Saturday, September 22, 2007

QUICK FIX DOUBLE FEATURE: Under the Influence/Ones We Love
As the Crow Flies Part Four: Shotgun (DC)
Where: Batman #629 When: August 2004
Why: Judd Winick How: Dustin Nguyen

Quick Fix...
So, Galactus and I might not have a lot in common, but there is one indisputable commonality: We're both sticklers for rules, especially our own.

Which brings us to now. Up against the wire, I feel an obligation to turn in a Street Fighter post for Sunday, a Marvel Ultimate Alliance post for Monday, and, well, okay, that's really about all... But still, here we are, as the clock ticks over to Sunday (here in the future), and I'm starting a post for Saturday! Egads, what sinister plot could provoke such madness?!

A couple of days ago The Fortress Keeper had some interesting things to say about the state of Batman, with a particular slant towards an evolution away from the grim and gritty mania that has gripped the character for the best part of three decades. I, of course, subscribe to that classic take within reason, actually fairly disinterested in progress being made by Grant Morrison to return the hairy chested love-god to his globe trotting throne; but I digress...

Inevitably one travels from Batman's world and state of mind, to the relationships important to his life.

There's a purveyance of opinion that says Batman, in his grittier and more obsessive incarnations, is a two-dimensional character devoid of layers. It's perhaps because of that opinion that many people draft their complexities onto the characters surrounding the Dark Knight Detective. Right or wrong, it provides us another nice segue to use a dangling quick fix from our last entry, but first...

It's actually been quite a while since I've fawned over Judd Winick's run on Batman. Or maybe it isn't, and the increased activity just makes it seem like it's been a while. Regardless, not the case today, as we take a look at the standalone "As the Crow Flies" arc, which preceded Winick's bulky, on-going stay on the book, which I am particularly fond of. Incidentally, it was the graceless intrusion of the interrupting War Games story that broke-up Winick's work, but incidentally set-up much of what I enjoyed so much.

The majority of this story revolves around the cagey relationship between Jonathan "Scarecrow" Crane, and the Penguin, who has employed the former to contribute to his criminal investments. Coinciding with this alliance is the emergence of a hulking Scarebeast, more monster than man, who terrorizes Gotham City and the criminal underworld by night.

Despite his best efforts, Batman is unsuccesful in confronting the Scarebeast, succumbing to it's own unique brand of fear toxin.

Falling into the abyss of fear and panic, Batman's dedicated training sees him able to escape to the Batmobile, where it's autopilot technology can navigate to the Batcave. The mobile also puts Batman in much needed contact with trusted butler, Alfred, who is able to talk him down from his panic for at least part of the long journey home.

With hallucinations setting in, Batman flails his limbs at an imaginary Joker and Two-Face. His fevered attacks damage the Batmobile console, severing his connection with Alfred, and perhaps even sanity. Concerned, Alfred summons the aid of the boy wonder, Robin, who pursues atop dirt bike.

Where there rides a Robin, the unsettled Batman sees the demon of his greatest failure, the supposedly deceased Jason Todd. Still haunted by the tactics employed by the villainous Hush (and Todd), Batman pops the Batmobile hatch and yanks the young Tim Drake from his motorcycle.

Though Robin lodges a verbal appeal in an attempt to navigate Batman back through the forest of hallucination, he continues only to see Jason Todd. Prompted by imagined taunts, the Batman clutches at Robin's throat, squeezing.

Barely able to overcome the hostility of his adopted-father, Robin manages to lift from a whisper to a call, requesting Alfred to blow the rooftop via remote from the Batcave headquarters.

The sudden rush of air rips the tiny Robin from Batman's vice-like grip. His acrobatic training helps the young hero maneuver himself to catch the tail of the Batmobile as it thunders into the hidden entrance of the secret Batcave.

Batman is thrown from the convertible vehicle, coming to land in a tangled, bloody mess. Robin makes a far more graceful landing, joining Alfred at his master's side to administer an anti-toxin. For the sidekick, a job well done.

I touched on the fact that I'm one who quite enjoys the darker side of Batman.
Traditionally I'm not a fan of Robin the side-kick as a part of that, but here actually lies a pretty good example of ways to make the character acceptable.

I tend to think Robin is at his best as a character who has grown up to leave the nest. I think that relationship of father and son is one of the most dynamic qualities of the duo, and that's played to particularly strong effect here.

While it doesn't really seem to be examined as the soul focus of what is essentially a strong, if grounded, episode in a superhero adventure; there's a strong undercurrent of fear and what is fear. For a child, I think there are few scarier scenarios than this, where the father is completely out of control.

I don't mean that just in the violence of the way Batman lashes out, but the fact that Batman is such a staunch pillar of certainty. I suppose stability is an important part of a child's life, and as much as an unstable environment can be damaging, it also reshapes a sense of normality. For someone who has viewed a personal aquaintance as an unshakable force of of strength, few things can be more frightening than the dissolving of that.

It's looking at the character's psychological flaws and darkness in manners like this that make me greatly appreciative of the grim and grit of the character.
I tend to feel I can find well-adjusted superheroics, and gadget filled adventure from a lot of avenues, but few characters bring such a rich tapestry of psychological layers, and motivations.
I personally feel in the assumed flat characterization, there is actually more juice than in the showy, gallavanting Batman. The more he supposedly shuts down, the more we learn about the character. The less spoken, the more said.

Winick does well to inject that into what is essentially a monster story, even if Nguyen's kinetic pencils ground it in a more superhero, capes and tights motiff.

The Fix: 5 The Issue: 6
Winner: Inconclusive

[No one really wins or loses in this quick fix, but it should be noted as but a tiny portion of what turns out to be quite a fun comic.
If most Bat-villains are justified as mirrors held up to Batman, Scarecrow represents the detached. A character who does not distract his reflection through a filter of antagonism, forcing Batman to confront himself quite literally, rather than through a green and white abstraction.

Crisis of Conscience: Part Four (DC)
Where: JLA #118 When: Early November 2005
Why: Geoff Johns & Allan Heinberg How: Chris Batista

Quick Fix...
I like the idea that Gotham is an old fashioned city.
A city with a certain musk to it's looming skyline, that eventually colours the denizens within it. It wasn't always as corrupt as it is now, but even the Green Lantern (Alan Scott) will tell you, it had that intangible quality to it.

Robin, in all his colourful glory, tends to represent much of the hope, promise and innocence lost to Gotham City, and to Batman. He personifies, in many ways, a future where Gotham might not need the protection and aid of a man garbed in emotionless black and grey. A man, who like many of Gotham's others, has been dragged so deep into the skirmish that he is almost what he fights.

I like to think Martian Manhunter represents a bit of that, too.
As much as he has walked the streets and tasted the dusty air of Gotham's criminal underworld, he remains the city's secret Superman. An alien from a world outside Gotham, who hides beneath the muted browns and greys of his store bought suits the vibrant green of blossoming nature, and a perspective of everything the city may be.

They don't necessarily enjoy each other's company, or agree on the degrees of what's required to achieve good in the world, but I like to think Batman and Martian Manhunter are always bound by the mutual understanding of Gotham.

While Batman represents a brutal, corrupted version; he remains a pillar on the non-lethal side of the justice scale we've been talking about. Far more harsh than anything Martian Manhunter would usually subscribe to, but still on the same wave length of what is and isn't crossing the unspoken line.

It's this commonality that brings the two characters together in the pages of Crisis of Conscience, which deals with the aftermath of the revelation that Zatanna spent her career with the League wiping the minds of villains and heroes alike.

For Batman, the matter is a direct issue of intellectual intrusion and doubt, while for Martian Manhunter it's a question of power versus responsibility. As a telepath with the capability of carrying out the same function, he holds dear a moral code that denies any such invasion of personal space.

It is on this level that Martian Manhunter is challenged by the master manipulator of events surrounding the exposure of Zatanna and the League's secret -- Despero. After defeating both J'onnz and Aquaman [JLA #118] he marches them to the Batcave, where he seeks to usurp control of Batman aswell.
Confiding in Catwoman over the anguish and uncertainties brought on by the gaps in his memory, Batman is vulnerable to the surprise attack. Despero quickly takes control, and turns him against the potential interference of his lover.

The Batman swats Catwoman into his computer console, following quickly with a stiff kick narrowly blocked by the beseiged burglar. She retaliates in a characteristically independent manner, shedding any personal loyalties to slash Batman across the head.

Though unsuccessful in harming the possessed Dark Knight, it does reveal a glowing third-eye beneath his cowl, the trademark of Despero's telepathic control.

Catwoman is obviously a big part of the Bat-family, even though the two have been somewhat distanced of late.

I like to think she represents a part of the corruption brought about by life in Gotham. I think she connects to the thought processes that govern Batman's brand of harsh justice. She highlights the fact that he has taken the fight so close to villainy, he freely associates with a thief on the merit of her inner goodness. For Batman, the cramped highrises of Gotham prevent scope of the bigger picture, leading him to hold onto only what he knows is explicitly right and wrong.

Sometime in the next week or two I'd like to take a more specific look at the relationship between Catwoman and Batman, but in the mean time, I think it's been a long warm day, and I've become too distracted to wrap this up well.

The Fix: 3 The Issue: 4
Winner: Inconclusive

[The briefest of quick fixes to be sure, but now you have the full picture for that particular issue. As much as I enjoy Batista's pencils, there a frustrating resemblance to Michael Keaton in his Batman that really bugs me. It's probably just because of the way he draws lips, I don't know... Leave me alone!]

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