Friday, October 17, 2008

Ultimate Matt on All Star Batman Sex

[A post from new Guest Blogger -- though regular commenter -- Ultimate Matt. I am going to preface this post with an epigraph from T.S. Eliot: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." I think Matt's specific point about the thunder clap here goes a little to far, but I think it goes a little too far in the way that the claim Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor in All Star Superman went a little too far -- while I am unconvinced in both cases, the dramatic claim is drawing attention to something that is present and important in the actual narrative. Tell me what you think:]

Check out this page from The Goddamn Batman #7 (my apologies for the poor scan quality).



Batman and Black Canary, right after beating the crap out of some criminals, lay down on the docks for some lovin'. They keep their masks on, because it's better that way (by the way, surprisingly little is made of the fact that this is a clear reference to Watchmen, when Nite Owl and Silk Spectre do the same thing, and for the same reason).

Originally, I took the Lightning Bolt in the center panel as a simple, all purpose metaphor for sex. Than it occured to me - for several pages leading up to this, Canary is all over Batman's jock. Telling him how hot he is, fauning over him like a lovestruck damsel. IMMEDIATELY after the sex, she's treating him like a total chump.

That lightning bolt isn't just a metaphor for sex, it was the LENGTH of the sex. The Goddamn Batman was done in seconds. Look how proud he is of himself in that last panel, and look how let down & vaguely disgusted Canary is (don't tell me Jim Lee is incapable of subtlety). It's clear as day - The Goddamn Batman is overcompensating for his lack of prowess. It fits in nicely with Miller's mockery of the tough guy Batman that he himself helped create (remember Gordon's annoyance with Batman's self-conscious "grim and gritty" style in issue 10).

Note also that he immediately goes to bragging about his car, arguably the most stereotypical male overcompensation for penis size and lack of sexual prowess. Then note how pissy he gets when she mocks his "car" and calls it queer.

This is such a great comic.

[This is such a great comic. I do not think Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor, but I do think the similarities are supposed to make up set them next to each other, and see what kind of person Lex Luthor could have become. As Jog said (I think), in a book where Superman fights versions of himself, it makes sense to give Lex and double as well. In All Star Batman, I think equating the lightning bolt with the length of sex is maybe too specific (cannons, rockets and champagne bottles are common things to cut to when you need to cut away from a sex scene for obvious reasons and they do not generally in those cases mean speed). But Matt is right to point out what I missed, that Black Canary is not exactly swooning after the encounter, she does make fun of his car, which is a stereotypical symbol of male prowess (and MIller loves that stuff) and he does overcompensate. And, in pushing his style to extremes Miller DOES seem to be sending up the tough guy thing in the series as a whole, even if maybe in his own mind he still has a kind of frightening awe for the tough guy thing.

Matt smartly notices Watchmen floating around the edges of this scene, something else I missed; something I noticed when looking closer: Miller does not exactly own the lightning bolt as an image, but it is so iconic in Dark Knight Returns it feels like he may be invoking both here. Why, I am not sure. I could say it means those books totally fucked the comics industry -- but now I think I am going too far.]

20 comments:

James said...

"Then note how pissy he gets when she mocks his "car" and calls it queer."
Even better: look how she suddenly wants to know more about "[the guy] who can fly", and Batman has to talk Superman down a bit. Great post.

P.S. Quintum is totally Luthor.

Mikey said...

Ace.

Even if the lightning = length and Watchmen/DKR evocations weren't there before - they are now.

Oh yeah: "those books totally fucked the comics industry". They so did as well.

scott91777 said...

I missed this as well, as Geoff points out, the lightning bolt doesn't necessarily represent speed but that doesn't necessarily mean that the sex couldn't have just been lousy.

However, I'm not sure if Miller would necessarily be one to slam Batman's performance.

There are, perhaps, a couple of other possibilities for explaining her behavoir after the event...

One: May it's not the sex was bad but it just didn't live up to the hype that she was expecting. i.e. at the end of the day, Batman is JUST a man.

or

Two:

There is a notion throughout mythology that women control men through sex and, while she is in awe of him before their copulation, afterwards, she is in control and feels perfectly welcome to start telling him how to go about bossing him around and insulting his car. It's the notion that he is surrender part of his power to her when he has sex with her. This is reflected from Samson and Delilah all the way to the idea of a boxer not having sex before the big fight.

Can I just say I think it's totally awesome that, at the age of thirty-one, I am having a discussion with other adults defending Batman's sexual prowess :)

(Batman is good in bed, Dammit! HE just is!)

Neil might know more about his in terms of the gender stuff though...

Ultimate Matt said...

Actually, that's a really good point about the female being dominating - I was going to point out that in Canary's first scene in The Goddamn Batman, she's kicking the crap out of a guy who looks EXACTLY like Green Arrow, the male character she is so closely associated with that she shares a comic, while he (and other men) are sexually harassing her. I would bet Miller's intent was to symbolically "free" the character from those constraints.

Sexuality has been a bigger part of this comic than I realized till I wrote that, and it's mostly been wrapped up in this character (until Catwoman's appearance) either using it or defying it to have power over men.

Josh Hechinger said...

It's DC. Of course the lightning bolt represents speed. The sound effect might as well have been "FLASSSSH!"

Also? This theory is hilarious and great.

Ultimate Matt said...

Also, my specific point about the lightning probably does go a little too far. I don't mean he only lasted a thousandth of a second, literally - just that he was generally inadequate.

Christian said...

To take it even further: Who says the lightning isn't a symbol of premature ejaculation?

scott91777 said...

Christian,

That actually wpuld solve my logistical problem... I mean I guess Bats can just drop trou... but Canary's outfit? that's going to take some doing to get off (no pun intended... but totally welcomed).

Streebo said...

Hmm. . . So Geoff doesn't buy the whole Leo Quintum/Lex Luthor connection. Too bad we'll have to wait long after the wedding before he comments further on that. Grrr.

neilshyminsky said...

scott: I think it's more important, here, to know Miller and ASB than it is to have some theoretical understanding of masculinity. I don't Miller that well beyond the obvious, and I don't know the comic beyond what gets discussed. So I don't think I can contribute much more than the thoughts that people have put forth.

But since you asked... I'd actually invoke comicbook storytelling principles here, rather than gender theory. And everything that follows aside, I'd go echo the suggestion that Bats works too fast. It's not just symbolic - it's suggested temporally and spatially. Given the brief duration of a lightning bolt, our eye is encouraged to move through the physical panels in a matter of one or two seconds. And so Miller isn't just suggesting that Batman is too fast on the draw - he's actually reproducing it in real time. (This is actually so funny that i'm tempted to re-post it to my own blog!)

And Geoff: I can see you not buying the wholly circumstantial evidence that suggests Quintum and Luthor are the same person, sure. But how can you not be swayed by the very Morrisonian thematic logic of it all?

neilshyminsky said...

Oh, and the Watchmen reference? That adds to the joking subtext: Dan was impotent without the costume, but Batman is too potent. Dan was supposed to be a real man in a goofy outfit, but Batman is a goddamn superhero.

...

I am so totally turning this into a post on my own blog...

scott91777 said...

Just because it's brief doesn't mean it isn't 'Spectacular' and 'explosive'... I'm reminded of what Katie Segal once said about Al and Peg's sex life, her theory was that, since Peg was always making cracks about its brevity yet, at the same time, always wanting it, that, when they did have sex, it was short... but it was also good.

Can I also say that while I have no idea what Miller intended here, I think he would totally dig that we were having this conversation.

neilshyminsky said...

scott: Sure, it could be brief but spectacular. It's just that Black Canary doesn't look or sound at all impressed, does she? (And, unlike Peg, she doesn't seem to be clamoring for more.)

Streebo said...

The lightning bolt is the symbol of power not of speed - goddammit. ;)

scott91777 said...

Power AND Speed :)

neilshyminsky said...

streebo and scott: It's totally both. I think that the joke is that the goddamn Batman is so overdetermined by his goddamn superhero masculinity that he's mistaking "fast and furious" sex - "fast and furious" being a perfect mode for, say, fighting criminals - for "good" sex. He's so enamored with his own masculine prowess (see: the car discussion) that he doesn't realize how such an unerring focus is actually undercutting that same masculinity.

He's the anti-Dreiberg, and yet Dan Dreiberg's wounded masculinity is shown to be more authentic, and so more desirable. Which doesn't make me want to read ASB, mind you, but does make me think that Miller isn't totally phoning it in.

James said...

All-Star Batman as kind of a punk. I was shocked when he revealed how young he was in the latest issue - what was it, 24? But yeah, it's kind of the reverse of DKR, where Batman constantly admonishes himself for his physical shortcomings "too slow, old man" etc... This Batman is physically unbeatable (so far), but constantly calls his own judgement into question "I'm crazy", "nearly killed a good man" etc...

Quintum is totally Luthor and All-Star Batman totally thunder-comes. Maybe I'm just a sucker for dramatic claims.

Cole Moore Odell said...

I've come to the conclusion that the best thing about the Luthor/Quintum possibility is the indeterminacy of it--as Douglas Wolk pointed out in the Jog comment thread, quantum effects are a running theme of the book. Superman's last comment to Luthor (You could have saved the world years ago if it really mattered to you) can be taken simultaneously as both a clue and as simply an unflattering comparison with Quintum. All the "evidence" is like that. It wouldn't be as cool if Morrison spelled it out one way or the other.

neilshyminsky said...

cole: But like i mentioned in response to this when you mentioned it on my blog, quantum indeterminacy is a cute idea that doesn't work at the macro-atomic level. With respect to quantum state, human-beings are either one thing or the other - they can't be both and neither. This is what Schrodinger's Cat is supposed to demonstrate to us. (And though it has bizarrely come to be used in philosophy as some sort of examples of Zen-science, such an understanding completely misunderstands Schrodinger's actual purpose in creating it - it was supposed to mock people who used quantum mechanics to explain things like this Luthor-Quintum discussion, not support them.)

Cole Moore Odell said...

Neil, given that Lois is explicitly caught in a state of quantum indeterminacy in #3, it apparently *does* work on the macro level in Morsison's ASS universe (and of course, pseudo-science is certainly no stranger to superhero comics--or Morrison, for that matter.)

At any rate, and at the risk of being mocked by Schrodinger's ghost, I only apply it to Leo/Lex as a metaphor. Are they the same character? How do you prefer to interpret the text?