As our long term readers already know, I don’t read many superhero books. It’s not that I don’t like superheroes – I love them – it’s just, well, invariably I tend to find most titles pretty boring. I sat down with the first two Captain America trades the other day and I wanted to love that shit, only I really didn’t. The art, though pretty, was muddy and a chore to trawl through (in what’s supposed to be an action book!), the story likewise, and the thing just didn’t seem to regard itself as a comicbook. No…twas a big muddy storyboard, and a big muddy storyboard lacking in fun. Essentially the experience made me even more resolute in my Mozza-bats love. Morrison’s Batman is never, ever boring, and it knows all about the form it’s cowled in. Not great, great art, but totally what I want a monthly comic to be. Fast-paced, colourful and pulpy, with flashes of *depth*, funny, involving and, most importantly… How did Botswana Beast describe #682 in our last email correspondence? Ah yes – ‘typically berserk’.

I think that sums the run and the issue up nicely, don’t you?

Just to comment on Alex’s Ross‘s cover before we get into this. Ross is one of those artists I feel tremendously ambivalent towards. At first I thoroughly enjoyed his the superheroes-caught-on-celluloid style, but two gazillion money shots of the World’s Finest’s superpaunches later and his aesthetic’s started to wear a little thin – also, there’s something intensely irritating about the way Ross’s popularity serves as an indicator of the average comic reader’s philistinism: really real realistic photorealism equates with really real art – all that crap. But you can’t blame the artist for the way his work’s recieved – he’s not responsible for the attitudes of his fanbase. So, yep, I can still enjoy a bit of the Ross, in spite of my refusal to endorse him as the best artist evah !11!(etc. etc.), and the cover to 682 brought a big smile to this poodle’s face.

I don’t know how the conversation played out behind the scenes, but Ross’s imagery captures perfectly the fiery florescent energy of the story within. Indeed, it seems fitting that the (hopefully) first half of Grant’s run on Batman should be capped by cover art celebrating the weird, campy, psychotoxic 60’s atmosphere he’s been channelling for so much of his run (and if it’s the sixties we’re dealing with, then paunches, a la Adam West, should be actively encouraged) . It’s almost as though the furrowed browed blacks of the batverse have been gear-shifted, via another one of Apex chemicals loopy concoctions (more on them later), into crackling psychedelic negative. I’ve said it before in one of my rogue’s reviews, but it’s worth reiterating: madness isn’t grey, and it’s not brooding over your parent’s murder. That’s obsession. No, madness – mania certainly – often entails a superabundance of meaning, of colour, the arc light turned on inside everything. So, if the batbooks have any pretensions towards being works of *psychological* depth – if they really are interested in exploring the limits of sanity, disorder and consensus reality (and I’d argue fundamentally they are, ‘insanity’ having always been a key component of the mythos) – then the batwriters and fans generally had better get with this Joker’s eye view of bat-affairs.

Turning the page…..


Again, like last issue, we’re fading in from black. In 681, however, the sequence was an attempt to approximate Batman regaining consciousness after coming into direct contact with the Joker’s poison. Here I imagine it describes the initiation of Mokaari’s Lump driven bat-hack. Could the reference to ‘the dream’, repeated later on, suggest the file-searching process is anything but a linear scouring of Bruce’s memory, and by extension that memory and consciousness are, umm, non-linear in quality also.

Why do I always get the feeling Morrison’s typing away with a copy of New Scientist lying open by the keyboard?

Just one quick thing: these aren’t real annotations. As I said last time, this is commentary, analysis, fanwank. Don’t expect detailed referencing or even a comprehensive understanding of Bat-history, ’cause you won’t get it. Having said that, yeah, of course I noticed the army fatigues, Miller’s ‘crazy vet look’. I just love watching Morrison invoke everything from the granite-faced seriousness of Year One to Ace the Bathound in one issue. This ish is where it all gets distilled and spat out as pure kitchen-sink technicolor. As they draw to a close, Morrison likes flushing his narratives down the plughole and seeing what the frothing conceptual whirlpool looks like before it sinks and settles, and, in this case, seeds the less than fertile ground of the DCU with a new set of possibilities. 

PAGES 2 & 3

I might consider resigning too….

And so the skip search through the photo-album of Batman’s life begins. This is the issue that allows Morrison to explore, albeit briefly, a great deal of the stuff he talked about in his interviews – the stories from which he drew down the atmospheric core of his run – and in that sense it serves as an enjoyable coda for his batnovel, even if, sadly, it’s a tie-in episode. Finishing one’s tenure on a book with a crossover story isn’t ideal to be honest, but I can let it go largely because 682 rocked pretty bloody hard.


Aaah, the primal bat creature, the inspiration for the whole Batman project, reduced to the kind of lumpen, soon to be maggot ridden, present my old cat Dennis would leave for me on the kitchen floor (and how does one dispose of such a beast? Uh-uh, it won’t fit in the bin. Hmmm… Better burn it…) Yep, Morrison’s all about the nosedives from the exalted to the earthly – all about the filth – and it makes sense he’d want to present an issue or two from Alfred’s perspective (even if in this case ‘Alfred’ = massive psychic turd). The character’s gently sardonic, urbane, clipped wit obviously jibes well with Morrison’s and expresses this need he has to always emphasise the ‘Below’ part of the famous Hermetic maxim.

Panel 3 serves as the first instalment of the ongoing Julie Madison gag, where she makes a series of lovelorn intrusions on the peripheries of Batman’s insane world, only to be delicately rebuffed by the put upon man-servant every time. This mopping up after Bruce Wayne characterises the issue and successfully manages to underline the stark contrast between the way Batman chooses to view himself and the rather more rounded, comical, sometimes hugely annoying superhero cum spoiled rich kid he really is. Most of the time, like the bat-creature discussed above, Batman is presented to us as iconic, fundamental – mythic – but 682 is chiefly concerned with the man, his humanity, as represented by Robin, Batwoman, and his ever faithful butler. I think it’s good to bear this in mind as we proceed.


So here we have Alfred (the Lump) revising Bruce’s memory. I’m wondering how this works. Maybe things’ll be clarified next issue, but right now I have to admit to a bit of head scratching. As far as I understand it the Lump operates like a trojan-virus, installing himself in Batman’s head disguised as a loved one, and then sets about strip mining the hard drive (to extend the metaphor) of all its data. I suppose the narration that sometimes serves to connect events is the creature’s way of gently guiding itself through the system, a story told to Bruce by a ‘friend’, triggering memory-files for the Lump to pillage. This is mad God tech, isn’t it? It would seem the thing’s perfectly able to clothe himself in the remembered individual’s personality. The Lump literally speaks with Alfred’s ‘voice’. The astute observations, the sense of humour, the general attitude are most definitely *his*. Utterly convincing in every respect.

Why is the memory revised, anyway? Well, returning to the puzzle of Bruce’s intransigent subjectivity for a moment; it’s quite probable that in reality the bat didn’t come crashing through the window, that this is just the way Bruce in his delirious state, and at the felt level, the level of the soul, experienced the event. The thing smashed its way into his heart, sure, but the window? Not so much. The melodrama involving Alfred’s exasperated resignation and demonic, flying hellbeasts is simply typical of the way the Dark Knight sees. Because he doesn’t have to clear up all the blood, guano and find the fire-lighters afterwards.

So…is Bruce Wayne’s sober, rational, down to earth side kicking in here in the form of the Alfred-lump? Always reassuring, always solid, always COMPLETELY EVIL!!! And is the Lump seeking to undermine Bruce’s internal power base with lies, damned lies?

Will we ever know?

Probably not. (*winks at Chris Miller*)

Whatever. It’s fun to question the veracity of this quintessential bat-event.

I like the Sidewinder costume. Well done artist. And ‘cold engine’? Cold blooded? Fun. So the car works like a refrigerator? Cold fusion?


There really needs to be more haunted castles and werewolves in Batman books – ‘s the only aspect of the mythos Grant’s run’s been missing. That reminds me, talking of Chris, I just wanted to touch on the ‘supernatural’ thing. Grant’s books often employ ostensibly supernatural elements – in the case of Batman: the Devil, magic spells/words conjured out of Bat-engrams (his father’s last utterance, a catastrophic trip to another planet, etc.), Batmite – but the explanation for them is weirder still. Check out the way, in the Invisibles, he approaches ghosts, UFOs, aliens, demons, Gods and incubi for clearer idea of what I mean. Morrison likes to bring the paranormal up to date, psychedelicising it, fusing it with the latest theories doing the rounds in the pop-science mags, a hefty dose of magick and model agnosticism. So, anyway, ignore the way this paragraph began (apart from the bit about castles); Morrison’s run’s the natural successor to all that early/70’s bat-gothic jazz. The supernatural’s there in spades, but it ain’t your Daddy’s supernatural (unless your Daddy is Robert Anton Wilson or Israel Regardie).

Bruce views the bat as his destiny, his totem, but Alfred points out the arbitrariness of this application, arguing convincingly it might just as well have been a cricket hopping through the open window that night. Again, is this an attempt to bring Bruce back down to earth, to reconnect him to his humanity? Or is it another ploy to destabilise the mythic-core driving him? Is it both? I’m sure the Lump’s able to employ actual bat-history, lived conversations, as weapons.


Alfred again, blocking the doorway and obscuring Julie’s view of all the death-traps, Mad Monks and Monster Men.


And at the end of the first year (see the image ripped from Year One), before he perfected the brand and the batmobile was red, Bruce fields more of Alfred’s concerns for his health and sanity.

Batman isn’t having any of it. Initially I assumed he was being defensive (‘I’m not chasing thrills. I’m crushing crime. I’m saving lives.’), but then I realised the comedy resides in the fact he believes he’s stating the reality of the situation (no exclamation marks). Bruce sounds ridiculous here, the dialogue’s so arch it hurts, but, again, 682 represents a slightly more sceptical take on the Caped Crusader’s crusade, and the absurdity is kind of the point (and isn’t it beautifully underlined by the banal domesticity encoded in the sandwich juxtaposed with the insane pompousness of the Batman and his Batcave).  Lumpy Alfred simply holds up a mirror to all this ridiculous humourlessness, insisting it represents a form of slow, drawn out suicide, even going so far as to invoke Martha and Thomas in attempt  to put the brakes on their rampaging son. Alfred’s kindly, benevolent, concerned words – even his lovingly made pastrama on rye – are, in the Lump’s hands, poison.

Oh, and, back in the actual bat pre-history, that it’s high past time for a Robin.


Batman’s yuppie micro-nap made me LOLLALOL (annoying! – ED). It’s the way in the final panel he’s sitting up, leaning out of the frame and stroking his beard intensely (if indeed such a thing is possible), already having solved the problem in the split second it took the reader’s eyes to bridge the gutter.
It’s a superhuman feat, but what a freak… And here’s the first mention of the case running throughout the issue. The long and the short of it is, Batman’s uncovered some sort of conspiracy whereby Gotham’s criminal fraternity are having their weaponised aerosols, monsterman formulas and psychotropic squirting flowers supplied by a mysterious company called Apex Chemicals. It’s not that mysterious though. Not when you have the internet. Apex/Ace chemicals own the plant that saw the Joker fall into a vat of bubbling green goo, turning him into the lovable monster he is today. Hmmm, now this might be a little too obvious, but maybe, just maybe, the power behind the Apex throne listens to too much Berlin era Bowie and has a fondness for purple suits. I don’t know. Call me crazy – it’s a bit of a leap I know……

Zom disagrees, he thinks it’s run by Darkseid’s mob. Frankly I find both arguments equally compelling [given the context of this story, they’re really not – Zom].

Batman really is a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?

I’ve decided only short term, physical affairs in my life. Casual relationships. Tell Julie.’

Tell Julie?

What a prick. Okay then asshole boss, I’ll tell your girlfriend she’s only fit for a quick fuck once a week, I’ll definitely be doing that. I think this might be a request too far, eh Bats? Over the past two years, Morrison’s succeeded in reversing my positions on the World’s Finest. Superman, I’ve now realised, I like a lot. He’s a good bloke. Decent. Friendly. Responsible. Batman though… He’s charming, sure. He’s cool. Charismatic, certainly. But would you really want Bruce Wayne in your life? 

I wonder if there’s a some displacement activity going on here…

‘I don’t think I could face the look in her eyes. The one that says she was right about me.’

…’Cause this is where we cut to the image of his parents graves. Is it Julie’s approval Bruce is worried about, or is it his parents? He can never know if they’d approve of his mission. He can never know if they’d feel he was doing enough. The problem is, Batman won’t ever complete his mission. He can’t save everyone. He’s permanently in a state of inadequacy.

But anyone with the cohones to dogfight zeppelins in a bat-themed gyro-copter’s got to be a dude really, eh?

PAGES 11 & 12

There’s not much to say about these pages, is there? Robin arrives on the scene.

PAGES 13 & 14

Robin the Toy Wonder. Somehow Morrison’s take on him in DC 1000000 always worked for me, even if it was hard to articulate exactly why at the time. Bruce obviously gets something cathartic from his young protege’s adventuring. It allows him to vicariously live out a childhood, but a childhood that comes armed to the teeth. No Joe Chills will weasel their way in here, oh no. Robin puts paid to that possibility every night. Dick slips into the pre-existing bat-mythos so easily, perfectly at home there amid the batplanes and batcars, because, put simply, he’s the anthropomorphised extension of all of it. The living toy. As Alfred tells it, something suddenly clicks. It’s as though with the emergence of Robin, all of this shit, including Batman and his enemies, owns up to exactly what it’s always been – one, massive child’s game – and things get appropriately silly.

Which of course leads me on to…

I can’t remember if I’ve dealt with this before, however I think the Joker’s *mood swings* might be dependent on Batman’s. If Bruce’s headspace describes the pervading emotional atmospheric conditions in Gotham, then why not? If Bats and the Joker are really having it off in Yin Yang heaven, then why not?

Jokercopters! Yip! Yip!

The Batradia had to sneak in there, didn’t it? Pesky thing.

Morrison said he’d make the Joker frightening again and I think he has. The terrible foreknowledge that he’s going to slip back into psychopathic murderer mode makes Alfred and Bruce’s conversation here hugely chilling. A laughing contest! It’s all so innocent, isn’t it? Jeez, I can’t think of a good reason why every writer shouldn’t get on board with the MeMe Joker idea. It makes sense of tons of bat-history – its so simple, elegant and accommodating. Running with a self-evidently good idea is not the same as sticking your tongue up Grant’s ego, DC staffers.


Team ups as screwing. Batman via Viz.

Like Robin, Batwoman looks like a carny.

Giant typewriters! You could tick them all off one by one, couldn’t you?

PAGE 16 

Right, okay. I want to talk about drugs in the DCU. I think Moore hit on it first with Taduki in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: in the superheroverse there be superdrugs. Whacked out Sheeeit that really does transport your soul to astral realms, other *planets* and the 5th dimension. And where would this peculiar brand of pharmaceuticals be most popular? Gotham. Especially ‘sixties’ Gotham. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to experience a bad trip, you’ll appreciate the full gravity of what’s going on with Batwoman cowering, huddled in the corner, flashing in and out of our reality – the grimy basement detonating into an impossible alien world and back again. Believe it or not, I once came out with very similar dialogue after a massive dose of mushroom-tea. I saw how easy it would be to fuse with the deranged psychedelic vortex my head had become – how effortless it would be to let go – and nothing resembling a normal poodle would come back. The ‘death’ doesn’t have to be taken literally, it might just mean the death of personhood. Believe me, that’s bad enough.

But it could also mean actual death. This is a superhero book after all, where the dreamlands gift us with batradias…. I imagine the Joker habitually doses himself with this stuff, much more at home amongst the bird people than he is on our paltry plane.  

Hmmm. I don’t know if anyone’s pointed it out yet, but that’s a distinctly Lloigorish structure sparking and towering above our drugged up heroes. Go check out your Invisibles back-catalogue and tell me if that isn’t the same ‘vehicle’ King Mob and John a Dreams discover beneath the Church in Philly. It’s got the same, gross vegetable cum octo-bat look, certainly. Is this a world already conquered by the Cthulhu mythos? Is this where these things break in? Morrison knows their natural home is the fifth dimension, and we’re skimming the surface of it here.

The grin’s still lurking behind it, though. Bloody bat-wings…. I ask you….


Rooftop brooding. And Robin always knew about Kathy, didn’t he? He’d heard the rumours that she was a thrill-seeker, a bit of a player. Being a superheroine was fun for a while, but once it all gets a bit too heavy, well, there’s always some mountain to climb or exotic undersea ruins to visit, isn’t there?  I’d love to write a Kathy Kane mini-series, following her adventures as Batwoman and beyond. I think I like her.

More coolness! The history of that creepy vault. All the things it’s seen: Monster men hammering at its reinforced door, and then, years later, cleaned up for Hurt’s isolation experiment and Batman’s John C Lilly moment, the room recalls his violent ranting and raving as he journeys to the centre of the cyclone. The terrible violations of the Franken-batmen experiments… You can still hear terrified, muffled crying and sobbing coming from behind the plate glass late at night… Spooky. Again, you could get whole comic books out of this.

PAGES 18 & 19

The Lump speaks in emotional aggregates: command words that allow him to produce certain effects in Bruce’s consciousness; to unearth specific memories.


at once refers to the good Doctor and guides Bruce to Alfred’s funeral. And is this where Bruce gets his first intimation that this is all a lie? It’s…

‘Not Alfie.’

He’s certainly wrestling, struggling with something in the bottom left hand panel. Is he trying to re-establish himself?

Again with the idea that Gotham’s gangsters are performance artists, pop stars – the collision of superheroes and celebrity culture. I have a few things to say about that, none of them very coherent, in our Xmas podcast.

Batman knows just how stupid he’d look on a game show, and this, along with the line about ‘Crime. Madness. Horror…’ sums up just how effective his rogues have been in ousting him from his natural element. He’s being made to feel very uncomfortable, very dis-appointed – fighting on the enemies turf…..


…But be careful what you wish for.

As usual, I haven’t read anyone else’s annotations for this issue, but I’m willing to bet everyone picked up on the Joker’s threat. One more time: this is scary stuff. We all know what he means by ‘practical jokes’. We’ve all read Death in the Family andKilling Joke. You just want to warn Bruce, there, at the bottom of the page, that it’s too late. The monster’s already returned. This isn’t simply horrorshow, though, it’s tragic as well. Everything’s about to get so nasty for all of them. There’s a real air of doom about this page.

Disco too.

Go Nightwing!

Look at how the batverse is all grown up again.

And then think about the Joker and what he’s about to become.

PAGES 21 & 22

So Batman put away childish things when Robin quit, did he? That’s not much of a surprise. He’s been craving getting back to basics, I’m sure. Just him, a utility belt and a thousand dark alleyways.

Ask yourself the question, is the Lump still weaponising Alfred’s words? Is all this talk about worlds without a Batman simply a way of softening Bruce up, making him more vulnerable to the mental ransacking he’s undergoing. Sure, on the surface of things Alfred’s attempting to reassure Bruce Batman’s needed, but underneath all that is he being commanded to lay down his arms, to


As soon as he senses this and succeeds in reasserting himself (which by the way, is pure Batrock!!), the narrative is overcome by a nightmare of pampered ineffectualness; where Bruce Wayne really is the Playboy dilettante, the Mummy’s boy we always knew he could be. We talked about Ericksonian commands last time, and this seems to me to be where Grant’s coming from with the Lump. It’s not the literal meaning of what he says that’s important, but the embedded ideas within it: the secret, Trojan language.

PAGES 23 & 24

Not much to say here, really. Only that I’m sold on the idea of a bunch of rampaging Batman, whose brilliant powers of detection, iron will and clarity of purpose are utilised in the service of evil and anti-life. It’s a really grim fate. The batverse hijacked by the evil god – bat-swarmtroopers as his ‘legacy’. Batman is comic enormously concerned with notions of lineage and legacy. Its focus is always prismatic. That’s why Demonbats was ‘the worst ghost of all’. He represents a Gotham gone to the dogs. Batman as the Bad Father. All that fighting and struggling reduced to cinders by the fiery gusts of his flamethrower. And now we have a similar situation – the world will, in the end, be worse off for having a Batman, not better. His parents died for nothing.

No wonder he’s screaming in the final panel.

Before I go –

I’m fairly certain everyone’s mentioned this by now, but Battle of the Cowl and the rest of it are hobbled dramatically by one obvious fact: Bruce Wayne is still at the helm of this book!

24 pages this time?

We out.

(Now go read TBMD’s totally un-batrelated review of Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss. it’ll do you good!)

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