Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Comics: Batman Confidential!

Gawd only knows what's going on in DC Comics' various Batman-related titles nowadays, since Batman was deep-fried at the end of "Final Crisis." The double lunacy - that the 'Crisis' in question was in any way 'final,' and that the character of Batman could actually be dead - made it understandably hard to pay attention or to care, and I think I share that in common with a good many editors of Bat-titles, many of whom seem to have been caught on the odd hop by the sudden directive from on high informing them their main character is, um, dead.

The ridiculously spurious Bat-title "Batman Confidential" (who thinks these things up? Why on Earth would anybody think the universe, nay, the multiverse, needed anything more than "Batman" and "Detective Comics" every month? Yeesh) is a perfect case in point, wasting perfectly good "Final Crisis" tie-in space by burning off stock stories set in a blissfully uncomplicated pre-Crisis continuity in which the Caped Crusader is still alive and kicking.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Stock-stories are usually everything all comics should be all the time: fast-paced, self-contained, and no exigent threat to all known facts about their central characters. You won't see Superman get transformed into a big gay lightning-bolt in a stock story - instead, you'll see him fight the Parasite, almost lose, figure out a clever way to win, and win. The fact that today's comics fans could look at a description like that and snicker spittle all over ratty black "Death Note" T-shirts shows you how much damage the last twenty years of multi-part overhyped fan-frantic 'epic' storylines have done. Nowadays, the 'deaths' of major comics characters has become such a cynical staple of any kind of plotting that nobody would dream of presenting a 'serious' story arc without a body count. The resulting distortion of good simple narrative has reached such ridiculous proportions that a sloppy little disaster like "Final Crisis" opened with the offhand execution of the Martian Manhunter, an established character with 50 years of continuity behind him. In the world of comics right at this moment, Aquaman, Batman, and Captain America are all 'dead.' Absurd.

So: stock-stories are good! In this one, a traumatized former Gotham City cop has the bad luck to share a cell-wall at Arkham Asylum with "Unknown Patient 0001" - otherwise known as the Joker. Former detective Shancoe is driven over the edge by the Joker's ranting, and that, plus the fact that Shancoe himself is a bit deranged, is enough to set him escaping from Arkham and going on a rampage against the Gotham PD. The Hannibal Lecter-style twist of having the Joker motivate somebody else to commit crimes rather than commit them himself is neatly handled here by writer Andrew Kreisberg, but the real joy of this issue (the story concludes next issue, as all comics stories should) is the glorious artwork by Scott McDaniel.

As I've stated in the past, I consider McDaniel the quintessential living Batman artist - and he's certainly in top form for this little "Bad Cop" story. His panels are absolutely alive with tension and implied movement (one full-page panel of Batman leaping to the Batmobile to answer the Bat-Signal is a mini-masterwork of detail)(the setting of that panel - taking place as it does right after Bruce Wayne's had sex with some anonymous female at Wayne Manor - checks off all the 'cool' boxes but leaves lots of questions behind that perhaps Kreisberg hasn't fully thought out - like, for instance, what's the protocol here, when a one-night-stand suffers Bat-signal interruptus? Alfred the butler hands her a wad of bills and chauffeurs her to the Marriott?), a joy to look at. There's one panel where a quivering Arkham janitor tells Batman policy forbids him 'interviewing' Joker alone in his cell, and a towering, genuinely creepy-looking Batman says "Do you believe that word means anything to me?" It's a better moment than most of the Bat-books have provided in many weeks of more serious, more grim and gritty trying.

So I'll savor this issue and the next, and although I'll keep an eye on the epic goings-on in the mainstream Batman continuity (of course I'm curious), I'll continue to miss the days when all comics were this simple, this well-done, and this satisfying. I'm guessing several Bat-characters will die in the course of those epic goings-on; I'll try not to yawn.

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