December 30th, 2008
Like Nick Kent straining to keep afloat in a pool of anti-mirror (the photographer snapping a few off for the cover of The Dark Stuff before his subject’s arms give out and he’s resubmerged, the black mind-vomit of the last eon’s keepers sloshing gently on the surface the only indication he ever managed to clamber back up those cold fathoms and out into the light, albeit for a few frantic seconds of splashing and flailing), Batman # 683 tells the story of one man drowning under the weight of super-rock star excess the pressures of which us mere mortals can never hope to understand.
If a tall dark stranger approaches you with a fun, brightly coloured costume, just say no, kids.
After finishing my RIP post I realised I’d left something out. I wanted to mention how the best thing about Jezebel’s comeuppance wasn’t just the revenge angle, but that in the end she was stomped by TALIA. Jezebel…. How could we have ever allowed Bruce Wayne to dally with a pretender like her? You’ve got a country, yeah? Well Talia’s trying to take over the world! It’s the difference between someone sleeping in a cardboard box and someone owning the Sears Tower. Jezebel plays at being a supervillain. Talia is one.
Jezebel was punching above her weight. Bruce Wayne should only date equals. His relationship with Talia might seem a mess to us down here on planet Earth, but Gods can do what they like really. That’s not just any old domestic going on upstairs, it’s storm clouds rolling.
PAGES 2 & 3
I can’t tell you anything about the images spiraling across that bat-wing apart from the fact they’re very fucking cool. There’s a marked contrast, isn’t there, between the japery and adventure of last issue and the tension and drama of Batman’s memories in this one? It’s all still fucking ridiculous, don’t get me wrong, but in an adolescent as opposed to a childish way. Homo-erotic sword fights (mayhap R’as and Bruce will snatch a kiss), Bond-style underwater traps complete with sharks. Monsters straight out of an 18 rated movie.
Sex. Sex and death. The Detective. Talia’s beloved.
What the Butler Saw?
Racy stuff indeed.
Right, okay, problems with the artist. This is a perfectly serviceable page – nothing’s out of place, it makes sense – but it could be hopelessly exciting, powerful and romantic. This is a man dreaming of a life in another universe where he’s a superhero engaging giant bat-creatures in aerial showdowns miles above the city, the tallest buildings dropping away as they tumble upwards into the clouds. You can portray it in a really depressingly urbane way if you want, but, fuck, why would you want to? Dramatically and narratively it would make a great deal of sense to amp this stuff up too. Because this isn’t really a daydream – it’s reality – and should feel more solid, more real and more seductive than the delusion it’s competing against. You can’t keep the bat down with ‘wine, vows or old age…’, and this is a case in point.
In panel 1 the glasses are off. He’s interfacing with a higher reality… but slowly, slowly the illusion reasserts itself….
For how long, though?
So over in Universe B the Joker received the death penalty. Why? Because of Tim’s murder? It does sound very gruesome. Or could it be Bruce Wayne himself always insisted, behind the scenes, that the Joker should be treated as opposed to punished? Did he fund treatment? Did Batman himself argue for Arkham over Blackgate? Perhaps having Bats around simply makes everyone feel safer and that’s why the clown’s still breathing in the regular DCU.
Horribly enough, regardless of what dreamworld or sideways dimension Bats finds himself in, I’d bet good money there’s an alternate Joker somewhere in its history cackling hysterically over the bleeding and battered body of an alternate Robin. There are some acts too big, too defining, too grittily realistic to be dismissed as mere narrative caprice. They resound across universes. The Boy Wonder vs tyre iron is one of them. This is Joker as the epitome of childhood nightmare – the ultimate scary clown – hunting bat-babies across realities. There’s no corner of the multiverse safe for Robin. My nephew’s right to be scared ’cause they’re having fun now, and now, and now, but it’s bound to end in tears.
Better grow up quick.
Perhaps she’d never have put on the tights if Bruce failed to. Gotham city’s already a lot less nightmarishly wondrous without Batman: the Joker dead, Catwoman reduced to a very glamorous and attractive, but, nevertheless, common thief Whatever, I like the way the little purple belt gives her away.
No wonder the real Bruce is squirming. She’d never pull that one off if it was him. ‘Eyes like Steve McQueen’…. It’s just embarrassing.
Yeah, so after he nearly rumbled Alfred, Mokaari and Simyan embed Bats even deeper inside the illusion, but both programs are running at the simultaneously and the interplay between different scales and levels of reality makes for some really fun moments in this comic. It’s a sophisticated idea very elegantly pulled off.
At the bottom of the page Bruce’s inquiring, adventurous mind ventures down into the cave, following the trail left by his animal helper. Again with the fighting back.
It’s all symbolism, isn’t it? Abseiling into the unconscious, supported by his ever faithful butler, his rock. What would the world be like if my parents had died, he wonders, as he descends into the darkness.
Take a look.
This is where it’s all buried.
And the vision disperses, shrieking, flapping, raining down on Batman’s enemies. Take a look at the last panel. It looks like the slaves of the dark empire are trying to shield themselves.
Gods or no Gods, they know what’s coming if he wakes up.
But then we’re trapped again, closer to the surface this time, as the cloud of bats transforms into the Caped Crusader plummeting through a skylight, locked in combat with my favourite villain of the eighties.
There’s still the feeling of a bubble bursting however.
Stay on that tip, Bruce.
Back to the lump-fugue: laps of the roof with faithful Alfred.
Meanwhile: Batman, meet Jason Todd.
Batman in the first panel: is that a deliberate attempt to draw like Doug Moench?
I can’t believe Batman gives Jason a choice of outfits, but I suppose one should only instigate war with the underworld after the most thorough and exquisite toilette. Jason goes for authenticity. For the real thing. For Dick. See, Cape killers, he might’ve been a street rube, but Master Todd wanted to be a superhero. Man, this is the stuff of great drama. Prior to the podcast, Bobsy laid it down about how someone should do a Jason Todd Year One. A good writer, though. Someone who can do tragedy (actually I wish Bob had talked about it *on air*). Writers like Morrison are just intuiting what the Silent 73 have known all along: Jason not only didn’t deserve to die, he’s also the most exciting Robin. He’s conflicted. Troubled. Passionate. He’ll have to transcend himself if he wants to be scale the dizzy heights of selfless heroism.
All that potential wasted.
The guy has to be revisited and not in the gun porn way. No, we have Deadshot for that, and the pervy, shooty thrills he represents are far more finessed, streamlined, chromed and tasteful.
‘For a moment it seemed like before…’
Aaaah, the awfulness of it all.
Did the Joker tell that joke in the original comic? It’s really good, really grim.
I like the line about Bruce not being Jason’s father. It explains a lot about the dynamic with his Robins. Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say it’s Milleresque (and by that I mean modern, Batman and Robin Miller). Far from being a perv who likes kids in short pants, Bruce’s pathology insists his children grow the fuck up and get tooled up at the earliest available opportunity. This is about protecting the child – little Bruce, little Jason, little Tim, Little Dick – making him strong, fit, able to cope with the world turning round and , out of the blue, kicking him in the balls. I can feel the emotional whammy of that hard statement of fact as it impacts with Jason’s heart. Bruce is telling him to be an equal. To be an adult. Gotham’s underworld doesn’t give a fuck if you’re a teenager dealing with abandonment issues.
But Jason fucks off anyway. Poor kid. Can’t he make one mistake?
The clock stopping is a very nice touch. Do you think it stopped when the phonelines closed?
A purple gloved hand, a bloody crowbar, a pink sunset: Death in the Family summed up in one panel.
One of the things I found most irritating about some of the criticism on Barbelith is the tendency to argue that Morrison’s repeating himself when all that’s really going on is Wittgensteinian family resemblance, or perhaps something even more superficial. Final Crisis may feature an Earth being taken over by Darkseid, but it just isn’t Rock of Ages, tonally, narratively, whateverly, and whilst this two-parter might share similarities with Batman’s arc in ROA, his battle of wills with Desaad, this story goes into tons more detail about the possible specifics of that kind of conflict – what it might entail – how Batman beats the bad guy in a psychic wrestling match. We hear all about his indomitable will, etc., but rarely do we get glimpse of it in action. Grant gives us that here.
Batman’s story’s so vast, sprawling, shifting, painful, terrifying and bonkers, it barely makes sense as a narrative. It doesn’t fit. Imagine trying to cram it all into your head. Neural pathways? More like a neural maze.
Is Grant giving us a wink here, admitting publicly, although subtly, implicitly, through narrative, that attempts to shoe-horn together bat-continuity are just a wee bit preposterous.
But very, very awesome regardless.
‘I have to kill the Joker.’
That’s the big realisation of the Killing Joke, that the punchline for the long, drawn out shaggy dog story that is Batman and the Joker will result in one of them killing the other. Morrison just turns this rocky, monolithic truth into permeable narrative here. This is just where Bruce’s head is at at the time.
Alfred sorts him out, never you mind.
Right about now the bat-drones are wrestling with the death of Jason. I reckon they’d be up for swelling the ranks of the Silent 73 in a heartbeat.
You may’ve noticed we left the dream-life of Bruce Wayne, playboy fop, donkeys ago. Could it be the illusion was unable withstand the terrible psychic stresses of THE JASON TODD STORY?
From now on I’m always going to capitalize and embolden that phrase.
Final panel: times up, Lump.
Because Batman’s human, the writer always has to contrive ways for him to duff up the mega baddies (or Superman) and it’s so much fun to savour how he goes about it here. The thing is, it’s all nonsense anyway. Batman mindfucking a clone army is just as ridiculous as him suddenly tossing fireballs about, but because this is all in the mental realm, and no-one’s mind is as powerful as Bruce Wayne’s, I’m sure the fanboys can lap it up and still waffle straightfaced about ‘realism’.
I could give a fuck about realism.
Again, Morrison’s got the brass balls to actually demonstrate to the reader exactly why Batman is the world’s greatest detective. Bruce Wayne doesn’t just get the duster out after a jewelry heist, he’s just as likely, if Occam’s Razor demands it, to scour his mind for his enemies’ fingerprints too.
Oh and this
‘I am far from defenseless…’
is bloody nice.
The timeline we’re following and the psychic weapon colliding in one panel. Neat. And it’s fantastic how ‘Alfred’ vacillates between Lump and faithful manservant here; the words he must have actually uttered at the time pregnant with a whole layer of sinister meaning:‘Your back is broken. For the love of reason, Sir… Let someone else take up the mantle of the Batman’… I mentioned this layering in my last post, didn’t I? Well it’s explicit here.
That is a shit drawing of Azrael. Tho’ the art was pretty scrappy towards the end of Knightfall as far as I remember. I think Azrael demands to be drawn in the fastest, loosest, pulpiest style imaginable.
And isn’t it creepy the way Alfred insists on calling Bruce ‘Sir’, even when he’s threatening him with ghastly mental tortures.
I’ve never give much thought to the psychological impact of No Man’s Land on Batman. I mean, why would you? It’s just unimaginative writers chasing a never-been-done-before story idea, eh? Well, maybe, but I imagine seeing the city he’d sworn to protect – his baby-city – get totaled by something completely outside of his ability to predict or control would really screw Batman up. Control’s always the thing with him – equipping young boys and girls to cope with the absolute worst life throws their way, coming back from a broken back, even getting his demons surgically exorcised – and Earthquakes? They don’t do as they’re told. ‘Control’ is a myth, a lie. Poor Brucie.
Still, I bet he sorted that no man’s land right out, didn’t he?
It doesn’t matter what the lump says about the Robins, the endless war with criminality, any of it….
‘I’ve heard it all before.’
‘You’ll have to forgive me, Master Bruce. The Lump is using me to speak through.’
Even when lumpified Alfred resists.
Faithful, faithful, faithful..
Could it be the Lump is contaminated by the memory, the personality construct, he chooses as his weapon?
Grant makes good sense of his baddie. The lump: an amorphous blob that can take any shape. Mind-plasm.
Now that image, the one with Batman pointing his nine at the psychic intruder, that’s from Infinite Crisis I believe, but it’s also the primal fear. The last engram. Batman holding THE GUN. This is the foundation of all of it. All the memories. The whole process. And it can blow the Lump’s brains out. It can sabotage the entire psycho-merge.
The tables have turned.
But does the lump, slave that he is, deserve to go out like that?
Mokaari thinks so. Realities start to fuse and collapse here. Batman holding the gun/Mokaari holding the gun. The Lump as the devil. Is his form intuiting the missing events, those of RIP? Is this the presence of Hurt?
The chemicals thing is excellent. The recurring clue, a hot, fizzing chlorine scorch mark running throughout the life-trap. Only Batman could pick up on that.
Of course, Batman’s a superhero, he’d never let the Lump die alone, and Alfred collapses into his arms…. Only Alfred’s a hero too. Bruce knows to take advantage of that. Something of his noble spirit dwells inside the lump, they’re fusing.
‘I’ll find the men who killed you.’
Pure Batman. The men in this case may be gods, but ‘Different universes. Same dumb.’ To Bats they’re just a superstitious cowardly lot. Crims. Another case to be solved. He’s totally unphased. Is it a lack of imagination or the supreme example of self-possession.
‘Need a jolt to get you moving?’
The ten-eyed men ripping out his pain and anger.
The Batman of Zur en Arrh
Enough to get anyone out of bed, on their feet and halfway to the moon, don’t you think?
‘What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?’
Bullseye eat your heart out. Whatever’s to hand, mate.. Whatever’s to hand.
PAGES 21 & 22
This is a nice surprise. The events post RIP. These last pages are also a brilliant teaser for the next issue of Final Crisis. Batman had better be front and center for the whole issue, I can tell you. What’s going to happen to him? What did Hurt mean when he said it’d be his final case?
You know, a long time ago, back on Barbelith, we used to describe the replacement batmen as ‘tulpas’. The theory was that during the Thogal ritual or whatever, his demons were extracted and took on form – Batman with a gun, Batman as Bane, Batman the betrayer of Gotham – but the comics nixed that idea.
Is Hurt what Doom posed as in Fantastic Four 1234, Batman’s shadow self running amok in the world? Why do he and Bruce look alike? How does he know all about him? etc. This theory makes perfect sense of the Hurt-as-demon stuff, and not only that but Grant has toyed around with this idea before, though only as a throwaway idea.
It was a Tibetan ritual Reed underwent too, and, for those that don’t know, Thogal is Tibetan.
Though the ten-eyed men aren’t.
Whatever. Of course Batman’s last case should be a deicide. It’s the king of whodunnits.
Who killed God?
Anyway… as the David points out over at Funnybook Babylon, Bruce is going to put that bullet to work next time.
I really feel the need to point out how badly the art falls down on panel 3 of page 21. Total shit. This is the Lump’s heroic moment, when he deactivates the machine Batman’s hooked up to just as Mokaari blasts him to kingdom come, but you could be forgiven if you failed to notice. For fuck’s sake! Is it really so hard to get it right, artists? It’s only a key moment in the narrative, not important or anything.
Alfred/Lump would die for Bruce.
PAGES 23 & 24
‘Batman’s big secret is the classic whodunnit?’
The butler did it. The butler saved him. This comic really is a marvellous eulogy for Batman and his oldest ally. Really respectful. Really considered. Robin, Nightwing, Gordon and the rest – they’re all important – but none of them mean what Alfred means to Bruce. And the idea that Alfred is Batman’s sternest critic is completely turned on its head here. The sarcasm? The acerbic wit? Alfie doesn’t employ it knock Bruce down, a la the Lump, but to keep them both sane. To keep them laughing and connected.
In the end Alfred is Batman’s closest friend and his biggest fan. The speech he gives at the end is the reason this comic is gold plated. It manages to sum up everything that’s amazing about the character and why I love him more than any other superhero.
Some kerosene. A box of matches. A fist slaps into a palm.
‘Ready when you are.’
Bring on FC 6.