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

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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

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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

Batman: Europa 3

Batman europa 3

Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Batman: Europa 3 originally released December 30th, 2015.

Joel: There is another character that was just as important as the two of us: New York City.
Karen: So New York City is like another character?
Molly: Yeah.

They Came Together

Drew: Everyone has heard the old “setting as a character” cliche from some exhausted press tour interview, but filmmakers rarely acknowledge that cities aren’t fully fictional. That is, calling Chicago a character in The Fugitive is a bit like calling John F. Kennedy a character in Forrest Gump — these are real things (albeit fictionalized versions of them) that our fictional characters just happen to be interacting with. Moreover, if we accept the “setting as a character” cliche, it only ever reveals the setting to be a supremely boring character, undergoing no change over the course of the story. Indeed, because stories that tend to feature “settings as a character” tend to stay in just one city (I’m looking at you, New York), it’s impossible to separate the “character” of the setting from the general tone and mood of the narrative. Batman: Europa sets out to do the opposite, a kind of city character study — or perhaps “travel guide” is more accurate — by way of a superhero adventure. Continue reading

Batman 47

batman 47

Today, Drew and Mark are discussing Batman 47 originally released December 9th, 2015.

Drew: I’ve complained before about the prescriptive nature of Chekhov’s Gun — that our awareness of Chekhov’s “rule” necessarily gives away elements of the ending. A great example of this is the first season of The Killing — I enjoyed it quite a bit, but Chekhov’s gun dictated that something must tie the mayoral campaign that features so heavily to the titular crime. The specifics can still surprise us, but we know we’re not being shown that stuff just for fun. Of course, the predictability of Chekhov’s rule loses its stranglehold on narratives that aren’t driven by plotting — say, a character study or a situational comedy. In those cases, we might actually be shown things just for fun (or nuance, or detail, etc). We tend to think of superhero comics as plot-driven narratives, but B-stories can often take on less plotty structures, as we learn more about a character, or are amused by their situation. It can be difficult, then, to know if a given element of a B-story represents a gun that will eventually go off, or just a portrait of someone who has a gun. These are the questions in my mind as Bruce grapples with his own obscured history in Batman 47. Continue reading

Batman 38

Alternating Currents: Batman 38, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman 38 originally released on January 28th, 2015.

Drew: Fiction has a complex relationship with expectations. We want fiction to meet some expectations — that it should feature the conflicts and conceits pitched on the back cover, that it meets whatever network of expectations that might make it “believable” — but we also want it to defy others. The story of a farm girl suffering a concussion during a tornado may be believable, but it doesn’t capture our imaginations in the same way as the adventures she has when she thinks she’s whisked off to the magical land over the rainbow. Exactly how a story balances meeting and subverting our expectations varies from genre to genre, writer to writer, even moment to moment, but most stories seem to get the most mileage out of meeting our expectations just long enough to really surprise us when the unexpected hits. After three epic arcs of defying expectations, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman has an even more complex relationship with the expected, creating a situation where the surprises may very well be the expected norm to be subverted. Continue reading

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!

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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. Continue reading