In January 2016, I put myself in self enforced exile in Gotham.
31 days of sodden alleyways, low level hoods, inept criminals and bloodshed. I was dragged back to Crime Alley innumerable times and forced to look at Bruce’s grumpy lower face; again and again and again. Batman’s been a part of my life since watching the 60’s series as a child, but I’ve never really asked myself why I’m as fascinated with him as I am. So I decided to dig deeper, by reading LOTS of Batman. Imaginatively I called it #Batmanuary
This is what I learnt:
Batman is always late, and always seconds away from death
Universally: Batman is late, every criminal was there a millisecond ago, they are always in the back of the frame … getting one up on him and he’s always on the back foot. I get it, there needs to be suspense and peril to drive the narrative, but JUST ONCE it would be good if Batman got there before the villain, anticipating the moment, not just reacting to it. He’s the worlds greatest detective! Detective-ise what to do! don’t just turn up when the victim is dead, or the villain is just about to turn on the lights and shout ‘TA-DAH I’ve been expecting you!’
Secondly, not only is he late for everything but everyone who attacks him gets the upper hand straight away. In the Year Zero story arc, he’s close to death every 5 pages … Falls down a hole, knife in the side, terminal wound … TOXINS!!! Batman is like a magnet for toxins, it’s like he is looking for them constantly then inhaling as hard as he can at every opportunity.
Long story short, he needs to take A LOT more care when entering villains lairs, abandoned chemical facilities and random flop houses. Luckily he is a billionaire as life insurance would be impossible to secure.
It’s always f@#king raining
Everybody knows this, but its worth repeating. Gotham = Rain. Gotham makes Manchester look tropical. It’s always raining, and it’s always dark. Frankly, it’s depressing. My old English teacher, always made jokes about the pathetic fallacy of the weather reflecting the mood of the setting … Spooky castle with forked lightning outside, the wind swept desolation of the moors … you know the drill. Additionally, LOTS of Batman stories involve sewers, I mean LOTS. It makes perfect sense given all the rain, but really? Every arch villain went straight for the sewers? every single time? it’s the first place Batman looks, use your imagination!
Bruce Wayne is infinitely more interesting than Batman, but they’re both kinda dicks
Batman is a symbol, with 75 years of heritage but is bizarrely one dimensional. Scott Snyder has done a great job of adding humanity and depth, but that depth has been added to the Bruce Wayne character, whilst Batman remains an enigma in body armor (frankly useless body armour: see above) that only puts the fear of bejeezus into the low level hoods in Gotham. Its worth noting all of the ‘serious’ villains treat him like a friend, an accomplice in the pantomime that is Batman, no super villain is ever intimidated by him. In terms of delivering on that KPI, he needs to review his approach. This is most clearly illustrated by The Joker, the deranged lunatic that simply cant get enough of his sullen company. I know the Jokers bat-shit crazy, but he could do better than adulating Batman. This whole ‘you complete me’ routine is old hat.
Bruce Wayne is a lothario, a billionaire playboy, with little ability to maintain meaningful adult relationships and generally treats those around him with thinly veiled contempt and Batman always leaves without saying goodbye. Total dick moves guys. Total dick moves.
Gotham has the BEST villains
It feels like everyone in Gotham is a villain, a low level hood or a twisted genius, frankly its astonishing that anything ever gets done. EVER. There must be non villains in Gotham but their are either not there or they aren’t depicted in the comics. Who does the jobs in the call centers? works at the dry cleaners? we occasionally see a street vendor, but that’s about it.
The real villains though? they’re peerless, they are all slightly f@#ked in the head, and (mainly) all dead set on nailing batman either alone or in some doomed to failure in twenty page alliance that always ends in tears. The villains that did it with the most flair in 31 days were
- The Court Of Owls (These guys, NEXT level, REALLY hate Batman)
- The Joker (ripped his own face off to show people how unhinged he was)
- Hush (cool name even if it sounds like a 90’s indie band, also excellent use of bandages)
- Scarecrow (makes sacks look hype and has ALL the TOXINS so Batman cant stay away)
- Penguin (Super Pantomime!)
- The Black Glove (The guys are NEXT NEXT level, they spent years planning the downfall of Batman, and they are super into it)
Of course there’s a bunch more, there are only so many books you can read in 31 days. But if you want villains, come to Gotham and FILL YOUR BOOTS!
The origin story has been told to death, almost to the point of parody
Anyone here not know the Batman origin story? Anyone? I mean seriously ANYONE? We get it; he’s a kid, his parents are killed in cold blood, he sees the whole thing and it scars him for life. Got it. For extra emphasis the murder happens in Crime Alley. Seriously? Crime Alley? (It’s officially called Park Row) as if that wasn’t clear enough? If it was going be renamed anything surely Dead Parents Alley would have been better. Every story arc repeatedly calls back to it, and often retells it. I’d suggest you leave it out DC and if ANYONE doesn’t know it then can Google it.
Alfred should just walk away and get a new job, he’s too old for this shit
Poor old Alfred. He got the short end of the stick, he inherited master Bruce after the Wayne murders, and lets be honest Bruce was a little shit, sure he’d been through something horrible, but then Alfred has to put up with Bruce’s self indulgences as he went through his ‘hero’s journey’ and his long periods of disappearing to sit on top on a mountain somewhere half way around the world whilst Alfred was worried sick.
Alfred spends most of the time picking Bruce up and sewing him back together, from Bruce’s ill conceived adventures and barely gets a thank-you. Alfred has devoted his life to Batman: been close to death, kidnapped, attacked and had his family put in grave peril. Alfred keeps saying he is leaving, but never does. Alfred, take it from someone who loves you, Bruce is no good for you, its not you it’s him.
Some creative teams GET IT and drive Batman forward, some don’t
Batman comes with a LOT of baggage if you are a creative team, and for some this seems like a burden they carry awkwardly. For others Batman is a platform for extraordinary things:
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
Starting to read Batman seriously when I did there was no way I wasn’t going to fall in love with Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. This team up is a dream, Capullo is an AMAZING and I mean AMAZING ARTIST, no one draws Jim Gordon like Capullo. Synder writes like every page is his last, and his understanding of the character is peerless.
All I can say is Frank ‘F@#king’ Miller. Point made.
Grant Morrison with Andy Kubert/J.H.Williams III/Tony S. Daniel
Grant Morrison is a colossus in comics and his work on Batman emphasizes why he is so widely revered. His work in ‘The Black Glove’ story arc is one of my favorite Batman stories ever, twisted, explosive and complex. frankly it’s exceptional. Combine this with stellar artwork from J.H. Williams and Tony S. Daniel and its a visceral descent into madness you will never forget. Morrison is such a compelling writer that he gives artists an amazing platform and his work with Andy Kubert is right up there with Snyder and Capullo.
Batman is basically a pantomime, and why no-one has ever done it on stage amazes me
If you don’t know what a pantomime is, its a weirdly English tragi-comedy play with familiar tropes, characters and plot-lines. It originated in Italy, with a harlequin character and mainstay called Pantaloon with a mask (I kid you not!) where the audience (reader in this case) becomes a central character of the narrative. It’s performed mainly around Christmas and involves tropes such as the audience shouting ‘He’s behind you!’ and ‘oh not it isn’t’. All of these could be (and should be) applied to Batman comics.
Update: Batman the Pantomime did exist in Cherwell. Wish I’d seen it.
Books read during #Batmanuary2016 – Batman and Son, Batman R.I.P, Batman Eternal Vols 2 & 3, DKIII: The Master Race Books 1 & 2, Batman: Earth One, Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn, The Joker: Endgame, The Joker: Death of the Family, Batman: Year One, Batman: Earth One, Batman: A Death in the Family, Batman: Faces of Death, Batman: The Court of Owls, Batman: Death of the Family, Batman: Zero Year – Secret City, Batman: Zero Year – Dark City