Monday, November 8, 2010

Part III: The Lies That Civilization Tells Its Children Are Incinerated in the Flames of Savagery.

“Let’s go, ready? From the top.”

Batman is not just the man, but also the concept, the idea of Anti-Crime.

The concept gives way to the system. Batman as a legacy, and the nature of the man carrying on that legacy, transitions Batman from both man and concept to man, concept, and system of control.

It’s Monday. Let’s do this.

1

We’re going to begin with what at first would be a bit of a red herring but, in reality, is the final piece of the puzzle.

Morrison makes flashy, almost crass use of religious references that seam easily dismissible at first—most instances like this, the author is taking a shortcut to Seriousville, attempting to add gravitas to an otherwise frivolous situation (like Wiccans)Essentially, the invocation of the ancient is a fast, easy way to raise the stakes in any story.

Except that’s not what Grant Morrison did. First, he’s too sharp and too consistent for that sort of hackery. Second, the use of religious quotation (as in appropriation of images and ideas, not direct application of bible verse) exists as a conversational metaphor, one used by the characters themselves to frame the circumstances in which they are embroiled, rather than an authorial claim to cosmic implications. It also engages in the psychosis of the antagonist:

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The use of Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” in this conversation is what solidifies my earlier position that it’s character rather than author invoking the religious elements.

The primary villain of this issue is another Batman. During the course of these twenty-two pages, he was anonymous and deadly: the last surviving byproduct of an experiment done by a man named Dr. Simon Hurt (referred to as The Devil by our antagonist). With the Gotham Police Department and an unnamed branch of the United States Military, an attempt was made to replicate Batman not genetically but psychologically. Trauma victims were taken in, indoctrinated, trained, and who knows what else in an attempt to replicate that which created the original Caped Crusader. To borrow from Patton Oswalt, this is a pretty good example of science (albeit dramatized pseudo-science) being “all about coulda, not shoulda.”

Because the traumatized, evil Batman refers to Dr. Hurt as both his creator and Satan, he fancies himself the son of Satan and makes prodigious use of pseudo-satanic imagery as he rains terror down upon the city. As such, the metaphor is internal rather than authorial.

Almost.

Here’s where the above ceases to be a digression and instead becomes applicable. It all circles back around to Relevant Town if you frame the notion of the biblical apocalypse as a seismic political shift. We’re not talking about a super-majority or a sudden swing in party affiliation, we’re talking about a coup d'├ętat. This also finds support in the notion of Satan as adversary rather than the literal Morningstar—if Batman exists as a concept, within reasonable limitations, it doesn’t matter who is in the suit. The iconography is so powerful, the message is sent. And this is where the conflict representing the final struggle of the Batman System’s final claim of genuine dominance over Gotham City takes on more traditional literary allegory.

The folklore nature of Batman, independent of the private truths of alliances with law enforcement officials and/or the superhero community at large (remember, Batman is a part of a larger schema in which vigilantes operate on a cosmic scale, all in specific uniforms representing different ideals), means that even if someone dressed as Batman behaves wildly out of character for what we, the reader know to be true, it’s not necessarily proof positive of an imposter to the body politic of Gotham. Batman is clenching, brutal mystery in the dark, the avenging angel and psychopathic nightmare made real.

That was a really long sentence.

Even in the “present day” Gotham, Batman is coded to exist independently of the (costume) user, so two rival Batmen means rival ideologies within the same system, and this story takes place a good fifteen years in “our” future.

Pictured below, the antagonist Batman:

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This isn’t “I’ll ruin Batman’s good name.” This is “I am Batman just as much as he is Batman. We are Batman.” And, despite what Damien Wayne might have to say about it, he’s right. However, where (our) Batman is Anti-Crime, the antagonist-Batman seems to be (melodramatically) calling for an end to all systems of control, dismissing them as lies and calling for brutality and savagery to pull civilization down and burn it, something reminiscent of Damien’s grandfather Ra’s al Ghul, albeit without his panache, subtlety, or elegance. Still, as far as any onlookers are concerned, he’s Batman: when you look at an image of a soldier from any war with an ideological component, you see what they stand for just as much as you see them as a person, in this case that effect is amplified because the man in the uniform is masked. This notion of soldiering and representation is only amplified by their initial confrontation, in which Damien insists that Antagonist-Batman “doesn’t deserve to wear those colors.”

Further still, the dichotomy expressed between the two opposing Batmen has them functioning on the order of politics, managing to reap the success of their struggle with out actually being independent systems in what eventually becomes a life or death struggle between the two characters; a literal interpretation of a metaphorical phenomenon that Jean Baudrillard describes:

“Everything is metamorphosed into its opposite to perpetuate itself in its expurgated form. All the powers, all the institutions speak of themselves through denial, in order to attempt, by simulating death, to escape their real death throes. Power can stage its own murder to rediscover a glimmer of existence and legitimacy.”

Batman will live by killing Batman. (It doesn’t matter which is which at this point, the statement stands). Not only will he live, he will thrive. As such, no matter who wins, the paradigm holds: the mimicry of political self-sacrifice means that through the destruction of Batman, Batman can be reborn, this is only reinforced by the anonymity.

Finally there’s Damien himself. By his own admission, he isn’t his father. He isn’t as good at the job. As such, he makes up for it as best he can, stating:

“I spent my first three years as Batman making the job easy for myself. Turning the city itself into a weapon. The victory is in the preparation. So I booby-trapped every single prominent building in Gotham, including this one.”

No longer content to operate within the city, Damien as Batman, Damien as Anti-Crime, uses the city itself, claiming the venue of operation, turning each into an extension of his will, in the process taking control:

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“I Knew I’d never be as good as my dad or Dick Grayson. I promised I wouldn’t leave Gotham without a Batman, so I specialized in cheating.”

While initially a strategic decision-- as I mentioned in the first installment of this meandering bit of academic goofery, Batman is always ready for everything-- it becomes an unnerving lesson in how an unintentional autocracy can be born. His lack of personal strength means he seeks answers. He seeks to make up for his deficiency, and he does so by looking to the example of the previous Batman. His use of the phrase “The victory is in the preparation.” is a narrative callback: he says it earlier when reminiscing about his dead father, he intones it like an aural talisman several times, which actually takes us back to the religious imagery Morrison uses. That voice invoking religion as a dramatic element (remember, it’s the characters, not the author using it in this instance) coupled with the political implications of this apocalyptic conflict within the strata of Batman has primed the audience for the belief-based strength of faith, a faith that Damien exhibits in his father.

So, what does all of my nonsense mean?

Remember, Damien Wayne as Batman is Anti-Crime and Macro-Crime.

Damien-Batman killing Antagonist-Batman ends the contention within the system, a literal and metaphorical final step, one that his entire life has been moving towards; he’s spent a good amount of time preparing for this specific conflict, this Antagonist-Batman has been haunting him for more than a decade. The Batman that was destroyed is calling for destruction and savagery, that which law and order strive to eradicate. With this, Batman’s decision is made, a solution to his existential equation is found. Batman the system has metaphorically purged Macro-Crime from itself and, in the process, Batman the man and Batman the system have unintentionally found themselves in near-absolute control of Gotham City. Despite the lack of forethought, like any good monarch, like any good system of control, he embraces it, it slots into place.

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Ah-whut-oh. This is how horses get elected to senate.