Monday, 18 February 2013

On Batman #17:- That Cowardly & Superstitous Batman, That Heartlessly Persecuted Joker


Well, why doesn't the Batman simply kill the Joker?  You'd think the answer would be obvious. Yet fans the blogosphere over appear quite flummoxed, if not dangerously apoplectic, about the matter. The Joker can't be reformed or contained, they howl! If he's allowed to live, even more innocents will inevitably be tortured and murdered! Ipso fatso, reasons the reactionary mind, the only truly heroic response to the Crown Prince Of Crime's continued existence is to end it.

Obviously the fact that it's both ethically and legally unacceptable to murder our fellow civilians doesn't register with these representatives from the hang-'em-high fraternity. Similarly, the indisputable truth that the Joker is demonstrably criminally insane, and therefore quite obviously blameless for his crimes, appears to be considered irrelevant too. Even Bruce Wayne's traumatic aversion to both guns and killing shouldn't, it appears, hold him back from what's seen as the greater good. The reasoning seems as obtuse as it's heartless, and yet the meaning is clear; a true hero will always struggle to overcome moral, physical and psychological constraints in order to murder in the name of justice.

In the climax to the Death Of The Family crossover that appears in Batman #17, writer Scott Snyder flirts with this very issue. The Joker himself spins out a theory of why he's not been murdered by the Batman. Could it be that Bruce Wayne is simply scared that he'll not be able to ration himself to a single assassination of a super-foe? It's not an argument that Snyder has Batman recognise as valid, but it does touch upon the underlying logic of the fannish belief that the Joker must die. For if the protection of civil society demands the slaughter of perpetually-escaping and murderous super-villains, then none of that breed can be permitted to remain alive. If the Joker must be put down, then so must the rest of Batman's gallery of costumed and uncostumed antagonists alike, and the necessary killing could hardly stop there.
     
     
Oddly enough, Snyder never again refers to any of the legal, ethical, cognitive, or even logical issues that his story quite deliberately raises. When it comes to the matter of whether to liquidate the inconveniently and dangerously insane, Snyder's Batman relies on a stance equally mixed from a petulant machismo and a worrying degree of cod-mysticism. Indeed, the closest the writer comes to referencing the fundamental objections to arbitrary murder occurs when he has the Batman declare that he will not break his "code". No matter how the Joker goads him to do so, he's not going to be ignobly bullied into changing his mind. "Why have you never killed me?" demands the Harlequin Of Hate, to which Batman replies not "Because you're blameless", or "Because there's a law about that", or even, "Because I don't believe that's moral". Instead, Snyder has his hero offer  the rather pathetic retort of, "Because you'd .. win". Reducing an ethical conflict to a matter of uber-blokeish stubbornness, the Dark Knight expresses his determination not to be forced to change what he stands for. What that platform might actually consist of is left to the imagination of the reader, although the evidence of the script is that it's anything but informed and humane.

For this is a Batman who's even entirely ignorant of the most basic facts of criminal psychology. To him, the Joker isn't to be pitied for his insanity, but loathed. Once the Batman was able to clearly differentiate between the suffering individual and the appalling consequences of their disorder. Now he's shown raging at his opponent as if the Joker were entirely responsible for his behaviour. "I'll destroy you for this" he distastefully growls, before later declaring, "I hate nothing more on this Earth than you, Joker. Nothing." This is, of course, the language of rightful, noble, crowd-exciting vengeance, and it suggests that this version of Batman is as callous as he's ignorant. After all, Snyder has also included a scene set in Arkham Asylum which shows that Wayne has long understood that  the Joker 's quite insane. But then, how could the baying audience's desire to see the Joker pounded and humiliated be fulfilled if there was mercy and understanding at the story's core? Only by conspiring with the popular prejudice that the criminally insane deserve to suffer, and suffer terribly, for their actions can this story please the peanut gallery.

      
In truth, the climax of Batman #17 simply won't deliver the requisite degree of catharsis unless the reader has been longing to see the Joker not simply defeated, but beaten and demeaned. It's a scene that relies on hatred and nothing but to make it work. Indeed, the entire structure of the issue works to place Batman into a position where he can mock and beat his opponent while still appearing heroically hard-done by. Accordingly keen to drag out Joker's vicious humbling, Snyder presents us with a Batman who remorselessly prolongs the final set-to. Not only is there nothing to be gained by doing so, but the younger members of the Bat-family have been drugged into fighting each other to the death elsewhere. Showing not the slightest desire to turn away from his satisfaction, the Batman knowingly chases Joker towards the dead-end of a precipice above a subterranean river. As he does so, he effortlessly brushes off Joker's attempts to overcome him. Even the arrival of a very big axe from out of nowhere fails to cause the Batman to break sweat. Yet despite having Joker at his mercy, the Batman chooses to tool up from the fists which have served him well. Having cornered his prey, he opts not to use his evident physical superiority to put an end to things. Instead, he chooses to beat Joker with what appears to be a metal rod. Fisti-cuffs are too civil a matter for the punters at the DC Comics Colosseum, it seems.

Of course, Batman #17 is revenge porn and little else. For all its creators' undoubted skill, it's a pitilessly manipulative experience which relies upon its audience ignoring the hole-ridden plot and its thoroughly unpleasant values. Vengeance and the longing to see vengeance acted out is what drives this story, and it's that rush towards revenge which carries the audience over every ill-considered absurdity. When Snyder has the Batman declare to his foe that "Everything that happens to you tonight happens by my hand", he's emphasising the exquisite pleasures of dominating a despicable opponent. Such thrills don't come from the restoration of order and the fulfilment of justice. Instead, the story's charged up by the sight of the Batman cowing the Joker. As such, the matter mustn't be dealt with quickly and with compassion, because the excitement is being generated by the protracted suffering of the entirely irredeemable Other.

       
And so, spinning out the confrontation, the Batman pushes Joker towards the edge and then, holding him over the abyss, delivers a typical Snyder dues ex machina. For the Batman suddenly reveals that he knows who Joker was before his super-villainous career began. Somehow, this previously unmentioned fact means that the Dark Knight has gained the ability to shatter his enemies' self-regard. Why such knowledge would cause the Joker to so fracture is never explained, but then, there's a host of senseless scenes in Batman #17 to which Snyder pays no attention to. What counts is the public emasculation of the Joker. As he's made the Bat-Family suffer, so Batman will do to him, and there's no suggestion that sanity brings with it an obligation to behave humanely. Even stooping to mock the Joker by calling him "darling", Batman delivers what he believes to be a shattering psychological revelation while also holding his foe above a dead fall. That the Joker should respond by pushing the Batman away was surely to be expected. Bruce Wayne is, after all, a super-genius, and presumably remains so despite his ignorance of matters of social science. As such, it can hardly have been a surprise to the Caped Crusader that the Joker should have ended up plummeting into the darkness below. At best, Batman's actions are disturbingly negligent. At worst, it seems as if Wayne has simply placed the Joker into a position where he was likely to get rid of himself. Only an idiot can have thought that such an outcome was in any way unlikely.

         
Of course, this climax is presented as a triumph for good old day-saving Batman. Yet Snyder still has time to deliver one last baleful twist to this aspect of his callous tale. For he adds a scene in which Wayne explains to Alfred why he's never opted to kill the Joker. Once again, it seems initially to touch on some familiar and laudable ethical concerns, before unexpectedly speeding away in the direction of black magic and devilry;

"It's true I don't do it because of my code, because of what I stand for, but there's another reason too ... I truly believe that if I did it, that if I killed Joker, Gotham would just send me someone worse. Maybe even send him back, worse than before ..."

How refreshing it would have been to have a superhero express an unconditional allegiance to the most fundamental of legal and moral issues. Regrettably, Snyder leaves these central, and so often demeaned, principles and laws unmentioned. Of far more importance, it appears, is the deterrent value of Wayne's suspicions that ill-defined, and perhaps even entirely non-existent, occult powers will punish him for any ill-doing. How better to close an issue which often seemed designed to resemble an ethical debate than with a great reason-undercutting slab of hooey?
      
      
And so a character who began in 1939 as a rational crimefighter preying on the superstitions of criminals has become an irrational brute whose actions are determined by vague, untestable superstitions. Of course, having such a Batman allows the audience's taste for shock and blood and avenging to be pruriently and profitably indulged in. What behaviour can't be justified by such an absurd belief system? But just as Snyder's stories so often sidestep sense for the pleasures of throw-them-to-the-lions spectacle, so too have the ethics of his epics slipped free of their traditional moorings. By chance or design, the text and sub-text of Batman #17 work together to appeal to those who want to be flabbergasted and titillated by illiberal behaviour. In that, Snyder's is a Batman for a new dark age, and not so much a champion of the downtrodden as a representative of the darkness itself.

Sympathy for the so-called devil will sound like a ridiculous idea to those who've loved this disturbingly callous issue. Yet for all that Snyder and artist Capullo's work has been effectively constructed, its values are cruel when they're even coherent. The Death Of The Family Event was ultimately about "shocking" the rubes before satisfying them with an Other-stomping conclusion. But there's no compassion or logic here beyond the fuzzy sense that the good super-people have been saved and the very bad man satisfyingly punished. There's definitely not the slightest hint that Snyder has ever once thought of the pernicious labels which society applies to the psychologically disordered. Why challenge labels when they can be so lucratively reinforced?

Batman #17 is a prime example of the superhero book brilliantly reduced to a reactionary's wet dream. As such, it will sell and sell and sell.
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Anyone looking for a review which discusses the plot-holes in Batman #17 ought to look no further than Martin Gray's TooDangerousForAGirl. I wouldn't want to suggest that he shares anything of the opinion expressed above, but his reviews of the New 52 Batman issues have been well worth reading; try here.

63 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your review different from majority of reviewers who see Snyders take on Batman to be one of the definitive runs of recent years. I have read every issues and still am not liking what Snyder has done with the character and his preference for telling long stories the current Death of the Family went on to long and involved to many of the other Bat family books and it looks like we will have an epic Riddler story next. Dont know if i will still be reading at the conclusion of that "epic"

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    1. Hello there:- Thank you :) I'm certainly very aware that my opinion is very much a minority one, and to be honest, I found that quite intimidating when I posted the piece. In fact, I feel quite intimidated by it now. Yet I do feel that those ethical problems matched to the plot-holes in the comics make for serious problems in Batman.

      Of course, one bloke's ethical problem is someone else's innocent fun. But I can only call it as I see it. Thanks for popping in and leaving your opinion in response.

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  2. But don't you see Colin, so-called superhero-morals are just an outdated way to have villains make return appearances! As a modern, sophisticated audience, interested in realism, we know that some insane (yet accountable), unstoppable criminals brutally torture and murder thousands of people and the only rational response is for The Bat-Man* to kill the Joker. And why stop there? There's plenty of terrible types in Gotham that deserve the lethal hand of Bat-justice.

    And when they're all dead? Reboot!

    That way we can have a whole new round of irredemable crims being slaughtered by The Bat-Man until the next reboot. And when he's finished eating evildooers organs we can reboot again. etc.

    (I have a terrifying fear that I've just seen the future of comics.)

    *Yeah, I hate him too.

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    1. Hello Mark:- It's hard to argue against the idea that the modern-era superbook has an unfortunate habit of suggesting that little things like the law and human rights are indeed old-fashioned. Thankfully there's a fair number of folks who work hard to make sure that their comics don't make such dodgy statements. Sadly, they're in the minority, or so it seems. The myth that the superhero book is a vehicle for liberal or even radical ideas is exactly that, I fear.

      And I too have a terrifying idea that there's a great deal about the future of the superhero in your suggestion. There's such a desperate urge to "shock" at work in so many of today's books, and that's especially true of the New 52.

      Pah and sigh ...

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  3. Batman 17 is the comic equivalent of Zero Dark Thirty: a reactionary tale with some disguises of emotional sensibility that conveniently only presents the main character's point of view, making anything they've done acceptable, if not right.

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    1. Hello Thomaz:- You're ahead of me with Zero Dark Thirty. I've not had a chance to see it, though I will admit what I've heard makes me nervous about doing so.

      But you're of course right that seeing things from Batman's point of view leaves him free to do whatever his creators choose to do. It's a particular shame since Snyder is becoming a powerful storyteller. But without the heart to inform all that spectacle, it's going to remain a hollow business.

      Or at least, from my perspective, that's how it looks.

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  4. Excellent piece as always, Colin--I too had hoped for an insightful discussion of Batman's refusal to kill the Joker, but was disappointed. You expressed this disappointment much better than I could have.

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    1. Hello Mark:- Thank you. I'm with you that the whole issue of why Btaman doesn't just do away with his opponents was disappointing dealt with. It's probably best not to flirt with such ideas unless they're going to be dealt with in a coherent, informed fashion.

      Certainly the idea that Wayne is strongly influenced by his mystical beliefs about Gotham punishing him is anything but a productive contribution to the debate.

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  5. I would wonder about "demonstrably insane", Colin, as something that has always bugged me about the latter-day psychopathic Joker is something that's a direct result of his being a rehash of Frank Gorshin's manipulative, brilliant and petulant Riddler - these long game schemes such as the one at the heart of Death of the Family are clearly meticulously premeditated, thus negating any kind of insanity defence.
    I agree heartily that "heroes should kill" is daft logic - even Bruce Lee knew his heroes needed to pay for their crimes at the end of the movie otherwise they had no moral superiority to the villains they opposed - but Joker is basically a villain from a mid-80s slasher movie these days (I imagine his recent Leatherface impression helps) and the audience is arguably only demanding what any good slasher movie finale requires: for Joker to fall into a threshing machine, or a furnace, or be exploded by some dynamite, or pulled into Hell by Freddy, or to fall on his own face-chopping machete, or to be impaled on a bed of spikes. It's not like it would be permanent or anything - I mean he's walking around after having his face chopped off - he could be back for the sequels by any number of outrageous means and it's not like anyone would bat an eyelid.

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    1. Hello Brigonos:- Well, comic book insanity is always a difficult thing to define precisely. And there are of course a host of different ways of defining what criminal insanity is. But I'm going to stick by my definition that the Joker is at the very least a representative of the criminally insane in the strip. A degree of coherence to a campaign of revenge is hardly evidence that he's sane, after all.

      But I'll readily accept that there's a debate there. I'd still say that the Batman's deliberate humiliation and purposeful beating of him would count as a despicable business. And if DC and its staff wants a petty, vindictive, ignorant Batman, well, that would be interesting, although it's not how the character's actually being sold, is it?

      I know. I'm having my cake and eating it, aren't I?

      I do take your point about DC importing conventions from horror. It's a shortcut to appeall to a tiny niche of readers, and yet, it could be something that's combined with a smart, ethical approach. I can think of so many writers who've taken the serial killer trope and spun it into something that's interesting in a comic book form. This, as you say, is just a supposedly entertaining stereotype from a Fridaynight slasher movie.

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  6. I made a big move you may be interested in, Colin- I sold all of my Snyder Batman issues. Yup, I've never sold any of my comics in my life, but I was happy to be rid of these.

    I don't actually have a problem with Batman holding the criminally insane/blameless Joker accountable for his actions- not that that isn't wrong!- but I think the majority of modern Batman works have characterized Bats as such that I accept it as a flaw in Batman, that that is how he thinks. I'm far less okay with the superstitions he brings up at the end. I bet if you sent that picture of old timey Bruce cogitating on criminals cowardly, superstitious nature to Snyder he'd be a little embarrassed by the Batman he's created.

    In Snyders defence on one thing though, ""Everything that happens to you tonight happens by my hand", he's emphasising the exquisite pleasures of dominating a despicable opponent." I actually read that as Snyder lampshading the comic book tendency for the villains to fall off a cliff or some such, leaving the heroes hands TECHNICALLY clean of bloodshed, despite the fact that the event was clearly the fault of the hero. This was Batman saying "no, I am taking responsibility of this moment." which, though I don't want my Batmen killing anyone, I thought was finally an interesting development from the Snyder Batman. Naturally it was completely undercut by Joker going over the falls regardless...

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    1. Hello Isaac:- You're right, that is an interesting fact. It shows that you really have reached end of that particular tether.

      That's a worrying point which you make about the modern Batman being essentially illiberal. I've really not read enough of the New 52 Bats to know. Well, I say that, and then I start adding up the Batman, Detective, Batman & Robin, Batman Inc and JL issues and ... well, yes, many of those issues do back up your contention. And for me that's a real shame, since "my Batman" was essentially the version which lasted from Denny O'Neil taking on the book around 1969 to a few years after the post-Crisis reboot. THAT Batman was undeniably a liberal. As such, he was a smart, informed, compassionate if damaged man who USED the image of The Bat to achieve his ends. The idea that that image has to whatever degree become the "truth" of the character ... disturbs me.

      And that's an interesting take on that final scene. To me, the whole sequence was about Batman dominating and intimidating the Joker. But it's always enjoyable to read other's opinion. I'll take another look at those pages before I call it a night in the light of what you've written :)

      Finally, I can only agree with you about that nonsense about Gotham and its ability to curse Batman. Yes, the DCU has always been packed with creatures which defy the laws of science. But for Batman to abandon the attempt to make sense of such things, and for him to instead become so craven in the face of the Great Unknown ..... Well, that's SUCH a bad idea that I daren't say anything more ....

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  7. I mean, while I agree with a lot of your points...they are ALSO points that work for "dress up & commit assault in the name of vigilante justice" in general, not just "kill the Joker." I mean, it is a bit of a genre trope, so answering those allegations in-genre-- "I am fine engaging in over-sightless assault of priviate citizens but also somehow believe I am law-abiding" would fall flat-- makes sense. Isn't Batman...primarily a story about psychodrama?

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    1. Hello Mordicai:- I would entirely agree that the genre inevitably one that ends up challenging some absolutely fundamental principles and laws. That's one of the thing about the super-book that I most enjoy. By its very existence, it places characters in a position where they're breaking the law, or at the very least, threatening to. That makes it a brilliant way of discussing where private responsibility begins and ends. My favourite writers do exactly that, as well as allowing us to enjoy the sight of folks leaping across roofs and beating each other.

      But when the creators of books don't care too much about those issues of law and ethics, the individual and the state, the message that comes off the page tends to be a reactionary one. I don't think psychodrama and political debate are opposite points on the spectrum; I think the best stories often touch on both bases. An over-exaggeration, I'll accept, but for the sake of argument ...

      A prime example would be the Joker's appearance in Paul Cornell's Knight And Squire mini-series. There, we got murdered super-heroes, campaigns of terror and so on. But we also got a debate about the corrupting effects of terror and the appropriate response to it. All the fun of horrorful stories and more too :) That's where my vote goes.

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  8. Hello, Colin--

    This is another excellent and thought-provoking essay. And, as usual, I don't feel I have much to add. I have been torn about picking up Batman again, after dropping it during the Owls business. I like Snyder and Capullo and I am passing fond of Batman himself. But beyond my general problems with DC right now, I have often picked up Batman and put it back down again. And it's strange, because as you discuss in this current comment thread, I do very much enjoy Snyder's work on horror books.

    But I look at these and even though I think Snyder and Miller have nothing in common, I can't help thinking that isn't the Joker or Batman who has won, but Frank Miller's conception of Batman. And of all the many incarnations of Batman there have been, that is one who I cannot abide. Where are we when even Batman doesn't recognize that beating the hell out of someone with a steel pipe is already losing in his terms?

    Anyway, hopefully I will manage to give my incoherent thoughts some shape and finally write that article I told you about--the one about violence and superheroes and veterans.

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    1. Hello Carol:- Well, first, how am I ever going to enjoy reading that piece about the difference - if I recall - between creators who actually experienced violence and those who know it largely through the media. (I was thinking of this when reading the recent collection of Nick Cardy's war sketches from WWII.)

      I'm certainly with you that Synder is a considerable talent. In fact, there's a kind of brilliance at work in Batman #17, but it's so cruel and dumb and reactionary that it's very hard to love. That will sound as if I didn't mean the "brilliance", but I do. What's on the page is undeniably powerful, and Synder really has a gift for snaring the reader's attention.

      I think you've a fine point about the influence of Miller. It was something that I was thinking about as I finished the above, or perhaps "thinking" is too strong a word. The image of the Joker with the frozen smile, the white suit and the broken neck in TDKR does seem to be the root of all of this. Pah. If ever there was a one note take, that was it. Fine in itself, but an entire franchise of comics essentially drawing off a series that's a quarter century and more old?

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  9. I'm still waiting for the first softcover trade of Snyder's Batman (well done, DC, waiting 18 months to get the first reasonably priced collection out!), so I can't comment on this issue too much, but I should point out that Snyder absolutely sucks at endings. His run on Detective, which was phenomenal, ended terribly, as the reason behind James Gordon Jr.'s big plot was, essentially, that he was crazy. No other reason needed! His creator-owned series, Severed, went off the rails earlier than the ending, but the ending was absolutely terrible. The only reason he hasn't screwed up the endings of American Vampire, it seems, is because every story arc tends to lead into the next one, so we haven't had a proper ending yet. If he doesn't figure out how to end a story, he's never going to be a great writer, even if he sorts out all his other issues.

    The problem with the Joker, as you noted, is the loose definition of "criminally insane" in the DCU, as well as the horrid security at Arkham Asylum. This basically sets up the "Kill the Joker" as something that makes perfect sense, because when Batman sends him to Arkham, everyone knows he's going to break out before the ink is dry on his admission papers and kill again, and if Batman only killed him, the problem would be solved (DC's digital-only Legends of the Dark Knight had a recent story in which the Joker did just that - I don't think Batman made it back to the cave before he broke out, and Batman got a bit grumpy about it). If DC cared to attempt to make the Joker's situation even remotely "realistic," the revolving door at Arkham would stop and the cries of "If only I killed him, so many people would still be alive!!!" would quiet. But they're not going to do that, so there will always be people wanting Batman to kill him and get it over with.

    You mention the Denny O'Neil Batman, and I wish DC would get back to the Denny O'Neil Joker, or at least the pre-Frank Miller Joker. Miller ruined the Joker, in my humble opinion (I know, Miller ruined something - quelle surprise!). Pre-Dark Knight Returns, the Joker killed a lot of people, but he always had a criminal scheme, and people died in the course of him carrying out the scheme. Post-Miller, he became someone who slaughtered indiscriminately and in large volumes, and he's become, frankly (see what I did there?), boring. Pre-DKR Joker could conceivably be put in prison, because it was harder to say he was insane - yes, he had some loopy schemes (the laughing fish, for instance), but they had some logic. Now, he just kills for no reason whatsoever. This Joker is dull, but writers love writing him. Too bad!

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  10. Hello Greg:- You may just have put your finger on one of the reasons why I've struggled with American Vampire; there really isn't much of a sense of closure from one collection to the next.

    As you point out, Arkham Asylum has long since been a major problem in the DCU. The revolving door doesn't just destroy all dramatic tension, as you rightly point out. It also undermines any sense that Gotham City is a "real" place, and that's true even as comicbook universes go. The idea of any institution operating like that undercuts all sense of reality. That's simply not how things work, and that's as true for cartoons as for real life. Even in terms of self-interest, who would ever be daft enough to run an institution that was that dysfunctional? It clearly doesn't work either in terms of treatment or control. Politicians would suffer, voters would rebel, and so on. Arkham is a great idea, but played so crassly, it undermines everything else in Gotham.

    The Dark Knight Returns was, until its fourth book, a splendid achievement. (Snyder isn't the only writer who has a problem with endings.)But as both your good self and Carol above state, TDKR doesn't work as anything other than itself. It's a narrow, extreme, politically dubious work which eventually collapsed under the weight of its own conceits. Hardly a rich enough text to draw 25+ years worth of stories for.

    The Laughing Fish stories by Elglehart, Rogers and Austin are actually thoroughly unsettling. As you suggest, the Joker's plan is loopy, but his determination to see it through results in the likes of that innocent patent clerk's murder. That juxtaposition of playful insanity with a ferocious sense of purpose was far more unsettling than today's by-the-book comicbook psychopath. In fact, now you mention it, I recall Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams first Joker tale, in which he's killing off the old members of his gang. There's a frailty as well as a fearsomeness to that take on the character and it works well. Though I don't subscribe - anymore than you do - to the idea that the past is always, or even often, the best, the pre-Crisis, pre-Miller, pre-beating Jason-Tood-to-death Joker is by far the best comics take with the exception of Dini and Timm's version.

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  11. A splendid piece, Colin, and yes, you're entirely correct about Bruce's suspicious, cowardly fear as to what would happen were he to kill the Joker. I spotted the irony, but the weirdness of this attitude was one of the bits of this issue I liked. It's so ruddy perverse, and of course,it will be forgotten once Snyder has gone, so I shan't worry unduly.

    If Bruce really believes he knows the Joker worryingly well, he might stop to ask himself why, then, the Clown Prince of Crime is constantly several steps ahead of him; his hubris got his family near killed. I don't believe he should kill the Joker - the Batman doesn't kill. I do believe he should devote a few of the Wayne millions to Building a Better Straitjacket.

    And I really do think that Scott Snyder should be writing Batman as a smarter character. Not as the Bat-God we've sometimes seen - prepared for any situation, able to defeat any foe - but certainly able to anticipate the actions of his regular nemeses.

    Cheers, too, for the kind plugmanship, a lovely gesture. I'm going to return the compliment - let's see if we can't get our friends on a loop of Batman bloggery.

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    1. Hello Martin:- You're right, it IS perverse, and if it hadn't appeared in an issue which was nominally concerned with why we shouldn't kill the psychologically disordered, I'd probably have warmed to it more.

      Yet reading your words, I realised that the whole business is actually rather reminiscent of Bob Haney. He was always dropping in these ludicrous conceits that everyone else kept a thousand miles away from. (The Super-sons? Bruce Wayne's criminal brother who no-one else ever acknowledged?) Is Scott Snyder the new Bob Haney??? We should be told?

      I'm absolutely with you about Wayne's hubris. Actually, there's a point where a character is so thick that I'm not sure it qualifies as hubris. After all, that whole gambit was so dim, and all for a twist at the end of a tale.

      And I entirely agree about Wayne investing millions into a properly functioning straight-jacket. Or better yet, a rival private alternative to ARkham. He could afford to keep costs low, and politicians love that. (I nearly put that into the above. I'm proud to be singing from the same hymn book as you are!)

      The problem with Snyder's Batman - and most of the current versions - is that it's the reverse of how the character best functions. The original Batman was designed to be a "normal" if superbly-trained human being who's a wonderfully able mind. Today's Batman is more often than not superhuman in his capacity to absorb punishment - swords through the body etc etc - while behaving like a smug seven year old boy. Add to that the decision to replace "rational" with "superstitious" and you've a Batman who's actually the exact opposite of his original form.

      I wouldn't say that the best Batmen have always been physically vulnerable. The cartoon Brave And The Bold take, for example, was effectively Superman with Bat-ears. And I loved that version. But I can't help believing that the definitive Batman is that of the school of O'Neil/Englehart/Brennert etc. Move too far from that and the creators had better be smart-minded and inspired or it's all going to fall apart.

      As it so often does, I fear ....

      An endless loop of Batman bloggery? Sounds fine to me :)

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  12. This is a bit rambling, a bit preachy and more than a bit off-topic, so forgive my lack of coherence. More interesting to me than the question of why Batman has never killed the Joker is the question why nobody else has. As far as I know, no in-universe reason has yet been provided why elements within the GCPD--which is portrayed as irredeemably corrupt half the time and merely moderately corrupt the other half--hasn't yet successfully taken matters into their own hands, or even given somebody else the opportunity to do so. In a world more like our own, I don't see a scenario in which the Joker wouldn't eventually share Lee Harvey Oswald's fate.

    Not having read the story, this essay mostly made me realize how much I wish DC would just bite the bullet and abandon the conceit that Batman's villains are criminally insane. It speaks to utterly retrograde ideas about mental illness, and is utterly unhelpful in a world where people in positions of influence casually suggest that mental illness is behind every act of great violence committed by a white person. Yes, the Joker may or may not have an undetermined mental illness. However, in not specifying what that is, and specifying that that unstated illness is in effect his get-out-of-jail-free card no matter what the situation happens to be, DC in effect equalizes all of them, and worse, suggests that all mentally ill people are by definition incapable of moral thought or empathy, which would would be laughable in the way it manages to ignore both the events of the comics themselves (where it is consistently shown that the Joker is indeed capable of making those distinctions) and those of the real world itself, where the great majority of people with mental illnesses do indeed have moral compasses.

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    1. Hello Ian:- No forgiveness - even in the broadest sense of the world - is necessary. You make some excellent points. It is indeed a wonder why that no-one in the GCPD hasn't set out to kill not just the Joker, but all of his kind. A "Magnum Force" story set in Gotham has, I suspect, occurred in the past, but I can't think of it. There are hints that various aspects of Gotham's not-finest would be willing to act that way in the Batman Earth One graphic novel, in which Geoff Johns presented yet another example of torture porn dressed up as heroic self-sacrifice.

      But then any world which had super-humans such as the New 52 has would undoubtedly cease to bear much relation to ours. The trick of the super-book is to suggest that superpowers hasn't changed things too much, but of course it would. I suspect that fascist states would emerge all across the West in response to the consequences of that degree of civil unrest and social uncertainty, to name just one response. Government death squads would most probably be a fact a life.

      The problems with the association of super-villains with mental illness are indeed serious. As you say, the lack of a specific diagnosis in the work of everyone bar a few creators allows for pretty much anything to occur. (Gail Simone is one of a very few shining exceptions to this rule.) In addition to your concerns, I might suggest a few others. Comics constantly suggest that treatments don't work, that containment is impossible and that those with serious problems are inevitably a danger to the public. All of this is, to be polite, balderdash, and it feeds into an atmosphere of fear and hatred that stigmatizes folks who are no trouble to anyone but themselves.

      The issue of who does and who doesn't have a "moral compass" is of course far too broad and contentious for us to discuss here. If you're talking about disorders, then my take would be that the situation isn't as cut and dried as you suggest, though I'm more than content for us to come at this problem from opposite ends. The truth is, that we both agree that the association of vague labels of abnormality with Batman's villains hurts the stories and the messages which they present. I'd be for specificity rather than dropping the trope, but few comics writers have ever shown a taste for grasping anything of psychology and putting it to use. To a degree, I sympathise. I taught the subject to Sixth Formers for 10 years, and it took me a long while to feel comfortable with a subject which I came to late to life. Still, criminal psychology was a subject where a small and carefully chosen sample of Batman pages did function as a conversation starter in class :)

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    2. You know, I wasn't even thinking about a turn towards fascism; while that's certainly a way things could go, the idea I had in my head was something like a story in which the revolving door would eventually lead to someone killing (or attempting to kill) the Joker or whomever with the full intention of paying for the crime (whether or not they'd be convicted is a different question). For what it's worth, I feel that something like, if done right that would make for a excellent story, and a good opportunity to explore moral slippery slopes.

      As for the story you suggest, the closest I can remember is "Lock-Up" from the animated series, but that's far from a perfect fit, particularly since the eponymous villain wasn't working in his capacity as an officer of the law.



      I agree that my portrayal of people with mental illnesses was more cut and dried than a serious discussion on the issue requires--as they say in other corners of the internet, it's more complicated than that--but as you say, the medium isn't conducive to extensive ramblings of an explanation of the nuances, so instead I opted for expediency. It's also why I didn't issue the additional problematic elements the status quo bring, and why I especially am glad that you yourself have done so. :)

      Finally, it's not that I wouldn't appreciate a higher level of specificity and sophistication when it comes to the portrayal of villains who happen to have mental illnesses; I think such a thing can be wonderful, and has been wonderful, in the cases when it occurs. I just feel its too high a bar for most of the people in charge to consistently clear, and given the potential for harm, I think it's more expedient for them to choose to not use those particular toys until they've proven they know how not to break them.

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    3. Hello Ian:- I hope I didn't imply that fascism was the only possible outcome! It was only meant as a single response to the point you were making. There are of course endless ideas which can be spun out of the idea of a world in which the arrival of super-powers impacts on real-world societies.

      Certainly your own suggestion about using the hunting down of the Joker to investigate "moral slippery slopes" is a fascinating one. Some of the best work in the superhero genre in recent years has investigated issues related to that. (The various Gotham GCPD series by the likes of Dixon, Rucka and Brubaker come to mine, as does Paul Cornell's Knight and Squire, which came without noir but with a huge degree of intelligence and heart.)

      I find your points about the portrayal of mental disorders in the context of the super-book to be fascinating. And to a degree I agree with you. It's a area that requires a huge degree of smarts, knowledge, heart and skill. I would suggest, however, that there have been series that have put all these qualities to work and presented mental disorder in a way that both reflects the real world while enhancing the fictional one. The best examples would, of course, be John Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Gail Simone's Secret Six.

      But unless creators have the qualities which the likes of Simone and Ostrander have shown, then, yes, I'm with you Ian. Best to leave that aspect of the toys alone until breakage is more or less certain not to occur. Agreed 100%!

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    4. Just to be clear, no I never interpreted your first response as an assertion that fascism was the the only possible or realistic consequence to the revolving door dilemma--just that it hadn't been what I'd been thinking about. The response to your response was an assertion of difference, not preference.

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    5. Hello Ian:- Thanks for that clarification. I've found it intimidatingly easy to give the wrong impression in these comment boxes. As such, I tend to err on the side of caution, preferring to assume the possibility of offence rather than ignoring the chance that such has occured.

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  13. Excellent write-up. The inability deliver any significant narrative or moral weight is one reason I haven't kept up with Batman much lately.

    Much like Ian, I'm confused when people expect Batman to kill The Joker. Why don't they blame a legal system which is charged with creating definitive solutions for persistent, homicidal individuals like The Joker?

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    1. Hello VanVelding:- Thank you :) I too, as you'll of course have noticed, worry about that lack of weight which you refer to. I think I see it in Batman, Batman And Robin and Batman Inc to varying degrees, and of course Batgirl is written in such a way that the concerns I refer to in the above are thankfully quite absent. But beyond that, I struggle to feel that the undoubted talents of all concern are being put to the use of the material and its meaning as they might.

      Your final point is, again, a fine one. Because so many comics want to reduce conflict to the equivilant of a shoot-out between a vigilante and a bad man, they up representing crime and social policy in terms of pure reactionary politics. Placing that conflict in its broader social context is something that few care to do. Those that do tend to be the very finest creators. Those that don't rarely are.

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  14. I think the real problems lies in the disfigured nature of whatever world the DCNU represents. When we readers were spared the worst ramifications of psychopathic criminal activity, from death to disability, we could stomach the idea of a justice system incapable of dealing with the criminally insane. Yes, Joker would be released or escape in the next issue, but that would only mean that a few more banks would be robbed. Considering that he now casually maims and murders and never faces any consequences, we seem to be in a dystopia with nice restaurants. In that world, is Batman's refusal to kill still admirable? I don't know. I do know that it's a world so ugly that I have little interest in spending time there.

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    1. Hello Rabbi Joe:- A "dystopia with nice restaurants". Heh. Nicely put.

      There is indeed a seriously problem with depicting such a hopeless world. Because it's so close to the world-view projected by reactionary thinkers, it becomes a political statement in favour of reactionary solutions. And the more that super-book creators decrease the value of society, the state, the law, and so on, the more they suggest that the only solutions are those which vigilantes can offer. I don't believe that's often intended, but it is all too often so.

      It is far too ugly a world for me to want to spend time in, I agree. It doesn't reflect anything of reality. It cuts the super-book quite free of its mundane moorings and feeds the sense that superhero tales are concerned with nothing but themselves and extreme political solutions.

      But as I say in a comment above, yes, if the world was that bleak, I doubt the state as we know would count for very much at all. I'd expect a form of fascism to be in place within a few years. I doubt any society could bear that degree of trauma without shifting its form in a significant way.

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  15. Thank you for another thought provoking post.

    Killing in superhero comics is a dicey business. On the on hand, some casualties are to be expected in any remotely realistic universe that involves super-powers. Ordinary people are punched with great force, thrown great distances and fall from great heights when in the company of superhumans. That is bound to be fatal from time-to-time. On the other hand, anyone that much more powerful than an average person who doesn't exercise some caution is morally dubious to say the least.

    While Batman doesn't have superhuman powers, his wealth and access to weaponry gives an all to plausible ability to murder enemies. Eccentric billionaires taking the criminal justice system into their own hands barely feels like fantasy anymore. Quite frankly, it seems like a reality series. Honestly, I could live without first-degree murder on the part of the superhero being part of the genre at all.

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    1. Hello Dean:- Thank you too :)

      I think you're quite right to suggest that the very idea of the billionaire taking control of the criminal justice system is all to close to real-world events in 2013. The idea of the wealthy gentleman of leisure saving the world has always been a dodgy idea, but today it carries some very disturbing meanings. I can't go near Grant Morrison's Batman tales today without worrying about what he's writing. I know he tries to stay away from politics in anything but a general sense, but the whole idea of Batman Inc disturbs me, and for reasons which I know I don't have to waffle on about here.

      I'm happy for murder in all its varieties to exist in the superhero book IF the companies are willing to recognise the consequences of their characters killing others. This won't happen of course. Yet if Green Arrow had been left in prison for 8 years and then forced to undergo probation, community service and so on, then all's well and good.

      But instead the super-people murder over and over again. It's just another example of the reactionary values which the genre often - and often apparently unintentionally - expresses. There's a contempt for the rule of the law and the very idea of community and state at the heart of so many superhero tales. That's fine if the creators want to express such far right opinions; freedom of expression etc etc But all too often, creators end up contributing to world-views which it seems they actually disagree with.

      Me, I could live without folks throwing around the frontier justice trope without thinking hard enough about what they're doing.

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  16. In my book, Frank Miller's "Devils"(Daredevil # 169, I think) is the perfect argument for a superhero not killing, precisely because it takes into account the legal and ethical(and immense emotional burden) problems both of killing the criminally deranged villain and not doing so.

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    1. Hello Alin:- A good call. And a reminder that even though Miller's tales had some strange and even worrying aspects back then, they often carried the opposite meanings to those found in the likes of Holy Terror. I've not read that first DD run for a while, but I've read it many times through the years. The final tale in the series - with the gun, Daredevl and a bed-ridden Bullseye - also dealt with these issues in an interesting way.

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  17. Two blokes discussing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-tWRH1YO4I&feature=player_embedded#!

    blech.

    Why can't there be brief videos of people as articulate as you are, Colin, reviewing comics? :)

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    1. Hello Osvaldo:- Thank you for the kind words, though I must say, I thought the video was great. There's a great deal to be said for two blokes expressing their enthusiasms with no pretensions of any kind.

      But I do appreciate the sentiment :)

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  18. Hang on, I’m gonna get all pompous here. Lemme adjust my monocle and cravat first…

    The modern Batman is not a hero in an ethical sense. He is a hero in the classical sense. The modern Batman’s status as a hero derives from his greatness, rather than his status as great deriving from heroic actions. We are expected to thrill in his adventures not because he improves the world, but because he can change it through his own efforts. It is not a fantasy of compassion, courage, or order, but pure power.

    The emotional essence of the Batman character is fear. He’s the scared little boy who learns to turn fear into a weapon against those who scare us. A story about the defeat of fear can take two approaches: overcoming fear through courage or destroying that which causes fear. Traditionally, Batman was about both. In the last few decades, the latter has become dominant.

    To stimulate and purge the readers’ fears and anxieties, Batman no longer rises above it, but instead simply smashes the source of the fear. As though that would end the emotion.

    Fear is the parent of cruelty. Batman stories are infused with fear, and as that fear grows, it often curdles into cruelty.

    The stories don’t rise above the worst parts of us, they wallow within it. He’s become an avenger of wrongs, not a protector of the innocent. Sad. But uncomplicated tales of grievous wrongs avenged in brutal fashion have always been big sellers, so here we are. They don't mesh well with the superhero idiom, though. Thus, "why doesn't Batman kill the Joker" becomes a question worthy of consideration. It shouldn't be.

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    1. Hello Harvey:- You surely do look splendidly erudite in that monocole and cravat.

      As for me, I fear that I can't add much to your fine and thoroughly inspiring words. But for what it's worth, I suppose a fearful, superstitious Batman works well in the model you suggest. He's always beleagured and therefore always ready to explode with hatred and anger in order to punish the world for worrying him. It's a child's POV, I fear.

      "Thus, "why doesn't Batman kill the Joker" becomes a question worthy of consideration. It shouldn't be."

      Indeed. And it certainly shouldn't be a question resolved with reference with the threat of a spooky city's vengeance. Nothing is more alien to the Batman's character or purpose than the idea he's seriously frightened of the dark. Frightened that those who hide in the dark will hurt innocents as he and his parents were once hurt, yes. But not frightened for himself.

      Batman doesn't kill because it's wrong, and because he knows how terrible the consequences of shattering that taboo are. He's a smart, rational man who symbolises how we can rise above our suffering and help others to do the same.

      Or at least, he was.

      What a deeply pathetic business ...

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  19. Forgive me if someone else has already addressed what I'm about to. I think you've largely misunderstood Batman 17 thematically. I would like to point out two instances where you've misunderstood, in my mind, two key points of the comic.

    "For the Batman suddenly reveals that he knows who Joker was before his super-villainous career began. Somehow, this previously unmentioned fact means that the Dark Knight has gained the ability to shatter his enemies' self-regard. Why such knowledge would cause the Joker to so fracture is never explained"

    It isn't directly explained why Joker is panicking when Batman explains he knows Joker's past, you're right. It is explained through subtext, however, subtext that Snyder has been throwing at your face since the beginning of the arc. Nonetheless, reading Batman 16 and 17 by themselves are all that is necessary to get the point Snyder's trying to get across. Issue 17 clearly shows that Joker doesn't care about Bruce Wayne. He only cares about Batman and the sort of twisted "game" they play together. And this game, specifically, is a role-playing game Joker takes all too seriously. I use the term role-playing because that's exactly how Joker views it: Batman is the king, Joker is the jester, and Gotham is their kingdom. This is clearly established in issue 16. Joker even dresses up in a jester costume and makes Batman sit on a "throne" and wear a "crown."

    Joker despises anything distracting from this game they play, in the same way a very attached lover hates whoever distracts the person he/she loves from him/her. The bat-family is a prime example of this, but Batman, telling Joker he knows Joker's identity, cuts even deeper. Batman tells Joker he knows who Joker is because this is the ultimate distraction from the game: knowing that whoever a person is roleplaying as isn't that person underneath. That's why Joker having his face cut off is very appropriate for this story. It's the nailing in the point that this is a game they play: Joker has a role and so does Batman, and they put on masks to play their part. For Batman to, in costume, interrupt the game they're playing by telling Joker he knows exactly who Joker is, Batman is ruining all the fun for the Joker. That's why the Joker reacts the way he does. Batman is breaking character by referencing something that, to the Joker, isn't a part of the fantasy game they're playing. Batman is talking to the Joker as Bruce Wayne, reminding Joker that they're both people under their masks. This hits at the thematic core of the story, which revolves around Batman and Joker's relationship, and in particular, Snyder's take on it. I personally think Snyder has done something very original here while drawing from the Batman lore of the past, but that's just me. (And on a slightly related point, but not exactly, Batman's more or less bluffing when he tells Joker this. It's flat out said later in the issue that Batman most likely doesn't know. I think it's on the first panel of the second to last page of the issue.)

    Regardless, the fact that it seems like you've missed this doesn't completely surprise me. You were more focused on the side of the story dealing with morality, another important piece when defining Batman and Joker's relationship. Nonetheless, I think you missed the point there, too.

    (Cont.)

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    1. Hello Heisenheimer:- Thank you for saying you’ve enjoyed the blog before, and for presenting such a considered and detailed defence of Batman #17. Much of what you’ve written I’m not going to respond to, for you’ve produced such a careful point of view and my responding would merely see me repeating points I’ve already made in the above. To repeat myself would simply give the impression that I’m stubbornly shouting at you, and that I don’t welcome opposing views. I do. I’ve always seen the blog as a place where I work out how I think and feel, and where I try to do so in a way that makes some sense. But once I’ve done that, I’ve no desire to convince anyone else. I think you’ll see something of this when I print a post later today from someone who has a VERY different reading of Batman #17 to me. Indeed, it would be lovely if you’d perhaps pop in and leave a comment there. I think the writer would appreciate it.

      On your point of sub-text and a lack of direct explanations; I can read what’s in front of me. I haven’t read all of DOTF, or even all of SS’s Batman issues. I am, as you’ll probably know, a fervent supporter of the idea that monthly comics should make sense in terms of their individual chapters. Of course, when combined with other chapters, it’s fantastic if they then say even more. But I strongly believe that the monthly superbook is dying in part because the monthly experience is not satisfying in itself. Still, when I review a book, I do do my best to make sense of it in terms of the material that’s before. Batman 17 may well reflect a long-running plan on its creator’s part, but that plan isn’t in any way clear in that issue. As such, I don’t think I’m misrepresenting what I’ve read. The post was signed up as a review of a single issue, and that’s what it was.

      Now, I’m well aware that this is a live-wire issue, and that there are good folks who feel my position is an absurd and unfair one. I’m certainly not saying that everything needs be explained, after the fashion of Jim Shooter’s diktats, in every issue. But the essentials should be there. Yet Mr Snyder’s work on this title seems to me to have marked by a constant refusal to play fair with the audience. I’ve read about half of the issues, and they are full of plot twists which come out of the blue. And so, we’re never told how Batman can survive being stabbed through after being drugged and left without medical aid or apparently even food or water. In Batman #17, we’re never told how the various members of the Bat-Family manage to overcome the Joker drug beyond the vague suggestion that Bat’s faith in them is rewarded by …. What? I could give a range of these examples of moments which make no sense. (Martin Gray’s TooDangerousForAGirl blog has listed many of them in recent months.) As such, my response to the issue of “Gotham” and Wayne’s response to it is that it may well be a great idea. I would fully except that you’ve an ABSOLUTE right to consider it, as you explain, a fascinating addition to Batman’s set-up. But because it makes no sense to me in terms of what the writer has offered in what I read, and because it violates what I consider the fundamental virtues of Batman as a character, I expressed the negative view I did. And though I’m grateful to you for explaining how the whole business can be read in an entirely different way, I’m not convinced. Even if Batman 17 had carried an explanation of this whole thread, I still wouldn’t have bought into it. The Batman I value – and it’s just an opinion – is a uber-rationalist who would never have his ethics modified by the fear of an occult power’s response. But then, he’d never think of killing the Joker either. He’d pity him, and perhaps at times fear him too. But he would never THINK of murder. That’s been part of the character for many, many decades, and for me, it still should be.

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    2. Or rather, I should say again, clear in the terms of my own entirely subjective taste. Horses for courses etc etc

      As for hints and implications which I may or may not have missed. I fear that I don’t care to dig for the subtleties of someone’s work when the basics of it seem to me to be profoundly dodgy. I don’t find Snyder’s work to be strong in the terms of either the transparency and sense of his storytelling or the moral implications of his work. I’ve no doubt his issues are full of cleverly placed conceits and implications. But only the writers who do the basics well – as I consider them – encourage me to read deeper. Indeed, since so much of Snyder’s work is so vague, it seems to me that it’s easy for him to hint at depth. I prefer work which manages to do that while still being clear and coherent and welcoming to the occasional as well as the die-hard reader.

      But that doesn’t mean that I’m suggesting my opinion counts for anything more than that. For me, the blog helps me to learn to express what I think and feel. Its function is as writing practise. But my opinions are no more than that, I know, and I welcome understanding how to see the same material through your eyes.

      “Regardless, the fact that it seems like you've missed this doesn't completely surprise me. You were more focused on the side of the story dealing with morality, another important piece when defining Batman and Joker's relationship. Nonetheless, I think you missed the point there, too.”

      I was indeed focusing on the morality. I don’t think I can be hoisted for not writing a piece about the subtle implications of Snyder’s work here! In fact, I deliberately didn’t, since the aforementioned Martin Gray had already dealt with many of my concerns about the plot. I could mention a whole string of daft plot holes in BM17, but that wasn’t my point. And I can’t be held accountable because I didn’t mention things which you consider important. I’m grateful to you for adding them here. But whether I missed them or didn’t care to discuss them is hardly relevant. That wasn’t, as you say, my purpose.

      (Cont.)

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  20. Another great essay as always, Colin.

    I myself tend to get annoyed whenever the "hang-'em-high fraternity" asks "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker?" Because we already know the answer this question. Not only because of the simple reason that murder is morally wrong and unjustifiable, but it would also be grossly out-of-character for Batman to do so (save for his Golden Age depiction that is). This is supposed to be someone who has undergone years of training his body and mind, of learning to master his own anger and fear, making himself be "more than just a man" but a "symbol." If Batman resorts to killing his villains, then he's admitting that all of his hard work and sacrifice in becoming Batman was all for nothing, that he's really no better than the criminal who gunned downed his parents. And one of the frustrating things about Batman #17 is not only should Snyder know this, but so should the Joker based upon what the Clown Prince of Crime represents thematically in the Batman universe.

    Anyone who has read Alan Moore's Killing Joke and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, as well as seen Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight knows that the Joker is supposed to be a self-proclaimed "agent of chaos" to Batman's "agent of order." As seen in the Dark Knight's interrogation scene, The Joker believes that people following morals and codes is nothing a "bad joke" because "at the first sign of trouble" they are willing to toss them aside, and that "when the chips are down...civilized people will eat each other." In short, the Joker believes that "good" and "evil" are nothing than abstracts. Batman, however, is living proof that people are capable of not allowing themselves to succumb to their baser instincts, that people are capable of doing good and maintaining their sanity in spite of whatever tragedy befalls them. By killing the Joker, Batman is essentially acknowledging that the Joker is right, that there is no such thing as "good" and that "laws" and "morality" are meaningless concepts. This is also why the Joker "loves" Batman because he too see him as a challenge to his own beliefs, just as the Joker is challenge to Batman's. As you say, it's not a matter of the Joker "winning" but rather that the Joker is wrong and that there is such as thing as good and evil.

    Another aspect about this story that I believe was problematic was the explanation as to why the Joker had his face removed just so he could wear it like a mask, So that [Batman] can see that he smiles on the inside as he does on the outside” i.e. that he doesn’t hide who he really is. Except again, we readers already knew this on the simple basis of how the Joker came to look like how he does via his chemical bath. Unlike Batman who has to dress up as a bat in order to frighten criminals, the Joker doesn't have to wear a disguise in order to frighten people; his visage of a laughing, creepy-looking clown is all he needs to be terrifying. To have him essentially wear a mask in order to induce horror, fear, and terror diminishes and misunderstands this very concept. And to even acknowledge this as Synder does and yet still have the Joker wear a mask made from the remnants of his own face a la Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre also undermines this very concept.

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    1. Hello Mike:- I very much agree with you about the matter of why Batman shouldn't kill. Yet I should tell you I've received several e-mails from different parts of the Republic which profoundly - shall we say - disagree with that point of view. (One argued that there'd be "no-one in the whole state of Texas who'd object if Batman killed the Joker. A bit unfair on Texas there, which I'm sure has some difference of opinion on unlawful killing.) I was torn between posting them or deleting them, but they were always badly written to the point of nonsense and somewhat abusive. I've always had the policy that I'll print anything that makes sense and is respectful when expressing difference, so into the delete bin they went. But one of my objections to these tales is that they feed into a very powerful and very real sub-culture which actually BELIEVES in vigilante justice, which genuinely thinks of the state as useless if not evil and which regards the criminally insane as fit only for to be executed. The culture wars between the reactionary right and everyone else - including more traditional conservatives - are, of course, very real. To not recognise that is to end up contributing to the wrong side at times. Or so it seems from my point of view.

      You make an excellent case - and a far better one than I did, I must say - for the fact that Batman does have a long history in which he's been associated with a specific if general set of ethical principles. Now, I'm not sure how much I buy into the "agent of order/chaos" hypothesis I buy into. That's not to say I don't accept it, or that I don't at the very least see it as a viable way of viewing Batman and the Joker. I've just not thought through the particular matter in enough detail! But I certainly agree that Batman has always been associated with a specific and unyielding moral code. To him, certain values are absolute, as you say. That doesn't mean that I'm suggesting, for example, that his principles are mine! There's a great deal about Batman as he's usually been presented that deeply disturbs me. And that's absolutely cool, since his basic principles have strongly if not exclusively overlapped with a liberal humanistic stance. (Where they don't - such as the whole key area of vigilantism - the difference sparks by its very nature a host of debates about individual and group responsibility. Today, those same debates are far more likely to be framed in terms of frontier justice in its most brutal sense, and that's a big leap rightwards.)

      "This is also why the Joker "loves" Batman because he too see him as a challenge to his own beliefs, just as the Joker is challenge to Batman's. As you say, it's not a matter of the Joker "winning" but rather that the Joker is wrong and that there is such as thing as good and evil."

      Hear, hear, although perhaps we might say "good and evil deeds" in the broad sense of comicbook tragedy. Because I'm deeply concerned about the way in which BM 17 presented the Joker as someone who deserved to be beaten and humiliated. I don't believe that applies to anyone, let alone someone so disordered. So, yes, the Joker's behaviour is often such that we can apply the blanket term of 'evil' to it. And, as you say, it's Batman's job to express certain key values in opposition to that. Clearly and forcibly. To not regard those values as being vitally important would be to ignore what's happening in the political sphere of today's West, and to suggest that somehow certain values are either obvious or even - save us - uncool and unworthy of being mentioned.

      cont

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    2. That doesn't mean that I'm suggesting obviously storytelling, the return of the Comics Code and so on. Meaning can be transmitted clearly through sub-text too. But when the text barely touches on the obvious good while the sub-text argues that there are other matters more important to dwell on, well; that's a dodgy business.

      As for the Joker-face, I entirely agree. It's a typical New 52 shock-tactic that doesn't shock in any way beyond raising the question of why would anyone do something so crass. It's not that I'm outraged by any of this, although the whole beat-the-Joker-with-a-bar scene is a despicable business. It's just that it's such a wearisome and pernicious way of telling tales.

      I assume that the wheel will turn and other ways of telling Batman stories will arrive. I hope these new hybrids of old and new ideas will be more careful when it comes to sense and sub-text, and a touch more ambitious to reach beyond such a narrow niche of readers.

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  21. Continued from previous comment.

    "Snyder leaves these central, and so often demeaned, principles and laws unmentioned. Of far more importance, it appears, is the deterrent value of Wayne's suspicions that ill-defined, and perhaps even entirely non-existent, occult powers will punish him for any ill-doing."

    I'm curious about if you've read Snyder's work Pre-NEW 52 on Detective Comics. It's collected in graphic novel form right now as Batman: The Black Mirror. It deals with the idea that Gotham personifies one's worst fears as a twisted version of oneself and sends that person at oneself to take advantage of one's greatest weaknesses. For Batman, it's Joker. Obviously, you don't need to read The Black Mirror before reading Batman 17, but it's important to know to have a better understanding of Snyder's reasoning behind Batman's reason here. It comes from this idea: Joker is the city sending its worst at Batman, and if Batman were to kill Joker, the city would just send its worst again.

    Now, I think this is good for three reasons: First, it's a relatively original idea. I wouldn't be surprised if you can find references to a concept similar to Snyder's idea prior to the publication of his work on Batman, but making it the key point of a series of Batman stories is an original concept that hasn't been done before.

    Second, it still deals with morality. Batman isn't frightened for himself when he says these things. Batman will probably not die by the Joker's hand. (I say probably because who knows, it's comics.) But, Batman does take some personal responsibility for the Joker. Whether or not he should is another discussion. This has already been touched on before, specifically in TDKR. There's the idea that Batman attracts these crazy individuals, that if Batman went away, Joker would too. If Batman would kill the Joker, he wouldn't be solving anything, because Gotham would send someone else, someone Batman would take some personal responsibility for just like Joker. Batman is afraid, but not for his own well being. He's afraid that his mission would be jeopardized, that him striving for good would only cause more harm. He does not kill because killing is wrong, but what Snyder tackles here is why would it be wrong? It would be wrong because it would not only going against his mission as Batman, but it would actively work against the good he's trying to propagate. It isn't a matter of superstition. It's a matter of personal responsibility. Gotham, in sending Batman's worst fears at him, acts a metaphor for reality. In reality, we are faced with many of a worst fears some time or another, regardless of whether or not we want to. "Killing" them won't solve it. That's like avoiding our fears. Overcoming them time and time again is the only way for them to disappear. Batman doesn't kill Joker because it wouldn't be solving the issue at hand. He's afraid someone else will experience what he did as a child, and his mission as Batman is to prevent that from happening again. But shrugging away responsibility for the wrong he's brought to Gotham won't end his fear or complete his mission.

    Third, the question "why doesn't Batman kill Joker" has already been done before. Sure, there's always room for more exploration, as long as it doesn't repeat over the same stuff we've heard time and time again. That said, it doesn't mean Snyder is required to tackle this question as you demand. He's looking at the Batman/Joker dynamic at a different angle. He brought up the issue of why Batman doesn't kill Joker because it's inherent to the conflict between the characters. But it doesn't have to be explored extensively.

    That's my two cents. I hope you would give this a response, but if not, I understand. I'm a fan of this blog, though this is my first time posting a comment. Thanks for reading.

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    1. Hello again, Heisenheimer:- Having made my points above, I'll be writing alot less here. But I will say that, yes, you do make a fine case for how SS's work makes perfect sense to you, and how it raises and resolves a host of moral issues to. I don't buy into the whole business of a wicked Gotham and a Batman who ever once considers the actions of an occult power when deciding how to operationalise his ethical beliefs.

      Two final points. You say that Snyder doesn't have to raise the issue of why Bats doesn't kill the Joker every time. I absolutely agree. It's not me that raised the issue. It was a major theme in Batman #17, and it was argued in an confusing and to me unethical fashion. A substantial degree of SS's work in his script was all about the matter, and he referred to it directly in his conclusion, which points to the fact that HE considered it very important. If he'd not discussed, I wouldn't have.

      For me, Batman #17 was just sloppy and careless in terms of its storytelling. (Powerful and impressive as the storytelling often is, it was still careless.) It's also a comic which plays with several key matters concerned with social policy, politics and science. The first is the whole matter of the individual's relationship to the rule of law. For me, Snyder's work feeds into a reactionary tradition in which only the vigilante and his noble violence and cruelty can solve problems. The second is the way in which psychological disorder is presented as the being the fault of the person suffering it. The cruelty which Batman shows the Joker is absolutely despicable. Metal bars, contemptuous bullying, and so on. You've not touched on these issues, but these for me are what truly matters here.

      For SS can be admired for all the cleverness in the world. But I don't care what new twists he brings to Batman if he ends up expecting his audience to cheer and enjoy Batman beating up the Joker. If he wants us to accept a Batman who hates and despises his insane opponents, then that's me out of here. Because it's not just that that isn't heroic. That's despicable and nothing else. We live in a world where reactionary attitudes towards social justice are often guiding social policy as well as informing so much of our media. I fully accept that you might not share my politics, and that you might not think that such is important. As you say, even pushing such matters to one side, there's much in SS's BM work to think about.

      But until he plays fair with the reader in terms of well-structured plots, and until he starts thinking more of social justice in terms of his sub-text, then I guess I'm not going to be caring about all the clever genre inflections and innovations.

      Despite that difference between us, it is just a matter of my opinion. I appreciate you putting forward your own POV, and as I say, I think you might find a post going up later today to be far closer to your opinions. I hope so. I appreciate you reading the blog and if I didn't respect what you'd written, I'd not reply to it in such detail. I hope your day is a splendid one.

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  22. Greetings, Colin, everyone, gotta put in my few cents on this hot topic. Of course, the real reason the Joker has never been permanently killed off, by Batman or anyone else, is that he's too much of a cashcow for DC. As long as Batman comics remain profitable to keep in publication, the Joker is safe! Such remains the case with nearly every popular character, including the most nefarious villains. If Hitler had been merely a comicbook villain rather than a top candidate for history's most notorious real life villain, he'd still be "alive" in comics set in the current era. Even the original Green Goblin only stayed dead for about 25 years before being brought back to life and becoming a far more prominent character than he had ever been during the Silver & Bronze ages. The original Baron Zemo may be one of the few once prominent villains to be killed off and stay dead, and that may have been only because he was a sort of 2nd rate Red Skull. Even so, he was brought back in proxy in the form of his son, Baron Zemo II. But villains like the Joker or Dr. Doom or the Red Skull, etc., etc., will never really die, even if they're shown being blown to teensy tiny particles and scattered to the four winds. The magic of popularity will yet bring them back.
    In truth, I eventually got tired of these recurring grudge matches that can never be settled and just keep escalating to ever greater horror shows. I still like comics, even now that I'm past 50, but I want more interesting stories that don't involve never-ending fight fests.

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    1. Hello Fred:- It must be said, the Joker is too important to kill off as a franchise, but there's no reason why he couldn't be killed off and replaced - for however long - by another character bearing the title. In fact, since I've been clearly reading the New 52 for too long, I immediately find myself imaging a tale in which a Joker-pretender steals the Joker's face-mask while thinking he's done away with its owner. Oh, the horror, the horror ....

      But your point is of course a very good one. There are few iconic villains who can always make the market sit up. Recent years have some of them so badly used that they've lost much of their appeal. Despite admirable work from Brubaker, for example, the Red Skull hasn't been used in a way that really speaks to the present day, which is odd, since the rise of the far right in its various guises across the globe would seem to present a context to bring the character back to life.

      The problem of those "never-ending fights" you mention can of course be overcome. Kieron Gillen's Young Loki tales made me love a character who I'd previously been SO bored by, and that goes for Old Evil Loki too. Similarly, Gail Simone's Suicide Squad, and before it John Ostrander's Secret Six, inspired me to care for a whole host of characters I'd not been interested in for years. So, it CAN be done. But as you say, the endless cycle of the same basic conflicts soon wears thin. In that, I can admire Mr Snyder's recasting of the Joker in terms of his ambition even if I'm not a fan of the results.

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    2. Hi, Colin, some very astute points and if a creator can come up with a compelling story featuring the hero and his ancient sparring partner, I can be pulled in. I know this is going back nearly 30 years now (egads, how time flies!) but I really liked Walt Simonson's take on Loki during his famous run, mainly because Simonson made him a conniving, self-centered but amusing jerk rather than a foaming-at-the-mouth homicidal looney. And Simonson included a couple of really funny scenes where Thor puts Loki in his place (well, at least they tickled my funnybone).
      Also, regarding a "new" Joker, it strikes me that outside of the dawn of the Silver Age, when many Golden Age DC characters were revised in new identities, it's been very rare for a very popular hero or villain to be given a new alter ego which permanently sticks. I recall an issue of Iron Man in which the Mandarin was killed in conflict with the Yellow Claw and a henchman took Mandy's rings, apparently all set to become a new Mandarin. But the next time ol' "10 Rings" showed up it was the old Mandarin come back to life. And as I previously mentioned, even the original Green Goblin returned, after several fill-ins and even an interesting revision in the Hobgoblin. Personally, I think Norman should have stayed dead, but they've been getting a lot of mileage out of him since then and for all I know some of those new stories might be really good. Maybe it's just that after a villain is shown to have committed some really horrific act, like killing the hero's girlfriend, I don't want him coming back time after time after time. It'd be too much like reading about Charles Manson and his Family getting loose and committing grisly murders again every 3 or 4 years. Actually it strikes me now that perhaps that was the real purpose of Baron Zemo I -- he could be blamed for killing Bucky, and be a prominent nemesis for about a year, then he could be properly killed off (accidentally doing himself in, just like Osborne would later do, so in both cases the hero didn't have to have blood on his own hands) and Bucky thereby avenged. The Red Skull could share some blame as Zemo was revealed to be his flunky, but as the Skull wasn't the one who actually set the trap, there was no mandate that the Skull had to permanently die, at least under the apparent dictates of Silver/Bronze Age comics justice.

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    3. Hello Fred: Thank you:)

      Your point about -for my money - the LAST great version of Loki prior to the Gillen take shows just how rare it is for decades-old characters to be brought to life in an outstanding way. (I should say that Gillen accentuates Matt Fraction's contributions to the Kid Loki arc too.) And, yes, the Simonson Loki was a very enjoyable take. Not the radical reworking that Journey Into Mystery saw, but well worth the reading all the same.

      It's also true that recasting a character's secret, or even not-secret, rarely if ever sticks. I can't think of any examples where that's happened. A few such innovations have stepped away and taking up another identity after a period as a big gun. But as you say, the original identity tends to be that which sticks. (My mind is howling at me that I've forgotten several obvious and important exceptions to this rule, but for the life of me they escape my early-morning memory.)

      Though I've quite lost track of what happened to Baron Zemo and his legacy in the post-Thunderbolts MU,and therefore fear I can't comment there, I can certainly agree with you about the resurrection of Norman Osborne. It was a bad idea from the off and has ended up with the cartoon and profoundly, profoundly DULL super-villain of recent years.

      But it's rare that the superbook can resist the lure of the return from the death, isn't it? We're down to Uncle Ben now aren't we? Hell must be an empty place in the superpeople universes.

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  23. You mean John Ostrander's Suicide Squad, and Gail Simone's Secret Six, I'm sure ... :)

    Heisenheimer's point about Gotham throwing the Joker at Batman is an interesting one, but not necessarily in the way he thinks. More than a few writers have delved into this idea of Gotham being somehow "alive" and challenging Batman - Morrison has done it in his run, most recently. Morrison's ideas came from Peter Milligan, who wrote "Dark Knight, Dark City" over 20 years ago and explored the idea of the city possessed by an evil force. In that case, it changed the Riddler into something horrific, and in that case, Milligan actually had Batman wonder what had happened to the goofy Riddler, because he was acting out of character. David Lapham wrote a long, 12-issue story beginning in Detective #801 about the city and its effect on Batman, and while it's an absolutely brutal story, it's brilliant, too. It features a Batman who is actually forced to confront some of his fears, and a Batman who doesn't always win, and it seems like that's what Snyder is going for here (whether he succeeds or not is up to you, of course). I don't know if Snyder gets to the heart of "Gotham as malevolent force" as well as those two stories do (or even as well as Morrison does, even if he's building on Milligan's story), but it's still not THAT unique an idea.

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    1. Hello Greg:- As always, you know what I'm TRULY thinking. Mea culpa.

      It's certainly true that the idea of a malevolent Gotham is anything but new. I recall feeling uneasy about Milligan's take on this back in, I think, the early 90s. (I certainly recall feeling that some historical slander was going on there :) )

      I do think that Snyder's Gotham seems to be working in a different way on Batman. Because this Batman states that his ethical debates are in significant part determined by how this apparently ill-understood demon of a city MIGHT behave. That strikes me as a daft position for the Batman to take; he's a rationalist, an empiricist and a moralist. He doesn't frame his behaviour in any way according to what occult powers demand.

      And, as I know I've said and said and said, there is a very real debate in the West about the way in which we should treat not just the criminally insane, but criminals in general. Snyder doesn't seem to take any care to shape his story so that it contributes in a meaningful way to that debate. Instead, he opts for the co-ol. (Cool and meaning can coincide, if the writer cares to ensure it happens, but not here.) And so, we get a criminally insane man being beaten with a metal rod for the thrills of the audience. In focusing on vengeance and "Gotham's" possible behaviour, Snyder has forgotten that the real world exists, and that fiction both contributes to and shapes debate in it.

      There's no reason why Batman can't still be Batman, and ethical too, in a universe with a dark-god Gotham. But that's not how Snyder's played his hand, I fear. When waffling on about Gotham-the-beast is here allowed to obscure fundamental moral principles, I'm for Gotham-the-beast having a New 52 sharp object poked right through it, so we can chuck it away as dead and start again.

      Page One, Panel One; I'm Batman. I don't kill because it's wrong. I don't kill the Joker because he's mad and blameless. It's got nothing to do with what some dubious vampire conurbation might or might not do.

      See, it's easy :)

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  24. Hello Colin,
    I've been reading your blog for about a year and this is my first time commenting. I generally don't on blogs I read but I thought I'd say something this time. First off thank you for some very insightful commentary regarding a former hobby of mine. I say former because while I still have interest in the concept of superheroes I don't care for the execution these days. A few years ago I stopped buying comic books somewhat for economic reasons but primarily because I thought they were bleak uninspired repetitive trash. When I was just a kid I would love going to the comic book store and raiding the bins for old comics written before I was born even when I could tell by my age I wasn't the establishment's audience. I didn't care. I still loved the escapism and good triumphing over evil. As I got older and kept with it (primarily Batman and Superman) for a while it seemed like the stories were leading somewhere. As much as serial characters can. After a time it just seemed that they were telling the same story over and over again. Batman pushes away all of his sidekicks after a big "event"
    story where some villain does serious harm to his family or city, and he has to learn the lesson that family is important and he shouldn't push people away blah blah blah. This story seems to be telling the same story by all accounts. The reason I don't read it first hand or any more superhero books is something you have touched on in this post and others. They aren't escapist fantasy anymore. Somehow, despite the odds, they have created a fantasy world more depressing than the real one. No small feat and yet they did it. They also wonder why comic readership is down. Hmmm? I'd prefer reading or watching heroes who don't sink to their enemies level or whine endlessly about how miserable their own lives are even when they live in first world nations are healthy and have superpowers. I don't care for it when people have two out of three. Having all and complaing is more than pushing it. I'd rather have Batman be a detective rather than a torturer. I'd rather he be a flawed father figure rather than manipulative jerk who's emotionally distant to those he is trying give a better life than the lonely one he had growing up. I can't even begin to think how weird it is that Spider-man tortures people or all of Wonder Woman's sisters are raping murderers now. I enjoy reading this blog and comics alliance because it shows me that I made the right choice not spending money on this. The subpar self destructing work that is being generated fortunately doesn't diminish the good work I have in my collection. Continued....

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  25. So after a very long winded response I would like to add to this particular discussion a take on the Joker you may not be familiar with. Paul Dini and Alex Ross produced an 8 page comic for Batman Black And White called Case Study that put forth the theory that the Joker is not insane just a psychopath. The crazy schemes he commits that seem to demonstrate madness is so he will be treated with kid gloves by the state and committed instead of executed. Since he has always gotten pleasure from hurting people and holding power over them it makes since that a psychopath is all he would ever be. In your post on Lex Luthor being the same(which I believe you referenced a book we both read called The Psychopath Test) you put some thought into, because of his condition Luthor was not truly responsible for his actions since he was literally born without empathy. That's what makes those two the perfect arch villains. They cannot ever be redeemed so the conflict cannot be resolved unless they are killed off or permanently incarcerated. However while a psychopath cannot understand the difference between right and wrong on an emotional level they do understand it on a legal level which is while they hide their actions through lying and secrecy. Luthor and Joker know what they are doing is immoral by societies standards they just don't care which is different from someone who is mentally ill in the sense that they cannot tell reality apart from delusion. So an audience member wanting to see what is as close to pure evil as it exists in the real world be physically punished on the page in a fight scene is not he same as a "hero" beating the crap out of someone who doesn't really know what they are doing. Perhaps you wouldn't agree with the distinction in the real world since brutality is never justified (and yes when ever someone is stronger than another who they are beating on even if that person has wronged them is sincerely brutal). But for fantasy seeing the villain get their beat down works provided it's not done in some revenge porn type of fashion. I don't have a problem with a hero hurting someone they are fighting. I DO have a problem with them getting a thrill out of it because when you act like a psychopath but you actually know better it's worse. You don't even have an excuse. That's all. Take care and keep up the good work.

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    1. Hello There:- Thank you for the kind, generous words:

      " Somehow, despite the odds, they have created a fantasy world more depressing than the real one. No small feat and yet they did it."

      It's true, the super-book can be terribly depressing. Yet I will say that there are still some books which manage to inspire and entertain even when they do deal with that darkness. Hawkeye, the Kid Loki stories, Young Avengers, Dial H, Batgirl, Daredevil, FF .... If I'm confirming your worst suspicions at time, I hope I'm also pointing out there are still some very fine books out there. Not so many, but they are there, I promise you!

      Still, I can't say that I don't understand exactly what you're saying, because I really and regretfully do.

      I've not read that Joker story by Dini and Ross that you refer to, but you can be sure I'll be looking for it. And you raise an absolute central point which will bedevil comics as long as they are imprecise with their psychology and the world is torn between different views of criminal responsibility.

      I can certainly see what you're arguing, and I've heard some far more intense versions of the same take in recent days. I should say that I'm not arguing that characters in comics can't make mistakes, and shouldn't show pleasure in hurting others. It all depends upon the character, the tale, and so on. My objection in Batman #17 is that pleasure to be taken from walloping on the Joker serves as the catharsis of the piece, which means that the audience is expected to uncritically watch a madman being beaten and humiliated. I don't think that's in character for Batman or of a piece with his history. I certainly don't think that it was convincing or sensibly set up. If it were, then it'd be harder to argue about it. And if the scene had been presented so that there was enough distance in the storytelling to permit some questioning of the act, then that too would've helped.

      For me, I'm less concerned about the Joker's madness and more about the assumption that the audience should be pleasured through viciousness. As you say, the question of whether characters associated with heroism should be brutal is far broader than whether the Joker should get his. The lack of kindness and mercy matched to the assumption that the audience WANTS to see the Joker beaten with a metal bar deeply disturbs me.

      But as I say, the story and the way it's told determines whether such a scene works or not in an ethical as well as a pleasure-inspiring sense. And I don't have a problem with a character taking pleasure in harming another IF that is the point of the story at hand. But here, it's not. It may be returned to, but in the context of this issue, the beating is associated with success and victory, and therefore it's the mark of a hero.

      As you say, you can discuss violence without tapping into the thrills of revenge-porn. I agree entirely! In fact, a creator at the top of their game can have their cake and eat too here, showing the violence and criticising to too.


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    2. Hello Colin,
      I agree that characters should be allowed to make mistakes even terrible ones provided they learn from them. It seems that in super hero comics that since every creator is a fan first and foremost they want to tell the stories they loved. That means recycling the same basic plots. Or they try something different for the sake of being different that is completely out of character. Thus you have Batman building a giant satellite that can spy on everything on earth simultaneously while also looking through walls in the most extreme fascist story one could imagine. Yet he still can't use that money and time to build an effective prison to hold actual offenders. I'd rather see stories where characters make an error(hopefully not on that level) and learn why it was wrong not nearly because it didn't work but because it was ethically wrong in the first place. Perhaps in the future you might do an article on the top ten examples on heroes abiding by their moral code when challenged by odds and trials that would make "normal" people fold. If you ever do I offer a opening suggestion Batman Gotham Adventures # 9 "A League of His Own" where Batman and Batgirl go up against killers and fighters that are more dangerous than they are and have a debate about resorting to their methods. Plus it also shows a hero actually having fear about a situtation and facing it anyway, a rare thing in the last 30 years of pop culture action hero fiction. Take care.

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    3. Hello There:- I can find no possible reason why Wayne hasn't taken a keen interest in the provision of secure medical care for the criminally insane of Gotham. You're quite right. Though I'm happy to go along with ideas like the whole OMAC snafu, I never bought into the idea that Wayne can design and build super-sf machinary. But then, that's the lure of the golly-gee-wow moment, which is always an easy option that, er, making sure a tale makes sense.

      That's certainly an interesting idea about naming and not-shaming heroic figures who've stood up without qualification for obeying the law and behaving decently.

      I think the thing that most worries me about Batman #17 is the fact that the climax of the issue only works if you take pleasure of the Joker being thumped around and cowed. If the catharsis in the issue had been offered by something else, then perhaps Batman's actions could have worked as an example of dubious action. That would've been something other than the recycling you mention. Sadly not,

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  26. Sorry to be so late to the party. A fantastic reading, as always, Colin.

    Arkham, as I'm sure you are well aware, is a relatively new edition to the Batman mythos, and it bears the burden of its 70s origin. By the 1970s, psychiatry was suffering from a backlash, as the postwar promise of Freudian psychology had curdled, especially among the American conservatives of the "silent majority," into contempt. This contempt would culminate in the 80s with Reagan and his decimation of the American mental health care system. (Of course, postwar psychiatry, with its overemphasis upon prefrontal lobotamies and electro-shock therapies, certainly deserved its share of criticism. But the conservative rejection of psychiatry stemmed more from an ideological rejection than a rejection of methods. After all, the fetishiztion of "individual choice" was undermined by a mental health system that acknowledged a lack of control and culpability in the behaviors of the mentally ill. And so the rejection of mental health as a component of the criminal justice system in America was, at its heart, yet another instance of hippy-punching. )

    And so Arkham, at first a part of the "realisitc" movement in comics which acknowledged that some of Batman's villains were quite ill, quickly became the punchline to a sick joke. With its revolving door, its deplorable, dungeon-like conditions, and its inability to help any of its patients, Arkham became the "proof" of the conservative disgust toward psychiatry and the mental-health field in general.

    Also, the idea the Batman would fear "Gotham sending someone worse" struck me as strangely meta for such a "realistic" universe. Batman is basically stating that he is at least dimly aware that he is a fictional character who is not in control of his own actions. It is the 21st century version of Superman's wink to the reader, or the appearance of Silver Age creators in their own books. Moreover, the idea of "why make moral choices at all when the universe is not in my control anyway" seems to run counter to very ideology of the book that you so convincingly lay out above.

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    1. Hello Ralph; Thank you for your kind words :)

      Hippy-punching is a top phrase. And, as you say, denying the value of criminal psychology runs against so many of the principles of the right and those wanting to slice away some of their voters. If criminal behaviour isn't always a matter of 100% choice, then not only does it violate reactionary values about the individual and frontier justice, but it implies that the very folks who've been demonised deserve our sympathy and support. And of course, if social science and its rejection of simple-headed casuality deserves to be taken seriously, then that too shatters the knee-jerk reliance on faith, on given values. Finally, given that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have paid little attention to the teaching of social science to each new generation, the public is largely ignorant of matters which those who've been educated in them take for granted based on decades of research. Which means that the public has been left in a state where it simply can't debate such issues. Even if someone on the reactionary right were to say that crime and decent care for the criminally disordered was anything other than a simple matter, their core costituency, and many beyond, would be quite unable to cope with such heretical ideas.

      Which is why the drip-drip-drip of popular culture is such an important part of this debate. It can't, as we know, create the debate, but it shapes it and in particular reinforces it. Batman #17 on its own isn't going to change much when it comes to reinforcing reactionary values. But as part of an avalanche of product which presents the seriously disordered as evil and relies on their punishment for dramatic closure, it plays its own part in the cumulative effect.

      The thing is, Arkham Ayslum is such an effective tool for storytellers. It bears no relationship to reality and common sense or decency, but it's perfect for feeding off prejudice and ignorance while allowing plotting short-cuts. When used well - as in Dini and Timm's Mad Love - it can work well even as it presents an absurd vision of the world. But mostly it's just carelessly, and that drip-drip-drip just continues ....

      Your discussion of the "meta" aspect of Batman's concerns about Gotham rings true to me, and your conclusion does too. But meta is something that comics rely on these days rather than old fashioned storytelling. It's easy to throw a series of scenes together which readers can choose to analyse according to their own taste. It even delivers a kind of inter-activity with the audience. But the best writers can deliver that while also making sense in terms of moral and plot. Thank gawd for those creators who do so.

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  27. I wish I had your gift for analytical thinking and words. When I read this issue I came away thinking it felt anti-climactic. Something about it felt lacking, and I read your analysis (review is an inadequate word) and I knew why, because while I enjoy his writing, in this case Scott Snyder missed a chance to show us the morality and decency that underlies all the things Batman does. I agree that there was something of a cop out there, and that maybe Mr Snyder decided to give the ravenous hordes of fans what they wanted, a more vengeful Batman, but to me it felt like an anti-climax.

    Thank you for clearing up my own feelings about this issue for me.

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    1. Hello Hector:- Thank you for such kind words.

      One of the things that's most telling about the response to Batman #17 is that some of those who are disappointed count themselves as admirers of Mr Snyder's work. To present a Batman who is suddenly vengeful and irrational would be a brave and possibly admirable thing, but it does have to be carefully done and presented in a way that doesn't make the reader's satisfaction reliant on wanting to see the Joker treated as he was.

      I believe it's that contradiction - between the implication that the Batman OUGHT to have behaved that way and the acts he committed - which caused that anti-climax for me. A shame, for I'm convinced - as is just about every one, that Mr Snyder is a substantial talent.

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  28. Hey Colin,

    Great blog content as always. You have one of the best comics blogs on the internet, with some very well needed criticism, and not just a plain review. There are very few true critics out there, and its nice to see someone give a very thorough critique of comics.

    Now to Batman Death in the Family. One of the early comments in this thread hit the nail on the head. It really is the same story over and over for Batman. Loses family/tragedy. Rinse/Repeat.

    I LIKED Death in the Family. The ending wasn't what I expected, but we see a Batman who DOES value his family. The scene with Bruce and Damian was endearing. As a father of a one and a half year old, scenes like this have a richer experience for me. I could relate the character in ways I couldn't before.

    Then it all went to crap. Grant Morrison, a writer whos work I greatly admire, pulled the kill switch on Damian. We now get the reset button once again. We have a nice tortured Batman. How utterly draining. How DEPRESSING. We all have enough misery in the real world. Why does it have to be in an ongoing work of fiction?

    I'm done with DC comics for awhile. I'm frankly disgusted with what has happened. Morrison hasn't really written the Batman character in years (Batman INC has had one off issues every few months). Damian has really grown in Batman and Robin. Now its all gone to shit for torture porn.

    Enough. I want my son to enjoy comics that encourage thought and wonder. This is just more misery for miseries sake.

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    1. Hello Eric:- I hadn't realised that Damian was going to be killed off - for awhile at least - in the week after Death In The Family was released. This does seem to me to be somewhat unfortunate, in that no matter how valid the kid's death is to be, it will simply read as THIS week's example of blood and gore. Both books will earn terrific sales from the fans, but who from beyond the hardcore would ever want to buy into this intensity of despair? Certainly I don't.

      But despite that, the opposite to the SHOCK of N52 isn't a return to 1950's super-pablum, although to be frank the work of the likes of Bill Finger and Dick Sprang is far more enjoyable than most of todays.

      I certainly do appreciate a family atmosphere in the BM titles, and that was one aspect of DOTF which promised much. But as is common with SS, the material to do with the family often didn't make sense. Why would Wayne put everyone at risk by visiting the Joker? Why did he abandon his poisoned, fighting family in order to beat up the Joker some more, when his enemy had been defeated and he had no way -beyond his spurious 'faith' - that all would turn out well for them.

      I understand why someone with a nipper would feel alienated by the newest death in the Bat-Family. I'm just about to read it, actually, so I can't speak for the comic. But I can say that my instincts are all against the matter. Perhaps I will find myself satisfied and, through that, surprised.

      But with "death" followed by DEATH, I doubt it. Fingers crossed Morrison et al can overcome my skepticism.

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