Fanboy Friday: All Hail the Once and Future Bat King

I didn’t want to do this so soon, another post about Batman?  However, when Scott Snyder is staking his claim as the best Batman writer of the moment I have to say something. However, before I dive into the scariest comic arc I’ve ever read, I must retrace my Batman steps.  I must rediscover what memories stick out because they all play an important part in crowning a new Bat King.

I must admit I have not been a life long comic reader.  I read my first graphic novel when I was sixteen.  I had browsed a top ten list of the greatest Batman graphic novels ever.  I cannot remember which site it was in particular but it got the wheels turning.  I went to Chapters and found the two volumes of Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee.  Maybe it was the glossy covers that caught my eye, I am not entirely sure but I felt drawn to it.  As soon as I opened it I knew that I had to have this book.  I realize now that I am spoiled because not everyone’s first comic they read is drawn by Jim Lee.  Everything was crisp, clean, and most important felt modern.  Yes, writing is a very important component to any story but comics will always be a visual medium.  I know not everyone likes Lee’s style but for someone new to comics he was the best introduction.  People have their opinions about Hush but this was my first Batman story in comic book form.  It may not be my favourite Batman story now but I remember I couldn’t put that book down until the true mastermind was revealed in the final pages.  Naturally I found other stories by Loeb.  Next up was The Long Halloween and Dark Victory.  The message was clear from these stories: Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale make a fantastic combo.  However, it was time to explore other classics and go further back in time to one man: Frank Miller.

The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR) and Batman: Year One.  As soon as I flipped open both these books the message was clear: this was the template from which the modern Batman would be crafted.  The stories highlight the end of Batman’s life and the start respectively.  He begins as a man who is looking for direction and wondering how he can change the world and he ends as a symbol who beat a god.  These two stories show Batman when he’s learning how not to kill himself when he vaults across rooftops and when he’s too old to climb a rope without his legs.  The thing I remember most from TDKR isn’t anything from the pages themselves but rather the mock article in the beginning of the book where it discusses a dive that remembers the golden age of heroes.  The message is clear: no matter what we do to our heroes, they will always come back when we need them most.  My fondest memory of Year One?  The fact that it’s less a story about Batman and more of Jim Gordon.  Some people might complain about this but as I would find out years later from another Batman writer, the story reinforces the first truth of Batman: “He’s never alone in his mission.”  That writer would hold the title in my eyes as the best Batman writer until this past Wednesday when the torch was passed.  Regardless of the passing of the torch, Grant Morrison is my favourite comic book writer.

Up to this point, the Batman stories I had read were many things but they were all pretty straight forward stories.  With all things you love there is always something lurking to take all your preconceived notions and break that narrow window of what you thought possible.  As soon as I saw the cover of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth I knew I was in trouble.  There’s a silhouette of Batman standing at the doors of a building, the Joker’s face is covering the main entrance, his mouth as the door.  The story bleeds atmosphere, with Morrison setting the mood through the journal of Amadeus Arkham, while the paint style of Dave Mckean is a nightmare brought to life.  However, atmosphere only gets you so far – the story set by Morrison attempts to bring up a fact about Batman, that he’s just as crazy as the criminals he brings to justice.  If you think about it this is a valid question, someone who dresses up as a bat to fight crime can’t be considered sane.  At the end of the story Joker bids Batman adieu and tells him that if the Asylum ever becomes too much he can always have a place in Arkham.  Batman and Joker, two sides of the same coin.

The next story is the definitive Joker tale: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland puts the Clown Prince of Crime in the spotlight, is there any other spot for him?  The story is about Joker’s latest life theory put into practice – the man who will be the Joker’s guinea pig?  None, other than Jim Gordon.  Joker believes that the difference between a normal man and him is one bad day.  Paralleled with the main story is Joker’s one bad day.  Batman and Joker seem to destined to end the story with one killing the other and Batman seems set on ending Joker but Gordon having kept his sanity through the ordeals tells Batman to do things by the book.  Joker unaware of Gordon’s resilience taunts Batman by asking him what was his one bad day that created him?  Batman eventually subdues the Joker and pleads with him to stop this and get help.  Joker laughs it off believing that it is too late for both them and their situation reminds him of a joke.  It is a joke I will never forget:

“See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more.  They decide they’re going to escape!  So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom.  Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem.  But his friend, his friend didn’t dare make the leap.  Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling.  So then, the first guy has an idea… He says ‘Hey!  I have my flashlight with me!  I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings.  You can walk along the beam and join me!’  B-but the second guy just shakes his head.  He suh-says… He says ‘Wh-what do you think I am?  Crazy?  You’d turn it off when I was half way across!”

After a dark tale naturally I would jump right back into another dark Batman story.  Batman R.I.P. was the first on-going Batman comic I bought as they came out monthly.  Looking back I’m pretty sure I wondered, “What did I get myself into?”  Grant Morrison is my favourite comic book writer, his ideas are so out there, his plots so meticulously plotted out, like bread crumbs for you to follow and piece together yourself.  This fact is probably why there are as many people who hate him as there are who love him.  Read any message board and you will see legion of Batman fans who clamor that he has ruined Batman, made him too outlandish, that his stories are too confusing to follow and you’ll see as many people who defend him.  The man takes risks and without Batman R.I.P. Final Crisis, Batman and Robin, The Return of Bruce Wayne, and Batman Inc. I might not have discovered Scott Snyder.  More importantly Morrison shows more than any other writer of Batman that his character can be implemented into any type of story or genre.  The stories or genres might not be your favourite interpretation but it is Batman’s greatest character trait.

The first story I read from Scott Snyder was his run on Detective Comics when Dick Grayson was carrying the mantle of Batman.  The greatest compliment I could bestow on the story is that it is Dick Grayson’s version of Year One.  Like Year One it is about a man trying to find his place in a city that brings out the worst in people and trying to not be swallowed by the darkness.  Like Year One Jim Gordon owns part of the spotlight.  The best thing about the run for me is Snyder’s use of Gotham as a core character, it reaches out and touches everyone in the story.  It’s as if the city cuts through your core and reveals who you really are.  With the launch of the New 52, Dick is no longer Batman, Bruce is back and it saddens me a little, it was refreshing to have Dick wear the cowl.  One good thing out of this was Snyder, along with artist Greg Capullo were assigned to Batman and with Bruce as the focus, it would be interesting to see what they did.  What they did was crush it.

Batman is Gotham City right?  The only legend it needs to keep it in check but what if something else was controlling Gotham all along?  That is the idea of Snyder’s first story arc The Court of Owls.  It is apparent from the get go that Dick Grayson as Batman is very different than Bruce Wayne as Batman.  While Dick has a lighter personality and is almost big brother like in his demeanor, Bruce is the action hero you see on the big screen.  Snyder taps into Bruce’s arrogance as a weakness and something the Court of Owls exploits.  The most telling scene in the story is when Bruce is captured by the Court and trapped in their labyrinth   We see a vulnerable Batman, one who is unhinged and even frightened.  For me personally, I hate it when my heroes do stupid things because it takes away their aura of invincibility.  For example, the scene in Iron Man 2 when Tony is drunk at his birthday party, makes me cringe and the little kid in me wants to scream out, “That’s not how heroes are supposed to act.”  Bruce doesn’t get to that point but it was unsettling to see him unnerved and scared of an enemy.  How does one follow a story where the hero is shaken and beaten, then rises up to defeat the enemy and also learns a lesson in humility?  Easy, pit him against his greatest foe.

Death of the Family started as an epic tale from a lost era.  A storm battered Gotham, while lions at the zoo were giving birth to two headed babies.  While The Court of Owls started with a question of who Gotham City belonged to, Death of the Family asked how will it react when a force of nature strikes it, can it endure?  Even now when I think about the story, Joker’s laugh fills my head.  Up until this story arc the Joker had been noticeably absent in the New 52 – he made a quick appearance in Tony Daniel’s run of Detective Comics but that ended when he had his face removed.  Naturally, Death of the Family begins with Joker getting his face back by strolling through Gotham PD headquarters and killing nineteen officers while running commentary.  The story retraces the steps explored in Joker’s first story The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke.  Batman deduces this but Joker throws new twists to it and reveals to Batman that it is his mission to make his king strong again.  In order to do this Joker has to exterminate the problem, Batman’s extended family.  He sets the stage in Arkham Asylum for a final showdown with his king.  The most interesting dynamic of this story is Batman’s narration of his relationship with the Joker contrasted with Joker’s monologues and how he sees Batman and where all of Batman’s rogues fit into the hiearachy of Gotham.  Everything comes to a head with this past Wednesday’s release of the conclusion to Death of the Family.  I won’t spoil anything here because you should go pick up Batman #13-17 for the main story arc and bask in the glory and horror that Snyder and Capullo have crafted.  The reason I mentioned the past Batman stories above is because the conclusion of Death of the Family takes ideas from them and puts a new spin on it.  The ending of issue #15 pays homage to the cover of Arkham Asylum, the life long fight of Batman and Joker highlighted in The Killing Joke is the core idea, and the family component of the story solidifies the first truth of Batman, “He is never alone.”  While, Morrison revealed the first truth about Batman, with this story Snyder reveals the first truth of Joker.  Like many others I consider The Killing Joke to be the definitive tale of the relationship between Batman and Joker.  I might not be ready to crown Death of the Family to new definitive tale but it does add another layer to the themes explored in The Killing Joke.  It improves on perfection.  The point of Death in the Family was to build a better Batman.  I cannot wait for what Snyder has in store for this improved Dark Knight.  All Hail the Once and Future Bat King,  just remember he didn’t get here alone.

It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole

Since the only comic books I’ve ever read star Archie and his lovers, I decided to treat this article as an educational experience. Like, a lecture (ish). Today, I learned there are ‘truths of Batman’. As far as I can tell, these truths are:

1. Chapters sells comic books. Chapters actually sells everything.

2. The people who write comic books are different from the people who draw comic books. Hence, all comic books are collaborative. This is a lovely disruption to the whole one author authority and fame business of most popular fiction. It gives me the warm fuzzies.

3. Batman had to learn how to leap from building to building. Batman skills are not intrinsic.

4. Batman might be bffs with Brene Brown – vulnerability is totally his jam. He’s got courage.

5. Gallivanting in a bat suit is not considered a typical behaviour. Batman is high strung and a little bit off the handle. Just like the bad guys he catches (what does he do when he catches them? Kick their shins? Take them to jail?). This makes him good at his job – see: every crime show where an ex-con reforms into a noble and cunning detective.

6. Sometimes, bad days can be really, really, really bad. Watch out for these days.

7. Batman is malleable – there are lots of Batmans. This transferability lets everyone take a little piece of whatever they need from Batman. This is what helps to make Batman stories meaningful.

8. Gotham City is a real thing. Lions can have two-headed babies there.

9. The Joker’s laugh is traumatizing.

10. Batman is never alone in his mission.

Irving Chong (@Irving_Chong) and Nicole (@_nicoliooo) are co-creators of This is Why we Can’t Have Nice Things even though it doesn’t make sense why they’re friends.

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