Comics

"So Impress Me…": the Ferryman's Dilemma in "Batman, Incorporated #1"

"So impress me…", it's got to be one of the finest moments in comics writing. Either that moment, of the guest appearance of Bat-Cow.


Batman, Incorporated #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2012-07
Amazon

It's not apocryphal. It's in there somewhere in Grimm's, but you're just not sure where. The Brothers Grimm, were not only the DC of their day, they carried on a tradition of popular culture that went back all the way to medieval times, all the way back to the founding of the very first universities. It's not apocryphal, the notion of the Ferryman's Dilemma. It's in there somewhere in Grimm's, but thinking about it now, it may well be a Hans Christian Andersen fairy story.

The idea goes something like this. Some youngster on an important quest somewhere, was asked in the final leg of his outward voyage this: As Ferryman I've grown to be indentured into my position. There must be a Ferryman, as there will always be a need for people to cross from the shore of the lake we're on, to the far shore, or to the island afloat in the middle of the lake. And people will always need to return. But for all this service, and it is service, and I do make a good enough living doing it, what about me? What about my dreams of going Out West to Hamlin and taking in a Pentz & Tahler show, or gambling the night away. Think of it now, Hamlin, baby, Hamlin!

It's the generational question of the moment. The Millennials won't be asking themselves this once they're ready to start running things. They'll be asking, "You mean they voted for TARP? Didn't they realize it would screw us?". But right now, the last of the Gen X'ers are asking themselves, "Where's my 1993? Where's my 1998? My 2004? Where's my 37% return on investment from the stock market?". Where's the night of my payday, why don't I get to go out to Hamlin, or Vegas or Iceland (Iceland, good luck with that). The generation to really get pounded, psychically so, by the Long, Hard Ugly of 2007/2008, is Generation X. Because Gen X is old enough to have seen The Promised Land. But also unlucky enough to have gotten there just as everyone was leaving.

And by this strange trip, Dear Reader, we are returned to Batman, Incorporated #1. And to perhaps the singularly most arresting piece of character definition for the Batman since that moment on the bridge in Batman #681. Not that moment on the bridge. That moment on the bridge that good people usually talk about is the moment when Gordon and Batman first forged their friendship. When in Frank Miller's magnificent Batman: Year One (way, way back in Batman #407), Batman dove in to saw Jim Gordon's infant son from plunging into the Gotham East River.

No, not that moment on the bridge, but the moment on a bridge that comes much later, at the end of Batman: R.I.P.. The moment when Dr. Hurt confronts the Batman with the very thing we all believed him to be after the powerful savaging Miller-era and post-Miller-era gave the character. "A deluded trust fund orphan who vents his rage and frustration on the poor in alleyways". It's been some two years' wroth of monthly issues that brought Grant Morrison, and all of us, to this point. A point where Grant, and we ourselves, can confront the very worst thing we believe about the Batman. That under all of that, he's nothing if not sociopathic.

And of course he's not. But how do you disarm that notion? Tell a two-years-in-the-making story about the psychology of the Batman. And bring him to a point where he himself can confront this thing he's made of his life. That final moment on that bridge, Grant's moment, not Frank's, is the start of something. The start of a reassertion of Batman as an avatar of superhuman discipline. It's the Batman we'll see in absentia over the next few months, and it's the Batman we'll see Return in books like (surprisingly) The Return of Bruce Wayne and the first volume of Batman, Inc.

And now here we are some two years on from the first issue of the first volume of Batman, Inc. (well, two years on, give or take a season). The same amount of time, give or take, that separates the start of Volume One of Batman, Inc. from the start of Batman R.I.P. back in Batman #676. The same amount of time that separates the end of R.I.P. from the start of Morrison's run on Batman. Here we are amid a sweeping, fluid grandeur of Batman and Robin chasing down a nobody assassin in "Demon Star", this opening chapter of Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan.

There's something beautiful here, something graceful, like that girl who when I was younger installed in me the desire to learn to smoke, because when she smoked in the rain, her cigarettes would hiss in the most elegant of ways. Something painfully human to be found in these pages. But nothing can really equal that moment Grant tackles directly the notion of the Ferryman's Dilemma.

It's not the Batman who experiences it, but his son, Damian Wayne, the newest Robin. In this profoundly human moment, Damian begins to realize that he's become mired in Gotham, and the higher things he had once believed were set out for him, now escape his grasp, and drawing ever nearer, also his reach. I was trained to rule the world, and now I'm here trying to impress you, Dad, or words much to that effect.

But it's the Batman's response that cuts to the core, "So impress me…". And in just that single moment, you get it. You get that there's a deeper game here to being the Batman. And that this boyhood-ism of high-tech toys and capes and the Very Adventure Of It All, has a deeper purpose, and that Batman is reconstituting a game of kings and worldly powers as a game of superheroes and criminal masterminds. Can you imagine what it would look like, if Enron behaved like the Joker? There must be a Batman because Batman is the disabstraction of evil.

And with Grant, you get that in a flash, from just three words. And because of every panel earlier in the book that led you there. It's got to be the finest moment in comics writing.

Well either that one. Or the one where Grant has Bat-Cow, from Tiny Titans fame, make a guest appearance.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image