In the grand tradition of our Rogue’s Reviews and inspired by Zak Sabbath’s Alphabetical Monster thing, his attempt at reviewing each and every entry in the D&D Monster Manual, I’ve decided to take on all the Bat-villains, starting with…

Anarky

anarky

The knowledge that Alan Grant intended his creation to be a cipher for con-man Frank R Wallace’s crazy, neo-objectivist gibberish doesn’t help matters*, especially if like me you consider objectivism and its close cousin libertarianism to be more than a little obnoxious and juvenile, if not downright psychotic. That said Anarky fits a workable stereotype: a nerdy, precocious teen, who struggles with empathy and thinks that he has the answers to all the world’s problems. From Columbine to Buffy’s big bads, we’re used to seeing it deployed in the antagonist role, and the nerdy, know it all arsehole angle could work to lend Anarky more personality than he’s been blessed with in the past. It helps that we’ve been given the opportunity to see Batman play off a similarly conceived character in the form of Damian over the last few years in that we know it can work, but, while it raises questions of redundancy, I like the idea of a damianesque character off the leash; fans would loathe him, but maybe in a good way – he’s supposed to be a villain after all.

Another way to play up the teenager angle would be to work with another of Grant’s Anarky influences, 2000AD’s rebellious sky-surfer Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare, bane of that other paragon of order, Judge Dredd. Chopper represented something not too far removed from libertarian fantasy, anti-authoritarianism as romantic, rebellion as duty, lawlessness as man’s natural state, the blue sky as our destination. Personally I can’t see much of Chopper in Grant’s portrayal of Anarky, but the link does make a degree of sense and could be built on. Chopper is every fist pumping cry of FREEDOM everywhere, and as such makes for a satisfyingly sympathetic anti-hero for authority figures like Dredd to butt heads with, Batman on the other hand wouldn’t be quite so fun to kick against given that he isn’t a. THE LAW and b. the face of a totalitarian state c. doesn’t shoot perps in the kneecaps.

Tim O’Neil made a decent fist of rehabilitating Anarky as philosophical bat-foil a few months back, and I’d agree that it could work. Batman, with all his wealth and privilege and status can all too easily be read as a representative of the status quo, a character who pro-actively protects existing power structures and inequities, yadda, yadda, etc… and a natural foe of a politically radical antagonist. The tension between the two characters could throw up some interesting stuff if done right. The difficulty with this way of doing things, and this probably has something do with why so few creators really play up the Batman-as-order angle so popular with certain sections of the fan community and the brothers Nolan**, is that by positioning the character so absolutely you risk limiting him in uncomfortable ways, and placing a burden on him that he would struggle to bear. V for Vendetta (another one of Alan Grant’s Anarky influences, as if you couldn’t guess) vs Batman might sound good on paper but efforts to tease social, political, ideological and ethical readings out of Batman could well hurt the character’s core appeal, even if the writer, and it would have to be a very good writer, did manage to make the job entertaining and interesting.

Let’s have a go… Ummm…maybe… Bruce Wayne on holiday at an exclusive destination which turns out to be one of Anarky’s secret utopian communities where no-one pays taxes because tax is theftnnnn… nope, I just can’t be arsed… like the idea of Batman on the beach, though. Heatstroke, mirages, sweaty kevlar, scantily clad henchpeople, shark repellent, submarines and island fortresses, hedonism and the suspension of life’s day to day rules, dying under the glare of the midday sun, there’s something in all that I reckon, makes me think of Scaramanga and his golden gun… got fuck all to do with Anarky though.

Mindless FAIL. Had to happen some time.

*Grant put together a suggested reading list to accompany his Anarky miniseries which included Who Lies Sleeping? (read the reader reviews for yucks), bizzaro nonsense in which it is claimed that the dinosaurs wiped themselves out with their own advanced technology

**It should probably be noted that their efforts at introducing grand philosophical themes amounted us being told that, yes, people really are terribly nice. Even baddies in jumpsuits. But not baddies who wear make-up. Never them

According to Wikipedia that’s all the As done. Piece of piss.

EDIT: I forgot Amygdala. He’ll crop up. Stay tuned

I’ll be back with the Bs some time over the next week. Ah, here they are…

65 Responses to “Alphabetical villain thing: A is for…”

  1. Andrew Hickey Says:

    I’d argue that the main problem with Anarky is that Grant is politically extremely confused. Anarky uses the rhetoric and symbolism of ‘real’ anarchy – something like anarcho-syndicalism, which is a position it’s possible to share and be a decent human being (see Chomsky as the obvious example). But his actual views are closer to someone like Eric Raymond, and other techno-’libertarians’ who object to the existence of anything that ‘oppresses’ straight white upper-middle-class males who like weapons and have no social skills.
    Now you could do something interesting with that contrast, had his creator actually realised he was creating such a contrast (such a shame that Grant, one of the better writers in pop comics, has such astoundingly stupid-evil political views). But the character *as he exists* is a very late-90s concept (created in the early 90s yes, but he has the stink of Columbine all over him) and seems far more dated than Grant’s other creations like Mr Zsasz or The Ventriloquist.

  2. bobsy Says:

    They’ve mucked the Ventriloquist about a bit though, haven’t they? The concept is still pretty rock solid, but the strutting femme fatale/vamp is much less creepy than the anonymous, blank, cowed old schoolteacher type of old.

    As for Anarky, the Columbine thing should be played up, draw tears on the mask & make him a regular pantomime. I think the political confusion thing is key – he’s exactly as annoying and unlikeable as anyone who’s so hopelessly self-contradictory yet so stridently self-righteous. Batman should be tolerant of him, to a degree, he’s not going to chase a crook for tagging a bank, but when he gets serious, Bats needs to shut him up for a bit.

    The only Anarky story I have ever read, he gets the drop on Batman who is saved by the intervention of a group of homeless men, who Anarky has heretofore championed (for his own ego, of course). Those men know a pain in the ass when they see one. So I’m not sure if Alan Grant is all that unaware of the contradictions in the character. ‘Alan’, ‘Grant’ – such auspicious names, and he’s Scottish and everything, but he has written some of my least-liked Dredd strips (if there’s a ‘hilarious’ ‘satirical’ song in there, or a leaden lampoon of a nine-month old cultural fad, you know it’s him) and although I came up on his Batman run (his villain Cadaver was great, just Batman vs. Vincent Price, what could be better) he’s not really a writer I have much time for.

  3. Zom Says:

    I like the new ventriloquist well enough. Changing up to a femme fatale is all a bit obvious but you could have some fun with it. Also a fan of Cadaver, and, in a dirty way, Zsasz. I’ll be trying to squeeze something out of the likes of Cornelius Stirk sometime very soon

    See my next post for the dirtiest bat-foe evar, tho’.

    I should have come out and said that Anarky is at best confused under Grant’s pen, but I kind of took it as a given. Whether he or not he was aware of the confusion is another question. Personally I think he was aware of it up to a point, and then he wasn’t…

    Almost included something about how doing it Tim’s way would quite possibly necessitate a clearer view of what Anarky stands for

  4. Zom Says:

    Ah, missed out Amygdala, but I think I know how to rectify that

  5. Andrew Hickey Says:

    I’ve not actually read anything Grant’s done in something like 15 years, but when I was in my early teens he was probably my favourite comic writer, so I’m possibly looking through rose-tinted glasses a bit.

    As for the new Ventriloquist – Paul Dini’s never yet met a character he *couldn’t* turn into a femme fatale, has he?

  6. Zom Says:

    He’s rather obvious, it must be said.

    I wept tears of boredom after reading his take on the Terrible Trio.

  7. Andrew Hickey Says:

    Dear God, I’ve just looked into that Neo-Tech stuff. It’s *BARKING*. Objectivism I can understand believing, if you’re a 16-year-old with a chip on your shoulder, a near-psychopathic distaste for other people, and a complete lack of understanding of how the world actually works. It’s wrong and evil, but not actually insane.

    But this? It takes the nuttiest parts of Objectivism, Scientology, the Tipler types and David Icke, and rolls them into one completely loopy whole. “Business creates essentially every major human value, ranging from the development of consciousness, language, mathematics, the arts, up to the electronic and biogenic revolutions.” apparently. And the universe was created by “business-oriented isotopes.”

    Or something.

    If Grant actually believes this stuff he’s on frankly Dave Sim levels of craziness…

  8. Zom Says:

    Hey. he recommended Who Lies Sleeping! Very mental indeed.

    Poor chap.

  9. Zom Says:

    It’s hard not to blame the rise of Morrison for the culture at DC which made it possible for Grant to put out that (very crazy indeed) Anarky reading list

  10. amypoodle Says:

    your ‘who lies sleeping’ link doesn’t work. it hasn’t worked since this was in the drafts section. it never worked.

    as this is an important part of the overall madness picture, you must repair it.

  11. Botswana Beast Says:

    he’s not really a writer I have much time for.

    No; frankly, he and John Wagner (this might be more contentious? not sure) fairly singlehandedly kept me well away from 2000AD as a yout’. Hoary old rubbish, they’re still going, aren’t they, the dinosaurs?

  12. Andrew Hickey Says:

    Wagner’s currently doing two strips in 2000AD – Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog – and Dredd at least is actually pretty good. I’ve got a lot of time for Wagner even now, as he and Pat Mills basically invented modern British comic writing, but I think he works far better on his own than with Grant.
    Grant just finished some sort of ‘lost tales of Judge Dredd’ thing in the Megazine. I must have read it, but it made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever.

  13. Al Ewing Says:

    I’ll meet your contentiousness and raise you some more contentiousness! Not having read Wagner’s recent Dredd work – and by recent I mean at least the last five or six years – is like not having seen The Wire.

    (Admittedly I could never claim to be impartial when it comes to Dredd and John Wagner – but it honestly is that good.)

    While I’m ranting away in your comments section, I’ll briefly say how much I enjoy the site – particularly the regular Mozbats updates and Vault Of Tymbus.

  14. Andrew Hickey Says:

    I wouldn’t say Wagner’s recent Dredd stuff was *essential* – but then not only have I only started reading 2000AD again over the last six months or so, but I actually *haven’t* seen The Wire, so I’m probably not the best person to judge.

    It is, however, infinitely better than the tenth-rate superhero comics that get thousands of times the discussion on comics blogs.

  15. Zom Says:

    Are there any collected editions of the recent Dredd stuff?

  16. Zom Says:

    Who Lies Sleeping? link fixed

    All must click

  17. Andrew Hickey Says:

    There are – Origins, which was last year IIRC, is out in trade now, and the first volume of the long storyline Wagner’s been doing for the best part of a year, Tour Of Duty, will be out in September. I think most of the recent stuff’s out, actually, but I’m not sure of titles…

  18. Zom Says:

    Oh good.

  19. The Satrap Says:

    Bobsy’s right that Grant is probably not unaware that Anarky’s a bit of a self-contradictory prick.

    At any rate, I’d favour an entirely disrespectful take on the character. “Starship Troopers”, the movie, made a hash of Heinlein and was all the better for it.

    Paul Pope, a talented glibertarian like Ditko, provided in “Batman, year 100″ an example of the kind of stories that are acceptable to an unflinchingly rational Von Mises or Ayn Rand groupie. It’s a comic heavy on the nerdy gearhead stuff, and it shamelessly attempts to curry the reader’s favour by focusing on an uncontroversial civil liberties cause –the preservation of intimacy in our digital age, in this case– and presenting the evil gubmint as the sole threat to it. As if your favourite online business site were particularly scrupulous with its customers’ personal data, like.

    I would write Anarky by focusing on every conceivable kind of story, except the acceptable glibertarian ones. It’s probably a good idea to confront him with the supernatural elements of the DCU, anything that resists the amazing analytic powers of the Austrian school. The incongruity of his costume can be useful here. He looks like the hierophant of some occultist sect rather than, say, an idealised, successful worldly male like Ditko’s Mr. A.

  20. The Satrap Says:

    Now, avert your eyes if you must, oh gentle reader, for here comes a rant. It’s still kind of on-topic, though.

    There are many moments of unintended comedy in the Knite Darque, and the idiotic cod-game-theoretic dilemma –a ferry with a couple hundred law-abiding citizens on it, in a life-or-death situation, and it turns out that not a single one of them is a bona fide gung-ho fascist willing to blast the jailbird scum into smithereens? Really?– is only one of the most salient. In that most overrated of flicks, we are treated to Alfred’s astute remarks on good colonial governance; find out that the Chinese would “never extradite one of their own”, but still get to enjoy the sight of a shifty-eyed Chinaman burning on a pyre of ill-gotten lucre; learn that if you want to do a simple job properly, like shooting a district attorney in the face, you have to “buy American”; confirm that there is no such thing as a Wasp gangster, and that the bruthas are the most bumbling members of the criminal fraternity; realise that noble Straussian lies are necessary and that the people –the good people– must be kept in the dark about their heroes’ occasional failings; we also discover that total surveillance systems start crackling and sparking when you shut them down (which does have the advantage of allowing the engineer to vacate the premises by walking away meaningfully, with explosions in the background). We don’t learn much about the title character, the Knite himself, though.

    The wingnuts went gaga over this movie, and plenty of smart people laughed at them, saying they hadn’t caught on to the film’s “complexities”. The smart people were wrong. If there’s something that wingnuts understand, it’s tribal signifiers, and the Knite Darque, in its nastiness and its confusion, checked most of the boxes in their wingnut scorecards. It’s almost like the Tank’s very own “300″, which is a mess too, vulnerable to po-mo subversion and whatnot –is the War on Terra comparable to the deeds of Spartan underdogs, or rather to Achaemenid imperialism– but which nevertheless is proof that authorial intent is alive and well, the Tank’s in particular being unmistakeable.

    It also became a cliché to say that it wasn’t only Ledger’s performance that made the film “good”. Wrong again. Without Ledger, the dreary piece of celluloid would have been unwatchable.

    It’s a movie that’s aging very badly.

  21. Zom Says:

    He looks like the hierophant of some occultist sect rather than, say, an idealised, successful worldly male like Ditko’s Mr. A.

    Yes

    I almost attempted a post based around how the character looks. There’s probably some fruitful fruit in that direction.

    Bobsy’s right that Grant is probably not unaware that Anarky’s a bit of a self-contradictory prick.

    Yes

    But remember that Grant is mental – I’d only take that line of thinking so far

  22. Marc Says:

    Anarky would make a much better villain for Tim Drake, wouldn’t he? Same age, same weapon, and while Anarky’s half-baked philosophy has never posed a serious challenge to Batman it might be just the thing for a young man who has a firm sense of right and wrong but has probably never had to articulate it.

    As for the Dark Knight, that movie reads a lot better once you realize that the Joker is Marlo Stanfield and the mob is the New Day Co-op (“There are rules!”). Then everything else falls into place and it’s safe for lefties to watch again.

    None of which is to dispute anything the Satrap says (well, except maybe the too-casual allegations of racism). But no movie becomes that popular with that many people if it only hails one of the tribes. Hollywood likes to sell its product to everybody and we shouldn’t overlook the way it hails us, too.

  23. The Satrap Says:

    Anarky is a natural foil for the Boy Wonder, indeed. In fact, the only story with the character I can remember (apart from the single issue of his miniseries which I own, the one with Darkseid in it), is one in the animated style where Batman is out of town and Robin has to engage with Anarky in fisticuffs and earnest namedropping. Quality teen subject-matter, as far as I remember.

    As for the “too-casual allegations of racism” in the Darque, I guess I’ve stretched things somewhat. I mean, Chinese guys getting flambéed on mountains of dollars, that’s perfectly tame stuff, really.

    I don’t expect or want to read and watch only stuff that carries a lefty seal of approval. If I may be allowed to indulge in some juvenile namedropping myself, I’ll confess that the likes of Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola are among my favourite writers (I love the “pulpy”, heady quality of their dilettantism). And it’s a tragedy, to hear that the Tank won’t be putting out his “Holy Terror, Batman” masterpiece. What I do find hard to stomach is the kind of mealy-mouthed, nasty mainstream muddle that passes for a zeitgeist in our clueless age. You know what I’m talking about. Assuming that “objectivity” is somehow the arithmetic average of two opposing views; the nationalistic muscle reflexes of people who otherwise affect a jaded worldly wisdom; the Deep Seriousness of our feckless, vicious press corps; the fact that our conventional wisdoms grow and pop like “these bubbles” in a virtual economy of the ideas; acting as if “hailing to all tribes” deserved the respect due to a moral imperative, rather than the tolerance reserved to acts of managerial prudence.

    Typical of the zeitgeist as it is, the main sin of the Knite Darque is that it’s a fucking confused mess. This allows the winks to the wingnutteriat, who are visceral folk if nothing else, to easily overcome the more “thoughtful” caveats the movie may be peppered with. Let’s take the character of Harvey Dent, for instance, who’s key to the whole thing. A safe lefty reading of his actions and utterances as district attorney would be that they hint at the violence that he’ll commit as Two-Face. The only problem with that safe lefty reading is that Two-Face’s deeds do not make a lick of sense. In the first part of the movie, Harvey Dent has been presented as a control freak (totally stealing the role of the afterthought of a character who is Bruce Wayne). When the world crashes down around the ears of a guy like that, you expect him to lash out. Instead, the very first thing he does is to leave the fate of the guy who’s just killed his girlfriend and destroyed his chiselled face to a cointoss. Given that from that point onwards it’s futile to talk of a character arc, the safe lefty reading requires a considerably greater amount of magical thinking than the wingnutty one, that sees in Dent the tragedy of a guy who loses both his marbles and his “moral compass”, who goes easy on the terrorist and “blames the good guys first” (i.e. his former mates Gordon and Bats).

    Don’t get me wrong, the exchange between Two-Face and the Joker is very effective. This is due to the sheer absurdist brilliance of Ledger’s Joker Nurse, which has the unfortunate side effect of turning a Very Deeply Serious Character Moment into something more akin to a Monthy Python skit. And since the movie only works –occasionally– in that register, we’re left with bad Chechen accents, the ashes of Chinamen, bruthas pwned by a guy in “whiteface”, and a nondescript hero who spares his arch-nemesis not because Guantánamo is not a good idea, but because without said arch-nemesis the movie would have been a total lemon.

  24. The Satrap Says:

    “Thesis bubbles”, “Monty Python”. Proofreading = your friend.

  25. Marc Says:

    Satrap, is anybody here arguing that Dark Knight’s ideological muddle “deserved the respect due to a moral imperative”? The mixed messages deserve our attention (not respect) because that’s how Hollywood always works and a good critique should take those conventions into account. Or at least engage with the entire movie instead of trolling only for evidence to fit one’s pique.

    As for the allegations of racism, I do think you’re reaching on the Chinese accountant–I don’t recall anything in that scene targeting him because he was Chinese, his profession seeming, to me, a bit more relevant to the burning pile of cash–but it’s the line about “there is no such thing as a Wasp gangster” that gilds the lily for me since it willfully ignores the history of organized crime in this country to fabricate an easy line of attack. We have Wasp criminals aplenty but few Wasp organized crime families, seeing as by the time crime got organized the Wasps already owned everything. There’s enough to dislike in the Dark Knight that we don’t need to invent new reasons, and I’ve found that outraged accusations of racism just tend to steer the conversation down dead ends.

  26. The Satrap Says:

    Satrap, is anybody here arguing that Dark Knight’s ideological muddle “deserved the respect due to a moral imperative”?

    The movie is, for starters, because it’s clearly all too infatuated with the moral seriousness and importance of its muddle.

    And I wouldn’t like to start throwing straw in your general direction (especially given that your posts are quite terse), but when you refer to the “tribal” (i.e., eminently biased, unenlightened) character of ideology, and say that we “shouldn’t” overlook the fact that the movie tries to cover all bases, it does sound as if you were moralising. One can be forgiven for thinking that you’re attaching the morally positive qualities of objectivity and civility to the movie’s attempt to play it safe. The kind of “he said, she said” exercises we’re talking about have anything but a neutral net result, not in general and not in this movie’s case, as I argue above. More importantly, they are disingenuous and annoying, and it’s a perfectly acceptable reaction, to be annoyed by them.

    [As an aside, and for all it's worth (i.e., nothing), I'll add that although many of the conventional wisdoms of our times give me the hives, I'm hardly a paragon of lefty purity. Whatever.]

    …at least engage with the entire movie instead of trolling only for evidence to fit one’s pique.

    See, you’re doing it again. A “piqued” cherrypicker. Ouchie.

    You know, so far, I’m the only one who can be arsed to engage with the movie at all. You do seem to have vaguely hinted (who is Marlo Stanfield? You’ll have to forgive me, I watch very little telly) at the idea that the Joker makes utter fools of the agents of order, the Straussian “schemers” who are after him. This could be conceivably some sort of counterpoint to the movie’s assorted wingnuttishims, but if that’s indeed the case the counterpoint is exceedingly feeble and –this is the key point– disingenuous and forced. The in-story implementation of the Joker’s antics is slapdash and entirely devoid of plausibility, in spite of Mr. Ledger’s charisma. Furthermore, with the dumb dilemma of the ferries the movie goes out of its way to present the villain as ineffectual and dead wrong in the end.

    As for the allegations of racism, I do think you’re reaching on the Chinese accountant–I don’t recall anything in that scene targeting him because he was Chinese, his profession seeming, to me, a bit more relevant to the burning pile of cash…

    It’s you who’s introduced the term “racism” into the debate, but anyway. Whether the treatment of the Chinese guy is racist or “only” an expression of surly, impotent American nationalism is largely unimportant. And, sorry, but to say that the guy’s nationality is irrelevant is beyond silly, in this age of American (and Western) angst over China’s new-found clout.

  27. Zom Says:

    Traps, I think you’re being excessively argumentative here. It’s not that I disagree with everything you’ve written, I absolutely don’t, but I think you’ll find that you and Marc share a lot more common ground than your combative approach has allowed for.

    Marlon is the arch-villain in the closing seasons of the Wire. Marc likes to write about the Wire and he’s rather good at it

  28. The Satrap Says:

    What, you mean I might have behaved like a petulant arsehole? Nah, that could never happen.

    Anyway, I guess there’s a definite danger of going around in circles from this point of the debate onwards. Let us just say that this conversation has not unfolded in a vacuum, and that ideological “balance” is neither possible nor desirable, certainly not in our day and age. If you –a generic “you”, of course– aren’t outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.

    Anybody up for a group hug?

  29. Marc Says:

    Marlo is the arch-villain in the closing seasons of the Wire

    And a sociopath who disrupts a criminal cartel run along a set of managerial guidelines akin to those of postwar industrial capitalism in the age of embedded liberalism, replacing it with an organization in which loyalty and human life have no value and any employee can be terminated for the slightest of pretexts.

    The Joker is in some ways an even better avatar for post-industrial, postmodern capitalism–those brutal auditions make the point more quickly than Marlo’s slow burns, if also with a heavier hand–while the movie also carries all the problems the Satrap notes. That’s not “balance,” that’s not “objectivity,” it’s the confused ideological mishmash common to most Hollywood blockbusters, and grappling with it is a first step, not to excusing the movie, but to building a better critique.

  30. The Satrap Says:

    Ah, now I understand what you meant. Sorry for entirely missing the reference. I must be one of the few human beings left who don’t watch the Wire.

    I see the appeal in that interpretation of the movie. There’s a tiny problem with it, however, and it is that the Joker has no interest whatsoever in anything remotely approaching a bottom line. His is a metaphysical terrorism, in the sense of what passes for metaphysics for the film’s auteurs . A form of capitalism where the drive for profit is regarded with the utter contempt which the Joker reserves for it, that’s a bit too post-industrial, post-modern to be credible.

    Besides, it’s not as if the mob were running a quaint, antiquated form of family business before they hired the Joker. They are a fully globalised lot, that’s why they do their money laundering in China, remember?

  31. The Satrap Says:

    The following reading of the Joker strikes me as more plausible.

    The Joker wants to “see the world burn”. He needs no money, carries nothing in his pockets but “knives and lint”. He’s a new kind of foe, not a basically rational one like the Soviets… err, sorry, the mobsters of old. Self-preservation is not his thing. Wherever he goes, reason fails and breaks down, and thinking must thus stop. Extreme measures will be needed to stop him!

    In other words, he’s a less-than-subtle embodiment of the auteurs’ embrace of the Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld administration’s definition of “terrorism”.

  32. CCA Says:

    Nolan’s Joker thinks Batman is on a fool’s errand, which is what the bomb trigger bit was all about- that he believes that it’s not a few rotten apples but the majority of them deep down. Whereas Anarky (looking at the mini-series from ’97) was along the lines of “there are no bad apples, the barrel itself is what’s toxic.”

    Anarky I (the new one’s basically Nolan’s Joker by way of Sgt. Hatred) wasn’t all that different from the writers who advocate getting rid of all religion, except he extends this “throw the baby out with the bathwater” worldview to government as well. He’s got the utmost faith in people alongside the utmost cynicism towards their institutions. And the most radicalized goody-two shoes you’ll ever meet. It was oddly charming that he said he was a minor when turning down a drink from Jason Blood. Shades of Professor Chaos even.

  33. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Alphabetical villain thing: B is for… Says:

    [...] the As can be found here, along with an explanation of what the billy-o I’m [...]

  34. amypoodle Says:

    it sounds to me anarchy’s exactly the same libertarian dingus he always was then.

  35. Marc Says:

    Satrap: I agree that he’s ultimately uninterested in the money, but he operates by pushing capitalist competition to the breaking point until the entire city is at each other’s throats. By the end of the movie the money has dropped out and it’s competition for survival, not profit, but he still paints a pretty unflattering picture of capitalism.

    (And the mob don’t have to be a mom and pop store to play the role of the antiquated industrial capitalists in this scenario–it’s not like those postwar cartels were all sweetness and light either, but they both operated under sets of rules, both self-policing and enforced by the law, that the Joker cheerfully ignores or destroys.)

    There are other ways to read the Joker, of course: he’s ideologically protean in a way that meshes well with the multiple choice history and the many disguises. We could read him as the inevitable reaction to Batman’s extralegal policing–Nolan even set that one up back at the end of “Batman Begins”–a brutal and unanticipated consequence biting Gotham’s cocky overlord in his Kevlar’d ass just at the moment he seems to have bested conventional crime. Which would make him an implicit criticism of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld model of war.

    Again, not to say he’s only these things, but these more liberal readings (or really, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, anti-surveillance state–this movie is so much better at telling us what it’s not for, and what it’s not for is just about everything) coexist with the rest, and in some ways are advertised more prominently in the movie. Put another way, I don’t think you have to read the movie against the grain to get the criticisms of neoliberalism and the war on terror.

  36. The Satrap Says:

    I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on the neoliberalism thing. I’ve misunderstood you throughout this trainwreck of a thread because the thought honestly never crossed my mind that somebody could see in the Joker an avatar of capitalism. Maybe if I’d watched the Wire (which I probably should anyway, I hear it’s kind of good) I could detect a nod to it in the movie’s audition scenes, but the analogy is a stretch all the same, I fear. The core of the argument –and in this case, feel free to rebuke me if I’m oversimplifying things– seems to be an analogy: turbo-capitalism is ruthless and does not care about people, just like the Joker, therefore… but that’s not enough, for ruthlessness can be found in many quarters.

    The Joker despises money. It’s a key element of the ordered social life which he wants to tear down. The best lines in a movie that’s otherwise starved of good lines hammer this point home: the “knives and lint” thing; the bit about being “a dog chasing cars”, that “wouldn’t know what to do if (it) caught one”. Does the pointlessness, the implied randomness (dogs can suddenly stop running after cars and take a nap, or start barking or howling at the moon) correspond to our idea of profit-obsessed capitalism? He isn’t even a dandy anymore, but a hobo. In the Holy Roman Empire, people could be outlawed by being declared vogelfrei, “free like a bird” in the very negative sense of being a pariah, outside of Christian society, expelled from the very ranks of mankind. That’s Ledger’s Joker, and that has little to do with neoliberalism, which may ride roughshod over many things but which is definitely a system of insiders, depending on its incestuous relationship with the state to thrive. Apart from providing a vicarious thrill to red-blooded patriotards, the scene with the burning Chinaman –which we’ve elevated to iconic status in this thread, at least that much is clear– serves to allow the Joker to punish the idiot money-grubbing mobsters. The mobsters who don’t get the point, i.e. the joke (“do you see?”, screams the movie at the viewer, “do you see?”).

    Digression: the “free like a bird” thing is deftly captured in that scene in which the Joker sticks his head out of the police car (was “redeeming quality” Mr. Ledger’s middle name?). Nevertheless, as a sample of the kind of middlebrow pretentiousness which this bloated, ponderous monster enabled, I remember a critic making me chuckle by saying that the scene was “a moment of pure cinema”. “Pure cinema”, like “ambivalence towards genre conventions”, is part of the basic vocabulary of Lazy Critiquese. You want impure moments, in your flicks.

    Anyway, moving on…

    … the multiple choice history…

    The Joker is outfitted with the standard-issue multiple-choice origin, but the treatment thereof is far less sympathetic than in the “Killing Joke”, and less creative than in Morrison’s comics (where the multiple origins are a signifier of magic(k/x/z/!) as self-hacking blah blah). Here, the Joker comes across as a vulgar liar. It’s not entirely unreasonable to say that this version of the multiple-choice origin lends itself well to the prevailing view of terrorism, that regards the events that lead to terrorism’s rise as irrelevant.

    We could read (the Joker) as the inevitable reaction to Batman’s extralegal policing… an implicit criticism of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld model of war…

    Yes but, at the same time, IIRC in the first movie Ra’s had already earmarked Gotham for destruction before Wayne donned the kevlar, and the Scarecrow was farting about before he ever heard of the Batman (movie Scarecrow is a clusterfuck of a character, incidentally). A neocon would be quite comfortable with the idea of scalation as is presented in the movies. We’re going to have war, and inevitably it’s going to be total war; it’s sad, but you know, duh.

    Now, the movies do not say “duh”, exactly. Instead, they implicitly accept the basic tenets of the wingnutty worldview, slop a couple ladles of thick angst over it, and then handwave everything away because you can get people on a ferry and discover they are, like, nice or something. You put it well, when you say that “this movie is so much better at telling us what it’s not for, and what it’s not for is just about everything”. Except that this motherfucker’s is too gormless to be against stuff, it just wrings its hands over it.

    I find this dishonest mainstream muddle very annoying. It annoys me. I sound like a broken record and, apart from the capitalism thing, I don’t think we disagree a lot. Time to call it a day, maybe.

  37. Zom Says:

    I’m interested in this discussion because this is the first time I’ve ever seen the politics unpacked at length. Many of your points strike me as very good ones, Satrap, so I for one am happy to hear your thoughts.

    Not sure the Joker’s multiple choice history painted him a vulgar liar. I bought into the business about it helping to position him as an intractable, pseudo-ideological force rather than a character, a clear and present threat rather than a person.

    I do agree, however, that his lack of a history does contribute to the neo-con bogeyman terrorist reading.

  38. Marc Says:

    Satrap: Not that neoliberalism is ruthless and it doesn’t care about people; it doesn’t even care about the self-imposed rules and restrictions used by an earlier generation of managerial, industrial capitalism to maintain social order. The Joker despises the mob cartel and its rules as much as he despises the law, and in fact he goes after them first. We’re shown this in the first scene of the movie and it colors everything after.

    (An interesting sidenote: Batman, Gordon, and Dent don’t really care about those rules either–Batman is even able to ignore territoriality and extradition and distance and borders when he kidnaps the banker–and it’s their disruption of Gotham’s corrupt social compact that drives the mob to turn to the Joker in response. Is kidnapping the banker a triumph over the mob’s globalized finances, or a projection of power from an extralegal, globalized police state, or both? And are we supposed to root for the authorities’ disruption of Gotham’s syndicates, or be appalled at what they create in response? This is one of those rich contradictions that makes me resist any attempts to dismiss the movie as a conservative fantasy, or a liberal one if anyone were inclined to call it that–the closer you look at it, the more these tensions open up in a way that rewards further examination.)

    And yes, the Joker despises money too, but just because he isn’t driven by the profit motive doesn’t mean he can’t present a critique of capitalism (especially since that neoliberal element is more apparent in his methods than his goals). We might find a useful comparison in a couple of villains from The Filth, Simon [Says] and Tex Porneau. Neither one is really interested in money anymore–how many billions does Simon throw away just so he can debase the bonsai planet?–but Simon is unquestionably a caricature of depraved wealth and Tex’s “Fuck or Be Fucked” motto distills social-Darwinist capitalism down to four words. Both figures push capitalist competition, excess, indulgence, and waste to the point where the profit motive is subsumed by pure death drive. So no, they’re not allegories for CEOs either (thank god for small favors) but the critique of capitalism is all the more powerful for taking it to a self-destructive end beyond pure profit. The aristocrats and entrepreneurs of the Filth aren’t greedy, they’re suicidal bastards who are trying to drag the entire world down with them. That’s a much more serious critique to me (and, given the last few years, a fairly prescient one).

    There’s an equally good comparison in Spartacus Hughes, who has no particular interest in money or capitalism, no particular interest in useful idiots like Simon or the corrupt Secret Service agent on the Libertania, no goal but social disruption. But he still pushes the bonsai planet and the Libertania to the brink of disaster and beyond by introducing violence, competition, predation–the Libertania is unmistakable on this as he pushes the implied libertarian fantasy of the floating, stateless utopia to its Somalian endpoint. Just because he isn’t a capitalist at heart doesn’t mean he doesn’t apply its logic as a weapon, and that logic doesn’t come off too well.

    It’s not entirely unreasonable to say that this version of the multiple-choice origin lends itself well to the prevailing view of terrorism, that regards the events that lead to terrorism’s rise as irrelevant.

    Yeah, I find that about as arbitrary as you apparently find my neoliberal reading of the Joker; it’s too easy to say that since his past is a blank, and neoconservatives pride themselves on ignoring the causes of terrorism, that he must be a neocon’s idea of a terrorist. Why that neoconservative reading, and not any other?

    I don’t think the Joker is an allegory for anything, and if we pursue any allegorical reading too far we’ll hit a point at which the Joker no longer upholds it; after all, it’s not like he makes a particularly good Muslim terrorist, does he? Or a particularly good terrorist, period, since he doesn’t appear to have any politics he’s trying to advance through terror. I think Zom’s “intractable, pseudo-ideological force” is exactly right, with the emphasis on the “pseudo.” (The worst Joker scene may be the confrontation with Harvey in the hospital, when Nolan et al start pretending that “chaos” is an ideology, very profound for teenagers I’m sure but not to be found anywhere in nature.)

    I don’t think the movie accepts the basic tenets of anybody’s worldview–I’m not even sure it has any tenets, and I’m pretty certain it doesn’t have any coherent worldview–and if conservative elements are in the mix, so are a few left-wing, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist ones. The fact that all of these are complicated, that Joker ultimately makes a lousy terrorist and a lousy capitalist, makes me reluctant to dismiss The Dark Knight for its ideology–actually, I find it kind of a fascinating mess. But even if the mess rankles, as it fairly might, I don’t think it’s accurate to ascribe the movie to one hated ideology as if the others weren’t also there.

  39. It Burns Says:

    Marc: Where can I find your writings on The Wire?

    Honestly, I think this discussion should have been about The Wire. I don’t mean to insult either party, I didn’t participate and didn’t put in the effort that Marc and Satrap did, and you two must care a great deal to have written in such length.

    But it seems to me the whole argument could be summed up as: “The Dark Knight was a mess politically and ideologically.” Which is a big DUH. However, if these arguments were solely about The Wire–5 seasons, hours and hours of story–the arguments would be more readable rather than the same points rehashed again and again.

    Good points. Misplaced energy.

  40. The Satrap Says:

    Oh, don’t worry, I have plenty of energy to misplace. This undead horse can still take some flogging.

    Let’s fight!!!

    …the Joker despises money …but just because he isn’t driven by the profit motive doesn’t mean he can’t present a critique of capitalism (especially since that neoliberal element is more apparent in his methods than his goals).

    I think you’ll agree that this is kind of weak. An ideology, a social model of whichever kind, defines itself through its goals at least as much as through its methods. The former are the main selling point, most of the time. Call me crazy, but I think that a positive attitude towards the creation and accumulation of wealth is a key, essential, indispensable feature of capitalism, both in theory and in practice. I mean, really, we’re talking about a guy for whom the good things in life are the wind in his hair, having a dependable playmate (Batman), and explosions.

    As for his methods and mannerisms, they are either not specifically capitalistic or entirely incongruous with how capitalism operates in the real world. We’ve already covered his hobo looks. Randomness is not capitalistic (how many times have we heard that markets are “risk-averse”?). The deleterious effects of capitalism in particular are never random, while the Joker can kill on a whim. Capitalism can be exploitative, the Joker is simply destructive. For all its cynicism, free-marketeering is inextricably bound up with optimistic faith in the positive net effect of the operation of greed in society. “Greed is good”, and technology is good too. The Joker thinks everything’s pointless.

    Melville’s critique of capitalism in “The Confidence Man” is still relevant. Compare the con man’s appeals to people’s better nature and providential faith in the future to the Joker’s goth-kid pessimistic posturing:

    “The depression of our stock was solely due to the growling, the hypocritical growling, of the bears.”

    “How, hypocritical?”

    “Why, the most monstrous of hypocrites are these bears: hypocrites by inversion; hypocrites in the simulation of things dark instead of bright; souls that thrive, less upon depression, than the fiction of depression; professors of the wicked art of manufacturing depressions; spurious Jeremiah’s; sham Heraclituses, who, the lugubrious day done, return, like sham Lazuruses among the beggars, to make merry over the gains got by the pretended sore heads — scoundrelly bears!” (p. 56)

    Of course, when the Joker has his scheming minions shoot each other in the back of the head when the movie opens, he’s conning them. But he is not a con man among other con men, he’s not merely playing at the game his clowns are playing and being better at it. The heist is successful because it allows him to make a point, as is his theatrical wont. He gets to prove –among other things, as we’ll see below– that far from being good, greed turns people into fools.

    It is to be noted that the bank manager who confronts the clowns is a brave hombre who screams defiantly about the thieves’ lack of “honour and respect”. As a critique of capitalism, that’s somewhat feeble. It’s not as if Goldman Sachs wasn’t around, in 2007.

    Admittedly, as the convenient embodiments of ruthless greed, the hapless clowns may well be our elusive neolibs. But that’s as far as the capitalism-bashing will go in this film. As in the case of our dear friend, the burning Chinaman, the death of the petty crooks is an indication that the real drama is about something more fundamental, more “existential” as the neocons like to put it, than anything relating to capitalism and its flaws.

    Melville’s con man is a master of disguise, by the way, while the movie’s Joker is not quite as protean and adaptable as you make him out to be. When he dresses up as a nurse, he’s in drag, he’s not trying to fool anyone about his “jokerness”.

    Re: The Filth. Morrison is often quite sanguine about the possibility to put capitalism to good use.
    The Filth is a comic in which a tragic idealist like Max Thunderstone tries to use his “humongous amounts of money” to allow everyone to discover God and “make a world of Buddhas” through a “business plan”. He’s a bit naive but we’re not supposed to dislike him, and that loaded Super-Bat fella from “Final Crisis” is a hero, too. At any rate, I don’t think the comparisons are terribly useful. Spartacus Hughes is no Joker. The former blathers about the emergence (in the science-geek sense of the term) of a new humanity from the ruins of society, while the latter wants to live in the ruins. More importantly, Hughes does indeed turn capitalism on itself, when he corrupts the POTUS and the elites on the Libertania. Apart from his lack of interest in the bottom line, the Joker has no high-ranking officials on his payroll, and even the small fry traitors inside Gordon’s unit answer to Maroni, the Italian boss.

    The Joker only uses “madmen”. On this side, there’s the rational folk, on the other the basket cases, and the twain. shall. never. meet.

    You are entirely on the money in one respect. Both Hughes and the Joker aim for greater things than just lucre. What does the Joker say to the banker? “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stranger. ” This is a pretty good quip, and pretty explicit, too. I’d say that being strange is not quite the same thing as being strong in the “fuck or be fucked” sense.

    It’s also worth considering that “anti-capitalist” and “left-wing” are not synonyms. “Buy American” is hardly a progressive response to globalisation. To the actions of the globalised –presumably neo-liberal– pre-Joker mob, that is.

    To be continued!

  41. The Satrap Says:

    it’s too easy to say that since his past is a blank, and neoconservatives pride themselves on ignoring the causes of terrorism, that he must be a neocon’s idea of a terrorist. Why that neoconservative reading, and not any other?

    Why not? Clumsy allegories are part for the course, it’s pretty much the nature of the beast. “Easy” does not necessarily mean “glib”, in this case.

    Besides, everybody agrees with my reading. Well, at least Zom does, sort of.

    I don’t think the Joker is an allegory for anything, and if we pursue any allegorical reading too far we’ll hit a point at which the Joker no longer upholds it…the Joker ultimately makes a lousy terrorist and a lousy capitalist…

    I appreciate the attempt to split the difference but no, thanks. He’s definitely lousier as a capitalist than as a terrorist.

    it’s not like he makes a particularly good Muslim terrorist, does he? Or a particularly good terrorist, period, since he doesn’t appear to have any politics he’s trying to advance through terror. I think Zom’s “intractable, pseudo-ideological force” is exactly right, with the emphasis on the “pseudo.” (The worst Joker scene may be the confrontation with Harvey in the hospital, when Nolan et al start pretending that “chaos” is an ideology, very profound for teenagers I’m sure but not to be found anywhere in nature.)

    That’s a very good point. The goth-kid funny sadface bollocks has nothing whatsoever to do with the agenda of any proper terrorist group. Thing is, the language of the War on Terra doesn’t assume that the antagonists of the “free world” are terribly savvy politically, either. It certainly does not encourage us to waste too many neurons thinking about the bad guys’ agendas. They “hate our freedoms”, want to erect a “global caliphate”, sing kumbaya in their “axis of evil” meetings, can pull “mushroom clouds” of “mass destruction” out of their arses. This propaganda has just about the same level of sophistication and maturity as pretending that chaos is an ideology, quite frankly. Both certainly assume that the foes are intractable, because they are suicidal end-of-days types.

    Bullshit in real life, bullshit in the Darque, charismatic boogeymen here, charismatic boogeymen there. It’s not a mathematical proof or anything, but I think this particular analogy holds to the extent that, well, everybody and their dog has been talking about the movie’s War on Terra connection since day one.

    We’re otherwise in agreement. As a serious character-driven moment and a key turning point of the movie, which is what it’s ostensibly supposed to be, the exchange between Two-Face and the Joker falls flat on its face. The only point of interest is to admire Ledger’s comical talent.

    I don’t think the movie accepts the basic tenets of anybody’s worldview–I’m not even sure it has any tenets, and I’m pretty certain it doesn’t have any coherent worldview–and if conservative elements are in the mix, so are a few left-wing, anti-capitalist…ones.

    Yes, the movie’s not coherent. In other words, it’s confused, which is a term that has cropped up a few times already. That’s hardly a reason to cut the auteurs slack, however, especially given that there’s a case to be made that the uglier elements of the mix pack considerably more emotional punch than the others.

    For example:

    (and)…anti-imperialist ones.

    Okay, now you’re stretching things to breaking point. In order to be able to qualify as a vehicle for “anti-imperialist” elements, the movie would have to acknowledge that the people on the receiving end of imperial action have some measure of agency. The only consequences of the extralegal actions of the Batman/Gordon/Dent trifecta are domestic (the mob goes bonkers and hires the Joker). The Chinese –who in the real world are kinda influential, as we know– do nothing, can do nothing to retaliate for the kidnapping of “one of their own”, enacted in a scene that is designed to look cool as fuck. The damage is all damage that Westerners inflict on their own beautiful western souls. It’s all a jejune, laughable power fantasy, but the movie is only getting started. Our burning accountant is the lowest kind of villain, the petty, short-sighted small-timer who gets sacrificed by the bigger, more magnificent fiend. That’s a tired cliché, as a million funnybook miniseries featuring Doctor Doom can attest.

    I’m getting kind of tiresome at this point, but it truly does look as if you’re trying your damnedest to avoid engaging with the casual xenophobia, sinophobia of this movie. This is not a trifling matter, you know.

    Let me also restate that there’s nothing in the two movies that indicates that the escalation which they have warned us about could have been avoided. Wayne learnt the tricks of the vigilante trade (and a trade it is, almost a technology; grist for the anticapitalist mill, this ain’t) from Ra’s al Ghul, just in time to prevent the destruction of Gotham city. The event that “changes everything”, like 9/11, is a terrorist act.

    And now, the pulse-pounding conclusion!

  42. The Satrap Says:

    The irreducible difference between our attitudes to the movie, apart from the varying degree of attachment to this pet theory or the other, is this. The movie angsts over stuff, a lot. You think this is the expression of an inner “tension” that rewards further analysis. I find the hemming and hawing annoying because I see in it an expression of the thoughtless fear that’s rife in this age of fearmongering. You are “reluctant” to “dismiss” this “fascinating mess”. I think that, inna final analysis, the most astute remark that can be made about this flick is that, apart from the Ledger, it’s a steaming pile of dogshit.

  43. The Satrap Says:

    Oh, god, I’m such a fucking loser. I’ll post this and leave you guys alone for a week or two. Promised.

    The heist at the beginning of the movie is similar to the infamous scene with the ferries. Both are experiments, designed to use the test subjects’ self-interest to bring about their mutual annihilation, and make some goth kid point or the other. Of course, the second experiment fails to yield the expected results, because it involves sane people or something.

    Designing highly stylised, deadly enactments of the rat race is definitely not a managerial activity.

  44. Marc Says:

    Burns: I wrote about The Wire here, and this piece might be particularly relevant. Spoilers everywhere.

    Satrap: Just a few points. First of all, you say it looks like I’m trying my damnedest to avoid engaging with the casual xenophobia and sinophobia of the movie, but a) I don’t accept the premise that the movie displays those phobias, and b) it hasn’t been clear to me whether that discussion is “on” or “off” at any given point in the conversation, just as it hasn’t been clear whether we’re playing according to the rules of “group hug” or “let’s fight!” You may recall that you first imputed racism and xenophobia in the movie’s portrayals of the gangsters, then after I challenged you on this point you said I was the first to bring the term “racism” into the conversation, which is true in letter if not in spirit. So which is it–am I doing my damnedest to ignore it or am I the one bringing it into the discussion?

    I find your claims of sinophobia skeptical (to say the least) because I don’t see Lau, the accountant, as being a representative of his nation or people. That image of the banker burning on a pile of cash holds a lot more meaning for me as the moment when the Joker drops his pretense of working for profit and, retrained dogs at the ready, unleashes the pure death drive that lies at the terminus of all his hypercompetitive games.

    That also happens to be the point at which any allegorical reading of the Joker as supreme capitalist would also have to break down (or morph into something far stranger, with a much darker view of capitalist competition and greed). I don’t read anything in the movie as being that narrowly allegorical, and I suspect that accounts for most of the irreducible difference between our readings.

    You seem to be insisting the movie is a clumsy allegory and then berating it for its clumsiness, tallying a point every time it deviates from allegory (which, to my mind, are generally points in its favor) but also racking up another point every time it appears to conform to a racist, xenophobic, neoconservative allegory that doesn’t make it look good, disregarding other differences when they contradict your preferred readings and allowing your analogies a flexibility that you keep trying to deny mine. I don’t think the movie is allegorical to begin with (or, at the very least, it can never hold itself to a single allegory or a single ideology), and so neither of those objections carries as much force for me.

    This is perhaps why our readings deviate so much even though we seem to agree on many of the particulars. For example, we agree that the opening scene offers a “highly stylized, deadly enactment of the rat race” (though I think you misread my point about the Joker’s antipathy to managerial capitalism and the managed competition of the cartel–trust me, I see Joker as anything but the managerial type) and we agree that it shows the Joker proving that greed turns people into fools (and murderers, and particularly short-sighted and foolish murderers at that). So why doesn’t this qualify as the critique of capitalist greed and competition that you say the movie doesn’t provide?

    Is it because the Joker himself doesn’t spout some Gordon Gecko “greed is good” philosophy? Who cares! His critique of greed is a lot more interesting than some tedious allegory setting him up as an ideological bogeyman just to knock him down. He doesn’t have to walk around in a pinstriped suit covered with diamond-studded dollar signs to critique the logic and ideology of capitalism. His early schemes and auditions and the like do that far better, laying bare the assumptions of capitalist ideology and showing how “enlightened self-interest” and the like only lead to circles of murder… and the later ones suggest those assumptions lead not to mutual profit and social stability but to personal and social destruction.

    So while the Joker makes a pretty lousy capitalist, it’s because he does such a damn good job of arguing, through his own methods, that unrestrained capitalism can’t work as a basis for a society–and the movie doesn’t really contradict him on this point. It just piles on other meanings that come from other ideological leanings, but don’t erase the movie’s incredible cynicism towards capitalism. (As towards everything else.)

  45. The Satrap Says:

    Trainwrecks are fascinating. Especially when you happen to be the train.

    Holiday season is the season of broken promises.

    it hasn’t been clear to me whether that discussion is “on” or “off” at any given point in the conversation, just as it hasn’t been clear whether we’re playing according to the rules of “group hug” or “let’s fight!”

    I’ll freely admit that I’ve been behaving like a bit of an arsehole. An arsehole who has been sending mixed signals. Irritating, mixed signals. Like a certain movie.

    OK, I’ll drop the sleazy manipulations now.

    I don’t accept the premise that the movie displays those phobias…I find your claims of sinophobia skeptical (to say the least) because I don’t see Lau, the accountant, as being a representative of his nation or people.

    You’re wrong here, quite simply. The “it’s only a single guy, he doesn’t stand for the whole” defense is a cheap, tired rhetorical ploy that wouldn’t work in other contexts and that you know full well doesn’t work here.
    First of all, Lau is pure stereotype, devious and inscrutable and a “squealer”, in the Joker’s ever-perceptive words. Then there’s the issue of the wide-eyed impotence of the Chinese authorities before the blatant violation of their sovereignty, which from an American perspective is quite literally too good to be true. The “buy American” thing (the gun that fails to off Dent is made in China). Et cetera. It’s hardly a central element of the plot, but a pattern does emerge, and it’s obnoxious.

    As for the racism thing, I think you’re right concerning the racial politics of the depiction of gangland. That being said, I have to wonder what exactly the filmmakers were thinking when they had a guy in “whiteface” do the –otherwise quite nifty– pencil trick on a burly, unthinking, aggressive “boy” (as per the movie’s dialogue). Some people must have popped a boner watching that. I know I would have, if I were into those things.

    I don’t read anything in the movie as being that narrowly allegorical, and I suspect that accounts for most of the irreducible difference between our readings.

    The clumsy allegories do become frayed at the edges here and there, it’s inevitable (and desirable). Some do end up carrying greater weight than the others, when the end credits roll. In this case, the annoying ones carry the day, quite handily.

    I have to admit something. Since I didn’t like the movie one bit, I’ve only watched it once. The quotes are all provided by Mr. Google. So these are all first impressions. I think they are more “authoritative” than those provided by repeat viewings, to be honest.

    By the way, aren’t you doing some backpedaling yourself here? We seem to have come a long way from the assertion that the Joker is the clownish brother of that Marlo Stanfield chap.

    the moment when the Joker drops his pretense of working for profit and, retrained dogs at the ready…

    The image of retrained dogs is quite inadequate. By the time Lau is reduced to a crisp cinder, we know that the Joker’s minions are essentially wretches, tactfully described as “paranoid schizophrenics, former patients at Arkham”, drawn to him like moths to a flame. The Joker does not train anybody, himself being likened to a “mad dog”. He doesn’t run anything either, his social experiments just sort of fall into place, magically, plausibility be damned.

    …unleashes the pure death drive that lies at the terminus of all his hypercompetitive games. That also happens to be the point at which any allegorical reading of the Joker as supreme capitalist would also have to break down (or morph into something far stranger, with a much darker view of capitalist competition and greed).

    But it must have been the same view all along, the fact of no longer hoarding the Monopoly notes is merely an aesthetical change to the deadly games, no? You say upthread that Tex Porneau is a guy with a death drive. I’m not sure about that, he’s ridiculed in the end as a guy who likes to mete out the cum but who doesn’t want to get it handed to him in return. You also say that said death drive is a “prescient” distillation of the essence of capitalism. Now you seem to agree that capitalists in the real world are hardly the suicidal type (they are more like squealing shifty-eyed Chinese parvenu pigs).

    For example, we agree that the opening scene offers a “highly stylized, deadly enactment of the rat race” (though I think you misread my point about the Joker’s antipathy to managerial capitalism and the managed competition of the cartel–trust me, I see Joker as anything but the managerial type) and we agree that it shows the Joker proving that greed turns people into fools (and murderers, and particularly short-sighted and foolish murderers at that). So why doesn’t this qualify as the critique of capitalist greed and competition that you say the movie doesn’t provide?

    OK, let me offer an olive branch, in my condescending backhanded way. The movie does offer a sort of critique of greed and competition. In their willingness to take credit for things, I’m pretty sure the word “capitalism” must have been dropped by the auteurs on occasion. It’s only that, as a critique of real-world capitalism, it’s fucked and –need I say– annoying, for lots of reasons.

    For all its many flaws, capitalism does often involve the creation of wealth, whereas the Joker’s experiments are invariably negative-sum, kill-or-be-killed affairs. The ferries thing, for example, is a badly botched implementation of a prisoner’s dilemma. Being experiments, and highly controlled and far-fetched ones at that, they can hardly bring the word “unrestrained” to mind. In the end, the movie backs down from its darque rethoric, and it’s for the most part it’s only the Joker’s broken mini-mes who react as he expects. To the Joker’s chagrin, the honest folk of Gotham show their inherent goodness, the same kind of goodness that real-world capitalism loves to bank on. More importantly, while capitalism is normalcy, the (fairly lousy) arrangement we live under, the Joker’s experiments are designed to show people’s true colours by placing them outside their comfort zones. Most importantly, once he thinks he has proven to his satisfaction that most people fail the test of killing or be killed, the Joker moves on. This is critical, I’ll elaborate on that later.

    If anything, the Joker’s experiments resemble war. While I am as aware as the next goatee-stroking latte-sipper that wars for profit happen all the bloody time, and that von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are popular at airports, war and neoliberalism aren’t synonyms.

    …the movie’s incredible cynicism towards capitalism. (As towards everything else.)

    No, the movie’s cynicism is a little pose it likes to strike. One word: ferries.

    Slight change of tack. Zom is quite right that calling the Joker’s multiple-choice origins the trick of a “vulgar liar” is lazy. On a level I was right, the two choices which the Joker offers us are sob stories, implausible tall tales of abuse and loss. First we hear that his father gave him his Glasgow smile to punish the Joker’s mother. Then it is he who mutilated himself to show his affection to his wife, who’d been scarred by loan sharks. In both cases we see messages being carved into flesh, unmistakably in the first instance and with perverse results in the second (the ungrateful wench leaves him, why the audacity). It’s clear that he still favours the language of blood, when he’s flirting with Rachel (who is a bland stock female character if I ever saw one; she’s sassy, spunky, sensible and, ultimately, dead) he toys with a blade, and the “little fight in her” is a turn-on. Oh, and he don’t wear no sissy make-up, he’s into “war paint”.

    I wouldn’t say he has a death drive. I wouldn’t say he’s truly lawless, either. It rather seems as if he understood that, according to the rules of his favoured means of expression, conversations will have to be cut brutally short sometimes. And he does expect to find or create fellow speakers of his bloody esperanto with his terrorism, people who leave their comfort zones to become a law unto themselves. He’s delighted by Dent’s (magical, illogical, arbitrary) conversion into Two-Face (“now you’re talking”, he says to him), and is more than willing to subject himself to the verdict of the cointoss. And Rachel soon becomes sloppy seconds, when Batman barges in. The allegedly lawless Joker ends up declaring his homoerotic bond of warrior honour to the Batman, whom he’ll never kill (he’ll never fuck?). Batman in turn tells him he’s alone. Killjoy.

    So, there we have it, a payload of theme and resonance that makes too loud a farting noise to ignore. Terrorist violence as a crucible from which strong, strange, sexless individuals emerge (note how Dent loses his gal, while Wayne gets none in this). Does this resonate with the capitalist thing? To an extent it does, but it rather reminds me of the sticky blankets of your standard basement-bound, warmongering emo chickenshit Keyboard Kommando.

    Batman does teeter at the edge of that particular abyss, but in the end things like Gotham’s wunnerful people pull him from the brink. He will remain an edgy fellow, when the people need it, but he still comes out sacrificing himself and kind of smelling of roses, which is what the wunnerful ones deserve, or something. All in all, that’s all a pretty fucking regressive thing to say, in 2007 Anno Domini.

  46. bobsy Says:

    ‘Chelsea smile’ Trappy, you’re getting it confused with ‘Glasgow kiss’ (headbutt).

    Fascinating discussion chaps, you don’t get stuff like this on many of the comments threads I’ve seen…

  47. The Satrap Says:

    Ah, Chelsea it is. Take it up with Mr. Google, he sent me to this link.

  48. Marc Says:

    First of all, Lau is pure stereotype, devious and inscrutable

    How? Where is he either devious or inscrutable? Everybody sees through him, everybody manipulates and bullies him, everybody gets the better of him, all the time. You seem to be the one equating the Chinese with deviousness and inscrutability–as if any Chinese character can mean nothing else–as a shortcut to leveling accusations of xenophobia.

    Then there’s the issue of the wide-eyed impotence of the Chinese authorities before the blatant violation of their sovereignty, which from an American perspective is quite literally too good to be true.

    That “wide-eyed impotence” is pure invention on your part, since the Chinese authorities are completely absent from the movie–as are any US federal authorities, for that matter. Do you take that absence to be equally pregnant with meaning? Is the movie’s ignorance of any international diplomatic repercussions really a commentary on the relative power of those nations, or is that just another easy line of attack?

    At this point you seem to be writing your own version of the movie and blaming the actual film for all the ways it either conforms to or deviates from the imagined script. Whichever is more convenient. And no wonder…

    I have to admit something. Since I didn’t like the movie one bit, I’ve only watched it once. The quotes are all provided by Mr. Google. So these are all first impressions. I think they are more “authoritative” than those provided by repeat viewings, to be honest.

    Utter nonsense. I wish you’d mentioned this a few days ago and saved me the time.

    That and this:

    Some people must have popped a boner watching that. I know I would have, if I were into those things.

    So when you’re not imagining the perfect movie to suit your criticisms, your imagining the perfect viewer to reinforce them.

    You’ve been talking about the Dark Knight that plays in your head, complete with a phantasmal audience composed solely of wingnuts and titillated racists (no national stereotypes there, no sir, it’s okay when you do it) who react exactly the way you want them to react to confirm the movie’s repugnance. Nothing I or anybody else says will convince you that *that* movie has any alternative meanings or values.

    I’m coming more and more around to Burns’ assessment: misplaced energy.

  49. The Satrap Says:

    Where is he either devious or inscrutable?

    His body language, maybe? The studied composure with which he carries himself, with a hint of smugness? The fact that money laundering is a devious thing to do? Devious does not mean competent, you know, sneaky gits you can see from a mile away are particularly contemptible. Lau appears at a boardroom meeting of Wayne enterprises, as a legit businessman, proposing a partnership (not that he has a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting past Wayne and Fox, mind you), while a guy like the Chechen, his employer, would never dream of setting foot in such hallowed places.

    You seem to be the one equating the Chinese with deviousness and inscrutability–as if any Chinese character can mean nothing else–as a shortcut to leveling accusations of xenophobia.

    Fantastic, after “he’s only an individual” we get another classic, “you’re seeing things, so you’re the real xenophobe here”.

    That “wide-eyed impotence” is pure invention on your part, since the Chinese authorities are completely absent from the movie.

    We get to see a bunch of policemen, watching in awe as Batman’s too-cool skyhook flies away, its prey in tow. As for an official response from the Chinese top brass, there’s indeed radio silence.

    Do you take that absence to be pregnant with meaning? Is the movie’s ignorance of any international diplomatic repercussions really a commentary on the relative power of those nations?

    Yes and yes. If you fail to see that, in spite of your obvious intelligence, I’m afraid I’ll have to assume you are more attached to notions of American exceptionalism than you are willing to admit.

    So when you’re not imagining the perfect movie to suit your criticisms, your imagining the perfect viewer to reinforce them.

    Please.

    a phantasmal audience composed solely of wingnuts and titillated racists (no national stereotypes there, no sir, it’s okay when you do it)

    Stop getting so defensive, it’s undignified. What makes you think that I regard nationalism and racism as specifically American problems? Re-read the thread, I take some care to use the term “western” at least as often as I use the term “American”.

  50. RetroWarbird Says:

    I think it’s clear in Batman’s case that whether you use Capitalism as an excuse for committing crime (Lau, the Mob) or you use Anti-Capitalism or Anarchy as an excuse for committing crime (Joker), you’re still committing crime, and Batman’s still going to fuck your day up.

    Batman’s personal politics about Capitalism don’t come into play, since he’s a philanthropist who believes in liberally giving his money to a few various causes (his crusade as Batman included).

    Anyway, whether you’re part of the system, or part of the underground, part of the problem or part of the solution … crime is crime in Batman’s book.

  51. Marc Says:

    His body language, maybe?

    That would be the body language you remember from your one viewing of the movie? Or are detailed blocking notes included in the Google quotes?

    This is pointless. You’re inveighing against your own half-remembered “first impressions” and then imputing racist, nationalist, or xenophobic motives to me when I call you on it. We’re done.

    Burns FTW.

  52. It Burns Says:

    You deserve a prize for holding out as long as you did.

  53. The Satrap Says:

    I am imputing racist motives to you? Can you read, mate? I am imputing the motive of Very Deep Seriousness, which does make you sound funny at times, and a non-negligible amount of residual nationalism, yes. Not that you would ever impute similar motives to others, why perish the thought, you only “call” people on stuff. Blow whistles, like.

    your one viewing of the movie?

    Please do explain, how did you manage to miss the wide-eyed –and corrupt– Hong Kong policemen in all your multiple, Deeply Serious viewings of the movie? Mind you, I’d never hold it against anybody, to sleep through this masterpiece.

    Here, marvel at the magic of youtube. The Hong Kong scene.

    Courtesy of the magic of wikipedia, we learn that the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, nicknamed Skyhook, “is used by the CIA, United States Air Force and United States Navy for retrieving persons on the ground from an MC-130E Combat Talon I aircraft.”

    Obviously, only unserious people who hate America and hear funny voices in their heads would think that making one of those MC Talon thingies intrude into Chinese airspace, with a fuckload of cops as witnesses (plus the aircraft tracking and interception systems which we handwave out of the picture, obvs) would ever be grounds for a major diplomatic bustup. I mean, it’s all a bit of good-natured fun, really. No, the movie is a Critique of Imperialism that deserves Serious Recognition because after this little incident, some mobsters in the States will get pissed and will unleash a guy who wears war paint.

    The wonder that is Google reveals that the staff of the South China Morning Post had unserious things to say about the Knite Darque. Their unseriousness reaches an unpleasant pitch of shrillness when they start whining about “corruption” and “stupidity”:

    “It’s a city where American mob money can be stashed, laundered and toyed with to maximise returns for its shady owners; an international legal black hole in which wanted felons can simply disappear, as the city’s authorities would never extradite ‘one of their own’. And don’t trust the cops, either: they’re in the pay of criminal overlords who bemoan the police for being slow to come to their aid despite the fact they’ve been in the underworld’s pay for so long.

    Viewers across the world are transported to this city in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s latest outing in the Batman franchise. But if you’re thinking of Gotham, think again, it’s closer to home than that: welcome to 21st century Hong Kong…

    …One landlord even complained: ‘The movie makes us look stupid security-wise. We are not a major crime city but our security is much better than portrayed in the film.’”

    Gee, who cudda thunk.

  54. The Satrap Says:

    Unserious, very unserious:

    http://nplusonemag.com/dark-knight

    “The means by which Batman finally finds the Joker… involve a massive surveillance system… Morgan Freeman, frightened by the criminal potential of such an illegal machine, agrees to use this method only once, after which he insists on resigning.

    Of course, this extreme method works. Everything works. In a digression, Batman is forced to travel to Hong Kong to capture a Chinese banker…the scene’s essential point is that corrupt Chinese capitalism must be treated like terrorism—and so the banker is ‘renditioned’ back to Gotham. Again, it works.

    The point, though, is not that you need to think about these things; no teenager (or film critic) who views the film is likely to pick up on the allegory. But they will surely get the message, as they get it from so many lesser attempts than Batman. The ideological work is done by presenting these scenarios as mere games, such that they easily seem to repeat themselves in actual political life.”

  55. RetroWarbird Says:

    Of course Brother Eye works.

  56. The Satrap Says:

    Of course.

    Read the whole review, it’s good.

    Anyway, whether you’re part of the system, or part of the underground, part of the problem or part of the solution … crime is crime in Batman’s book.

    That’s a core feature of the character’s definition, with the added corollary that Batman himself can only avoid breaking the law if he acts with its consent. For him to be able to break international law, it must be declared null and void. This is not difficult, since the Others function solely according to a code of primary tribal loyalty to “their own nationals” (Dent’s words, echoing Lau’s). Likewise, for him to break the laws of a third country these must be effectively irrelevant. And indeed this is the case, for in Hong Kong the police is the public arm of the underworld.

    When Lau (“trussed like a chicken”, according to the movie’s script) is “delivered” to Gordon, the latter will probably be the first genuine lawman he’ll have set eyes on in years.

    Nuance!

  57. RetroWarbird Says:

    Ah, it is a good review. I tend to hear lots about Batman being a “moral” man, and I have to wonder now, if to be moral is to be unethical.

    But ethics aren’t very well suited toward human nature, despite the fact that we can identify what it means to be ethical. Theory of relativity applies. For instance, Ditko’s The Question was highly moral. Denny thankfully destroyed that character and rebuilt an ethical one. At least, as ethical as a flawed human can be.

  58. The Satrap Says:

    Of all old skool writers, Denny O’Neil was probably the best suited for taking the cruelly, self-servingly “moral” edge off the Question. Now that Ms Montoya is the Question, Anarky would be a good foil for her.

    it is a good review

    This pearl, on the other hand, is eye-wateringly bad. It is quite something.

  59. RetroWarbird Says:

    Grant seemed to think, at least for Final Crisis, that the Questions the new Question needed to be asking (or rather, reflecting on sarcastically as she jaunted through new universes) were more in the vein of theoretical physics. I’m curious about that. While I certainly prefer my Question as more a reflection on humanity (faceless makes it easier to see what’s behind faces/masks) … I do hope she appears in Multiversity. Her throwaway line about “So there are worlds out there where Charlie never died of cancer?” gives me high hopes that she’ll visit that world – especially if it’s Grant’s “Hey Alan, I get to do a world like Watchmen, and I get to use the REAL Charlton characters!” Earth-4.

    Yes, Anarky would be good for her. She has the ability to get way … “closer” to his ideology before ultimately rejecting it. We can’t expect Tim Drake to plunge himself that deep into an enemy philosophy.

  60. The Satrap Says:

    Grant seemed to think, at least for Final Crisis, that the Questions the new Question needed to be asking (or rather, reflecting on sarcastically as she jaunted through new universes) were more in the vein of theoretical physics. I’m curious about that. While I certainly prefer my Question as more a reflection on humanity (faceless makes it easier to see what’s behind faces/masks) …

    Ditko would probably regard a “cosmic” Question as a heresy of sorts. Facelessness stands for the objectivity that is objectivism’s main attribute (according to the product description, that is), but it has the unfortunate side effect of obliterating individuality. As his brother Mr. A, Ditko’s Question needed the classy fedora look to remain an idiosyncratic self-important prick. Now, send the Q to a place where there may be little green men who will not pick on these conventions, and the objectivism starts biting its tail.

    Kirby, who was a pinko as far as Ditko was concerned, had no problem using faceless masks for the Global Peace Agency staff in OMAC, embracing the full implications of having public personas that are defined by the public, global interest. Renee identifies herself as a GPA agent in Final Crisis #7, of course.

    To send the Question into cosmic locales in an event comic is a sneaky way to tinker with the character’s fundamentals, with minimal fuss. She started Final Crisis at the basement level, of course, next to Turpin. Did Rucka set up any of this? I think he may have written the Question before FC.

    A bigger property like Batman does not seem to allow such legerdemain. Morrison had to make things perfectly explicit in R.I.P. “Here’s this iffy baggage carried by the character, and I give it the face of Hurt and the name of Zur En Arrh, but what if turn the sinister subliminal trigger into something different”.

    Alternatively, there’s always the Knite Darque way, which is to make a few humble gestures of narrative humility towards the gallery, some “performative fakery of adult questioning”, to paraphrase Nikil Saval, and pretend that this time the turd is truly polished. Some people seem willing to fall for it.

    Morrison was quite taken with the DK, incidentally, and tried to apply his mutant powers of super-hype to it on his site. Mention was made of a “new post-post-9/11 zeitgeist”. Apart from the fact that 9/11 is not quite the hallmark it’s been made out to be (it didn’t change a damn thing, it only made us nastier), the “new post-post” bit is particularly chuckle-worthy. As if we’d ever been that quick in burning through history.

  61. RetroWarbird Says:

    Did Rucka set any of it up? He certainly opened the doors. Renee Montoya’s life starting getting freaky as far back as the end of Gotham Central, when her partner died and became the red right hand of God. In 52, obviously her transition into being The Question’s protege involved learning Zen meditation and visiting Nanda Parbat … but on the freakier side of things … she was hanging out with Black Adam, and chasing Intergang (Intergang being a gateway drug to more New Gods adventures).

    The Question mini-series (Five Lessons in Blood) continues following the Crime Religion. Final Crisis: Revelations culminates in a reunion with religious iconography in the midst of Apokolips on Earth, and that’s between her appearances in the beginning and end of Final Crisis.

    Yeah, she’s been prepped for dealing with the Cosmic quite well.

    Grant’s a well-noted afficianado for everything Greg Rucka has been doing, making a point to cameo Spectre and Radiant (The Spirit of Mercy) at the end of Final Crisis, and making a much larger point to borrow Batwoman and the Religion of Crime and apply them extra-liberally to his Blackest Knight micro-crossover.

    The seeds are there. And since Rucka rounded out his present tenure at DC with a back-to-basics street level Question story where she moved deeper and deeper up a smuggling ring to human trafficking then to a Huntress team-up against Vandal Savage, nobody’s writing her at the moment.

    Have at it, Grant.

  62. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Alphabetical villain thing: All the Cs part 1 Says:

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