So last week I read Batman and Robin issues 15 and 16 and The Return Of Bruce Wayne 5 and 6 all within one week. I’ve only just stopped giggling – nobody should get that excited in that short a space of time. The trades will need to come with health warnings, and maybe some sort of eye protection.
The problem is, I’ve tried writing this about five tmes since then, and hit a block. There’s simply too much in these comics to talk about in one blog post, so I’m going to have to write several. This is just the first. Most of the rest will come at the back end of next week – I’ve taken three days off work next week, and I’m going to use them to read Batman comics – but you can expect at least one more between now and then.
You see, this is not just the climax of a story that’s been going on for sixteen issues of Batman and Robin and six of The Return Of Bruce Wayne, this is the culmination (or *a* culmination) of a story that includes JLA Classified: 1-3, all the Seven Soldiers minis, 52, Morrison’s run on Batman, Final Crisis and the Final Crisis one-shots Morrison wrote. That’s something like a hundred and fifty comics, and the story’s not finished yet.
That’s half the length of Cerebus. It’s half again the length of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four run. It’s two Sandmans. But this has gone unnoticed because for the last six years Morrison has been telling his big story across many different titles, rather than a single one. But it’s still one continuous narrative. And it’s made all the stronger by the fact that unlike the creators of those other works, Morrison is having to work with – and against – other creators. Sometimes this has helped (as in the case of his 52 collaborators, who created something genuinely special). Other times (as in The Death Of The New Gods and Countdown) it’s been like five year olds with crayons ‘helping’ Michaelangelo with the Sistine Chapel. (I’ve not yet read the Time Masters mini – I’ll be interested to see on which side of the divide this falls).
Now, it’s impossible to say that a work of this length is ‘about’ just one thing, and in fact this is ‘about’ a whole complex of ideas – it’s about entropy, and information, about freedom, about unifying opposites on a higher level, about multiple viewpoints and multiple realities, about memory, and time.
One big, big theme in all this work is the idea of getting over one’s parents – whether it be Thomas Wayne, or Bruce Wayne as father for his various Robins, or Darkseid as an evil father figure. It came as no surprise to me that Morrison’s own father died in 2004, around the time Morrison started work on this gigantic story (and All-Star Superman, whose most touching issue is the one where Superman’s own father died.)
And this explains why Batman is so cosmically important in these stories – by RoBW 6 the entire universe is revealed to be in some way ‘about’ Batman. Morrison’s been writing, all along, about transcending, about becoming… about breaking through to another level of existence – whether (as in the case of JLA:Classified, 52 and Final Crisis:Superman Beyond 3D) an actual new universe or (as in most of the Batman work, Zatanna and Mister Miracle) a new, more mature, way of looking at the universe – a new mental plane. And of all the DC superheroes, Batman is the one who is most clearly about transcendence. With Batman, there’s a before and an after – his parents dead, and his parents alive. Two states of being. And Batman pushes himself to become more than he was.
Superman, by contrast, was always good, always powerful. He doesn’t have to transcend because he was born transcendent. And most of the other superheroes don’t really change as a result of their powers – Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and so on have had changes in their lives, but those changes are bolted on, not integral to their character. Batrman, *BY HIS VERY EXISTENCE*, is about growing up, about saying “OK, your parents are dead, you’re on your own now, you have to look after yourself” and turning that into a positive, using it to become better.
And that’s the thing that Morrison’s mega-DC-narrative has been telling us for six years – take a sad song and make it better. There are as many perspectives on any event as you can imagine (or at least fifty-two of them) and who you are is defined not by the events you experience but by how you choose to experience them. This is, of course, new-agey twaddle, but it’s also got a kernel of truth to it.
It *is* only a kernel, though, and real life doesn’t necessarily work like that. My wife’s younger brother died, suddenly, around the time Morrison started work on this gigantic story, and she didn’t become a masked vigilante and fight crime – she entered a depressive phase from which she’s still not fully recovered. And that is an appropriate and proper reaction – any newage ‘wisdom’ that says that that could be a positive learning experience is just *wrong* – it’s a terrible thing. That which doesn’t kill you can hurt a *lot*.
But we do all grow up, and we do have to cope, and where we *can* turn those bad things to the good, we should. And this is what Morrison’s recent work has all been about. You only have to look at the use of Black Holes in the mega-story. Early on they’re a trap – the Life Trap, crushing depression, the ultimate destroyer. Nobody can escape from a Black Hole, and Mister Miracle’s whole story is about how he manages to do that anyway.
But look at Return Of Bruce Wayne 6. A black hole is no longer something to escape from – it’s somewhere to escape *to*. An escape hatch for the universe. The universe, in pure information form – the universe as story – is being placed into storage in a black hole at the end of time, so even the end of the universe is only a beginning.
I *must* write about Frank Tipler’s Omega Point stuff here at some point, mustn’t I?
Christ, there’s so *MUCH* to say about just that one issue, Return of Bruce Wayne 6. It’s almost fractal in its complexity, every word containing significance as part of the larger story.
But it all comes down to depression, in the end. And to “Can man confront evil’s challenge? Turn it upside down and end it?”
Bruce Wayne is fighting a “death-idea that never stops”. It can only be defeated by destroying his nervous system. He’s fighting depression all right, and coming out the other side. And that can be a powerful message – it can give hope. I just hope Morrison isn’t also sending the message that those who fight depression and lose are somehow lesser, because not everyone is Batman, and not everyone *can* defeat anti-life.
But as someone who’s had his fair share of depressive episodes, I can say that depression is at least as evil a supervillain as the Joker or the Riddler, and I’m glad to see Batman beat the shit out of it.
More (much more) soon…