The Darkest Timeline in Batman 46

By Drew Baumgartner

Batman 46

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

From now on, I am Evil Abed. We are the Evil Study group, and we have but one evil goal: return somehow to the Prime Timeline, the one that I stopped you from rolling that die. Then we destroy the good versions of ourselves and reclaim our proper lives.

Evil Abed, Community

The notion of the “darkest timeline” seems to have entered the zeitgeist, mostly through tongue-in-cheek suggestions that we’re currently living in it, but it’s a relatively common concept in science fiction. Indeed, there are so many examples, I kind of split my metaphor on my discussion of Batman 45, touching on everything from Back to the Future Part II to It’s a Wonderful Life to that “Treehouse of Horror” episode of The Simpsons where Homer keeps accidentally changing the timeline. But none are more explicit about the superlativeness of the badness of the timeline than Community‘s darkest timeline.

It stands as a kind of conceptual opposite of Gottfried Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” theory — his explanation for human suffering that any other “world” (effectively, a different timeline) would be worse. The Back to the Future franchise suggests that the original timeline was neither the best nor the worst (Marty improves it in the first movie, turning his father into a successful science fiction writer, Biff makes it worse in the second, turning himself into a Trump-ian real-estate mogul), but most of these other examples only show changes to the timeline making things worse — effectively, that we’re actually living in the best of all possible worlds. This is definitely supported in the horrific timeline Booster Gold created as Bruce’s wedding gift, which is undeniably worse than the DC Universe as we know it, though on the surface appeared better for Bruce. That is, until Booster tries to fix things in this issue.

I have to admit, it’s hard to get too invested in “darkest timeline” stories in serialized storytelling, since we know things will inevitably return to the original timeline, likely without most characters even knowing anything happened. The one character we can be confident actually is/will be affected by the events of this issue is Booster himself, and writer Tom King cleverly zooms in on Booster’s bumbling attempt to course-correct. For me, Booster’s charm lies in his scattered dialogue — basically incomplete thoughts and sentence fragments — that looks a lot like the way King talks (at least at con panels).

Booster Bumbles

It’s a clever way to give us a kind of half-insight into what Booster is thinking while keeping the actual plan a bit of a surprise. We get the general gist, but he never gets too far into specifics. Only it turns out, he doesn’t have much of a plan, and things go wrong quickly. He wouldn’t be Booster Gold if he didn’t make a hash of things (which also allows King and artist Tony Daniel to backdoor in Michelle Pfeiffer’s stitched-together Catwoman costume from Batman Returns — it was made by a guy who sucks at sewing!), and this is a monumental fuckup, even for him. Only, it might finally reveal to Bruce that he really is living in the darkest timeline, and shake him into maybe wanting to course-correct, to. Here’s hoping he doesn’t do that by killing the Bruce of the real timeline to take his place, a la Evil Abed’s plan.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

9 comments on “The Darkest Timeline in Batman 46

  1. If you want to make the right choice guessing where King’s Batman is going, just take the most cynical choice. What would be the worst thing he could do? How could he mess it up the most? After things like I am Suicide, War of Jokes and Riddles, the fucking Wonder Woman story, expecting the worst approach always works the best. Especially if that requires you to assume it will be sexist. Worked every time for me.

    But damn, I actually thought to give King some degree of credit for once, and he wasted it away. As he always has since starting Batman. When I criticised the last issues awful, dehumanising grossness, I assumed that the way it dehumanised women would be mitigated by the fact that the only way to tell this story and make it mean something would be to root it in what it means for Selina. Which wouldn’t excuse the fact that the last issue was horrific in its vision where all those that aren’t straight white men exist to be dehumanised or nonexistent.

    And then we meet Selina, and she is just as dehumanised as any other non straight white man. Why did I forget just how much this book hates women? Fundamentally, there is no place for personhood in the female characters, and therefore Selina can’t be a person. Instead, she is stripped down into just a wild animal, bereft of all humanity and made lesser.

    Meanwhile, King struggles to actually give these issues a point. The hatred of women, again, makes this story bereft of anything that would make it work. Why is Booster the centre character? He literally doesn’t matter. He has nothing to do with the overarching story, he’s just hijacked an arc for what it ultimately a filler. The whole point of alternate timelines, Darkest or otherwise, is to explore what the way that the environment influences a character. It is about how much we learn about a character by showing how they have been changed. It shouldn’t be about some guest star time traveller who doesn’t matter to the story at all. THis is supposed to be a Batman book, and the story should be about someone who matters to the Batman story. Either Batman or his supporting cast.

    But, to be fair, to do otherwise would only work if this Darkest TImeline made any sense at all. If it wasn’t incoherent and nonsensical. If it wasn’t dehumanising and actually cared about characters. Instead, it is just an ugly mix of awfulness. All this is is edgy bullshit , just spewing up misplaced iconography in order to revel in its own shitty, grimdark fantasy.

    But it hates the right people, so it is what DC wants, I guess

  2. Hey Matt. Do you agree with Alan Moore’s opinion that superheroes today are cultural catastrophe because many writers misunderstood his work, missing his point that comics can evolve and the ‘worship’ of superheroes today, especially from the Silver Age of Comics (its not a religious worship but it still looks like one)?.

    • That is a complex question, especially as Moore’s own specific viewpoints are strong (Elizabeth Sandifer, in Last War for Albion, defined the difference between Moore and Morrison that Moore saw superheroes as the Bomb, Morrison saw superheroes as saving us from the Bomb).

      I certainly wouldn’t call superheroes today a cultural catastrophe, as I am a big fan of them. Though I try and keep my biases in check, so that when something like Avengers Infintiy War comes along, I don’t let my love blind me to the fact that it is a horrible movie.

      But there is a degree of truth. I believe superhero fandom certainly suffers from what Moore said. There is a too strong worship of superheroes and an obsession that blinds them to what the cultural role of superheroes should be (think of how obsessed too many fans are of a preservation of a status quo, keeping them enshrined in amber as, essentially, objects of worship instead of letting creators use them as they are intended, as metaphorical figures to explore morality tales). And between those fans and those fans who then become creators, there are massive problems caused. To use a Marvel example, the Hunt for Wolverine exists entirely to return Wolverine. Story and meaning have no role, as the stakes are non existent. It’s only value is Logan’s return. And King’s Batman is another massive offender. Even excusing the specifically hateful, bigoted parts of King’s Batman, King’s consistent failures in just about everything create nothing but a valourization of a particularly shitty version of Batman. An uncritical power fantasy that indulges that indulges Batman and our worst impulses instead of critiquing them. It is so obsessed with Batman worship that, instead of telling us to be better, it says that we don’t need to bother. That we don’t even need to be good. Even basic empathy is optional. And that’s a great example everything Alan Moore fears (Doomsday Clock’s fascism apologia is another example. Honestly, Rebirth as a whole, with its gross emphasis in iconography over character or soul, is a pretty decent example of what Alan Moore worries about)

      In the other hand, you have something like Aaron’s Thor. Here’s the thing. I never understood why Thor could lift the Hammer. What made Thor Worthy? Because lifting Mjolnir is supposed to be hard. It is a massive twist when anyone can lift it. And yet, Thor isn’t that great of a guy. He’s certainly heroic, but there are other superheroes who I’d say are more deserving of Mjolnir than Thor, the hotheaded Avenger voted most likely to get in a needless fight. And yet, lifting Mjolnir is something that, other than Thor, only the most purehearted can lift. Why?
      Aaron leaned into that. He revealed that Thor was always Unworthy. He never should have had it. And the end of the Mjolnir arc did not have Thor learn how to be Worthy. It has him learn to accept being Unworthy. He stopped his self hatred, and learned that even if he couldn’t be Worthy, he could strive to be. He could be better. And now we have a Thor with no Mjolnir, but instead has forged new weapons to fight with because he wishes to strive for Worthiness. He has accepted he is imperfect and is learning to live with that.
      Unlike King’s Batman, that is obsessed with the worship of the unworthy, Aaron’s Thor is all about how you cannot be perfect, but instead of letting that destroy you, let it motivate you to be better. To see Thor return with his new golden hammer, being as heroic as ever, even with the understanding that he isn’t perfect, is a powerful, important message. Our flaws can’t stop us from being heroes. We do not need to be perfect, and we can be failures and be one of the greatest heroes in the world.
      Yes, there are bad superhero comics out there that fit Moore’s statements (taking into account Moore’s hyperbole). But there are also books like Aaron’s Thor that look beyond simple worship of iconography to find something smarter and more valuable. Aaron’s Thor is a prime example.

      In fact, that is the most disappointing thing about Avengers Infinity War. It is a terrible movie, but it is also Marvel stepping away from the sorts of movies that were doing exactly what superheroes should be doing. Phase Three was a massive step forward for Marvel, opening up complex discussions of death, grief, abuse, love, colonialism, responsibility. Doing everything superhero movies should do. And then they made Infinity War, the biggest step backwards. I hope Ant Man and Wasp and Captain Marvel are a return to form, and I hope Avengers 4 is an improvement, because what the rest of Phase 3 was doing was so valuable.

      And as much as Moore has a legitimate criticism of many superhero comics, many others are doing what Aaron has done. Many writers know how to treat superheroes right, and many have learned the right lessons from Watchmen. And those writers ensure that superheroes aren’t a cultural catastrophe, even if other writers don’t

      • Well he also said that today’s superheroe comics just copy previous stories, lacks an imagination an have moved away from their original target audience (children)…

        • Again, it is a complex discussion. DC have truly fallen into becoming everything Moore has accused them of being, including dedicating their entire line being utterly defined by the bad mood he had in the 80s. Rebirth has made DC’s entire line about copying previous story, punishing imagination etc. Tom King and Christopher Priest are the only exceptions, and King wastes that by creating thematically incoherent style over substance books that actively work against themselves like Mister Miracle, or monuments of incompetence and dehumanisation like his Batman.

          But the copying previous work and lacking imagination is a complex issue. There is a hell of a lot being made that actually is new and different. SpiderGwen and Batgirl of Burnside (before it was Rebirthified) are prime examples of a truly new cultural moment being made by comics. And one of the best, original ideas that DC had was the quirky little part of Gotham where Harper Row, Stephanie Brown and eventually Cassandra Cain lived together as roommate superheroes. It featured original dynamics that could be combined in all sorts of fantastic ways to tell all sorts of new tales by the sheer diversity of new options available (DCYOU was truly fantastic for this sort of stuff. Everywhere, there were brand new, fresh ideas). They should have made a new, Birds of Preyesque book built around that, but they got rid of it for Rebirth and the garbage of Detective Comics, that threw that out and created garbage. Fraction’s Hawkeye is the book that is generally seen as the cultural marking point, which created a whole lot of new fresh stories. Brand new dynamics and sorts of storytelling that were fresh and new.. Which isn’t to say that old, too derivative books were also being written.

          But it wasn’t just the way that Hawkeye changed things. Around the start of the Millennium, there was a major change to comics. The injection of genre. There was a real change in the way that comics were handled. Before, lots of comics genre could simply be stated as ‘superhero’, but there was a concerted shift by a new era of creators to push beyond generic superhero elements and lean into different genres (the 80s was the technical start, I would say, but it was truly the 2000s that it became mainstream). Creators like Bendis made Spiderman into what would become YA, and Daredevil into pure noir. Brubaker and Rucka did a similar noirification for both Marvel and DC, eventually going so far as to make Gotham Central. Captain America became truly informed by spy stories with the Winter Soldier, while Fraction leaned into martial arts stories for Iron Fist and the wonderfully recreated the corporate and relationship elements of the Iron Man movie to his masterful Iron Man run. And I feel this injection of genre has been massive, and is a truly important part of today’s comic market. To use Aaron’s Thor as an example again, because it truly is a fantastic example of doing comics right, Aaron’s Thor begun his a large influence from heavy metal and barbarian fantasy, until Jane turned up and turned the series in a more mythic and epic fantasy direction, feeling more like the prologue of the Lord of the RIngs than anything else. If you look at Simonson’s Thor (which I love), there is a big difference in how mythology is used. Simonson takes a lot of inspiration from mythology, but ultimately roots that in familiar superhero elements. Aaron’s Thor leans into those elements a lot more, telling tales of battlefronts across the Nine Realms.

          And genre does a hell of a lot to create new stories. You could argue that Valentine’s Catwoman is just a copy of Brubaker’s Catwoman. Selina attempts to be a good guy, but struggles to handle the weight of responsibility when she faces the Black Mask, whose evil costs her dearly as he strikes at both her loved ones and at her very morals. Except the choice to make one a noir vigilante story and the other a gangster crime story makes them essentially indistinguishable. The genre signifiers are too different – by virtue of having Selina as a crime lord, she is making choices and doing the sorts of things so different from any other comic that it can’t help but be original.

          There is also virtue in trying to redo older stories so that they are actually good. Marvel is essentially redoing the Infinity Gauntlet event with the new Infinity War series that is about to start. But (assuming it is good. The build up to the event is currently troubled with some major Adam Warlock problems) redoing Infinity Gauntlet so we have an actually good version of Infinity Gauntlet is a good idea. Especially when we can’t even get a good version in the movies either.

          This is not to say that many superhero stories don’t just repeat the past. They are a massive problem by both companies (DC is much, much, much worse at this at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that Marvel doesn’t have a too long list of the same). And with respect to those comics, Moore’s words are painfully accurate. But there are also many that are legitimately trying to push things forward in interesting ways.

          And on the audience for kids thing, that’s a harder problem to discuss, as most of the problem there are structural. Choices made in the 80s that have forced comics to be distributed in a way that makes marketing to children too hard. It is easy to say that comics should be for kids, but market dynamics make it a lot harder. Both Marvel and DC have kids lines, but those books are never big successes. because the audience aren’t going to the right places. On the other hand, books like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (and I think Squirrel Girl) are designed specifically to take advantage of alternate distribution lanes, through Scholastic, and have become big successes because of that. I think many people would be surprised just how successful Moon Girl actually is (DC used to have Gotham Academy for the same purpose, but DC, at the moment, is the worst. So of course, that hasn’t been replaced).
          And I think there is a degree that the ‘comics aren’t for kids anymore’ line is overstated, though this may be done to me historically respecting children’s intelligence. There are certainly a group of comics that aren’t. BUt remember that every superhero movie released has been for kids. THink of some of the recent Marvel movies. Civil War was a tragedy about relationships going toxic with strong political themes. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was about abusive parents and the effect they have on children. Thor Ragnarok is about the legacy of colonialism and its effect on indigenous people. Black Panther is about the legacy of colonialism and racism, and the geopolitical issues arising from that. Infinity War, while being terrible, ends with a (terribly handled) sequence that is traumatic and devastating, or at least would have been if the movie didn’t spent the previous two and a half hours making you forget why you cared about each and every character. Or, to use the one appropriate DC movie for this (as the others quite simply failed to engage people), Wonder Woman was a (confused) story about the horrors of warfare and our own complicity in it. Yet kids have responded positively to every Marvel movie, and to Wonder Woman. If those movies are appropriate for kids, then why isn’t Aaron’s Thor? Yeah, keep some of the more violent books in the more noir areas away from kids, or books like the Vision. And DC’s recent obsession with blood and awfulness isn’t appropriate (my reasons for keeping King’s Batman away from kids is very different to my reasons for keeping the Vision away), but some of their pre-Rebirth books would be great, from obvious choices like Batgirl of Burnside to even a good portion of Snyder’s Batman, though some of the Joker stuff may be a bit too horror focused.

          Moore’s statements have a degree of truth, but lack nuance. And they are older comments, which ignore some of the more recent changes. Moore has his point, and is basically pinpoint accurate with Rebirth, but I think there is still a lot of superhero comics that get it right. If I honestly thought that superhero comics were like that, I wouldn’t read them. And instead, I still read a good amount of Marvel. Too much of the industry fits Moore’s statements, but I would argue that there is a very sizeable chunk of superhero comics that aren’t.
          Yeah, too many superhero comics are obsessed with the worship of iconography, of repeating older stories etc. There is always going to be a good portion of the industry like that, unfortunately. Think of it as an equivalent to Sturgeon’s Law. But if superhero comics were truly that bad, I wouldn’t be here. Every genre and every medium has problems they are grappling with, and the best thing to do is support the good stuff. And for every recent Tom King book, there is more than enough actually good superhero comics out there to make up for it

    • Brubaker, Cooke and Stewart’s Catwoman probably goes down as one of the most important and influential runs of all time, so a lot. They essentially redefined Catwoman, which is why Cooke’s redesign has latest so long. They turned her from a superficial villain to a more complex anti-hero that latest until King threw it all away.
      The art style was innovative and inventive, the way noir influences were used were inventive and original to superhero comics. They redesigned the comic book depiction of an antihero into something a lot more complex, someone who held a completely different ethical code to more traditional heroes and then interrogated that ethical code for drama. It provided a radically new perspective, that looked at the crime ridden aspects of Gotham with empathy and complexity. Its depiction of women was down right innovative for comics, and to this day it has one of the best handled queer relationships in comics. And yeah, Selina Kyle went from a one dimensional character to one of the richest, most layered characters around. I could go on and on, because there is so much to say.

      Valentine’s not as new, because she chose to build on what came before instead of disruptively changing everything like Brubaker did. But where Brubaker’s use of noir signifiers were fresh and original, so to her Valentine’s use of crime story tropes. A lot of what Valentine does well is the same as Brubaker, but new in a different way. Both comics do a fantastic job creating the sorts of complex relationships that are completely unlike any of their contemporaries. Valentine finds infinite new dynamics and relationships by shifting Selina into a crime lord role, and she introduces new elements like the Yakuza, using them to explore different cultural contexts. And yeah, the importance of the crime story tropes are essential, there is no story like Valentine’s Catwoman around, because the combination of crime drama and superheroes just simply doesn’t exist in the iterations that Valentine is writing

      I read both runs once a year, because they are both some of my all time favourite runs because of how good they are and because of how innovative and new they are

        • A strong pro crime position, as long as it was the right sort of crime. Including a willingness to get along with criminals and find mutually beneficial set ups. She willing to kill. She’s willing to attack the police in order to arrange the escape of someone legally and without corruption convicted of murder. And she always chooses the personal over the just, sabotaging her crusade in serious ways in order to easily achieve her own personal goals of protecting her loved ones. And she is willing to use dark, heavily coercive tactics for no reason except petty vengeance.

          Superheroes don’t break people out of prison that have been through the legal system justly. Or torture someone just because they are that disgusted with what the person did. Brubaker’s Catwoman did. ANd then he interrogated that throughly

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