Comics

Just Move Forward: "Batman #14" is Meta-Inverted

Michael D. Stewart

The Joker is a bad teacher, and sometimes you don't really need to learn from the past to move forward…sometimes you just need to move forward…


Batman #14

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-01
Amazon

There’s a line in the middle of Batman #14 that is entirely telling about the state of Batman, this “Death of the Family” storyline and nearly the entirety of DC Entertainment. It’s not the line you think. “He’s picking and choosing from our early encounters,” Batman says to Nightwing about the Joker. “Redoing them, but in new ways. Inverting them.”

That dialogue has a meta quality, transcending its purpose in the story, transcending the story itself, even transcending the revised origins of many of DC characters. Everything is inverted, supposedly reflecting a more modern understanding. But what we are left with is references to the past, to prior favorite moments hoping to build a new future. While it’s often true that we must learn from the past to move forward, sometimes you have to just move forward.

What is moving forward is the new understanding of the Joker. The original clown prince of crime became a deranged antagonist during his evolution in the 20th century. In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight he became an urban terrorist. Here under writer Scott Snyder he is a horror-movie inspired psycho, having more in common with Michael Myers than previous comicbook interpretations. The Joker has always been scary, but now his level of terror derives from a place other than his terroristic activities.

Those activities include being several steps ahead of Batman and confessing he knows the true identities of the entire Bat-Family. He’s coming for each of them because they’ve ruined his King, Batman, made him soft. The title “Death of the Family,” while certainly derived from “Death in the Family,” (which saw the murder of Robin at the hands of the Joker) would seem to indicate the unraveling of the unity of the Bat-Family as opposed to the actual death of one of the characters. DC hasn’t announced cancellation of the one of the associated Bat titles, has it?

The reveals in this issue are hardly shocking, memorable to a certain extent, but rather fundamental from a narrative perspective. What is shocking is the level of emotion Batman shows or rather reveals to Nightwing. You probably would too if the Joker kidnapped one of your father figures, but that’s not how we’ve understood Batman during his most recent adventures.

“Bruce is so guarded and almost an unreliable narrator where he doesn’t tell you what he’s thinking or feeling,” Snyder said to me when we spoke in November 2011 as his “Court of Owls” storyline was just taking shape. “He tells you the facts of the case and you have to use other characters to give readers the hint that Bruce is playing his cards close to the vest.” Is this a change in character direction? Did the Court of Owls affect him more than we could imagine? Or, rather, is Snyder emphasizing the impact of an action through dialogue?

The latter would seem to be the case, as it is way too early for that type of character development. And it is an odd exchange in some regards. You would expect that type of movement to be shown in character actions rather than clunky, arguably out of character, dialogue exchanges.

But everything is being inverted, as the dialogue mentioned in the beginning of this review is also evidence of the type of narrative ahead in this storyline.

Dialogue is central to this issue and in all instances has the effect of making things uneasy. The chilling lines offered by the Joker are fine in the overall scheme, though they seem forced, lacking a cadence (or off-cadence) that would propel this effort further. The ideas are there, but the execution is hindered by an active desire to get to the end--metaphors, similes, characterization be damned.

The real earnest and strongest effort comes from the work of penciler Greg Capullo and inker Jonathan Glapion. To create the sense of terror necessary for this issue, Snyder relies heavily on Capullo’s work. He delivers, quite frankly delivering the work of his career. The panels go from large and surprisingly detailed shots to small intimate moments. Snyder’s verbose dialogue tries to emphasize solitude as Batman, through his own actions and through the Joker’s actions, is pushed solo. Capullo’s panels and pages rightly make this connection using subtle visual tricks. It’s an interesting situation when the normally bombastic penciler is the subtle force.

Sometimes you just have to move forward, and that is what Batman #14 does, but not in the way we would hope…or in the ways Snyder is capable of writing. The allure and mystique of the Joker can have that effect. Saving the Joker for after the New 52 reached its first birthday was a wise move. Probably could have waited even longer, but there are only so many memorable Batman stories to invert to create something new.

6
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

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