September 14th, 2010
PAGE 1: OPENING CREDITS
You can hear Afred’s footsteps echo off the marble walls. You can feel the midnight stillness, the sturdy vastness of the mansion around him. If this arc has been primarily about hellfire, then page one of The Triumph of Death serves as a welcome, cooling respite. What with the curatorial vibe wafting off Alfred and the half obscured painting of Thomas and Martha, this scene also functions as a gentle reminder of the force and weight of bat tradition and history, which of course ultimately spins out into the idea of bat-myth, a theme currently being mined behind the scenes of this story in the ROBW book, and which most of us can feel pushing at the borders of BARMD (awesome), ready to burst forth and hijack the narrative at any moment…or at least by the end of issue 15.
On a basic, less meta and intertextual level, this page sets up Alfred and Dick as sneaky bastards, and we’re left wondering about and, cleverly for morrison in that they’re at the front of the issue and the only other reference to Alfred’s preparations is an instantly forgettable line of dialogue halfway through, very nearly nearly forget about, what’s going on here.
I’m way past trying to second guess Morrison, though, I can tell you that.
Something that’ll make the baddies rue the day, basically. Rue the day – nay, the hour – BATMAN WAS CREATED!
We’re going to the core.
One note about the Knight sculpture, and I’m sure I’m getting a bit too creative here, but I like the idea that Knight’s always move obliquely to the rest of the pieces. You never know what tricksy shit Batman will pull. Always thinking ’round corners.
PAGES 2 TO 5: DIFFERENTLY SANE
From the eternal idea of BATMAN(R), to its latest iteration and what he’s been getting up to recently.
This is Damian’s final lesson, isn’t it? The last big mistake. You know, the one where he actually aids and abets the arch enemy’s escape and later his scheme to overthrow his only rival. That one. It’s certainly a climactic end to a very steep learning curve.
The dramatic reversal is something to behold. Issue two of this arc makes good on the first’s creepy promise (the Joker’s whispered ‘you’re just like him…’) and sees the Joker transition from helpless victim, through predator toying with his prey, to the moment of the pounce itself, all within three pages. The Joker’s made for these sorts of situations, the ones where even though you hope and pray for the best and on the surface of it everything looks okay, you just know everything’s gonna tumble. Because contrary to popular belief, it’s not the expression in the Joker’s eyes you should be watching, but his smile. That horrible, unchanging toothy trapdoor over the abyss. Marauder of Mirth, Clown at Midnight (Omega-Joker, lasting as long as it took Batman to be broken), Papa Gay Day (as seen this ish!) – the shaggy dog story around it may change, but the punchline always stays the same.
Ho! Irony! Robin bashing out the Joker’s brains?!? How do we cap that? The answer is gloomily obvious. But not gloomy in a boring way. In a stomach sinking way.
I mean, didn’t you start to get the fear by page three? That bit where the Joker gets to his feet and he’s about twohundredmillion times bigger than the little boy beating up on him. We’re in the upside down hell-world of farce, where everything’s a joke and contrary to Hurt’s pretensions there’s no-one more at home here than Mr. J. This is where he lives, and its time the darkness was made visible. Seriously, he’s not even trying to hide the fact that he’s playing with Damian as he gropes towards him, and it’s terrifying. The WooaOooOAAH! monster grasping for the child – nightmarish. I’m surprised nobody’s commented on this frankly.
I’m trying to figure out why the ‘a smiling Robin, a laughing young daredevil’ line is so wrong. There’s the fact that the Joker’s the ultimate perv and we never know how things are going to go, obvs, but I think it’s also got something to do with how far we’ve gone since that kind of robin made any sense, how far the Joker’s gone, and how Damian’s rictus grin here indirectly desecrates that space, his stilted HA-HA’s and malfunctioning A-HA replacing the natural, easy hysterics of his predecessor, of childhood. Is this how the Joker sees laughter? As a mechanical response to universal injustice? Uh, yeah, I guess it is.
Pretty joyless. Who was it posted here ages ago about how the Joker’s jokes shouldn’t be funny, who I argued with at the time but would now like to apologise to and agree with?
One of the reasons the Joker’s such a great foil for Batman is because he’s all devious schemes, he’s all mind, having none of the advantages (most of the time, depending on his mood), the vehicles and the gadgets, his enemy has. Here Morrison returns to a story idea he played with in JLA Classified, where the superhero is hijacked and used as a weapon, and it’s an elegant solution to the Joker’s predicament, very convincing, and serves as a really good example of the core Joker ingredient above. Joker, like Batman, must always have an escape route. He must always win, but never *win*.
Except maybe here, where Bruce Wayne’s temporarily been wiped off the board.
You have to marvel, don’t you, that the Joker’s still such an awesome villain? Even though it was cool of him to provide it, you can’t help feeling Morrison didn’t need to slather on the super MPD thing – that we always knew the Joker represents the primal force of chaos with which man contends and whose absolute relevancy doesn’t require explanation. Or maybe it did. Just to excavate further, make things explicit, retro-fit some nice drama (the chill we felt when Joker referred to playing ‘practical jokes’ back in Last Rites – the gloomy, doomy inevitability of Jason’s death juxtaposed with silly breath holding contests), create potential story engines and to be all post-modern like. Actuallu, shut it, me. It was a brilliant idea.
Whatever, I love the notion that the Joker is 100% aware of his condition, that it’s not strictly speaking psychosis at all (‘I’m not mad… I’m just differently sane.’), in that he’s aware of it. It’s like he’s in control of not being in control, or something…. or not in control of not being in control…. an evil zen master.
Anyway, that door going… The dragon breaths out. (actually, I’m sure many of you hated it, but I think there was something to the chinese dragon tatooed Joker of Miller’s ASBAR books. A No Mind-prize to the reader with the best tabloidesque title for *that* jokerific incarnation!)
PAGES 6 TO 7: PYG IN HIS STYEEEEEEEE
Pyg refers to the ‘multitudes of the mother goat’. This finds its cthuloid correlate in Shub Niggurath, the Black Goat of the woods with a thousand young, an occassionally female demon who may or may not have something to say about the meaningless and mechanically random awfulness of creation and generation – perfect mother for Pyg, then. Inspite of the aha-ing over at Comics Alliance none of the dialogue in this scene 100% confirms that Hurt created Pyg, but Hurt’s understanding of Pyg’s condition, his care (‘be sick in this bucket pyg…‘), his knowledge of his history and correspondingly his ability to push his buttons, his predeliction for monster-making and the mother metaphor which may serve as the overlap between both characters, strongly suggest that this is the case. Hurt’s ‘I challenged him to outline his personal vision for Gotham.’ line could be taken in a couple of ways, that Pyg’s Gotham’s new urban planner, his personal vision of Hell on Earth brought to life by Hurt, or as a coded metaphor for Hurt actualising Pyg’s latent madness, neither of which are mutually exclusive.
Regardless, Pyg is crucified upside down which is the best way to get around in this town.
Now, because I can’t seem to find David Uzemeri’s Funnybook Babylon annotations anywhere and I can’t remember if anyone’s mentioned this before, has anyone commented on the gun thing yet? I don’t mean the practising for Grayson’s head thing, not that. No, the more obvious thing. The thing about the Gun being the weapon of the bat-demon. The thing about it being Batman’s alpha and omega. Sacred Gun. Holy Gun. Our gun ascendent, in heaven, when heaven is below.
I told you. Upside down.
So we have Muller, Hurt and Darkseid, all with guns, all different iterations of the same principle. The principle of negation. Murder.
Quickly: the pumpkin isn’t just a head, though, it’s Halloween also. The night when the Devil and his minions come out play.
Let’s go there. Here’s a wild and wacky theory for you. The bat-coffin is an avatar for the ancestor box itself, the hyperdimensional cage within which Bruce and his entire timeline is trapped. The thing obviously has an infinitely recursive structure, which is why its contents are terrifying to behold and why its opening brings about the moment where you see the time solid itself, the All Over. It’s also why it’s full of bat-history, diaries and all the rest, the entire continuity. The suggestion so far is that this reality is in some way sick and that when it is freed it will subsume and replace its host, all in all leaving us very gloomy about Bruce’s eventual fate. Hurt with his publicity campaign and insistent bat-revisionism is softening reality up for the day when his lies become truth – Barbatos, the inverted bat-world, triumphant.
What if the demon was Bruce all along, like we said? That ‘It’s all theater, Senator’. Just a farce. A Joke. I love thinking of Doctor Hurt as just another of the Joker’s jokes. I wonder what the implications might be (the first, most amusing and most likely to be wrong idea that pops into my head is that the ‘demon’ Thomas and Jefferson summoned may in reality have been the Joker dressed up in one of Bruce’s more outlandish and disturbing bat-suits. You want Farce? How about if the cause of all this weirdness was the zebra-batman? I actually want this to be the case now, and will be significantly disappointed if it isn’t.)
Now that Batman’s contracted the nu-gods legendary disease and been converted to Myth, it becomes a question of whose myth is more enduring, his or Hurt’s. 702 confirmed BATMAN(R)’s awareness of itself….. and now it can fight back.
I’d like to see Christian Bale work that shit out.
That’s some Reed Richards shit.
PAGES 8 TO 11: ATTACK OF THE DOLLATRONS
One of the guns Bruce will come in blazing has to be the Miagani, or as they’re currently called the 99 Fiends. The Bat-Myth, originating with him, spews out progeny and legacy in all directions across space-time, it’s a highly virile idea, tapping into the fundamental myth of Man against the Unknown. Hurt’s on the other hand is a sterile lie, flimsy and weak as his vanity. One is self-annhilating, the other hungry for replication. It’s the individual ego versus a timeless idea. I know who my money’s on. There’s a reason why all Hurt’s creations emerge stillborne. All he wants of the universe is for it to be a shiny, mindless mirror that he can prance about in front of in his special Batman suit. Petty little man.
(Morrison knows most villains are petty – see his treatment of Magneto, Doctor Doom and Lex Luthor – and could that be why he respects the Joker so much? Because in the end the Joker’s not? Because there’s something valid to the way he sees the world)
Anyway, a single Batman can handle a horde of Hurt’s abortions, as evidenced by this page.
Another note on the colours: we’re still at the circus, aren’t we? Direction? Not direction? Intentional at all? Who cares. And again with the put-on theme – it’s all a show….
PAGES 12 TO 13: DAY 2
I think it’s safe to assume that Dick successfully fought his was out of the batmobile’s burst radius and then staggered off to Wayne Tower, but who knows. Dave Uzumeri’s right, that DAY 2 obscures a lot.
But it’s also totally rad.
I like how Pyg’s bloated appearance is rationalised across his desire to perfect himself. That his version of perfection, the perfection of ‘handsome men on television’, the perfection of the abyss, is achieved via botox, and is as hollow as the space behind a TV screen. I also like the continuation of the show theme – check the illuminated make-up mirror and Pyg’s hunched lovey pose. Is that a syringe or a cigarette in a holder? Marlena Dietrich in the underworld.
I’m just taking a moment here to gawp with doleful happiness at the procession of Baddies marching towards the camera at the bottom of page 13. For me they almost sum up Grant’s run, the big bad, Dr. Hurt, who (give a fuck if it predates him because it adds depth if you know and just looks cool if you don’t) owns every scene his special batsuit features in, Pyg, the more garden variety villain excavating a latent bat-aesthetic, carnivalesque, which should really get a look in much more than it has in the past, and finally the henchmen, the dollatrons, about a primal as a bat-henchman can be, invoking the Joker, all of whom feel as though they could’ve been batvillains from way back, but are entirely original. This stuff isn’t easy at all. Well done Grant.
PAGES 14 TO 15: BEST. GAG. EVER.
It’s cool how Dick deals instantly when he realizes its the Joker on the phone, launching straight into spare, command speech (‘Where is he? …I know it’s the Black Glove you want..’ – building boxes) But the thing is it’s not Dick’s story, it’s the Joker’s. We thought it was one way, but….
Or maybe it is.
‘I prepared the mansion and the cave as you requested, sir.’
PAGE 16 TO 22: YOUR KNIGHTS HAVE FALLEN AND THE BOARD IS MINE!
I’m not really sure what it is I’m looking at here. Is Gordon supposed to be raised above his – impressionistic to the point of being confusing – audience? And this is Crime Alley? This is where you get naughty, Irving! No screwing with the clarity of scenes!
It’s not such a big thing, though.
I totally agree about Hurt linking in with the Crime Bible people, and now all that ‘Capital City of Crime!’ stuff. Let’s see what comes of it.
So, we’re on a stage, Hurt whispering at Pyg from the wings… More of this stuff. It’s everywhere. Really.
Another grumble, actually: Irving! I know it’s difficult to pull off, but the audience succumbing to the airborne Joker venom should be clearer! Golden dominoes of death are cool, however – the last to go before we get to all the domino rally style stunts. Just the big domino set pieces to go now lads, Pyg and Hurt.
Irving is very good at action scenes, and this bendy Gordon’s eye view one is especially skill, the drug effects transforming everything into a funhouse mirror reality (I won’t pretend that’s another example of the farce/show theme – that’d be reaching. I know the difference. Do you?).
Of course Batman makes short work of Pyg. Shut up, pervert.
This really is the mother of all indignities to be heaped on Gordon, isn’t it? An old man on a heroin analog. Grim. You wouldn’t get that in a Superman book.
And finally Hurt confirms what we always knew and he first expressed very clearly in Batman and Robin 12 via that line about ‘coming at us out the east’, that the fight as far as he’s concerned is between him and the Joker, Gotham’s second most powerful guardian spirit after Bruce Wayne. No one seems to’ve mentioned he’s talking to us also. The reader really does feel helpless at this point. And… could Hurt’s reach extend as far as…. HERE.
PAGE 23: WAY TOO SERIOUS.
But one thing has reinforced the idea of this whole run as performance, a show, more than any other: the NEXT IN pages, and especially the lead-in to this one with Hurt and the Joker speaking directly to camera. It’s like the cliffhanger ending of a particularly terrifying saturday night adventure serial, with both archfiends gloating over their victories, the heroes at their mercy. I feel as though I’ve seen something like this before, and regardless of whether or not I can confirm it, that’s a good thing. I feel like it gave me nightmares. Irving’s Joker should give you nightmares. Page twenty three is just a balls out triumph. Amazing.
Joker can creep through any window anywhere. How many times has he covorted about the batcave right under Bruce’s nose, making waggly antennae fingers behind his bat-ears?
And now for some speculation.
At first glance one would assume the serious person referred to by the Joker is Damian, but some other ideas have flitted about in the emails. Jason for one, and the other… Perhaps this is a rescue mission.
Maybe the gravedigger intends to dig up Bruce
You know, it really is a very good idea, this whole Joker vs Hurt thing. Joker is probably as offended as Bruce with this upstart usurper playing fast and loose with bat-history. It affects him just as powerfully. This is the only possible scenario where I would buy Batman and Robin working for the Joker, but I buy it completely, which just goes to show how topsy turvy everything’s got.
Zom: Cavorting about the Batcave under Bruce’s nose making finger antennae? Creepy as fuck. Someone take heed.