Friday, 27 February 2009

Rupert the Bear considered as a Spaghetti Western

The Daily Express is one of those middle-brow tory tabloids that demands higher reading skills than the Red Tops and lower thinking skills than the broadsheets. It lacks the heel appeal of The Daily Mail's pantomime facism and can only ever get over its Diana obsession when there's Madeline McCann NotNews to report, to the extent that they might as well be done with it and rename the thing 'The Daily Dead Blondes'. I don't have much time for The Daily Express.

So it annoys me a bit that it's home to something truly beautiful.

"Rupert, Rupert, Rupert the Bear... everyone knows his name" went the theme tune to the crap 1990's TV adaptation of the 1920's strip. TV executives get so excited over brand recognition that they sometimes forget it's a tool for indirectly manipulating audiences rather than something the audience is supposed to get directly excited over too. "Hey Kids! Check this bear out! He's got brand recognition!"

But the other day I say an episode of a slightly less crap TV adaptation, one that knew more than the name. On the surface, Follow the Magic, 2006's CGI take on Rupert, looks like what you'd expect a 2006 CGI take on Rupert to be - a hollow monstrosity come to feast on the souls of pre-school children. But on another level it's got something very right.

Here's the basic premise of Rupert (we'll elaborate later) : Rupert's a bear. An anthropomorphised bear seen at a point in his childhood vauge enough to allow children of various ages to identify with him. He has mild adventures with his social circle of anthropomorphised badgers, elephants and so forth.

Here's the premise of the particular episode I saw: Rupert has illictly borrowed his mother's cuckoo clock to show his friends. There is some excitement. The cuckoo clock is broken.

What happens next?

We've all seen pre-school children's telly, so we all know where this story is going. Rupert must confess what he's done to his mother, right? Then he must repair or replace the clock, right? Learning valuable lessons about honesty and responsibility, yeah?

Oh no. The clock is broken and so...








He fails and is trapped forever, like at the end of Saphire and Steel. Oh alright, no he doesn't. He turns his elephant friend's trunk into a giant sundial and fixes the universe. But I put it to you that this is nevertheless a departure from what one might have expected from a "Little Bear steals Mummy Bear's old clock" story.

This is what the 2006 adaptation got right - Rupert the Bear is bloody weird.
It's also what it's got wrong, because Rupert the Bear isn't weird at all.

Lots of fantasies show us 'our world made strange', and lots of others take place in some strange new world. Sometimes these secondary worlds exist with no reference to ours, and sometimes they're connected to ours by magic wardrobes or police boxes. What the Rupert the Bear newspaper strips do is something more curious. They show us a secondary world that has access to a tertiary world of its own.

TV adaptations have either just shown the secondary world, or (like Follow the Magic) tried to integrate the secondary and teritary worlds into one strange place. But here's how it really's a map of Rupert's realites...

Rupert the Bear lives in Nutwood. It's an idealised 1940/50's English village and, mysteriously, seems to have been an idealised 1940/50's English village since the strip began in the 1920s. The home, the garden, the church, the common and the village shops are the extent of this universe, and the backdrop for a quaint life of cricket, fetes and sandwiches. Most, but far from all, of its inhabitants are smartly dressed humanoid animals who look like the English cousins of the Sylvanian Families.

That's the secondary world in which Rupert is set. But it's cracked. Someone dropped Plush England and now it's full of little holes. Gaps in the hedge, loose planks in the fence, paths through the woods and points on the horizon. Little holes that a tiny bear might fall through. Little holes through which other things might crawl.

First contact between the twee and the primal.

The clouds in the sky above Nutwood are ships with strange pilots and stranger cargos. The ground beneath it is riddled with the tunnels of an underground railway system, taking the imps who turn the seasons from their work in the fields to their rest in the blue mountain. You've only to step over the river and you've left the twentieth century for a world of knights and castles.

Nutwood is a consistent and integral conceptual space, but it's built on top of something. It's a sunny, Anglican, post-Victorian myth of England that's left the cellar door unlocked and allowed its adventurous children to sneak down into the darkness of a Pagan, Celtic myth of Britain. Then climb back out again, for tea and scones.

Part of this, I think, is because Rupert the Bear is Britain's Spaghetti Western. Those films took the most American of myths, myths so rooted to their location that they took the name of a compass point, and transplanted them to an alien landscape. The cowboy in southern Spain, singing the lord's song in a strange land, demythologising himself by finding his apotheosis in a place where he could never exist.

Rupert's world is just the same. Nutwood is the most immaculate, Picture Postcard representation imaginable of England's Dreaming, of its self-conception of its "Good Old Days." Except that it isn't England at all. Alfred Bestall, the strip's definitive illustrator, created this world by looking out of his window and drawing the landscape he saw. He saw Wales.

"It's not where you're from
It's not where you're at
It's not where you've been
It's where you're between." - Super Furry Animals.

The form of a Rupert story, also invented by Bestall, is important here too.

Each strip (or, when collected, page of an annual) would be a short prose story accompanied by four little illustrations. The illustrations were then accompanied by four rhyming couplets which summarised the story.

So, lets say Rupert was on an adventure to bring home a potion that would attract rare butterflies to his garden. The text would go...

In his excitement over the phial of essence Rupert forgets all about his bunch of flowers as he starts for home.
"Mind you keep that thing tightly corked," laughs the Professor, "or you won't be able to see where you're going because of butterflies!"

The picture would look like this...


And be captioned thusly...

He's told, "Be careful not to fall,

That scent will spill - you'll lose it all."

(Anyone who's read the wonderful Doctor Who story, 'Once Upon a Time Lord' will recognise this format from the beautiful sequence in which the Doctor and Frobisher pass through a Rupert story)

The idea here is that there are three different ways to read the story (four if you count each strip's title which was always a summary of what followed - this one's called "Rupert Heeds a Warning"), with young children being able to follow the pictures, older children able to read the verse and even older children able to read the prose.

I've never been convinced by this. To me it seems harder to read the rhymes - the constraints of space force them to be more eliptical than the prose (where did the bunch of flowers go?), and the constraints of rhyme force them to employ a wider selection of words. The rhymes are the more challenging way in which to follow the story.

When we look at a Rupert strip we're not really looking at different ways of comunicating the same thing. We're looking at one thing becoming something else. It's obvious that the prose was there first and the pictures and verse followed it, so what we're seeing on the page in front of us is a transformation.

We're watching adaptation happen before our eyes as a story becomes a different story (worrying about a swarm of butterflies isn't quite the same as worrying about a spillage) but never completing that transformation because it never replaces the original form. The original text remains right there next to the imagery and poetry it has become.

Rupert the Bear depicts an inescapable moment of transition. Captured between modes of storytelling, between moments of cultural history, between nations and between comfortable domesticity and dangerous, mythic proto-psychedelia.

Maybe it does belong in the Daily Express after all. Maybe it changes the whole of that tedious, conservative, Little England newspaper into a magic eye picture. Stare through it and watch things change.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Wide Awake and Dreaming

My perfect morning involves waking up to The Today Programme, but not waking up to it entirely.

There'd be no harsher start to the day than having Chris Morris shout, "This is the NEWS!" down your lughole, but it's not like that at all. Rather than bringing you round with a brutal thud of verité, waking up with the news on puts you in a floaty place halfway between the strangeness of dreams and the strangeness of the world.

Microsleeps and hazy mishearings punctuate what you're half-listening to, and it's not until hours later you realise that you probably didn't hear what you thought you did. I never find the news quite so satisfying as when I'm semi-concious. So it occured to me to try and put this right.

What I've done is just to take a couple of random items from Today and snip out the bits that make it make sense. It's not really meant to be funny, it's just meant to let me hear something while I'm awake that I can normally only ever hear while I'm half-asleep.

The one with the dog is a little bit funny though.

Friday, 20 February 2009

ZombEE! ZombEE! Zomb -EE-EE-EE! AW! AW! HEY HEY! ELLA ELLA ELLA! Under my Umberella.

Second to Final Crisis: Fantastic Four - True Story, my favourite of the non-DC Final Crisis tie-ins has been Final Crisis: Crossed by Garth Ennis. After finishing reading The Affinity Bridge yesterday I think I know why; I'm under attack from Zombies.

The Affinity Bridge is not a terribly good book. It's harmless, by-the-numbers, steampunk DetFic that sneaked out of the SF section of the bookstore in the hopes that it might trick mainstream readers who enjoyed Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters into picking it up on a Borders three-for-two deal (a reasonable hope - that's how it got me). But it does have one really good idea in it, and it's an idea about Zombies. It doesn't develop or explore the idea in any way, just bringing it in to tie three plot-threads together at the end before a bit of running about and perfunctory crashing of airships, but it's there and it's an awesome idea about Zombies.

I was excited by it. I was hungry to look around for somewhere else where it might be developed properly. Then I caught myself... since when do I care about Zombies?

Thier manky shambling antics have never interested me in the slightest. Vampires were the object of my morbid teenage fascination, and even now I cling to the general belief that you're not alowed to be undead unless you're going to make the effort to be a bit saucy. Forbidden touch of spectral lovers - good. Tearing claws of mangled hordes - bad. If you're going to cross the unbearable divide between death and life, please check on arrival that your flesh is 'porcelain' and not 'putrefying.'

Back in 2004, Shaun of the Dead did a lot to move zombies from my 'things in which I have no interest' brain-box to my 'things in which I have a potential interest' brain-box, and Ross Cambell's The Abandoned helped keep them there, but it was only last year that things really changed. I seem to have spent most of 2008 thinking about Zombies.

On telly then my favourite show of the year was Charlie Brooker's Dead Set.

Political cartoonists tend to hate it when their targets want to buy their work. Splashing a vicious, inky attack in the direction of someone only to have them hand over some cash for it and put it on the wall of thier stairwell ruins everything! It makes the level of collusion involved in satire too explict. It reduces things to the level of those Allistair McGowan parodies of Eastenders that were filmed on the sets of Eastenders, the ones which always left me wondering why he didn't just get the cast of Eastenders in to film them, or even just show a few minutes of Eastenders (both techniques later refined by Harry Hill).

A satire on reality television filmed on the Big Brother sets, broadcast on E4 and featuring Davina and Brian Belo, you'd have thought Dead Set would have run into the same sort of problem, the implict approval of its subject compromising anything it said about that subject. Instead it somehow managed to sythesise everything I love about reality TV in general (and Big Brother in particular) with everything I hate about myself for loving it.

It ended up asking a genuinely horrific question - what if the programme really does tell us something about human nature? The way contestants respond to being in the house and the way audiences respond to watching it...what if that's stuff we really can't get past? By the time I realised I was the target of its attack, it had torn my guts out. WITH ZOMBIES!

"I sincerely hope some of you vomit," said its writer. I didn't while watching, but the show's stayed with me to the extent that I might yet at any time.

Zombies stayed with me too, and plodded after me into Crossed and Final Crisis. Neither of which feature Zombies trading under the name 'Zombie', but that seems to me to be typical of Zombie films anyway. The local reality bubble of a zombie movie quivers as soon as you use the 'Z' word to describe the legions transformed into murderous savages by a mysterious outbreak. Say "zombie" and you're no longer in a 'real' life-or-death situation but at an intertextual nexus. Zombies are after us! The things from the movies!

While stories like the 28 Things Later films deny the zombie-ness of thier zombies to avoid self-conciousness, Crossed and Final Crisis have other reasons. That's a bit obvious really - when would Mozza ever strive to avoid self-conciousness?

Emmett Furey's CBR's interview with Ennis says this...

"In the post-apocalyptic setting of Crossed, the planet has been ravaged by a worldwide infection that turns its victims into remorseless, homicidal maniacs. The infection is spread by bodily fluids, often by bite, and victims can be identified by a telltale cross-shaped rash across their faces. The infestation is similar to a zombie outbreak, but Ennis insists the similarities between the Crossed and the undead end there."

A few issues in, it's obvious that it doesn't end there - their function in the storytelling is exactly that of a big bunch o' Zombies - but even if it did then that 'there' where it stops is quite far along the way to a working definition of Zombies.

But there is a big something that sets the Crossed apart from the zombies who don't get called zombies in films that don't want to say 'Zombie.' They don't want your brains. They don't want to kill you. They don't want to eat you. They just want to do evil, and thier only interest in you is that you're a potential candidate for that evil to be directed towards.

In that interview Ennis describes the dream in which the idea of Crossed came to him. At first he thought he was seeing his friends under attack from zombies, then he realised they "weren't zombies at all, they were simply people who'd turned evil-- deeply, irrevocably evil-- and were looking forward to indulging all manner of foul intentions as soon as they got their hands on their intended victims. The looks on their faces said it all, a sense of cruel yet delighted anticipation."

Anti-Life justifies their cruel yet delighted anticipation!

Exactly like Ennis's post-Zombies, the victims of the Anti-Life Equation in Final Crisis have been exposed to an infection which has given them over to radical, absolute Eeeeeevil. One fun way to read the series is to imagine that Crossed is what the DCU looks like during the month of story-time FC skips over. Now it sounds like we've won our battle and got Superman Beyond included in the Final Crisis hardcover, lets start petitioning to get Crossed bundled in there too between issues #3 and #4.

Or maybe not, since what's really interesting about comparing Final Crisis and Crossed is looking at the way two writers can respond to exactly the same ideas in totally different ways. The tagline for Crossed was even, "There is no hope"!

Morrison says "Final Crisis was written [as] a doom-laden, Death Metal myth for the wonderful world of Fina(ncia)l Crisis/Eco-breakdown/Terror Trauma we all have to live in."

Ennis is thinking along the same lines..."The world's a pretty grim place at the moment, and little is being done to alleviate matters. We're able to tolerate war, genocide, and famine; we're happy to ignore devastation by earthquake, hurricane and tsunami. Body counts mean nothing. Our governments are full of scum who plainly don't care about the welfare of their people and are happy to let them founder. Seen in that light, the notion of humor in a story of global catastrophe just didn't sit very well with me."

One thinks that a responsible writer should respond to the horrors of this time by moderating his sense of humour. The other thinks that a responsible writer should respond to the horrors of this time with a last minute save from Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew.

You can even see in that interview the exact point at which Ennis and Morrison's understandings of reality diverge...

"I went to see 'Iron Man’ recently, which attempts to incorporate real world problems into a superhero story, and to me that simply rendered the guy-with-powers fantasy even more meaningless than usual. There is no one like this, nor will there ever be." (Ennis, CBR)

Morrison thinks there are plenty of people just like that, and that Ennis just saw one of them.

"[E]verything we can experience is real, including dreams and stories. These characters are in here, in the universe with us, and they have shit to tell us. And that's what I find really exciting. They're real in the sense that you can hold them in your hands and interact with them. They don't need to pretend to live in New York. It's much more real than that – they're actually alive in our hands. " (Morrison, IGN)

Final Crisis was all about sythesising 'opposites' (as was my experince of watching Dead Set), so maybe something will come along to officiate at an alchemical marriage of Crossed and FC's two opposing post-zombie stories. Maybe it'll be the story Geoff Johns is doing later this year about Zombie Supervillains from Outer Space? Whatcha think?

In the meantime, my favourite zombie story of recent times remains Batman RIP.

Have a look at the specific details of the Black Glove's plan.

First Bruce is paralysed with the Joker's neurotoxic roses. Then he's...

Doctor Hurt: Buried alive in his best cape! [...] But not so deep that we can't exhume what remains after dessert. [...] Air inside the coffin will run out in exactly thirty minutes. His brain will begin to die seconds after that, whereupon he will be raised up like a drooling Lazarus...

Jezebel Jet: Permanently brain-damaged! The way I like them. We can disfigure him to look like his worst enemy.

Now have a read of this...

"Though it is said that voodoo houngans (priests) can turn humans into zombies by magical means, the practice is rooted in hard, undeniable science. 'Zombie Powder,' the tool used by th e houngan for zombification, contains a very powerful neurotoxin (the exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret). The toxin temporarily paralyzes the human nervous system, creating a state of extreme hibernation.
Manu humans have been buried while in such a state, only to awaken screaming in the pitch darkness of their coffin. So what makes this living human being a zombie? The answer is simple: brain damage. Many who are buried alive quickly use up the air inside their coffins. Those that are recovered (if they are lucky) almost always suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen. These poor souls shamble about with little cognitive skills, or, indeed, free will, and are often mistaken for the living dead."
(Max Brooks, the Zombie Survival Guide)

Monday, 16 February 2009

Batman - Slideshows and Sudoku.

I love chronologies. I love taking big jumbles of stories that occur in a shared universe and sifting through them for clues as to which happened on the Thursday and which on the Friday, despite the right and proper disinterest of those stories' writers and editors in such things.

Spending a winter's evening working out where exactly the 1980's issues of Mister Miracle fit around the Justice League books of the era has got nothing to do with what how stories work and what stories are for, but it's harmless after-the-fact fun. Much like how Sudoku has nothing to do with how numbers work and what numbers are for, but the time spent by enthusiasts pencilling one to nine into little boxes doesn't in anyway damage the numbers one to nine for anyone who'd like to do more sensible things with them.

Things go horribly wrong when editors try to join in though. At worst you get Countdown, a year-long 'lets try and fit everything together' chronology project disguised as a story. It failed both in its attempt to fit everything together and in maintaining the disguise.

At not-worst-but-still-pretty-bad you get the mysterious something that DC showed at the New York Comicon.

Now, I didn't go to the New York Comicon so I've not seen the mysterious something. I just listened to the podcasted panels and heard the reactions as the something was unleashed, or (at one panel) the literal groans of aprehension and terror as Editorial threatened to unleash the something a second time. What was this unseeable horror? This empty threat, implict but absent in the space inside my headphones?

Apparently it was a slideshow.

Newsarama reported it like this...

DiDio addressed confusion behind how Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P., both written by Grant Morrison, flow.

"We're going to make sense of this," said DiDio. "Just for you."

DiDio pointed to the projector, saying that story started with the first issues of "R.I.P.," going to Final Crisis #1, and then the last issue of "R.I.P.," Batman #681, then moving to Final Crisis #3.

After that falls the "Last Rites" story (Batman #682-683), and then Final Crisis #6.

The next part after that, somewhat logically, was Final Crisis #7.

"When you put it like that, it still doesn't make sense," joked Rucka

Well, no it doesn't Greg. Because that's just not what happens. There's just no way that that's what happens. There's just no way to read the comics and think that's what happens.

In terms of the Morrison-written stuff then the real chronology couldn't be clearer in the text...

The main RIP storyline happens in its entirety (Batman #676-681).
Then Batman fishes himself out of the drink and gets involved in the Orion investigation (seen in flashback in Batman #683)
Final Crisis happens in its entirety.

A better answer to the question "How do RIP and Final Crisis fit together?" would be "RIP happens first, then Final Crisis."

It's better because it's simpler, it doesn't require a slideshow and because IT'S WHAT IT SAYS IN THE COMICS. I can't stress that last one enough.

I started to think that perhaps Newsarama misreported it. But CBR said the same thing. And the Funnybook Babylon gents who were there noticed the same thing in thier podcast.

DC Editorial went to the trouble of putting together a display to give a complicated answer (to a question that only ever needed the answer "Story A happened before Story B") without going to the trouble of checking that the answer was vaugley plausible.

If there's the overlap between RIP and FC that the presentation claims then that means that the Batman we see in FC #1's Justice League meeting has to be the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Doesn't look or sound much like him to me, and I'm not sure he'd sit still at the table.

Also, if you follow Editorial's chart, then Batman must have rejoined Alfred to reveal that he survived the helicopter crash before the helicopter crash happened.

Happily, we can all just ignore DC's chart. Literary theorists will argue forever about where the balance of authority between writer, text and reader falls when determining the meaning of a story, but nobody's ever going to seriously suggest that inattentive editors get the final say.

Less happily, this is pretty conclusive proof that the people editing these stories, and charging themselves with the task of explaining them to fans, aren't bothering to read them.


I'll stop moaning now and do some being constuctive. For this project I worked out my own RIP/Last Rites/FC/ThatSortOfThing chronology. I was aiming for simplicity there though, so couldn't really show my workings and talk about how I arrived at it. Nothing to stop me now though. Make a cup of tea, put a record on.


Step One:
The Morrison Bits.

The flashback sequence in Batman #683 establishes that Batman returns from surviving RIP's helicopter crash and immediately becomes involved in the events of Final Crisis #1.

So the solid core of the chronology is...

  • Batman ##676-681
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-7
Then there's just the question of where #682-3 goes. Morrison says that they should be read between Final Crisis #5 and #6. An ideal reading order isn't always the same as a chronology though, and Simyan's dialogue in FC#5 makes it clear that the conclusion of Batman#683 has happened either before or during that issue.

So now it looks like...
  • Batman ##676-681
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7

Step Two: The RIP 'tie-ins.'

'Heart of Hush' from Detective Comics first, since it's easiest. Hush makes it clear that he's makes his move in this story in order to punish Batman before a 'mysterious entity' called the Black Glove brings about his extinction. So we're before Morrison's RIP. Possibly as much as a couple of months before, as the story ends with a 'Two Months Later' epilogue showing Selina recovered from the events of this arc, but that doesn't make much difference either way.

Right, lets have a look at Robin #175 and #176, the only tie-ins to be nested within Morrison's RIP itself. The story involves Tim looking for Bruce following his disapearance in Batman #677 (the first of the three Bruce-disaperances we'll see the Bat-family react to as we work through all this).

As Tim's heroic search for Batman can't at any point involve him checking the Batcave (or otherwise he'd have run into Doctor Hurt ,who'd set up shop there throughout this time) we have to suspend a certain amount of logic while reading this. Clinging onto as much as we can though, we know...

We're after Batman #676 because Tim's already stolen the Black Casebook. We're after Batman #678 because the 'Gotham Golden Dragons' have a picture of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh on thier phone. Tim's fight with Swagman sets up their next tussle in Batman #679.

So now we've got...

  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7
And now we come to the RIP tie-ins which are set after Bruce's disappearance. Since they're all full of "It's different this time! He's never coming back!" melodrama then it'd be nice so say that they take place after his 'death' in Final Crisis rather than after the helicopter crash. Sadly they don't.

The Batman and the Outsiders tie-in is very clear that it's the aftermath of the Black Glove incident that's being dealt with and features Ollie explaining that Bruce is gone to Clark, which would for obvious reasons not be the case if this were set post-Final Crisis.

'The Great Leap', The Nightwing story, feels like it's set a smidge later as the Batcave is in a more operational state and the characters are more in a 'coming to terms with Bruce being gone' phase, rather than in the immediate aftermath of RIP. Nevertheless, the assumption is still that Bruce is missing...perhaps forever! Rather than that Bruce just got frazzled by Darkseid and we all totally saw his corpse. So we're still pre-Final Crisis.

  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)
  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-12
  • Nightwing #147-151
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7
Step Three - All the Last Rites Malarky.

It's quite easy to say which stories are certainly set post-Final Crisis.

By Nightwing #152 then people are now talking about Bruce being dead fersure, and by the 'Faces of Evil' two parter that ran from Detective #852 to Batman #685 then we're getting our first explict references to the events of the Crisis.

  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)
  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-12
  • Nightwing #147-151
  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7
  • Nightwing #152-3
  • Detective #852 & Batman #685 ('Reconstruction/Catspaw')
Which of the other post-Bruce stories are set after his RIP disappearance and which after his FC 'death' though?

The dialogue between Dick and Tim early in Robin's 'Search for a Hero' arc suggests that it takes place around the time of Nightwing's 'Great Leap', so that would place it inbetween RIP and Final Crisis.

Similarly, the 'Last Days of Gotham' two-parter that runs between Detective #851 and Batman #684 tells us that it's concurrent with the later chapters of 'Search for a Hero'.

What've we got left? Just Batman and the Outsiders #13-14, I think.

Well, I want to put them before 'Search for a Hero' as Steph's in costume here and 'Search' ends with Tim telling her she's not allowed to be or he'll [unspecified threat] (shortly after attempting to end her Superhero career then he assits sadistic murderer Jason Todd in escaping from prison. Tim's choices puzzle me.)

Can't see that it's contradicting anything if we stick 'em next to the other Outsiders issues for neatness' sake.

There we go then...all done.

  • Detective Comics #846-50 ('Heart of Hush')
  • Batman #676-8 ('RIP' parts 1-3)
  • Robin #175-6
  • Batman #679-681 ('RIP' parts 4-6)

  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-14
  • Nightwing #147-151 ('The Great Leap') - concurrent with early chapters of 'Search for a Hero'
  • Robin #177-82 ('Search for a Hero')
  • Dectective #851, Batman #684 ('The Last Days of Gotham') - concurrent with later chapters of 'Search for a Hero'

  • That flashback sequence from #683
  • Final Crisis #1-4
  • Batman #682-3
  • Final Crisis #5-7

  • Nightwing #152-3
  • Detective #852, Batman #685 ('Reconstruction/Catspaw')

Friday, 13 February 2009

Anticipating Iris

This post gets to Doctor Who eventually. It takes a while.

It takes a while because it's a strange thing to listen to people who aren't geeks having a canon debate. The serious business of which imaginary stories are more or less imaginary than others is a constant source of worry to the likes of me, but I never thought I'd see my Mam and My Lady Friend lock horns over this sort of thing. Yet there they were last Christmas, thrashing out the matter of whether or not From Barry to Billericay was an authentic account of doings within the Gavin and Stacey universe.

Hang on...the Gavin and Stacey universe?
Oh yes. For it was the very nature of that universe which was at stake.

Gavin and Stacey, for anyone who's not seen it, is a BBC sitcom/ comedy-drama thing and the air of the show is a little more mimesis-rich than it is elsewhere on Planet Sitcom. The slider has been pushed towards the Royle end of the Royle-to-Boosh axis. Perhaps the best clue as to where the show finds its level of realism is in that Alison Steadman seems to be playing an older version of her character from Abigail's Party. Gavin and Stacey fits nicely with those early Mike Leigh social comedies. Someone who misunderstands fiction could watch this show and think they were watching the world in which they live.

Except for Nessa.
Monstrous, impossible and erotic, Nessa disrupts everything.

If you want to get metafictional about it, then she's probably allowed to because she's played by one of the show's writers. If she can't tear down her own creation from within, who can?

Like a writer, Nessa tells stories. Hers are about her past; as an original member of All Saints, as a former lover of John Prescott, as being responsible for the death of her drug-running husband. If any of her stories are true then that's the mundane and domestic reality of Gavin and Stacey right out of the window. If any of her stories are true then we're no longer watching a world that's much like the one in which we live.

At Christmas round ours, everyone agreed that Nessa was the funniest joke in the show, but nobody could quite agree on what exactly the joke was.

My Mam was laughing at a joke in which Nessa was a pathological liar, confabulating her past and then trying to pass it off as genuine with her catchphrase, "I'm not going to lie to you..."

My Lady Friend was laughing at a joke in which Nessa's stories were true, but just didn't fit with the reality around her. She saw her as a piece too big for the jigsaw and the humour as lying in the way her incongruity held the whole business of constructed realities up to ridicule.

DOCTOR: You're an Impossible Thing, Nessa.

Shush now! We'll get to you in a minute.

There's a fair old bit of support for My Lady Friend's reading in the show itself (Stacey and Uncle Bryn always seem to remember Nessa going through the experiences she recounts) but the clincher would be the tie-in book Gavin and Stacey: From Barry to Billericay, which has actual documentary proof of her stories. Letters from John Prescott and everything. Hence the canon debate.

We come now to Iris Wildthyme, a woman who would have no patience with canon debates or anything else which tried to contain whatever reality she was trying to assert. Iris is the naughtier, more disruptive reading of Nessa, but louder and more explict. As loud and explict as only the very drunk can be.

But Iris isn't here to bugger up Gavin and Stacey's reality. She's come for Doctor Who.

She's come via a circuitous route. Iris first appears in the unpublished juvenilia of Paul Magrs as a Doctor stand-in, before migrating to his original literary fiction in the Phoenix Court books. Then she finally meets her 'maker' in the short story Old Flames and the novel The Scarlet Empress. Iris meets the Doctor, the character of which she's a parody. Naturally she loves him.

There's something a little Christian about this - in that theology then we're expected to love someone on account of being imperfect imitations of Him - but with Iris and the Doctor then the balance of power is a little different.

She's a self-aware parody. Iris not only understands that she's a fictional character, but understands that she's a shadow of another fictional character and that she knows rather more about how that character's world works than he does.

The Doctor, for example, experiences his adventures as they occured within continuity. If a writer in the 90s retroactively set a story inbetween two stories written in the 80's, then the Doctor would remember them as occuring in the new order. Iris would remember them as occuring in the order they were written, because Iris understands that she is being written, and the Doctor's often a little unclear on that.

She's disempowered by being a response to a story while empowered by having more perspective on that story, and The Scarlet Empress, the definitive confrontation/romance between Iris and the Doctor proceeds from there.

Manifesting as one of the sort of drunken, flatulent old baggages who Angela Carter would typically valourise as the secret rulers of the world, Iris turns up and lays claim to the Doctor's past. Half the stuff that we 'know' happened to the Doctor, she says actually happened to her. All your text are belong to us. And she makes a good case...while the Doctor has forgotten much of what he's lived through, she's got perfect records in her diaries. While much of the Doctor's life gets ignored as 'uncanonical', she's happy to take the lot...Kroton and Frobisher and all.

Iris continued to pop up in Doctor Who after The Scarlett Empress. In three more wonderful Paul Magrs novels, on occasions when writers like Lawrence Miles or Lance Parkin wanted to nod in the direction of her disruptive potential, in Big Finish audio adventures and a rather mixed anthologies of short stories.

By the time Iris got her own first season of audio plays though, it's possible her relevance had passed. She'd been the Doctor while being all the things the Doctor wasn't, and the dividing lines had been cultural and sexual.

The cultural references made by the Doctor in the English series had always been elitist and 'high-culture' but delivered without any real suggestion of enthusiasm. Much as you'd expect from writers who didn't really know what they were talking about but had a vauge idea that the character they were writing was meant to be 'posh' - think of how everyone other than Ellis and Morrison writes Emma Frost. The nadir of this may have been the Paul McGann Doctor blathering on unconvincingly about Puccini, which is why Iris had to appear when she did to blast ABBA out of her stereo. The Doctor in the English series was uncomfortably asexual. Which is why Iris had to have degrading group sex with strangers.

Here's the problem for Iris now - the post-2005 Doctor is pop-culture friendly and sexual. This Doctor dances. This Doctor dances to Kylie. There's a point in the first episode of the Welsh series where the Doctor reads an issue of heat magazine. That's the point in which Iris ceases to function as a parody. That's the point at which the Doctor integrates Iris into himself. She's no longer anything he can't be.

Time to close the book on the character? Time to admit that the critique she offered has been answered, and in being answered has oblivated the critique?

It seems not, as Big Finish have just brought out a new season of four Iris audio plays. My worries about her relevance would have saved me from forking out the thirty quid for these except for two things; they come in a snazzy pink box set, and they have this tag-line...

Time and Space. Good and Evil. Gin and Tonic.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Event Fatigue

If I give in and end up liking The Airborn Toxic Event then I'll always carry the doubt that I've only done so because their name is a reference to a rilly rilly good novel. This is sort of the opposite of the situation I'm in with The Umbrella Academy, where I can never absolve myself of my suspicion that I'd like it more if I didn't know which band the writer's in.

My insecurities demand a full and immediate cessation of all artistic intercourse between writing and guitar pop.

The Today Programme, the radio show that defines Britishness each morning with the warm conviviality it directs towards listeners and the murderous rage it directs towards interviewees, recently described the weather we've been having as a 'Snow Event.'

They were immediately swamped with complaints about the use of this Americanism (the prefered British English phrase is "It is snowing") and with enquires from interested listeners wanting to know how they could get tickets for the Snow Event.

One of the presenters then kissed everything better by calling it "a snow event scenario situation."

My last post was a bit of a ramble on the similarities between the Final Crisis Event and Doctor Who. I ended with the Time Lord/Monitor connection, but ummed and ahhhed about whether or not to extend that into "So, if the Monitors are the Time Lords then that makes Nix Uotan..."

Didn't in the end, as I thought that might be a bit of a reach.

Then that evening, Newsarama put up an interview in which Morrison shared this thought...

"I see Uotan’s ‘hyperhero’ role in the DCU as a cross between the Silver Surfer and Doctor Who (particularly the Earthbound Jon Pertwee iteration of the character)."


Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Plans of a Future War

Tim Callahan's watching Doctor Who and naturally one of the first things he's noticed is a connection to Final Crisis. He's not the first though. That'd be Grant Morrison, who had the odd experience of getting back from America to find that over here we'd already seen his comic on the telly...

"[W]atch the end of DOCTOR WHO which Kristan taped for me while I was away. More wonderful, inspirational pop art pulp madness, and what intrigues me most are the numerous, absolutely coincidental, similarities to my comic FINAL CRISIS (the machine made of worlds, the conquered Earth with its network of freedom fighters linked by a secret communications system, the reality-wiping weapon, the frantic scene changes, etc etc) which leads me to believe that creative people, particularly those writing or recording with a mass or populist audience in mind, have all begun to tell a very similar, very post-9/11 (call it ‘post Cycle 23’) story"
- Mozza.

We're talking here about Russell T. Davies' two-part finale for Doctor Who's fourth Welsh season, The Stolen Earth and Journey's End, but the coincidences may not be as uncanny as all that. The story is essentially a 'crossover' between Doctor Who and its sister shows, Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures, and Davies choice of template for a multiverse-bothering epic crossover seems to have been the obvious one; Crisis on Infinite Earths, the same story Morrsion was ostensibly sequelising. Not that Morrison really was, but nevertheless both Final Crisis and The Stolen Earth both belong in that 'Crisis subgenre' as snugly as the bit in Top Ten where the Ultra-Mice go mental.

In my personal experience there were other, more striking, connections between the two. They were both by my favourite writers in their respective mediums. They were both conclusions to plotlines in which I'd been invested for a number of years. They were both really disapointing.

But what do I know? That "mass populist audience" gave The Stolen Earth an Appreciation Index of 91, making it the best-received Doctor Who episode ever and one of the most highly rated telly-box shows OF ALL TIME. I'm sure Final Crisis was also universally loved by the popular target audience for Big Two Summer Events, though I can't seem to find numbers on that.

Putting aside my repeated failure to manage my fanboy expections, and the question of whether The Stolen Earth is like Final Crisis because of 9/11 and the end of Cycle 23 or because both their authors are referencing Marv Wolfman, there's still a lot of milage in reading Final Crisis next to Doctor Who.

Some of this is in random pattern spotting (The Monitors' have 5555 words for "nothing" and in Marvel continuity then the Doctor Who universe is Earth-5556!). Some is in finding the bits in FC's later issues where Morrison is responding to The Stolen Earth by cheerfully alluding to it (The Lanterns and Supermen dragging the Earth back into position) . Some is in geekdreaming a narative connection (Does the Final Crisis cause the events of The Stolen Earth in the same way it causes the Time Crisis on Earth-5 and the Secret Civil Invasion-War on Earth-6? Does it? DOES IT?).

One thing though is genuinely quite telling, the way they both use Wars in Heaven.

Doctor Who never had a 'creator' in the Roddenbury/Whedon sense. So, rather than venerate a commitee, Who fandom redirected its genuflection towards one of the series' most important writers, Robert Holmes. Holmes' stories, especially those produced by Hinchcliffe, became established as the Untouchable Classics of old school fandom. A while ago a tape-recorded interview turned up of Steven Moffat (writer of the Untouchable Classics of new school fandom) drunk in a pub and conversationally offering the opinion that Holmes was a hack. Many fans decided that they no longer liked the Untouchable Classics of Steven Moffat. They really did.

Holmes is important, to the extent that the mythology he introduced to the show in Season 14 of the English series still gets treated by many fans as if it were the foundational precepts of the whole show. It's not a million miles away from the "Frank Miller invented Batman" error.

Where he becomes relevant to Final Crisis is with1975's Pyramids of Mars. The story's only really got one pyramid, but it is on Mars and it contains... the interred corpse of J'onn J'onzz! Oh alright, no it doesn't. It contains the mechanism by which the Eygptian God Sutekh is bound on Earth.

It turns out that there was a war in the far future between Sutekh/Set and the rest of his pantheon. He destroyed their homeworld, but ended up trapped and diminished in Earth's past, plotting his restitution and his ruination of the world.

Two stories later in the same season, Holmes pseudonymously put the same structure to use in The Brain of Morbius. Again the plot starts with an off-screen War in Heaven, but this time its between the Time Lords and one of their own. The role of the Time Lords was traditionally the Monitoring of the universe (hmm...we may come back to that) but Morbius, one of thier leaders, fancied a bit of galactic conquest for a change. So ends up trapped and diminished. Sadly not in Earth's past this time, but as a brain in a jar, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a brain in a jar must be in want of a new body with which to effect the ruination of the world.

The next season brings us The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This time it's not a cosmic war, just the consequences of the Supreme Alliance's fall to the Filipino Army during the 51st Century's Battle of Reykjavik. Eeeevil war criminal Magnus Greel ends up trapped in Earth's past and dependant on draining the life force out of young ladyfolk.

These three stories are the holy trinity of Doctor Who's so-called 'Gothic' era, and they all use the same set up; There's been an apocalyptic future war off-screen, and an Evil God-King has fallen down to Earth where he's parasitically restoring himself...

One place where the influence of this 'trilogy' can be seen is in the Welsh Doctor Who series, where the destruction of Gallifrey makes every single story a sequel to an off-screen War in Heaven.

Another place would be in 1980's State of Decay. In fact, the Doctor Who spin-offs written by Lawrence Miles sometimes refer to the backstory of that serial as 'The First War in Heaven.'

State of Decay tells us about the formative war fought by the Time Lords, the Science Gods who monitored the universe. It was against vampires.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

RIP to Battle for the Cowl - A Reader's Guide

Amazing as it may seem, recent goings-on in the Batman books have lead to some confusion. Here I attempt to help.

Batman RIP to Battle for the Cowl
- A Reader's Guide.

Contains spoilers galore.

Updated 03/02/2009
(There's a lot more to come)

What's Happening?

What's going on in the Bat-books?

A number of Batman-related titles have been cancelled (Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey) and a number are going on hiatus (Batman, Detective) before relaunching in some form. The storyline involves the apparent death of Bruce Wayne and the subsequent inheritance of the Batman role.

Charitably this this happening because when "one writer is doing such a big thing, then it has to impact other books [...] because this story is too big to ignore" (Fabian Nicieza, IGN, December 2008 ).

Uncharitably this is happening because "the sales on the Batman titles went through the roof with the first issue of RIP. So quite clearly DC took one look at that and said let's put some branding on the other Bat titles" (Morrison, IGN, May 2008 ).

Either way, what we're left with is a curious maze of personal writer-led stories and mandated editor-led 'events'. This is your map.

What is Batman RIP?

In the pages of Batman, 'RIP' is a six issue arc which runs from #676 to #681.It concludes a "25-chapter novel" (Morrison, Newsarama, Feb 2008 ) which has run intermittently in the title since #655.

The title was also used as branding for issues of Detective Comics (#846-850), Nightwing (#147-150), Robin (#175-176), and Batman and the Outsiders (#11-13). These stories have at best a thematic or tangential connection to the main arc. They do not interact with it "in any crucial way" (Dini, CBR, June 2008 ) and were written with no input from the main arc's writer (Morrison, IGN, May 2008 ).

The main storyline involves the attempted ruination of Bruce Wayne's soul by a source of pure evil from beyond the limits of reason, and the subsequent kicking of said evil's a** by the Undamned Batman.

What is Last Rites?

'Last Rites' was a bit of masthead branding applied to issues of Batman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Robin and Batman and the Outsiders published following the conclusion of 'RIP'.

The 'Last Rites' storyline published in Batman ('The Butler Did It/What the Butler Saw') is set during Final Crisis and clarifies Batman's involvement in that series and its relation to RIP.

The 'Last Rites' storylines published in the other titles show various Gotham residents adapting to life without Batman.

What is Final Crisis?

A seven-issue miniseries, plus tie-ins, offered as DC's major event for 2008.

It variously attempts to be, or has been marketed as being...

...a sequel to Jack Kirby's Fourth World, OMAC and Kamadi material.

...the conclusion of the plot threads Grant Morrison has been running through all his DCU work since Animal Man.

...the third part of a 'Crisis' trilogy that began with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis.

...the 'Third Act' of Didio-era DC which has run through Graduation Day, Identity Crisis, and everything since.

How successful it is in being any of those things is a matter of much debate. As is the level to which the project is interested in being anything other than the first two things. As is the level of comprehensibility the series attains given these various demands.

In Batman terms the series is important since it features "the final fate of Batman" (Morrison, IGN, August 2008 ); A mischievous and ironic phrase since the death of Barry Allen (returned to life by Final Crisis) occurred in an issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths bearing the cover blurb "the final fate of the Flash."

What is Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

A two issue story by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert that will run in Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853.

In both its title and its publication method, it parallels the Alan Moore/Curt Swan story "Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" which ran in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 and which gave the Earth-1 Superman a 'final story' with which to cap off the continuity erased by Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Gaiman has said of the story, " I think the most important thing Sandman did, and it did create some important things, was that it was the first mainstream comic ever to finish a story. And I think that cannot be underestimated. The idea before that had always been that if you were writing a monthly comic, let's say Superman or whatever, you couldn't finish it. You weren't ever allowed to do the last one, to have the story mean anything. You had to turn back to the soap opera. [...] One of the things that attracted me to [Whatever Happened...] was when they asked if I would be interested in writing the last Batman story, so that's what I'm doing. The last Batman story." (Ain't It Cool, December 2008 ).

It is solicited as a "captivating and mysterious tale the likes of which Batman and friends have never experienced before. Delving into the realms of life, death and the afterlife."

What is Battle for the Cowl?

A three-issue miniseries which will be published during the March to May hiatus taken by Batman and Detective.

The story will deal with the matter of Batman's succesion. "The cape and cowl [is] the focus of the story. Should it be retired or should someone take the mantle? Will it make a difference either way? Batman was much more than just a costume, you know; putting it on doesn’t make you Batman." (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008 )

It will be suported by a number of tie-ins, these being two further three-issue miniseries (Oracle and Azrael: Death's Dark Knight) and a number of one-shots. So far announced are Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? (dealing with Spoiler, Vicki Vale, Harvey Bullock and Leslie Thompkins), Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive!, Man-Bat, Arkham Asylum and The Underground.

The core series is to be written by RIP's penciller Tony Daniel, who boldly invited himself to do so...

"I was casually talking to [editor] Mike Marts about the story and my thoughts on how great it could be. I consider myself a storyteller, so in my mind I guess the wheels of the story were naturally spinning. And in this case, you couldn’t shut me up.

I mentioned how this could be something really great and not just a stop gap before Grant’s or my return to the title. [...]

So after spilling my guts for about 10 minutes about the ideas that were pouring out of my head, I jokingly told Mike that I would gladly accept the invitation to write Battle for the Cowl. Only he hadn’t done that and we both laughed. But I emailed him later after thinking about it more and it was too late. I was ramped up on my second cup of Starbucks and there was no turning back. I asked him to consider it." (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008 )

How do these stories fit together?

Batman RIP was conceived as psychological deconstruction of Batman, but on hearing the title Dan Didio directed Morrison to connect it to Final Crisis with a more tangible 'death' (Morrison, Wizarduniverse, Jan 2009).

This connection, and the sequence of events in the stories built around them, is at times a little unclear.

Many of the peripheral stories involve the Gotham cast reacting to Batman's disappearance, but the problem is that Batman disappears three times during the main storyline. Once during RIP, where he becomes a homeless drug addict for an issue, once following RIP's conclusion, in which he briefly vanishes in a helicopter crash, and once following whatver happens in Final Crisis.

The helicopter crash is the most puzzling of these, as it seems to serve no narative purpose and makes RIP look as if it has a weaker conclusion than it does.

Dan Didio explains that he mandated this extra bonus disapearance "Because we live in the world of collected editions, we needed a conclusion in the Batman series, so that we could collect it properly within Batman, without having to bring in segments of Final Crisis to complete the story" (Didio, Newsarama, December 2008 )

This logic is undermined somewhat by the fact that the collected edition of Batman RIP is including the two Final Crisis tie-in issues which follow it, so those reading it in trade will be confronted by segments of the larger story and will find the helicopter crash as much of a perplexing non-event as did those who followed the monthlies.

Thanks to this editorial masterstroke, we've got a stack of RIP tie-ins and Last Rites comics set "after Bruce's disapperance" and two disappearances this could possibly refer to - the helicopter crash or the events of Final Crisis.

I would argue that the balance of evidence seems to suggest that most of the "OMG! Batman's gone forever!" stories we've seen so far do not occur after his "final fate" in Final Crisis but rather while he was temporarily missing following the helicopter crash; Last Rites does not appear to be set in a post-Final Crisis world and there are references to the disapearance in clearly pre-Final Crisis books (such as Supergirl #34).

This changes around Nightwing #52 and Batman #685 where we start getting clear references to Batman being dead, rather than missing, and to the events of Final Crisis.

The broad sequence of events would then seem to be...

  • Batman RIP
    (In which Batman defeats a 'source of pure evil' but has a curse placed upon him - his next case shall be his last! He then disappears in a helicopter crash.)

  • Various RIP tie-ins and Last Rites books
    (In which everyone goes mental about Bruce being gone forever. Except in Tomasi's excellent Nightwing, where they sit around eating popcorn and waiting for him to return)

  • The flashback sequence shown in Batman #683
    (In which Bruce returns from the helicopter crash as if it were no big deal. He is then dragged immediately into the events of Final Crisis #1)

  • Final Crisis #1-4
    (In which Batman falls into Darkseid's clutches)

  • Batman #682-3
    (In which Batman escapes Darkseid's clutches)

  • Final Crisis #5-7
    (In which we learn the "final fate of Batman" )

  • Further Last Rites books.

  • Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

  • Battle for the Cowl

A more detailed, issue-by-issue, chronology is offered in the next section.

How do I read it?

How do I read any superhero comics set in a seventy-year-old continuity?

You've two options.

The first is to accept that every story, no matter how self-contained and no matter how good or bad a jumping-on point, has a "Previously..."

We're all of us finding our seats after the movie's started and spilling our popcorn on those around us. Don't stress about this. Just find somewhere, anywhere, that looks like an interesting place to start and jump in.

Be prepared to ask questions. Be prepared to look things up. Be prepared to ignore everyone who says you have to have read "X" before you can read "Y". Be prepared to be confused, and to work through that confusion if you find anything that fires your imagination enough to make that feel like work worth doing.

The other option is to start in 1939 with Detective Comics #27 and plough on through from there.

How do I read Batman RIP?

The six issues of Grant Morrison's Batman RIP printed in Batman #676-681 (and collected in the Batman RIP hardcover) comprise the final chapter of a longer storyline.

Morrison says that, "This is the first story I had planned when Peter Tomasi, the editor at the time, asked me to do Batman [...] the very first story title I noted down was “Batman RIP”. [...] So it came from there…and out of that notion came the idea for the big overarching story I’ve been telling since I first came on the book. Everything…the “Zur-En-Arrh” graffiti, the Joker prose story, the Club of Heroes…every detail that’s been in the book for the last couple of years is significant" (Newsarama, Feburary 2008 )

The complete story is collected across the Batman and Son, The Black Glove and Batman RIP trades.

Morrison also lays groundwork for the storyline in issues #30 and #47 of the 2006-7 weekly series 52. The relevant events from that story are well sumarised in the main Batman title but can be found in the third and fourth trade collection of 52.

The story also relies very heavily on events from two Silver Age stories; The Superman of Planet-X from Batman #113 and Robin Dies at Dawn from Batman #153. Although the relevant events from these stories are eventually recapped in the storyline, this doesn't happen until a point where many readers will have become exasperated. DC have yet to make these stories available to readers, but will remedy this in the Black Casebook trade available from June 2009.

A reader wanting the 'complete RIP experience' could then find it by reading...

  • The Black Casebook trade.
  • Weeks 30 and 47 from the third and fourth 52 trade.
  • The Batman and Son trade.
  • The Black Glove trade.
  • The Batman RIP trade.

Since it contains no major Status-Q changes, WHY should I read Batman RIP?

You might enjoy it. Then again, you might really not. The storyline has been fairly polarising and divisive among the readership.

As a rough guide I'd suggest that you'll probably enjoy Batman RIP...

...if you're frustrated with LOST for giving out too many answers.
...if your favoutite TS Eliot poems don't involve cats.
...if your personal 'top ten' films include The Fisher King, Jacobs Ladder, Angel Heart, The Name of the Rose or anything by David Lynch.

Matt Fraction best explains the run's appeal...

"It's a pretty spectacular example of [...] using Batman as frame of reference for Batman. The gag is that everything that's happened in the Batman comic actually happened to Batman, right? And what would that do to a human mind? From the bleak noir stuff to the bam-sock-pow stuff and everything in between. [Morrison]'s using the whole history of the character to comment on the character as the character endures it. And to comment on the comics mainstream, and on heroes, and all that great stuff. I mean, the first fight scene takes place in an art gallery during a Pop Art retrospective where these faux-Lichtenstein paintings of comics are commenting on the comic we're reading as we're reading it, for god's sake. And as the run went on, Morrison really used the entirety of the character's history as a frame of reference and context to comment on the character. Batman-as-Batman-as-Pop-Culture-in-toto. It's a mess, and a glorious one at that, and his reach might have exceeded his grasp for a couple reasons not exactly germane to this discussion, but it's been a pretty amazing piece, all the same. It's the Cremaster of superhero comics." (Fraction, The Comics Reporter, January 2009)

How do I read the Batman RIP tie-ins?

Dini's 'Heart of Hush' storyline in Detective # 846-850 is set shortly before Morrison's RIP issues and has no connection to them except the the idea that Hush is making his move now in order to destroy Batman before someone else beats him to it.

Robin #846-850 is set during the events of RIP, seemingly inbetween Batman #678 and Batman #679.

Batman and the Outsiders #11-13 and Nightwing #147-50 are set following RIP's conclusion.

Since they've no impact on the main plot, WHY should I read the Batman RIP tie-ins?

If you're following the characters in those particular books, or if you're looking for a Paul Dini story about Hush and a Peter Tomasi story about Two-Face.

There's no other strong reason, although events from 'Heart of Hush' may eventually prove important in Battle for the Cowl.

How do I read Final Crisis?

Final Crisis consists of a seven-issue miniseries, four accompanying miniseries (Revelations, Rogues' Revenge, Legion of Three Worlds, Superman Beyond) five accompanying one-shots (Requiem, Rage of the Red Lanterns, Resist, Submit, Secret Files) and two tie-in issues (Batman #682-3).

It was preceeded by a weekly series called Countdown to Final Crisis, published against Grant Morrison's wishes and in contradiction to his storyline (Morrison, Newsarama, June 2008 ). Considered alongside its own spin-offs, but not counting tie-ins in the monthlies, Countdown to Final Crisis comprises at least 102 issues, none of which make any fucking sense. It is best ignored.

Someone approaching Final Crisis to see Batman's story play out can happily confine themselves to Batman #682-3 and the seven-issue core Final Crisis mini.

Final Crisis is however, as discussed in 'What is Final Crisis?' above, the conclusion to a great many long-running stories. Readers may find their experience of its accessibility varies.

For example, when confronted with Turpin, a tough cop with prior history with superheroes, some readers will say "Hey! This is Dan Turpin from New Gods #5." They will get on fine.

Some readers will say, "I don't know who this guy is. But it says here that his name's Turpin, and that he's a tough cop with prior history with superheroes. That's probably enough to be going on with." They too will get on fine.

Some readers will say, "I don't know who this guy is! How am I expected to follow all this continuity?" They will get hopelessly confused.

You probably already know what sort of a reader you are.

Someone looking to read everything that feeds into this story would be faced with reading the complete DCU work of Jack Kirby and Grant Morrison, the complete Wildstorm work of Warren Ellis, Wanted, Sin City, Secret Invasion, every prior Crisis crossover and every DCU book published for the last four years.

Someone looking for a more manageble project of preparatory reading might just want to check out the four Jack Kirby's Fouth World Omnibus volumes and Grant Morrison's JLA and Seven Soldiers runs.

What's the chronology of all this?

What follows is an attempt to place the books considered by this article into an issue-by-issue chronology. Bare in mind that a chronology is not the same as an 'ideal reading order' or a list of 'essential reading' and also that in many places this is based on my own textual sleuthing and subjective judgement, rather than on anything official.

  • Detective Comics #846-50 (Heart of Hush)

  • Batman #676-8 (RIP parts 1-3)

  • Robin #175-6

  • Batman #679-81 (RIP parts 4-6)

  • Batman and the Outsiders #11-12 (Outsiders No More).

  • Nightwing #147-151 (The Great Leap)

  • Robin #177-182 (Search for a Hero)

  • Detective Comics #851 & Batman #684 ('The Last Days of Gotham')
    Happens concurently with 'Search for a Hero'.

  • Batman and the Outsiders #13

  • Bruce returns from the heli-crash, as flashbacked to in Batman #863 .

  • Final Crisis #1-2

  • Final Crisis: Requiem
    (Concurrent with FC#2. I've only included this because of the awesome scene of Bruce with the Oreo.)

  • Final Crisis #3-4

  • Batman #682-3 (The Butler Did It/What the Bulter Saw)

  • Final Crisis #5-7

  • Nightwing #152

  • Detective Comics #852 & Batman #685

  • Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader?

  • Battle for the Cowl.

What does it mean?
Note: Batman RIP is polysemic, ambiguous, elliptical and all those other things that're great for literature and troublesome for bald 'fact files' like this. The section that follows therefore cannot aim to be as 'definitive' as does the rest of the guide, but can only aim to be plausibly interpretive.

What do the red skies mean?

Red skies appear on a number of occasions throughout Morrison's Batman RIP.

In the opening 'flash forward' sequence to events six months after the main storyline, over the skies of contemporary Gotham as Batman pursues 'The Green Vulture', during the sunset Honor Jackson shares with Bruce, and during Bruce's subsequent transformation into the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

Red skies have a particular meaning in DCU-lore. They were first seen during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, most notoriously in what became known as "Red Sky Crossovers" - issues marketed as Crisis tie-ins which had little connection to the storyline other than that particular colouring choice.

They are now a familiar omen of disaster. As DCU#0 puts it, "When the Multiverse is on the verge of destruction, when the skies drip red as the barriers between parallel universes bleed... When Earth's greatest heroes rise up together, willing to sacrifice everything they have in defense of all they hold dear... That war is called a Crisis."

2006's Ion maxiseries eventually revealled that the reason for this is that the weakening of the walls between universes during times of Crisis allows for a glimpse of 'the Bleed', an arterial channel between realities first introduced in Warren Ellis's Stormwatch run which went on to become a major part of the cosmologies of both Wildstorm and Final Crisis.

The association of red skies with Crises raises the question of RIP's association with Final Crisis. Addressing this in an interview Morrison says, "it could be the start of it, because those red skies have been seeping in for a while, but it's certainly not happening at the same time as Final Crisis #1. It could be happening a week before or something, but I haven't exactly specified it." (IGN, August 2008 ). So the red skies should be seen as signs that the Final Crisis was immanent, rather than that it was underway. This fits the sequence of events in the story.

This leaves the red skies in the six-months-later 'flash forward' sequences however...

"That's actually even more in the future than Battle for the Cowl," says Tony Daniel, "[That] would, hypothetically, appear at the very end of it" (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008 ).

This places them well after the conclusion of Final Crisis, and would seem to suggest that on that occasion a red sky was simply a red sky.

Red also has a significance (or at least a significant lack of significance) in the red and black pattern the Joker is making throughout the story. The red skies also serve as visual references to this.

How exactly did the Joker talk with his tounge sliced in half?

In Batman #680 the Joker reveals that he knows Doctor Hurt's true identity by mutilating himself to display a serpent's tongue. It has troubled many readers that he appears capable of comprehensible speech after doing so.

It is however entirely possible that the Joker wasn't capable of comprehensible speech before doing so, and the tongue slicing merely serves to make this explicit.

The Joker was shot in the face in Batman #655 and, when he reappeared in #663 had undergone facial reconstruction surgery leaving him incapable of producing any sounds except "a subhuman paste of of slobbery vowels and clicking consonants." The prose story in that issue makes it very clear that, while the Joker thinks he's talking, all that's coming out is "mangled phonetics and toxic intent."

When this version of the Joker reappears in DCU#0, Tony Daniel draws him with retracted lips which would be unable to manufacture any rounded vowels or labial/labio-dental consonants. Daniel is careful never to actually show him speaking.

It seems very likely that the Joker we see in RIP is talking in the same "subhuman paste" and that his speech balloons (coloured green to distinguish them from conventional dialogue) contain the words he's trying to say rather than the actual noises coming out of his mouth.

Careful reading of the arc shows that nobody, from the Arkham psychiatrist, to the Club of Villains to the members of the Black Glove, show any sign of understanding him before or after the tongue-slicing. They respond only to the fact that he has spoken or to actions that he's taken rather than to the content of anything that he has said. There's no evidence that any characters with whom he converses in Batman RIP can makes heads or tails of what he's saying.

There's one exception to this.

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh has an extended and two-sided conversation with the Joker, and is able to fully understand him both before and after the tongue-slicing.

But then, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh also has two-sided conversations with gargoyles.

Batman typically works by gathering evidence and consciously interpreting it. In RIP we're shown that as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh this process is unconscious. Whereas normally he'd read the city and deduce what the clues were telling him, in this state of mind he experiences this as direct linguistic information; "Shh! The city's talking" (Batman #679).

It follows then that he'd also be the only one able to converse with the Joker. Just as he interpreted the city's clues and experienced them as talking gargoyles, he'd be able to read the Joker's body language, intent and phonetics and experience them as actual speech.

It's also worth looking at what the conversation is about. The Joker is insisting that all life is fundamentally meaningless and that all attempts to make sense of it are doomed. And the World's Greatest Detective is making a liar of him...just by the simple act of understanding it.

Who (and why) was the Black Glove?

At San Deigo 2008 Grant Morrison said that the Black Glove's true identity would be someone "everybody in the world knows." Curiously, when the identity was eventually revealed, much of the readership failed to recognise him.

Lets go back to when Morrison first took on the Batman monthly and he mentioned that he'd "rather Batman embodied the best that secular humanism has to offer" (Newsarama, 2006). This take on the character has proved vital to how Morrison has written Batman throughout his career and is crucial to understanding why the Black Glove is who he is.

By 'Humanism' here, we're talking about the whole raft of philosophical ideas that came out of the Renaissance and told us that it was possible for us to stop thinking of life as one long downhill ride from the Fall or the 'Golden Age' and to start thinking that humans had a chance to improve the world and themselves if they started playing smart and making a bit of an effort.

Where Batman comes in is that humanism does this through reason, rationality, science and all that sort of stuff, to the exclusion of all the irrational mumbo-jumbo that's also a part of being human. Arkham Asylum, by a younger and angier Grant Morrison, punishes Batman for his humanism by painting him as a repressed, joyless prig and having him suffer humilation and agony for his failure to integrate into himself myth, ritual, chaos, the Id, and all the other things reason excludes.

By the time of Morrison's JLA run things are very different. Here Batman is routinely defeating gods and ur-gods by holding to these values.

Inbetween we get Batman: Gothic, where reason and rationality are shown to be effective but limited. Batman solves the mystery, but an epilogue reveals that he's been blind to a major player in the events....the Devil himself! Humanism works here, but remains oblivious to the man behind the curtain.

The Devil next reappears in Morrison's Batman mythos during RIP, where he's wearing Mangrove Pierce's body and using the name 'The Black Glove'.

Batman is invested in a project which attempts to improve humanity through reason and rationality. There's no greater threat to that than the possibility that deep down inside humanity is a kind of irrational evil from which it can never escape.

The Devil's the ultimate supernatural bogeyman. There's no greater threat to it than the possibility that people might one day be able to work and think their way free. If that's true then the Devil's days are numbered.

The Joker is well aware of who the Black Glove is, making numerological references to the Devil, quoting the Rolling Stones and illustrating the point by fashioning himself a serpent's tougue. He also claims to know why the Devil hates Batman (#680) and it has to be because of this; the possibilities for humanity that Batman's values and achievements represent scare the Devil (#681).

Batman has to acknowledge though that the Devil is a part of him. Just as humanism tried to exclude from its discourse the irrational side of human experience, Batman tried to fence off the nonsensical aspects of his own life experience inside The Black Casebook; "All the things we'd seen that didn't fit and couldn't be explained went into the Black Casebook" (#665) but when he writes the final entry in the Casebook he faces the posibility that he's reached the limits of reason.

In the various isolation experiments, initiations and Thogal rituals we've seen Batman undertake he's found this 'source of pure evil' deep down inside himself. And as Doctor Hurt breathes, "The Black Glove always wins" it is Batman's own black glove we see smashing through the helicopter window.

Since we're talking about a book set in the shared universe of the DCU we have to mention that this is a world not short of Devils and Devil-analogues... Neron, Satanus, the First of the Fallen, Lucifer and plenty of others could all in different ways be thought of as 'The Devil' in DCU continuity.

I would suggest that it is not helpful in understanding Batman RIP to do so here. What Batman triumphs against here is the idea of the Devil rather than any specific pre-existing variation on that idea. Although perhaps we should mention Orion's warning from Final Crisis #1 concerning Darkseid and his retinue of evil gods - "They did not die! He is in you all!" - and Darkseid's own admission in Final Crisis #7 that he'd have chosen Batman's soul to ruin over Turpin's were it not so difficult.

It'd be tempting to give the last word to Damien, who says, "I know the Devil exists, or at least something exists which might as well be the Devil. I've met him." (Batman #666)

The Black Glove is something which might as well be the Devil.

What does 'RIP' stand for if not 'Rest in Peace'?

I don't know.

Final Crisis Questions

Are we really supposed to believe that DC would kill Bruce Wayne?

No. The day Final Crisis #6 came out, Morrison was giving interviews saying, "I keep on stressing for people not to think of this as death. This is part of the story. There's more cool s**t to come. It'd be too easy to think of this as the end" (Wizarduniverse, January 2009)

The week before it came out, Didio was saying things like this, "when you mention a name to people who aren’t familiar with comics, they know who that character is – for everybody from Superman to Aquaman. We want to make sure we have the character that is the most recognizable to the largest number of people. That’s something that we’re always working towards" (Newsarama, January 2009)

What was the 'Final Fate of the Batman'?

With Darkseid fully incarnate, and destroying the universe with the mere weight of his unsustainably godly presence, Batman confronted him beneath the ruins of Blüdhaven.

In a scene which parallels and inverts Shilo Norman's confrontation with Darkseid from Seven Soldiers #1, Batman shot Darkseid with the god-killing bullet which came into his possession while investigating the death of Orion.

Darkseid's last act was to direct his Omega Beams at Batman. They made contact, leaving Bruce a charred and ruined corpse with burnt-out eyeballs.

But it's not all bad news.

Darkseid's last words were, "Can you outrace the Omega Sanction? The death that is life!"

'The Omega Sanction' was introduced in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #4 where it's described as "The ultimate hell...trapped in an endless succession of synthetic lives [...] Each new existence more degraded than the last. More hopeless. More meaningless. Neverending."

In 'Rock of Ages' Morrison describes it as "Out of time, out of space. Beyond what even Gods know." but Shilo Norman has already shown us that it can be escaped. One scene of particular relevance from Mister Miracle #4 is the exact moment at which Shilo first began to realise he was trapped inside a synthetic life; It was while looking at the Bat Symbol.

In Final Crisis #7 we rejoin Bruce on prehistoric Earth, witnessing the death of the first boy on Earth. He's in possession of a little rocket ship full of superhero memorabilia sent through time from the point in Final Crisis where all seemed lost.

There would seem to be two immediate explanations for how he got there.

One is that all this talk of the 'Omega Sanction' is irrelevant and that Darkseid's beams simply relocated Batman in time, as they've previously done to the Forever People and Sonny Sumo. This is perhaps the simplest explanation, but leaves the dialogue as being very misleading and fails to account for there having been a corpse.

The other is that Batman escaped the Omega Sanction and for some reason returned to the material universe at that point. One might speculate that he's been returned to his (restored) body and that it had been laid to rest in the little rocket ship.

The details have yet to be revealed, but some things are abundantly clear; The fire burns forever, the story is To Be Continued, and Batman and Robin will never die.