March 28th, 2011
Before we get into this.
Zom constantly upbraids me for caring about such things, but I’m just too irritated by the internet’s monthly refrain of ‘it was too all over the place’, often followed by ‘it was too hard to understand’ not to have a moan. It’s almost the stock criticism of Morrison these days and it’s simply a question of who will be uttering it this time around. One month someone over here is complaining that the writing is too ‘scattershot’ and dense while over here someone else is defending the comic as a shining example of Morrison at his most accessible, and the next the roles are reversed, a tango unto death. I say balls! to this and hereby usher in the long overdue Age of The Three Rereads. From now on no one is allowed to utter the words ‘hard to follow’, ‘confusing’, ‘unrelated plots’ or the like without having read the comic three times. We all know it takes a while for the massive info-dump to settle, so it’s only fair we behave accordingly and give the comic room to breathe after a breathless first hit. Obviously this rule doesn’t apply if you’re a casual reader, but critics owe it to themselves and their readership. My general feeling is that the tonal shifting and fizzing ideas add to the reading experience, creating contrasts, generating depth and a sense of length and substance. And isn’t this super important in the case of a twenty page comic (not that this one is, mind)? It’s not density and narrative commotion I’m concerned about, but slightness, and although you can’t fashion positives out of negatives it’s hugely refreshing for me that Morrison’s books never suffer from this problem.
Sure, it’s not as simple and streamlined as Inc’s first two issues, but just to be clear, this comic, inspite of some of the negative press out there, isn’t very hard to understand and will be remembered fondly. I’d hate to be a critic of DC comics generally, I really would. There really is no comparison between a book like this and most of the crap that gets produced. The measure of its goodness is completely different and an undifferentiated grading system that doesn’t take this into account is just nonsense.
We know that this must take place after the events depicted at the beginning of Batman Incorporated 3 because this is evidently Doctor Dedalus trapped on the as yet unspecified falkland island. We do not, however, know if this is the present day or if it’s already happened, if Dedalus has already escaped. I like the spider motif here, the idea of the monster not trapped but waiting at the heart of his web, fingering and fine tuning each of its invisible chords, conducting an invisible symphony of evil, or just flailing around like a mad bloke.
With his Cloak of Smoke he’s the first storm cloud in the sunny Batman Incorporated sky.
And then there’s the similarity between Dedalus and this guy.
The Ouroboros is afterall an alchemical symbol and there’s something peculiarly magickal about Dedalus. The old hermit on the island with all the secrets of the world in his head, working the great work.
Anyway, I love the ‘ring around the world’ thing. It’s beautiful. Turns the Earth into Saturn or Uranus. Makes everything alien.
Johnny Valentine’s acid spray might be easily obtained on Gotham’s super-crime infested streets, but there’s always the equally likely possibility it’s not and that this common thug’s been kitted out by…. someone else.
Kane’s Kolossal Karnival… Is this code? Were the Kane family involved with the Klan? Did they make their money in the plantations? The curse of Kane implies doomed, evil endeavours, a family fated to do the wrong thing and pay for it.
Part of me wonders if this is the same carnival the Joker and Pyg used as a base of operations, revived now in the wake of trapeze artist Dick Grayson donning the cape and cowl. I wouldn’t put it past Gotham. Metropolis definitely, but not Gotham.
PAGES 2 & 3
This is the part of the story haunting the margins of Batman and Batwoman’s. Not only is it directly related to the overarching narrative of Batman Inc the comic, but to both characters’ investigations and the emotional core of Batman and Gaucho’s fight, so shut up non-critics. It’s also doomed, the bright sunshine resolving into the noirish, german expressionist shadows. Hands up who guessed agent 33 was Gaucho!
Gaucho’s still a charmer.
And you get a special no-prize if you guessed Agent Zero was Dr Dedalus. Zero = ring. Also the card’s a pretty big clue.
A spiral zeroes down into infinity, like the numbers of the agents counting backwards to their commander.
‘I’m doing what any grieving widow would do on the day she buried her husband. I Plan to flirt with Death until his bony little heart breaks in two.’
It’s pithy little asides like this that more than anything else keep me reading Morrison’s comics. Kathy’s clearly reckless and suicidal.
Anyway, one thing I particularly like about Burnham’s pencils and Fairbairn’s colours is the way these flashback sequences evoke Quitely circa Flex Mentallo. I could go on about the excellence of this art team forever. OMG we’re being spoiled with this book. I dread the coming of Clark. That guy looks proper baby-time.
Kathy Kane, then, was clearly a match for the young Batman. When I first read RIP I was like ‘bollocks is she Bruce’s equal‘, but Morrison clears that up in a single caption box. She was a polymath: a spy, critically acclaimed film maker, poet and accomplished martial artist. She was a celebrity and a mega-rich heiress. But more than that she was adventurer and she was driven. Probably the only woman in the history of Batman’s love life to mesh with him so completely. I’m sold on this love affair and I’m sick to the gills that it didn’t work out and she died. Poor Kath. I’m surprised she lasted as long as she did, though, given her devil may care nature. In the old comics Batman seems painfully aware that more than anything else she’s in it for the thrill.
At least her marriage to Nathan Kane clears up any worries about her and Bruce being cousins or whatever.
It’s interesting that amongst the films she directed there’s one called Ariadne’s Sewing Machine, which of course is another iteration of the maze theme that features so predominantly in this book, Ariadne being the provider of the thread that led Theseus out of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth. There’s another, oblique, Borgesian connection here – his short story, the House of Asterion, tells the story of the minotaur from his own perspective. It’s excellent. You should read it. Other than that there’s also the circular title Mirrorrorrim, a word-ring if ever there was one. Does this mean Kathy Knew something of Oroboro before she joined Spyral? She was a spy afterall. Will Batman find clues to avoid disaster in these films? Will Ariadne’s Sewing Machine provide a way out of the maze?
‘We have to play for time until I can hack the locks on the doors to the boiler room.’
Fuck all explanation or exposition, just action, just movement. I’ve talked before about how, because he’s a detective, Batman is perfect for Morrison’s compressed style. Part of the reason this comic is able to race ahead at the speed It does is because its characters process information so quickly, quicker in fact than many readers. Batman just needs to glance at the video screen and he knows where Sombrero is and what to do. I love this approach. Not only does it allow for lots of story, but it also frames Batman, Batwoman, etc. as being better at this shit than YOU. Most of us have to go back and reread to figure out some of the action, and while this might alienate some readers, it makes perfect sense in a comic about detectives who never miss a beat.
I don’t know if Morrison intended all this when he came up with his name, but Sombrero’s pretty cool in the translation: maker of shades. Of course this can be taken two ways, as a cover, a shelter or a house or, more metaphorically, as describing a killer. Combine the two and you’ve got a house full of deathtraps. Now of course that’s what he’s become, his body, his house, a lethal trap for his soul. The guy’s so much nastier like this too. More motivated.
And did you know some types of scorpions glow blue when exposed to UV? Scorpiana’s well disco.
‘Batman! Tell me did you suspect our noble Gaucho was responsible for the death of the first woman you truly loved?’
I like the way Scorpiana’s all about the venom all the time. Even her words are poisonous. She doesn’t speak unless to sting.
Kathy Kane was indeed murdered, rather summarily, by Denny O’Neil and the Sensei’s men in Detective Comics 485. I haven’t read around the story in much detail, but it seems even then the Sensei’s informant was in doubt. It’s suggested that it was Ra’s al Ghul, but in 485 at least it’s never really confirmed.
I can’t remember, but I’m sure it’s already been suggested that the head of Leviathan/KULTEK might be the Sensei. It would make sense given that the yantra in the background of the last scene in Return is Kali’s, the Indian goddess of death. Dedalus and the Sensei would probably have a lot in common - a couple of nasty old men out to destroy civilization. Having said that, though: two evil old men?
What a great panel. I hate to say it ’cause Burnham’s his own man, but, again, it’s pure Quitely.
At this point I think it’s fair to say that the murders are sacrificial and in part magickal in intention. Three represents the first return to unity after the primordial dot – dot, line, triangle – a theme which is reemphasized by the fact that each of the victims is of the same type, everything an articulation of the qualities of the Ouroboros. It’s difficult to know what these triple slayings will actually mean in real world terms, but the death of the marines may connect to the international incident that leads to Sombrero’s prophesied war.
As for the swinging on the funfair ride thing, it’s great and of course it’s always fun to see ‘acrobatic’ superheroes negotiate space other than skyscrapers. This was one of the great pleasures of Blackest Knight’s opening sequence and a way into handling superheroes outside of America.
Morrison clearly really digs Batwoman. It’s criminal that a superhero with a look as iconic as her’s is still lacking her own book. Zom reckons it’s due to homophobia. I hope he’s wrong.
Shades of Mickey Eye on the ghost train car’s detailing. Suppose it’s reminiscent of the eye in the web too.
Have to say, it’s weird that the bad guys are theatrical enough to get one of their agents up as Batwoman. I mean it’s cool and all, but does it serve any purpose other than to freak Kate out? Is it bait to reel Kate in? I love the little detail of her beckoning while reaching into her utility purse for God knows what killer kosmetic.
PAGES 10 & 11
That first panel. Just Wow. Burnham: WOW.
‘She’d known men with the single minded drive and resources it might take to wage a one man war on crime….. The widow Kathy Kane considered the best way to attract one-pointed attention of that kind of man…’
Kathy Kane is just too cool. She’s positioned so convincingly as someone who could at least temporarily get the better of the young Bruce Wayne. My g/f, who is a massive feminist, loved Morrison’s Catwoman in Batman Inc 1 (it was only insecure men who couldn’t see past the theatrical leg rubbing and purring in the sexy scenes – any full bloodied woman could see both gazes, male and female, were catered to) and even though she hasn’t read this issue, I’m sure she’d feel similarly about Kathy Kane. Another strong, interesting female character from Morrison. The bastard, I hate him and his schtick for making me care about dead characters. I want this lady back. But I don’t want her back too. Fans shouldn’t be given what they want.
The action in these two pages is a mash up of the events of Tec 233, which features Batwoman’s first appearance, and the results of the Comics Alliance competition where they offered the winner a chance to ‘star’ in the comic. The acronyms DCU and CBA stand for DC Universe and Comics Alliance respectively. I think I’ve found Stoja’s pic online and he’s not as chubby as Burnham’s drawing makes him out to be.
Seems Jimmy the Jackdaw’s a Morrison original. Jackdaw’s are traditionally associated with stealing shiny objects.
Now’s as good a time as any for this little rant.
I appreciate why some people might find the campy fifties’ dialogue jarring – afterall, it is - and in this issue there’s a big fat chunk of it, but it works for me: like the benday dots it not only serves to indicate the past but a romantic past, part of a semiology of reminisence. It also creates a lovely tension between itself and the nastier scenes, a trick employed in comics and especially by Morrison since year dot, and did we forget how it’s fun?
Do you know WHY they did it? Why they spoke like that? That’s the real question. Well you have to remember they were still figuring it out. Nowadays heroes take it for granted that they can come to a fight as themselves, with all their worries about the cat and the flooded bathroom in tow, and they’ll be accepted anyway, that the public not only trust or are resigned enough to the sight of a superhero by now, but that they’re active participants in the meaning of the superhero event. Not so in the old days. Back then the superhero was an awesome, world shaking thing to behold, let alone wield. The primary concern was to inspire trust, not only in the frail mortals within whose midst they made their battleground, but in themselves, because it would be so easy to slip up, so easy to lose control of all that power. When you think about it in these terms it makes perfect sense that a distinctly superheroic language emerged, ripped straight out of pre-existing heroic narratives, films, adventure stories and myth, narratives where there was no moral grey area, where heroes were always heroes and no one ever slipped. Not everyone sounded like that, but most of the big guns did, and remember a lot of them were packing kids. Another thing that can’t be underestimated was how embarrassing it all was. Everybody felt a little bit silly beneath those costumes and some people simply found coming off like a comic book hero or bad guy a really good way into their role. Oftentimes on missions it was just too much hassle to continually switch modes, depending on whether you were talking to your partner, Commisioner Gordon, the Joker or the general public, so these were often seamless performances.
I wrote a whole bunch of stuff about why and how Batman embraced this stuff more than any other superhero, but I deleted it. We can hammer it out in the comments if you like. And I don’t want to hear any dumb shit about rationalisations etc. Morrison’s work encourages this sort of game playing and it’s fun.
The last panel
kinda inverts this one.
Bruce’s rather unreconstructed attitude is offset nicely by Kathy’s joke. Just as in the third panel where she responds to Batman’s ‘Nobody can where a Batman costume in Gotham but me’ with an incredulous ‘Ridiculous!’, I love the way she refuses to dignify his bullshit with a real argument. Women have had to quietly tolerate this sort of stupidity for ages. Here, Batwoman, with her handbag of tricks and her glamorous unutilitarian costume is Sex and the City vs The Wire and in typical male fashion Bruce poo-poos what he doesn’t understand, dismissing it as a silly frivolity. I dig the way even Bruce Wayne can slip up in his gender politics.
What Bruce doesn’t know is that Kathy’s flashy for a reason, she wants his attention, and she’s not really a superhero at all, but a spy – specifically a spy spying on him.
We last saw this sequence in Last Rites but it’s accreted a ton more depth this time around.
That kiss is great. I want it blown up on my wall. Batman is totally pwned.
I’ll let Bobsy have a crack at the Robin sequence.
‘the best scene was robin playing with ace – his protestation about batgirl forcing himself on her (note no indication that he fought her off [Drake would have done - Amy]); and his wonderfully acute and totally fan-centric judgement that the proliferation of masks makes things seem silly, like they don’t matter. I am generally of the adult opinion that the more superhero costumes exist on the planet the better, but I remember feeling that way very keenly when i was about his age.’
It’s hard to say whether or not prismatism damages a hero’s brand integrity. It’s working fine for me at the moment.
‘The year turned, spinning on wheels within wheels.’
Like a spiral. Plans within plans. Ever since Sandman these sorts of cutesy flashbacks always spin out into an inevitably grim end.
PAGES 14 & 15
Back to trippy land. And here we get Batman Gold! When I annocommentated Last Rites I mentioned how the weird alien beastie
looked a tad like the busted and abandoned Archon ‘vehicle’ in The Invisibles
and I think its worth reprising again here.
This sort of scene can be taken in two ways. There’s the hard literalist materialist interpretation, that this is all in Batwoman and Batman’s head, and then there’s the wacky DCU/lovecraftian interpretation – the drug’s a super drug and the freaky world they’re half in and out of is real, perhaps all around us all the time, but unseen. I prefer the second reading, obvs. Just to say, too, that I love the moebius-y colours and tiny alien bloke here:
Don’t know if was in the script, but whoever thought to make the reference is a good time good boy.
And just when things get really pink…..
it’s that Leviathan red again. Obviously Leviathan is what Spyral’s become. A Spectre for the Batverse.
That room with the spider tank is totally terrifying.
Even though it’s hard to say if Dr Dedalus’s plans are specifically fascist in the Nazi sense of the word, from one point of view there’s something distinctly fascist about the Ouroboros as a symbol. Let me hand you over to Plato for a moment and his description of the first living thing.
The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet.
If this being were to manifest in our world, we might be looking at a fascist society – no differentiation, everything utterly self reflexive, eternal and in perfect unity. In fact the snake eating its own tail is probably a better description of fascism than the Roman’s bound twigs. This is some Outer Church shit right here.
Again, depending on your point of view.
Whatever, Dedalus is scary as fuck.
‘Do you wear his ring but call him Batman in bed?’
I might have mentioned this before, but I love the grand old tradition of superheroes wearing their masks in bed. One of my first kinky sex experiences was the Black Cat telling Spiderman to keep his mask on while they were making out. I reckon Kathy could get with this kind of stuff. She’s a bad girl…. and we all know Bruce is a bad boy. God knows what he and Jezebel Jet got up to. They must’ve really been working out some dark shit. Or maybe they liked the tension between the mutual hate they felt and the sweet, sweet missionary they made.
Have I gone too far? Surely not! This is the Post Neonomicon Age!
PAGES 16 & 17
‘….Me, Dance? What? I was busy working out how to survive a SWAT team assault when people my age were out dancing.’
If I need to explain the amazingness of this to you then there’s no hope.
‘Think of it as a martial art.’
Like when I was a kid learning about soft martial arts like Tai Chi. …I’m sure Tango del Muerte can be used for punching though, ’cause otherwise this is well gay.
Rationalised the furrowbrowed fan.
Just as the traditional forms of tango describe the heat of love, the coming together of two bodies in unison, so the slow, resigned movements of the mournful Tango del Muerte tells the tale of their parting. Joking aside, people’s reaction to this – not that I’ve read anything negative yet – probably tells us something about their attitudes towards traditionally feminine interests. This comic really does have a secret, gentle and cheeky feminist agenda.
Anyway, this is a great scene. Just as cool as the fight that would normally take its place. The sixties TV show is alive and well in the pages of Batman Inc.
‘Because… Sometimes I watch you and your teenaged pal bounding across the rooftops with big grins on your faces… and I remember how Old I am. I don’t want to feel like Mommy at a costume party that has to end sometime. And I don’t want bat-babies, Bruce.’
You get the feeling that even though Kathy’s been forced into this position by Dedalus, there’s a smidgen of truth to her words. She certainly wouldn’t be the first woman to raise an incredulous eyebrow at Bruce’s obsession. Batman, with his constant veering into ‘realism’, is the hero most open to this kind of criticism. He subjects himself to it the most readily.
The way the picture unravels like Bruce’s heart is an oldie but a goodie.
It’s the modern crime fighting woman vs her unreconstructed counterpart! In the light of women’s emancipation how does this figure look now, with her mace face-powder and hypno-lipstick? Are we ready to own these things again? To enjoy them? I know I am. I like that Kate Kane has a choice though. That she can be as Batman as Batman if she chooses to be.
The advanced meta-material (codenamed ‘oroboro’, I assume) in question is still a mystery but it sounds an awful lot like it shares the same properties as the Invisibles’ Magic Mirror, that’s if I’m right in assuming it collapses time. We’ll see. I wonder how it’ll look this time.
What’s Dedalus’s cloak made of?
Well, I have no idea where Kate could’ve ‘seen this girl before’. Are we supposed to be able to guess?
‘I have reason to suspect there’s something on an island in South America that could blow a hole in the world.’
Will we see Batwoman pursue this in Inc or in her own, much delayed, book? Whatever, Grant’s going with the tradition here, locating an escaped nazi superscientist/nazi plot in South America. Makes sense that Dedlaus would’ve worked for the UN or the American Govt first too. We all know so many of them did.
‘I always wanted to build a death trap as big as the world!’
The Earth, the Maker of Shades.
I can almost hear the William Dozier-style narration. These cliffhanger bits are just marvellous. Especially effective here, I think, because of the way each different story strand comes together for the cliffhanger, the text serving as verbal exclamation marks, ramping up the drama. I also really like the way these cliffhangers provide Morrison with very definite questions to be answered in the next ‘episode’. I think it might force him to be more concise. This time we did indeed find out all about the ‘bitter sting of betrayal’ and perhaps next time we’ll have a much clearer picture of what’s going on with Dedalus.
Anyway, let’s go through each panel.
The first one is just great. The day’s end. Sad and beautiful. Not melodramatic, but understated. I presume those are Dedalus’s doctors to his right.
And the next one…
‘”They will be here soon to set me free…”‘
Who? The Leviathan people? I imagine so. Maybe Batman fucks up and somehow sets him free.
‘Give my regards to the Maestro when you meet him… You venomous bitch….’
Maestro meaning master musician. Suits the symphonic stuff there in the visuals.
The stuff about Scorpiana and Sombrero having been lovers is a nice detail. This issue is a Batman romance comic afterall, and it’s interesting to set the villains selfish desires off against the heroic Batman and Batwoman’s. As in the story of the fox and the scorpian, in accordance with her nature Scorpiana’s only ultimately able to betray. I’ve never thought much about the love lives of the supervillainous. The female villains only seem to want to flirt with the heroes and most of the male villains are either completely desexed or their sexual urges so bound up with the thanatic as to be impossible to separate out into anything resembling normal, everyday desire. Judging by the language Sombrero employs here – ‘venomous bitch…’ – I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want to get too close to these two and their weird anti-love.
‘Most days it does not snow on cue…. Today is different.’
I presume it’s snowing in the first panel, but… It’s definitely snowing here, the video screens flooded with static.
Not Burnham’s best drawing this issue, but scary nevertheless. What’s particularly creepy and alarming is the way, in a beat, Scorpiana’s disappeared and been replaced by the vengeful Batman. You can almost imagine the rhythm of breath on Sombrero’s neck remaining unbroken. Both Batman and Scorpiana are leant an air of the supernatural by this sequence. Oh yeah, but in keeping with the ‘only scares the guilty’ thing, in the background the kids have been freed. We get both Batmen here, then – the unholy bat-terror and the superhero.
I wonder if he’s going to torture the fucker a little bit before he hands him over to the authorities. Just a little bit. A quick burst of a few hundred volts and a nose rubbed in sewage, nothing more.