motion the series of misunderstandings that provide the comedy, while a “sexton” is a church officer in charge of a graveyard (which is appropriate, since his nom de crimefighting is Gravedigger).
Page 12: Not sure what the Hood plans to do with that Kirby tech, or what looks like Kirby tech, in the foreground of panel 1.

The frankly revolting speech the Hood has planned for the press evokes the old “tire tread on burst stomach,” Rorschach’s journal, the quintessence of grim ‘n’ gritty in comic books.

Page 15: Damian makes the third hooded figure in this issue. Just taking a shot in the dark here, “hood” relates to “pulling the wool over one’s eyes,” blindness or maybe deception to take form as a theme later on in the arc. We do have a lot of shadowy figures skulking around these pages.

The costume motif manifests in a second way as well. Notice the red lenses in Batman’s night vision scope. The Hood’s red visor would likely have the same effect on his vision, and likewise, Scarlet’s red goggles and the red shades concealing Oberon Sexton’s eyes. All of these crimson eyepieces cause the wearer to “see green,” so maybe Morrison has something to say about jealousy, although again, I’m simply guessing. It’s probably too soon to tell.

Page 17: Hooded Figure #4. “Santo’s” cowl resembles the one worn by real life penitents in Spain. I would link you to a picture, but I find these guys terrifying, so you’ll have to Google them for yourself. They look just like the mother fucking Klan!

“Flamingo” marks another entry in what is fast becoming a BatRob tradition of villains with childish gimmicks and horrifically violent MO's. We’ve seen this bird before too, in Batman 666, although in that one he’s dispatched effortlessly by Batman Junior with a single throwing star.

Page 18: “The new model of crime is grass roots, viral.” Coincidentally (or maybe not), the most expansive viral marketing campaign in recent memory was the promotion of The Dark Knight, wherein participants worldwide were challenged to partake in scavenger hunts and costumed foolery in a wide-scale effort to hype the film’s release. Given the movie’s billion dollar box office gross, I would say the campaign was pretty successful. Steering this back to Batman and Robin, if Penitente plans to use viral tactics in his criminal enterprise, then Gotham City is staring down the barrel of some serious trouble.

“In the 21st Century, crime will be the new social order,” Santo’s prophecy is realized Batman 666.

Advert on the Page Before Last: The exaggerated expressions on Atrocitus and Earth-2 Superman’s faces just give me the titters. RRRRAAAARRRR!!! See, this is the kind of goodness you turncoats miss out on when you wait for the trade.

That's it for this time. I should be able to turn out the next one within a week or two. Till then, adios, to God, as El Penitente might say.