Re-energized

June 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm (Comic Books, Morrison)

It was Seven Soldiers that got me into this game, so, okay, this might get me back to playing again. Not necessarily great comics, but damn interesting ones that demand close reading and keeping track of themes:

Batman #700

(Kinda big spoilers for Mozzle’s Batman issues and Superman/Batman Annual 4, if you care about that kind of thing)

The issue itself is just such a tiny nudge, but suddenly an entire mythology sprang up behind Batman. Morrison has been talking about the run as a reinvention, or at the very least a strong streamlining, of the character. And it’s clear form these interviews, how he brings up a random Bill Finger story from 1953 or a Bob Haney and Jim Aparo comic from the late 60s, that he has a very, very deep knowledge of Batman’s history.

And with this comic, he’s slashing in the kind of details that are building as incredibly detailed a history as that. This comic has a second Two Face super-villain and another gang just spring up in Gotham, as well as a leap into a Terminator styled robotic apocalypse (that would probably get tedious if expanded to an entire comic, but as a page in this? A frickin brilliant and concise elaboration of the Batman image.

And without a doubt, this is a comic as much about Batman’s image as his past. With plenty of panels just flashing to Batman’s chest image at the end of a moment, and with the repetition of other Batman who have worn the suit (Jean Paul Valley remaining a conspicuous absence, besides the clever reappropriation of Knightfall’s typeface during RIP), Morrison is here characterizing not just Bruce Wayne Batman or Dick Grayson Batman or Damian Wayne Batman, but Batman as a whole, enduring image of a freedom fighter. There are differences in method and motivation, sure (Damian is rebelliously proving himself as a do-gooder, Bruce is compelled to save the day, Dick just wants to keep the streets safe at night, McGuinnes is pretty much a crime fighting schoolboy, and the apocalyptic Batman just likes blowing things up and cracking jokes)

Look at that mischievous smile on Robin. He’s ready to kill.

All of this sudden vision of Batman calls to question the cause behind these changes, and it’s kinda obvious with the most recent change in the mythology: Batman was replaced by Dick Grayson and Damian, the natural heir, sprang up to complicate matters.

Basically, reproduction, and all the anxieties of living up to an ideal, is either the culprit or the catalyst of this mythologizing. Batman moved from being a fixed, concrete person in this series, to being a recurring symbol throughout time, able to be taken up by various people. In the paraphrased words of Alfred from Batman and Robin #1, “think of Batman not as Bruce Wayne, but a character like Hamlet. There’s Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, and then there’s Sir Henry Irving’s Hamlet”.

Looking at the Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series, where he’s becoming a huge amount of different people in different time periods, and we’re starting to have a nice saga deconstructing identity as a performed role instead of a fixed trait, essentialism conflicting with constructivism on a grand scale, that may or may not be undone by this issue’s maybe machine.

It’s my personal hope that it’ll become a metaphor for continuity retcons like Superboy’s wall punch of continuity, one that will be entirely possible for Dick Grayson to use at every point in the comic, but that he’ll eventually reject for a more naturalistic way of successfully hybridizing the past into a coherent present. That’s still as nagging a question as to how much of a role Darkseid will have actually played in turning Bruce Wayne into a worldslayer at the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne #2. For that, it’s my personal hope that Bruce had overperformed his role as Batman, his devotion to the act of crime fighting instead of crime solving turning him into crime’s greatest proponent, but themes always have a way of working themselves out against expectations.

It also doesn’t hurt that these are some of the best written issues Morrison has turned in during his run. Besides the amazing three issues that began Batman and Robin that set up the new status quo marvelously (and later issues which coasted on the earlier dynamic), there have always been narrative clarity problems and a surprising lack of purpose to all the issues.

Which isn’t to that a lack of purpose is bad to a comic, but Morrison, his comics work best with a structure to invert or investigate, instead of being a fairly self contained comic, We3 being pretty much the only exception to that plan. Even Seaguy, that train of seeming non sequiturs, presented itself as part of a larger, repeating cycle of superherodom and with that simple repeat latched itself onto teh superhero archetype instead of just being an unrelated exercise in storytelling.

And now, besides having a clear motivation to all the run (which I’m guessing Batman: RIP had, but would be hard pressed to say exactly what that purpose was), there are all these really marvelous details popping up: the Mad Hatter thirsting for the brim size of Alexander the Great, the police of silver age Batman calling a bust of a lot of criminals popcrime, compared to normal crime not involving costumes:

Batman and Robin having a nice evening meal together:

Or positing a future where people’s moods are controlled by drugs, with a news caster remarking on how astounding it is that people get by on less than seven moods a day:

He even sets up some possibly unintentional intrigue with the question of who exactly is instructing Terry McGuinnes, with a much different looking instructor than the Bruce Wayne from that series (no wrinkles and sickliness to Morrison’s Beyond instructor), and especially with the fortuitous reintroduction of Batman Beyond in Superman/Batman Annual #4 (a fairly interesting setup that has Luthor slowly adding kryptonite to Metropolis’ drugs to weaken Superman’s hold over the city! And it also has some of the lamest dialogue in Superman’s very lame career, as well as giving Superman a petty epiphany at the end, which is just terrible), this is shaping up to be a pretty monumental moment and integration for the Bat franchise, a monumental crossover happening right under our noses, and without a MAJOR EVENT label slapping all the events together (there isn’t even a mention of this being related to the return of Bruce Wayne on the cover!).

Even the unrelated Batman comics are good these days. Hine’s Arkham issues of Detective Comics ad a really intriguing premise (a now psychotic Jeremiah Arkham as an inmate able to control each villain with his deep understanding of their neuroses) that cut itself too short, but still sows the seeds for a storyline later.

There’s even a preview for a Neal Adams Batman comic in the back of this frickin book. Talk about Morrison repositioning Bruce Wayne as the hairy chested Neal Adams love god, he gets to have the actual influence come back in this comic, too, besides his yesterday, today, and tomorrow glimpses! It’s almost fittingly incomplete, a black and white version focusing on Adam’s pencils than any actual plot, and even has a completely different Batman using guns and chased down by Superman by the story’s end, mirroring the complete inversion of crazy Bruce Wayne coming to destroy the twenty first century, the influences (Bruce Wayne and Neal Adams) discomfited and out of place when forced into a modern context. At least, that must have been what DC was thinking by including this preview in the comic.

These Batman comics really have the potential to be monolithic right now. Now if only we could get Morrison to write that Batman Beyond mini-series instead of Adam Beechen!

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