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

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13 Responses to Doctor Who And Batman Week Day 2: Batman 700

  1. Oliver Townshend says:

    Great post. Must re-read my Batman 700 again.

    Any chance of listing all of the Morrison Batmans worth reading? Some have been so badly drawn and confusing I haven’t picked them up as a matter of habit (except when the art is excellent), but I’m now worried i’ve missed some good stories.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Problem is that the whole thing has been one mega-story, and either you’re reading it or not, really. However, the best bits have been The Black Glove, the whole of Batman & Robin so far except the three issues drawn by Philip Tan, and The Return Of Bruce Wayne, and I think you can read those without too much trouble without the rest. But really the whole is much better than the parts.

      • Seb says:

        I think RIP itself was pretty strong despite having Tony Daniel art, as well. Definitely an example of the story rising above the workmanlike, uninspiring visuals.

      • Oliver Townshend says:

        Well those are the ones I have. Can’t bring myself to buy the rest (although I have scatterings, but the individual issues just didn’t work for me). Hmmm, wonder if they’ll be on sale cheap on ebay?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          It might be worthwhile, just to put the good stuff into better context, but the ones you have are definitely the best individual storylines…

  2. Morrison definitely needs an artist that can translate his scripts well. Having read the script for the bits of Invisible Kingdom that had to be redrawn for the TPB it’s obvious that he leaves a lot in the hands of the artists.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah. Have you read the script for Arkham Asylum? Fascinating reading, as it actually *makes sense* – Dave McKean missed out crucial setups for the ending in his artwork…

      • Oooh, no I haven’t. Got a copy?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Only in print form I’m afraid – they reprinted it in the 15th Anniversary trade about 5 years ago. It’s probably easily torrentable though. VERY worth reading. It has shis script, which is amazing , plus Morrison’s annotations of the script in retrospect, and his thumbnails (which show clearly that he was wanting someone like Brian Bolland to do the art).

          My favourite bit is this quote from the script (not from his annotations) – this is a slightly edited-down bit of it I found by googling (am at work so can’t transcribe):

          “Batman pushes the glass into his palm. His face creases with the flare of pain. ((This act deepens some of the ritual symbolism of the story. The recurring Fish motif–which relates to Pisces, the astrological attribution of the Moon card – also relates to Christ, who in turn can be linked to the Egyptian God Osiris, whose life and descent into the underworld parallels with the story of Amadeus Arkham. We also see later that the Asylum is built upon a Vescica Pisces – this symbol (…) forms the ground plan of much religious architecture and is used in the construction of most of the major buildings of antiquity, like Stonehenge and Avebury in England. It is a development of the Greek symbol for Christ (…). We also have the Clown Fish in our story, of course. Interestingly enough, while doing some research into folklore, I came across a book, published in the 16th century by a quack doctor Andrew Borde, called ‘Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham’. The English village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire was famous for the antics of its fools and the three stories mentioned all contained some reference to images in our Arkham story. On one occasion, for instance, the Gotham villagers, upon seeing the reflection of the moon in a pool attempt to fish it out. In another story, they surround a bush with stakes in an attempt to catch a cuckoo. The third story tells of how an eel was eating all the fish in their pond. The villagers take the eel and throw it into another pond, leaving it to drown. Synchronicity is alive and well!

          As a final interesting aside on the subject of fish, the Vescica Piscis symbol is a very basic representation of the holographic process in which intersecting circular wave patterns produce three dimensional images. Physicist David Bohm believes the hologram to be an analogy for his vision of a vast interconnecting universe, in which every part is in some sense a reflection of every other part. In a few pages time, the Mad Hatter will endeavour to outline Bohm’s theories as applied to child molestation.

          In the same way, everyhting in this story reflects and comments upon everything else.

          What was I talking about anyway?

          Yeah, so Batman is here inflicting upon himself one of Christ’s wounds and it’s all got something to do with fish, okay?

          Maybe I’ve been doing this for too long.))

          BATMAN: UH!

          BATMAN: JESUS!


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