February 15th, 2010
Amy: ‘What is it with these Crime Coven people and their obsession with stories for kids?’ What is it indeed? Perhaps it has something to do with the rogue logic of fairytales and nursery rhymes, their criminal physics? Alice in Wonderland as topology, a map of a world overturned, where reason and meaning begin their steady descent into the abyss, Cole’s ‘hole in everything’.
Fairytales also speak to our primal condition, a preverbal world of gods and nightmares. Maybe the Crime Covens see their work as an attempt to return mankind to a purer state, unrestrained by ego and superego, culture, law and society.
Shit, they sound pretty cool, don’t they?
Oh, whose side are we all on?
Zom: Fairytales more often than not are instructive lessons in morality and manners and as such speak to the centrality of such structures. But they also bring to mind – through their content and subject matter and the understanding that they are designed to speak to a pre-moral entity (a child) – a world which isn’t beholden to such things. Helps that they are also the sites of raw, unadulterated terror and danger, so yeah that’s a nice reading, Poodle.
Amy: It seems King Coal is taking the name of his city, Newcastle, literally. Given that Newcastle was, during the middle ages, England’s northern fortress, it perhaps has a better claim to capital city status – the site of a new castle - than anywhere else in the north. I think we mentioned the north/south divide in our last annocommentations and Coal’s goal, although aligning neatly with his religion’s, also maps neatly across this conflict.
It’s also worth noting that ’pit’ is another word for mine, and obviously takes on a sinister symbolic dimension here. Afterall, it may also refer to Hell.
Zom: Coal and pearls. Black and white like the tokens of any number of games.
Love Coal’s Northern boss/bastard look. Red hair, lamb-chop sideburns, jowls and a beer belly, basted in a suit, shirt and tie combo forgotten to good taste. The coat and crown feel like the fancy dress costume of upstart new money rather than the regalia of genuine royalty. In fact looking closer the coat reveals itself to be a leather sheepskin jacket straight out of the seventies. This chap is the stereotypical northern industrialist and as such drags with him all those associated connotations: rough, tough, no nonsense, straight talking, with absolutely no time for soft Southern shites and political correctness. Add to that his chimney sweep henchmen and a scheme that involves a collapsing mineshaft and you have a guy whose evil aura is augmented by all those nightmare tales of 19th Century health and safety culture. Going further, the faceless sweeps, the very fact that they are expendable henchmen, paint a picture of a man who actively does not care about the humanity of his workforce.
Coal is the walking embodiment of the reasons for the trade union movement. Sean Bean in Red Riding anyone?
Amy: Another thing: Coal is a Geordie, and, sorry Geordie people, most of us in the UK would agree that Geordie speech is the closest the world’s going to get to a comedy accent. All his “wor lass’s” and his “why ayes” make Coal a figure of fun as much as anything else, and it’s an explicitly anglocentric joke, but one Morrison subverts. Zom and I were talking about this, the closeness between comedy and horror in Grant’s comics – the way they often share a panel or a character – and the exciting tension between the two, the way one frames and accentuates the other. Cole’s mode of speech is essentially silly, and therefore harmless, but the content of what he’s saying by the time we get to that stuff about gaping existential holes in everything certainly isn’t. It’s reality as described by a manic depressive or a psychopath, and actually quite chilling. There are other examples across this story arc too – most notably the Bob the Builderesque Metalek who transforms with a flick of the imagination into the soulless, insectoidal Other.
I’m beginning to think Cameron Stewart is the perfect artist to articulate this kind of thing because his cutesy cartoonish style sets of the horror so effectively, something I think artists with a more ‘realistic’ style generally fail at.
On a side note, it’s also telling to note that most of the industry’s better writers, Millar, Bendis, Moore and Morrison, are all perfectly comfortable with comedy as a feature of their work. It’s a sign of maturity I think, and ability. I like my comics to be multi-faceted, I like a writer who’s unafraid of sending their subject matter up. Irreverence and a lack of pofacedness are a good thing.
Zom: Down, Poodle! Leave the poor man alone.
Hmmm… Coal, for all his supervillainy, could easily be reimagined as one of the League of Gentlemen‘s grotesques. LoG being a hugely successful TV show that was built from the bottom up around the longstanding British fixation with the uncomfortable connection between comedy and horror. It could well be that Royston Vasey (the home of the League) was in Morrison’s mind when he conceived of Coal, but regardless of whether it was intended it’s a nice resonance.
Amy: I’m enjoying the way this bastard freezing british winter’s reflected in Grant’s comic. Inspite of all the silly caricatures and the bat-holiday vibe, it makes me feel this story’s for us.
I’m also liking the contrast between the glowing, wombish subterranea and the icy exterior scenes. You want to dry your mitts over that Lazarus Pit, so you do. I truly believe these scenes possess more gravity, that they are doubly involving and atmospheric because I crave warmth.
Amy: I have no idea how a neutrino-com would work, but a quick wiki throws up the fact that neutrinos can pass through physical matter undisturbed, so all that rock above Kate wouldn’t be much of a problem.
The DC US military come packing some hardcore kit, don’t they?
Amy: I’m wondering if that this story’s set in the UK actually serves to leaven the blow of the bat-supernaturalism somewhat. Batman’s on holiday and the laws of physics, or grittics, are on holiday too: ‘Yeah, we’ll let that crazy Morrison get away with it here because this is London ENgerLAAANd, home of history and Loch Ness monsters. This shit probably goes on all the time over there…
Zom: He’s undoubtedly playing upon certain sorts of expectations: comics set in Britain have long been the home of magic and such-like, and then there are all those popular myths – like Arthur, like the Loch Ness Monster – that can’t help but serve as touchstones for those living outside the UK. For better or worse that’s just how it is.
Amy: When I first heard Grant was on the book I assumed it would be sci-fi closet a go go right from the getgo. I have to say I think I prefer the tack he’s taken, the SUPER-supernatural elements having been kept to a minimum. A great deal of it is equally open to a somewhat arcane but nevertheless literal interpretation: Batman in outer space becomes Batman in an an isolation chamber; hyper-imps the last vestige of the bat-ego keeping him sane; Superbatman a fearless back up personality to be used as a weapon of last resort upon destruction of his mind; alien abductions: bad trips induced by fear-guns…. but as with Morrison’s Kathmandu experience, there’s always the sense that something else could be going on…. A proper ghost story vibe. This inclusivity really works. It’s far more elegant than what I originally had in mind, and, importantly, it incorporates every bat-tonality.
Amy: Last issue, while slipping on a pair of electro-dusters, Dick explained that ressurectees often exhibit temporary insanity. This issue he administers an electric current to the clone’s temples after establishing that this is the case.
Whether or not Morrison intended this to be read this way is obviously open to debate, but personally I think he did. It feels like his black sense of humour. I can hear him joking about it in an interview in my head, how Batman’s always prepared: instant-ect.
Amy: I know Cameron’s a great admirer of Quitely’s facial expressions, and so am I, but I’m also an admirer of Cameron’s. The range of emotions on display, and their subtlety, is just fantastic, from the newly born anti-batman’s confusion and fear on page 4 to the confidently evil grin he fixes Dick with here. I must go through some other comics and check out how dead, or at least how one-dimensional, the characters look.
THE DARKSEID STUFF.
‘I can USE that.’
So is that what’s happening here? Is this the hand of Darkseid from beyond the grave? That’s great. If it’s evil it’s Darkseid doing. All is one in Darkseid.
PAGES 8, 9, 10 & 11
We need to see Beryl kick ass some day.
I haven’t seen many fight scenes by Stewart. My only, tiny, gripe would be that in some of the panels the batmen look a teensy bit lumpen, but other than that the eye bounces through the action effortlessly and the whole thing’s a million times more coherent and exciting than these things usually are (a thought I find somewhat depressing- why can’t more people draw fight scenes, eh?). One thing I particularly enjoy is the way the panels start to jiggle about, tussle and fracture when the action starts, and the way the shape, the trajectory of the panel, mirrors the fighting going on inside it. It really impacts the reading and makes the sequence so much more readable as well as making the page come alive. Lovely.
BUT, UH-OH, LETTERING MISTAKE!
No point pointing it out. Sort yourselves out DC editorial.
Amy: Are those Coal smudges on Coal’s fur? Nice touch.
Zom and others have pointed out that the Knight and the Squire haven’t really done much so far other than add colour, and obviously the thinking goes that maybe they’d have more to do if Grant hadn’t bothered with Batwoman. But I don’t give a monkeys. I just want piles and piles of cool new superheroes and villains. Something we get in spades. Perhaps DC editorial insisted on having Batwoman appear in one of their most popular books to boost sales of her relaunch, but even if that is the case Grant’s really thrown himself into, it hasn’t he? He’s really enjoying playing with her unique batmospherics and yet again demonstrating how good he is at balancing potentially tonally uneven elements in his books. Nothing jars. Somehow Batwoman, a gritty character if ever there was one, works perfectly here amidst the whirly-knights and pearly villains. Not only that, but she adds instant depth to Coal and the plot generally, bringing her entire mythology to bear on the piece. Good old Batwoman.
Now bugger off Jock.
Zom: Plenty of juggling goes on over in Detective too, and Williams and Rucka do a good job of it. There’s a lot of Nolan’s Dark Knight in there, but last time I checked Nolan forgot the werewolves and the Crime Bible.
Amy: Does Alfred know the body’s a clone? Were they guarding it? Or does he just intuitively understand that whatever Dick’s doing with Batman’s corpse must be fucked up?
Sexy fucked up.
Amy: This has to be one of the best panels ever. The way that…thing won’t stop bellowing. Again, it’s simultaneously funny – Angryman (as we shall now refer to the clone henceforth) riding whirly-knight – and scary – Angryman riding whirly-knight. Good, simple expressive use of colour too: this guy’s satanic. Nuff said.
The superfast temporal ellipsis between panel 1 and panel 5, and the way that in both panels he’s facing in the same direction (is it a coincidence that in Dick’s panels he’s facing the opposite way?), really serves to underline Angryman’s single minded, devilish purposefulness. The inexorability of his arrival in Gotham.
He is coming.
The line about the ravens is a nice touch. You wouldn’t get that shit anywhere else.
Zom: Boring annotation hat: an indirect reference to the superstitious belief that were the Ravens ever to leave the Tower the United Kingdom would fall.
Amy: Oh man, it’s so good to see Damian again. With all the cool stuff going on I hadn’t noticed how much I was missing him, but all it took was a ‘Pennyworth.’ to remind me. When people describe Batman & Robin as a ‘team book’, part of me can’t help wondering why the pre-existing Batman title was never described in those terms, and I think I know. No, it wasn’t simply that editorial wanted the writers to showcase the titular character, it was because Tim Drake lacked personality. He was the literal equivalent of a bat-sidecar – an addendum, an adjunct, without half the integrity of Damian. Damian is a compelling story unto himself, quite apart from his father or Dick, and Tim isn’t.
Or at least that’s my theory.
That some people hate Damian so much is further evidence of this. Damian has a personality and that means you may or may not get on with him.
‘My new spine is superior in every way to the original.’
What does that even mean? Teh ROXOR.
Zom: This book is called Batman and Robin, Poodle, you yapping ponce. It was designed to showcase both characters and their relationship in a way that Batman wasn’t. What is interesting is that the team nature of Batman and Robin has been de-emphasised for so long (not only did we get primarily Batman in Batman, Robin was given his own book). My suspicion is that this was born out of a) a desire to make more money (hey, why have one book when you can have two?), and b) a feeling that Robin didn’t fit the tone of a grittier, post Dark Knight Returns Batman. I’m not sure the latter point is such an issue these days, in my opinion this is in part to do with a new found emphasis on tradition and nostalgia, in part because comics are less beholden to realism, and in part (I hope) because fans are more open to experimentation than they used to be.
Amy: This isn’t much of a cliffhanger, is it? Morrison really isn’t very concerned about death in the DC universe. It’s already been explained that in a complex world of jet-apes and time travel death is the least of your worries, so let’s not go there. No, what’s interesting about this page is Kate’s plan. I imagine it has something to do with nixing the coven’s prophecy by being resurrected. After all, this can’t be the event that brings about the age of the crime beast if she survives, can it? Maybe next issue will see Damian, after getting the shit kicked out of him, somehow trounce Angryman at exactly the same time as Batwoman emerges from the Lazarus pit. That’s the way magic works in Morrison’s books – non-causal interconnectivity.
Zom: Tru dat. A point that more people need to get to grips with as it goes right to the heart of Morrison’s take on the supernatural.
Amy: Fucking hell, Mrs Coal just has to be a monster.
Zom: Yes, we still haven’t seen her, have we? She’s been deliberately kept off camera. I’m thinking she ain’t nice.
PAGEs 20, 21 & 22
Amy: On the phone the other day Zom was keen to point out that this moment is another really effective way to drum up sympathy for Damian. No matter how much you dislike him, you’d have to be pretty fucked up to enjoy the idea of a disabled boy being murdered by his psychotic father.
Zom: The words child in terrible peril spring to mind.
So are we looking at scene setting for the Batman vs Robin arc here or will that fight prove to be between Damian and Dick? It’s hard to be sure, although Damian’s comments to his mother about their plan or whatever (don’t have the last issue to hand) would seem to suggest the latter possibility.
NEXT TIME IN BATMAN AND ROBIN
Amy: Something’s occured to me. All those people who complain that Morrison’s interviews are better than his comics should just bloody well stop reading the former. I’ve stopped, and it means some things are actually a surprise.
Zom: Morrison is very, very good at surprises, really uncommonly good as long as you remember to avoid his press. Haven’t read a pre-release interview with the fella for over a year and I’m a much happier fan for it.