The Comic Book Club: “Batman & Robin” and “Amazing Spider-Man”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse, Mike Williams and Graeme McMillan discuss Batman & Robin #14 and Amazing Spider-Man #641.

DOUGLAS: If Grant Morrison was a gunslinger, there’d be a whole lot of dead wannabes. The current storyline in Batman & Robin is hitting for me like no other superhero comic right now–when Morrison gets to work with an artist who really gets him and can pull off mood, he’s unbeatable. Jesus, Frazer Irving is amazing; this is the best work I’ve ever seen him do. When those early pages of the preview went up a few weeks ago without lettering, I wondered if maybe the whole issue was supposed to be silent; his storytelling is so strong that what was going on was pretty clear anyway, and the acting and composition are fantastic, and the coloring–this is the best-colored book on the stands.

GRAEME: Yes, definitely. This is a very pretty book, and I don’t mean that as an insult. The care and attention that Irving brings to his colors (not just in his color choices, although look at the colors in the scene with Gordon being surrounded by Pyg’s Dollotrons, but the textures he leaves on each page, as well) is pretty much unmatched in mainstream comics. I like his figurework and composition, but Irving’s real strength for me is definitely his color work.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: The Unwritten and Ultimate Avengers 3)

DOUGLAS: A lot of people seem to have picked up on that thing Morrison mentioned about “B&R Must Die” being “Batman R.I.P.” “as farce,” and it does keep bringing up the elements of “R.I.P” upside-down–Gordon, especially, keeps playing the Jezebel Jet role. But I also see it alluding, over and over, to “The Killing Joke”: the whole sequence with Gordon and the Dollotrons is completely a playback of Gordon’s introduction to the Joker’s carnival there.

There’s some crazy symbol-systems being set up here: the goat is the devil is Hurt, the rats are the Bats are the knights. And the Joker is not the adversary (or the Adversary), for once: he’s the wild card. “So who do I know that’s good with serious…?” Well, who’s the most serious (currently active) member of the Bat-family? As RetroWarbird points out, it has to be Jason Todd, at whom this issue is pointing without directly showing him (in the same way the first year of Batman and Robin pointed at the Joker): the kid from Crime Alley who can’t take anything lightly. I bet we see him next time.

Now, my question is: after the explosion of the Batmobile and the big “DAY 2″ caption, how does Dick get to the Batcave (and tell Alfred what to prepare) while Gordon’s still at Park Row/Crime Alley? We also still have to somehow get from here to the eclipse, the “sacrifice of a son/sun” two days from now that we saw at the beginning of last issue…

Line of the week, and already showing up as at least one friend’s AIM status: “Not Botox. Not for work. For work is PCP!” (Although the best actual scene of the week is probably the totally deranged sex scene–three James Bond clichés superimposed on each other–from this week’s Invincible Iron Man.)

EVAN: To me, B&R #15 stands in stark contrast to this week’s Spider-Man. If the core question of superhero comics today is what do we do with the continuity we inherit, then these two comics stand as two starkly different examples.

Morrison’s leaning on events and images from Bat-history that everybody knows: Joker, Robin and a crowbar, Commisoner Gordon tortured with madness. But he upends them and turns them inside out and finds something fresh and lurid there. Hell, the leads of the book can’t even keep up. I love the idea of Joker as chaos hero against the will-less addiction conformity of Doctor Hurt, too. There’s some of Morrison’s chaos magic ideas in there, but they’re fused well with the established Bat-mythos.

It’s not the Batman of O’Neil or Englehart or Miller, and it’s not supposed to be. I think the lesson here is that you can do radical interpretations of your icons if the architecture’s sound. Granted, Morrison’s Bat-epic is somewhat self-contained–it’s not being referenced in a lot of other DCU books–but the new characters and ideas in his work can flow out into the larger organism. (I’m thinking of Paul Cornell using Knight and Squire in that new mini-series, for example.) There isn’t the sense of mandate that seemed to characterize “One More Day” and the other Spidey storylines that led to the reboot. After all, one of the pleasures that superhero comics are supposed to execute better than other genres is longform serial storytelling. A specific creator can either hand off a spiky baton that’s no fun to hold or a sparkly one that glows with every step. Other creators and readers should want to pick up on your interpretation of a character or mythos, not be forced to.

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