*Ok, finally time for posts...

Batman #669


This is going to get a little embarrassing, because I can very clearly recall reading a post somewhere on the internet that predicted not only the core resolution to this storyline's mystery, but also where writer Grant Morrison was going with his themes, and now I can't find it. I should never have listened to the doctors! Recording everything I hear and read is a sign of a keen mind! And could never write my column if I was still taking the pills...

Er, so anyway, those mystery thoughts have affected my thinking on this mystery. It's a decent enough wrap-up to the plot, in that the individual resolution beats seem to make sense as a 'solution' (yes, the water clue Batman mentions actually is visible in issue #667, albeit in such a subtle way it could simply be mistaken for a downplaying of extraneous visual detail, which is maybe the trick), although there's a little compression tension at work, as if the big action climax doesn't have quite enough pages to play through, resulting in a few unintuitive cluttered layouts on J.H. Williams III's part. Ironically, this raises memories of the ultracompressed Seven Soldiers #1, which despite being even denser, didn't quite fall into visual difficulty.

But the end of the mystery also recalls some of the motifs and themes of Seven Soldiers -- cruel parents and negative vs. 'enlightened' adulthood -- while also playing around with the dual theme of Morrison's Batman and All Star Superman runs, that of the legendary superhero icon encountering myriad alternate versions of himself (anxiety of influence, if you will!), as a way of establishing and tweaking the core identity of the long-lived title hero. Batman's adventures of this sort have always been darker and more painful (since he's the 'dark' side of the two), so there's plenty of brutal murder and bloody mayhem throughout the story, as a whole gang of shittier Batmen (even one that preceded the real deal) get knocked off, prove themselves bankrupt, or regain some of the ol' superhero spirit.

Being a thematic movement in a continuing story, I found parts of the prior issues to be a little dull, if only in that Morrison didn't have his Batmen saying much that hadn't been said (through Morrison!) before. And, I'm not sure if he really does it here either, but there's some pleasure to be had in seeing these characters reach their conclusions. A lazy-seeming crimefighter who's relaxing on publishing money proves himself ready to battle evil in the clinch. An embarrassing relic of the past proves mighty indeed. Meanwhile, the Watchmen-style badass who clucked his tongue at the notion of kid sidekicks seemingly gets toasted in homage to... a pirate character (oh how droll). The traitor is the one who most thoroughly made himself rough and 'modern,' as a means of compensating for a lack of fame he blames on Batman.

But I don't think Morrison is so much saying "Comics Have Abandoned Their Charming Past, and the Present is Therefore Fucked" (not that Abhay was saying he is here), as much as advocating and propagating graceful evolution into a brighter future. Morrison's stance is messianic, and his aim evolutionary; there is no Therefore Fucked to this work. "Only a little kid would ever think we were heroes," remarks one of the lesser Batmen, yet soon he's undoing an old-timey deathtrap, as a Good Adult.

Oh right. Who set up the death trap? Mayhew, of course! Wearing a supervillian mask of fake flesh at the top, and running around in old-school supervillain costume at the end; thankfully, Morrison and Williams are thoughtful enough to establish here that devotion to old tropes does not make you instantly Good. Mayhew is actually yet another Batman version, and the worst of them all for this storyline - he's an alternate Bruce Wayne, and one that never got down to fighting the good fight himself. Granted, Morrison doesn't put him in quite as bad a place as Future Damian from issue #666, a faker Batman who's literally become the real Batman and may just ruin the whole world for it; Mayhew's viewpoint is more limited. Still, if issue #666 was this comic's Here Comes Tomorrow, I suspect Morrison has plans to resolve it in a New X-Men way, ruining the evil future with small, crucial changes to the present that eventually spread to everything.

In this way, it's totally fitting that the Black Glove isn't actually the person physically killing people, and indeed isn't any one person to begin with. It's unseen watchers, hoping for gore, and eager to see if Good or Evil, as betting concepts, will win. In one way, you might see this as yet another of Morrison's Evil Creators, the ultimate superhero comic Evil Parent, setting up troubles for good concepts to be ruined in. I was struck by the elegance and depth of Williams' glove-shaped panels - it's not only an awesome way to convey the paranoiac presence of a killer, but it shapes the very comic itself against Batman and the Club of Heroes, evidencing an
untouchably god-like presence.

But then, there's another way of looking at it. The Black Glove as a group seems to be based on one of Mayhew's films; it's not a stretch to presume that he might have had a hand in setting it up. And the Black Glove isn't all that affirmative an evil presence either; really, it's Mayhew that's the 'creator' of the Club of Heroes, and the one setting up this nasty bit of business. He's under pressure to perform from the Black Glove, and gets his long-lived ass thrown out when his evil story ends in good. So, who's the Black Glove, if not the Evil Creator?

Gah! Could it be... Bad Readers?! Folks demanding more and more decadent thrills from their heroes, and delighting to the ruin of good characters while evil ones choke the world with cynicism?

Yet, superhero adventures thrive on conflict, on life-or-death struggles. The Black Glove might have a naked corpse hanging in their lodge room, but they're not forcing anyone to bet on Evil either. Remember, Mayhew didn't die because he failed to create what the Black Glove wanted, he died because he personally bet on Evil. And the stakes are high, as established on page one of part one:

"Our esteemed clientele see no virtue in thinking small, nor do we."

From the man who'll bring us Final Crisis! We know where Morrison's money is... now whose side are you on?