Friday, January 29, 2010

The Joker 3 - My "Replacements are circling" too!

As esteemed Bat-blogger David Uzumeri mentioned in his B&R blog this week ... go here for a knock 'em dead article by 4thletter:

This stuff is not altogether new to us. We've been noticing massive nods to Alan Moore's accidental, possibly not self-appreciated work within The Killing Joke (By all accounts, and rightly so, the greatest Batman story ever told) cropping up all over Morrison's run. Homages. Nods. And even outright moments of rebellion from that holiest of 80's super-sized one-shots.

In my own musings I've covered how the Club of Villains, quite obviously so, all represent "followers of Joker's art" in the same way that the Club of Heroes are all inspired by Batman (and indeed, how J.H. Williams III homaged the various periods of Batman's life with their art styles).

My fellow blogger Cass Sherman has pointed out plenty of references, as has Uzumeri himself, and many others online throughout forums like CBR, Newsarama, ComicBloc, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. To those of us invested enough in Morrison's opus to really get crazy with these annotated blogs, The Killing Joke homages seem old hat. Le Bossu represents the twisted experimenter. Scorpiana represents the use of poisons. El Sombrero represents the use of death-traps & fun-houses, and leaves calling cards. Pierrot Lunaire represents the creepy clown factor. Swagman represents the defiance of the law (perpetual outlaw), and his Ned Kelly inspired gear pays wonderful homage to Heath Ledger. King Kraken I'm actually lost on ... other than being an inhuman monster. Charlie Caligula is the vanity. Professor Pyg has the completely insane mental status. Eduardo Flamingo has the lanky frame and absurd showmanship. Pearly King has the old-school street hood (Jimmy Cagney) vibe and the love of street-level games like dice, cards, darts, dominoes.

But in the interest of that article (and in total celebration of my new Absolute Hardcover Edition of TKJ with the pretty Brian Bolland coloring) I've decided to re-read TKJ and point out things Morrison would later homage - in reverse, rather than reading Morrison's stuff new and going back in time for references, which wouldn't do at all, since I've already done that.

So, without further ado:

THE KILLING JOKE and everything I can find in it that Morrison will use later. With some thoughts.

1A. Batman goes to Arkham to have a sit-down with Joker. There he finds Joker (actually a stooge pretending to be Joker, but bear with me) dealing a hand in a solitary card game that provides clues to the sharp-eyed reader. The "stooge" is arranging the cards into suits, and the Jokers are set aside, outside the deck. Keen readers will notice in 5.2 seconds that this flunky is "picking up Joker's mess" and distracting Batman, while the real Joker isn't even there to begin with.

1B. Batman goes to Arkham to have a sit-down with Joker. This happens in the DC Universe # 0 one-shot that kicked off the events leading toward Final Crisis. In Batman's chapter, Batman goes to Arkham to sit down with the Joker to ask him about the Black Glove. Joker is dealing the cards so as to give Batman clues. In typical Morrison (or Joker) fashion, it's much more coy than just some schmuck cover for Joker, because it's the real Joker, and he's working with a theme, he deals the "Dead Man's Hand" with himself as the wild card at the end.

2A. The Deck of Cards.

2B. The Deck of Cards? In case you may have noticed re-reading The Killing Joke, the design on the back of the deck of cards is Red & Black Checkers. The Joker card that Batman keeps to bring to the Bat-Cave for analysis is one of these. Side-note: Red & Black are also the colors of the original Red Hood costume ... and the new "half Batman inspired" Red Hood costume that Jason Todd (born of both Batman and Joker) wears.

3A. The Carnival Grounds. Here we see Joker buys it for his experiment with spreading his psychosis and hires gimmick carnies as henchmen.

3B. Years later (about 5 by my, and Morrison's count) Professor Pyg uses the same grounds, the same Ghost Train ride as his secret hideout for experimenting a drug that spreads "his sickness" and uses gimmick Dollotrons as henchmen.

3C. Prior to that, actually, in Batman # 663 The Clown at Midnight we get reacquainted with Solomon and Sheba, the two dwarfs who torment Gordon in TKJ. Joker has them killed in his traditional "thanks for your service, henchmen" way. Actually Sheba lives. According to Joker's inner monologue (Morrison's prose) during his "metamorphosis", TKJ is his short-lived "Ringleader from Hell" phase. And according to Morrison, the whole super-sanity theory he came up with can be credited to one Harleen Quinzel, so kudos Grant for effectively tying Moore's TKJ, Dini's Mad Love (or "Case Study"), and your own Arkham Asylum: A Serious House ... all together as "THE" definitive Joker reads.

4A. Joker walks by the posters for the sideshow freaks. There's a poster for Siamese twins, a three legged man, and a fat lady. We meet them later.

4B. When Professor Pyg unleashes his Circus of Strange on Gotham Central in B&R#2, sure enough, we meet a fat lady ("Big Top"), and an amalgam of Siamese twins and a three-legged man - the Siamese TRIPLETS known as "Siam". Also the "flaming man" Phosphorous Rex, but Rex was actually one of the Batman # 666 villains of Grant's own creation, much like Flamingo and Pyg, and others. The Carnival Freak Show is one of the classic pulp cliches.

Intermission - One would assume that, since Grant believes that somehow, all Batman's stories, even the outrageous 50's and 60's stuff, somehow really did happen to him ... that all of Joker's insane 50's and 60's stories happened as well. Not necessarily how they appeared to when first read, but something similar. Now, couple that with Grant's thoughts on Joker's David Bowie style reinventing himself - his innovation, and the fact that Grant gave us the names of these "Joker Styles" during The Clown at Midnight, you would assume that just like (and apparently Dick Grayson as well), "everything that ever happened to Joker is in continuity" as well. So how does that work with his "Multiple Choice" flashbacks to his own origins? I assume Grant, like he's doing himself with Batman, would encourage a devoted Joker fan to "mix and match the parts you like" and ignore the ones you don't.

5A. The photograph. In the Bat-Cave, Bruce sets the Joker card down next to a portrait of him, Dick Grayson (Robin), Bat-Mite, Kathy Kane(Batwoman), Bette Kane (Bat-Girl), Ace the dog, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon. It's drawn in the distinct Bob Kane Style and even has his iconic signature at the bottom. Is it a drawing, or is it a real group photo of the Batman Family of the late 50's and early 60's?

5B. Morrison would say a portrait, for sure. Of course now, in the wake of Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, it's harder to pin down continuity. It's a writer's plethora. Whatever they choose. But on the issue of known things - Bette Kane in current continuity moonlighted as the Earth-based Flamebird. She was a Teen Titan, she's retired now. Kathy Kane goes by Kate Kane, is Batwoman, but only recently (This is less specific, as she has a stepmother named Catherine Kane (a rich socialite, like Kathy Kane was) and an Aunt Kathy, presumably her father Jake Kane's sister, and her namesake, who may be the "old friend" of Bruce's who was killed by assassins). Bat-Mite is Bruce's imaginary friend that he only sees when he's going crazy - but he probably does exist in some capacity. They may very well have had Ace when Dick was younger, but odds are the dog didn't really fight crime.

6A. The Bat-Cave. Notice the one-seater "Bat Gyrocopters" hanging from the roof along with the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Morrison postulates that a lot of the goofier "trophies" in the Bat-Cave were Dick Grayson's ideas - the trophy collecting was a fun thing that he really got Bruce into doing. The goofier, more outlandish gadgets were also his influence on Bruce.

6B. Sure enough, in Batman and Robin # 7, Dick and England's "Squire", Beryl Hutchinson, fly from London to a remote coalmine in the countryside via these very same Bat-Gyros. Apparently Dick has "dusted off" some of his old favorite toys.

7A. Alfred's snack tray. Alfred brings the costumed, but umasked Bruce tea and sandwiches as Bruce ponders the Joker's next move, offering a snack for the busy detective. Bruce is too distracted by work to eat.

7B. Alfred's snack tray returns! In B&R#1 Alfred brings the costumed but unmasked Dick and Damian sandwiches and tea. Dick munches down sandwiches. Damian (Bruce's supposed son) is too distracted by work to eat. There's an interesting blog floating around out there about how Morrison never has Bruce eat food, but shows Dick eating all the time. At any rate, while Dick actually takes the sandwiches, he like Bruce remains glued to the monitors - in his case, he's chasing down Professor Pyg.

8A & 8B. As 4thletter pointed out, Gordon and Barbara enjoy cocoa but Joker barges in and shoots Barbara in the spine three times then kidnaps Gordon. He ties them up, tortures them, attempts to make Gordon watch. In B&R#1 Pyg barges in and kidnaps Sasha and turns her father into a Dollotron. Then later, he goes to turn Sasha into a Dollotron and makes Damian watch. Also, three shots to the spine - Flamingo shoots Damian in the spine three times. Damian is rapidly undergoing the "what Joker is capable of experience" whirlwind tour.

Intermission # 2. You know, I just realized for the first time that the gun Joker shoots Barbara with is a Colt Single Action Army - otherwise known as "The Peacemaker". It's probably THE most legendary cowboy/pistol duel/gunfighter gun to come out of the Civil War/Old West, and it was famous long before badass guys like Clint Eastwood made it THE standard in gunslinging Spaghetti Westerns.

9A. As Joker strips Barbara to her underwear/naked (Comics Code!) to take some photographs that will surely help tip Gordon over the edge, he says "To prove a point. Here's to crime."

9B. It's a slightly thinner reference, but Grant's "Pearly King of Crime" in London talked about "street royalty", but specifically said his gang was old-school. In it for "the good, honest plunder". And in fact, it's a recurring motif for Morrison to point out the fact that Gotham's "Pop Criminals" are all in it for the fun of crime - the GAME of crime. Cops vs. Robbers. Detective vs. Heist. Which is why all these street geniuses all pick a common street-level game as a gimmick and then try their hand at being a super-criminal. Two-Face with his coin tosses. Riddler with his riddles. Joker with his cards. It's a slick way of rationalizing Bob Kane's original very 40's comics way of coming up with villains, where he just took everyday items and things and made a character out of them.

Intermission # 3. You'd be wrong to say that Morrison is taking every homage from The Killing Joke. In fact, he references tons of 70's and 80's Batman as well. In the 70's? Well, it's pretty heavily from Denny O'Neill's celebrated run. Man-Bat has been seen. Ra's al Ghul, Talia and the League of Assassins are huge. But mostly it's the big-time great Joker stories of the time - The Laughing Fish. The Joker's Five-Way Revenge. From the 80's? He's made a big point to embrace what the 80's did to Jason Todd. Morrison uses what he likes from ALL eras of Batman.

Intermission # 4. Something always didn't sit well with me for Moore's Joker backstory. Recently I've wrapped my head around it, but I'll clarify. Moore's Joker is celebrating crime. He's trying to prove a point, sure, by torturing Gordon. But he's really the same gleeful criminal mastermind, and some would say "crime artist" he's always been. As The Joker, Moore never paints him as anything more than he's always been painted (albeit with some thoughtful shots of what he might be thinking about as segues into the flashbacks).

So it dawned on me when I first finished the story ... Lab Assistant, check. He's a smart guy. Failed comedian. Okay, maybe that's where the whole joking craziness comes into play after the Red Hood poor attempt at crime took place. But honestly? Joker is way too much of a crime savant, if that's the case. He's so good at crime. He knows the ins and outs. The ups and downs. It seems impossible to me that Joker came from humble backgrounds as a lab tech and failed comedian. This guy has the extensive street knowledge that a LIFE of crime would bring.

I'm not saying it's not possible he was a lab tech, a failed stand-up comic, and a husband and not-quite father ever. It certainly is. But the notion that somebody who would later be dubbed a PRINCE OF CRIME wasn't already a really talented criminal prior to his Joker days? Dubious, at best.

It doesn't bother me much anymore. It occurred to me more recently that if Joker had done ALL of it, in keeping with Morrison's "EVERYTHING COUNTS" mentality ... if he WAS a lab tech, a bad stand-up comic, an expert heist-level lock-pick/bank robber (See: Lovers & Madmen ... or The Dark Knight, I guess), a hitman (See: Batman '89, Batman:TAS, "Case Study") ... if he was a sicko little kid who killed animals and as a teen murdered his parents (See: J.M.S.' The Brave & The Bold: "The Atom & The Joker") ... if he did a TON of that stuff at a very young age, and quite a bit of it actually happened ... well then he really would have been a Jack of All-Trades, you know? And that's precisely what Joker was before he became a Joker. He was a Jack. He went from a Prince of Crime to being a Clown Prince of Crime.

Side-note to that whole concern. It can not be a coincidence that one of the gangsters who convinces the "young Joker" to take part in Moore's possible origin story's "Red Hood gimmick" looks absurdly more like the Joker than the kid does himself. Now anyway, back to the task at hand. In fact, in 90% of Bolland's panels, that guy gets better panel time than the young comedian does. Of course, that guy also gets shot in the head by a cop. But hey, so it goes. And as evidenced by Batman's "So, Red Hood, we meet again" ... it's all up for grabs.

10A. Actually, I've really already covered this. Joker's got midgets for his henchmen here, and they're scary and creepy and weird and torture Gordon. Look at the "girl midget", who we learn later is named Sheba. She's wearing Red & Black Checkers.

10B. Morrison brings them back, in the only way we ever meet "former Joker henches". Five-Way Revenge style.

11A. Joker sits atop a throne on a mountain dolls.

11B. Dollotrons. Lots of 'em! The cover of B&R#3 says it all, as Batman and Robin battle atop a mountain of Professor Pyg's Dollotron henchmen, and it appears they're standing atop a mountain of dolls. Even the color-scheme is similar.

Intermission # 5. This one is shorter, I promise. Moore's Joker basically sums up the entire existence of The Joker. "But can we live without them? Memories are what our reason is based upon. If we can't face them, we deny REASON ITSELF." That's Joker to a tee. His past trauma has turned him into a whirling dervish that lives only in the present. He denies reason in favor of being unreasonable. By the way, Moore's puns here are off the charts.

12A. Ripples in the Reflection. This shows that Joker's memories can't be trusted. Most of the puddles in this book are being rained upon, and so they're not still reflections, they're broken, rippling, chaotic. Not especially true. Moore's got a nice subtle metaphor going with the rippling puddles.

12B. Meddlesome Memories. Bruce wanted to know what it's like to be The Joker? He finally got his chance when his memories could no longer be trusted amidst Last Rites (During Final Crisis) when he was being telepathically read like a book by The Lump and his memories couldn't be trusted. I wonder, when he gets back, if he'll finally be able to understand Joker more.

13A & 13B. 4thletter already pointed out the clear comparisons you can draw between being "Blinded by the Hood". Dick Grayson said it to Damian in Revenge of the Red Hood, and indeed Jason was blinded a good deal by "the mask" he was wearing (a hood). Joker was blinded by the hood and that's what caused him to fall into the vat of acid. To top it off, Frank Miller recently (All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder # ?) coined that "A hood turns into a blindfold" line. Dick Grayson had thought to dub himself "Hood" like Robin Hood, and Batman tweaked it - ditch the Hood, be Robin.

That is all. Between the various bloggers and myself we'd already put thought into about 75% of these, but some stuff ... feels less thoroughly debated.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I've tended to drag on a bit and lose my point of view in these annotation/opinion pieces, so I'll try to be more to the point and efficient with this one, for my own sake as much as for readers who don't feel like reading an essay that doesn't have some clear goals and points to make.

Prologue: Clearly a continuation of the epilogue from last issue, we have Dick retrieving Bruce's corpse. I'll try to clarify some popular questions here: 1. Why is Bruce still wearing his Bat-costume? Easy - to Dick Grayson, it's evidence. That being said, Black Hand DID remove the skull from that corpse, did he not? Yes, so they must have recollected the whole thing. Other than that? Lots of questions about the timeline. When does this happen in regards to Blackest Night? In regards to Red Hood? Morrison seems content not to worry about it, but I will.

Timeline: Robin is fine in Blackest Night: Batman, but in Red Hood he's shot in the spine by Flamingo. And his spine is still fucked here. Therefore, logic dictates that Morrison's "Day after Blackest Night" comment is more like "The week after Blackest Night". It goes Blackest Night then Revenge of the Red Hood then Blackest Knight. Got that? Let's not worry about how Tony Daniel's book ties in since Robin is fine in Batman: Life After Death, Black Mask is still in charge, but Penguin is rebelling, yet in Revenge of the Red Hood Penguin works for Black Mask. I take it Tony's arc is either after all of this a few weeks, or else Penguin's rebellion is going to fail. We'll see. Let's just throw some events up.

1. Batman R.I.P.
2. Final Crisis
3. Last Rites
4. Battle for the Cowl
5. Batman Reborn
6. Blackest Night: Batman
7. Revenge of the Red Hood
8. Blackest Knight

Dig? It's not hard to realize that frankly there's only a few months between Final Crisis and Blackest Night. Body in the vault is considered "evidence". Good? Works for me.

London: Batman & Squire.
This stuff is rife with references for London and British readers to recognize, but a lot of it is pretty widely known landmarks, and an avid James Bond or Guy Ritchie film fan will know most of it. The ferris wheel is "The Wheel" on the River Thames. Big tourist attraction. It often rains in the U.K. and we see TONS of umbrellas this issue. Makes you wonder why Penguin doesn't migrate to England, he'd do well there.

Old King Coal is our first British villain. More on his family later. Squire's "Charging Steed" motorcycle (Knightcycle?) is a modern update, but the idea of a motorcycle stylized to be a horse dates back to the very first appearance of Knight & Squire - "The Batman and Robin of England", featuring Cyril and his dear dad. Other annotations will walk you through every sight and sound in West London depicted here. Suffice it to say, Batman races up the River Thames into West London (W1) to get to the Underground Station. I remember that long bridge from 007: The World is Not Enough ...

Dick Grayson's acrobatics make moving across a lot of urban space quite a breeze for him. Once more we see he's a more nimble Batman than Bruce. The hood King Coal's planning on bombing the London Underground with goes by Smooth Eddie English, A.K.A. The Pearly Prince, complete with cockney accent. More on the Pearly Court in a bit.

The Tower of London ...
Others have pointed out that the name of "England's Arkham", Basement 101 is likely a reference to George Orwell's 1984. Which in fact, could also be a nod to "V For Vendetta". Knowing Grant's habit of giving a nod, good or bad, to what Alan Moore has done before, it wouldn't surprise me, since Moore's "V" clearly owes a bit to 1984 itself!

I was content with the hilarity of an actual secret super-dungeon in the "tourist" dungeons of the Tower of London, and an actual role for the comic Justice League Europe character Beefeater, cameoing here and originally modeled after John Cleese. Others have noted, Beefeater was last seen as a pall bearer at Booster Gold's fake funeral in 52, of which Morrison was a co-writer. I wonder how long he's been thinking "When I take Batman to England, I'm using that guy!" As for the absurdly funny names of the British rogues gallery? More on that later! I'll note that the weird Metalek alien purports to be from "Galaxy X", and "X" is a recurring thing this issue, with Bruce's body being designated "Shipment X", and indeed, a bit of an "X Marks the Spot" plot.

The scene with Dick and Pearly mirrors a zillion scenes like this with Batman going into Arkham. The Dominoes certainly indicate that Pearly as 'king of crime' in London might be in on the Domino Killer. The fish-tank with electric eels and love of games puts him again as something of a Joker equivalent (albeit more gang-oriented). No doubt he's a guy who suspends heroes over fish-tanks with sharks or eels or whatever and plays the whole gimmick routine. His bit of self-aggrandizing about his "descent from King Arthur" is about as common and bullshit in England as Americans claiming to be descended from a Cherokee Princess, but there is something to it, it seems, as he uses the Dominoes as a hint for Batman - a map of the layout of the mines. Of course, his son "won control" over that Mine, so he's willing to let Batman go clean up his enemy, King Coal's hostile takeover of it.

Knight & Squire Villains:
The primary gang conflict in DCU England seems to be between South (Londoners) and North (Country), although there's clearly rogues from all over the U.K. that no doubt as the ones in Gotham, do hired-gun work, like the Welsh "Dai Laffyn" - possibly a wildcard Joker type. Big Don Drummond was created by James Robinson in Superman recently (battling two new British heroes - Beaumont (Rich) and Sunny Jim (Poor). The others are all made up based on common British street sights. I won't go too far into it.

Old King Coal's Court
Coal is a Northern "country" criminal in England. As quickly touched upon by Knight & Squire, his henchmen are all high on magic mushrooms, and are fanatics. As we quickly learn, they're superstitious members of the Religion of Crime and so the Lazarus Pit holds "religious significance" to them. But like most of the Crime Bible thumpers we've seen Batwoman & Montoya face in Rucka's stuff - they've misinterpreted the prophecies once more to think Batwoman is the key. Other than that? The "Ghost Miners" henchmen are straight out of Scooby Doo. And hey! Remember in the 60's when Scooby Doo met Batman and Robin? Side note - coal-mining has long, long, long been a stape of the British countryside, U.K. energy source and labor disputes between lower and upper class, labor and government. A perfect choice for a gimmick villain. Pearly King mentions Old King Coal's "Donna" - that's his girlfriend or wife. Apparently she's bad news. Who the hell knows who she'll end up being, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a villainess involved in the Religion of Crime. Maybe another Rucka character cameoing - Whisper A'Daire has been missing quite a while. Lastly here, others have noted that the "Last Lazarus Pit" possibly being the "Fountain of King Arthur" seems to be a reference to Morrison's SEVEN SOLDIERS, specifically I'd imagine Shining Knight (An Arthurian Knight). Won't surprise me. I'm expecting an Arthurian chapter in Return of Bruce Wayne, to be honest.

Pearly's Court
Pearly King (Our titular character) seems to be the kingpin of the British villains. His and his son's gimmick is silly button suits, which is a reference to the "Pearlies" - akin to Salvation Army Santa Clauses really - they walk London's streets keeping people informed about charity and wearing outlandish garb covered with buttons. Apparently in the DCU, a criminal syndicate uses the whole good-will organization as cover. At any rate, Pearly and his son Eddie have East End Cockney accents, and represent the old-school "cops & robbers" hood style of crime. And yes, they feel like they were plucked right out of a Guy Ritchie flick (Snatch, Lock Stock, Rock n Rolla) and given DCU gimmicks. Pearly King himself? Apart from being old-school, he's got some heft to his appearance. He's seen using DOMINOES, and other classic games - darts, dice, cards - all things that are massive trademarks of Joker (who also goes by "something Prince of Crime") and were recently used by the Black Glove. In it for the crime life, he apparently sees the likes of Old King Coal as fanatics, zealots, superstitious backstabbers. And it's literally a case of Old-School Underground vs. Crime Bible. We've seen that battle in Gotham recently as well - Intergang (Crime Bible) moved in on Gotham's Underground (Penguin, also the Falcone family is back now) and they set up covens which Batwoman has been hunting.

Could Pearly King be in on the Black Glove? A new member? Better still - could he know Joker somehow? Might Joker have apprenticed under him once? That's pure speculation. But more recently could they have met? If Joker is the Domino Killer, traveling and killing the Black Glove rich people ... might he have used his "Brit counterpart" for information? And even inspiration? If my theory about Oberon Sexton being Joker holds true, there could be a connection. But I'll shelf the speculation for now. Pearly also shows a pretty keen eye - Dick comes across as "younger than he expected Batman to be".

League of Assassins ...
All that fun romp through England aside, there's Batman story to be told here. First off, as Morrison promised in his IGN interview, we see Damian get a new spine to replace the one Eduardo Flamingo shot to hell. It's funny that he's floating in a pool of healing medicine, as the Lazarus Pit is one "Baptism in a Fountain of Life", Talia's "Damian Spa" is another (Mom even compares the kid to Alexander the Great, who himself purportedly swam in a healing fountain), Bruce's dip in the Nanda Parbat Fountain is another ... and so we see a recurring theme here. I'm not sure where it's going, but it's good to note it. Meanwhile, Alfred's charm steals the show here, as Talia plans something nefarious (Which I'm sure we'll catch up with in Batman vs. Robin). Alfred seems quite sure the body is that of Bruce. I wonder if he knows what Dick is doing. Aside from that this is the first issue where League of Assassins ... Crime Bible ... and Black Glove are all sort of referenced in the same context. The League has skirmished with the Cult of CCrime (See: Kyle Abbott, Whisper A'Daire, 52, Rucka) and the League has skirmished with the Black Glove (See: Morrison - R.I.P., a little bit of Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul). But this is the first time ALL THREE of them are converging.

Rendle Colliery, English Countryside ...
As cool as it is to see the old 70's bit where Batman leaves the city for an isolated location in the countryside, there's of course more to Morrison's site. Old pre-Christian ley lines ... druidic mysticism ... the longest night of the year ... this stuff is gold as far as where an Arthurian Lazarus pit would be, and where the Religion of Crime would be looking. And Beryl gives the location an appropriately goofy X-Files meets Scooby Doo backstory with a scary "Margaret Thatcher" (See: V For Vendetta) tale to go with it. And of course, they go into "detective mode" and notice footprints that carried something heavy, which we'll get to.

Dick Grayson's frame-of-mind:
Obviously, apart from the coincidence of these two warring Crime Factions in England unearthing the "Last Lazarus Pit" being really good timing for Dick to attempt to revive Bruce, there's the matter of Dick's mind-set. Just a year ago during Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, Dick spent an entire issue lecturing Tim Drake about the VERY SAME THING. Bringing people back is wrong. It's not natural. They hugged. Now Dick plans on using the Lazarus Pit (the wrong way to get Bruce back) while Tim is out there as Red Robin, ALSO tied up with the League of Assassins, attempting to get Bruce back the right way.

There's enough explanation between this issue, last issue, and the Nightwing appearances in 52 and Last Rites.

First - there's Jason Todd last issue. Jason WAS SUCCESSFULLY REVIVED by a Lazarus Pit. And Jason, the Bad-Robin, last issue, really gut-punched Good-Robin Dick with guilt when he said Dick was failing Bruce by not trying a Lazarus Pit. Don't think Dick cares about Jason's opinion - WRONG. He let Gordon arrest the Red Hood without revealing Jason's real name. He lost his temper when Jason said that and tried to fight his way through arresting cops to punch Jason.

Second - there's Dick's history with Bruce. As he mentions this issue - they are brothers. Bruce is his big brother. The best big brother he could ever have asked for. When they were younger - Bruce early 20's, Dick 10-16, they saw the most absurd, insane, goofy 1950's and 60's stuff imaginable. Got through it all. Robin always saved Batman and Batman always saved Robin. He's only Batman because he's continuing Bruce's work, and he'd gladly go back to being Nightwing (Well, somebody else if General Zod's son wants to keep it) if Bruce somehow came back.

Third - Blackest Night just happened like a week ago, DC-time. Massive zombie resurrection. And obviously by its end, odds are pretty good some divine happy resurrections happen, too. There's not much context for this part yet, but it has to factor into Dick's mind. Zombies. Ghosts. White Light of Creation. And here's a Lazarus Pit, unearthed a week later.

Obviously we know that Batwoman - a bit of an expert in all things Crime Bible Prophecy - is right and this isn't going to work out very well. But Dick is at least totally within character. He's willing to give it a try.

Batwoman, too?!
So ... Batman and Squire come across King Coal's mooks and trash them, find a coffin, trade information that sounds similar to things we've heard in the Crime Bible past, and sure enough, Batwoman is trapped in a casket they were planning to sacrifice to the Lazarus Pit. It's a very old-school way of bringing in a character - a rough entrance into the scene from Stage Left. But it was at least telegraphed a bit when we started putting two-and-two together about Coal's men being superstitious fanatics ... carrying something heavy ... twice-named-daughter ... ah! Kate Kane! She's not exactly on her A-Game at first, having to blow her way out of the casket with something that goes boom and possibly concussing herself, so Dick welcomes her to the party and catches her up. He's the New Batman. He's going to attempt to bring Old Batman back. He trusts her so she's welcome to join him, Cyril and Beryl. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! WELCOME BACK BRUCE!

Beyond that? The abandoned mine cliche is great, and the glow-in-the-dark Ghost Miners from Scooby Doo are wonderful. There's a huge art mix-up when Batman and Batwoman's dialogue is switched and it threw me and everyone else at first, but once you get beyond that this is a top notch issue and Cameron Stewart is more than welcome.

There's plenty to speculate, but for now it's pretty straight-forward, so that's it (which I'm sure is already more than enough). Can't wait till Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Batman vs. Robin 1-3, Batman and Robin Must Die 1-3, The Return of Bruce Wayne 1-6, a little more Rucka with your Morrison, and the rest.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Joker 2 - Red & Black ... as in Roses.

Just continuing my current treatise on Joker here for a second.

Joker killed all his old henchmen with Red and Black toxic roses. Obviously, as we learned, the whole "red & black" motif was all meant for Batman. And it took me a long time to figure out the gag. Obviously, there was the checkerboard pattern which forced Batman to look for a pattern or game. But beyond that? There was something simpler that I'd missed.

Black Roses: Symbolically, Black Roses signify lots of things. Black Magic (Okay, the Devil is involved here). They're also a symbol of the anarchist movement (which is insanely appropriate for Joker) But in the 18th Century, according to the Language of Flowers, Black Roses signify a few things.

In the 18th century, the language of flowers became popular. In this code, black roses to most people signify death, or hatred. But it also means farewell. Black rose means revenge to a foe or wanting to kill someone. However, because a black rose is virtually impossible to procure, it can also mean pure love. A black rose can also mean rebirth, though this is less known.

Now ... this speaks volumes about Joker. He's Batman's arch-nemesis. He's always trying to get "revenge on a foe" and "wanting to kill Batman". And he does hate Batman. And more than that, he IS bidding Batman farewell. But he also loves him. Which is why he also uses ...

Red Roses:
Red Roses are a symbol of true love. And we all know part of The Joker's twisted M.O. is that he feels like he's the only person worth Batman's time, and vice-versa. Without Batman there's no Joker, and without Joker there's no Batman. It's partly narcissism, and partly vanity.

Of course, to top it off ... Red/Black is a complicated system the NSA uses to section off where in cryptic, coded messages the sensitive information is stored. So it seems right up Joker's alley.

And to top THAT off ... the French novel The Red and The Black is a psychological drama that highlights the inherent dichotomy between thinking (black) and feeling (red), although ultimately any other comparisons would prove circumstantial.

And of course, there's the Blue Oyster Cult song of the same name ... but that's about Canadian Mounties.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Joker - A Simple Trickster in a City full of Devils

Just to get a little heavy into some theory here - because I'm revisiting Morrison's Batman run in an attempt to reconcile Dave Uzumeri's insane but almost certainly with a lot of truth to them theories ...

At any rate. My annotations for Revenge of the Red Hood put heavy emphasis on my own personal theory that Oberon Sexton is The Joker's latest in a long line of disguises. Most of my reasons are spelled out in detailed lists within those pages, so I won't rehash them. Rather, I've decided to look at how Morrison has used The Joker - what role in the Batman world does he fill. If Batman is up against the "Ultimate Enemy", his personal Devil, whether Hurt winds up being Bruce Wayne after 10,000 years of Lazarus Crazy or whether Hurt is a literal Devil mind-screwing him ... how does Joker, Bruce's usual Rival, fit in? If the Arch-Nemesis isn't Joker ... and Joker is forced to take a spot on the side, what is that spot?

At that, we've seen in R.I.P. that if Batman is the proverbial "Heroic God" and he's fighting against an ultimate "Devil", Joker is more like a Trickster God - a Loki, to borrow from a familiar Mythology to comics fans. Thor's ultimate conflict is probably with Fenrir and Ragnarok (or Darkseid and Apokolips, if need be) but Loki ever plays the role of the wild card. And while I'm not as up on my Norse Myth as I should be to use that analogy, think "broad strokes" and you'll see how it compares to Joker, who the "Big Bad" wanted to use as a pawn, but who wasn't about to roll that way. And of course, even after Bruce Wayne is replaced by Dick Grayson, Trickster Gods are often depicted as masters of disguise.

Now ... specifically (and forgive me if this isn't the most neatly assembled essay, but I'm making it up on the fly) here are some instances and why they point me in a particular direction.

At first I took Harley Quinn's alias at face value. To be honest, Batman # 663 came out so long ago now that we weren't steeped in the insane Magnificent Bastardry of Morrison's grand scenario. And after all, Joker has employed the use of Trickster Gods before as aliases, much as any of Batman's rogues have used similar ruses, hundreds of times.

But upon further inspection (Source: Wikipedia):

"Wisakedjak (Wìsakedjàk in Algonquin, Wīhsakecāhkw in Cree and Wiisagejaak in Oji-cree) is the Crane Manitou found in northern Algonquian mythology, similar to the trickster god Nanabozho in Ojibwa aadizookaanan (sacred stories) and Inktonme in Assiniboine myth. He is generally portrayed as being responsible for a great flood which destroyed the world originally made by the Creator, as well as the one who created the current world with magic, either on his own or with powers given to him by the Creator for that specific purpose. His name is subject to many variant spellings, including Weesack-kachack, Wisagatcak, Wis-kay-tchach, Wissaketchak, Woesack-ootchacht, and undoubtedly others.

It was sometimes Anglicized as Whiskey Jack, which became an alternate name for the Gray Jay."

For starters ... the Anglicized form of Wisakedjak is "Whiskey Jack". Jack is the widely "kind of" acknowledged first name of The Joker, first given to him in the 1989 Batman film (Jack Napier), and while throughout the comics history, often the "Play on jackanapes" Napier is dropped, Jack has lasted considerably throughout dozens of incarnations. I believe because writers inherently see the joyful fun of this man "Jack", the "Prince of Crime" (A Jack in a deck of cards is the Prince) being turned into "Joker", the "Clown Prince of Crime".

(Side note here: I've found boatloads of circumstances that point toward Joker being Irish, so the Whiskey part of the name has its humor as well.)

Morrison probably chuckled at how similar the word "Wisakedjak" sounds like "Wise-Ache" as well. And lastly, the Anglicized form became a nickname for the Gray Jay - a loud, obnoxious pest bird, which in another brilliant twist of linguistics, is a member of the Jay family. Jay, like "Mister J.", which is Harley Quinn's affectionate nickname for The Joker.

Now, to top it off ... Wisakedjak was used by one of Morrison's favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, in his book American Gods (probably where Morrison first read about it, to be honest). And if you think that's strange, consider the fact that Wisakedjak had an equivalent in another Native American tribe by the name of "Nanabozho", which is absurdly like the childish taunt "Nana" combined with the all-time most popular clown name of "Bozo".

Now, how that'll all link up to my theory that Oberon Sexton (Calling himself Oberon ... a reputable Trickster God, since he's King of Fairies) is Joker is circumstantial at this point. Apart from "El Penitente" (Probably Doctor Hurt) calling Oberon and trying to coerce his services in a way that could imply "he found where Joker is hiding out", there isn't much to go by. Oberon's book title (Masks of Evil). Oberon praising Batman and talking shit on TV about the "new" Red Hood, reminding everyone in Gotham that there was ANOTHER infamous Red Hood in Gotham long before this punk vigilante. His "background" of his wife killed, which while eerily similar to that of Michael Lane (Third Batman, current Azrael) is also eerily similar to a corrupted version of the already probably corrupted history Joker got in Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke". Not to mention how Oberon is head-to-toe covered in Black (Mourning the loss of Batman?) and even his eyes are covered by sunglasses. If he were The Joker, his eyes would be a big giveaway. His new cut smile would need a full black mask to conceal. And the top hat doesn't hurt. Joker has been known to wear top hats.

I've been trying to draw some connection between Oberon's mention of the "Riddle of the Corn Dollies" and the Cree Indian Legends, but frankly ... "corn" in Early Europe meant grain - the big, yellow cobs we have here in the states were called "maize" by the Indians. So other than my own wish fulfillment thinking of Joker knowing something of his own Irish roots (Corn Dollies while not unique to the British Isles, certainly seem to be dominated by British, Scottish, Welsh and Irish lore) I had to turn to the legends.

The pre-Christian settlers of the British Isles had a harvest folklore that said there was a "corn spirit" living in the fields and whenever all the corn was scythed and harvested, he'd be homeless. Joker right now, without a "real Batman" to duel with, is sort of homeless.

I admit though, this line of reasoning is grasping at straws ... (bad pun). Anyway, there's no real through-line of connection there, but I wanted to at at least try to explain away the whole Corn Dollie mention, because if it IS The Joker, I'm hard-pressed to see why he'd bring up something that seems so much more up The Scarecrow's alley.

Last for now ... there's the matter of Joker evoking old pagan gods. Trickster gods like Wisakedjak, or Oberon or any other, are all pagan gods. Before Christianity came along, and before most of the themes with which Morrison has been playing with (good and evil, god and the devil, Christ-like Batman) existed. They were used by primitive (cowardly, superstitious lots) people to explain forces of nature. And Joker is a force of nature.

I can't help but wonder if Morrison, in his "Ultimate Battle Between Good and Evil" in the pages of Batman sees Joker as something of a pagan influence - if Batman represents "Good" and Hurt represents "Evil", perhaps Joker is here to represent something much older and much more adaptive. Perhaps the reason why The Joker doesn't take The Devil seriously is because what he represents is older and doesn't fear these newfangled Judeo-Christian concepts.

Before there was ever a Satan, there was hundreds of Tricksters, toying with Heroes for much simpler, pettier, REAL HUMAN reasons better than any kind of Good vs. Evil, Discipline vs. Temptation religious philosophical battles. And those Tricksters will outlive Good vs. Evil. In fact, Judeo-Christian Religion is dying in the modern world of Reason and Science. And that's why Joker considers himself ahead of the curve - the perfect evolution of crazy. In a fast-paced world, he's even faster. And he's cast aside outdated concepts rooted in Judeo-Christianity like "Right and Wrong" in favor of being "Unreasonable in a world of reason", "Hyper-Logical", and "Whatever the fuck he can get away with.