Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Books: Batman: Batman Incorporated


Batman Incorporated
Written by Grant Morrison 
Art by Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Michel Lacombe, Scott Clark, Cameron Stewart and Dave Beatty

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Out of all the "outsider artists" Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. is probably the most well known (he's the only one I've ever heard of anyway). Like it says on the good old Wikipedia: "He has become famous for his posthumously-discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story."

If have you no idea what I'm talking about then - well - "outsider art" is art made by (and I realise that this isn't the most sensitive way to put it - but what the hell): crazy people. That is (and this would be the more delicate way to put it) - people who haven't come up through the proper art school channels but instead exist on the fringes of society: you know - insane-asylum inmates and/or children: that type of thing.

But yeah - just the thought of Henry Darger's 15,145-page [1] The Story of the Vivian Girls [2] epic is enough to give me spine the shivers. Just the thought / the concept of something that - well - gargantuan (?) monstrous (?) Brobdingnagian [3] (?) - whatever - it's like something knocking up against inside my brain's funny bone: I like my human endeavour to be human-sized: and once we start going past the 1,000 page mark then I think I start getting a little queasy: does that make sense?

Me and my flatmate where recently talking about this sort of stuff and he mentioned that Milan Kundera (one of his favourite authors) said something about how you should be able to hold a novel in your head [4]: that you know - it shouldn't be too sprawling and crazy or whatever: but rather the whole thing should be neat and tidy with every piece connected in a proper way with every other piece: all of it forming a satisfying compact whole. I think - in my more sober state I would tend to agree with this kind of thinking: everything in it's right place and all that: but (then again) maybe there's more fun to be had in not been so buttoned up all the time.

But I'm zig-zagging here - as I always tend to when it comes to trying to encapsulate my thoughts about Grant Morrison and especially when it comes to his epic Batman saga. I mean: I guess I shouldn't be such a hypocrite seeing how some of my favourite comics are big, long-running series that take ten or so books to tell the whole story (I would write down some examples: but what the hey - they're scattered all around this blog (and I'd feel bad for praising certain series over others - so will leave it to you to find for yourselves....) but they're always (mostly) a lot calmer and tamer in how they come across.... You know what? Fine: I'll give you an example: Neil Gaiman's Sandman series was years in the telling and stretched out (depending on which books you count) into over a dozen books - each filling out a whole Universe of Universes: with hundreds of characters and very different states of being but (you know what?) reading those books never had me reaching for the Henry Darger parallels: so I guess the question is: why is that?

Well: the first thing is the way that Morrison's Batman comes across: (no duh) Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego isn't exactly a smaller-than-life character - nah dude: and so really - the only way to properly capture the right Bat-spirit is to go big and always over-the-top: which means there's not much room for calmness and contemplative: not when there's windows to smash and people like Lord Death Man to fight [5].

Connected to that is the way that he decides to tell the story: still using The Sandman as our base-line: well - even tho that was using all sorts of strange craziness and myths and legends and demons and monsters all mashed together [6]: you can still always make sense of the stuff that's going on - you know? It's clear like a fresh-water lake. Which isn't the way that Grant Morrison plays his Batman (no sir). In fact the feeling I got with reading Batman Incorporated is that it's almost like he's decided to see just how much information he can get into a single unit of space. I mean - one way of thinking about stories that they're all about the careful unloading of information (so: think about how much less The Empire Strikes Back would be if it told you who Luke Skywalker's Dad was in the opening crawl): and while most writer's try their best to unload all small bits at a time: Morrison it seems is on a mission to pack in as much as possible: firing it all in short sharp sweet concentrated laser bursts into the reader's brain so that at time it's like your Marty Mcfly in Back To The Future Part II: watching six TV screens all playing at the same time and yet (somehow) still being able to make sense of them all.

One of the side effects of that is that (for this hapless reader) the first time you read it a whole lot of stuff is going to be whooshing over your head [7]. Luckily for me (and I would suggest this to everyone who wants to attempt to make sense of this book [8]) the fine people at The Mindless Ones website have written some very helpful / charming / funny / interesting annotations that (for me at least) where a huge heap of help - with excellent piece of advice number one going to: "From now on no one is allowed to utter the words ‘hard to follow’, ‘confusing’, ‘unrelated plots’ or the like without having read the comic three times." [9]

So far I've only read  Batman Incorporated twice [10]: but I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up reading a few other dozen times in the future - and yeah: I will say it was much more fun the second time (with lots of cool little details that only pop out once you've been through already: check the poster in front of Catwoman when she's asking "What's the appeal?").

Not to say that the first time round was a drag: in fact - for the first few dozen pages it comes across as the most exhilarating and (hell yes) fun Batcomic Morrison has written so far: I mean - if you wanted to know what all the fuss was about then I would recommend maybe you start with the first half of this book and then (once you get the taste for it) go back to the beginning (that would be Batman and Son) and work your way from there: for me - it's kinda of like the bright sunshine superhero stuff Morrison was doing when he was running The New X-Men or Marvel Boy: so you know: inventive and wild - but still fun and breezy: like a TV show with a pop song soundtrack and a budget as big as the moon .

In addition: well yeah ok - I can't be the only one who always found Batman's provincialism a little bit strange - right? [11] The way he restricted himself to Gotham city at the seeming expense of everywhere else. I mean - what gives? So he's chasing the Joker down a street and all of a sudden they're past the city limits (a big sign saying "You're Now Leaving Gotham City") and the fearsome Dark Knight is like: "oh - sorry. That's as far as go. I'll catch you some other time?" [12] So - if for nothing else: thank heavens then for Grant Morrison for confronting my minor niggle by stepping up to the plate and getting that all nice and fixed.

What else? Well - strangely for a Grant Morrison Batphic Novel that doesn't feature Frank Quitely: the artwork on display here is actually pretty nifty and not at all disappointing and flat: so hooray for that [14] and man - like I said about the compacted information being fired from all directions: there's so much stuff here - Batman does Scalped, Invisible-style fun with secret badges, references to both Borges and Thatcher (amongst others), Invisible robots, motorbikes to the face, carefully manufactured internet conspiracies [15] and a loving attention to detail (I realise that maybe this is old news and something that's probably been the case for years and years: but for me it's the first time I've ever realised that Bruce Wayne's eyebrows are in the shape of a bat: which I've gotta say is such a perfect little touch). And: even tho Batman is always always thinks ahead (Rule one = "Proper Planning and Preparation." after all) so too do the villains (and there's lots of new shiny villains waiting!): which means that when it comes to the crunch it's all very sweaty palms and palpitations.

The book itself puts it best when it has one character exclaim: "Everything is hyper-mega! Everybody have fun!" - and the joy that seeps through the book is so infectious that even Batman seems to be having a better battime ("Hh"): even the henchmen make an effort (which is always nice to see): and man - the dialogue is as succulent and juicy as a freshly picked peach ("He had a skull for a head and clammy fingers!").

So: what you waiting for? Even if there's a chance that you might drown - you should jump in anyway: once you get let the water envelop you and allow yourself to be pulled by it's strange currents then - well: a whole new wild wide world awaits you....

[1] Ha. Take THAT Infinite Jest.

[2] A name sadly since co-opted by a middling no-mark indie band (oh well).

[3] Thank you online thesaurus: best word ever. Am going to be trying to work it into every sentence I can for the rest of the week ("I want my cup of tea Brobdingnagian please.")

[4] I did do a quick google to see if I could find the exact quote - but nothing came up. Oh well: whatever - maybe my flatmate just made it up trying to sound smart [16].

[5] Also (I was going to try and put this later but maybe it goes best here): and yeah I realise that this might be a bit unfair coming from someone who runs a blog about comics (but still): isn't Batman a little... I dunno - silly? (Oh dear now I've said it huh?): I mean - on the one hand it does make sense - if you're going to write a Batman book then - well - it should be about Batman (obviously): but god - Morrison goes in so deep and unpicks everything with such scalpel-like precision - I mean: it's like reading a Phd on who Batman is and what he can do and what he represents: and ok yeah - on one hand it's very cool and interesting (and man: if you think the Nolan Dark Knight films captured what Batman was about then - please please - read some of these Morrison Batbooks so that you realise just how boring and puddle-deep Christian Bale's interpretation is): but on the other - I mean - all this effort and energy and intelligence expended on something so (well - I'll use the same word again seeing how it fits so well): silly. You know: reading Batman Incorporated will give you lots to think about concerning Batman: but not really that much in terms of human beings or anything like that. Which I guess is why (before I step into the books) I get the feeling that they're just a bit - well: outsider arty: a mental cul-de-sac that leads only to itself - a batlabyrinth that's only aim is to draw you ever further in (It is so very telling that when a character says: "If he didn't exist, well... I guess we'd just have to invent him." he isn't talking about God - he's talking about Batman). Which - yeah: is either something to be feared and to run away from or something to cheer and embrace - and I guess my only preference is constantly flipping between the two.

[6] And - holy moly - if that doesn't pique your interest then let me just come out and say it simply: if you (somehow) haven't read The Sandman in it's entirely already - then you really really really should.

[7] In fact - I would even go so far as to say: as much as I love reading collected editions of stuff: the ideal way to read Morrison's Batrun is probably a single issue at a time: if only in order to allow the time to properly digest things. I mean: even reading it in book form like this it's pretty obvious that each issue has it's own theme and pace and feel - and trying to take them in all together is a bit like trying to eat a week's worth of meals all in the same setting.

[8] And - ok yeah: most of the other Morrison Batbooks too.

[9] Which is taken from here: but - hell - just check all the links below (where it says links). Special mention also going to: ""The image of Bruce pushing at the white of the comic page – the ultimate ground upon which the original four colour process echoed in the doors (check them – magenta, cyan, yellow and black), and therefore all comics, rests – represents our hero travelling beyond the confines of the 2D and scattering across the comic Faculty X style. The higgledypiggeldification of Batman." (from here): and also (very much also): "I like to imagine that in reality the Alzheimer’s riddled, amnesiac Dedalus converses in non-sequiteurs which Batman’s powerful mind, resistant to the last, organises into something resembling sense. But it’s a permeable sense. We’re all at sea here. Dedalus completely inhabits his condition, he owns it, and he balances things out by forcing his enemies onto his very un-level playing field. The psychedelic wall effect captures this completely – the way it’s running in two directions at once, uncertain of where it is." (Which - oh boy: was very helpful in helping me understand what exactly was going on: so thanks for that dudes!).

[10] And just so we have everything nice and clear (in case you want to try and cross-reference with other stuff on the internet or whatever): Islington's version of Batman Incorporated collects Collects Batman Incorporated #1 - 8 and Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! So you know like.

[11] Yeah yeah yeah: I know - a story about a multimillionaire playboy who dresses up like a giant bat and runs around at night beating up criminals is (like I said above) it's all bit silly (we know we know) - and I'm picking on this relatively minor point and going: "hey - isn't almost insignificant detail like really weird and stuff?" Which is comparable to pointing to a particular spot in the middle of the Pacific and going: "hey - isn't that bit - like - really wet?" But whatever.

[12] Like (just me?) - isn't it a bit strange in The Dark Knight film when he makes that brief excursion to Hong Kong. I mean - on the one hand it was cool to see him leave the confines of Chicago Gotham for a change: but then (when I started to think about it [13]) it's like: but why is he just making an exception for that one guy? You know: I guess the reason they decided to have that scene in the film was to show that there's no escape from the Caped Crusader - but by bringing it up it just made it seem more weird you know? Like someone saying "well i take care of my kids": or (putting it another way / making another point) - if the only reason Bats made an exception for the Hong Kong dude was because he did stuff that affected Gotham - then does that mean that if - say - the Penguin set up shop in Las Vegas and keep all his dealings in Nevada then he'd be safe from the Batman? I dunno.... (Maybe I should stop having a go at the Chris Nolan Batfilms: but I just can't help myself!)

[13] That's probably the best point for you to say: "I think maybe you're over-thinking this stuff." And for me to say: shut your damn face.

[14] Although it's gotta be said that Chris Burnham: does the best Frank Quitely impression I've ever seen: (Kathy Kane isn't the only one biting someone else's style - ha!)

[15] Ok - I know I said I'd stop being mean about the Nolan Batflicks - but godamn - I wish he has managed to be as smart as Morrison in balancing the Bruce Wayne / Batman identity stakes instead of - well: instead of doing this (which I've gotta say is probably one of my favourite youtube things of the year: thanks to Sam for sending me the link!)

[16] (To which he has replied (by email): "I was NOT trying to sound smart! (well, maybe a little...). the full quote is: "In order to make the novel into a polyhistorical illumination of existence, you need to master the technique of ellipsis, the art of condensation. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of endless length. Musil’s The Man Without Qualities is one of the two or three novels that I love most. But don’t ask me to admire its gigantic unfinished expanse! Imagine a castle so huge that the eye cannot take it all in at a glance. Imagine a string quartet that lasts nine hours. There are anthropological limits—human proportions—that should not be breached, such as the limits of memory. When you have finished reading, you should still be able to remember the beginning. If not, the novel loses its shape, its “architectonic clarity” becomes murky". (taken from here) Which I think was basically a parahphrase of where he talks about it in more length in his book 'The Art of the Novel'")

Links: Mindless Ones Article Batman the Return + Batman Inc = Alpha Adapter, Comics Alliance Article: ‘Batman, Inc.’ #1: Mr. Unknown Is Dead [annotations] / Comics Alliance Article: Batman, Inc. #2 Annotations: Resurrector! / Comics Alliance Article: Batman Incorporated #3: “Scorpion Tango” [annotations]Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated #3: Annocomments (pp1-3) / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated #4 Annocommentations / Mindless Ones Mindless Batchat (and Batman Inc #6 Annocommentations) / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! Annocommentations Part 1 / Mindless Ones Article: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! Annocommentations Part 2Mindless Ones Chris Burnham Cheeky Interview.

Preceded by: Batman: Batman and Son, Batman: The Black Glove, Batman: R.I.P., Final Crisis, Batman: Batman and Robin, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman: Time and the Batman.

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