Batman: The Long Halloween
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
I don’t believe in Bruce Wayne and I don’t believe in Batman.
Think I first read The Long Halloween back when I was a kid and I think my abiding memory of it was like – alright. You know? A bit of a shrug. Lots of Batman being Batman stuff. And all of his villains. One for every month. I see what they did they. Very good.
And then basically every time since then I’ve read it it’s got worse and worse and worse to the point that reading now is like trying to eat bubblegum mixed with paper. I mean: ok – maybe a little bit less disgusting than that sounds but still. It’s not the most fun thing in the world you know? (And isn’t that what comics is supposed to be? Fun? Although maybe that’s something we should all talk about at some point coz maybe you lot are doing something else?).
One of the thoughts rolling around my mind as I trundled my way through (384 pages? omg. why do we keep doing books that go on so long?) was: why do we keep redoing the same stories again and again and again and again? I mean ok yeah fair enough The Long Halloween came out all the way back in 1996/97 but even back then it was hardly breaking any new ground you know? Oh look – here’s how Two Face became Two Face mixed with Batman fighting his rogue’s gallery one by one in a really kinda bitty and really inconsequential kinda way. Of course the funny thing is: even tho everything feels kinda rushed and light-weight – this is pretty much every Batman adventure isn’t it? Batman fights Joker in a plane to stop him dropping laugh gas on Gotham. Poison Ivy takes over Bruce Wayne’s mind. Scarecrow makes Batman feel like a scared kid again. Catwoman and Batman do lots of flirting. It’s like a pic n mix Batman. And what does it all add up to? Well – nothing much. Yeah Harvey Dent is gone by the end – but we all knew that was going to happen right? And everything else is just – status quo. It starts with Batman being dark and broody and ends in exactly the same spot.
And erm yeah Jeph Loeb can kinda string a plot together I guess? And Tim Sale’s stuff is pretty distinctive and also completely accurate to the story in that when you first look at it – it seems kinda sophisticated and adult-like but the closer you get you more you realise it’s all just kinda distorted cartoons.
Of course if you point out that Batman is always just about telling the same story again and again and again and again you’ll get someone saying that: “Well – Batman is like a modern myth isn’t it? There’s always been cultures who endlessly repeat the same stories. Like the Greeks and the Romans and the Vikings – this is just the modern equivalent isn’t it?”
But there’s a few things fishy about that. The first is that – well: is this a case of a culture naturally coming across stories that reflect it’s ideals and values or is it a case of multi-billion-dollar corporations selling us the same thing over and over and over and over again? I mean it’s not as if people are creating their own Batman comics and handing them from generation to generation – in fact that’s copyright infringement so you know: don’t do it. Instead it’s intellectual property being controlled and carefully loaned out to selected creators all of whom are kept on a pretty tight leash so that they don’t stretch too far which all-in-all sounds like the exact opposite of wild and free creativity to me. Also: (more importantly maybe?) well – aren’t myths supposed to teach us something? I mean Narcissus being unable to tear himself away from that pool of water tells you quite a lot about the human condition and etc. In fact that’s what the definition of a myth is right? Something explains a natural or social phenomenon. My question to you then is: what does Batman explain about the world or about human beings? How to fight crime? How to deal with grief? How to look good in black? I mean: if kids are into it then that’s cool because yeah it’s a great power fantasy and that kinda stuff can be important with your development and all the rest of it – but after a certain point it just kinda feels like a spiritual and intellectual dead end.
There’s that Stephen Jay Gould quote that goes: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Which is true as far as that goes – but then also: what about all the talent that got stuck doing Batman? Surely I can’t be the only one looking a culture full of Marvel, DC, Star Wars and Harry Potter thinking yeah yeah ok: but wouldn’t it be really cool to hear something new?
Every Batman comic is just about Batman. Shouldn’t we want more from comics than that?
What do you think?
Instagram / budaboyhq
What do you think?
Well, it’s impossible to disagree with you. You pretty much pointed out all the reasons I don’t like batman anymore or the majority of super hero comics. The teaching in Batman, as a modern myth, is that it’s ok to be a psychopath if you are rich. It’s dark and dark, and nobody cares. If you think about the classic batman, the way he found to overcome grief was learning some martial arts and more importantly, becoming a detective. The thing is that it’s quite hard to write detective stories, and doing this monthly requires some talent. I think that as the industry progressed, this care for the plot and the detective aspect became secondary.
As for the Long Halloween, I dislike the story and the artwork is alright, however, I like the colors a lot I think they are what really attracts me when I read this comic. They set the mood, even though they are strikingly simple (see 300 for instance, that came out in the same period, with those copper shields and everything).
I would like to suggest for next year adding more British authors and comics to this list. I’m Brazilian, I wasn’t raised reading 2000 AD and e didn’t have much access to British comics in general (apart from the super famous authors). I read quite a few comics recently, but I never see anyone talking about them (for instance, Nemesis the Warlock). I don’t know if you guys and gals like them or not, but for me it’s more interesting than discussing these big franchises comics, while helping the local art scene. If we added indie comics it would be awesome. i don’t know if they were discussed in the past in this group.
Barbican Comic Forum
WHY I LOVE THE BATMAN, by me, aged 42
Holy Animosity! Is it just me or is it starting to get a little hostile in here Batman?
Say what you will, the Caped Crusader will always hold a special place in my heart. Bats played a pivotal role in the development of my love of comics. I was born in the mid-seventies and as a kid my first introduction to the world of superheroes was watching Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Spiderman and his Amazing Friends and the Batman TV show with Burt Ward and Adam West. Needless to say for a dorky kid from the South of England who was generally shit at sports and awkward with girls this was love at first sight. Holy Heroics! As I grew into adolescence I started to develop a taste for comics, but living in a small seaside town American comic books were just unobtainable. We didn’t have the internet or comic book shops, I bought my comics from the newsagent on the corner, so I read 2000AD and occasionally Eagle (though never really as much of a fan). I used to fantasise over getting my hands on those glorious American comic books I saw in the movies with their larger than life superheroes, but alas that wasn’t meant to be back then.
Occasionally, my parents might let me buy a book when we were on holiday or out for the day. As loving parents they wanted to educate their offspring, but being a rebellious type I’d typically head straight to the graphic novel section (read: shelf) of the bookshop. I remember one of the first Graphic Novels they bought for me was The Cult by Jim Starlin, which by the standards of the time was very mature. Wholly Inappropriate! I’ve every confidence they didn’t realise what they were buying for me but I sneaked it through under the Bat-radar and loved every bit of it. It was violent (this was the 80s, OK – kids considered that to be a good thing back then), it dealt with mature themes and just made me feel kinda grown up. Then in 1989 Tim Burton’s Batman was released and Batmania took over the world. I remember being on a family holiday in Swansea that year and my parents took me to see it in the cinema. I remember my father, one of the most stoic men you’d ever meet, on the edge of his seat laughing out loud at every twist and turn: that really heartfelt belly laughter it’s impossible to fake. My father, a man who seemingly only ever watched the news and on the rare occasions I do remember him watching films it was always political thrillers like The Day of the Jackal or Gorky Park. That may sound pretty lame to some of you but in my life it was a Walden-esque moment. It’s interesting how the character can resonate across generations like that isn’t it? 80 years and counting – impressive. I actually have a Batman book I read with my two-year old (spoilers – he loves it too, he also has a Bat-bear). So yeah, without wishing to overromanticize, Batman stories hold a special place in my heart. They set the Bat-bar.
Like a lot of folks I took a hiatus from comics from my late teens whilst developing an interest in more adult pastimes. I came back to them again much later in life, so I think I was probably in my 30s by the time I first read The Long Halloween. From memory I’d been gorging on Frank Miller, first the Dark Knight Returns, then Year One, which led me onto this. In case anyone doesn’t know The Long Halloween is supposed to be a sequel to Year One (think of it as Year Two-Face) even though it’s written by Loeb not Miller. What we see moving on from Year One is Gotham transformed from a city plagued by gangsters into a city plagued by supervillains. Loeb uses the book as a transition from Batman fighting the Roman Empire to fighting the Batman villains of old. Holy Metamorphosis!
I think some of the things Joel said are a little unfair. It’s true that today we’re living in a world that’s oversaturated with Batventures but I don’t ‘think’ the same was true in the 90s, although I’m open to being corrected. I’m pretty sure that at that time the Dent story hadn’t been fully explored and this was really the defining moment for that. Anyone who’s seen the films will recognise that The Long Halloween is the direct inspiration for the Nolanverse. It’s also rumoured to be the plot for the upcoming Robert Pattison Batman movie. “Holy Repetition!” I hear you say. Shouldn’t we want more from comics than this?
I’m not so sure, that seems to be a fairly reductive analysis to me. There’s a theory that in literary fiction there is really only one true story that just gets repeated over and over again in slightly different ways with slightly different thematic undertones, and slightly different tropes so we’re easily fooled into thinking it’s something new. Holy Gullibility! Look at Moon Knight or Spawn: they’re just Batman, right? Batman: he’s just The Shadow. The Shadow: he’s just Zorro. Zorro: well he’s just The Scarlet Pimpernel. And so on and so forth. And Carmine Falcone: isn’t he just Tony Soprano? And isn’t he just Paulie Cicero? And isn’t he just Vito Carleone? And what about Dent, isn’t he just Costner from the Untouchables? And isn’t Julian Day just Hannibal Lecter? Holy Archetypes!
I wish society would stop looking for originality at the expense of overlooking what’s great. The Long Halloween is the quintessential Batman story and deserves to be told time and again. It encompasses everything that’s great about Batman. Alexandre pointed out that classic Batman was a detective. Well, you can’t deny that this is an exceptional murder mystery, with a great twist at the end. Holy Whodunnit!
Joel asked “What does Batman explain about the world or about human beings?” Well, first of all I strongly disagree that the teaching of Batman is that it’s OK to be a psycho if you’re rich. And whoa! That’s actually a pretty big statement when you think about it, so I’m going to try to tackle it Bat-chunk by Bat-chunk.
At its heart the Batman story covers alienation and acceptance themes. That’s kinda why dorks like I used to be buy into it. It’s also an aspirational story. Bruce Wayne is a mortal who through sheer pluck and determination fights a one man crusade against crime. It’s a story about a man who becomes a Homeric god-like hero through determination against all odds, honing himself to physical and mental perfection. Holy Platonic Idealism! His life is then focused on one ambition: the salvation of an unjust Gotham city. Batman exists simultaneously in both worlds being the god-like Batman and the mortal Bruce Wayne.
But it’s a battle he can never win, an eternal struggle, and I think this is where we can take a large part of the teachings. The more he fights the more the city fights back. The Long Halloween is a great example of this. It’s something Tolkien referred to as the long defeat. As soon as Batman starts winning against the gangsters, so emerges the supervillain. It’s a story of human perseverance against all odds and sacrifice. Small glimpses of happiness in a never-ending battle.
Another major teaching is how order overcomes anarchy, which is another point I disagree with my old chum Alexandre on: Batman ain’t no psycho. If you overlook the cape and cowl for a moment you’ll see that the defining feature of Bats’ character is his moral code. The thing that separates him from his rogues gallery is that he does the right thing. Batman represents the law, The Joker, The Mad Hatter, The Riddler, The Scarecrow on the other hand represent anarchy, the destruction of social order. Holy Antithesis!
I’m going to touch on the “rich” bit, because as a good honest capitalist that pisses me off. OK, he’s rich, but is that really a reason to hate him? I’ve heard people saying this about Batman before: that he’s a spoiled rich psycho who just does what he wants. I think this whole idea stems from an interview Grant Morrison did for Playboy magazine years ago and seems to have now taken a life of its own. Reading it myself, I don’t think Grant was being pejorative, indeed I think he uses the word “aspirational”, but the whole Batman being a spoilt rich kid thing now seems to be bandied about by anyone and everyone. I don’t buy it. I’m a big fan of Marc Bernardin who does the Fatman Beyond podcast with Kevin Smith. He talked about this once saying that Bruce’s wealth is an intrinsic part of the Batman character. Bruce Wayne is a child of privilege. He is old money. A child of the people of landed gentry who created Gotham. The generational guilt of that character is what makes him feel responsible for Gotham. Societal guilt, generational guilt makes him don the cape and cowl. I found that viewpoint very interesting. It’s almost as if his wealth is a burden. And no one can argue that Bruce isn’t a decent guy, no psycho. He regularly takes wards under his Batwing and acts as a surrogate father to them, making the things right that are wrong in his own life. Jason Todd is probably the fullest realization of this class transcendence, a kid caught stealing hubcaps from the Batmobile being brought under the wing of the bat.
That kinda segues into something else Joel said which I also wanted to touch on. About Batman being the product of multi-billion-dollar corporations selling us the same thing over and over and over again, with the implication being that it therefore has less worth. Well, that’s kinda true, kinda not true. I’m going to go out on a limb here (you know what, fuck it, I’m going to say it): Capitalism is OK. The reason these companies are multi-billion dollar companies is because they made something good, which produced money, which attracted more talented people who wanted to make it better, and then again, and then again. So what we’re left with is a rich tapestry of mythology that’s been built upon for decades by some of the most talented people in the industry. Capitalism is good, it’s what fuels society (and more importantly comics). You know what else is good? Capes! Capes are pretty damn awesome:
Ultimately, Batman has staying power because every Batman comic is not just about Batman it’s about the human condition. It’s a story that resonates with the masses: from a dorky adolescent boy to a stoic old father. And look at the end of the day, like Joel said, it’s all just a bit of fun isn’t it?
Thanks for listening kids. I’ll see you all again for the next book. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Story (Hooray!)
Thank you for your post it got me thinking about what I said and I admit that I tend to be a bit harsh and I reduced the impact of these characters in my life.
But yeah I can relate with you and your childhood story resonates with mine. I just got a bit fed up with the whole superhero scene and I got cynical about it. Maybe it’s a bad thing because it’s a bit hard to find enjoyment in these characters, with some exceptions here and there. So when someone talks about marvel or dc (the later I quite liked and still enjoy sometimes) I get my guns and shoot everything.
I see your point and I like your enthusiasm. I wish I still had the same passion and I’ll try to open my mind a bit more for what it’s being offered at the moment.
Barbican Comic Forum
So far, every book that I’ve revisited as part of this book club has left me mildly disappointed that I ever thought this was the coolest thing ever. The pattern continues with The Long Hallowe’en. If there was ever a time for a TL; DR summary, it’s now. In the (paraphrased) words of Joe Strummer, “I’m just smart enough (now) to realise how stupid I am (and was, and probably will be in the future)”
I entered this endeavour desperately trying to disbelieve Joel’s missive, that ‘every Batman story is just about Batman.’ I’ve long been a big believer that Bats’ villains, and how the author can draw a comparison between them and Bruce, is a crucial factor in deciding how good a story is. Batman uses fear as a weapon, so does the Scarecrow. Batman lives a double life, Two-Face lives two lives in one. Batman stands for order, the Joker stands for chaos (less convincing, IMO, but still the common take). Worth noting that female characters are more of a stretch: Poison Ivy uses vegetation…Batman eats vegetables? Catwoman uses similar methods to him in terms of swinging around on roofs, but is a criminal…Batman isn’t really a criminal but definitely kind of is?
The problem is that no author really draws on these contrasts enough; when they do sketch a thesis, it feels wildly revolutionary because, as is the case with TLH, the colour and the contrast with the multiple weird-looking villains are somehow seen to be enough. The clear references without explanation or exploration, in particular, The Godfather and Silence of the Lambs (two excellent films that do not cross over in terms of genre or subject matter or theme or…well, basically, anything) are probably what drew me to this comic in the first place. Now, in the cynical light of being a 32-year-old who is looking for deeper meaning, the presence of these scenes is distracting at best, and often much worse than that: they come across as cloying, as riding on the coattails of established works of genius and trying to shoehorn themselves into this as well.
Side note: apparently, the only direction that Sale and Loeb were given was that Batman hasn’t ever really fought the mob, and that they wanted a comic that summarised the post-Year-One events that took him to prominence. On this score, they delivered.
All of that said…I read TLH in one sitting. 13 comics, nearly 400 pages, and I consumed it in a single gulp. It passes tests that many other books have failed, in that despite its flaws, I couldn’t get enough. The feverish read ended, however, and I was left feeling like I had wasted time, consuming empty calories. This was something that I would jones for and go to, but be left unsatisfied by.
Referring to my point above about the areas where Batman can be a really fruitful character, I think he remains an amazing character to be able to draw on; but it’s clear that the sandbox the powers that be at DC have to play with are strictly-drawn parameters. Because the myth fails when examined in detail, not just because of the wealth or privilege or the lack of understanding that criminals are people too, that Wayne (the man, the family and the corporation) is a protected legacy. I’m reminded of a line in Preacher, said by one character, summarising America, “The myth of America: that simple, honest men, born of her great plains and woods and skies have made a nation of her, and will prove worthy of her when the time is right. Under harsh light it is false. But a good myth to live up to, all the same.”
The myth of Batman is, to my mind, much the same. Under harsh light, it IS false. He is a billionaire beating on the broke and the defenceless, as much as he is defending the 1% and the status quo. He is a rich, privileged and protected man who doesn’t even ‘go broke like the rest of us’ (The Dark Knight Rises, yes I know) who takes in multiple wards only to groom them, convince them to put themselves in harm’s way, to eventually discard them when they outgrow him. He rebuffs romantic advances and stays alone in a mainly-male, almost-exclusively-white, tight-knit and secretive social circle.
And yet. All of this is the analysis of an adult. To a kid, Batman is cool because stuff is black and white. Maybe as I’ve aged, I just want more grey and less black and white. The firmer the lines drawn for Batman, the more interesting it is as long as the author doesn’t give him impenetrable plot armour that prevents difficult decisions being made between what’s right in the long term and what’s right for now.
My final point is an extension of this: all great Batman stories provoke him to change. Storytelling lore instructs us that the character who changes is your protagonist, or at least one of them. Batman’s main problem is that he is set in amber, doing the same routine, dancing the same steps as he ever was. The greatest tales in recent history are those where he changes or undoes his code: The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke, where he is provoked into killing Joker, the recent White Knight, where he is cast as a villain by a newly-sane Joker, Death of the Family, where Joker threatens the trust between the Bat-family members…there is a long list of worthy stories here. That said, the simpler tales often deliver more than these huge event comics. What do we learn by putting every Batman villain up against him? Simply that Batman has a lot of baddies that would like to win, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
I guess the truth is that I don’t really believe in Batman, as he’s presented. Therefore, I don’t believe in The Long Hallowe’en; it’s a flickbook of sideshow attractions built around a thumbnail sketch of what a detective story should be. As has been mentioned before; the art is beautifully exaggerated, which fits with Batman, as he is, himself; but I’m also at the stage where someone needs to do a Batman run that is about the realities of what it would take to be Batman.
PS – on reflection, it’s clearly not a Batman story: it’s a Harvey Dent story, as he’s the one who changes the most
PPS – I would be interested in starting a list of references to the Godfather that happened in TLH:
– Dent taking down notes on the cars in the car park of a gangster’s relative’s wedding (paid for by the gangster)
– the gangster’s relative’s wedding itself
– the gangster’s relative’s wedding being visited by ‘the good son’
– cooking pasta sauce, putting the sausages into the pot
– a retired Don dying in a garden
– “You can act like a man”
– ‘the good son’ turning out to be a killer…
For a start
Someone made the point earlier that the detective element of Batman has fallen into the background. Certainly, for very sensible reasons, he has been remoulded into a ninja for film, animation and video games and while it’s always pointed out how super-smart he’s supposed to be, it seems to be the Elon Musk type of smartness of being clever enough to have infinite money.
The Long Halloween feels a little like it has enough Batman vs Raymond Chandler to feel like a detective novel, but it’s just not satisfying, because actually none of the real villains are that clever at crime, so it just becomes an anthology of the ineptitude of everyone in the Bat Universe, with the Falcone family added in for extra confusing stupidity.
Which is a shame because I quite like the idea of Batman vs the Riddler (or other Moriarty-esque criminal mastermind), where they are both manoeuvring their respective business and criminal empires to outplay each other in a grand chess game. The problem is that for graphic novels that is probably really hard to make interesting. I tried to write a Batman story once [as a massive exercise in procrastination to avoid learning the Chinese alphabet] and invented a character who was an expert in forensics, who used Batman’s huge bias for CSI style detective work against him by planting elaborate false clues using tiny details to lead him down the garden path. I got quite far and the main problem is that writing CSI stuff is really tedious, even when you’re taking the piss out of it. So I gave up and wrote something about the Joker being a goodie. (Although I came to the conclusion that Poison Ivy is the most criminally misused Batman villain.) And I did this because you one to Batman for the villains right? The Falcone’s feel like they get in the way because they are all a bit textbook (shout out to Tom Wilkinson’s amazing turn in Batman Begins tho).
That’s not me being mean about Long Halloween because I think for all it’s failings it’s huge scope, great artwork and brooding atmosphere gives me everything I need from a Batman comic. Yes if you have also read Hush, City of Owls and several other iterations it will feel like being served the same reheated leftovers, but it feels like Long Halloween is closer to the original meal than the others and has its own integrity relatively intact – for starters because Batman doesn’t win, or at least it’s a very Pyrrhic victory. It also attempts to answer a classic Batman question: what if he did just start killing everyone like Holiday does? And the answer is that the world just gets darker and darker. Batman’s business model of trying to bend the law but not break it is a very durable narrative device because while of course he can be accused of being a force for maintaining the status quo, every story shows how impossible that is.
The Dark Knight Returns is basically the only good Batman comic.
You know this to be true.
Like – yeah there are others that are quite cool. I have a slight soft spot for Batman: Year 100. Grant Morrison’s Batman run had some… interesting moments and there’s a few cool panels and stuff here and there. But I think Gautam put his finger directly on the truth of it by saying that nearly every time you finish reading one all you’re left with is that feeling like you’ve wasted time – “consuming empty calories.”
Because well yeah: like I’ve said. Every Batman comic is just about Batman – so reading one means you’ve basically caught in a theme vortex. A comic that’s just about the type of comic it is: which yeah ok sounds very cool and meta and like something Grant Morrison would write (in fact: wait – it sounds exactly like the type of thing Grant Morrison would write) but means that you’ve never actually get that sense of feeling full.
If you want a good counterexample: I spent a very enjoyable weekend reading all of Rob Davis’ Motherless Oven trilogy (last part The Book of Forks only just released!) and – holy shit Batman – it’s like an actual proper book that’s actually about stuff in the most gloriously crazy deep and profound and beautiful way possible. I mean: I was reading the stupid thing with a smile on my face and lightning in my brain and a song in my heart and the whole: “Oh right – so that’s why I read I comics” running through my head. Like: if you want to read something that’s about culture and nostalgia and childhood and trauma and imagination and love and friendship and everything else then you know where to go (and hell yes we’re going to do Book 2 and 3 in the future for the Book Club – especially how we did Book 1 all the way back when).
And The Long Halloween is about…. what exactly?
Owen made some noises about it being the defining moment of Harvey Dent’s story being “fully explored” and I mean I know it’s nearly 400 pages long but I guess I must have missed that? In the version I read all I got was this guy making a seemingly never ended number of references to the number two and then someone threw some acid in his face. I mean at the risk of sounding incredibly facetious – it’s not exactly Shakespeare is it? And hell even if it was: what exactly would a fully explored story of Harvey Dent even be telling you? Something something the duality of man? Something something even good guys do bad things sometimes?
Like: there’s a scene in one of the X-Men movies where a bunch of the mutants go to frigging Auschwitz and it’s one of the most strangest and most uncomfortable things I think I’ve ever seen in a movie ever. All of these famous A-List actors standing around in expensive cosplay and looking sad about The Holocaust.
Seriously my toes curled so much it looked like I was wearing elf shoes.
Point being: you can use superheroes for some stories but most of the time you’ve kinda got to keep those stories at the kiddy end of things. Because once you start bringing them into proper adult serious territory then they start to falter. And the only real way to do it is to dial down on the ridiculousness of the superheroes in question.
Which yeah is why most of the time Batman works best. Yeah you know – The Dark Knight and all that. Because although he’s still kinda silly (who dresses up a with giant ears on top of their head?) at least he doesn’t have any crazy natural powers or anything you know? The dude can’t fly and isn’t all dressed in blue skin or whatever. Which hey is why the aforementioned Batman: Year One is kinda almost a good comic (it’s a little too short for my tastes but what can you do?). Batman is just this guy doing the best he can but still figuring out his moves. Gordon is having a shitty time at his job. Lots of cool scenes and nice one-liners etc. It’s Batman as directed by Martin Scorsese which I guess is where Todd Philips got his idea from…
And yeah The Long Halloween is supposed to be an indirect sequel right? Except it just takes all of the Year One stuff and then presses a big button marked “CARTOONISE”
Compare and contrast:
Which yeah ok is fine as far as it goes – but please let us not mistake Joel Schumacher for Christopher Nolan you know?
Actually I probably like Joel Schumacher a lot more than most and Christopher Nolan a little less than others – but I think you get my point. Year One has Batman trying to fight his way out from a squad full of cops and The Long Halloween has the Joker plane. It’s two completely different forms of reality – both of which can be fun and interesting yeah: but it’s a bit much when one is supposed to be continuing what the other started you know?
Re: “There’s a theory that in literary fiction there is really only one true story that just gets repeated over and over again in slightly different ways with slightly different thematic undertones, and slightly different tropes so we’re easily fooled into thinking it’s something new.” I mean this is an interesting theory and something you can get your teeth into sure but erm not sure if it’s relevant to The Long Halloween which as Gautam already pointed out just takes a whole bunch of Godfather cliches and then mildly reheats them. It’s basically the same school of storytelling as The Force Awakens which I’m not so sure is an argument for the universality for storytelling and more just another example of well – being completely and totally derivative of something way better.
(What’s the quote?: “And this is a storytelling technique I learned from Quentin Tarantino called – stealing.”)
Re: everything Owen said about what Batman is about (“At its heart the Batman story covers alienation and acceptance themes… It’s also an aspirational story. Bruce Wayne is a mortal who through sheer pluck and determination fights a one man crusade against crime.” etc). I mean – that’s all very lovely and everything but most Batman stories aren’t about that stuff. I mean there’s nothing in The Long Halloween that’s about alienation. Or acceptance. Or determination. Or anything. It’s just – tropes fighting other tropes. And we learn that the Joker is crazy. Catwoman likes being bad. And Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday.
There is no “human condition” here. It’s just the Batman condition. Again and again and again. And that condition is that he likes to dress up and fight crime. Or well – crime as personified by people dressed up in big brash colourful costumes. The Long Halloween indeed.
Also: as much as other people might disagree here – I’m not sure that going out at night and punching people is doing “the right thing” and it’s actually a pretty damning indictment of society that we’re made to see that it is. I mean – at least when John McClane took the law into his own hands it’s because he was trapped in a building full of terrorists you know?
And oh yeah LOL at the idea of this book showcasing Batman being a the world’s greatest detective.
Again – maybe I’m reading a different version to you guys but he basically spends a whole year getting nowhere and then erm Two Face kills him? Congratulations dude. You’re a hero.
Final note: Capitalism is bad. And if we really wanna talk superheroes I’ll take Noam Chomsky over Bruce Wayne any day of the week.
In conclusion: there is nothing good about this book and all copies should be pulped and then burnt and the ashes covered in salt. It’s the only to be sure.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Are we burning books again already?
No more heroes anymore.
No more heroes anymore.
No more heroes anymore.
No more heroes anymore.
Do I believe in Batman? Don’t be ridiculous. Do I want to? Emphatically yes. I am fascinated by stories and stories are spells. Words and actions woven to convey a message that can leave us spell bound. They can grow and they can travel over distances and endure through the ages. They can take you places. They can carve a hole in your heart. They can nestle in your brain. They can make you feel and they can make you think and some can even change your life. But stories are made up by people. So stories are lies and not to be trusted. Stories have heroes and there are no heroes. Because heroes are dangerous. Primarily because they are most dangerous to themselves is why few would dare actually be one which is why we must invent them. By creating meaning we can calm the soul. To create order amongst chaos is the true magic of spells.
How do you feel about Robin Hood? Who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Was it a man? Was it a single man? Was it an isolated incident that grew into a monster by the more mouths that spoke it? Was it a story? Is it a legend? Did it give people hope? Was it a spell? Did it deliver a sense of justice with nothing tangible given while the world kept turning with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?
In Joel’s introduction to this assignment he asks: ‘What does Batman explain about the world or about human beings?’ For me, Batman is a hero that you can swing a story around and not just me either as people have been doing it for 80 years. In essence a young only child sees his insanely rich parents gunned down in a mugging and promises to avenge their deaths by fighting crime non-lethally with a secret identity and devotes his entire life from an early age by continually studying and training with absolute focus in order to do so. That’s the Batman. That’s why he’s the best detective, ninja, inventor, whatever in the room and that’s why he’s in the Justice League with no super powers. As long as that stuff’s in there, then that’s Batman. So for 80 years different writers and artists have been telling that story to new generations introducing new characters or developing characters with the occasional reboot to back track on ideas that didn’t work out or ran out of steam along the way to keep it relevant in changing times and to take it in new directions.
I can’t remember where I came across it but some glorious nerd decided to do the actual maths of what it would take and what would be the toll of being Batman for realz. The study found that by the time Bruce Wayne would have developed all the necessary skills, equipment, training etc he’d be about 35 years old and would then only physically be able to operate at that level for between two to three years if he didn’t manage to die along the way.
So with this in mind and ignoring about a million reasons why it’s all impossible anyway, there’s 80 years of stories, sidekicks, villains and batmobiles to fit into a pretty short lived crime fighting career. So even what’s officially canon can’t be really. Grant Morrison had a great take on it, which he explains in his book Super Gods (read this book) where he basically puts his arms around all of it. I can’t remember it exactly but he takes you through the ages of Batman putting them into one timeline, so he basically starts out pretty brutal in the streets of Gotham beating up street thugs, later he decides he’s going a bit crazy with all of this so gets a Robin for someone to talk to and look after, then by the Adam West television series he’s had a few too many doses of Joker Venom or snogs from Poison Ivy or blasts from Scare Crow and is actually seeing the words ‘Kapow’ and ‘Bop’ when he’s punching people, then he’s more of a James Bond international type in the 90’s and so on. I think it’s a wonderful way of looking at Batman but what it really says is that with all these retellings of the same thing you can kind of choose your own Batman.
You can choose his beginning (not really, it’s Miller’s ‘Year One’), middle and end. Which version of Catwoman do you think of first? Do you think he has a Robin? Which one? Has Batman been to space? There’s so many elements that have been woven in to one character over such a long time that the decent ones stick and develop themes and tropes like a genre film where you slowly watch them hit all the notes but not all of the notes necessarily well however sometimes extremely well. Sometimes what makes them special is the selection of notes they choose to play.
In the front of my copy of The Long Halloween (TLH) Jeph Loeb writes how Archie Goodwin met with him and Tim Sale and said: ‘I always liked what you two did with gangsters. Ever thought of doing a film noir tale? … I was just sort of wondering what happened to the Roman and all of those other gangsters from Batman: Year One. I don’t think Frank is going to revisit that material, and maybe you two should.’ So there we go in a nutshell really, it’s even a lousy dame at the end whodunit! (spoilers). It’s a Batman film noir with lashings of Scorsese and The Godfather thrown in for good measure with some nods more trite than others:
I’ve read it again for this review and first time round I loved it. It’s big with loads of villains chucked in who each get their chance to shine. A feast of friends. I remember loving familiar villains coming in and out and with the Joker the art got a little crazy and cast a bit of psychedelic (he looked as much like a Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine as I think he could) in amongst the subtle blues, greys and maroons of the book which set a great tone. Gautam commented that he read it in one sitting and so did I this time round which I wasn’t expecting. I like Batman, I like fim noir and I think the two mix well. Add some Hollywood style mafiosa and I’m a happy boy. Maybe because it’s a mix of so many things I like that made it so familiar and quick to read but maybe because the pace, writing and mood of it worked and fit so well. And the art is a joy.
It also adds something new. When Gordon hints to Batman that he could be to some degree something to do with the increasing level of crazy in Gotham’s criminals, it sort of turns Batman in on itself and adds another layer of depth. Not just to Batman but also in his relationship with Gordon and Gordon himself. It also goes to show how well it fits the brief. If it’s the sequel to Year One, it bridges how Batman’s enemies become the more exotic characters we all know from his recognizable villain’s gallery rather than just your common or garden variety crime lords.
I think it’s a bit churlish to pick through it too much, it does what it sets out to do which is a sweet set up in the first place and it does so with its many characters all doing what they would be doing and remaining true to form. Sure, Batman doesn’t do too much detective work and Robin wasn’t in it but I think here that’s just more in keeping with the film noir theme. I think it fits the brief well and is respectful enough to add a few good ideas on the way out but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly great character study of Batman himself. Batman’s universe? Yes. But the character of Batman himself in this case? To be honest I think he’s a bit too passive in terms of how he moves the plot forward and I think that’s what’s sacrificed for all the other elements to work. There may or may not have been a few liberties taken with Harvey Dent aswell but in this instance, I think it’s a pretty fair deal. There’s untold Batman adventures out there to read and I think this is a pretty good one despite not being too much about Batman himself however sweet they draw his cape so I don’t think it makes it into my personal fictional history of Batman but is a good read nonetheless.
So in answer to Joel’s question, ‘What does Batman explain about the world or about human beings?’ Well for my money, Batman’s a hero. An ace detective who could easy take down a room full of people and has all the best toys. A human man who hangs out with gods and these are his stories. A character with myths so rich you can pick and choose the elements that resonate with you which may be something to do with his enduring/ rebooting appeal. Because we need stories. Because that’s where we find heroes who distract us from the other human hungers from which bread and circuses can never appease. It’s magic when you dream and can imagine that the impossible can be done by someone somewhere. So how do I feel about Batman? Same way I feel about Robin Hood, they’re both awesome revenge stories and Heath Ledger and Alan Rickman killed it in those films.
To infinity and down the shops
I am a big believer in stories. To an almost annoying extent maybe. We’re actually having a bit of a debate in the LGNN Film Club at the moment about Pan’s Labyrinth about how much rich meaning and symbolism there is to be found in every corner of it – but my basic position is: well yeah ok but if the story is boring and rubbish and without any drama then it doesn’t really matter you know?
And yeah ok – I’ll admit it: in the right hands you can tell good Batman stories. If anyone says that they read The Dark Knight Returns and they couldn’t see any value in it then I know the end the conversation there and politely walk away (lol).
But thinking about The Long Halloween and reading the stuff what people have said about it so far and thinking it over – I realise that there is an important distinction between two very different types of stories that I’d like to try and set out and see if it makes any sense / any difference and (hopefully) makes my point a little clearer…
Yes I know that maybe this is a little simplistic – but I’d like to make a distinction between: stories as medicine and stories as sweeties.
Stories as medicine are stories that teach you things about the world and help make things make sense that maybe didn’t make sense before and help to give you an insight into other human beings and/or various ideas or whatever. The thing with stories is that they’re never really all that clear or straight to the point but that’s what gives them their power. If you can sum up a story in a simple line (“Don’t do drugs kids.”) then to my mind it’s not a very good story. A good story is about complexity. That’s what makes it such good medicine. It makes you think and it makes you see the world and yourself in a different way.
Stories as sweeties on the other hand is just a story that makes you feel good. You know – it’s just a power fantasy that has nothing more on it’s mind that giving you a sense of affirmation and superiority. These stories are simplistic because anything vague or subtle would defeat the purpose of it. Stories like this are all about that kinda sugar rush and excitement and making you feel good.
Obviously as with all concepts – there’s a vagueness there between the two if you want to find it. Strange as it may sound I kinda think that the Harry Potter books have some good examples of medicine inside all the sweetie stuff. Or to use some recent Book Club examples: V for Vendetta, The Boys, Give Me Liberty and The Forever War all manage to have a little bit of both (you of course may disagree). Palestine I’d say is pretty much all medicine and Daredevil is almost definitely all sweetie. And hopefully at this point you’ve kinda got the idea right?
To bring it back to Batman and The Long Halloween – I mean yeah: this stuff is just stories as sweeties. And yeah you can analysis it and make some points about violence and the status quo etc (guns and violence will solve everything!) but the story as it stands doesn’t really have anything to give you.
I mean James made a reference to Robin Hood which I thought was interesting because you know – as much as Robin Hood is stories as sweeties and a bunch of bang bang action and adventure and all the rest – there is still an element of something that we can relate to our own lives. That is to say – if you believe in the idea of Robin Hood then you believe that it’s cool and noble and good to rob from the rich to give to the poor. Which you know – is why we have something called The Robin Hood Tax. Which I don’t even have to explain because you all know what it means already – because you know what Robin Hood means.
In contrast: what does it mean to say “I believe in Batman”? What does Batman represent? If there was a Batman Tax – what would that be?
Nothing much I’d say – because Batman isn’t really about anything. Like Robin Hood stole from rich people and rich people are a thing that exists in our world – but Batman just fights Batman baddies. And yeah we have lawyers in our world – but we don’t have people like Two Face. And Two Face doesn’t really represent anything other than Two-Face. And etc and so on and so on.
There’s that bit in The Long Halloween where Catwoman is lying down on top of the Batsignal and Batman says:
But that’s exactly what it is. That’s exactly what everything in Batman is.
And yeah ok – when something has been a part of your life so long that you can’t even really remember the first time you heard of it then it makes sense to want to imbibe that thing with meaning and significance but at the end of the day – it’s just sweeties you know? Yeah it makes you feel good but at the end of the day it’s just… empty calories.
Briefly (am on a fag break) batman is a symbol to show crime doesn’t pay so its a morality story and in this case a whodunnit in the style of film noir. People have been discussing ‘white knight’ which pivots on the ‘devastation fund,’ which is an interesting political take but still boils down to morality.
Like Star Wars, it’s meant for children so it’s intent is to entertain, make money (like anything else) and provide an example of a moral code. So to do so it must have action and spectacle. Hate leads to fear etc
If you’re after a convoluted story that makes you think, in this case I think your looking for love in the wrong place. However, I think it’s what you take from it. In this case it adds the layer of, does batman amplify the chaos? As I put forward, batman is a hero to build a story around and it’s up to the writer to make the most of this.
If you’re looking for a philosophical take on batman, why don’t you try comparing him? As saussere (I think), we can define black when we compare it to white. So look at superman in comparison. Compare how they both dealt with being orphans, batman shut himself off from the world and lives in darkness and comforts himself by beating up criminals, superman is literally powered by the sun and protects and looks out for people because he LOVES humanity and wants to help. He’s fascinated by it and genuinely loves Lois Lane, otherwise he could fly off to anywhere. He is a great character to compare humanity to. If you want to discuss egos then bats and supes provide good reference points to build a discussion.
But crime does pay in Batman – Batman is a criminal too, his hobby is beating people up, and he’s a multi-billionaire playboy ninja.
I really don’t see Batman as any sort of symbol beyond ‘the wealthy are above the law’. I’m not saying you can’t do fun stories with him, but that’s all the character is for, being a power fantasy.
To quote the big lebowski: ‘yeah well that’s just your opinion man.’
Dude. That quote is a little beneath you. If we’re going to have an interesting conversation and try to reach a place where all of us reach a point where we’re a little more enlightened (that’s the hope right?) then dismissing someone by saying that it’s just their opinion is a fruitless at best and rude at worse.Also – ha – Rat’s right. Crime does pay in Batman. He’s literally a vigilante. Taking the law into his own hands. And you know – the only reason he can do what he does is because he has the implicit approval of the police / Commissioner Gordon etc etc. So maybe Batman is a symbol that says “Having no power doesn’t pay” / “Respect the Status Quo kids.”
In fact – this just kinda reminds me of the Chomsky quote:
“The point of public relations slogans like “Support Our Troops” is that they don’t mean anything … that’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything.”
I mean: I don’t think Chomsky even know who Batman is but it’s the same idea: Batman is a slogan that nobody is against and everyone is for – because Batman doesn’t mean anything. The fact we’re even having this conversation / disagreement about what he does mean is proof of that. No one argues over what Robin Hood means.
I’ve put my points across, I’m not going to argue for them. It wasn’t a dismissal it was agreeing to differ. Apologies for your sensitivity.
Instagram / budaboyhq
Well, since Chomsky was quoted, Slavoj Zizek did a pretty good analysis of the Dark Knight trilogy on his book ‘Trouble in Paradise’, and the conclusion is that Batman is just an agent of the status quo, while Bane and the Joker represent the chaos and revolution (in Bane’s case) which must be suppressed at all costs, so the ‘order’- meaning, the capital, is maintained. And I can’t disagree with that. It’s worth checking out for the political intellectuals out there.
Also there’s the difference between Batman as a character and the Batman as a symbol and metaphor. And I say it again here that I’m pretty fed up with discussing Batman, the character is not that deep to deserve so much attention.
But let’s keep quoting Lebowsky and dismissing discussions because it’s safer.
Crimany, quoting intellectuals doesn’t make you one. If you read my follow up you would have seen it wasn’t a dismissal, we’ve both made our points and neither of us look to be changing opinions and that’s fine by me. Maybe get off your high horse and add some original thought?
Instagram / budaboyhq
‘Original thought’ is something really rare to come across and the way I tried convey my way of thinking was using references (as everyone else). If you find anything truly original please enlighten me, because massive pop culture, as a subject itself, is a dead high horse we keep flogging trying to get somewhere.
Barbican Comic Forum
Ooh goody! These sweeties are starting to taste an awful lot like medicine all of a sudden. How delicious! But, hey, perhaps it’s only OK to be medicine if that medicine’s treating your targeted disease (I’m looking directly at all of you Nazis out there!)
James, you have the soul of a poet. A Bat poet. I am 100% on board with everything you say and I doff my cowl at you sir. You are the reviewer Batman deserves as well as the one he needs right now.
Rat, I realise I have a habit of disagreeing with you so please take this in the spirit that it’s intended: you’re just plain wrong (again)! I am genuinely intrigued though so please don’t think I’m shutting you down. I’d like to learn more as your initial argument was a little reductive. Perhaps you can extrapolate? To me saying Batman teaches rich people it’s OK to beat people up is well… a little bit silly if you think about it. That’s like saying that Tillie Walden teaches lesbians that fish spaceships are possible. He’s a superhero. If he didn’t beat criminals up it would be a bit weird. And being rich is his superpower. I mean c’mon, if we drive out all the heroes what are we left with? You realise the ultimate conclusion of this is that we live in a world without heroes altogether and we write stories about people talking things out. Aw, that would be sad.
I do really like Alexandre’s post though. I mean, a lot of that is very clever dude. I can even kinda get on board with it (PS. By the way you mentioned you were into 2000AD, and I wanted to recommend Judgement of Gotham to you. If you like Slaine you’ll love the artwork. It’s out of this world. And Nemesis is an exceptional idea by the way, Joel please take note). So, Batman represents capitalism? Is that it? Makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of that book I mentioned before, The Cult. In it Batman is captured and brainwashed by a cult: an anarcho-communist collective if you will. Needless to say the cult leader is unmasked as the loony he is, righteous capitalism prevails and Bats breaks free.
Oof! Right in the Chomskies!
I was recently encouraged to read White Knight and read it this week. I liked the story very much, but have mixed feelings about the message. In essence it’s a story about how the world turns on Batman because he hurts peoples feelings. The Joker becomes the hero and Batman becomes the villain. To me it felt as though it was a discourse on changing values in the wake of comicsgate. As in, is Batman relevant in today’s world? Do we expect more from heroes? How then can they continue be heroes? I found the representation of Batman jarring. My Batman is a symbol of hope but the portrayal in the White Knight is a symbol of toxic masculinity.
I think that there’s a seed of an idea in what Joel was trying to say with the medicine thing. I’m not sure I agree entirely but I do think it’s a shame we’re trying to be all grown up and intellectual about Batman. It’s a real shame. He’s just a total bad-ass. As self-respecting fanboys we should just nerd-out about it. I mean, he does cool shit like this…
… and this…
… and this…
… OK, let’s move on quickly.
Seriously though, it takes a bit of bad faith to hate on Batman. All he ever tried to do was save the world. You say “it’s hardly Shakespeare is it?”, well is that really what you want from Batman? The fanboy doth protest too much, methinks. Sure I like fine dining and the theatre, but every now and then I like to watch trashy movies and gorge myself on wham bars. I’m probably happier with the latter. And besides, Batman works best as a two dimensional character. There’s really not too much to him. He’s just a guy with one single minded mission and he’s a total bad-ass. He’s the honeybadger of superheroes. James once said to me that the good thing about Batman is he’s a man that doesn’t bend, the world bends for Batman, which made me think of him more as a prop than a protagonist – the stories tend to happen around him. Take The Long Halloween for instance: the arcs are with Gotham and Two-Face in my view, not Batman. Maybe that’s what James was trying to say about he’s somebody you can swing a story around. Like James pointed out there’s so much backstory that we can each pick the Batman we like best, and we take a wealth of backstory with us to every new story we read. So when you ask “Where does it say this in The Long Halloween?” It doesn’t need to. It’s implicit. Joel, I know you’re not the kind of guy who wants the entire backstory told again with every new story, because then you’d just be complaining that all we do is retell the same story.
In conclusion, I still love Batman and I’m scared for the future if we’re going to drive out heroism because the zeitgeist prefers to pervert it into a symbol of toxic masculinity.
P.S. Joel, anarcho-syndicalism huh? Good luck with that.
Barbican Comic Forum
Maybe the biggest frustration with Batman is that his stories could be medicine wrapped in a sugar-coated stimulant package…but often they’re just sugar-coated stimulant package. ‘A prop and not a protagonist’ is a good way to put it; to me, as I grow old and grey, I’m realising that the stories I enjoy are where the protagonist addresses his flaw and deals with it – the most interesting ones are where he does so, but not necessarily in a conventionally sensible way. Batman doesn’t address these flaws; he doesn’t change. It’s why his stories can feel like empty calories; the lights change and the colours flicker and the Joker’s back in Arkham. Rinse and repeat. Another Robin dead, or threatened, or disappeared. What about the guy at the heart of this who recruits Robin, usually at a personal nadir (when his parents are dead, when he’s living on the streets and trying to steal your hubcaps etc) and brings him in (by force or by persuasion), swears him to secrecy, sometimes drugs him, sometimes feeds him and then trains him, becomes a father figure to him? In what way is this not grooming? And for all the jokes of Batman & Robin relationships…what if there’s something to that too? Would a rabid press who even suspected that Bruce Wayne was Batman not speculatively put that onto their front page in 2019?
The discussion on White Knight; it’s basically an Elseworlds story about Batman in the modern day. In it, Joker becomes sort-of sane and, as Jack Napier, decides to take down Batman and empower the average man. Because a rich white dude punching on street level crime is slightly wack as a message in 2019. I think the arguments that Batman is a simple character and we’re giving it too much thought…isn’t that what readers do? If this were a sci-fi epic, the first of its kind, we’d ask the hard questions. Or even the easy ones. What drives a man to cosplay and punch on crime when he could stride into the boardroom of his multibillion dollar corporation tomorrow, table a motion to subsidise healthy food in local areas and recruit more heavily from there? To me, that is a question that comes relatively early on in the process. Another one is about collateral damage – emotionally, yes, but physically, to property and person of people who, just because they haven’t been given space on the page, are still affected by his decision to cosplay and beat up on street level crime. Are these visually stunning actions? It depends on how you show them. But to me, the whole system falls apart if you’re making reference to writers or readers; the universe doesn’t sustain itself anymore. And at a certain level, Batman does the things he does because readers would find it boring for Bruce Wayne to do the more effective and better thought out things that wouldn’t look as cool as punching enemies.
I think my frustration is that, on closer inspection of even the stronger Batman books, there’s often not that spark or drive towards change, despite the world changing around us. Batman, more than most, is trapped in endless midstory – issue X+1 follows issue X, where preserving the status quo is paramount. This is exponentially more frustrating when a) various DC / Marvel books have changed their heroes or their heroes have changed themselves, and b) Batman himself, let alone his supporting cast, is the most fascinating set of toys to play with. A guy whose one rule is he never kills? Let’s have him kill accidentally. A guy who has billions and uses them to fuel his own personal armoury? Let’s have him go broke doing some real good, and see if the city repays him as Wayne rather than just fear him as Batman. The list goes on and is really only limited by the readings of Batman and the imagination of the creator.
On a more thematic level…Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s conflict is nominally about climate (Ra’s has often struck me like the Green Party of old – single issue but militant about it), but really it’s about longevity (I realise that the two may be linked). Ra’s uses the Lazarus pits and tempts Bruce with longer, maybe even eternal life. The cost is his sanity, his control – even if for a short time. But Bruce knows that The War never ends, and he must fight it forever or pass his teachings on to worthy soldiers who will continue it. Putting aside the usual concerns about vigilantism…the concern Bruce has, in these, is the physical breakdown of his body. He’s getting old. He can’t perform at this level for long. So his options are venom (or other PEDs), the Lazarus Pits, some other way to perpetuate his health and life (with the cost that’s attached to them) or to train soldiers.
And yes, I understand that, fundamentally, these are powertrippin’ stories for kids; Batman is a fantasy. But to me, there’s a point where it’s worth killing and dissecting that fantasy because it tells us more about us, how we would prop it up and tell our kids, 80 years on, that this is something to aspire to (in fiction, if not in reality).
Just to go on a little bit of a side-track, indulge in a little bit of shop talk and respond to Alexandre’s comment at the start of the thread about adding some “more British authors and comics to this list.”
I’m generally pretty in favour of this – but doing this Book Club there’s always a bit of a fine line that I’m trying my best to walk. Basically the constraints are:
1. Books that Most People Can Get.
As it’s a public Book Club and I can’t buy copies of the book for everyone that wants to take part (that would be very cool tho if any millionaires reading this want to sponsor us?) we’re kinda restricted to generally popular books or – as I like to think about it – books which are pretty much available from your local library. Obviously this isn’t always possible (I was told that On a Sunbeam wasn’t really readily available from most places – sorry about that guys) but it’s the general rule of thumb. The more people can read a book the more people can join in. Which means no self-published stuff I’m afraid. And nothing too obscure.
2. Books in Different Genres
I try my best to set books in different genres and different types because that’s what keeps it interesting. I think that mostly I manage to do a pretty good job with it? Looking back over this year I think we’ve managed to encompass most things – Science-Fiction, Non-Fiction, Comedy, Realism, Romance and Calvin and Hobbes!
3. Book that Make for Interesting Conversations
This is the tricky one. Obviously different people will have different thoughts about this but I try my best to set books that will get people talking (it is a Book Club after all). I mean – I do like reading stuff like East of West: but something tells me that there’s not really that much to talk about (I could be wrong tho). But yeah the Book Club books should have something about them that provides lots of good access points to get people going…
Also – most importantly – for the past few years we’ve been trying out a Year in Review thing (Here’s 2017 and here’s 2018 ) where anyone can post anything they like about any comic they’ve read: which means you can big up any books you want to (including self published ones) and it’s the best place to make an appeal about books you think the Book Club should do next year…
Nemesis the Warlock could be fun maybe. 🙂
Barbican Comic Forum
Well I must say that I’m enjoying this conversation a great deal. I realise that I can sometimes seem a little belligerent in my worldview but don’t let that fool you into thinking I’m not thoroughly enjoying the discourse. Its nice when people put together sensible well thought out arguments, especially when I don’t agree with them. And as a small aside I think you do an amazing job with this group Joel. Thanks.
Gautam, to paraphrase your exceptionally written post (bravo): you’re saying that you’re frustrated with Batman because he fails to address his “flaws” and deal with it, those flaws being later described by you as him being “a rich white dude punching on street level crime”. If I understand you correctly your message is that as long as Batman continues to not address these “flaws” you will consider anything he is part of to be “empty calories”. Is that a fair synopsis?
So, you want Batman to apologise for being Batman?
OK let’s overlook that Batman does grow in certain stories. I’m not enough of a Bat-scholar to be able to list them all, but anecdotally I know this to be true. And yes, yes, I know it’s always reset again… that’s just so we can keep enjoying new Bat-books! However, notwithstanding this, clearly he can’t change in the way that you’re implying he should or he would no longer be Batman. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but it sounds as though what you’re really saying is that you don’t share the same politics as Batman so you don’t like reading about him.
I can respect that if it’s true. That’s not a bad thing at all.
But I do disagree with the notion that it’s just empty calories. I prefer not to go there because I prefer to enjoy Batman like a giddy schoolboy should enjoy Batman, and it kind of takes the lustre off when you think too deeply about your heroes. But if we are going to go there: thematically, yes, Batman deals with a lot of issues. Of course it does: all culture does, whether intended by the writer or not. I’d say that with Batman there is definitely intentional meaning as most writers are an erudite bunch and we’re dealing with experienced seasoned writers with Batman (God bless you capitalism, again). It just depends how hard you care to look: neo-liberalism and class warfare are a few strong themes we could name. This whole discourse on the morals of vigilantism is another prominent one (what if it was the only thing that worked in a broken society? And weren’t we sort of promoting anarchy in an earlier thread anyway?). We’re talking about all these things now. Kind of. There are plenty more in there if you care to dig deeper.
To stress this further, let’s do an experiment together shall we? Go onto this website: www.academia.edu (marvellous website for stealing ideas by the way). Now type in “Batman” and press enter. Let’s see how many results come up. My, my… that’s quite a lot isn’t it? 30,000 academic papers written which cite Batman. Clearly there’s something of substance to talk about here!
You’ve got a lot of cool ideas and I think I’d like to read a Batman book you wrote. As long as it was a one-shot and you didn’t try to change him for keeps! As you quite rightly point out Bat-fans would probably find a permanent change boring (seriously, back off). I think a lot of the themes you mentioned there were covered in White Knight so perhaps that book you want Batman to be in so badly already exists? I’m pretty sure Bats has definitely broken his no killing code, more than once, and suffered consequences. But again, not enough of a Bat-scholar to be able to cite. I especially like the collateral damage idea though. But didn’t Austin Powers do that once? Ha!
You invoked “writers’ lore” in one of your earlier emails… I just wanted to say that from a writer’s perspective (full disclosure: I’m not one, but I understand some of the mechanics) I guess you’re saying that as a narrative tool he doesn’t work in the way you want him to. Well, tough! He’s Batman! Deal with it. That’s like me saying “this spanner isn’t any good at knocking nails into the wall” (I have been known to say this by the way, my wife despairs). Well, pick up a fucking hammer then and put Batman back in the toolbox (my wife has also been known to say this). Don’t take him to the smelters and re-shape him into a hammer whatever you do. That would be ridiculous and it’s bound to fall to pieces!
So should we keep telling the same stories over and over again? To quote a much greater Bat-scholar than I: emphatically, yes! These stories will always deserve to be told. They teach kids right from wrong, give us something to aspire to in our lives, give kids hope, resonate with us emotionally, and give us a palatable medium to discuss real life subjects. We’re living in a golden age where superheroes are the heroes du jour. For nerds of my generation this is a glorious time to be alive. But I know that it won’t last forever. We’ll all get Bat-weary and soon we’ll have a new brand of heroes, I’m sure. But I tell you this… the stories will still be the same. Just a different costume on the lead.
And with that I did you goodnight non-Bat fans. I’m off to do some more powertrippin’. Alfred! Fetch the Bat-books!
P.S. I’ve intentionally ignored the grooming bit. That’s a low blow. It is interesting how much Batman prefers male company though isn’t it?
Just to be clear kids, vigilantism is definitely wrong. Please dont do that. I was just making a point.
Don’t you get bored, though, of reading the same story again and again? And of picking up a story knowing that the protagonist and world won’t have changed by the end?
For me, change is a central part of what makes any story interesting, it’s not enough to have ‘there is conflict, hero solves conflict’ – for it to carry weght, that experience needs to leave someone or something different. Without that it all rings hollow, just noise. How can it teach anything when no-one learns anything?
Batman (and as far as I’ve seen any superhero) will never change, because Batman is a property owned by a company, and the company won’t risk profits by changing the golden goose. It’s not because ‘he won’t address his flaws’, because he is not a real person and has no agency.
I think the more interesting stuff with IPs like Batman is when they’re appropriated, taken out of the hands of the companies that own them – that freedom allows for development of the Batman story, for risks to be taken. That’s when you start to see some life, some development, in the characters.
Still the same ‘hero’, not doing anything he doesn’t normally do, but suddenly it’s not quite as heroic.
Or on a lighter note…..
Instagram / budaboyhq
I agree with Rat, the lack of development in the character, because he’s treated more like an asset than a truly creative entity by a company, is what made me quit reading his stories. I sometimes try but I’m always disappointed.
To make it easier to express my opinion, I’ll say that i used to be a metal head and I listened to some bands, say, Iron Maiden, all the time. I had their t-shirts, I collected all their records, and I spent a great part of my day reading the lyrics and trying to get what they were saying, sometimes translating the songs in a notebook I had. It was the same for every band i liked.
But them life happened, and I got interested in other kinds of music. And I somehow feel that I tend to cling to the idea of how cool something was than what is happening in the scene at the present moment. I mean, how many people really follow a band throughout their whole career? I work in a gig’s venue, and when we have some metal/ old rock show all I see is old people. It’s like being nostalgic or I daresay, stuck, in a period of time that is gone forever. People get to the point of resenting the artist who tries to innovate or add some different flavor to their creations. And even if they release a new album, it will have to sound similar to the previous ones to please the fan base.
Well, I feel Batman is in the same bag. it is perhaps one of the characters with the least space for innovation in the DC universe. He doesn’t change, but changes happen to him. Any inner change is treated like the end of the world, the collapse of all the stocks in the market, the day Earth was transported to the 17th dimension. What if batman is really gay? What if, in a Fight Club twist, he’s actually Catwoman? Or any kind of twist. Any change will theoretically upset the fan base so much that it’s better to stick to what we have. Which is a bit sad.
I can relate with Owen’s defense, but the nostalgic feeling I have for Batman is not the character or any particular story, It’s being safe after school and have some time to read before dinner, and watch a movie on the telly with my family, and read some more Batman before going to bed, or after finishing my homework. Batman was just a thread in this fabric of life. As I changed, and started to get more aware in a social/political way, it was inevitable to read Batman and the things I used to consume in a different way. Over time Batman became more like part of the problem than a mean to escape, as Alan Moore pointed out a few years ago relating the rise of the idiocracy with the multi billionaire super hero movie industry.
Some people may say ‘hey, relax man, this is just entertainment, it’s not supposed to be taken seriously’, and etc. I simply can’t just relax and enjoy the ride (sometimes I wish I could). My innocence is gone. I feel that nostalgia, nowadays, is quite dangerous. Art should evolve and take us to new mindscapes. If we keep craving the same, over and over, there will come the day that there’s nothing left to enjoy. As Fiona Apple’s ‘Please, please, please’ song says:
‘Give us something familiar
To what we know already
That will keep us steady
Steady going nowhere’
Joel, I wasn’t criticizing you or your selection. This group is fun and I really appreciate being here. I just think we could see more ‘out of the the beaten track’ comics, so I could feel more engaged and curious about them. And I’d rather get to know new and different artists and stories than the ones that I read so many years ago. On a Sunbeam was a good example. And c’mon, indie comics are great- just get in touch with the artist and get the comics directly from her/him. As an artist myself, I’d be more tan glad to hear that there’s a group discussing my work (I would read 20 years after, though, too embarrassing) . Let’s make them feel happy and valued! The same thing goes for the 2000AD like comics (I wasn’t particularly suggesting Nemesis, but yeah, that would be cool- and the best thing is that we have the artists really close to us, and they deserve all our admiration).
Otherwise I’ll just keep bitching about these comics that I detest (UAH HA HA evil laughter in the background).
Barbican Comic Forum
In response to Owen’s kind and well-thought out response, a response of my own:
A la Rat and others, regurgitation of the same story repeatedly is useful for some but (Joel, please feel free to link to the Film Club whatsapp chat here too) this can leave fans feeling shortchanged and tired of seeing the same ol’ same ol’. I don’t necessarily think that Batman needs to apologise for being Batman. But the world of Gotham city continues to reward him. Putting different slants and spins on it, offering him new temptations and challenges (even if framed in the way of the old ones) would be a shot in the arm for a character who is basically a meme of himself.
That said, Batman does grow in certain stories, but he does reset again, which makes the point of those stories, going forwards…meaningless? I mean, it certainly diminishes the meaning available to a fan if it’s Bruce, Dick and Alfred ad infinitum fighting the same 10 people…without any change, how can that be endlessly stimulating? You’re asking your fans to grow out of it. It’s like watching a TV show that, in some way, promises to be a serialised drama rather than a sitcom and ends up being a sitcom. The changes don’t need to be vast, or even deep – and they kind of don’t need to be about Batman himself changing, but the world changing around him. But an unshifting landscape is very unsatisfying, to me and to others within this thread.
You made an interesting point about my politics; I don’t often enjoy books that are about left-wing causes (despite being fairly lefty myself). I don’t really enjoy books that are overtly political. Often because I’m left feeling that this is something I knew already. Teach me about an oppressive but necessary system without a practical replacement – or even better, about the replacement that falls apart because it’s founded on idealism. I don’t think the politics of Batman plays into my own viewpoint on this; but I can see that White Knight allowed the problematic visual of a white billionaire who punches street-level thugs being a good selling point for the heads at DC to rubber stamp White Knight being made. Equally, I can see the limitations of V for Vendetta: what replaces the system in place? Most likely, a similar system – but showing that changes the story. But it could be a better story if that follow-on is well told. What does it tell us about people (within that world) that they may choose a similar system again?
I agree with a large part of what you say regarding the meaning of the work a writer puts out, intentional or otherwise. It’s there, clear as day, often to all but the writer. To rebut your point about it, however; part of the logic of the Batman-Gordon axis within Gotham was that it was temporary solution. This is alluded to in various key works, at the start or end of his career. But in the mid-story, it’s an ongoing relationship. There are few doubts expressed. Maybe it isn’t efficient storytelling for the brief the writer has been given / produced, but it feels convenient. Now. One of the things that always makes a Batman story more interesting is if there is tension between Gordon and Bats. This is especially interesting if Batman himself isn’t supported in his actions by the Bat-family.
This speaks to an opinion I’ve already voiced: Batman is one of the few characters who is good enough, within comic books, to deserve better. I would argue that he even begun to get this in Snyder / Capullo’s New 52 run: Around 3 volumes of excellent stuff, all tied together (Court of Owls to Death of the Family) and, honestly, another 3-4 that all works together as well. I think continuous, well thought-out storytelling is massively lacking. With Batman and his 12 books a month (or whatever), why not have a book dedicated to lettings things change? I realise that this is what happened in the 80s and 90s pre-retcons; while it was controversial, Cataclysm and No Man’s Land remain some fascinating books for the very reason that the writers could just let it ride.
I realise that, economically, one of the main Bat-books will never see a lasting change. But a book with long-term vision, where writers can change things and let those changes last…I’d be interested in seeing that. To loop back around to the writer’s lore point – the counterargument I would make is that the character who doesn’t change in a story…that’s the villain. Or, as mentioned earlier by someone else, that’s a prop. By curtailing his ability to change, the story becomes, primarily, about someone else. In White Knight, that’s Joker and Harley. In Long Hallowe’en, it’s Two Face. Ironically, Batman is, in both those cases, just the narrator telling the story of a more interesting character’s rise to and fall from grace. Even more interesting (sorry Shoe Lane peeps for recycling points I made in conversation) is that the women in both these stories (Harley and Gilda) are the secret manipulators, to a degree. Doing things for clear reasons. But their stories are hidden and their involvement only revealed at the death. What does that say about women within the Bat-universe? Within the minds of the writers?
Your final paragraph is interesting; it comes to the heart of the issue. What are stories for? What are Batman’s stories for? Are they to educate children? Are they to entertain? Are they to sell toys? The answer to this is as crucial as it is personal, because if we’re advocating for a stranger in costume who punches those who are exponentially poorer and more desperate than he is…that’s gonna have an impact on your kids, if the crucial reason stories exist is to teach them right from wrong. I’m not saying that cognitive dissonance isn’t a thing. But the ‘because he’s Batman’ line of logic defies a really crucial line of questioning. And low blow or not, a character who grooms children for a war that is illegal because it’s his version of right…well, cults are a thing too.
Is Batman aspirational? In the modern era, he actually ticks a lot of boxes for being a villain, some of which are mentioned across this thread by myself and others.
For this reason, that we will get Bat-weary is a shame. The modern era will fade; one thing that could prevent this is a single story, well-told. Tell it right, make it about enough, and it’ll be like layering a thin film of doubt over every Bat-page you read in the future. It’ll colour every future Bat-story as part of the continuum as somehow a little seedier and less inherently trustworthy, for those who have read it.
I think denying the character that is harsh justice, indeed.
There is no exit. Each time we meet you say the same. And so on and so on.
So. This has been an particularly lively thread and it’s been good reading everyone’s comments and well if nothing else it’s been obvious that Batman is obviously deeply connected to a lot of people’s deepest feelings. But as we draw to a close I can’t help but feel like my original point that “Every Batman comic is just about Batman” has been proven… right? There’s been lots and lots of words written about Batman this and Batman that but I’ve yet to see anything that successful manages to point towards the way that The Long Halloween or any other Batman comic actually manages to mean more than just saying more stuff about… Batman.
Grant Morrison’s Batman run has been mentioned a few times and it’s kinda the pinnacle of that kinda thinking. A Batman comic that’s about how all Batman comics are just about Batman which I guess is why reading it kinda makes my head hurt.
But there’s nothing there to convince me that there’s any part that reaches out and touches any part of my head or heart that’s not already brought into the Batmythos. In fact the more I think about it the more I feel like Batman is actually a kind of brain parasite – Batbrain – that latches on to the inside of your brain at a young age and wants for nothing more than more Batrelated Content which in turn helps to grow the Batdustrial Batertainment Complex which in turn merely serves to engorge that Batbrain inside you even further.
There is no exit. Each time we meet you say the same. And so on and so on.
At the risk of going there I think that Martin Scorsese’s comments about Marvel movies (“It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being”) are relevant to the Batbooks and all their ilk – I mean yes they’re very good at conveying the emotional and psychological experiences of being Batman and all the assorted and associated Batthings. But is it doing anything more than that? Is it helping you to understand other people better or even understand yourself? Or is it just a labyrinth that keeps pulling you in with promise of more labyrinths to come?
And to be clear: I don’t think it’s really a problem with Batman himself. Like maybe you could use a Batman story to make a point that managed to go beyond Batman. It’s not theoretically impossible you know. There’s not something inherent to the character. But I think there’s something inherent to how the character is owned and produced (those evil big corporations again) which means that the character is trapped and the stories too. Which always means – another repetition. Again and again.
There is no exit. Each time we meet you say the same. And so on and so on.
OH DEAR GOD WHY Presentations
Twitter / Barbican Comic Forum
Batman stories are about Batman. What else are they going to be about?
Of course Batman would bring out my snarkiest response to date.
Sherlock Holmes stories are about Sherlock, Bond is about Bond, Dredd is about Dredd (I love me some Dredd, but regardless of what the creators say, the political dimensions of those stories have been overstated to my mind).
Just because a story is about Batman doesn’t mean it’s the same story. There are 2 million different tones or genres to play in a Batman story – endlessly diverging roads to tell a similar journey. All you need is a cape, a cowl and a question. Ideologically, does this narrow things down and mean most stories are about justice/vengeance and that quest (and it’s legitimacy)? Sure. But there’s a reason he gets compared to Hamlet – if you catch a Batman story, you kind of know what you’re getting. What you’re turning up for, much in the way the people who still rock up to Shakespeare plays, is to see a specific creator interpret a world we’re familiar with in an interesting new way. Take Joel’s contrast of Year One and Long Halloween. Incredibly different styles and tones, all unmistakably a specific world. It’s a world that’s shifted with different cultural eras, an authoritarian friend in the 50s, a trippy goof ball in the 60s, a dark detective in the 70s and so on and so on.
I don’t see Batman stories being about Batman as a bad thing – so long as you read things other than Batman. It’s called a varied diet (he says, eating 3kg of Hummus a week).
You can get Nolan’s trilogy exploring what a figure like him means in a liberal democratic society, and how the symbolism he uses plays into the base emotions underpinning the ideals of that society. You can get Miller exploring how his quest develops and evolves as a way to debate shifting ideas of what form a valid social crusade should take. You can get Dini having him follow different tragic characters, constantly pushing us to question the dividing lines between, compassion, tragedy and monstrosity. There’s the Arkham games offering innovative new means of tension, suprise and how we accept reality in game design. Or more recently, you can get Tom King putting Batman in an impossible situation and using it as a platform to explore a person coming to terms with their own death. The latter is the one that often interests me most, Batman as an insanely high stakes allegory for our own experiences – letting creators explore how they (and when they ring true, we) would respond to questions about what we’d do with an endless quest, a trauma or an obsession. How would we deal with a killer who won’t stop killing – how would we compromise with that? How do we face up to an endless quest we know we’ll never finished?
Also on Morrison – Batman Incorporated had Leviathan – the criminal masterplan that took over society not through presidents and police commissioners – but through corrupting teachers and low level judges. I know the story wasn’t about that, but it’s a great example of how you can use a Batman stories operatic stakes, to make really interesting comments on society – an author using a specific way the world is taken over by some grand criminal scheme, to say something about how it works in reality. And Batman and Robin was such a delightfully fun way to explore legacy and grief.
But yeah – they are all about Batman. It’s just a good thing that Batman is such a wide catch all phrase for the widest umbrella of story-telling around. That’s why he has staying power. Not only does the cowl look cool, it casts an endlessly wide net.
Batman can be about whatever you want it to be, he just so happens to be owned by Warner Bros – and thus I undermine my own argument.
In response to the other big parts of this chat –
Batman is a capitalist facist nightmare and that makes him bad.
I have a few pocket responses to this:
- It’s a fictional adventure serial that involves a man dressed as a Bat fighting a Clown, a Penguin and a rich, powerful person who cares about the environment. I feel fine disassociating it from reality as and when it suits me enjoying it.
- I feel like the Batman is rich is basically just plot armour for all of his “fancy toys” as opposed to a direct political statement. It’s fair to infer one, but all the Wayne Enterprises stuff throughout that I recall is kind of used as a way for writers to, very briefly, explore their version of a utopian social enterprise in a city infamous for institutional corruption.
- And my snarkiest – did you notice that Batman is rich and criminals are often born of structural disadvantages in a capitalist society? Oh wow. You genius. You don’t belong here, you’re too clever, incisive and original. Here’s a Guardian column that everyone reveres, go over there and write it. Christ on a cracker, I know I’m being rude and shitting on a respectful discussion. But I’m so bored of people perpetually parroting out this obvious, elementary, constantly discussed point and expecting everyone else to nod as though they’ve distilled the enlightenment into an email. Perhaps a more interesting take on Batman being “good” solely because he’s rich would be in comparing how his trauma sees him becoming good, only because of the structural supports he’s given, whilst the Joker, dumped into a vat of acid and left to rot, alone and presumably in poverty, goes on to become an absurdist serial killer. So if you go by The Killing Joke story, there’s a clear argument to be made in the world of Batman, that good and bad people aren’t a result of a bad day, but the support, social or economic, that’s waiting for them afterwards – nurture over nature indeed. See that, that was the enlightenment in an email – WHERE’S MY COLUMN.
Long Halloween –
First off, anyone with a problem with Tim Sale is wrong. The book sings, and it sings in no small part because of the expressive, visual aesthetic he gives it. In the 90s, where everyone demanded “gritty realism” he responded with an idiosyncratic, expressive style that he bends and manipulates to the contour of whatever type of story needs to be distilled. Sale, quietly, but elegantly, changes tone and genre. He’s a master.
Okay onto the writing.
Jeph Loeb isn’t the greatest scientician when it comes to the mechanics of a mystery. The urgency of the case isn’t ever that clear. We don’t get why Holiday threatens the mob as a whole as opposed to pissing off the head honchos who are losing close allies – we just hear characters say that. And the resolution? That 3 people crowdsourced the killings in perfect uncoordinated synchronicity, packs emotional wallop so long as you ignore logic pounding through the wall like so. And yeah, as the Joker panel above demonstrates, Loeb is far from immune from a bum line. That art though.
But despite that – it’s just such a fun, satisfying read. Sure, if you’re not a Batman fan, it’s an exhausting chore. But for a fan? The characters are so perfectly pitched, and they’re given an assortment of gorgeous character moments. Loeb is one of the all time greats in balancing the Bat’s stoicism with clear emotion – if there’s ever a quintessential literary voice for the Batman’s internal monologue, there’s a good case for Loeb’s work from here to Hush (which is…fun? Kinda?). When Batman tears into Falcone’s apartment and takes down the baddies (I know I wrote that sentence, yes I do wear these Batman pyjamas to bed, no I don’t know which child I stole them from) – it should be bland and forgettable. But when it’s following the flashback to Bruce Wayne awed at his father’s work as a surgeon, now remembering his father’s surgery strategies and applying them here. It’s so damned satisfying.
If you buy into the Batman myth, this is a pitch perfect rendition of those characters, that uses it’s long length as an opportunity to revel in some brilliantly enjoyable character work and alot of fun dialogue.
Why I’m right when I’m being incredibly snarky –
I don’t know, you’re still reading this 3rd rate meta punch line of a rant and I’m out of tea.
Nope. Sorry. I’m not having that. “Dredd is about Dredd.” That’s just not really true is it? But it’s good in how it kinda helps me prove the point that I’m trying to make here over and over again (There is no exit. Each time we meet you say the same. And so on and so on. lol).
I mean yeah – there are some Dredd stories that are about Dredd. But those are pretty much the boring ones that no one really talks about much. Like: just looking over the Dredd books we’ve done for the book club – The Apocalypse War is about well… war. And America is (amongst other things) about America. And also freedom and democracy and things like that. The clue’s are in the name obviously.
The big clue is that with most Dredd stories – Dredd isn’t really the main character. He’s a catalyst to tell some other story about well paranoia or death or crime or terrorism or pollution or politics or the media or just something about ordinary messy human lives. I mean yeah yeah ok not every Dredd story has proper point and sometimes they’re just funny or exciting or smashy or whatever. But here’s the main difference between Dredd and Batman – Dredd is at heart a science-fiction story. And as everyone knows – all science-fiction starts from an idea about how the world could be different in some way which leads to lots of interesting places – what if monkeys had human consciousness? What if someone predicted that the world was going to end in twenty years? What if there was a miracle plastics that you could bounce around inside? What if dinosaurs were put into entertainment parks but then escaped? What if someone released a virus to kill a whole city? What if the police decided that because all crime is committed by the living that therefore life itself is a crime?
Compared to Batman which is at heart a superhero story. This means that there is a bad guy and the aim of the story is to stop the bad guy. And that’s pretty much it. That’s like 99% of all Batman stories (The Long Halloween included).
Indeed the difference between them is most clear when you bring them together (as has happened once or twice).
The interesting thing here is that when Batman and Dredd do crossover most of time it’s just about them fighting each other or trying to catch a bad guy and for those of you who know – this is why even tho they’re written by John Wagner and Alan Grant (who both know a thing or two about Dredd stories) they don’t really feel like a Dredd thing – they feel like a Batman thing. Because they’re told in the superhero mould which means it’s just about catching and stopping the bad guy and which means that there’s not really that much time to get into the ideas of things apart from maybe a few good one-liners now and then… (“Subdue him” etc lol).
That’s the interesting thing about Dredd – he looks and acts like an action hero – but if you treat him like one then there’s always that feeling like there’s something missing… And it’s also why in the vast majority of Dredd stories he’s not even the main character (I know crazy right?) but instead he just kinda comes along and then bonks the protagonist on the head at the end. (Do any non-hero characters even exist in Batman? I mean it’s all superheroes, villains and a smattering of cops – any real normal humans don’t really get a look in do they?).
And that’s why all Batman stories are about Batman but not all Dredd stories are just about Dredd.
OH DEAR GOD WHY Presentations
Twitter / Barbican Comic Forum
…Gotham Central would like a word.
A story about life as a wearied police officer trying to enforce some semblance of the law in a city populated by bigger than reality monsters. The dialogue, the characters – it was so richly done, so fun to read and with an emotional reality that gave it so much political weight and dramatic gravitas. The arc where the police try to survive a Batman Joker showdown battle – their rage at being pawns in a larger stupider scheme says it all.
Or the myriad of back ups, short stories (like the Batman Black and White series) – that have told stories of Batmans world from different perspectives and weirdly different ideas.
And then I recite all the things I already mentioned.
I think Dredd has been used to tell interesting political stories – but that the brunt of his pop cultural standing isn’t quite the political exercise your after. I mean isn’t this guys most famous enemy Judge Death? And I feel like so much of the politics is the same old gag about tyrannical technical applications of “the law”.
Though I won’t hear words against his much missed time in The Metro dailies.
Dredd is a far more potent political character than Batman, no doubt – but Batman has been used to tell far more stories about interesting emotional, cultural and philosophical questions (Cookes EGO for example).
Different characters to different ends – both of them with a great canon behind them.
Barbican Comic Forum
Hmm… I find this whole X stories are just about X argument a bit silly really. Who cares?
I get Joel’s point: Dredd is very different to Batman. He’s supposed to be a figure of fun, he’s not a hero. They’re poking fun at the establishment with him. When he’s written well, he’s a flawed character – somebody to be laughed at not admired.
But Batman being just about Batman? I don’t know. Amit makes some good points and I agree a lot of the Batman books I’ve read definitely have depth. And even if it were just about Batman, who cares? Why is that a bad thing? Unless there’s something you deeply despise about that character’s make-up?
Something that stood out to me from this thread is that the majority of arguments were asking for “change”. And to be honest a lot of the criticism seemed to me to be along the lines of: “white”, “rich”, “capitalism”. I got sucked into that debate myself which I think is perhaps why I bailed for a while, but thinking back it feels a bit of a naff thing to do to such a brilliant character and comic book. I mean, is that all the LGNN has got to say?
On the subject of change, I read an article a few days ago about storyforming and it mentioned one of the first questions a writer needs to ask him or herself is what happens to your characters through the course of their story arcs. The two options being: do they change or do they remain steadfast? It made the distinction between change and growth and said that many stories characters remain steadfast and… wow, get this… that is a type of growth. I know, weird huh? But it made me think about this topic a little and question why Batman always resets.
Why do kids need steadfast heroes? Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism? I mean there’s a certain demographic (or at least there used to be) which read comic books. Nerdy kids, right? Perhaps people who need something a little extra in their lives, a little support, a little escapism. What does Batman teach them: resilience and strength perhaps? Somebody to look up to? Somebody to be inspired by? Something James said at the beginning about the power of stories springs to mind.
I wonder if this theme will come up in any future comic books we read? What are we reading next again?
It’s a shame more of you can’t see the beauty of Batman, but everyone’s got an opinion. And that’s OK, some men just want to watch the world burn. It’s just me and my 460 million mates beg to differ.
Islington Comic Forum
Dredd’s definitely not a hero, although of course he sometimes does heroic things. Wagner and Grant famously made a point of depicting him doing something ‘good’ and something ‘bad’ in each story.
This post was created by our Book Club email list.
If you’d like to join the conversation send an email marked “Book Club” to here.