Sunday, March 29, 2009

CBR Review: Secret Warriors #3

I recently reviewed Secret Warriors #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Secret Warriors is a special book that comes along rarely. Take this issue, where Jonathan Hickman manages to spend considerable time on an illuminating and character-rich conversation between Nick Fury and the Contessa, but also packs in an unpredictable action scene that will surprise many. In superhero comic terms, somehow, Secret Warriors gets to have its cake and eat it, too."

You can read the rest HERE!

Comic Arts Conference 2009

One month ago on Friday February 27 and Saturday February 28 I attended the Comic Arts Conference in San Francisco, CA (attached to Wondercon). This year marked my second annual attendance at this gathering of comics scholars; I presented there last year on the Chester Brown short story “Showing Helder.” This year I merely observed, although I do intend to present again next year.

I attended almost all the sessions of the conference on both Friday and Saturday (with one exception which I will note later). Sadly I was unable to attend the Sunday panels for the conference (which included a panel on copyright law, which I was very sad to miss) because I had to fly home, but the panels I attended on Friday and Saturday were all incredibly valuable and interesting. So I thought I would share here the content of some of those panels with you, the faithful GraphiContent reader.

First on the list was "Between Two Flashes" which gave an overview of the superheroes that were published between the Golden Age and the Silver Age. Very few heroes were successful during that time (apart from the major heroes like Superman and Batman), and the lecturers hypothesized that the reason for their waning popularity was due to the advent of television. Western and detective sows were popular on TV, so publishers of comics followed suit. It was only after Wertham and the comic censorship of the mid to late '50s that superheroes resurfaced because their cartoonish violence was less realistic and thus deemed "safe." (They also talked at one point about how Zorro and the Lone Ranger were proto-superheroes: crimefighters, secret identities, costumes.)

The second panel was on teaching comics, which I initially was very excited about. But this panel was the one that I decided to skip, because upon looking over the material for it and reading the description in the program, I realized it was aimed at using comics as a teaching tool in K-8 classes. That topic having little appeal to a college English instructor, I skipped it.

But I came back for the third and final panel for Friday, subtitled Barack Obama and the Superhero Metaphor. This panel was by a friend of mine Pete Coogan (who is in the STL area and actually interviewed me for a job once) but he didn't actually attend. He had prerecorded his presentation because he had had a family emergency at the last minute, but it was still an incredibly interesting lecture. It contrasted the media imagery associated with both Bush (who had a "cowboy" persona) and Obama (who is thought of as a superhuman savior). He discussed how Bush wanted to frame the war on terror as "us vs. them" like cowboys and indians, whereas he should have focused more on the "supervillain" of Osama Bin Laden. It was quite intriguing, even if it wasn't technically about comics per se.

Saturday's panels were even more interesting, although they varied widely in content. In the first panel of the day, Diana Green presented on homoerotic subtext in EC comics, which was quite enlightening. She discussed a few specific stories which involved crossdressing fraternal twins or asexual reproduction, and it really makes me want to seek out a lot of those old EC reprints. Also during that first panel Kate McClancy did a comparison between the graphic novel and film adaptation of V for Vendetta. She argued that the changes made in the film mean that the people of the film merely replace one leader for another, that the triumph of anarchy and the individual are replaced when the people simply begin to follow V. In the film V is no longer an idea, but he is a hero instead. Since I'll be teaching V in a few weeks, I found this presentation really valuable.

The second panel was by Randy Duncan whose new book The Power of Comics comes out soon (May 15 according to Amazon... and only $16.50 on sale). It's a textbook for comics classes, and his presentation gave an overview of the content of the book. He talked about how he (and his coauthor) tried to hit all the possible ways to approach a class on comics by devoting chapters to the history of comics, their form, and their place in the culture. It was absolutely riveting and I very much look forward to reading it. If it's half as good as it sounds, I might start requiring it for my class. He also mentioned the possibility of doing a companion reader in the future, which I have been wanting to do for AGES and am very excited about the possibility of helping him with.

Finally the last panel featured two presenters. One was talking about Legion of Superheroes and how Jim Shooter "Marvelized" the characters when he took over writing the series. It turned out to be an excerpt of an article in Tim Callahan's book Teenagers from the Future (about $24 on sale on Amazon), which is a book I've been meaning to pick up but haven't yet so that was quite nice.

Finally there was a presentation on female superheroes of the '70s by Jennifer Stuller. (Her book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors, won't be out in the US until 2010.) It mostly focused on Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, contrasting how Lois served as a feminist icon in the '70s while Diana Prince was a bit of a stepback in the comics of the time period. A friend and I have been tossing ideas around about doing a book on the portraits of women in comics, so I found this lecture greatly helpful.

All in all, it was a fantastic conference and I look forward to attending next year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

CBR Review: The Death-Defying 'Devil #4

I recently reviewed The Death-Defying 'Devil #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "For three issues, the ongoing subplot of whether or not this was really the Death-Defying ‘Devil has been raised with a former Wise Guy (the ‘Devil’s support team) stepping into the role of the Dragon, a ‘Devil lookalike, trying to prove the ‘Devil a fraud. Now, here’s the fourth and final issue of the series, so a resolution of this plot should have been the centerpiece of this issue, but, instead, all that’s given is another ‘to be continued.’ So, what was the point of this series exactly?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CBR Review: New Avengers #51

I recently reviewed New Avengers #51 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Tan’s use of repeated panels is odd this issue as one instance features Spider-Man eating Chinese food with noodles hanging out of his mouth while talking. No, really, what’s up with that? He says some stuff, other people talk and when he says more things, the noodles are still hanging out of his mouth. Is Spider-Man a gross eater? Or maybe, more thought should go into which panels are repeated?"

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Captain America #48

I recently reviewed Captain America #48 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With all of the political intrigue and clashes between past and present in Captain America, it’s easy to forget just how much of an action book it is. While action has always played a large role in the book, it's always overshadowed by Brubaker’s wonderful characterization and innovative use of both Steve Rogers and James Barnes’ pasts returned to haunt them. Well, issue 48 seems intent on reminding readers that this book can bring some serious quick-paced and expertly-done fights."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1

I recently reviewed Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Tom Mandrake may not seem the first choice for a story like this, but his gritty, creepy art is just what’s required. He works with shadows so well, not just illustrating a chained-up Gordon, but conveying the horrid feeling of imprisonment. His Freeze is also very spooky, a frozen metal monster with the vague hints of humanity beneath it all. His art captures the tone that McGraw is going for."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CBR Review: The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone

I recently reviewed the upcoming OGN The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "You know what’s a sign that you’ve encountered a quality book? You read through the PDF copy you’ve been given to advance review without any breaks, completely engrossed, and then, when you’ve finished, you think to yourself, 'Wow, I should buy this when it comes out.' That how good The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone is: I still want to buy a copy once it’s out. That’s the sign of a quality book right there."

You can read the rest HERE!

Some Random Thoughts (Mar. 25 2009)

  • Read the first issues BOOM's The Incredibles and The Muppet Show earlier this week and enjoyed both. The Incredibles suffers from the lack of voices since I think they really brought a lot to the characters in the film (come on, you need Holly Hunter and Sam Jackson!), but, otherwise, it's a cute little book. I never really watched The Muppet Show... at all, so the book didn't connect with me as it will almost surely connect with fans of the show. Really liked the art, though. Roger Langridge draws an awesome Kermit.

  • With a couple of Marvel titles I reviewed for CBR getting second printings, I've joined the "Marvel cherry-picked my review for a pull quote" club finally. For Dark Avengers #3, they took part of an early paragraph in my review that's used accurarely and part of a sentence from the end that's not quite as accurate: "This is Bendis at his best... a must read each month." I actually said: "If future issues continue the dark, psychological interplay between these deranged characters, then Dark Avengers will be a must read each month." For Secret Warriors #2, they didn't really alter it much to get "One of Marvel’s best books." They've yet to take a negative review and make it seem like I loved the book yet. (Okay, this random thought is me just doing the lamest sort of bragging there is...)

  • Has there been an explanation yet for the "Iron Fist is cancelled!--Oh wait, it's not!" business from Monday? After Marvel tried it with Captain Britain and MI:13, is it the new policy when trying to get fans all worked up and maybe increase sales on low-selling books?

  • I will be buying Wednesday Comics.

  • A while back, Brian Cronin had a post up at Comics Should be Good that I'm too lazy to link-hunt for about comic creators taking shots at one another in comics. Cronin argued that the practice has no place in comics. I'm going to disagree, if only because I love "Back in the USSR," which is, let's face it, a pot-shot song. The Beatles and the Beach Boys had a nice friendly rivalry going at the time, so the Beatles took it up a notch and did a song in the Beach Boys' style, but about America's big enemy at the time. It's a good song and wasn't really meant to be insulting to the Beach Boys, just a friendly jab. Now, comics are narrative and potshots can really detract from the narrative value, but, to me, that's just pointing out the difference between good and bad potshots: good ones don't detract, while bad ones do. To me, that's the only real rule: if it works, then it's okay; if it doesn't work, then it's not okay. As well, where do you draw the line? Is Brian Azzarello's use of the writers of 52 in Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality wrong? Does the maliciousness of the potshot count? Does it come down to which side you're more sympathetic to? Hard questions to answer.

  • Before anyone asks: no, I won't be reading or reviewing Flash: Rebirth or that Black Lantern story that's coming up. Not my thing and the only reason for me doing either would be to piss people off--and I don't go out of my way to do that. Most of the time. I'm really not a fan of bringing back Barry Allen (or Hal Jordan really), so that bias taints things. As for the Black Lanterns... I find the whole spectrum of Corps kind of silly/stupid.

  • The current storyline involving Chris Jericho and Hall of Famers on Monday Night Raw is a story I really wish DC would do in JSA: a young, very skilled guy calling out the old-timers as has-beens and glory hounds. Jericho is the heel, obviously, but it's also very hard to disagree with anything he says. But, my problems with the amount of active senior citizen superheroes in the DCU are nothing new.

  • The first issue of the new Seaguy series comes out next week. However, in a hypothetical universe, would you have rather Morrison gotten to complete the Seaguy trilogy or the Marvel Boy trilogy, assuming only one could happen? As much as I dig Seaguy, I'd probably pick Marvel Boy.

  • A while back, I remebered a story I came up with once called "Fear and Loathing in Metropolis." Clark Kent and... I can't remember if it was John Henry Irons, Ron Troupe, or J'onn off in search of Truth, Justice and the American Way. It would have been godawful. And, yet, still strangely compelling.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CBR Review: Caped #1

I recently reviewed Caped #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "How is Caped clichéd? Superhero who the world loves, but is really a giant asshole? That would be the Edge, a Batman-like hero with a Clark Kent-like secret identity, which also fulfills the requisite ‘archetypal superhero rip-off characters’ part of the book. An innocent, naïve newcomer who just can’t believe his eyes? Meet Jimmy Lohman, a wannabe journalist whose need for a job accidentally lands him the position as the Edge’s newest assistant. He looks up to and admires superheroes and is just ever so shocked to learn the truth."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #2

I recently reviewed Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #2 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Even more impressive is Pugh’s writing as he handles the pacing and dialogue deftly. This issue is a bit slower than the first, but that slowness is made up for with a greater focus on the book’s protagonist, Alice Hotwire, a police exorcist. Last issue introduced the concept that, at some point in the future, ghosts, or as they’re called here, blue lights, will manifest themselves until dampening technology keeps them at bay — at least in wealthy areas. Now, though, the blue lights are appearing within dampening fields and Alice needs to figure out why."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Democracy doesn't Work for Superheroes: Team Dynamics of the JLA in Kid Amazo

JLA: Kid Amazo kind of slipped under the radar of many, gaining the odd mention here and there when it first came out as JLA Classified #37-41 and, then, later as a trade collecting the five-part story. Originally intended as a graphic novel proper (with a different artist and the lead character having a different first name), it reads quite well as a cohesive whole. The plot is simple: Frank Halloran is a philosophy student at Berkley, is dating a Jewish girl named Sara (the religion thing is one of the main issues in their relationship because of her family), and has just been informed that he's actually the two-year-old cyborg son of Amazo. He rejects his father's ways, but the JLA (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and the John Stewart Green Lantern) are concerned that he will turn evil. Most of the plot revolves around these outside forces manipulating Frank in one direction or another until he goes insane. We also discover that, as Amazo's son, he doesn't just have the ability to replicate the powers of the Justice League like his father, but he can also replicate their personalities and minds. While the story is really about Frank's struggle between his robot programming to hate the Justice League (his gestation was ended early) and his human free will to make his own choices, the aspect of Kid Amazo that I enjoy most is Peter Milligan's deconstruction of the Justice League, as they don't function well as a team here at all.

Milligan takes certain liberties with the League in this story. The characterisations may not ring true for some since Milligan amplifies certain aspects of each character. We're meant to see them as... not 'types' or 'icons,' but as something different than what they normally are. They represent broad groups, while also coming across as more human and petty. In many ways, a more realistic representation of a group like this and the personality conflicts that come out of it.

The main conflict is that there is no leader of the Justice League here. There are people who think they lead the League, like Superman or Batman, who feel that their opinions and decisions should inform the actions of the other members, but that's not the case. What penalty is there for acting autonomously? The League splits on how to handle Frank's emerging powers with the Flash and Green Lantern quick to argue that they should "destroy" him, even when his human side is raised ("HUMAN LIFE? IT'S A CYBORG.") Wonder Woman and Batman want to observe him, wait and see what he chooses, the Martian Manhunter wants to reprogram him, but Superman decides that they should wait. Except, that's not what happens exactly. Wonder Woman informs Frank's girlfriend of his true identity/history, causing their break-up; and the Martian Manhunter invades Frank's mind to get a read on where he's at. In each of these instances, another member of the League raises the point that they acted outside of the League, but, as J'onn says, "I WASN'T AWARE I NEEDED AUTHORIZATION TO USE MY INITIATIVE. [... WE'RE A TEAM] COMPOSED OF INDIVIDUAL, AUTONOMOUS UNITS." In short, the League is a democracy, which means that every individual has the right to choose their own course. The line that sums it up best is said by the Flash after it's revealed that Wonder Woman talked to Sara: "FUNNY... I DON'T REMEMBER US HAVING A VOTE ON THAT ONE."

The interactions between members of the League here are filled with sarcasm and bickering, which comes to a head when they fight Frank at the end of the story. Frank, as I said before, has the additional power of replicating the League's various personalities, and uses that to take down each member one at a time. He attacks them psychologically as well as physically, first destroying their will to fight and then beating them. That is, until Batman uses those various personalities against him by pitting them against one another inside Frank's head just as we've seen them arguing throughout the story. The League begins to argue with one another, revealing inner tensions and problems, spurring Frank on until he blows up, unable to deal with his own schizophrenia, basically. Before he dies he lets spew a confluence of statements:








Frank reveals some inner thoughts of the League regarding its members, ones that barely go unsaid by the characters themselves up to this point.

After Frank's death, the Flash declares triumphantly that they've won, but Batman isn't so sure. That the Flash addresses Batman then as Socrates (Frank's nickname for him), immediately points to where Batman is thinking: they defeated Frank by demonstrating the disharmony of the League, all of the petty little bullshit that really exists. All the League did that day was defeat a schizophrenic man and bicker like children.

Is this the Justice League that fans are used to? No, but it really does ring true, working off Grant Morrison's conception of the League, which did have some of these issues, but never laid so bare. The League is not a team in the true sense: there is no leader, no real need to work together, no dependency, no trust... it's a collection of superheroes that pretend that they're all equal and working toward the same goals. But, democracy doesn't work for superheroes. I'm left wondering if the Justice League is really the United Nations of superheroes... a body that does good, but is actually ineffective in policing its own, in creating a unified agenda? Milligan raises some interesting questions in Kid Amazo... ones not easily answered.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Splash Page: The Watchmen Movie Part II

[Since I finally saw Watchmen this week, Tim and I decided to arrive late to the party and discuss it. The first part of the discussion can be read on Tim's blog.]

Chad Nevett: Not really, because nothing in it suggests anything but genuine sincerity. It doesn't comment on the tradition of violence in superhero movies or movies in general -- it just continues it. It's not over-the-top enough to make a comment and it's similarily stylised to other modern action movies. Nite-Owl and the Silk Spectre kicking ass in the alley and prison looks like it would fit in fine with other contemporary action movies. There's the odd moment of extreme violence, but mostly just "cool" moves shot in a "cool" way and altered in post-production to look even more "cool." It wasn't realistic, so it can't comment in that way. And, Christ, those constant slo-mo/speed-up effects that Snyder loves so much... I knew they were going to be in the movie, but they still bugged me.

The only way that the violence could be a comment would be the superhuman manner in which all of the non-superhuman characters fight, which is something that happens in action movies all of the time. The regular human that can get his ass beaten for twenty minutes and keep getting up... except, again, there doesn't seem to be a comment here, more just another example of the same old, same old. If anything, it takes some of those feats to more extreme lengths, but does so sincerely. Rorschach doing odd gymnastic moves to break into Moloch's apartment, or jumping through a second floor window, and continuing along as if nothing bothers him. The same sort of stuff shows up in the new Bond movies or Crank. It bothers me here more than anything because, well, I can't separate the movie from the book. Sometimes, I can; others, I can't.

Does this movie disprove Terry Gilliam's claim that Watchmen is unfilmable? On their "House to Astonish" podcast this week, Al Kennedy and Paul O'Brien touched on this with Kennedy saying that, yes, in a technical sense, the movie was made, so it was filmable, but is that what Gilliam was talking about? Wasn't he really saying that it's impossible to make a film version of Watchmen that comes close to the original? It could always be made... if you don't care about the quality. People talk about how faithful the film is to the book, but since we (or, at least, I) think it couldn't replicate the tone and feel of the book, is it really faithful? Personally, I'd rather have a film that changes the plot in an effort to keep the meaning and feel of the book (like Robert Altman's adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye) than something like Watchmen, which takes the superficial plot points and puts them all in there, but gets the subtext and feel completely wrong.

Timothy Callahan: I do think this movie proves that Watchmen is filmable, not simply because it's actually on film now. It has proven the "filmability" of Watchmen because the movie is frustratingly close to a good movie. It misses a lot of the heart of the graphic novel, but with a better-directed Ozymandias, better old-age makeup and wigs, better pacing and less of the explosive superhero megaviolence, it could have worked, I think. It's almost as if so much work went into the preproduction and postproduction that the actual production, the stuff like acting and getting the physical details right on the day of shooting, was less important to Snyder. And that's where the movie fails -- in that accumulation of details that he just plainly got wrong for this to be a great movie.

I also think that doing this version parodoxically frees Watchmen from ever being faithfully filmed again, but I would expect a remake in 20 years or less. A remake that's made by the next generation of filmmakers who won't make the same mistakes Snyder made, but will almost certainly make their own mistakes. But I'm looking forward to that happening. Not the mistakes, but the remake made with more freedom. There's no need to do the deep focus, superficial attention to superficial detail style of adaptation in the inevitable Watchmen remake. Take the core of the story and spin it at 24 frames per second, I say. Come on, next generation of filmmakers! Start thinking about what you'll do when you get a chance! Reinterpret Watchmen and put your vision up on the screen.

By the way, I'd just like to go on record saying I love the fast-slow-fast approach to fight scenes. It's probably not the best use of it in Watchmen, but it does fit with the overall amped up Snyder style, but in general, that kind of playful approach to time unfolding in the middle of a fight scene absolutely works for me. Anyone who doesn't like it is just a grumpy old fogey. Take that, internet!

Changing the subject back to Ozymandias and Matthew Goode...

Here's something that my local comic shop owner said to me today when I mentioned how wrong Ozymandias was portrayed in the movie. I said that the whole point of Ozymandias -- in the comics -- is that he's supposed to be the peak of human perfection, and he's shown as a super-nice, friendly guy in the series up until the climax. He's not sinister. He's doing what he thinks is for the good of humanity, because he's the only one smart enough to know what's at stake. My LCS guy said, "yeah, but in America we can't ever show someone who's smart AND nice. Think about it." And, yeah, that kind of made me stop and look around at the way genius is portrayed in American popular culture, and it always seems to come with either selfishness, social awkwardness, or pure evil. Smart and nice IS hard to come by in the media, at least in recent times.

What do you make of that observation and how it explains Ozymandias being a sleazy dickhead in the Watchmen movie?

CN: The portrayal of Ozymandias is, actually, the thing I probably hated most. He was a smug douchebag here and, even after saving the world, still seemed like a smug douchebag. Like you said, in the comics, he was a great guy and that's where a lot of the power of seeing his plan comes from: this genuinely nice and caring person choosing to kill so many people to save the world. Some may love Rorschach, but Ozymandias is still my favourite character from Watchmen and, probably, my favourite superhero of all time, if only because he does save the world no matter the cost.

The idea that you can't be smart and nice in America rings true to me. There's a certain fear/hatred of intelligence in the US that I've picked up on. My favourite example of that is a bit that Bill Hicks had about reading a book in a waffle house one night after a show. The waitress comes over and asks "What're you readin' for?" This causes Hicks to pause, because he's never been asked what he was reading 'for.' He's been asked what he's reading, just not what for. (He then adds, to the audience, that he reads probably so he won't end up as a waffle house waitress.) Then, a trucker comes over, stands over him and goes, "Well, looks like we got ourselves a reader." Hicks was mystified as to how reading a book can cause such reactions and so am I. Whatever causes reactions like that, that's why Ozymandias has to be a smug douchebag. I honestly don't understand it.

Beyond that, I think it may also have to do with Ozymandias being the 'villain' of the story. Of course, he's really the hero, with the other characters revealed as small-minded saps who didn't realise that they were trying to stop him from saving the world. Okay, it's more complex than that, but that's how I like to read it. But, is that too nuanced and, well, smart for audiences? I don't think so, but the idea that it could be probably went into his characterisation as well. He's a murderer of innocents! He's inhuman! Yes, he saves the world, but the ends don't justify the means! That the Comedian is presented more sympathetically than Ozymandias is troubling, I will admit.

Or, maybe... maybe, Matthew Goode is just naturally a smug douchebag? I don't know, this my first experience seeing his work. Judging from the rest of the movie, it's obvious that Snyder can't direct actors and seemingly lets them just do what they will, so it's possible that Goode took the character in that direction himself without Snyder meaning him to. But, given Nite-Owl's extremely violent outburst against Ozymandias, I'd guess that Goode did as Snyder intended.

TC: Goode can definitely act. Check out The Lookout when you get a chance. He's a douchebag in that movie, but with a completely different kind of performance.

I think it's safe to say that we found Watchmen, as filtered through Zack Snyder, to be far from perfect, but how does it compare to other superhero movies? Is it even worth ranking it on the list of say Batman and Robin, Superman III, X-Men, and The Dark Knight? I think it's fun to make lists, and I know you do too. So, where do you think this movie belongs? Would it even make your Top 10? By the sound of it, I'm guessing...not so much.

CN: It probably would, only because I haven't seen a lot of superhero movies. I've avoided them in the past for various reasons. The primary one being that I have no interest in seeing another version of these origin stories that I've read twenty million different ways. Another being that I find superheroes look really dumb in real life. Any time I see an actor dressed as Batman walk around, it takes me right out of it, because it just looks ridiculous. But, for the sake of argument, with The Dark Knight and Iron Man at one end, and Batman and Robin at the other, I'd say that I would rank this around Batman Forever, which is towards the negative side, yeah, but has some enjoyable parts. I will say that I plan on getting the deluxe DVD of Watchmen if only to give it a second chance and see what Snyder's "true vision" is. I'm not expecting it to be better. At all. But, who knows, maybe I'll find more to like.

TC: I think the extended cut will be interesting, and I suspect that it may make some of the performances more consistent by placing them in a larger context. Still, there's no excuse for Ozymandias. None.

I'd rank Watchmen as #6 on my all-time comic book superhero movie list, right after X2 and right before Mystery Men. It seems to belong between those two, somehow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CBR Review: Punisher #3

I recently reviewed Punisher #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The latest Punisher iteration seems to be finding a happy medium between the grim MAX series and the goofier Punisher War Journal, as Frank Castle is smack dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe, but possesses a serious attitude with villains played up as actual threats instead of walking punch lines. There’s still an element of fun here, though, with the odd little moment of cool goofiness like the Shaolin Scientist Squad, a group of Chinese doctors charged with harvesting organs."

You can read the rest HERE!

Book of the Week 10: Air #7

[Sometimes, a book that I don't review for CBR warrants its own discussion beyond a couple of barely strung-together sentences. Sometimes, a comic costs $1 and, therefore, gets purchased by me. Sometimes, today is sometimes. (And, sometimes, I'm very, very lame.)] So, Vertigo is offering new ongoing series' first issues at $1 (USD) and they've even been kind enough to extend that to Air #7. Me being me, I figured I'd give any and all $1 Vertigo books a look, mostly because I'm usually tempted to give any and all Vertigo books a look, so offering them at 1/3 the price really gives me no excuse.

I'd read mixed things regarding Air. Some praised it, others called it mediocre, few outright damned it. The worst comments were usually along the lines of "interesting, but not well executed," which, honestly, is the sort of comment that will make me pick up a book. It's no secret that I love works with ambition even that ambtion leads to horrible failure. Fuck it, I support ambition, because even if it only truly succeeds 1 time out of 50, it's worth it--and much better than supporting safe, spineless works that succeed because the bar is set so low that a blind monkey scripting and a deformed, stillborn tadpole drawing could still leap over it with kilometres to spare. But, I didn't pick up Air because of intuition. It didn't call to me. I know, that makes little to no sense, but a big part of what I decide to buy is based on what "feels" right. Why did I pick up Young Liars #1, but not Air #1? I honestly can't say, beyond I had a feeling that Young Liars would be my sort of thing and Air wouldn't. It's not any more or less complicated than that. And, you know what, my intuition is rarely wrong. I am damn good at walking into a comic, book or music store, browsing, and buying things sight unread/listened, and they turn out to be awesome. Sometimes, it's the description, sometimes it's the cover, sometimes it's the title... there's no logic or reason behind it, but it works for me. (And, obviously, it works for me, so I'm not suggesting anyone else adopt my odd methods. Even I don't really want to use my odd methods, but I sort of have to.)

Air #7 is a puzzler as I'm not sure it proved my instincts wrong. But I'm also not sure it didn't.

Before getting into that, I want to commend Vertigo and G. Willow Wilson on the way this issue is presented: the price in large print on the cover, a page of quotes from various sources praising the book and, then, an introduction from Wilson that recaps the first six issues in an interesting, non-recap manner. While I'm all in favour of direct recaps with headshots and character bios, I also never read those, because they're fucking awful, so good on Wilson for trying to make the recap interesting and more like an introduction you would find in a trade paperback or book.

The actual comic itself leaves me questioning the wisdom, while also not. In many ways, this is completely new reader friendly, mostly in relating to plot. I followed the plot perfectly fine: Blythe is in Zayn and lives through his life starting at ten, both aware of her situation and unable to deviate from what happened, slowly forgetting that she's not really him... until we reach a recent event involving Zayn and herself, and she snaps out it. Zayn's life is of a Saudi sent to the US for schooling and what happens there. It's an intriguing story, one that's not entirely original but still got me interested in the character and, as things progressed, the world he lives in. So, plot-wise, things are solid.

Where it fails is emotionally: the climax of the issue, at the end, as we see Zayn's perspective on the recent event with Blythe, giving her insight into what he was thinking, it's obvious that this scene would work if I'd read the first six issues. As it is, it reads like an in joke between a couple where you can tell that what's being said has meaning, but you just don't get it. You could ask about it, but you don't really want to. I know that this explicit lack of meaning is meant to make me want to read the first six issues and then keep on reading the book, but it doesn't quite.

I've been thinking about this on and off since reading the issue yesterday, and I'm sure I'll keep on thinking about it right up until seeing issue eight on the stands next month, but I'm honestly not sure if I'll keep reading Air. I can see how some would love this. I can see how it's meant to be more ambitious and interesting, but can't really express those ideas fully yet. The book has potential--and I really like MK Perker's art, but... I don't know.

But, I am closer to buying this series than I was on Tuesday and that's an improvement.

CBR Review: Dark Avengers #3

I recently reviewed Dark Avengers #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The first nine pages of this comic are some of the strongest that Brian Michael Bendis has done in his time on the Avengers books and are a treat for anyone who’s been waiting for Bendis to address the Sentry’s mental problems and role in Norman Osborn’s group. CBR’s preview of the issue provides a large chunk of the scene and, as you can see, Osborn’s handling of the Sentry is both chilling and, surprisingly, humane. Obviously, Osborn’s primary goal is to get the Sentry under his control, but how much is also a genuine kinship that Osborn feels for Bob?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CBR Review: X-Files #5

I recently reviewed X-Files #5 (yes, I'm going to do all six issues) for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The stories have gotten progressively better in Wildstorm’s X-Files series. Doug Moench comes on board as the third writer with the first part of an investigation by Mulder and Scully into a possible serial killer who claims that he doesn’t kill anyone and that he works for monstrous ‘nasty ones’ who live underground. After two stories more thriller than horror, this creepy tale is a nice change of pace and shows the broader elements of this property."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Splash Page: Battle for the Cowl #1 Part I

[After spending so much time discussing Grant Morrison's Batman run, it seemed fitting for Tim and I to take a look at Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 this week. Gee, will we like it? I don't know...]

Tim Callahan: I have to admit that even though I came home with a big stack of comics on Wednesday (and a Jack Kirby hardcover), the first thing I read -- the thing I ended up being the most eager to read -- was Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1, written and drawn by Tony Daniel. I just couldn't wait to see how Daniel dealt with the post-"R.I.P." post-Final Crisis aftermath. I'm not the biggest fan of Tony Daniel's art, but I certainly didn't go into this book with any negativity. I went into this comic with a completely open mind, and I absolutely...

Well, I'll let you go first. What did you think of it?

Chad Nevett: I also read it first out of all my comics. Unlike you, I went in with all sorts of negativity. Tons of negativity. I went in expecting a comic that can only be described as "godawful." And I was disappointed, because it's just regular old bad. Not very bad, not the hoped-for godawful, just bad. (Oh, and to answer the obvious question of why I would buy a comic I expected to be godawful: for this column.) It's not a good comic. The art is typical Tony Daniel work, which is among some of the better heavily Image-influenced work out there right now, but it's still heavily Image-influenced, so... The writing wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, but it wasn't anything special. A rather mediocre, predictable plot, some moments of odd characterisation (Damian in particular stood out as bearing no connection to previous portrayals), and, really, an utter lack of drama. I was bored reading it, honestly. It didn't make me angry or ready to come online and trash it, it just made me shrug, put it aside and continue on with my other books. I think I'd be a bit harsher if I was a Bat-fan, but since I'm just waiting for June to arrive with Batman and Robin, I can't muster up the energy to care about Battle for the Cowl.

Beyond discussing it with you, of course... What did you think?

TC: I thought the art looked a bit better than it did on "Batman R.I.P." which made me think that he probably rushed to meet deadlines on that title, but he had a little more lead time here so it looked fine. I'm not a fan of the style, but except for a few jarring storytelling moments (like when the Arkham gang is all of a sudden out of the bus from one panel to the next), it was a decent version of that mediocre, post-Jim Lee style of art that some people seem to like.

But I thought the writing was absolutely terrible.

It reminded me of early Todd McFarlane writing, circa Spider-Man. It was all sentence fragments and on-the-nose descriptions. It was like reading Twitter messages from the most inane people imaginable. "This is what I'm doing now. I am doing it."

And though the plot may have been editorially imposed -- I don't know how much of this is actual Tony Daniel's story, and how much this is just connecting the dots established by DC higher-ups -- it's too packed with characters at the expense of story. And it has that Countdown feel to it, too. That feeling of, "oh, Grant Morrison's going to pick up with this new status quo in a few more months, so let's be really obvious about how we're going to get there, step by step."

One of our colleagues at CBR gave it 3 1/2 stars, but I would have given it maybe 1 star. 1 1/2 at the most. It's weak, and the only thing that saves it is the use of the Black Mask (who isn't used well, but I've always liked the Black Mask) and the way the Third Policeman Batman is tearing up the city. At least, I assume it's the third Batman doppelganger from Morrison's run who we see at the end of this first issue. I could be wrong.

CN: I think the solicitation for the third issue says that it's Jason Todd. I thought it was the Third Policeman when I first saw the teaser image for Battle for the Cowl, but, yeah, I remember the solicit saying that it was Jason. I figure if it were the Third Policeman, he'd just keep wearing the same costume from Morrison's run -- although, it's hinted that he may be the new Azrael or something.

I can't believe you hated the writing more than I did! I think we hated it equally or thereabouts, but my low expectations made it seem not quite as bad, while your neutrality made it seem worse. Yeah, it's bad, but it's that workmanlike going from point A to point B sort of writing. I think that because it so utterly lacks in ambition, I can't fault it too much for being so bad, because I don't think Daniel was shooting for anything beyond this (aside from thinking it's good). I don't think he's trying to be anything but obvious in dropping obvious hints and insultingly basic narration. While Todd McFarlane's writing always had a hint of pretention, like he thought he was a great writer, Daniel's work almost screams, "Hey, I know this isn't up there with Morrison, but I'm not trying to be that good! I just want to write an action comic that ends with someone as Batman!" Not good, but it could be worse. I would have probably given it two stars...

One element of the writing that really bothers me is just how messed up Gotham is despite there being so many costumed vigilantes. I get that Batman is the goddamn man and all, but considering he kept the city under control alone, are we to believe that his not being there is having such an impact despite the dozen or so people that have stepped up in his place? Was the terror of the Batman that strong, or is this just a lame attempt to make the idea of Batman more important than it really would be?

TC: And, really, how long has he been gone? He was gone for 12 freakin' months just a couple of years back, and Two-Face totally cleaned up Gotham pretty much on his own during that time. Now, Batman's gone for three hours and the city is overrun by baddies? Yeah, that's silly, but I don't have a problem with it because it's the whole basis for the story. (But it is a silly contrivance, given recent Gotham history.)

[To be continued on Tim's blog!]

CBR Review: Young Liars #13

I recently reviewed Young Liars #13 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Young Liars #13 reads like an episode of The Prisoner, with the audience very much aware that nothing is right and the protagonist slowly comes to the same realization. Who can he trust? Who’s a victim? Who’s a warder? And, so, he slowly pushes back, begins to test the limits of his new world to see just how far he can go. One day, he tramples Loreli’s rose bushes and the next day, they’re back. What if he were to burn his house down? What if his best friend, Kenny were to get his head beaten in? How far can he go until the illusion won’t hold, until the true nature of the world must reveal itself?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CBR Review: Charlatan Ball #6

I recently reviewed Charlatan Ball #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Say what you will, but Charlatan Ball is a very fun comic. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It begins with another metafictional reference, but even that is goofy and fluffy. Unlike the appearance of Joe Casey and Ashley Wood in Automatic Kafka, which did have moments of humor but was serious overall, Casey and Andy Suriano here are comic characters in their own right. The over-the-top art features exaggerated expressions, strange body dimensions and an utter disregard for the laws of physics."

You can read the rest HERE!

more Watchmen comments from my comic class

Steve here again, posting a wide variety of comments the students in my comic class had about Watchmen as we read it.

When we read chapter four, the Dr. Manhattan chapter, I had my students write about the character. I broke them into groups and had each group look at a different aspect of the character.

One group analyzed Jon Osterman's behavior before he became Dr. Manhattan to see how he was already displaying some of the detachment and belief in predestination that Dr. Manhattan is famous for. This group focused on how Jon was a bit of a pushover, planning to be a watchmaker because it's what his father wanted and then abandoning that career for physics when his father ordered him to. He only ever dated Janey Slater at her insistence, so it's no wonder that, after the fact, he claims that the universe was always his guide. He takes no responsibility for his actions because he never has, and his new unique perspective on time simply provides him an excuse for only intervening when he HAS to.

A second group focused on just that, Dr. Manhattan's view of the passage of time, which led to a pretty straightforward discussion of predeterminism v. free will. A third group looked at how Jon's abilities have shaped the world, in regards to society, politics, and pop culture.

Finally the fourth group discussed Jon's detachment from humanity in chapter four. I asked them whether or not there were any signs that he might care about people a bit more than he claims to. Some of the students argued that his claims of detachment were just sour grapes, the act of an outcast. Because the world treats him as different, he withdraws emotionally from the world as if to say "I never wanted to be in your stupid club anyway." He's not as completely emotionless as he claims, since he does react in anger when confronted about possibly giving cancer to those he loves and he runs away to Mars like a teenager hiding in his room when Laurie leaves him. (You could even make a case that while on Mars Jon is a stereotypical emo kid, making "profound" statements about the nature of the universe while lamenting over lost love.)

Other students then pointed out that these emotional responses were interesting when considered through the lens of his foreknowledge. Why would he get angry at the interview with Nova Express, they wondered, if he knew it was going to happen? My response was that foreknowledge of an event doesn't mean you're totally prepared for the emotional ramifications of it. I said to them, "I could warn you that I was going to punch you in the face, but it wouldn't make it hurt any less when I did so."

I also had my students write about symbolism when we got up to the seventh chapter, which is rife with symbols like reflections in glass representing the nostalgic remembrances of various characters or the embracing silhouettes/shadows/skeletons which could illustrate the emotional cost armageddon has on those at its heart. They also mentioned the recurring motif of the slashed circle (representing both impending doom and tainted innocence, depending on the scene) and of course the pirate comic. But one symbol a couple of students mentioned that I liked was Nite Owl's goggles. In issue seven, Dan makes mention of how he could always see more clearly when he wore them, and Laurie also wipes the dust from their lenses at one point, clearing the obstruction of her view (she does this also on the fogged-up window and on Archie's dust-covered eye). Each of these actions, my students argued, showed the characters of Laurie and Dan recognizing just how dependent they were on their costumed identities, how they need them to fully express themselves and how they are finally able to be honest about who they are when they're in costume.

Finally, when we got to the end of the book, one student pointed out that it was interesting how in one issue we see Adrian murder his three servants with poison, yet later he claims to Dan and Rorschach that they opened the dome themselves in a drunken stupor and died accidentally. We came to the conclusion that this disparity goes to show that Adrian is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. He won't admit to personally getting his hands dirty killing these three men, even though he has just killed millions in New York. It also reveals his true nature, for if lying about the death of these three men is so easy for him, might he not be lying about his motivations for killing the population of New York? He claims to have altruistic reasons for his heinous crime, his desire for world peace, but he has also been maneuvering his companies in such a way to set it up that he will be the one to usher in this new age. He doesn't want world peace; he wants to shape the world in his image (as illustrated in his flier for the Veidt method) so his legacy will be remembered forever.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CBR Review: Scalped #26

I recently reviewed Scalped #26 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Scalped #26 is a rare sight on the shelves as it is completely self-contained and stand-alone. Knowing who Diesel is adds to the story, of course, but it can just as easily be read as a short story about a man in prison and a moment in his childhood. It’s so divorced from everything else that it’s really remarkable how well it both fits into the overall Scalped story and stands off by itself. No other characters from the series are mentioned, and that adds to it in many ways."

You can read the rest HERE!

Process: Unused Beginning to a CBR Review of Charlatan Ball #6

Here is an opening I tried to make work (and couldn't) for a CBR review of Charlatan Ball #6:

My weekly journey across town for comics involves twenty minutes or so on the bus each way, another ten to fifteen minutes waiting for the bus and, oh, two minutes actually in the comic shop. It’s pretty nice and I enjoy the whole thing quite a bit. It’s a lovely little routine that I keep to with an insane determination. What amuses me most is how, while my part of the whole outing is always the same, everything around it changes. Some Wednesdays, the bus is practically empty both ways. Some Wednesdays, the bus is packed both ways. Some Wednesdays, I see people I recognize from previous trips, while, some Wednesdays, I don’t.

Today, while waiting for the bus outside of my shop, my back to the ferocious winds that have plagued Windsor on this fine, sunny day, I smelled an odd smoke. It wasn’t cigarette smoke, but reminded me more of an old cigar shop. The smell grew stronger and, soon, a man ambled past me, pipe sticking out of his mouth, and looking very much like a character from “Charlatan Ball.” He was in his fifties, black, wore a large hat, a fur coat, dark glasses, was short, overweight, and had a face not quite Kirby-esque, but close. For some reason, he stood by the door to the shop and waited for the bus, but didn’t get on when it came. Maybe he wasn’t finished with his pipe. Maybe he enjoyed the sunshine despite the harsh winds.

Maybe he was just a fun-lovin’ guy like the comic he seemingly sprang from.

Ah, writing... fun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

CBR Review: Captain Britain and MI:13 #11

I recently reviewed Captain Britain and MI:13 #11 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s JLA and Warren Ellis’s The Authority with this issue. Paul Cornell’s take on the MI:13 group has that same level of intelligence and professionalism come through its characters. They’re attacked by Dracula in an obviously planned manner, so they don’t make some hollow speeches, they don’t let rage get the better of them, they don’t pose awkwardly and swear vengeance: they stop, they assess the situation, and they begin to plan a response. Yes, yes, there will be lots of kicksplode later no doubt, but, before that, why not have these characters act like the adults they’re supposed to be?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Building a Better Batreader: Grant Morrison's Second Year on Batman

It's been well over a year since I did my post on Grant Morrison's first year on Batman, which went up through the "Club of Heroes" story that introduced the Black Glove. I will be picking up from there and continuing on through the rest of Morrison's run, plus the parts of Final Crisis that apply to Batman. I won't be directly referencing anyone (at least, that's the plan), but, of course, there is much debt to Tim Callahan and his writing on the book, which, no doubt, influences the following without me meaning for it to. Also, with something as discussed online like Morrison's Batman work, it would be hard to not accidentally repeat something said elsewhere. If I repeat something, it is not intential as my approach here is to just reread the issue and do some direct textual analysis. It's possible that I read what you wrote months ago and it stuck, but it's also possible that we just came up with the same conclusions, so, please, do not get pissed off if it appears that I'm "stealing" from you since that's not the case. I was brought up a good little academic boy and know all about citing one's sources, which is why I'm purposefully ignoring the rest of the online world--and waited a few months before beginning this post. Well, with all of that said, let's get on with it:

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul (Batman #670-671, annual #26 (by Peter Milligan), Robin #168 (by Peter Milligan), Nightwing #138 (by Fabian Nicieza), Detective Comics #838-839 (by Paul Dini), #842 (by Peter Milligan)

You may notice that only one issue of Robin and Nightwing is listed. That's because I didn't buy the second issue of each title that was part of "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul," because, well, I didn't feel like it. This story also raises the question of authorship since, out of the eight issues I mention, Morrison only wrote two; Paul Dini wrote the same amount, while Peter Milligan wrote more. However, "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is a story that seemed to stem from Morrison's run with the prologue happening there and, also, building upon his introduction of Damian, Bruce Wayne's son with Talia al Ghul. As well, to ignore these issues because Morrison didn't write them would pull a small piece of his run out of the discussion--and to not include the non-Morrison issues would also make his efforts exist without context. So, for better or for worse, I'm discussing all of them (aside from those issues of Robin and Nightwing I couldn't care enough to buy).

To put it bluntly, this isn't a good story, overall. However, Morrison's influence is heavy as it continues to push one of the overarching ideas/themes of his run, fathers and sons. In fact, that's all "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is about. There is nothing else here except fathers and sons. That overwhelming singular topic is driven into the ground over and over again. There is no room for anything else.

The main thrust of the story is that Ra's al Ghul has survived his death by transferring his consciousness to another body. However, unless that body is a blood relative, his mind will reject it. Maybe. I'm not sure about that point, because his original plan was to transfer his mind to that of one of his bodyguards, but said bodyguard freaked out and poisoned himself. So, at the beginning of the story, Ra's is in a dead/dying body. There is emphasis on the new body being a blood relative, but he also, at one point, tries to use Tim Drake's body and, later, uses the body of a monk. It seems like none of the writers know exactly what the rules are, so just make up stuff as they go along.

The Batman annual by Peter Milligan acts like a prologue to the entire story, while his issue of Detective Comics is an epilogue, of sorts. The annual mostly recounts the origin of Ra's al Ghul while Batman hunts down a Lazarus Pit in Australia. Here, the idea that Ra's will take over the body of Damian, Batman's son, is introduced and not particularly well. There is a certain amount of illogic here since the White Ghost (who is later revealed to be Ra's al Ghul's son) is preparing Damian for this through Talia (who is unaware of his true goal), but, after Talia and Damian escape, Batman arrives and throws the White Ghost in the Lazarus Pit. Now, it's established that Ra's's consciousness is in the Pit and, by entering it, Damian would be taken over... so, if Ra's needs a male relative (supposedly), why doesn't he take over the White Ghost? But, that would be too soon and make the eight-part "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" unnecessary...

Even Morrison's issues lack a real reason for existence. They do introduce Tony Daniel to Batman as he is to Morrison's second year what Andy Kubert was to his first. Except less competent. Both Daniel and Kubert share an affinity for action comics (despite not necessarily depicting action well) and an utter lack of ability when it comes to facial expressions and body language. Daniel coming aboard the title gives the entire run a strange cohesion in its look. Replacing Kubert with someone better than Daniel would almost ruin it... in an odd way. The lack of skill, the lack of nuance, the lack of ability to properly depict what Morrison is going for... it seems almost crucial. I don't know why yet. Maybe I'll work this out for myself as the post progresses.

"The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is concerned with the relationship between fathers and sons. Batman has four sons, two adopted (Dick and Tim), one more symbolic (Jason) and one biological (Damian). Three of them are heavily involved here as Ra's al Ghul, Batman's "father-in-law" (not technically, but symbolically) wants to put his mind in the body of his grandson, Damian--or, failing that, another of Batman's sons, Tim. Throughout this, Batman's relationship with each of his sons (aside from his relationship with Dick really--which is a refreshing change of pace in many ways) is referenced and explored, demonstrating that Batman's primary concern is his mission. He surrounds himself with these sons that are merely a reflection of himself. He trains them to be him. His goal with them is to live on in them. Gee, does that possibly mirror Ra's al Ghul's goal? He wants to live on literally in one of Batman's sons, preferrably his own grandson. Add in Ra's's own father, the Sensai, and that, at the end of the story, Ra's takes over the body of his ignored/outcast/illiegitmate son, the White Ghost, and you can see how it's all about fathers and sons.

Which begs the question: what about Talia? She is the sole mother here, so her role is of particular interest since she is the one main character that falls outside of the father/son relationship (even Alfred is in there as Bruce's substitute father). She is the only one who actually puts the welfare of her child above everything else. She betrays Ra's to save Damian, she criticises Bruce for not putting Damian and goes against his wishes to take Damian from the final battle. Her role is to criticise the entire male perspective here, one of work and personal pursuits before family. She is not a suitable host for Ra's al Ghul's consciousness because she is a woman. In a way, the story is an argument against the classic male mindset--and written by four men.

Through fathers and sons, the concept of immortality is introduced and plays heavily in this story. As I said above, part of the father/son relationship, especially the one that Batman has with his sons, is the father trying to live on through the son. Each of Batman's sons begin as Robin, an identity shared here by both Tim and Damian. Dick has progressed beyond that and has become his own man, although one very similar to Bruce. He has adopted the same colours and does the same job--for all his talk of not being like Bruce, he is just like Bruce... and both Tim and Damian are well on their way to being like him, too.

The odd man out, in a way, is Jason. He is only referenced in passing by Ra's al Ghul in Detective Comics #838 when trying (half-heartedly) to convince Tim to join him:





While Ra's alludes to events that didn't play out exactly as he wants to suggest, he does raise the point that the father will often discard the son if the son either shows too much autonomy or doesn't live up to the father's expectations. This is a fear that Tim has regarding Bruce and Damian, which causes yet another fight between the two in Robin #168. That Damian wears a Robin costume as well (without the explicit approval of Bruce but since nothing is said, Tim has to assume there is implicit approval) is a constant reminder for Tim that, yes, there is another son--there's always another son, and he could be replaced at any time.

Is this an accurate picture of Batman, father? If you go by events, I think it is. As is demonstrated in this story, he does put the mission first, and his role as father second. Any moments of parental nicety or sweetness are fleeting, quickly overcome by demands to be tougher, stronger, smarter, and more dedicated--a better reflection of him--a means for his legacy (and, thus, himself) to live on. Not that Ra's al Ghul is any different as he continually wavers between love and affection, and distaste and shame for his daughter, Talia. There is a father's love for his daughter there--but also always the regret and shame that she isn't a son. Were she to marry, his name would be lost! And, then, there's the White Ghost (or Dusan, which is his real name and only spoken just before he gives his body to Ra's), the outcast son, never referred to by his true name, always the servant, never good enough to be the reflection of Ra's because he is an albino. Only in the end, when there are no other options, does Ra's accept him and see that he was the most loyal of his children, the one that he should have embraced and entrusted with his legacy.

Beyond that, Ra's al Ghul is obsessed with living forever literally, not merely through his progeny. Through the Lazarus Pits, he has lived for thousands of years and, here, even goes beyond traditional living to free his consciousness from his body and survive beyond death, albeit for a limited time only. So, here, he continues to live by taking over the bodies of others with the ultimate desire of taking over his grandson's body since it is a male relative and young. What's interesting is that, after he takes over the body of Dusan, Dusan's features change to look like those of Ra's. Now, this is most likely caused by Ryan Benjamin's boderline incompetent art* since the characters don't look that different to begin with (when they should), but it's an interesting idea nonetheless. (* Want a concrete example? In the previous issue, Detective Comics #838, Benjamin depicts a fight between Batman & Talia and some ninjas. Talia is hit in the lower back with... what are no doubt supposed to be throwing stars, but look more like playing cards with holes in the middle. Two pages later, after the fight is over, Batman checks on her and, somehow, her wound is on her left shoulder. That's Ryan Benjamin's art.)

The story ends with a strangely odd (and almost disturbing) scene where Alfred, Bruce, Dick and Tim fly back to Gotham, toasting "family." Bruce and his two sons who are already difficut to differentiate from him out of costume... yeesh.

The epilogue story doesn't really fit into these themes since it concerns the armour that Batman wears in "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul," which was given to him by Talia. It's a nice little story by Peter Milligan with some solid Dustin Nguyen art.

The Third Policeman (#672-675)

And we're back to the "real" Morrison run. While "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" did continue some of his ideas and themes, it seemed like a story that happened outside of Morrison's run. With these issues, we're right back into the plot of the fake Batmen and the Black Glove.

Honestly, these issues disappoint me for reasons entirely unfair and not actually related to them at all. See, I group these issues under the heading "The Third Policeman," because that's who the villain here is (well, aside from issue 675, which gets included here because it's got to go somewhere) the third policeman Batman replacement. Now, some of you may know that Flann O'Brien has a book called The Third Policeman, which a professor I had for a grad class and then, later, assisted with a class loved. So, under his recommendation (and the recommendation of a prof I had in undergrad who loved O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds), I got a hardcover collecting all of O'Brien's novels and read The Third Policeman this summer. Being me, I was hoping that it would somehow tie into these issues of Morrison's Batman, which they don't--not really. Oh, I could try and even see a way how to do so, but the connection is tenuous and would spoil the book quite a bit. If there was more there, I wouldn't care, but to do it just because I fancy the idea? That's not my style. So, these issues disappoint because I made the connection between this being the third policeman and O'Brien's novel... not really Morrison's fault or an actual problem with the issues. I bring it up only as an "amusing" anecdote. (Oh, and I highly recommend The Third Policeman.)

Each of these four issues stand alone in their own way, even the three that are connected directly. They flow into one another, but issues 672 and 674 are broken up by 673, which, while taking place as a result of what happened in the previous issue, happens in Batman's head, acting as something distinct from the narrative it is in. It's an odd structure that Morrison uses, but effective.

Batman #672 picks up, almost literally, after issues 664-665 where Batman revealed the existence of the Black Casebook and fought against te Bat-Bane police imitator. On the first page of 672, we even see one of the prostitutes from those issues as the Third Policeman storms into police HQ, demanding to speak with Commissioner Vane. Other police officers recognise who and what he is, but Commissioner Gordon doesn't. The Third Policeman speaks of returning from hell with a secret about himself and Batman. His requesting Commissioner Vane shows that this replacement Batman was to have had a similar relationship with the then police commissioner than the real Batman has with Vane's replacement. The replacement Batman deals with the replacement commissioner, in a sense, here.

Morrison cuts away from this to jump back into Bruce Wayne's relationship with Jezebel Jet, which is discussed on a View-like show called "The Scene." (The big difference, of course, is that Tony Daniel draws the four women here as insanely thin, insanely attractive and in their early 30s at the very oldest...) And who is one of the women who host the show? Vicki Vale, having shown up as a host in an issue of Wonder Woman previously. Morrison once again brings back elements of Batman's past, even in quick passing like here. Alfred is concerned with the seriousness of Bruce's relationship with Jezebel, already showing concern that foreshadows her betrayal of Bruce in "Batman R.I.P.," but Bruce shrugs it off--he's already realised that she will betray him, in a scene from #664.

During a charity basejump, the Bat-signal calls Bruce away to deal with the Third Policeman who has taken Gordon to the roof and reveals the existence of Branca and Muller, the other two policeman Batman replacements. A small continuity note: in this issue, Muller is identified as the Bat-Bane policeman, but, in #674, those names are reversed. When Batman confronts the Third Policeman, he again identifies him as one of the doppelgangers from a dream he once had, and is shot in the chest with a concusive round, which gives him a heart attack. As he blacks out, he has visions of green luminous writing that spells out "ZUR EN ARRH," and of Bat-Mite who has a weird alien thing on his back. This continues into the next issue where the entire thing takes place in Bruce's head as he lays dead.

Batman #673 is one of the most important issues of Morrison's run. It is fragmented, it jumps around, and it ties together a lot of his ideas, particularly the use of past stories previously thought of as "out of continuity" as key to understanding one of his stories. The only idea that outpaces Morrison's concern with the father/son relationship is the idea that every Batman story you've ever read happened somehow. It may not have happened exactly as originally depicted, but it happened. All of them. Every single last one. Morrison uses that idea to explore what kind of human being could have all of those experiences and not just remain sane but thrive. Morrison heavily suggests later in his run that Bruce Wayne does have a superpower: he can mentally and emotionally cope with more than any other person alive. He is so damaged, so driven, so focused, so goddamn fucked up, that he can live through anything and keep going. To simply have every Batman story ever printed count is nothing more than an interesting idea, but to use that as a jumping off point to explore what having all of those experiences would mean is what Morrison bases his run, especially this second year, around. He gave hints of this at the tail end of his first year with the Black Casebook and the Club of Heroes, but this issue is the key to the idea as Morrison purposefully references Batman #156 (which Tim Callahan explains--okay, one citation) and uses that issue from 1963 to build up the character around which his entire run revolves, the Black Glove.

"Joe Chill in Hell" ostensibly takes place while Batman is dead. The title focuses on Joe Chill, the man who killed the Waynes, but also continues the Satanic references that point to the Black Glove being the devil. Not only that, there's a subtle suggestion that, while dead, Batman gets a window into Chill in Hell--that he is being punished for his crimes and is forced to relive the period where Batman seemingly tortured him psychologically. Now, the Hell here is obviously meant to be a figurative one, but there's also a small amount of comfort here, that Chill is being punished and is in agony for crimes.

One thing that comes up in this issue (and was mentioned in previous issues possibly--I can't remember) is the Thogal ritual Bruce underwent in Nanda Parbat, which, here is mentioned to be 13 days, but, when I went back to my 52 trades, it's mentioned as being only 7 days. Later, when the rock to the cave is removed, he says it's the 30th (or 27th) 49th day... those most likely referencing the lack of time/ability to tell time during the ceremony. The 7/13 difference, though, is not quite as easily explained. Small point, though.

This issue continues the father/son commentary in a few ways. First, Batman's relationship to Joe Chill. Chill mentions here that he didn't kill Bruce along with his parents because Bruce was the same age as his son, establishing the father/son relationship between the two, which is more direct in that Chill killing Bruce's parents gave birth to Batman. Joe Chill is Batman's creator, his father. Except Batman is a son that his father is not just ashamed of, is horrified to learn that he birthed. In this issue, Batman actually leads to Chill's suicide, giving him the gun--the son kills the father, finally destroying everything the father had. And he revels in it, giggling madly over it.

During his isolation experiment to understand the Joker, Bruce gives up being Batman after hallucinating that Dick, his "son" is dead, taken as a result of Batman and Robin. While it seems like a small moment of Batman being endangered, it's really a moment of hope as Bruce breaks free from the father/son influence, recognising that pushing his son to be like him was a mistake. The son matters more than the mission for once! But, it was fake, it was not to be, because Batman is always the most important thing. BATMAN! He sees three glass cases with three Robin costumes, which reference (I believe, I could be wrong) Jason, Stephanie and Dick (although, in Dick's case, it's because he moved beyond Robin). But, at this moment, he confuses Tim and Dick, thinking that Tim was Robin during the isolation experiment instead of Dick. He has lost so many sons (and a daughter) to the identity of Robin, to the Batman... and, now, the Batman has killed him.

"When did I die?" Bruce asks this several times throughout the issue, unable to distinguish what exactly caused his death, because he's died before. He died in the isolation experiment. He died in Thogal. He died other times. He will die again. He will keep on dying. The Batman is immortal, destined to die forever. Bruce, as a boy, sees his own funeral as Clark Kent, Dick (or is that Tim?), Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan(?) carry his casket with Barbara Gordon and Alfred following. "When did I die?" Does Batman ever actually die? Or does he get brief glimpses of Hell, like he does here of Joe Chill's Hell?

Joe Chill's justification for his crimes is interesting. He blames it on class warfare. He killed a rich couple because they have more than him and that makes it okay, doesn't it? Well, does it? Bruce Wayne's wealth isn't addressed in this run really despite him living in a city of slums... I'm not sure what to make of that, honestly. There is something about millionaire playboy in a costume beating up on the poor, though.

At the end of the issue, Batman is brought back to life by the Third Policeman, which launches right into the next issue that explains how exactly Batman's replacments came about. They are his sons as well, all ready to step up and take over for the father should he die. Contenders for the cowl that no one knew existed. That these replacements were created by the police actually contradicts something Commissioner Gordon says in issue 672 to the mayor about Batman being like any outside consultant (psychic, psychologist, whatever) that the police uses. In fact, this revelation demonstrates that the relationship with Batman, while officially low profile, is, in fact, one much more deep. The police love Batman and dread the day that he's unable to do what he does. Although, this project is undertaken in secret, so its ties to the police itself are strained.

The three Batman replacements are Branca, Muller and Lane. I will use the names as identified in #672 rather than here, but that's because I like the idea of Muller being the name for the Bat-Bane policeman. They were the three policemen who survived the selection process, trained by Dr. Hurt who learned all about Batman through the isolation experiment. Branca was an expert marksman, but in their first "mission" (fighting Batman), Batman broke his hands; Muller is the one willing to be pumped full of drugs, to become a monster, now hidden from the world, fed "girls, TV, pizza and drugs." Lane, the Third Policeman who was created through the same process as Batman: tragedy. Or, as Hurt says:



So, if Branca and Muller are skill and power, Lane is drive. His family was killed by "satanists." (Another devil connection!) He is just as damaged as Batman, driven by revenge, driven to avenge the death of his family. However, he lacks the skill and power, just as Branca and Muller were also lacking. Batman himself notes this: "But there was something they lacked. / A missing edge." Batman is more than the sum of his parts and, so, dividing him in three won't equal him.

As well, there are three replacement Batmen, and he has created three possible replacements himself: Dick, Jason and Tim. Do they correspond? Obviously, then, Jason would be Muller, the monster. But, of Tim and Dick, which is skill and which is drive? Has Dick moved past his own family's death? Is he skill, while Tim is the new orphan, the new son, the one most driven to be like Batman in personality? And what of Damian? Is Damian Dr. Hurt? (Wow, that question is both awesome and horribly stupid...) What really shows here is that, if these replacement Batmen couldn't cut it, can any of Batman's sons? Can Dick or Tim replace him? Do they have the necessary requirements, that "missing edge"?

The question here, though, is who is really behind these replacements? Why have they surfaced all of a sudden? Branca showed up in the first issue of Morrison's run to shoot the Joker in the face; Muller showed up towards the end of the first year (and again here), and Lane was present in #666 where Damian has become Batman, and here. The Third Policeman asks,






And he's not wrong. Batman does die soon, albeit not at the hands of the Black Glove. Except, Batman doesn't actually concern himself with that thought exactly. He wonders about an invisible enemy that is working against him, that knows him all too well, that is able to outthink him. Before this, Morrison again reminds us that Batman is too good. He's spent his life studying and thinking of ways that others could kill him, and working his way out of it. Who could possibly outthink him? Who?

Issue 675 is a good issue, but doesn't add much beyond a sense of foreboding before "Batman R.I.P." Jezebel Jet pushes too hard to be a part of Bruce Wayne's life, culminating with her "realising" that he's Batman after they're attacked by a nine-eyed man. Meanwhile, Robin and Nightwing discuss if Batman is okay mentally. He doesn't seem fine as he seemingly grows unhinged here, the Batman persona overwhelming Bruce Wayne. It's one of the weakest issues of the run as the sole goal here is to establish mood for "Batman R.I.P." and make readers think that, maybe, Bruce Wayne is the Black Glove when, in fact, he's simply playing along with Jezebel, bringing her deeper into his game. As Nightwing says, "YOU KNOW BRUCE. HE ALWAYS KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING."

Ryan Benjamin provides the art here and it's... the less said about it the better. He makes Tony Daniel look good.

These three issues provide the basis for "Batman R.I.P." while also building on what came before (both in Morrison's run and in Batman comics in general). They also continue an element of Morrison's recent work that I haven't touched upon in this post yet: the protagonist meeting different versions of himself. In All-Star Superman Superman continually meets other versions of himself in some way, and, here, we have Batman facing off against another Batman (the third of three replacement Batmen at that!), one that represents one element of himself. The Club of Heroes, Jezebel Jet, Dr. Hurt, Batman's sons... even the Joker becomes another version of Batman here (and the Joker comes complete with a Club of Villains that are reflection of him, therefore being reflections of Batman... sort of). But, I will explain that momentarily...

Batman R.I.P. (DC Universe #0, Batman #676-681)

The centrepiece of Morrison's run, what it was all leading to... "Batman R.I.P." The controversial story isn't nearly as difficult to understand as anyone wants to think it is, mostly because, as he often does, Morrison has the Joker explain it all in the fifth part:

the real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense!


you think it all breaks down into symbolism and structures and hints and clues

no, batman, that's just wikipedia

"Batman R.I.P." makes sense in that it doesn't actually make total sense. It doesn't add up--purposefully. The Black Glove's plot to destroy Batman isn't rooted in reason and logic, because those are Batman's strengths. No, the plot is rooted in nonsense and half-truths, in bits of information that seem to be profound but really distract and confuse you. There's meaning here and a certain amount of logic, but, really, there's no way to explain it perfectly, especially because it wouldn't have come as close to working had it been logic and well reasoned. Batman has a blind spot and Morrison exploits that. And, as many have pointed out, the Wikipedia comment is clearly pointed at people like me who spend far too much time online considering what it all means. I was among those who came online right after each issue in this story, decontructing it, trying to figure things out, mostly who the Black Glove would be. And since Morrison didn't just want a plot that would confuse Batman, but readers as well, he did the last thing expected: he purposefully didn't make total sense. Now, many will say he does that all of the time, but he's a very purposeful writer with lots of subtext in his work--subtext that is intentional--so, if his fanbase know this, why not construct a plot where misinformation and illogic are key? "Now do you get it?" the Joker mocks Batman and us at the end of the fifth part. No, I don't--which is how one gets it. (I think.)

The ultimate goal of the Black Glove in "Batman R.I.P." isn't to kill Batman, but to ruin and corrupt him. The story owes a lot of Morrison's "Rock of Ages" storyline in JLA, which ran along a similar course: villain(s) the hero(es) do(es)n't see coming (supposedly) put(s) in place an intricate plan that seems assured to work, but the hero(es) was/were aware all along and counterplanned accordingly. Lex Luthor and his Injustice Gang think they're hitting the JLA by surprise, only for it to be revealed that, no, Batman knew all along and has three people playing Luthor from the inside. The fight was over before it began, really.

Here, Morrison follows a similar trajectory, eventually revealing that Batman knew about the trigger phrase "zur en arrh" and created a backup personality to take over should the trigger phrase ever be activated. While he didn't counterplan nearly as much here as he did in "Rock of Ages," that's only because he didn't know what was going to happen, just that something would. So, really, he planned for everything. That is Morrison's Batman: a man so dedicated, so devoted, so insane that he tries to prepare for everything. When he was a child, something horrible happened beyond his control and, now, he tries to control everything.

The mystery here, and it's one that still has some confused, is who is the Black Glove? Is it Simon Hurt? Thomas Wayne? Mangrove Pierce? Satan? Bruce Wayne (somehow)? Now, all of the evidence so far in the run would point to Satan since those references are abound, even going so far as to have the Third Policeman say that Dr. Hurt is the devil. That what the Black Glove wants most is to corrupt Batman, Satan would be the logical choice. But, even that doesn't really fit. The motive is so bland. Why now? Why spend all of that time and effort?

My favourite theory is one that I don't recall seeing anywhere else (in fact, it just occurred to me--and if someone else mentioned it elsewhere, again, I didn't see it and I apologise): it is Bruce Wayne, the evil, spoiled Bruce Wayne that never existed. In an effort to purify himself, to make himself better, Batman underwent numerous rituals to cleanse his mind and soul, and, maybe, the Black Glove is his tulpa. A tulpa is a "thoughtform," created by a person through mental will, sometimes it is all of the negativity or the "demons" inside a person. The devil inside made to be outside, let's say? Morrison has used the idea before, in Fantastic Four 1234 where he says that Doom is Reed's tulpa (and then discounts it as an effort by Doom to crush Reed), so it is a possibility. The Black Glove is, apparently, Bruce and Thomas's double, he himself dons a Bat-costume, albeit one worn with a tuxedo, one of wealth, he attempts to destroy the thing that destroyed him, in a sense. In the end, Batman is cast aside and Bruce Wayne attacks the Black Glove. Who else would know of "zur en arrh" besides Bruce? Who could put a scar on his consciousness? Is that where the tulpa came from back when Bruce was first training to be Batman? Over and over, Hurt says that no one knows Batman like he does...

Ultimately, who the Black Glove is doesn't matter. It will never fully satisfy anyone, least of all Batman.

The Joker is Batman's opposite number here under the idea that Morrison operates under where every Batman story (and incarnation) actually happened. Morrison's conception of Joker has always been one of an adaptable "supersane" man whose personality alters to match his environment, but Batman's personality does the same. I discussed this (and the Joker's connection to David Bowie) previously. But, basically, Batman also adapts to his times much like the Joker, both continually changing at the whims of creators. The Joker thinks that the world really only consists of him and Batman with his harsher "The Thin White Duke of Death" personality stemming from Batman shooting him in the face. Ignore that it was Branca, not Bruce Wayne, because that doesn't matter; it was Batman.

The father/son dynamic here is very interesting as almost every "son" of Batman appears. Nightwing and Robin are attacked by the Club of Villains, Tim strangely more able than Dick; but Dick at Arkham to back Batman up when he needs it (Batman says, "YOU NEVER LET ME DOWN, DID YOU?"). Both sons do their father proud, as does Damian who arrives with his mother and some ninjas in time to rescue Commissioner Gordon, and take vegeance upon Jezebel Jet. The Club of Heroes arrive as well, all being sons of Batman through inspiration. The Club of Villains are sons of the Joker through the same inspiration, but the Joker either ignores, kills or disfigures them. Batman encourages and sympathises with those he inspires, the Joker just doesn't care or loathes that anyone would try to copy him (his mockery of Batman's attempts to think like him point to this).

But, the most interesting father/son dynamic here is that between Bruce and his father. Questions as to Thomas Wayne's survival and real behaviour are raised here. Was he the good, honest doctor with the loving wife and son that everyone remembers? Or, was he a rich pervert who kept a girl loaded up on drugs for him and his buddies to gang bang only to fake his own death while trying to kill his wife and son? We're meant to disbelieve the new information on Wayne, especially because it's never really explained and doesn't match up with everything we've known so far. Why would he try to have his wife and son killed? If Alfred was part of this group, why hasn't he shown any hint of that lifestyle/behaviour since? No, it's blatantly false and meant to corrupt Bruce--or, at least, force Batman to step aside in favour of the Waynes. That further supports my idea that the Black Glove is Bruce Wayne (or an aspect of him--the inner demon), because he wants Batman ruined and hopes that preserving the Wayne legacy will cause a willing ruination. Except, what it fails to realise is that Bruce Wayne willingly gave up himself in service of Batman. He chose that life a long time ago and knows that giving it up now would be failure. Lies and slander won't truly harm his parents--right is right. To willingly corrupt himself like that would tarnish his parents' memory more than the Black Glove's lies.

The tactic of claiming to be Thomas Wayne is to throw Batman off his game. Since Batman was created to avenge his parents, to honour them--if they weren't the loving individuals he thought they were, if they were criminals and perverts, would Batman have a purpose? Would being Batman be worth it if it honours awful liars? Of course, at this point, Thomas and Martha Wayne matter little to Batman. Their deaths were so long ago and he's accomplished so much since that they matter as little to him, truly, as Frank Castle's family does to the Punisher. While those deaths may have begun the mission, the mission has taken over. All the use of Thomas Wayne exposes is that the Batman doesn't care about them, not really. Bruce Wayne does--he will always love and miss his parents, but Batman's purpose in life is not vengeance anymore, it's the mission. At first, the mission was a means for vengeance, but now the mission exists simply because the mission exists. (If I've written anything that will be argued against by... well, everyone, it's this paragraph.)

That's what the Batman of Zur En Arrh is: Batman without Bruce Wayne, pure mission, nothing else. It's the Batman without any sons. It's the Batman that lives in the moment, caring not if he will die and be forgotten, simply focused on taking down bad guys. In his mind, the Batman was inevitable, the Batman is everything. That's why he sees a grid, a design to create him: the world demands that he exists. The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne wasn't a tragedy--it was necessary. The backup personality takes Bruce Wayne and his feelings entirely out of the equation, erased previously by Dr. Hurt... but Hurt couldn't erase the Batman. He moves out of the shadows, wears bright colours, beats up villains with baseball bats, and will not stop until the mission is complete. The Batman of Zur En Arrh is what Bruce Wayne's Batman wants to be, but is afraid to be. He's afraid to give himself over so completely. In recent years, he's come closer, to the point where Bruce Wayne is becoming like Batman (remember, Bruce Wayne is "alpha male plus," NOT Batman), but Wayne still limits Batman. Wayne still wants human connections, he wants love, he wants a family, he wants to live forever, and he wants his mommy and daddy. The Batman of Zur En Arrh wants to hurt bad guys.

The use of Bat-Mite doesn't quite make sense to me. I love how Batman calls him "Might," but his actual role is unclear. He advises Batman, he says he's "the last fading echo of the voice of reason," suggesting that he's what... a little kid playing Batman? Is he the small shard of Bruce Wayne that sits on the Batman of Zur En Arrh's shoulder, keeping him in check? That little boy whose parents were taken away dressed in a Batman costume? I honestly don't know. I do agree with Geoff Klock when he says that there is a bit of conflict in Morrison's ideas as he says Bat-Mite is reason, but also hails from imagination (the 5th dimension). Those two ideas aren't as mutually exclusive as Klock suggested, but, still, rather nonsensical.

Jezebel Jet presents an interesting problem/parallel for/to Bruce Wayne. She's another of his doubles, a rich orphan who's dedicated her life to bettering the world somehow. Except, not really. She's corrupt, she's evil, she's egotistical to the point where she'll bankrupt her homeland to crush Wayne. In rereading these issues, I did wonder why she's seen as such a humanitarian in helping her African nation when she lives a rich and luxurious life. Her people live in abject poverty, but she's off in a fancy restaurant with Bruce Wayne? What the hell? She seems to care, but does nothing to back that up. Of course, her name was a clue right off that she would betray Wayne, that she always knew he was Batman, that she was always a part of the Black Glove's plan. She fits the colour scheme (black and red) despite that pattern being meaningless really. In many ways she's typical and boring. Her attempts to convince Bruce that he's the one responsible for the Black Glove and that he should give up Batman are obvious.

What really interests me is the line in the final part of "Batman R.I.P." where Batman writes in the Black Casebook,

When did I first suspect she was part of the trap?

"I want you to know I understand," she said.

I think it was then.

About a fraction of a second after I realized how heavily I'd fallen for her.

Almost instantly realizing it was the bad I'd been attracted to all along.

That final revelation, about the bad being attractive, always stood out to me. Why would Batman be attracted to Jezebel's inner "badness"? I'd argue that this backs up the idea of Hurt/the Black Glove being a thoughtform made up of Batman's inner darkness and, without it, he naturally looks to someone who will complete him. But that doesn't seem to cover it completely. Batman does have a history of being attracted to the "bad girl," of wanting to redeem them, to make them good. He tries to destroy evil with violence and love! He did see Jezebel as being very like him and, therefore, wanted to redeem her, bring her to his side. Catwoman, Talia, Jezebel... he wants to eliminate crime and will do whatever it takes to do so--even using sex and love.

But, is there more to it than that? An element of self-loathing? Of being so dedicated to good that, sometimes, he just wants to be bad? Perhaps. What makes "good" people fall for "bad" people?

"Batman R.I.P." is an examination of... what exactly? Batman confronting his own inner evil? Batman proving he is unbeatable? Batman proving that Bruce Wayne is meaningless? Grant Morrison's inability to write a conclusive and satisfying end to a mystery? The ultimate attempt to destroy Batman through unreason and illogic? Take your pick, add your own suggestion, whatever.

Originally, this issue did present a problem: Batman's Black Casebook narration. We see Batman seemingly "die," but he's narrating these events from some point in the future. Of course, we see that he survived the helicopter crash and dies in Final Crisis, giving him ample time to write this entry.

I haven't discussed Tony Daniel's art much here, because it would be redundant to continually trash him, I think. His work is barely serviceable and works, at times, to hurt the story. He doesn't quite have the skill to pull off what Morrison is going for here, which requires more nuance and subtlety. He prefers "cool" images over functional ones--which sums up his flaws here the best way I can think of.

All in all, not a satisfying climax to Morrison's run, but that seems purposeful to some extent. Sometimes, not every question is answered.

Last Rites (Final Crisis #1-2, Batman #682-683, Final Crisis #5-7)

Grant Morrison's run on Batman ends with a summary of his themes and goals. These issues do that in such a way as to provide little worth discussing except in broad strokes. In Final Crisis, Batman is captured by the Dark Gods and is hooked up in a machine that will mine his memories and experience to create a clone army in the service of Darkseid. The Dark Gods use a creature called the Lump to do this--it infiltrates Batman's memories in the form of Alfred. We're given a quick summary of Batman's life and career in Batman #682 and 683.

The father/son relationship comes up again as Dick's influence is displayed with conviction--and his influence extends beyond Batman but to Batman's world as well. Morrison specifically implies that Dick's lighthearted attitude makes the Joker more wacky and harmless. Of course, we know that it was more than that, but linking those ideas is certainly interesting. Jason's personality is more angst-ridden to go with that age, but also darkens the Joker. Whatever changes occur in Batman are mirrored in the Joker, further suggesting that they're linked more than ever previously thought.

The alternate history shown in this issue has the Waynes survive Joe Chill's mugging, and Bruce Wayne grow up a spoiled, unhappy man because of his parents. His mother fawns over him, overprotective because of the brush with death. His father is demanding and fails to see why his son is so disengaged and apathetic when he was raised to be like that, really. Bruce follows his father into medicine, but doesn't have the same passion, and is a laughing stock.

This world also adds to the Batman/Joker relationship as there is a Joker-like killer there, but, after his initial crimes, he's killed via capital punishment. In a world with no Batman, there can be no Joker.

Really, what these issues put forth is Batman's superpower: the ability to withstand so much physical and emotional trauma. As the Lump progresses through his memories, the clone army begins dying from shock, clawing at their faces, unable to process all that Batman has been through. He is uniquely suited to handle so much. Make him relive his back being broken and he survives. He turns everything to his advantage.

What allows him to do so? It's suggested here that it's Alfred, his "father." In a world without Thomas Wayne, Alfred took his place and Bruce thrived. Batman even says that Alfred should get the credit, because he kept Batman going. But, as we see here, there's also something unique about Batman and his ability to withstand anything.

In Final Crisis, he kills Darkseid (the anti-dad), and is "killed" via the Omega Sanction, only to reappear at the end of the series over the fallen Anthro. Because Batman survives everything.

These issues are interesting, but more in an "annotations" sort of way. As I said, they sum up a few of Morrison's big ideas.

And We Come to the End

That does it. I probably missed a whole lot (either purposefully or by mistake). Now, we just have to wait for Morrison's Batman and Robin title (if the rumours are true). Thanks for reading.