Batman 37

Alternating Currents: Batman 37, Drew and RyanToday, Drew and Ryan are discussing Batman 36 originally released on December 17th, 2014.

Second verse, same as the first! A little bit louder and a little bit worse!

Traditional

Drew: Repetition is everywhere in art, from the themes of symphonies to the expectation that the hero will prevail, but do you ever wonder why we like repetition so much? Doesn’t it also make art tired and predictable? I suppose some material is more conducive to repetition than others — star-crossed lovers is a more versatile premise than, say, a hot tub time machine — but I would argue that everything can overstay its welcome. Comics are particularly prone to repetition (who will Superman save the day from this week?), but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have taken that repetition a step further, regularly weaving recreations of iconic Batman moments into their run (even as recently as last issue). Their love and respect for Batman’s mythology is beyond reproach, but that very emphasis they give every moment may have hit the point of diminishing returns in Batman 36, as Snyder struggles to make Joker even worse than he was the last time he showed up.

The problem, of course, is that Snyder did too good of a job making “Death of the Family” an effective “The Joker is back and somehow more sinister than ever!” story, even going so far as to have virtually every character remark that he was the scariest he’s ever been. This go-around, he’s supposed to be even scariest-ier, but there just isn’t headroom for actual scariness, forcing Snyder to just go bigger with the story, putting all of Gotham in the crosshairs. “Gotham hangs in the balance” is as classic a Batman premise as any, but again, suffers from its proximity to the similarly big Zero Year.

To his credit, Snyder doesn’t shy away from the repetition — indeed, the sheer number of encounters Bruce has had with Joker becomes an important plot point.
TRY ALL THE VACCINES!While this moment works to establish that Bruce hasn’t faced this particular iteration of the Joker Toxin before (which, no duh — a virus is obviously not the same thing as poison), it also emphasizes just how routine synthesizing these anti-toxins has become. I mean, what reason would Bruce have for synthesizing all of these different cures unless the old ones didn’t work? Why should this time be any different?

Oh, right, the bigness. The downside there is that Snyder’s strength with psychological drama doesn’t scale up to epic size very well. The previous arcs all worked because they focused on Bruce’s most important relationships, like his allies or Gotham itself, but without that kind of ballast here, Snyder aims to make the emotions bigger, putting Bruce face to face with Joe Chill in a recreation of his parents’ murder.
A comic where Batman watches a play based on the comic of his origin storyUnfortunately, the sequence is too visually jumbled to have any emotional impact. Apparently, Batman and Chill are looking into a second glassed-off room that Batman doesn’t have access to, but Chill does. There’s no way to know that from this page, but it becomes vitally important, as that glass delays Bruce’s rescue of the family — not from Chill, but from the horde of infected that swarm the scene as soon as Bruce breaks the glass. That sounds convoluted, but it’s even harder to follow on the page, which incomprehensibly draws parallels to Batman and Joker.

Though actually, the Joker stuff fares much better, delivering actual horror beats where the Batman stuff feels both over- and under-done (which I suppose makes sense, given that Snyder mostly just tried to multiply his recipe [BAKING JOKES!]). Old photos with Joker hiding in the background or even Joker hiding under Gordon’s bed — something he alluded to way back in issue 13 — are much creepier than anything Bruce encounters, playing into that “he’s just a man…isn’t he?” question that has come to define Snyder’s take on the character.

For me, though, those moments only served to remind me of better times with Snyder and Joker. Snyder has said that this is a farewell to the character — at least for the time being — but I think it may be coming a bit too late. Snyder used the Joker so effectively in “Skeleton Key” and “Death of the Family,” but with those arcs still relatively fresh in our memories, it’s hard for this one to find much new ground to cover. The promotions for this arc have called it a “game-changer,” but so far, it feels like too much of the same.

Ryan: Drew, I believe we are on the same page when I say that this issue is not without merit; readers of the multitude of Batman titles have just seen similar things done just as well, fairly recently. For example, the last time we saw the citizens of Gotham controlled by a malevolent force causing anarchy was back in February, 2013, during the incredible first arc of Batman Incorporated. And when is the last time we saw a villain with such chronic, deep-seated roots in Gotham that they challenge Batman’s understanding of the very city for which he fights? Well, Snyder couldn’t have done that better himself in the “Night of the Owls“.

Before we lambast this issue too hard for its re-trodden ground, I would like to give credit where credit is due. One of Snyder’s strengths is his ability to infiltrate Bruce Wayne’s head, which ranges from a ponderous place contemplating historical minutia or the stress points in high density glass, to an insecure echo chamber of self-doubt:
bat37-1Ignoring the depressing fact that Bruce Wayne is only four years older than I am, it is refreshing to see our titular character shaken. Yes, the quarrel here is a tale as old as time, but Snyder’s twist on Joker’s patented MO — testing Batman because they need each other (which culminated in Death of the Family) — attempts to truly mix up the status quo between the two. I still have plenty of hope in how this new dynamic between protagonist and antagonist will play out during the arc’s crescendo.

I agree with Drew’s analysis of the Joe Chill scene, but I stopped suspending my disbelief during a different moment in the comic. James Gordon shows his detective chops while investigating Gotham Presbyterian Hospital and its history with tragic accidents. His cursory viewing of old newspaper articles reveals that the devil in the walls plaguing this institution may indeed be the Clown Prince of Crime, who shortly thereafter attacks Jim.
bat37-2Bat37-3We see the Joker plainly in the first picture, sporting his new haircut — one described by my hair stylist as “the Danish style”. Yes, I consulted an expert. Then we see Joker looming in the background of the aforementioned newspaper photograph. Here’s where you lose me: does Capullo expect us to buy that the Jester of Genocide sported his new, hipster/fútbol haircut back in 1910?! Do I believe for one second that out of the numerous visual incarnations of the Joker through the years, that in the same year that Russia absorbed Finland, the Ace of Knaves wore his hair as such?
nopeHaircuts aside and despite its interesting moments of psychology and action, to me, this current arc feels as if someone — Snyder or otherwise — thought, “I want Batman fighting the Justice League, but I do not know how to make that happen”, and thus the Joker virus conceit was born unto the world. So, now I wonder: is this just Snyder recycling tried and true Batman tropes (Joker’s nefarious scheme, Gotham in peril, other heroes rendered incontinent — did I use that word correctly?) or more of a gimmick designed to hit certain high notes? I hate to be too critical when Snyder regularly delivers such good content, and this issue would be fine were we to view it in a vacuum; however, no matter how Formalist one is in their literary criticism, art just does not work that way.
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13 comments on “Batman 37

  1. Ryan, what’d you make of Jim rushing to the conclusion that Joker had himself photoshopped into those old newspaper articles? It makes his reach just as horrifyingly long, but, you know, non-magical. I actually found that that undercut some of that man-or-devil question, but maybe it did need to be addressed?

    I mean, also, what would the fucking odds of Joker being IN THOSE PICTURES even if he was somehow at the hospital?

    • I was thinking that there’s a second Joker toxin which augments any existing fear of Joker, making him seem to appear where he is not; A sort of psychological parasite for your existing Joker paranoia. It would be a stretch, but you could even consider that maybe nobody has been Jokerized at all, but everyone sees everyone else as having been Jokerized, creating a mass hysteria. We’ll see… I think the Jokerization of Gotham is a macguffin for the real, not-yet-revealed master threat.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this issue anyway, but recent interviews and developements have insinuated that the result of Endgame will be a huge overhaul of the Batman status quo (sharply contrasting the non-ending of Death Of The Family wherein the family supposedly “broke up” but continued to appear frequently in other Batman titles and recently banded together in Robin uniforms, more tightly knit than ever, to save Damian). So, yeah, I think so far this arc seems like your typical Joker attempting to destroy Gotham bit, but I think that’s all for show until we get its most secret developements in its final chapters. This is a storyline that was seeded in Endgame, so I don’t believe for one second that this was a result of a “How can we get Batman to fight the JL?” whim.

    • I certainly have enough faith in this creative team to expect some surprises by the end of this arc, but I also kind of expect to be surprised by the third issue. Snyder and Capullo have more than enough goodwill built up for people to bear with them through these more warmed-over beats, but I can’t see that as anything other than lazy.

      Compare this issue to Snyder’s work on Detective Comics, and you’ll see a world of difference in how hard he’s working to earn the audience’s interest. This really feels like he’s now taking that interest for granted. I get the impression that Snyder has become “too big to edit”, and I think his arcs are increasingly flabby and ponderous. That’s particularly frustrating because I really love his writing when he’s hitting his stride.

      Some of my problems with this issue are problems any writer has when pitting Batman against the Joker for the umpteenth time — Snyder navigated those waters very well in “Death of the Family”, but they feel entirely rehashed here — and some of them are things that a writer with something to prove would just straight up never do. I get that there’s virtually nothing in comics that hasn’t already been done, but it’s the writer’s job to make it feel new, anyway. I just don’t see Snyder working as hard in that department as he used to.

      • There are things that I love about Death Of The Family (#13’s omens and attack on GCPD, Batman’s analysis of Joker’s dilated eyes, the examination of their relationship, and the chemistry joke) but I’m actually about 50/50 on the story overall as there are things that bother me just as much. Face-off Joker just doesn’t look iconic, and it feels like a shoehorned resolution to whatever it is that Tony Daniel was trying to do with Joker. I get that it was to honor the format of a joke, but Joker’s presumption that making the Bat-family THINK that their faces had been removed insteady of actually using his full opportunity to murder and/or maim them if he’d wanted to just makes him seem less evil, and his plan to break up Batman’s support system seems fairly impotent (particularly in hindsight, when you consider just how little effect that fallout had on the next year of Batman family titles.) Frankly, Eternal put Batman’s support system through the ringer more intensely than DOTF. DOTF did it in a moodier but barely productive way. To me DOTF was a nice ponderance on the nature of Batman VS Joker, but not much more. The whole thing falls apart in its third act for me.

        • Oh, on the pros side though, I’m crazy about the Zero Year-era flashback where Bruce visits Joker in his cell. That was a much bigger takeaway for me than Joker’s present-day actions.

  3. Sorry to blow this up, but I am pretty excited about this arc. I also 100% believe that the insinuation that Joker is immortal is poppycock. I don’t know if it’s photoshop or a psychological trick; my psychotrope theory is probably easily dismissed by the fact that Gordon hadn’t seen Joker yet with his new haircut so he couldn’t have imagined him that way, but if it’s imaginary anyway then it could possibly be dismissed as a technique used to fool the reader in the same way that Jim was. I think altered photos are probably more likely. I will say though, about the haircut, I’m pretty sure that the undercut would have in fact been around in the early 1900’s… I think the resurgence of hipster use of the haircut is directly tied into the indie-folk explosion, which had people dressing and singing as if they were from the pre-country/western USA (I’m not justifying that; I have little patience for it). In the period film Lawless, for example, characters sport the undercut. Even though it’s obviously bogus, I think that the portrayal of Joker as immortal is very inspired… Those last panels had me very much thinking about my favorite Stephen King short story The Man In The Black Suit, and the old-timey haircut and photos lend a lot of creepy old-timey vibe to back up that reference.

    • I am just anxious that we will get the James Bond Theory treatment for the Joker: the title is a code name which multiple people have over time, explaining their stylistic/behavioral discrepancies.

      That would not jive with me.

      • I’d hate that too, but I think the team has more sense than to take that route. Last thing anybody wants is a demystified Joker, and the did a decent job of that even while telling his origin in Zero Year

  4. As much as I love Snyders work with Batman and The Joker, that scene with Joe Chill and Bruce’s parents being shot is so confusing. Are those his parents? was Bruce tripping on joker gas? I was lost.

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