February 27th, 2010
Here and in the comments, we got the shit ain’t no-one else got. Read on!
Amy: It serves plot, but Beryl’s aside, positioned between the macho matter-of-factness of Dick and Cyrils’ dialogue, is also a nice character moment showcasing her humanity and her romantic side. Kate’s last cry for help, her neutrino-comm (talk about radio ghosts!) repeating its message forever in the darkness, is a moving, poetic thought. Beryl Morrison.
Zom: Before we go any further I just want to add my voice to the chorus of people who have praised Cameron Stewart’s character acting. People often fail to notice that Morrison is one of the great character writers when he puts his mind to it, and Batman & Robin is a very character focussed book, but all that focus and all that ability wouldn’t amount to much if it weren’t for his collaborators in the art department, as was demonstrated under the flesh warping pen of Phillip Tan.
Amy: Another nice character moment from Beryl, this time with the side effect of bigging up the Batwoman title. By putting the admiring words ‘I heard she was well hard…’ in Beryl’s mouth, though, it feels as if Morrison’s commenting on Kate’s potential as a role model for girls, and particularly for her. Running into a fully formed superheroine prepared to brave death in order to beat the baddies would make quite an impact on a female sidekick operating in a man’s world. This is a good touch.
Amy: AND ANOTHER ONE! This time from Cyril. I love the idea of the young Squire being terrified by his American counterpart, savagely chewing his nails on the plane ride over to the Club of Heroes meeting, a sick feeling in his stomach. Between Cyril’s dialogue here, the craziness attendant on Dick Grayson’s arrival on the bat-scene, that ‘blitz of a boy’ quote and the Batman of Zur-en-arrh, Morrison’s captured something about the first Robin that I’m not sure because I don’t read their comics but I suspect other writers have missed, his singular uniqueness, the thing that marks him as the ur-sidekick – his unbridled teenage wildness. That’s was his weapon. That’s what made him special.
And potentially as scary as Batman.
It’s as though when things got really freaky and out there Batman, always prepared, answered with a weapon of his own, unleashing Robin on his foes.
I’ve got a schematic going: Dick was the child, Jason the teenager and Tim, who made tracked Batman down and made the conscious decision ahead of time to be Robin, is the grown up.
Amy: And it seems Dick Grayson resented Cyril. These two panels unearth the original Club of Heroes’ story subplot that was never told! The tensions between the original members above mirrored by the tensions between sidekicks below!
Amy: I know I should heroic-hype the shit out of Beryl’s nod to the Wordenshire rectory bells, but I won’t.
I’m doing it somewhere else.
Man, there needs to be some post-morrison comics. It’s a damning indictment that DC’s stable never know what to do with his ideas.
Amy: Batman’s detective skills are a nifty plot moving device, and Morrison seems to be really enjoying utilising them in service of same. This run’s full of it. Also, that Dick has in no time at all figured out not only that the clone isn’t Batman but also what his next move will be, and given that he’s been processing all this information whilst engaging in a life or death struggle with it, with all the emotional baggage and internal conflict that would entail, and being buried alive under a ton of rocks that’ve killed his comrade, marks his out as one of the coolest, quickest minds on the planet. A true superhero. Morrison multitasking again…..
Amy: Damian’s as quick as Dick.
And, URRGH, it smells of bleach. When the clones were sterilised they used bloody Domestos… And that image in my mind – we’ll get on to some of this in a big way later – of rotting meat scrubbed clean with bleach is vile.
PAGES 6, 7 & 8
Amy: A brilliant sequence. I somehow imagined Damian and Alfred being far more frightened and passive than this. It’s good that other than a quick nod to victimhood at the end of the last issue they come out the gate fighting in this one.
Damian’s pulled off his father’s disappearing trick on more than one occasion. Could Dick do it at that age?
Amy: For some reason this panel reminds me of the scene in the second part of What the Butler Saw where Bruce and AlfredLUMP discuss the false memories he’s been implanting, and although there’s no real connection there, there are certainly resonances. In fact the clone’s confused condition resonates nicely with Bruce’s disarrayed mind in #682 and #683 generally.
As an aside, I might have mentioned way back in the annocommentations for the What the Butler Saw that the story arc is an exploding of the inner workings of one of those Bruce-Wayne-conquers-all-with-the-force-of-his-indomitable-will stories, both showing and telling rather than simply leaving it up to the reader to fill in the gaps or just nod their head along with the idea that Batman is a psychic badass. So in that alone it’s cool. But I’ve just realised it’s also a mathematic proof that Bruce Wayne would’ve become a superhero anyway, regardless of whether or not his parents had died. I know there isn’t a panel where Universe B Bruce actually dons spandex, but I think he’s heading that way. His horror at the Joker’s crimes and the feeling that he’s destined for greater things, his self hatred (his sense of disappointment), the discovery of a dead superhero’s lair beneath Wayne Manor, the training session scene (that could be happening in either reality, and may be the bridge between them given that Universe B Bruce doesn’t return post partnering up) – all of these things are an indicator that Batman can’t be hemmed in, even when you teleport him to a world where he never existed.
Wow, What the Butler Saw is another one of those updated fifties’ stories again, isn’t it? (Not literally)
In true prismatic style, the clone is a useful device to unpick Bruce Wayne. I’m very taken with the idea implicit here that the violence in Bruce’s life has been a constant reworking of Joe Chill’s primal act of violence, and has therefore made the event impossible to process, impossible to let go.
PANELS 2,3,4 & 5
Amy: This is just brilliant. Fucking fucking brilliant. The stuff about ‘Gunshots cracking in my skull. Day and night. Ka-pow! Pow! Blam!’ and the implication that the sixties’ show, under psychoanalysis, was revealing via parapraxis a darker truth, little Bruce Wayne constantly reliving his parents murder with every kick and punch. And of course this simpler, confused Zombie Batman would experience the memory in a hallucinogenic, primary, cartoonish and childlike way. It works on both levels. Talk about recontextualising and refusing disparate bat-elements! Genius. And then further to that the ‘Krakt!’, Morrison again, as he did with Batbane, admitting Knightfall to the unhallowed halls of bat-trauma, in second place sure, but nonetheless right up there.
The shattered psychic prism that is the bigtop triptych is superdense and allows Morrison to literalise lots of stuff sloshing around in Bruce’s mind. There’s the riddle of Catwoman – what is she to Bruce exactly? Friend? Foe? Lover? The inseparability of Robin and the Joker, both of them circus freaks, representing the crazy fast energies that have always been a feature of the batman adventure, and inverted lovers, one murdering the other, the Joker in some way replacing Jason, or at least infecting him, when he eventually returns. (as a side note has anyone noticed the way that bullet wound in the Joker’s head looks like a black cordite bindi – a third eye staring straight into Hell? The Swami of Sin….) After that we have Wurzel Baneage, and the terror of being helpless all over again, broken like a piece of straw on the knee of bloodmusclesweat, the raw physicality of your parents riddled with bullet holes, and again the zany lightning current reemerges in Zur-en-arrh, Batman’s attempt to incorporate these wayward energies, to have them work for him, to *become* Robin. Is that figure there an aggregate of Jim Gordon, Alfred and Thomas Wayne? I suppose even though Bruce’s relationship with Alfred and Jim isn’t strictly paternalistic, seen from above the dynamic between them certainly resembles that of a wild, rebellious teenager and a solid dad figure. Shit, Jim means a lot to Bruce, doesn’t he? I never thought of it like that before. I saw them more as pals.
And then Kathy Kane(/+Huntress), the Batman Clone emerging from the smashed glass, (still)born into a world of insanity and horror that will eventually destroy her.
The whole shattered womb/wombglass in shattered eyes/shattered bonesbodymind equation is extremely sickening generally: ‘Born Ded in splintrs of j-j-jagged glass!’ It’s just so disturbingly violent. It conjures in my mind an image of a baby bleeding out on a cracked mirror, or something akin to that (We’ve already mentioned the correlation between the child’s and zombie’s eye view of the sound effects (oh man, let’s back up a sec – you wanted the 60s TV show crossed with Lynch? You got it!), but of course another thing positioning Zombie-Bats as a child is his babyspeak). I’m not bringing this up solely to upset people, I’m just wondering if anyone else felt this bloody, raw energy haunting the edges of the page. It’s a brilliant example of horror operating within the narrow crawlspace of a mainstream comic, but via imagistic dialogue.
I’ve had weird nightmares where instead of dandruff people has large anadin pills in their hair, and the pearls/eyes mashup here reminds me of that. Yuck. Ever since the day I spat out a calcium deposit that’d been slowly pushing its way through the skin under my tongue for two years before that, I’ve found the idea of discovering a foreign object – and I do mean an object, something made of plastic, metal or glass, something manmade – growing somewhere on or in one’s body incredibly disturbing, and the pearls/eyes mashup is certainly pushing that button again, yesiree peeyyUUke a dee. Zombie-Bruce is so infected with the idea of Martha Wayne’s death, so entranced by the moment when time stopped and her freezeframed jewellry scattered across the air, that his eyes have become pearls! That’s just horrible, isn’t it?
PANELS 4 & 5
Amy: Being that this clone is a Batman broken by his history, it makes sense that he should always adopt the negative position and resultingly his dialogue should reproduce the principle characters’ fears. If Damian’s afraid of anything it’s that he’s somehow tainted, that he’s the real faulty clone, and that not only will he be unable to live up to his father’s heritage, he’s actually a cancer feeding off it and ultimately destined to destroy it. Why else does he have so much to prove? Nice way, along with the obvious stuff that Zom points out, to propel him into the next arc, Batman vs Robin.
It’s a good thing, though, that his insecurities are completely wrongheaded, that he’s actually a mini-bruce, and that like his father he’s an existentialist. An existentialist holding a piece of sparking cable.
Amy: The four doors representing the four elements leading to the Lazarus Pit is another cute Morrisonian flourish. Spirit often crops up as the fifth element in occultism, and life is the function of all of them combined. Instant depth.
Amy: I like that Kate’s so self-possessed she can decide not to lose it upon resurrection. Maybe she views that stuff as being for unprofessional, undisciplined civilians, perhaps for undisciplined, unruly men. Batwoman as badass example no. 2.
Zom: It makes me chuckle that Morrison killed Batwoman off so fast. It’s as if he couldn’t wait to clout her with a ten ton avalanche made of pure superhero. Yeah, yeah you can have your TDKesque rationalisations (her treatment by the army, the army connections, the military hardware, the wig, etc…) but you also get your Crime Bible and your were-people, and, in the hands of Grant, your superheroic death. Let’s face it, you’re nowhere on the Justice League scale of Heroic Endeavour if you haven’t come back from the dead at least once.
Amy: I have no idea what ‘Ice Cube’ is. Some sort of research lab obviously, but is it real or just in comics?
Amy: The Knight and the Squire have whole narrative arcs, and in fact a grand narrative, built into them don’t they? The poverty…. Zom pointed out that being poor they’re superheroes for our recession blighted times. America – read american superheroes - can glamour it out, but Britain’s ugly bits are always on display. It would be nice if DC had a strongish UK line like Marvel had in the eighties and the Knight and Squire was one of its titles. The Knight and Squire’s return to glory arc could dovetail neatly with a global financial about turn, or at least our own, making it the popularist british comic EVAAAAH.
Doubt it would though. We’re probably all well and truly screwed.
Amy: Batwoman seems incredibly spry for someone only just raised from the dead. It’s her Barbelith moment though, her self dissolved and then reintegrated by that boiling red sphere stuck in the ground. How did King Mob describe it, ‘Ego annihilation is followed by euphoric reintegration and an extended sense of understanding. There’s a surge of creative energy, all time is understood to be happening simultaneously…’? It’s not just that Kate’s tough as nails, but also that she was only just now at one with the time worm. No wonder she’s grinning from ear to ear and thousand yard staring at her hands. Where she’s been you have a billion billion hands and you can see across universes.
One little bat zombie’s no sweat after that.
Do you know what’s great about this shit? I’m not reading it into the scene. Morrison’s clearly winking at the long term fans. The most bonkers reading is REAL.
Amy: I wonder if Grant will remember he blew up the Batmobile.
Oh, I see, it’s the one before the newest one. Sheesh, that one didn’t last long.
I think there was some confusion regarding better batmobiles.
Zom: The new blown-up Batmobile is also in evidence. Somehow I don’t think that’s Grant’s fault
Amy: Holy iterated bat-man, Alfred!
Zom: There’s something so enjoyable about seeing Alfred pick up a cricket bat to defend Damian against the onslaught of Zombie-Bats. This is where dependable manservant crosses over into hero territory. Batman doesn’t merely employ a butler, he employs a super butler, one who remains reliable when the going gets really fucking crazy. On another more important level it’s moving, the idea of an old man selflessly facing down hell to defend a little boy who hasn’t always been the easiest of charges (but then which little boys are?). Going back to what I said above about Alfred’s capacity for reliability, I suppose you could read Alfred’s actions as an endorsement of the idea that there is something virtuous about a manservant’s willingness to lay down his life for his master, but I’m happy to ignore that bothersome political dimension and focus on the people. For me this is about love, bravery and decency.
THE REST OF IT
It seems Zombie Batman’s inverted bat-mission rather than to in some way resurrect his parents by saving innocents’ lives is to destroy the orphaned child himself. Suicide, in other words- to turn the sun, or put another way, the world, off. Batman’s a light in the black bug city, one that should never go out.
Damian’s midair tut is priceless.
PAGES 16 & 17
Zom: Perhaps Batman vs Robin is at least in part motivated by Dick’s actions in this arc. Yes it seems as if Damian and Talia have something planned, but I can’t imagine that Dick’s role in the creation of Zombie Batman has helped bring Dick and Damian closer – quite the opposite. I don’t think I’d be too keen on being assualted by a superhuman, rotting corpse version of my father. I suspect I might think that the person responsible for that was not someone who I wanted as my friend. I might even think that that person should be punished, and I don’t have Damian’s temper, nor did I spend my formative years learning morality from the League of Assassins, nor am I ten years old. The there’s the thought that maybe batman shouldn’t be the sort of guy who sets off zombie rampages (thanks to his failure to plan properly – Dick operates “without a net” remember), a thought compounded by the fact that this dangerous bat-fraud isn’t satisfied with his last fuck up, now he wants to go on some mad and no doubt doomed to failure quest to find Damian’s real dad (who last anyone knew was vapourised by Darkseid) with no regard to how Damian might feel about it.
Yeah, I can see how Damian might have a bone to pick with Dick.
Amy: yeah, that smug grin and all the quipping’s inappropriate to say the least. Is this the first time the comic’s positioned us on Damian’s as opposed to Dick’s side? I mean Dick really is coming off as thoughtless, lovestruck cock.
Amy: ‘Puh-puh-patch patch me up…’ Jesus, he really is a foul mockery of his source material…. More grotesque Bruce Wayne impersonations….
Amy: And now with the infantile snivelling. It seems Kate’s been reduced to the same aggregate of which Helena and Kathy are already a part.
Amy: Damian’s as always prepared as anyone else in the cape and cowl. The grappling line’s a nice twist.
This is a brilliant fight scene. Such a fantastic rhythm to it and the punches really connect.
Zom: I really can’t praise Cameron’s art enough here. Like Quitely, Stewart demonstrates the forgotten art of the choreographed fight. More please, comic industry.
Zom: Hah, the double-punch is back. Motifs like this help to foster a sense of familiarity and intimacy, because in order to spot them you have to be a committed reader. In some small way the device also works for me as a love letter to genre as a whole, with the double-punch standing in as a kind of visual catch phrase, not unlike “It’s clobbering time”, “Hulk smash”, “flame on!”, or “is it a bird?…”. In common with those verbal motifs it is closely allied to action scenes and the heroic moment and as such functions as a way of drawing attention to the centrality of those moments within the genre
I also like the way it insists on the unity of the two character’s doing the punching. Common cause and a deep bond is suggested that resonates nicely in a book called Batman & Robin, but it goes further than that, by bringing them together with this sort of pure iconography we move beyond mere characterisation or the extigencies of plot. I don’t think I’m being too woolly when I say that it evokes the magic word “team up” and all the superhero logic that that implies. Check out all the double-punches in Batman Brave and Bold, I suspect Morrison has.
‘I’m wot u will b.’
Amy: So, this is where Dick fears his new role will lead, his own destruction. The cape and cowl are a heavy burden, wiith them comes the madness…and the Joker! The clone may be right. Nobody else but Bruce has the power to wear the mantle, etc: BRUCE WAYNE, RETURNETH!
Amy: The clone smashing when he lands is nastier than any of the other options. He’s a bat-object not a batman.
Amy: ‘Who are all these terrible people and what on earth’s going on?’
Damian’s playing the game here. I’m not sure he would’ve done in the past. He’s slowly growing into his pixie boots.
Amy: The little nod to Starfire’s nice. What’s going on with her and Dick? I loved that couple when I was a kid, the hot superpowered alien and the daredevil mortal boy. I keep on hoping she’ll show up. This is a bat-superhero book after all.
And damn I like to see Batman flirting with the girls, digging this day.
Amy: Obviously the neutrino comm enabled Knight and Squire to track King Coal. It’s the kind of thing that in a movie you’d simply put down to the superheroes being magic, like Batman’s rooftop vanishing acts, but in this instance we’re in on the trick and it feels good.
Zom: I should have seen that coming. Coal’s wife isn’t some sort of sinister monster lurking behind the scenes or rather she is but the key words here are “behind the scenes”. She’s Arthur Daley’s unseen but always felt “’er indoors”, reimagined through a slightly more horrifying lens. So we have Coal as the hen pecked husband, the Carry On-esque penance he pays for his cheeky comedy infidelities, and his dodgy (read: failed) business dealings. The usual low level sexist connotations of this British comedy convention are ameliorated just a little bit by the feeling that Coal’s version of Daley’s private demon is probably just that, genuinely demonic, and that the chap has good reason to be terrified of her. Yet another nice example of Morrison mining the British culture for this arc, and twisting things just enough to make them shriek.
PAGES 23 & 24
Amy: Aaaah, Damian’s telling Dick off now. How the roles have reversed! Nice dramatic pacing that, having Damian exhibit his strongest claim to maturity yet just before he throws himself into the next arc’s profoundly teenage act of anti-authoritarian aggression.
Zom: Is it just me or is “Pennyworth” starting to sound like a term of endearment? There’s a long history of writers portraying Bruce Wayne as brusque with Alfred so obviously it has echoes of that, but I think there’s good reason to feel that the ice may be thawing. Alfred helps Damian (another team up! Sorta) fight off Zombie Batman, bravely risking life and limb in the process – Alfred, lest we forget, isn’t a ninja – and by having Damian say “Pennyworth and I are lucky to be alive” Morrison ensures that we know that Damian noticed.
Amy: Dick’s little speech at the end while entirely self-justifying isn’t unconvincing. Bruce Wayne definitely isn’t just a ‘loved one’, he’s a world class superhero, and, yeah, sooner or later someone would have had to have tried to revive the clone. In a world where everyone’s died and been reborn at least once (as Zom points out, Batwoman makes the grade this ish) there really isn’t an option. World savers are Earth whatever’s most valuable resource. And Grant’s one to great pains in this book to stress that Batman is a role Dick’s playing: Dick can be a batman, but he can never be the Batman.
But there’s two things that get us really jazzed for Bruce’s return. To begin with there’s Dick’s faith in Bruce, his certainty that if a body was not forthcoming Bruce must be alive, which bestows upon him impossibly mythic status – sure he was facing down one of if not the most powerful being in the universe at the time he disappeared, but, y’know, WHATEVER; this is the goddaman Batman we’re talking about and that’s that.
Secondly, there’s the iconography of the empty suit.
That’s the real kicker. That’s the thing that had you all hot under the collar when you closed the book, even if you didn’t know it. That rotting corpse was always a warning sign, but more than that it was a symbol of the period in which Batman was dead, the period of mourning. Remove the corpse (indeed, this being a superhero book fight and destroy the corpse) and the Batsuit returns to a state of purity, cloaked in the shadows of mystery and legend….waiting.
‘All we have to do is find him.’
I wonder how long it’s going to take Dick to figure out he’s stranded in time. Pretty bloody fast I imagine.