"'Cuz for this story to make sense… for it to mean anything… you have to believe in something. Something very important. You have to believe that people can change". Batman: Noël is the pure, staggering genius of superimposing Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the darkest of Dark Knights.
Batman NoëlPublisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Lee Bermejo
Publication Date: 2011-12
What if it's never enough?
Twentieth century mathematician Kurt Gödel didn't propose one Theorem on Incompleteness, but two. And yet, it's the first that proves the most seductive. In any given system, Gödel observes, statements can be produced that are both true, and unprovable. We can know them to be true, and yet we cannot explain why they are so. Gödel proclaims both the map and the currency of secret and distant things.
And the beauty of the drama that Gödel ushers in, is an escape from the pitiable reliance on the fear encompassed in the "what if" of "what if it's never enough"? "What if it's never enough" is an armada that looms on the horizon once exhaustion hits; it is the secret fear, the terrible mortality, the end. Rather, Gödel inverts this fear completely and proclaims with a resounding cry, it is never enough. It is never enough because we're always building more. Not more stuff, but more possibility. And as Arthur C. Clarke reminds us, possibility will always manifest as actuality.
Of course none of Gödel hits when I'm actually reading Lee Bermejo's Batman: Noël. Higher order intellectualizing is completely off the cards. When Lee writes, "I believe a man can change. But change is such a powerful thing, such a BIG idea, that I gotta believe there's more to it than just makin' a CHOICE", I'm wholly immersed in the emotion of the moment.
There's no going back after this point. I've been lost in Lee's vision of a Dark and Vengeful Batman that desperately needs to be redeemed for over an hour now. I've been on a walking tour of Batman patrolling on Christmas Eve, and Lee's narrator superimposing Dickens' A Christmas Carol of the events he's narrating. There's no going back now, tears well up.
"I believe a man can change. But change is such a powerful thing, such a BIG idea, that I gotta believe there's more to it than just makin' a CHOICE. See outside forces have to come into play… something ELEMENTAL". The beauty of Gödel's "way out" only hits days later, when I'm rereading this fragment for this review. And even then, Gödel is only a distant voice. The pure, staggering magnificence of Lee's story is so utterly captivating that it's hard for my rational mind to kick in fully. And it will be hard for yours too.
All in all, Batman: Noël is a simple story. An almost throwaway night of patrol for the Batman. The Joker's on the loose, Batman attempts to track him down using the Joker's bagman, Bob, as live bait. But that's not the real moment of drama in the story. The real moment of drama is how this Batman's carefully calculated world of angst and fear and violence is meticulously unraveled by three strange visitors. Three "ghosts" who show him the joy of the past, the dark reality of the world he made for himself, and the paucity the world faces if this dark reality is to be his only legacy.
And as with Dickens' own A Christmas Carol, there is a redemption. But not before a shocking confrontation. Perhaps the most evocative moment is the Joker at the door, when it's answered by Bob's son, Tim. It's singularly the most finely crafted moment in comics you'll read this year. No words, just a single picture of the door open one little crack, and the Joker staring back at Tim.
Lee effortlessly recalls the single most frightening moment in the Joker's history. Dressed like a tourist in a brightly colored shirt, bermuda shorts and wearing a Nikon camera around his neck, the Joker greets Barbara Gordon at her door. A near fatal shot to her spine ensures she wind up a paraplegic. The moment played out in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke This was a permanent change in the DC Universe, and arguably the first time that we realized that even though we grow up around these characters, they themselves can grow.
With nothing but a single-page panel, Lee throws us back into dread. Without the benefit of iTunes, Meatloaf's "Objects in the Rearview Mirror" plays in my head. "And though the nightmares should be over, somehow the terrors are still intact". Recalling The Killing Joke is a flawless setup for the confrontation that comes next, the confrontation that will define Batman. No more, "what if it's never enough", and simply the understanding that it never will be enough. That there is no map for this, no better destiny to be grasped at. There's only what we build.
I read Noël in one sitting, cover to cover, in a little under 90 minutes. But that would never be enough. It appeared again at the strangest of times. In an-out-of-town car ride to an annual Carols concerto on a wine estate. In the theater just before Moneyball. One morning before a two-mile run. Lee's Noël is pure kryptonite to leave lying around my workspace. It's where I go when I procrastinate, and it leaves me feeling too good to care about procrastinating.
In the end, I'm simply haunted by the beauty of Batman: Noël. And my wish for you this Holiday Season, is that you will be too.