Doomsday Clock 6 Circles Marionette’s Past as it Circles the Drain

By Patrick Ehlers

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

If I asked you to picture the single imagine that evokes Watchmen, what would you picture? Likely, you’re imagining the Comedian’s smiley face button, but I could also see an argument for Doctor Manhattan’s circular forehead logo. Both symbols are circles. I know that’s not exactly mind-blowing, but this is the level of visual rhetoric writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank are playing with in Doomsday Clock 6.

The series continues to slump along in much the same way it did last time we talked about it. This time, Marionette and Mime are the focus of the story, which really doesn’t do Johns or Frank any favors. Stripped of all but the most tangential references to the Watchmen universe, the creators are left with the tone and tools of the piece to tell a story that spans two tonally discrete universes. If that sounds like an inadequate set of tools to complete an impossible task, that’s because it is. Continue reading

Justice and Symbolism in Justice League 1

By Drew Baumgartner

Justice League 1

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

There was no word for justice on my planet. The closest was the symbol on this table. It meant going beyond what was supposed to be possible, the natural laws. Imposing on the universe a higher standard. An ideal.

Martian Manhunter, Justice League 1

Our conceptions of justice hinge on fairness and impartiality — the notion that we are all held to the same standards of behavior (and face the same punishment for flaunting those standards). We understand how that can break down in practice (humans aren’t great at partiality), but we can imagine justice as a kind of platonic ideal we can strive towards. And that may be the best way to think about it, but closer inspection reminds us that, if it’s a platonic ideal, it’s one that varies from society to society and changes over time. We might reflect on the “justice” of the past (or of other cultures) and find it to be decidedly unjust, but that’s not how justice works — it’s not an objective monolith, but a deeply subjective, dynamic concept. That is, justice is a moral construct that only makes sense in light of the values of the society that construct it. Martian Manhunter’s approximation of justice reflects that idea, adding no moral spin to the “ideal” he mentions — in J’onn’s estimation, any ideologically motivated action “beyond what was supposed to be possible” is justice. In short, J’onn’s brief for the Justice League works just as well for the Legion of Doom. Continue reading

Doomsday Clock 5 Meanders

By Drew Baumgartner

Doomsday Clock 5

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

The essence of drama, and especially melodrama, is compression. Show only what’s important. So start the scene as late as possible and once the dramatic point is made, end it.

Dennis O’Neil, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics

Pound for pound, this might be some of the best writing advice I know. But in this age of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and tie-ins, it seems like it’s all but been forgotten. That is, the artistic discipline of narrative efficiency is no match for the commercial demands of more familiar content. I don’t mean to dismiss all sequels etc. out of hand (The Godfather: Part II is a goddamned masterpiece, and is both a sequel and a prequel), but I do think they need to work a bit harder to justify their existence — if the details of this prequel story truly are essential, why weren’t they included in the original. And that scrutiny goes double when augmenting a beloved masterpiece. It’s absolutely possible for a sequel to justify itself, even under those circumstances (again, The Godfather: Part II), but it’s no easy feat. Unfortunately, the longer Doomsday Clock wears on, the less it seems up to that task, not only failing to justify its existence, but pretty much every storytelling choice it makes. Continue reading

The Timeline Skews in Batman 45

By Drew Baumgartner

Batman 45

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

Here’s the present, 1985, the future, and the past. Prior to this point in time, somewhere in the past…the time line skewed into this tangent…creating an alternate 1985. Alternate to you, me, and Einstein…but reality for everyone else.

Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part II

We’re all familiar enough with the notion of alternate timelines and the butterfly effect by this point that any reasonable time-traveler would have to fear ever changing past events — indeed, it’s a sci-fi concept so ubiquitous, even Abe Simpson thought to offer Homer a warning about it on his wedding day. And yet, we still like to imagine “what if” scenarios about making different decisions in only our own pasts, but those of fictional characters. The most well-known “what if” story in superhero comics might well be “For the Man Who Has Everything,” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s clever parable about fantasy wish fulfillment. Superman’s fantasy necessarily focuses on his own experiences on a non-exploded Krypton, but the absence of Superman would obviously have profound effects back on Earth. That is, there are butterfly effects in that fantasy timeline we never see, that a Krypton-based Kal-El wouldn’t even know about. Cleverly, Tom King and Tony Daniel open on the butterfly effects of their alternate timeline in Batman 45 before circling back to explain how and why this alternate timeline was created in the first place. Continue reading

Batman Who Laughs 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers & Mark Mitchell

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

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Patrick: Outside of dance-able club hits, which state their desire to make you dance, very few works of art tell you what effect they intend to have on you. Batman Who Laughs has one purpose and one purpose only: to shock longtime Batman fans with a violent, evil twist on the Dark Knights’ mythos. And the book cockily asserts that it is going to surprise its readers, by having the titular laughing Batman address the camera directly and saying as much. “You really thought you had it all figured out. That you knew every combination in the deck.” The work assumes the reader is skeptical of its goal from page one — the remainder of the issue is spent trying to prove that this is the darkest, most twisted Batman story ever told. Continue reading

Batman Lost 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers & Michael DeLaney

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

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Patrick: For as much mythological importance as we place on origin stories, the question of how a superhero came to be very seldom adds up to his or her actual origin. Batman is the example in question, so let’s use him: a random mugging in crime alley, a broken string of pearls, two shots fired, an orphan. That’s quintessential, primordial Batman — the very stuff of which he is made. But that’s incomplete. A DC Comics murderers’ row of artists and writers set out to remind readers just how strange Batman’s origins really are in Batman Lost 1. In so doing, they also remind us how infinite and unpredictable Batman’s future truly is. It’s a dizzying collage of what-ifs and secret histories, all presented as true with unflinching authority. Continue reading

A Revealing Interruption in Batman 31

by Patrick Ehlers

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

There’s that part in The Princess Bride where the narrator announces the King died in the night and Buttercup was married to Prince Humperdink the next day. It’s a jarring bit of information, totally incongruous with the story we’ve come to expect, but the more impressive feat of storytelling is Fred Savage’s interruption a few seconds later. Savage’s character cuts in on Humperdink’s “My father’s final words were…” with an impetuous “hold it, hold it!” The effect his immediate: the audience is reminded why we’re watching this story in the first place. “Trust me,” the film implies “even if you’re momentarily upset, you’re going to have fun in the end.” Tom King and Mikel Janín’s Batman 31 pulls off a similar interruption, emphasizing the riddle (or is it the joke?) at the heart of this story arc: why is Bruce telling Selina about the War of Jokes and Riddles? Continue reading

Balance in the Space Between in Batman 27

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. Continue reading

Batman 26: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney

Batman 26

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

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

Joseph Stalin

Drew: Joseph Stalin likely never uttered this phrase, but while its provenance may be dubious, it’s hard to argue with its sentiment. We’ve all experienced this personally; individual deaths carry with them the nuance and beauty of the decedent’s death in a way that dozens of deaths simply can’t. Each of those deaths are felt singularly by the loved ones they affect, to be sure, but the rest of us can’t really fit the sum of those tragedies into our brain. They become, for lack of a better term, a statistic. This is why war stories are so rare in superhero comics — the higher death count doesn’t necessarily equal higher emotional stakes, so killing swaths of civilians runs the risk of making any one of those deaths lose whatever oomph it might have on its own. Writer Tom King seems keenly aware of how easy it would be for the victims of “The War of Jokes and Riddles” to become statistics, taking pains to emphasize just how deeply Batman feels each of those deaths. Continue reading

Batman 48

batman 48

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 48 originally released January 20th, 2016.

Drew: There’s a concept in biology of “synapomorphy” which is, essentially, a trait that’s unique to one biological group (which can then be used to distinguish that group from all others). Milk production would be a synapomorphy of mammals, for example. What’s interesting is that these synapomorphies can pile up such that a given biological group might have many distinguishing characteristics — to expand on our mammal example, hair, inner ear bones, and a unique type of teeth are all synapomorphies. Each of these traits developed separately, but all have come to define mammals as a whole.

A similar thing can happen with the defining characteristics of fictional characters — particularly characters who exist in multiple media in stories told by multiple people. Batman is a prime example of this, with countless defining characteristics that range from costuming to gadgets to locations to supporting cast to overarching themes. Some were there more-or-less from the beginning, but others have become essential more recently as new stories are told. A few years ago, Patrick suggested that deconstructions of the Batman mythos have become so common as to become a defining characteristic of the character itself. I was initially skeptical — I can certainly think of plenty of great examples of Batman stories that are as straightforward as can be — but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that we’re living through the time when meta-commentary is becoming a defining characteristic of Batman storytelling. Or, at least, it’s a defining characteristic of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, but when they do it so well, it’s hard to argue that it should be any other way. Continue reading