Monday, May 19, 2008

"Batman R.I.P." Begins: Batman #676 Annotations

Because I didn't get into many specifics in my review of Batman #676, here are my annotations for the issue. And by "annotations," I mean "stuff I thought about as I read each page."

Cover: People are griping about this Alex Ross painting because it looks like Batman's body is made out of cloth. "Where's his body?" they whine. It's called symbolism, folks. Batman, shrouded in inky darkness, looking ghostly. The arc is called "Batman R.I.P," and if you can't connect the dots between that title and the cover image, then maybe comics aren't for you. They can get confusing with their fancy pictures.

Page 1: My guess is that this image shows the Dick Grayson/Damian team as Batman and Robin. The red skies and the lightning allude to Final Crisis, and this might very well be a page straight out of that series, something that we'll see in a few months real time. Morrison threw some important Batman stuff in DC Universe #0, so there's definitely a link between his work on the crossover and his work in this series.

Pages 2-3: I like how gothic this flashback looks, and how it isn't really a flashback but a jump back to present continuity. Present continuity that looks like 120 years ago. The hunchback, Le Bossu, smashes a Victor Hugo vibe into a Sherlock Holmes vibe (with the panel of the dead man). What's with the "12712" tag on the carriage? And are all the umbrella-holders significant? I have no idea. But the "we are operators at the highest level" line sounds like something Daniel Plainview might say during one of his rants. "I drink your Bat-shake. I drink it up."

Pages 4-5: The Club of Villains, from left to right: Charlie Caligula (nemesis of the Legionary), King Kraken (nemesis of Wingman), El Sombrero (nemesis of the the Gaucho), Pierrot Lunaire (nemesis of the Musketeer), Dr. Hurt (who appeared in Batman #156 and #673 as part of the sensory-deprivation experiment, now revealed to have ulterior motives), Scorpiana (nemesis of el Gaucho--he gets two nemeses!), and Springheeled Jack (nemesis of the Knight). Although this group may be collectively known as "The Black Glove," which is what this issue seems to imply, I still suspect that the Black Glove is someone behind the scenes, either Alfred, Thomas Wayne Jr., or a schizophrenic Bruce Wayne. By the way, in my original commentary on the "Club of Heroes" arc I applauded Morrison's imaginative use of quick backstory by mentioning all of these evil counterparts of the Batman of Many Nations. I said that these characters would probably never actually appear, but it was just Morrison's way of implying a deep mythology. How wrong I was! Those names were clues. Who would have known? Not me. I said, "I doubt they are clues." Silly. Everything has meaning. I should have known better.

Pages 6-7: The parallels to Batman's origins are clear in this sequence as a young boy and his parents are held hostage by a criminal. But this is no Joe Chill--this is a post-Batman maniac who calls himself the Green Vulture since costumed madmen are all the rage these days. The Green Vulture is s supervillain fanboy who wants to be locked up in Arkham. His presence in this issue contrasts nicely with the portrayal of the "Clown at Midnight" Joker at the end. There's something called "Ganser's Syndrome," by the way, which is what you call it when someone pretends to be crazy. The Green Vulture acts crazy, but he's trying too hard. It looks like a case of Ganser's Syndrome. The Joker, on the other hand: he's crazy.

Pages 8-9: Batmobile! We saw the early hints of this version way back in the "Batman and Son" arc. Here it is in all of its sexy glory. I don't know anything about cars, but I'm sure this Batmobile is inspired by some real vehicle. Except, you know, this one has Bat-hubcaps and can jump down a flight of stairs. The graffiti next to the stairs says "Todd's" (Jason Todd's?) and something else I can't quite make out (X8e?).

Pages 10-11: I think Geoff Klock pointed out the "CD changer" line on his blog, and he's right. The Batmobile shouldn't sport out-of-date technology. Batman should be years ahead of the stuff we've got. (Although, his Bat-computer is a beast of a machine, so maybe he likes old-school tech after all.) Homeless people love Batman, apparently. In Morrison's Gotham City, Batman is down with the people on the street. He knows pimps and hookers by name, as we've seen in previous issues, and here he hands out money to Woodrow, Tracy Morgan's SNL homeless guy. I like Robin's line to the Green Vulture: "You're on bad drugs in a Halloween suit with about a dozen cameras recording your complete loss of self-respect." Batman and Robin don't need to smack this guy around, because the DC Universe has YouTube to do the job for them.

Pages 12-13: Morrison's never been afraid to mix pop music, pop culture, and superheroics, and Alfred's line about "an 'American Idol' era of equal opportunity supercrime" is classic Morrison. Morrison from the Zenith days. But it's a good line, and since Morrison foreshadowed the reality TV craze a decade before it became a reality (in Doom Patrol with the Sunburst character), I think it's only fair that he gets to use the line even if the concept's a bit stale. It's also Alfred saying it, and not only might he be evil (if he's the Black Glove), but he's a old fogey like your grandpa. The kiss with Jezebel Jet would have been 78% cooler if Bruce had the cowl on, circa 1971 Neal Adams--the no shirt, just pants and cowl look--but it's still a very Neal Adamsish panel anyway. It's more Batman/Talia than Batman/Silver St. Cloud. Hey, maybe that's a clue! Maybe Jezebel Jet is the Black Glove! Nah, probably not. But you never know.

Pages 14-15: This is a ton of exposition, a good way not to scare off readers who jumped on board for the "Batman R.I.P." event. It gets everyone basically up to speed on the whole Nanda Parbat situation and the Damian problem. It also shows that Tim is still rational in an increasingly irrational world. Plus, Alfred's really into Batman. He understands the pressure Batman is under, trying to be the perfect everything. None of this points to Alfred being the Black Glove, and if anything it seems to show that Batman's fractured sense of self might be causing all the problems. But, whatever. It's a lot of talk for the new readers (and the readers who have trouble figuring out where Batman's body is on the cover).

Pages 16-17: Page 16 reads like a scene out of a Batman movie: "What happens when you've finally won? When they're avenged at last? How will you know?" That question , and the complete LACK of a response by Bruce Wayne, is the essence of this character. He cannot answer it, because he knows he can never win. He can never get his parents back. And on page 17, we're reminded that Batman is, in fact, a detective. He's connecting the dots, slowly. The fourth panel seems like a bit much as Bruce Wayne does a spit take when Jezebel reads the Black Glove invitation. A spit take? Hold it together, Bruce! Maybe now that Jezebel knows his true identity, he doesn't have to act tough anymore. But you've gotta play it cool around the ladies, Batman. Come on.

Pages 18-22: In the foreground of the Arkham establishing shot, we see tulips infested with centipedes. Morrison uses insects to signify the "other," the strangeness from outside, and here they provide a bit of uneasiness as we descend into the blood-drenched hallways. The "Clown at Midnight" Joker, seen only in Batman #663 and DC Universe #0, is now getting the spotlight. "The comedy's in the timing" says Joker, as we get black and white and red images of the murdered Tim Drake, Commissioner Gordon, and Dick Grayson. Although it's apparently all a hallucination as the blood on the floor connects to the rorschach inkbot. The entire sequence is fragmentary and it's difficult to discern reality from insanity. Apparently, Le Bossu arrives to offer Joker an invitation from the Black Glove, but we don't see that take place. Is it another hallucination? The Joker is covered in blood when the lights come back on, and we can only assume that the doctor administering the rorschach test is dead. But it's all implied. Fiendishly implied and the image of the Clown at Midnight licking his lips at the end, saying "another pretty flower" is far more disturbing than anything we saw in Batman #663. It's also the first time green is introduced into the color scheme of this sequence, which was all about red and black (even in the DC Universe #0 scene). Red and black. Red Hood and Black Glove. What's the connection?

Morrison Batman comics are good.


Richard said...

Jet. Black. Hm.

No, it won't be her. But there's going to be a connection, isn't there.

Anonymous said...

"Morrison Batman comics are good."

As are your annotations, Tim. Very nice work!

Like a lot of other readers, I had difficulties with enjoying the, what seemed to me, almost consistently garish artwork of Morrison's Batman run. The Joker scenes in this issue are well-done, though.


Chad Nevett said...

I don't consider CDs to be outdated technology...

Although, the more I think about it, the more Bruce Wayne being the Black Glove makes sense. Take Dr. Hurt into account and his possible influence on fracturing Wayne's psyche...

Hmm. Not much else to add. Nice job, man.

Anonymous said...

morrison's jla #8 has a very similar panel to the first panel of batman #676. in jla #8 batman is in some kind of stasis-tube and dreaming. in the dream he has settled down with catwoman and the roles of batman and robin are being filled by tim and bruce jr. there is a panel showing the new batman and robin and the caption reads "as long as gotham needs them, batman and robin can never die." very similar to "you're wrong! batman and robin will never die!" the poses are similar too: batman standing behind a crouching robin with both capes billowing.

Greg said...

Jeez, Callahan, I thought we were friends, and there you are ripping me in the second paragraph. Okay, yes, I did say I was going to hunt you down and do horrible things to you, but that's no reason to insult me!

The reason I didn't like the cover is because I think Ross is a poor choice to do that effect. Ross is known for his hyper-realism, so seeing him try to pull off a ghostly Batman just doesn't work. It threw me, and although now it's obvious (and I throw myself on your humble mercies and hope you won't think I'm too much of an idiot), when I see an Alex Ross drawing, I'm expecting something completely different from what he's going for on the cover, and I don't think it works for him. I guess Tony Daniel did a cover for this issue too. I wonder what it looks like. If they had gotten a better "supernatural" artist to do the cover, I think the effect would have been better.

Good work on the annotations, as usual. I look forward to more of them!

Timothy Callahan said...

Chad: CDs aren't outdated, necessarily, although they will be very soon. A CD-changer in a car IS definitely outdated. It doesn't even make practical sense when and mp3 player would take up so much less space.

Anon: Good catch on the JLA parallel. I just reread those issues last year and I don't remember that scene at all.

Greg: I didn't even remember you saying that about Ross's cover, but if you feel targeted by my sarcasm, consider it purely revenge. Malicious, evil revenge. I think the Ross cover looks weird, too, but I "get" what it's supposed to be, or maybe Alex Ross was just having a lazy day when he painted it.

Bill Reed said...

No, I think Batman would be ALL ABOUT the CD changer. Bruce Wayne paid good money for that CD collection, and he's gonna use it, by gum. mp3s are some mysterious ephemeral thing! He is Batman! He'd put a vinyl turntable in the Batmobile if he could.

(Hell, I'm surprised he listens to music at all...)

Timothy Callahan said...

He just listens to "Batdance" over and over and fails to understand why Prince isn't more popular with the kids these days.