fuck-yeah-with-the-jla

We’re going to take a look at some FUCK YEAH!* moments and see what makes them tick, and, you know, hopefully get all FUCK YEAH! about ‘em all over again/for the first time. Needless to say, here be spoilers. Many, many, many spoilers. Sensitive children may wish to avert their gaze.

Now then, let’s have a look at the Morrison penned, Porter pencilled JLA #3, and a seriously bat [sic] dose of arse kicking

*Credit is due to Dave “Longbox/Society of Dave” Campbell for coming up with the concept

The setup, for those of you that don’t know (for shame), is that the Hyperclan, a bunch of alien superheroes, have come to Earth and defeated Crime and Suffering thanks to their supreme arse kicking skillz and a willingness to incinerate supervillains. Naturally the JLA, just like you and me, know that you can’t defeat Crime and Suffering, and that human beings need to control their own destiny and other stuff and naturally smell a rat, so they go and investigate and surprise, surprise get ambushed by the ne’er-do-well Clan and are summarily thrown into elaborate sci-fi torture machines. All except Batman, that is, who is apparently killed by the skull-faced clanner, and pseudo-Batman analogue, A-Mortal, in a mid air confrontation involving the Batplane, lasers and rockets (more of that sort of thing please).

‘Course, Batman ain’t dead.

fuck-yeah-batman-part-one

You know how people love to drone on about Morrison’s cool yet totally crazy ideas as if that were all there is to is to the chap’s writing? Well this post is gonna list a lot of ‘em.

The cool idea at work here is that this particular alien base is in fact nothing but a dirty back alley, and that the hyperclan are just another bunch of hapless crims waiting to feel the crunch of the bat-fist. Look at the image, we have Batman waiting and brooding on a perch, his shadow stretching over the city… I mean the alien interior below. To slightly abuse of one of the Mindless One’s favourite terms, the Caped Crusader is detourning the space, transforming the otherworldly architecture and the fantastical subject matter into the kind of environment where he’s right at home, the upshot being that as far as this incarnation of Batman is concerned, if you’re a bad guy, on the street or sailing the stars, knight time ain’t never the right time!

The issue’s title, War of the Worlds, fits the page nicely. Okay, so the issue’s about a literal war between worlds – Earth heroes vs an alien threat – but this page, and a number of the pages following it, feature another rather more figurative war. The war or, to put it less dramatically, the tension between the grim ‘n’ gritty batverse and the superhuman, utterly four colour world that this comic concerns itself with. It’s worth bearing in mind that many, many readers were unhappy with the idea of a Batman that battled aliens instead of… I dunno… drug pushers and jaywalkers. What’s interesting is the way in which Morrison hoped to marry the two conceptual spaces, and the splash page above goes some way to foreshadowing his methodology. More on that below, innit.

fuck-yeah-batman-part-two-a1

So Batman knows who they are, eh? He’s coming in, one assumes in the manner of an Exocet missile or similar. What we have here is the not-so-tacit suggestion that knowledge is most definitely power, that the facts in Batman’s possession are going to be of central importance when it comes time to deal out painful lessons in bat-justice. That these lessons are inevitable is guaranteed both by the militaristic force of the “I’m coming in” line, and the, one can’t help but assume, carefully considered lack of an exclamation mark. The line isn’t about something being emphasised, Batman is merely, and very calmly, stating the actual facts of reality.

In the previous issue Grant helpfully had Batman state why it is that he doesn’t trust the vast majority of superheroes in the field: because they lack professionalism and experience. This attitude of Batman’s then, can be read not simply as the first clear encounter with Grant’s “total confidence” Batman, but backed up by a great deal of experience at doing the *job* of superheroing. Behind the line is the authority of a genuine pro, someone who only ever plays at the top of their game.

The second tier of fun is built into the way that these facts in Batman’s possession apparently trump the vast displays of super-powered might that have thus far littered the book. Grant seems to be hinting that what Batman does – gathers facts; put simply, detective work – is at least as useful as anything the other members of the DCU’s premiere-deluxe super-team are capable of. That is, of course, on top of owning shit like the Batplane (as seen last ish), and being the world’s baddest martial artist.

Again, this whole sequence is subtly being played out on Batman’s terms: xeno-architecture as street? Check; detective work as the bottom line when taking down scum, be they from Alpha Centuri or Arkham? It’s looking that way.

fuck-yeah-batman-part-three1

And so to the question on everyone’s lips, whether you want to see Batman beat the living shit out of space-villains or whether you’d rather he spent his life biting his fist, possibly crying, while peering over realistically rendered rood guttering. This is the poser that brings all the tension to the sequence: how the heck is Batman supposed to beat these guys – really?!1. I mean, when compared with the Hyperclan he is fragile, and then some. The idea that he could pose a threat to super-powered beings capable of taking out Superman and the Martian Manhunter could reasonably be described as ridiculous. Should we really trust Batman’s bravado? What on Earth could he have over them? Perhaps we’re getting a little over-excited, we are, after all, baby-men who like to read about men in capes and booties duffing each other up. Maybe we need someone to pat us on the head and send us to bed. It’ll be all better in the morning.

And then there’s A-Mortal, he looks horrid. He looks like the kind of bloke who would enjoy nothing more than using his bare hands to slowly crush a few pathetic, fragile creatures, and of course he’s smart. He’s the only member of the Hyperclan who’s even entertaining the notion that the bat-threat needs to be checked up on, and there-in lies another level of danger: Might he figure out what Batman’s planning? He looks a lot like someone who might stalk the streets of Gotham, someone who knows the rules of this kind of engagement; he has, as I’ve already noted, something of the whiff of Batman analogue about him.

Ah, but you see, again the text is drifting in Batman’s direction. Taking on forms which can accommodate him.

Look at all the shadows.

fuck-yeah-batman-part-four

By this point we know for certain that the bat-intel is worth its weight in strung up alien evil doers. The Hyperclanners have just found A-Mortal beaten and bloody and hanging from a bat-rope, adorned with a bat-note threatening further decisive violence. And so, now that the we’re all chewing away at our lips with excitement at the fear expressed by Batman’s bewildered foes and the promise of imminent revelation, Morrison masterfully and subtly ratchets the threat level back up with a page in which Batman is presented as prone and exposed – who has time to doodle circles on the ground when aliens with the power to crush all superhuman resistance are lurking like monsters in the encroaching darkness? And then they’re on him, they’ve got him surrounded, cornered. They’re close enough and powerful enough and fast enough to rip his head from his shoulders with the flick of a finger. The markings batman has made on the ground remind me of a magician’s protective circle, the hyperclan, having seemingly materialized out of thin air, have the stink of the demonic about them.

But there’s another way of reading these panels. By presenting us with a Batman who takes time to set traps in the face of extreme danger, Grant is emphasising the character’s methodical, totally confident, utterly calm, planner nature. Given the stakes the rest of us would run screaming. Fuck it, other superheroes would run screaming. This guy? He’s fucking bad ass.

fuck-yeah-batman-part-six

We come in at the tail end of Batman’s lecture to his Hyperclan audience where he fills them/us in on his deductive process. This is the Marple moment, the bit when the great detective puts his cards on the table and tells us how the trick was done. They shot down his plane but they avoided the fire that smothered the wreckage (which gave Bats his opportunity to escape), they can fly, they’re super strong, they’re super fast, they can shapeshift, they’re from space: they’re fucking Martians, and they’re currently standing inside a circle of flame and Batman’s gonna take them to school. The School of Pain! They ain’t demons, the guy with the horns standing at the heart of a ring of fire, he’s the fucking demon. He’s the chap you should be afraid of.

What’s particularly lovely is that Grant doesn’t leave Batman the human being behind here. By laying out his thinking, Batman isn’t simply indulging us with some exposition, he’s also (like Marple, like Poirot, like Holmes) revealing himself as someone who wants others to know how good he is – exposing himself as a narcissist. Additionally, the squeeze of fist into palm has an earthy, flawed quality. It’s an example of a recognisably human physical vernacular and it oozes a relish for violence, an effect reinforced by the clinical and sinister, yet in some way humorous taunt: “ready when you are”.

The best thing about this moment, however, is the way that it sells the reader on the idea that Batman can be made to work in a book like this, and made to work on something approaching his own terms. This character is recognisably Batman, from his pointy bat ears down to the low level stench of gratuitous street violence. He wins the day because he’s under-estimated by his opponents, because he’s smart, because he’s stealthy, because he’s a strategist, because he’s a detective, and because he’s disciplined and calm. The pill is simultaneously sweetened and given aesthetic force by Porter’s transposition of imagery allied to the bat-books into the JLA context. I say sweetened because it could be argued that this is in some way cheating, that it works to fool people into accepting something they’d otherwise have difficulty swallowing.

But, really, give a shit.

The JLA just got the Batman they deserve.

Fuck yeah!

fuck-yeah-batman-part-seven

This last panel is more of a coda than anything else. A clear statement of intent by Morrison: in this book we’re going to get a Batman who definitively is (and if you’re in any doubt you can go back and reread the ass-kicking Batman gives the Hyperclan over the preceding pages) “the most dangerous man on Earth”. That Grant has Superman make this pronouncement is the icing on the cake, the end of the fucking discussion. That’s the ultimate endorsement right there. The guarantee of indisputable truth*.

It had taken over ten years, but finally someone willing and capable had picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Frank Miller. What so many writers had failed to understand was that Miller’s Batman simply wasn’t a bloody vigilante – Miller outright rejects the notion within the pages of Dark Knight. His Batman was a legend, not simply because Miller gave the character the gifts of time, age and ending (and rebirth), but because he walked with gods, because he took on an army and later a city, and in the final few pages gave Superman the leathering of his life. Morrison’s JLA-Batman isn’t identical to Miller’s, that’s obvious, but he has a similar grandeur and power, and right here is where Morrison draws his line in the sand.

Fuck yeah!

Two times!

*The mullet just adds weight to the occasion. Remember mullets were to the nineties DCU as the combined effects of global warming, peak oil and the credit crunch are to the zeroes

KNIGHTY KNIGHT, BAD GUYS!

18 Responses to “Anatomy of a FUCK YEAH!: JLA #3”

  1. Bill Reed Says:

    One of my all-time favorite comic moments for sure. If they still insist on making a Justice League movie, they should just adapt this arc wholesale. It’s perfect.

  2. Sean Witzke Says:

    The best part is how Morrison never stopped topping this over the course of the run. Even after Batman gets his ass handed to him by Prometheus, it’s quickly followed by Batman “hitting him with a motor neuron disease”.

  3. Frank Says:

    Fuck yeah, indeed.

    Lovely colors in that first splash page. How come I don’t remember other books of the time looking that ace? They accurately represent what you describe above, the friction between the Bat-world of back alleys and murder (the cold colors) and the DCU’s more fantastic elements (the hot, almost radioactive, colors).

    It always disappointed me, how in the first three episodes of the Justice League Animated Series, which tell an almost-adaptation of this saga, Batman defeats the aliens & saves the rest of the League, but doesn’t come off all clever like in the comic; he basically explodes some stuff then aliens defeated.

    If there’s gonna be another “Anatomy of a FUCK YEAH!”, I suggest Atom & Green Arrow vs. Darkseid in Rock of Ages.

    Also: Been reading your blog for a while, and it’s too good to be free*; LOVE Batman 666 (which I can help but imagine being drawn by Brendan McCarthy or maybe Moebius) and the Rogue’s reviews.

    *please don’t start charging.

  4. Zom Says:

    No chance of a charge, Frank.

    The Green Arrow and Atom moment is a total FUCK YEAH! but I think I’m going to try for something a bit more left field. We’ll see.

    Like what you had to say about the colours. I would have liked to have spent a little more time talking about the construction of all the individual panels, but that would have demanded at least 1000 more words and I really didn’t have that in me last night.

  5. Zom Says:

    (Totally with you on those artists)

  6. Neon Snake Says:

    Brilliant idea, chaps. The “fuck yeah” moments in (specifically) Morrison’s stuff are amongst my stated reasons for being a fan of his, so I’m looking foward to seeing what else you come up with, both from his other work and from other authors.

    I think my fave is probably, I, Spyder: “Pinnacle of natural selection, my ass.” from SSoV.

    Great start. And yeah, it’s his smirk, isn’t it, as he utters “Ready when you are.”

  7. Botswana Beast Says:

    Mmm, the crack of a knuckle. It really is terrific, that whole thing – the real coda for me, the way he makes Bat-”he’s just a”-man work in the context of Gods & Monsters, is Green Lantern, maybe next ish, #4, going: “Only four, Batman?” as the latter tows four captured superbastards and then, smaller, “You’re slowing down.”

    Green Arrow & Atom vs. Darkseid is the best, though, esp. as I think the ultimate villain’s final cry(sis) is for his mummy.

  8. Zom Says:

    I almost mentioned that but it feels, while fun and very welcome, a little superfluous to me

  9. Botswana Beast Says:

    Yeah, it’s kind of an afterthought. But I do likey.

  10. Zom Says:

    I prefer the Bat FUCK YEAH! to the Arrow/Atom one for a number of reasons

    1. I’d pretty much given up hope of ever seeing a JLA class/fun Batman outside of DKR.

    2. It’s the first big FUCK YEAH! of GM’s run, so it was augmented by a surprise factor.

    3. I like Batman best

    4.It’s not a third act climax – how ballsy is that? It could be argued that the GA/Atom fuck yeah sort of is.

    5. Probably some other stuff

  11. adam aaron Says:

    That is a damn symbolic moment. Trapping the “demons” inside the magic circle with you. Batman is badass.

    It is interesting that you bring up Darkseid and the cracking of knuckles, as the first part of the Rock of Ages storyline set in the alternate future features something like five pages (or so it seems) of Darkseid punching people. It is the complete inversion of this “fuck yeah” moment, it is where the power-fantasy turns into something seedy, cruel, and ridiculous. It’s the “oh, god” moment. It is the moment after masturbating when you just feel like crying. Where Batman manages to channel his energy to the beat the gods, Darkseid just beats “the meat.”

  12. Zom Says:

    That’s great. Can’t remember the sequence, but it’s given me an idea for a whole string of posts: OH GOD!

  13. Botswana Beast Says:

    It’s the “oh, god” moment. It is the moment after masturbating when you just feel like crying.

    Stunningly accurate actually, yeah. Gnnggnn, die – die for Darkseid.

  14. plok Says:

    Brilliant phrasing! Pure poetry!

    I have a request.

    My ultimate superhero FUCK YEAH! moment is an entire issue of Flash…#54, I think it is, anyway the title is “Nobody Dies”, and it’s by Messner-Loebs and LaRocque. I’d followed these guys’ work since the very beginning, but THIS was the superhero comic that reawakened my love of the superhero concept.

    And it beats hell out of any Green Arrow/Atom stuff, in my opinion. It’s not superhero poetry, it’s a veritable superhero Idyll.

    Just one man’s take on the matter.

  15. Botswana Beast Says:

    I think I have to read that sometime: it was the issue that launched the very concept of the F*@% Yeah File at Dave’s Long Box.

  16. captain trips Says:

    Reading this issue as a teenager (maybe even pre-teen, I don’t remember), I didn’t really know anything about Grant Morrison or his magical leanings. Looking back after I’ve learned a lot about Morrison, the magic circle in that panel seems so obvious. I was thinking circle of protection when I saw it, I’m glad you pointed it out. Keep up the Mindlessness!

  17. Zom Says:

    Well, I’m not totally convinced that it was deliberately designed to be suggestive of a magic circle, I’m just offering a reading.

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