Friday, October 03, 2008

Comics Out October 1, 2008 (Morrison's Batman)

Batman 680. I think I am the only one, but I am getting a little tired of this story now. I think it is the combination of this aura of weighty importance and bad art.

I really enjoyed Batman's explanation of his crazy outfit: " The colors demonstrate total confidence. Robin dressed this way for years and survived." And I adored the line about how "inevitable" the Joker is, though the line would have been more at home in New X-Men re: Magneto. Fits in better with the theme there. But it is a great line. But I feel like I have seen that exact scene between Joker and Batman a few times now already.

I like that Batman calls the Bat-mite "Might," though there is something that bugs me (just a little) in the way the speech-balloons clarify something ambiguous in the spoken word, as if we are not only getting what Batman says, we are also getting what he MEANS. The Bat-Mite explains his role (years ago I would have used the phrase "ontological existence"): when Batman asks if he is a 5th dimensional imp or just his imagination Bat-Mite replies "Imagination is the Fifth Dimension" a piece of Morrisonian thinking I really should have seen coming in my thoughts on what exactly the status of the Bat-Mite was; I guess that equation just seemed out of place in a Batman book, where imagination is less of a theme than in, say Seven Soldiers or even JLA. What I find genuinely annoying here -- and I bet people are going to jump all over me with all kinds of absurd rationalizations -- is the Bat-Mite's claim -- his very next claim after establishing that he is a force of Otherworldly Imagination and an insane looking mini-batman cartoon imp -- is that he is the "Last fading echo of the VOICE OF REASON." WHAT? Someone can surely quote me something that equates reason and the imagination, probably from Morrison's own work, but I do not buy it. Someone around here is working with comics and romantic poetry and they are going to have a field day with this line, or break their dissertation on it. To me, it just seems like an overloaded symbolic mess but that may be because of my personal conviction that the imagination and reason are in stark opposition, as William Blake knew (and he got the idea from me).

Which brings me to my next point. Batman says "Diamonds, Clubs, Rich People! Hearts and Spades, Love and Death, The Joke and the Punchline, the Harlequins Motley, Red and Black, Cupid and the Devil." The Joker claims this is all meaningless, and he better be right, because, like the Bat-Mite, this is all starting to feel really overloaded, and it is kind of making me tired. A perfectly reasonable person might find that list to be meaningless, especially the emphasis on red and black which can basically mean anything. Though in Morrison's defense he can stick a landing like no man's business: e.g. the last issue of New X-Men, Invisibles, Animal Man. So maybe he will make me love all this in retrospect.


neilshyminsky said...

Can someone please explain why DC puts such an awful, awful, awful artist on Batman? I don't get it. The dude can barely draw - he would've been scraping the bottom of the barrel back in the early 90s, when everyone and his grandma seemed to be able to find a job penciling Sleepwalker or Force Works or one of the 17 Spider-man titles. And so they match him up with Morrison on a major title? It makes no sense.

James said...

Neil: DC are so, so bad at placing talent. Rafael Albuquerque, for instance, is amazing. And okay, now he's reached the dizzy heights of the Superman/Batman title, but before that? He was drawing Blue freaking Beetle. Now I'm not bagging on Blue Beetle, or Superman/Batman - the story he's drawing looks cute - but from a business standpoint that is terrible.

Simon MacDonald said...

I think DC is not worried about who the artist on this story is because a) people buy Batman and b) people buy Grant Morrison. Putting a good artist on the book is just overkill.

Isn't anyone else worried that everyone and I mean everyone seems to figure out who is Batman's secret identity? I mean this guy is supposed to be one of the smartest people on earth and he can't keep a secret?

Here's a short list of villains that I know have figured out or have been told Bat's secret:

1) Bane
2) Hush
3) Black Glove
4) The Riddler (retconed)
5) The Joker
6) Catwoman
7) Red Hood (Jason Todd)
8) Ra's al Ghul
9) Talia al Ghul

I mean what is the chance that these guys or one of their henchmen haven't talked?

I guess one could make the argument that Joker always knew on some level but this is getting silly.

Anonymous said...

Reason opposed to imagination? Geoff, are you serious, or pulling our leg?

Because IMO this is probably the single biggest and most crippling error the Romantics made. (Which is saying something.) More to the point, isn't it an artificial opposition that's not well supported by philosophy, history, or modern cognitive science?

Doug M.

Geoff Klock said...

I am not pulling your leg. Blake especially -- and if you you are coming at Romanticism through Bloom as I am Blake is your pure test case against which all the other Romantics are judged -- opposed "mere" reason to the imagination all the time. Of course "mere" there is doing a lot of work, and this is an unsubtle and uncritical cliche of romanticism ("romanticism is a reaction against the Enlightenment" and so on), but I did not think it was so out there as to be, generally speaking, totally off base. You are right that it is an artificial opposition, but like psychoanalysis, is in an artificial position that has some persuasive force to it thanks to the number of pretty powerful writers who supported it, and frankly, brought me around to their side regardless of philosophy, history, and cognitive science. I do not mean to be dogmatic, but there you go. I am a bit of a convert on this point, I guess, and maybe I have been totally brainwashed.

But it is important to keep this in the context of Batman: the Bat-Mite is overloaded as the voice of reason, the spirit of imagination (both a figment of Batman's imagination AND an 5th dimensional imp), and of course he is basically an analogue to that little creature that used to bother Fred Flintstone in latter seasons of that show.

neilshyminsky said...

james: Albuquerque is incredible! There's something very J.H. Williams about the stuff that I saw on his site, too.

simon: Maybe that's true generally, but Daniel's art is so awful that at least I can't bring myself to buy the damn thing.

geoff: Like Doug, I don't buy the imagination/reason split - mostly because I don't see them as distinct or even separate categories. But I'm totally behind embracing self-reflexively artificial distinctions for the purposes of better ordering and understanding the world. (This is one of the reasons I use psychoanalysis - I don't necessarily agree with the theories, but they prove useful in offering ways by which to make sense of an incoherence that would be otherwise very useless.)

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting quote from David Erdman's _Blake: Prophet Against Empire_ on Reason:

"Blake's theory admits of a true or necessary Reason as 'the bound or outward circumference of Energy' but leaves it no role in 'life' except to be pushed about. Reason is the horizon kept constantly on the move by man's infinite desire. The moment it exerts a will of its own and attempts to restrain desire, it turns into that negative and unnecessary Reason which enforces obedience with dungeons, armies, and priestcraft and which Blake refers to as 'the restrainer' which usurps the place of desire and 'governs the unwilling.' Tiriel was such a diety, and so is the dismal god of the Archbishop of Paris who can no longer restrain the millions from bursting the bars of Chaos. Blake will soon invent for this sterile god a cosmic name, Nobodaddy (old daddy Nobody), and an epic name, Urizen, signifying your reason (not mine) and the limiting horizon (Greek, to bound). The poet's hostility toward this 'Governor or Reason' is thoroughly republican or, to the modern mind, socialistic." (178)

It seems that Morrison chose his words poorly, maybe? My understanding was that Bat-Mite was a psychological program designed to help Batman retain a semblance of sanity by restraining his desire. He's there so Batman doesn't push himself too hard and fall completely into the darkness of insanity. So he's a product of Bruce's rational mind, a program that is supposed to kick in if he loses control. Morrison fell into a weird dichotomy: if something isn't real, then it is imaginary (even if it is a product of reason or calculation)--and got excited and a little ahead of himself. He saw that Bat-Mite was from the 5th dimension, thought, from his tendency to believe (like Blake) that "imaginative things alone are real," then collapsed reason in on imagination. It would be more apt to describe Bat-Mite as a figment of Batman's reason than his imagination.

I mean, really, if Bat-Mite were truly from a 5th dimensional imaginative realm, and imagination (not reason) were key to unlocking this higher dimension, do you think he would care that Batman was losing his sanity? Sanity and insanity are categories placed upon experience by reason. And the only reason why insanity would be a threat at all is because Batman is defined as an agent of reason, a detective, not as an agent of the imagination.

On the other hand, perhaps this entire story is a Blakean myth, with Batman turning from a powerful Urizenic agent of reason and restraint into an old, impotent Nobodaddy no longer able to restrain the chaos of the Joker, let alone the figments of imagination exploding into his reason. So, the programs designed to reinforce his reason are actually acting against him, pushing him further and further into the realms of imagination and desire rather than reason and restraint.

Anonymous said...

Re the Imagination/Reason binary.

I remember the last issue of The Invisibles where Jack says that Free Will and Fate are the same thing. I was struck and incredibly moved by this. Pretty much every writer, good or lame, always ALWAYS tries to hang profundities on the very banal and cliched idea of fate VERSUS free will. In this single speech balloon Morrison cemented exactly why I love his writing so much without making a big deal about this huge concept, and without explaining it. A lesser writer would have seen the need to launch a big philosophical treatise about it and Morrison squares it away in one speech balloon. "I came here, I was put here. No different."

This moment with Bat-Mite kind of reminded me of that. Reason / Imagination = no different. (Isn't it kind of in direct opposition opposition to Moore's oft stated themes as well?)

Darius Kazemi said...

Re: endings, don't forget that Morrison also penned the ending to Millar's Red Son.