Welcome to Old Man Yells at Cloud, a new, hopefully semi-regular feature here at the blog where I take a look at current superhero comics and rant about everything that’s wrong with them. This is the tiniest bit tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but sometimes, you know, I’m deadly serious! You’ll just have to judge which is which!
I was going to do something else for the first installment, but then, on 3 May, Batman #135 arrived in stores. This is a giant-sized issue because technically it’s issue #900, and I thought I’d pick it up and give it a whirl. Once upon a time, you could buy an “anniversary” issue and get stories that would not go beyond the bounds of that issue. Those days are long over, but I figured I’d still take a look!
After reading it, all I can say is … What the heck was that?!?!?!?
If you missed it, in issue #134, Batman – almost randomly – had his right hand chopped clean off. Yes, it’s true! I’ve seen the page, and it’s a bit hard to even read what’s happening.
I mean … what exactly happened there? In Panel 1, Bats clearly has two hands, and the knife/sword that – presumably – cuts his hand off is stuck in that console thingy. It’s still there in Panel 2, but now … Batman is missing a hand? Did he move his wrist over to the sword and jam it against the blade, and that’s how he lost the hand? NO ONE IS HOLDING THE SWORD/KNIFE THINGY, SO HOW DID IT CUT BATMAN’S HAND OFF?!?!?!? The fact that this is in either a flashback or happening at the same time as the “main action” but is being narrated with a voice-over is another very weird part of the issue. That this is taking place in a different dimension is annoying, but I’ll get back to that (it’s “our” Batman, he just jumped to a different dimension – easy-peasy, people!). There’s more to know, but I’ll get to that as we check this issue out! All you need to know: Batman’s hand is gone,
Ok, so let’s dig into this a bit. It’s a Chip Zdarsky joint, so there will possibly be some “I’m smarter-than-you” vibes coming from this thing, but let’s not be too biased as we read! The art’s by Mike Hawthorne, Jorge Jimenez, and Mikel Janín, and it’s actually pretty impressive, as you’ll soon see. Anyway, on page 1, Batman tourniquets his hand and thinks, “Stopped the Multiversal gas from further infecting Gotham.” Oh dear. Already there’s something stupid. Multiversal gas?!?!? Really? Ugh. And yes, it’s capitalized. Deal with it, oldsters!
Bats manages to attach spikes to the bandage (“repurposed asylum equipment,” it seems) to at least make the stump look cool and functional, all while Man-Bats are attacking Gotham’s citizens while a red gas hangs in the streets. Oh, and Batman is wearing an armored version of his costume. Blech. Somewhere else, “Red Mask” is collecting “multiversal energy” to power a machine, and he and his lady – turns out it’s Punchline – are declaring their eternal love for each other. Somewhere somewhere else else, Alfred is in a fancy high-rise that’s protected from the madness outside. Alfred being Alfred, he decides to go out into the street to save the people. The others being the others (as in, nameless cowards), they want him to stay inside, but Alfred isn’t just some lowly butler, you know – he’s fought in World War II yet is still inexplicably alive and in good shape 80 years later!!!! He takes down a security guard and heads toward the exit.
Red Mask, meanwhile, taps into the machine, which allows him to jump dimensions and apparently go back in time, because COMICS! He enters the mind of the Joker just as he crawls out of the acid and takes off his red hood, and Red Mask sees it all through Joker’s eyes. Of course, because he’s NOT JUST A MAN, the Joker sees him somehow:
Out on the streets, the people are still fighting the Man-Bats, and Firefly is there for some reason? Alfred opens the doors to the high-rise and lets the fighters in, because he’s just swell. Red Mask goes back into the Joker’s head, and it does not go well. The Joker implies that the Red Mask has somehow broken him (the Joker, that is), leading Red Mask to believe that he’s out there creating Jokers. Now, this seems to be known already, but it’s unclear. I have not been reading Zdarsky’s run, so I’m not sure how much we already know about Red Mask, but the fact that he might have “created” the Joker does seem as a shock to him. Except … a few pages later, as he’s fighting Batman, he says “I can never become him. It’s not who I was meant to be … My job is to make Jokers …” So, does this mean he accepted his fate really, really quickly, or did he already know? Beats me. Anyway, Batman is struggling against him because he’s able to jump forward in time a few seconds by jumping through multiverses? Yes? But Bats manages to stab him … with his armored Bat-ears:
Bats then pulls a “James Bond villian” move and talks when he should be punching, which delays him by a few seconds so that Alfred shows up and distracts him, allowing Red Mask to leap into the multiverse, which could cause catastrophic damage. Luckily, Bats can track him, but before he does, he muses that Zur-En-Arrh is infecting his brain, because of course it is. Then, Alfred figures out that he’s dead in Batman’s world, and he gives him some butlery advice before leaving to find his wife, who’s out in Crazy Gotham somewhere. The woman he helped get off the street happens to be Selina Kyle, and while she seems perfectly nice, IT’S STILL SELINA KYLE, BRUCIE! She kicks him into the multiverse without his handy utility belt, which sucks. OH NOES BATMAN IS UNPREPARED WHATEVER SHALL HE DO?!?!?!?
Well, it’s the multiverse, and this is where the book really gets bonkers. First stop: Michael Keaton-as-Batman-verse! Batman sees Jack Nicholson on a giant television screen, and then Keaton shows up, but before they can interact too much, O.G. Bats is pulled back into the multiverse – it seems that whenever Red Mask jumps, he drags Batman with him. He ends up in what appears to be the Batman-as-vampire-verse of the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones books … at least the Joker is definitely a vampire and the art definitely has a Kelley Jones vibe to it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so!
He jumps around – Mike Mignola-verse, 1960s-verse, Animated Adventures-verse – before having a brief conversation with an older, bitter Batman. I’m not sure where he’s from, but then, I haven’t been reading a lot of Batman comics over the past two decades or so, so I might have missed a ‘verse or two. Then he actually spends a few pages with Terry McGinnis and Old Bruce, where he gets some insights. Then it’s off to what looks like a Batman ’66-verse, back to the Mignola-verse (maybe?), an Alex Ross-Kingdom Come-verse, and then an Adam West-as-Batman-verse, where West gives him a utility belt because, remember, he got kicked into the multiverse before he could prepare his. Chekov’s Utility Belt? Could beeeee …!
Next, it’s Frank Miller-Dark Knight Returns-verse, where Old Bats fires up a fancy laser and creates a new hand for Bats. Is that it? He gets his hand chopped off and Future Bats just stitches up a new one for him? It doesn’t appear to be a prosthetic (although Bruce wears a glove for the rest of the issue), so I guess … yay, Frank Miller Bats? Anyway, O.G. Bats gets a new costume from Grumpy Grandpa Bats, and he’s off!
His next stop is a wrecked dimension, where a ruined Gotham sits on a small chunk of land floating in a void. He’s caught up to Red Mask, but there are “Joker sharks” floating around as well, ready to kill him. He’s about to get swallowed by a shark, but for two things: His hand is apparently not exactly real, as its “features work” – meaning he can grip a surface better thanks to small spikes that extend out of the hand; and then, when even that isn’t enough, he reaches into his utility belt and pulls something out. The utility belt given to him by Adam West. YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS!!!!!
Sigh. He knocks out Red Mask, but the deus ex machina Future Bruce gave him can only transport one person back to his home dimension, and he can’t leave the villain to die. He sits down and thinks about defeat, but then Tim Drake shows up and saves him with … the power of hugging? It’s unclear:
But then we get the final page turn, and we get this:
I mean, I could give a nuanced response to this issue, but this is Old Man Yells at Cloud, and “nuanced” isn’t in our vocabulary!!!! What the crap is up with this thing?!?!?!? First of all, “multiversal gas”? Zdarsky has to know that sounds like someone farting across dimensions – I can’t believe that dude’s not in the X-Men yet. And the Bat-Armor just looks stupid, but it does allow Bats to stab Red Mask with his bat-ears, so … score? And Zdarsky using a ridiculously cheesy thing from the 1960s to help Batman? Ugh. But those are not the reason this grumpy old man is grumpy! No – those are just the amuse-bouches of this issue!
What makes me angry about this issue is the very concept of Red Mask. He’s a man who tries to create Jokers? Why, exactly? And how stupid is it that Zdarsky implies that he created “our” Joker?
Look, I think exploring psychosis and trying to find triggers for it is not a bad thing in fiction. Occasionally, the “he’s just insane” theory is just stupid. I get it. But two things stand out here: One, Zdarsky’s explanation, even the implication of it (he hems and haws, because of course he does), is MONUMENTALLY STUPID, and two, the Joker is an exception. His insanity is fascinating BECAUSE we know nothing of his origin. I know that DC has allowed people to fill in some parts of his past over the years, and I think that’s a big mistake (yes, even when the Great Bearded Midlands God did it). The best part of the second Nolan Batman movie was Ledger telling different origins, because it was a clever way to show that the Joker is different. So Red Mask is stupid – as Batman points out and we’re supposed to accept, he’s a Joker who’s not insane. Um, what? Way to completely and absolutely miss the point of the Joker. Sigh.
And then there’s the multiverse. Just … no. Not Batman. Much like the X-Men in space, Batman in the multiverse is idiotic. Why is it his job to save the multiverse? I assume this was covered in an earlier issue, when Bruce arrived in this dimension, but it’s still dumb. There’s not enough crime in O.G. Gotham to fight? I think that Batman is in the dimension against his will, and I get that this is the end of an arc and if I jump in now it’s my own damned fault, but my point is that writers of Batman should stay away from the furshlugginer multiverse, even if Bats is there unwillingly! As for the concept of a multiverse … ugh. I mean, fine, but ugh anyway. Listen, I don’t need a Bat-Mignola-verse and DKR-verse and a Keaton-verse, and neither should you. Our brains can handle different interpretations of the characters!!!! We don’t need to “check in” on what’s happening in Vampire-verse, because that thing was a one-off! It’s just so stupid, and it feels like Zdarsky just did it so the readers could point and say, “Hey, I remember that thing! How cool!” That’s not the way you write a story, and unfortunately, it’s far too common these days. Easter eggs rule all, and readers can feel all smart because they get all the references. Who cares if the story sucks, right?
Obviously, superhero comics are constructed on the backs of previous writers and artists, and it’s one reason why we love them. I’m not ranting about Zdarsky doing that, I’m ranting because he’s so bad at it. When Morrison decided to “create” Zur-En-Arrh, it was kind of stupid, but it still felt inspired. Now, it’s just another idiotic villainous thing, as it’s been watered down by successive writers trying to be cool. The Dark Knight Returns is amazing partly because it’s an endgame, and it stands alone. Sequel-itis got to Miller with horrrible, horrible results, but now Miller’s Batman is just another hero in just another dimension – there’s nothing special about him. The Joker’s enigmatic life is a big part of his appeal, and even Alan Moore couldn’t wreck that, but DC and its writers sure have tried in the 21st century. As for a “Red Mask” creating Jokers across the multiverse …
See, that’s the problem with multiverses – it dilutes the product. “Our” Joker becomes far less interesting (not that he’s all that interesting anymore, but that’s a yell at a cloud for another day!) when he’s one of many. It’s the same with most of these characters, but because the heroes – and even the villains – actually have backstories and full lives because the writers fill it in, an enigma like the Joker has to be, well, the Joker in all realities, and he becomes even more boring than he is now. He just doesn’t work if there are many Jokers running around. Red Mask, who is not compelling at all, kind of proves that.
Back in my day, “anniversary” issues were usually one-offs with an all-star cast of creators telling short little stories about the hero.* These days, they’re usually the culmination or kick-off of an arc, and that’s fine, I guess. But this anniversary issue fails on a lot of levels, and DC might have been better off getting a bunch of creators to tell their own stories! Instead, we get handless Bats fighting a Faux-ker across the multiverse, and we’re all worse off for it. Chip Zdarsky,
* Look, I know that’s not always true – Detective #600 is definitely not that – but I’m ranting, here!
About what will I rant next? You’ll just have to come back and find out!!!!