Doctor Who And Batman Week Day 2: Batman 700
I’m a couple of weeks late with my review of this one, so most of what there is to be said about it has been said elsewhere by other people. But there are a couple of things that I don’t *think* anyone else has touched upon.
A couple of years ago, on his register-to-read, only-posted-to-twice blog, Grant Morrison wrote:
Back home, have a bath then watch the end of DOCTOR WHO which Kristan taped for me while I was away. More wonderful, inspirational pop art pulp madness, and what intrigues me most are the numerous, absolutely coincidental, similarities to my comic FINAL CRISIS (the machine made of worlds, the conquered Earth with its network of freedom fighters linked by a secret communications system, the reality-wiping weapon, the frantic scene changes, etc etc) which leads me to believe that creative people, particularly those writing or recording with a mass or populist audience in mind, have all begun to tell a very similar, very post-9/11 (call it ‘post Cycle 23’) story
So in that light, it’s quite interesting to note that Batman 700, released after the last two episodes of Doctor Who were recorded but before they were shown, has all our hero’s deadliest enemies team up against him to place him in a trap which, were it successful, would have the effect of writing both him and them out of existence altogether, but is saved by what annoying nuWho fans would refer to as ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey’ and people who can speak English would call a loop in causality.
Now this actually works a lot better in the Batman story than in the Doctor Who one, because of the nature of the fictional universe the two characters inhabit. Doctor Who has always emphasised Free Will above all – the idea that You Too Can Make A Difference! – but that making a difference can sometimes have unintended consequences. The kind of fixed time one would need for a causality loop might be how time ‘works’ in the Doctor Who ‘universe’ (although it’s not even how it works consistently in those episodes), but it *shouldn’t* be Metaphorically, it’s all wrong (Though I have a handwave for that that would take three posts to explain, which I may go into at some point in the future).
Batman, on the other hand, clearly inhabits a universe which is equal parts Calvinist, Raymond Chandler and Gothic Horror The universe is a hard, bad place and nothing you can do can make a difference, but you have to try anyway to be morally pure amid the filth… in that kind of universe predestination and a total lack of free will make storytelling sense.
In fact we need it really, because otherwise the very first time Batman gets an inkling of the possibility of time travel he’s compelled to go back in time and save his parents. Here, he says to Robin “there was never a choice. We are what we are and we can’t change what happened.”
In the Batman universe, everyone has a set character. Change, either of the past or the future, is impossible. Batman will always be Batman, the Joker will never be rehabilitated, and the universe is as fixed, stony and grim as Batman’s face.
(Incidentally, I like that Morrison has made the Person Who Was Wrong On The Internet in this Teatime Brutality post I’ve referenced a bunch of times already even more wrong by specifically bringing Batman 666 into continuity with a time travel story).
Neither the Batrman nor Doctor Who causality loops are paradoxical, BTW. The universe can tolerate, briefly, the creation of matter/energy/information out of nothing so long as it’s annihilated again in fairly short order, and there’s nothing in the laws of physics that prevents time-reversed causality. In fact many situations would *force* time-reversed causality -if there’s a boundary condition on a process in the future, then one can just as truly say that the future state of the process caused the past one as vice versa.
Of course, Morrison being Morrison, this story encapsulates his entire run. Much like Return Of Bruce Wayne it’s a story told in several time periods, with big jumps but in chronological order, with Batman in every time period, involving time travel, drawn by several artist. Much like his Batman run, those artists range from the sublime (Quitely) to the less-so (Tony Daniel).
There’s recently been some discussion around comics blogs, with people like David Brothers and Sean Witzke (both of whose blogs I enjoy immensely) arguing that for a comic to be good it has to have good art. As a reaction to the comics blogosphere’s over-emphasis on words (an over-emphasis I share, as verbally-oriented as I am), I agree with the sentiment, but I disagree with it as a factual statement.
To make an analogy, songs have both music and lyrics. And I can enjoy the Beach Boys singing “Gonna love you every single night because I think that you’re doggone outtasight” or “Well oh my oh gosh oh gee” because the music underneath it is sublime, just as I can enjoy a melody-free Woody Guthrie talking blues with great lyrics. I would, of course, *rather* have both, but so long as the lesser half of the combination reaches some minimal base level of competence, I can still enjoy it for the other half.
But Morrison’s Batman – both this issue and the entire run – really is the perfect evidence for Brothers and Witzke’s claim. Morrison has worked during the last few years of Batman stories with some of the best artists and storytellers ever to work in comics, people like Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams III, Cameron Stewart and Frazer Irving. Those collaborations have been some of the best Batman comics ever made – funny and clever, with gorgeous art and clear storytelling that can be followed with no effort but rewards repeated rereading.
But put him with mediocre journeymen like most of the rest of his collaborators, and instead we get an unlikeable, unreadable mess, with important details obscured or not drawn at all, lapses in panel-to-panel continuity, and storytelling that actively fights the reader’s comprehension.
I still enjoy Morrison’s Batman work, because the good stuff is *SO* good, but I’m someone who actually prefers flawed-but-interesting to perfect. There’s no reason at all why DC’s most successful character, written by their best writer, should have had a succession of artists who’d be best-suited to continuing learning their craft on third-tier titles like Outsiders, and I hope we have far more artists of the calibre of those who’ve worked on his Batman & Robin run so far (excepting Tan) and far fewer mediocrities.
Tomorrow – Doctor Who