Brian, Francis, I’ve been in a kind of stupor since the weekend, reading and rereading and rereading again Part One of “Icarus,” which kicks off your run on Detective, and only the smallest part of this stupor has been due to the veritable ocean of whiskey that has flooded in, arriving with the exhaustion that’s come from the pure act of reading Olivia Laing’s mercilessly profound The Trip to Echo Spring. Remember that scene from Chris Nolan’s Inception? The one where Leo comes face to face with the inundation and the architectured dream-world around him begins to crumble as the water floods in? It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the last coupla have been exactly that for me and the inundation has been a strange mix of the exhaustion from the idea of needing to get beyond that Berryman inscription that Laing places at the very front of the book (I never could get beyond it), and the unadulterated wonder and compassion with which you approach a Dark Knight caught behind the defenses of his own grief, but not trapped behind them.
You call it “Icarus,” Francis, Brian, and already it’s beginning to feel like we’ve entered into the cathedral of something far larger than ourselves, something that can be built by ourselves. But here I am, sober now, or at least some miles closer to sober, and the mythography of what you’re doing is setting in. There’s the flying too close to the sun that sees Elena burn in the final pages, there’s Annie’s brio, there’s an end that already now we can feel must surely come.
And there’s Bruce’s exhaustion.
After all that’s come before, Bruce’s exhaustion isn’t so very different from the same kind of exhaustion that powers Faulkner or Hemingway or Berryman or Cheever or Fitzgerald in the way that Laing frames them (what would I know, I haven’t made it beyond the inscription yet, remember?). We see the pain and we see the grief in those past-casts-a-Longfellow moments where Bruce pains over the empty bike, over fixing it, tuning it in that just-so way that Damian, his son now passed, would have wanted it tuned. And we see Alfred, “cast upon the waves,” one might say (waves of sorrow that separate the dead from the damned, clearly)… we see Alfred clearly framing a grieving Bruce, watching his emptiness, which mirrors in a far more painful way that empty bike of Damian’s, and making accessible to us the inner intimate pain of someone who surrendered the future when they lost their son. Things can’t be good again, no poetry, no punk after Auschwitz. Great writers drink for the same reason Richard Hell wore a shirt that said “Please Kill Me,” because the world around us has come to demand too much, and at the same time, accept too little.
Brian, Francis, you scrawl “Icarus” on the cover as casually as you show Bruce almost surgically take down a motorcycle gang, get stabbed, and then in his non-Batman alter ego bear witness to his fellow billionaire Elena recall him some six years ago now talk about Gotham as a transformative place, one where you can stand tall under dark skies. You scrawl the word “Icarus,” and you empty the “U” of any color, and for a moment there ghost-images in the word itself fire, did you write down “I CARe for US,” “I CARry US?” Olivia Laing makes the point that the perfect segue into understanding these larger-than-life’s, these great writers who come to us pre-exhausted and almost as a kind of literary PSA extinguish themselves publicly, is to, like Quixote, be able to tilt at giants even if they appear as no more than windmills to others, to be haunted by a deep and imagined inner potential.
I’m running out of praise here, Francis, Brian. Or maybe only out of words. Your formulation of Batman as one who can both experience the same kind of exhaustion as these great writers do, and yet, not be buckled under by it, not peer too long into the abyss. It’s the perfect Batman you’ve crafted here. Not the Batman as equal to Bob Dylan, but a Batman every bit equal to Mark Twain.
Here’s a bit of a footnote. The title’s pretty much the last line from Garth Ennis’s magnum opus, Preacher, when Cassidy takes the ultimate form of responsibility. And “the-past-casts-a-Longfellow” is also a doff of the hat at an earlier resurgam of a Robin, it was the Alan Grant-scribed issue of Detective that saw Tim Drake wear the Robin costume for the first time, which opened with Batman musing “The past casts a long shadow.” Given Manapul and Buccellato’s masterful command of literary naturalism, it seemed an opportune moment to have a bit of a laugh and suggest the past casting a sense of Longfellow. Happy Anti-Fascism Day, Everyone.