January 24th, 2013
Script by Grant Morrison. Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn. DC Comics.
[The term 'Batman' here simultaneously refers both to both the well known character/intellectual property featured in a variety of widely distributed cultural products that bear his brand, and to those products themselves.]
Darkseid God of Evil, rampant and triumphant both yesterday and today, with hope for tomorrow growing fainter, defeated Batman with a weapon called the Hyper-Adapter. With the contours of time itself as its teeth, it appeared in various forms across history, but struck its fatal blow as a large, beaten old bat that one night crashed through a window in bleeding billionaire Bruce Wayne’s mansion. Darkseid’s victory against Earth’s favourite superhero IS: Batman was his servant all along.
The Batman’s career heretofore was an elaborate shell game: to build trust; neutralise (recruit) potential enemies; and establish networks, infrastructure and materiel. The fascist Incorporated project represents the culmination of Apokolips’ plan – open appropriation of transnational military-security processes.
Talia Al Ghul (Leviathan) plots to dismantle and replace the energy systems currently destroying the human biosphere. Despite the usual misogynistic slurs – bad mother, wrathful and irrational, holder of deathly mysteries – it is clear from this alone that she is the necessary hero of the piece. Batman (Behemoth) - polluted and possessed by malignant extraterrestrial entities from the moment he reached for a bell to summon his first servant to his conspiracy – opposes her. The desired catastrophe resulting from continued use of existing energy systems is i) crisis to precipitate global imposition of Batman Incorporated control solutions (Anti-Life) and ii) terraforming.
This is an unusual direction for a superhero narrative to take. The form in its monthly churn is as hungry for novelty – or its appearance through superficial recombination of standard elements – as any other facet of showbusiness, so it’s not as if the Batman’s turn into villainy real and fictional was impossible to predict.
The casual – and almost deliberately self-deluding – revelation of Batman himself as planetary-level threat does however bespeak a genuine perversity beyond that which other current examples of the form commonly strive for, making this an unusual and noteworthy example beyond its considerable thrill-power levels. In any form a high thrill count is often a successful mask for subcutaneous irregularities in the text, but here they actively draw attention to them. The splicing of The Raid with The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, forced and fuzzy as it gets (who’s the ox again?), is the kind of dazzling placatory gesture that all adventure-combat narratives should be able to deploy as necessary. But Talia’s mockingly over-effusive commentary of Batman’s explosive acrobatics oversell the misdirection: if the putative villain is being employed to tell you how good the hero is being, you’re probably being lied to. You should not have to be told that the superhero is doing well. The superhero should be engaged in pursuits that do not require context or description – their goodness should be self evident.
This is a Batman with ulterior motives. It might not, for instance, want you to notice the skin colour of the people the superhero is assaulting.
The Hyper-Adapter has weaponised the paper in your hand to further Darkseid’s agenda. It does not have your best interest at heart – it just wants your money and your mind’s eye. In the face of Talia’s strategy, her understanding and instrumentalising of king mob (the realisation of proletarian desire being an important aspect of Batman’s ultimate nightmare, as we saw last issue), the comic itself will play dirty in its attempt to get the reader back onside.
Talia’s critique of the Batman Incorporated project is so devastating it can only be counterbalanced by an appeal to the reader’s crudest sympathies: go for the heart strings and pray the head stops working. Here the emotional manipulation is a generic staple – kill the hapless helper / sadface sidekick: poor old never-quite made it Cyril Sheldrake aka The Knight, dead and shown dead – just to remind you in the basest way who the baddie is supposed to be here.
There lies the crux of this problem, the toxic nature of the vile poison leaking from the comic, the invisible serrations on the paper’s edges. Wear gloves. Wash your hands. Because childishly redrawing the battle lines in a super hero comic that’s in danger of getting too complex and discovering something important about itself by having a Muslamic Bat-Wrong coldly execute a lovably bumbling member of the British ruling class (one of the world’s longest running and most murderous crime organisations), today, places you firmly on the wrong side of human decency. Bending your knee before the Queen of Evil England lets everyone know.
If you assert or advocate the existence of a ‘meritocracy’ you invoke its logical corollary. If the good are rewarded, the rewarded must be good. Your masters deserve their wealth, you deserve your subservience. This is one of the many ideological positions enforced in recent years to keep reactionary social relations like the British class system in place. Plucky strivers like Beryl are allowed in, because their labour is required – temporarily – and can be counted on to continue supporting the existing system, at the expense of the welfare of who she left behind: She’s super now, so she needn’t worry about the little people, the victims to be fought over, kept obediently safe to validate the adventurism of the overlords. Justified by Batman-Darkseid’s flattery and lies she needn’t recognise the reality of their desire or seek to empower it.
I’m glad Cyril’s dead, only sad he’ll be replaced. Where do I sign up for Leviathan?