Thursday, July 26, 2007

Batman #666: Special Bonus Review Section--Number Two of Three

Wheee! Comics are fun! First Iron Fist and now this! (Actually, I read them in reverse order--Morrison always goes to the top of the stack in my house, are you surprised?)

Batman #666 begins with a Golden Age homage to the origin of Batman, featuring the words "Who He Is and How He Came to Be" just like in that classic Bob Kane story. And because Morrison only has one issue to tell this tale--the story of Damian, the son of Batman, and how he took over as...BATMAN--he dispenses with the origin of this Future Batman in six terse panels and accompanying captions: "When the world's greatest crimefighter and the daughter of the ultimate criminal mastermind got together, there could be only one result" etc etc.

You can see that the tone of these captions recalls the straight-faced hyperbole of old television shows (or radio shows, probably, although I haven't heard any except some of the Lone Ranger episodes and maybe a Shadow excerpt), and by getting the "origin" of Future Batman over with quickly (and he's not called "Future Batman" in the story, obviously, because that would be lame; he's just "Batman"), Morrison can focus on the mood, the action, and the symbolism.

As I've said before and shown, extensively, in an entire book on the subject, Morrison revisits his favorite themes and motifs again and again throughout his career. Batman #666 is no exception, of course. You can see right on that cover image that he's playing with the old-fashioned apocalypse theme with the city on fire, and he's even got his costumed-dude-wearing-a-jacket-or-trenchcoat motif with Future Batman's FUTURE TRENCHCOAT/COSTUME. Nice. But in this case, Morrison seems to be using the apparel not to signify "coolness" as he did with Zenith, or embarrassment (as he did with Animal Man or Cliff Steele), or functionality (as he did with the X-Men), but, instead, he seems to allude to the pulp nature of Batman's origins. This Future Batman looks like an old-fashioned character (he looks very much like the Gotham by Gaslight or Batman/Houdini elseworlds incarnation) because Damian is a classic, old-school Batman. He blows up stuff and punches people first, then does the detective work later. I'm oversimplifying here, but Morrison clearly establishes Future Batman to be very much in alignment, as far as his ruthlessness, with Bob Kane's first year of Batman stories.

Sure, Morrison throws in some Tarot symbolism (the "Hanged Man" on page 8), literary allusions (to Yeats), and some doubling (the Anti-Christ Batman vs. Future Batman), like he usually does, but this story is filled with enough action and brilliant throw-away ideas: the wheelchair-bound Police Commissioner Gordon, Phosphorus Rex, the Hotel Bethlehem, an ape in a clown costume with a submachine gun--to turn the whole thing into a high-speed carnival ride. I love the way he layers the subtextual depth beneath the veneer of a classic super-hero thriller (and finishes it up in a single issue).

It's probably the most accessible and most enjoyable issue of Morrison's Batman yet.

It doesn't matter how this story fits into continuity (answer: it doesn't) or how it relates to the Kingdom: Son of the Bat story by Mark Waid (answer: it doesn't, although I'm sure a comparison would be interesting, but I'm not going to dig that one out of the longboxes tonight). What matters is that Morrison tells a great Future Batman story that illuminates the present.

Just like Brubaker and Fraction used a story of a past Iron Fist to add resonance to the Iron Fist mythology of the current Marvel Universe, Morrison shows us a glimpse into Damian's future to add resonance to the Batman mythology of today.

Batman #666. You don't have to like it, but if you don't then you're wrong. Because it's REAL GOOD.

10 comments:

Marc said...

Hey Tim, It's Marc, and I was reading the slugfest reviews of Batman 666 over at SBC and found the last reviewer's take on the issue to be very, very interesting.

here's the link - http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/reviews/118574666948862.htm

Curious to what your take on his theory is...

.Marc

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't see any evidence that the villainous Batman is supposed to be a former Robin, and I don't see any inconclusiveness about the ending. What pages was he looking at? Because in my copy of the issue, Damian snaps the Anti-Christ Batman's neck and stands triumphant at the end.

And there's no way the shaved-head guy is supposed to be Tim or Jason.

The trenchcoat Batman is clearly Damian, as established in the opening "origin" sequence. I think Thom Young is radically misreading the issue, although he gets the rest of the details right about Morrison's run overall. (Except for his reference to #663 being "horrendously written." It's not.)

So, yeah, I radically disagree with his conclusions about the issue.

Marc said...

Yeah, I was trying to see if I was missing something because I reread it and kept going "wait, where does he get that from?"

I assume his assumption that the Batman/Antichrist wielding the flamethrower is Tim/Jason is due to both stating they have the same father, and then stating "I have another father, our father in hell!"

By that, I could see, a crazy Tim Drake, but I see no reason for Drake to become obsessed with being the Antichirst.

Timothy Callahan said...

I guess it's possible that the Anti-Christ Batman is a former Robin, but since that Anti-Christ Batman guy is obviously intended to appear in Morrison's run (in current continuity), how could it be Tim Drake or Jason Todd? Makes no sense.

And the Silver Bullets guy doesn't just think the other Batman is one of the Robins, he thinks the MAIN CHARACTER in #666 is a Robin and not (as it clearly indicates in the opening sequence) Damian.

I interpreted the "father" thing to be metaphorical as in Batman is the father of all doppelgangers (and possibly the progenitor of all Gotham's costumed criminals in theory). But it's not a Robin. If I'm wrong, I will pay that guy one American dollar.

Thom Young said...

Actually, if you read my review closely, I'm proposing a possibility rather than a definitive reading.

However, I did back up my possible reading with textual evidence and the logic behind the possibility of interpreting it that way.

Thom Young said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom Young said...

Oh, and if I'm right, you can keep your dollar.

As for the "horrendously written" issue #663, I would hope a high school English teacher would have a better awareness of point of view and when a writer is breaking with the POV--as Morrison did in that issue:

http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/reviews/117257921652247.htm

Timothy Callahan said...

But Thom, your "proposed" reading is a misreading of what's clearly shown in the text of Batman #666. You can interpret the meaning and the symbolism all you want (and you should) but how can you possibly argue that the Future Batman character is anyone other than Damian? The narrator identifies the Future Batman as Damian during the origin sequence.

(Thus, I cavalierly wagered that dollar, knowing full well that your proposed interpretation was off the mark.)

I think Batman #663 is overwrought prose, but that style fits the content of the issue perfectly. And even though the link you provided didn't work, I read your review and didn't see where you made any kind of case for narrative inconsistency. I don't think Batman #663 is a great piece of writing, necessarily, but as a twisted tribute to "Death Strikes at Midnight and Three," I think it's quite good.

Thom Young said...

Actually, Tim, it wasn't directly stated to be Damian. It was implied to be Damian. Dave Wallace pointed out the same thing in his response to my review here:

http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3726

I try not to post on the message boards as much as I used to because I've grown tired of the sniping and name calling that takes place in those forums. However, I replied to his comments privately.

Yes, it's absolutely implied in the "Who He Is and How He Came to Be" section that the bald-headed Batman in the trench coat is Damian. I readily admit it.

The problem I had, though, is that he is never actually called Damian anywhere in the story. However, the other Batman at the end definitely alludes to himself as the "Son of the Demon"--which implies that he might be Damian.

Essentially, the story implies that both of the Batman characters are Damian, but neither is ever referred to by name. Thus, I don't believe I have given the issue a "misreading" as much as I've pointed out the ambiguity of that situation--which is a legitimate reading.

It's this ambiguity that I was referring to when I mentioned "the seeming inconclusiveness of what several readers believe is a single-story." I agree there's no inconclusiveness with what happened at the end.

However, I was anticipating that one or more of my fellow reviewers was going to gripe about not finding out who the "demonic Batman" was at the end--because that's what they often do, gripe about how bad Morrison's stories are because they're expecting a conventional Geoff Johns type tale.

To my surprise, only one of my fellow reviewers that day, Chris Murman, didn't care for the story--and not for the reason I anticipated. I'm just not a very good prognosticator.

The thing is, I fully expect the identities of the Batmen in #666 to eventually be revealed--because this issue was never intended to be a "singe-issue story" the way some people were thinking it was.

At this point, I think it's 50-50 which of the two Batmen is Damian and which may be a Robin (Tim Drake, is my sense). As I said, the identities of the Batmen were never stated in the issue--but Damian was tied to both through implication.

I admit that the implication in the "Who He Is and How He Came to Be" section is a bit more heavy-handed, so maybe it's more of a 51-49 split than 50-50.

Keep in mind, though, as you noted in your book on him, that Morrison likes to play with reader expectations--so maybe that should be a 49-51 split. ;)

As for #663:
The tortured prose would work for me if (as Shawn Hill argued) it was supposed to be from The Joker's POV. I would then be claiming that issue to be a brilliant piece of writing.

However, the first chapter is clearly from the POV of one of The Joker's henchmen (the narrator refers to The Joker as "the boss").

Even then I could accept the prose if the entire story was supposed to be from the POV of that henchman (who, I would argue, was driven to his view of the world and his tortured prose through his association with The Joker).

However, the henchman is clearly not the narrator in subsequent chapters. Yet the prose style remains the same. If we had a shift in the narrator, we should have had a change in the prose style--such as Faulkner achieves in THE SOUND AND THE FURY, AS I LAY DYING, and ABSALOM, ABSALOM!

It looks to me like Morrison may have revised the story and forgot to alter the POV when he did so. Perhaps the story was originally intended to be from the POV of the henchman, but was changed to the POV of The Joker during a later revision.

If that's the case, Morrison may have forgotten to take out the reference to "the boss" in the first chapter. I'd have to re-read the story, though, to see if there are other POV errors. I can't, however, bring myself to re-read that issue because it was difficult getting through it the first time.

I enjoy almost everything Morrison writes, but sometimes we have to also point out when the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. :)

For the most part, though, I'm constantly defending Morrison's work to people who don't get it--such as in this god-awful joint review that I participated in:

http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/reviews/118521219970617.htm

(You may not be able to click on that url, but you should be able to copy and paste it).

By the way, I've been assigned to review your book for the Silver Bullet Comic Books Web site, and I would like to discuss a couple of things with you offline before I finish my review.

You can e-mail me at: DrThomYoung@hotmail.com

Nikolai said...

Thom Young, you're completely wrong and way off base.