October 4th, 2008
Just a couple of things before we dive in: keen minds have already pored over this issue, so I don’t intend to cover all the bases, instead I’ve decided to offer up a subjective and personal response (nothing new there, then), served up with some bat-thoughts you won’t have read anywhere else. Also, I haven’t included the ads as *pages*. Has anyone noticed DC was generous enough to grant us 24 pages of story this month? I don’t know if that means they’re getting stingier with the specials, or if they’re getting more generous with the regular books. Regardless, big boys, can we have our comics this fat all the time now please?
And now, without further ado….
‘To the Batmobile, let’s go!’
Page 1, 2 & 3
To begin with, the title. Yeah, we all know it’s a reference to Bowie and that Morrison wanted the Joker’s look to nod to the Duke’s heroin addled Berlin period, but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the parallels between the Joker’s shifting MeMeplex of a personality and Bowie’s constant shapechanging – something that’s been, if you like, pretty much the leitmotif of his career.
Okay, the baddies are setting up here. Hmmm. There’s something extremely unpleasant about turning one man’s destruction into a fun night out, isn’t there? I get that what the Black Glove and guests are doing is only a few psychotic notches beyond Big Brother, but we’re not quite there yet. It’s the amount of work, preparation, detail – business stuff – that’s been put into the event that’s so sickening. Imagine the secretary working out the travel arrangements for those evil bastards in the limos, dealing with any problems as they arose… Problems which might prevent them arriving in time to watch Bruce Wayne bleeding out of his ears as poisoned flowers fall around him. Yuck. Just yuck.
And then there’s that horrible shit eating grin that just won’t leave Dr. Hurt’s face. Say what you like about Tony Daniel but he really nails the malevolence lurking behind those pearly whites. He has to do a lot of evil grins this issue. Hurt and the Joker should have a grinning match. I was practically grinning like a mad, clenched toothed sadist by the end too.
Can’t be bothered to comment on the similarities between the gamblers here and the baddies in Morrison’s Invisibles’ story ’100 Days of Sodom’ – it’s been mentioned elsewhere – except to say that the only way out for Bruce, it is implied, is to just stop playing along with the story imposed on him. This is why he’ll give up the cowl. Not because they kill him, or he goes mad, or anything like that, just that with these pricks as part of the narrative (indeed, controlling the narrative), maybe it’s time to call it a day. Just say ‘fuck off – this is a load of old bollocks!’ to them. Bunch of weird arseholes.
Speaking of weird, and creepy – why have none of this week’s commentators mentioned that bloody dead eyed little girl accompanying the businessman, or whoever he is? Now that is gross. Are they lovers? Is she his daughter, and is this some kind of sick birthday present/lesson? Is she the devil, like in the stories? Who’s leading who here?
I really enjoy the conflict between the decadent nouveau riche, represented by Hurt and his guests, and the noble, stately aristocracy represented by Batman. There’s a lot of talk about Hurt being Chill’s son or Bruce’s illegitimate brother (both theories sit pretty well with me, tbh), and it’s certainly true that there’s something of the old class war about the purposeful destruction of an icon as deeply embedded and as influential to the culture at large as Batman. It’s Bats as institution, as dominant power structure, folding beneath the weight of upstart newcomers.
Pages 4 and 5
Aaah, the Hunchback getting dressed. I have to say, I love the Le Bossu – he really is the best of the bunch. Morrison and Daniel have me totally convinced he’s every bit the brute he’s supposed to be – as gnarled, twisted and head-splattingly violent as that club he wields. And as for his ‘transformation’, well, yeah, like the man said ‘I didn’t realise he wore a mask’, but I don’t lay the blame at Daniel’s feet. I’m sure he didn’t know either. Maybe Morrison didn’t know until he started on 680. It doesn’t matter. The idea’s still a really unpleasant one. Puts a whole new spin on the superhero’s/villains ‘mask’, that’s for sure. This isn’t a costume to hide an identity but to make it more fully realised; to present it to the world. And the speech he gives about insert-horrendous-act-here his family is truly chilling.
But isn’t it just great that the Joker could not give a fuck?
Pages 6 and 7
I really don’t have much to add to what the rest of the blogging community have to say about the costume stuff. The Robin comment’s really nice, dovetailing nicely with the idea that, being a kid, he’s naturally full of cohones, and that it’s only the old fogeys who wear black. The Batman of Zur En Arrh really is the product of Super-penis envy, isn’t he? ‘Total Confidence’ – that’s a great way to describe Clark’s sartorial choices. He doesn’t have anything to fear so he can go prancing around like a walking target, with loads of really powerful enemies, and it just doesn’t matter. This Batman sees the world as a straight line from points A to B. There’s no ambiguity to him, just as there’s no ambiguity to his costume. It’s about as direct as it can be, and, if you’re in his way, the man inside it will plough through you, utilising all his skills in the most efficient way possible, just as the colour scheme ploughs into your eyes.
And look! There! It’s that creepy kid again.
Also – shame to see Sombrero go. I liked him. We didn’t know each other well, but he had a good schtick. Death traps, for all their apparent familiarity and banality, are really an untapped, but enormously rich seam.
Calling Batmite ‘soldier’… Yeah ,yeah I get the whole DKR thing, but it also interests me that it’s a term he uses to refer to Robin. That the mite and the boy wonders are interchangeable speaks volumes about Morrison’s attitudes towards Batman’s sidekick. The fact that even in his darkest hour, when his mind’s been overthrown, he creates a little pal for himself suggests that Grant understands Robin as essential to Batman. The repository for his hope, imagination, sense of humour and his childhood – the linchpin for his sanity – because, seriously, without that stuff, with unending grimness forever and ever, where does that leave Bruce Wayne? Where does that leave us? Totally fucked, that’s where. ‘Might’, indeed. The true source of inner strength. So, yeah, in this sense Batmite/Robin represent the watcher on the threshold of the outer dark (that creepy thing behind him). Beyond them lies billowing, cackling madness. It makes perfect sense to me that the last vestiges of Wayne’s humanity should take the form of a funny man in a Batman outfit: shrunken, because most of the clutter that constitutes personhood’s long since left by the back door; cartoonish because, although he doesn’t realise it, Bat’s essential nature is a drawing in a comic book and silly, because Morrison’s arguing that what lies at the core of us is able to laugh along with the world.
And it can’t go through that door.
Batman, like Inanna in the old legend, must be stripped naked as he descends into hell.
One more thing. It’s really tiresome reading stuff by people conclusively stating that Batmite’s a figment of Bruce’s imagination (Yes, yes – see above), but this is Grant Morrison we’re talking about. That doesn’t matter. He’s also one of Terrence McKenna‘s machine elves. Grant, like Moore, views imagination in a completely different way to a Freudian therapist, and he’s pulling his old trick here of refusing to concretely define the little guy’s…err.. reality. Morrison wrote a whole bloody novel about the 5th Dimension – it was called The Invisibles, I don’t know if any of you remember it. Go take a look at that and then tell me that Batmite can be reduced to psychoanalysis [STRONG TRUTH! - Agreeable Ed].
I just want to add my voice to the throngs of commentators who loved the ‘Batman is cool! Batman wears black!’ line. See this, precious fanboys, this is me and Grant giving you the finger. I love that the grimiest, most out and out nasty Batman story in years sees Batman rampaging around in a red, yellow and purple outfit with Batmite floating above his soldier like some cartoon cupid. RIP really does embody Morrison’s ‘A good comic should make you laugh and cry, etc., but beneath all that its palpably absurd bit. It also captures the (perhaps invented) ‘dark psychedelia’ trend he’s been banging on about in recent interviews. Scary, deranged and teh darque doesn’t have to mean superheroes in bondage gear. I think the current batbook, and indeed some of our Rogue’s reviews (including Gotham by Gasoline), present a very good argument for a primary coloured, day-glo approach to horror, madness and all things villainous in the batverse.
Hurt’s still smiling. He’s really happy. Oh, and perhaps this is where he and the Joker have their *grin-off*. Whatever. Everyone’s having a really great time.
I did remark to myself when reading this for the first time that Hurt’s got massive bollocks. He’s not even slightly fazed by the hissing, toxic Clown at Midnight. Everyone else is shitting it, and rightly so.
Pages 12 and 13
I love this shit! Deathtraps rock! If only we could see more of them and that the vast majority of El Sombrero’s didn’t boil down to animated suits of armour. That’s a bit tired by this point. But what isn’t tired are talking pictures with glowing eyes. That really is spooky. And how on Earth did Sombrero have time to set that stuff up? Who cares? Hooray! You can just imagine that Silas Wayne was some kind of scary great Uncle – The Wayne family’s black sheep. Their Victor von Doom. Shame he and Bruce didn’t get to know one another better. Mordecai Wayne’s all witch-finder general, isn’t he? But in his case I bet he was dealing with the real thing, and ranged against the misogynistic superstition and hysteria that surrounded the vast majority of real life witch-trials. God, I just love speculating about this shit. Why’s nobody else been doing this? Shame on you, bloggers! Shame on you! I want whole comics devoted to these guys, Morrison! Get on with it!
It’s great having Damian back, too. Next issue he’s gonna come careening in through Arkham’s walls in that Batmobile. I wonder which one he’ll pick. I’m not sure the boy’s got enough class to go with a vintage one – it’ll probably be the new motor. Is he going to be the new Robin if’n Bruce stands down?
Pages 14 and 15
The Joker detournes what the costume represents. Instead of confidence, he sees vulnerability – bravado. In fact he sees, in his words, ‘a clown’. Batman closer to him than ever before, even after all the mind games Bruce played with himself in order to get to know his arch-enemy better. Batman approaching negative. Perhaps this is the Black Glove’s ultimate goal – to turn our hero into his opposite.
I also think the asylum itself warrants commenting on. In keeping with the idea that entering Arkham is like ‘entering a mind’ (in this case specifically the Joker’s mind), there is very little attempt on Morrison’s or Daniel’s part to depict it as a naturalistic environment. It’s vast and labyrinthine to the point of absurdity. You feel as though it rages on forever around the Joker residing at its heart. And you have to go ‘Down! Down!’ because its the black and red pit of Tartarus in there. You don’t walk through Arkham, you fall through it.
Pages 16 and 17
The Joker is the Devil.
Obviously I’m trying not to repeat stuff other bloggers have said, but I think that the Joker doesn’t make any distinction between the replacement batmen and the real thing tells us two things. Firstly, that he absolutely does not give a monkeys who resides behind the mask, and, secondly, that he’s more concerned with a kind of platonic, mythic reality than he is with tangible things [thrice yes! - Approving Ed]. To the Joker, Batman is a meme, a contagion, a virus. He’s not one man. He sees his cape drawn around the entirety of Gotham. Whatever Batman touches, whoever he affects, is in some way infected. Perhaps the Joker really does understand the world as an illness.
I don’t have much to add to most of what’s been said about the Joker’s speech here. It really is the triumph of the Joker, isn’t it? Batman just can’t own him.
Why didn’t the Joker kill Le Bossu (other than the fact that Bossu’s TOO COOL TO DIE)? Was he setting him free – realigning his face so that he no longer needs the mask? Making the darkness visible… blah.. blah.. etc..
‘Welcome to where your soul dies.’ Could this be more evidence for the Black Glove’s ultimate aim being to subvert Batman and drive him towards proper-job insanity…. and Jokerhood.
I just love the way the light just gets more and more red. It feels so libidinous and violent. Everything’s like some ghastly dream (my childhood nightmares were presented between red curtains). Again, it’s great that this book’s eschews the typical bat-colouring scheme, exploring what happens when you add more vivid shades to all the blues, greys and blacks. It just gets weirder and more edgy in my opinion.
It’s terrifying how, right at the heart of all the madness, Bruce’s humanity reasserts itself. It’s almost as though the Glove planned it that way – to use Jet to reconnect him to the world, just so they could expose his heart at the eleventh hour and chop it out like a tumour. Really vicious and sadistic. The scenario gets more Killing Joke by the second. More evidence…
Jet’s laughing. It’s amazing how the book kept so many of us fooled about her part in all this despite all the really obvious clues. I mean, at this stage we could be forgiven for thinking she’s just responding to the toxin in the petals, but…
Is this the moment, as the clock strikes twelve, when the Batman really gets his first, real insight into what it is to be the Joker?
Someone somewhere commented on the tragedy of Bruce kneeling before Jezebel clutching the batradia like it will save him.
But this is Morrison.
Maybe it will.
Pages 22 and 23
Again, on the Jezebel thing, I totally knew she could be a baddy, but I didn’t want her to be. Not because I thought it was a shitty idea, but because it’s just so awful. The idea of someone worming their way into another’s heart in order to destroy them is so unpleasant. Having said that, these last pages are brilliant. Really dramatic, really sad and frightening. Morrison and Daniel totally convinced me that Batman’s in the worst place in the world. And I just 100% dig the gothic romance of all those petals tumbling slowly from the ceiling. Eerily beautiful.
Perhaps Jezebel’s the Black Glove – perhaps not. I don’t really care at this point. It wouldn’t be unsatisfying if she is, but a further surprise would be nice too. Although I’m sure there’s plenty more of those to come.
One of the great things about RIP is, no matter what happens now (and I think it’s safe to say it’s definitely the case that Bruce Wayne’ll hang up the cape and cowl, at least for a little while), this is the story where the bad guys win. Part of Batman’s deal is that he always wins. It’s his superpower. It’s a surprisingly simple but original idea seeing Batman get trounced. The only other guy to pull it off was Bane, and RIP’s a hell of a lot more satisfying and fast paced than Knightfall. One final thought: it occurs to me that the first page of the first issue may well depict Tim Drake and Damian in the bat-outfits. Whatever happens to Bruce Wayne, as the Joker knows, ‘Batman and Robin will never die!’
Benjamin Birdie is a lovely man, but he’s wrong about this issue. I didn’t find it ‘slight’ at all. It’s just fast paced, penultimatey stuff.
*Another makeshift disclaimer. Please don’t smite us awesome Godfather of all things HOUSE, Todd Terry. We are so small and you are so big and part of music history and everything. We WILL remove the bangoing if you insist on it, and, oh, we shall always love you.