by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
What’s the difference between camp and genre fiction? How about the difference between parody and pastiche? All of these categorical distinctions share the same powerful feature — exploiting tropes to elicit involuntary emotional reactions. And usually, that reaction is a laugh. A knowing chuckle, a boisterous guffaw, rolling chortles — what’s the difference? Is one form ridiculous while the other form is cool? Is one form important while the other form is base? And is there any space between them? Tom King and Clay Mann’s Batman 27 answers that question with the simultaneously ludicrous and tragic origin story of Chuck Brown: The Kite Man.
There’s a war in Gotham between Joker and Riddler. Because he’s inserted himself, let’s add Batman to that mix. Those are all heavy-hitters, so the rest of the costumed villains of Gotham have been forced to pick sides, leaving regular citizens caught in the crossfire. We get a lot of that powerless feeling from the pair of panicking pundits on GNN, but that sentiment is personified by Charlie “Chuck” Brown. Brown has a soft connection to Joker, which turns into a soft connection to Batman, and an even softer connection to Riddler. These three are all so desperate to take effective shots at each other that they all manipulate the poor guy into setting up a brawl between… I mean, it looks like everyone’s there, right?
This is the closest thing to an action sequence in the entire issue, and Joker is dragging our bow Charlie away from it, disinterestedly muttering an obligatory Charlie Brown reference. Chuck’s story has all the hallmarks of a humorous story, evidenced here by Joker’s cheeky one-liner. But it’s more than just punchlines, the rhythms of humor are all over this thing, including some delightful bits of repetition, setting up expectations only to subvert them.
First of all, the set up for both these scenes (and arguably the whole issue) is “Batman walks into a bar…” More importantly, the first page sets up the expectation that Chuck drinking alone and minding his own business will result in him getting dragged into a mess beyond his control and understanding. Chuck’s monologues in these scenes are also telling — in the latter, he’s rolling the joke-riddle over in his head, trying to decide which it is. In the former, he stating scientific fact: wind is the result of high and low pressure seeking a balance. Between high and low — that’s our middle ground. The space between parody and pastiche, between joke and riddle.
Riddler eventually murders Brown’s son. It’s the darkest scene in the issue, and finds a father comforting his son: reassuring him that his cursing won’t send him to hell as he dies. It’s hard shit. And it leads to the strongest possible punchline: “Kite Man.” Was it a joke?
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?