Excellent interview between comics two great dreamers.
Particularly useful this bit on ‘the rules’ in fiction:
GM: You give an adult a piece of fiction, and the adult cannot handle it. The adult begins to ask, “How can Batman afford to run a business and be Batman at night?” “How do the lasers come out of Superman’s eyes?” “Why does he wear those clothes?” And all you want to say is, “Because it’s not real!” It’s made up, and only in the made-up world can these things happen. I find that, in the last 10 years particularly, there’s this idea of grounding Superman, which just seems insane to me. And that’s what you always get from studio executives, is, “How do we ground this?”
NG: The other thing I love that you hear all the time from movie executives is, “What are the rules of this world?” Nobody gives you rules for any world. You figure it out as you go along and weird s— happens.
GM: And obviously rules eventually arise, but it comes from the narrative. And it doesn’t have to be this world’s rules. Adults need to get a grasp of this. These things aren’t real and we can make anything happen. And that’s exactly what’s so wonderful about it.
I got this theory about Lance. Maybe you don’t notice him when you work with him. Because in every work place, people got their problems. You’ve got spreadsheets to deal with.Photocopy codes to remember. Maybe you’ve got that big meeting. Maybe you’re trying to get all your tools together for a trip overseas. Who knows maybe the boss has been riding you so much, you just don’t have time to notice one more new guy around the place, and what’s with the high turnover round here anyway? No wonder people quit, I tell ya.
You’re starting to look like a veteran. A survivor. What’s the use getting to know one more guy? Seems nice enough. But fuck it. You’ll be having that going-away party soon enough. Speaking of, we don’t seem to be having those as much as we used to, but it seems like there’s fewer and fewer familiar faces in the halls. So whatever. You’ve got to knuckle down. Starts with some early mornings. Then some late nights. But either way it sucks and you’re the one pulling the weight. Why would you care about one more guy?
But then something happens. Maybe you’re stuck in the elevator—weird those doors were about to CLOSE on you, but that new guy was right there. What’s his name again? Anyway, good thing he was cause it was like they were going to eat you. Whatever, you’ve got places to be. Or you don’t know how it got there, but damn if there wasn’t the biggest rat, is that what it was? In the company kitchen. What the hell was that thing? Anyway the new guy was there, and just WAM! He smacked it with just a piece of equipment lying around. Swept it up fast too, nothing to see here, right? Just some garbage. That new guy. You know he seems all right.
Then on that one night, when everything all turns to shit, you know, you work so late things don’t go your way, then well, must have been some kind of bad curry you had for takeout that day because you were seeing things you’d never seen in your life. A very bad dream. And then doing things, you never thought you would do. Scared out of your mind. Scared for your life. Then splash! It’s cold water in your face. The shop is shut down. The plant closed. New guy gives you a coke. It’s got lots of sugar he says. Caffeine. Wakes you up. Makes you I don’t know just have a drink, you’ll feel better. You’re covered in bruises, but you’re okay. And you don’t know how you got out here. And the new guy comes over looks you in the eye, knocks you on the shoulder and says, hey buddy. It’ll be all right.
Next day, you go to work, and the place is shut down. You just stand out there, with your coat, your tools, your uniform, your briefcase, your headset looking at what’s left remaining of the place, and it’s like you wake up for the first time, you see it for what it is. And you think, my god, how did I go in there for every day of my life? And then you get on with it. Living. And that new guy? You never give him another thought for the rest of your days.
And that’s what Freelance Blues is all about.
Most engrossing winter reading this year goes to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (for me and like I guess fifty million other people over Christmas). But anyway, that was a hell of a weird book. A self-aware ‘locked-room mystery’ and a corporate crime thriller, written in the days before the housing bubble’s burst made villains of wall street. Of course this is set in Sweden, but the targets are the same, big big financial crime. But what made this book an extra strange stew was how it stirred in the most modern metaphorical storytellling symptom of our age, I guess you could say, the serial killer.
Almost good, one more thing was needed… this would have been a pretty dry, but compelling book of chilly crime in a chilly clime if it wasn’t for the addition of the titular character. And she is… strange. Something else. Actually, she’s the most fantastical element of the book, as the financial villains and actual serial killers and kidnappers roaming the land and popping up in unexpected positions of authority seem to be the stuff of news everywhere. No, the Girl with the Dragon, is that extra spice, an avenging angel, a mystical pixie, a magical hacker, a goth-bisexual, super-competent deviant sidekick to the Mikael Blomquist, a 40 something investigative journalist who plays the role of detective in this novel. Which is fine. If you want to write in a fantasy stand in Buffy-the-vampire-slayer in Enron land, taser-weilding, motorcycle riding vehicle of vengeance, then go to it! Be my guest! It makes sense, might actually be a burgeoning genre of these fantasy figures out there, slightly superpowered stand-ins who can exact justice on our corrupt world etcetera.
But my question is, and here’s the thing, why make her a stand in for the victim too? Cause that’s exactly what happens in this book. And frankly, it’s a little shocking. Kind of disgusting. Voyeuristic? Unnecessary? Does it make the reader feel complicit in the degradation of the character. Well you keep reading, so, yeah. I guess it does. Not sure if this is just some super sophisticated European understanding that I’m missing. And, you know, given that the series has two more books, and you can’t set up tension now without imperiling your characters so I’m just going to guess that it’s gonna happen again. To be fair though Larrson does throw a similar curveball of misery to his lead reporter too. But he was never really outlined as a victim as such as much as the Girl–it’s not part of his inherent backstory.
Just leaving me to say… What’s up with that!… and that this is still, a crazy, compulsive, current zeitgeist tapping crime novel– more so than just about anything else anything people are putting out these days. And frankly with so many bullshit CSI procedural cop shows populating the airwaves these days, I’m glad that one writer at least was aiming their sights in the right direction. The real enemies! Financial crime. It’s bigger than all of us, but we just don’t have the perspective pulled back far enough to realize it. Goddam shame the author didn’t stick around to see how it was recieved.
Three things I read recently. It’s good to be back into reading again, but the best things to read seem to be eluding me. What’s the best? I’m not sure. I haven’t dug into anything which has really grabbed me since The Killer Inside Me. Started the Raw Shark Texts; which seemed to have potential, in a very meta, House of Leaves sort of way. But till then have filled up my reading hours with comics again.
Logicomix: Borrowed this from my buddy Slater, kind of on extended loan since he moved to Brooklyn. Really not the usual subject matter or treatment you see in North American comics, technically I guess it was made by a bunch of Europeans. Logicomix is the life of philosopher and pioneering logician Bertand Russell, told in a Tintin-esque self-referential graphic narrative. And what’s a logician? Well I sure as hell didn’t know, but had a much greater idea of the importance of and contributions of by the end of this book. Russell’s struggle to unlock the secrets of mathematics and encounters with other philosphers such as Wittgenstein are juxtaposed with scenes documenting the struggles of the books creators, as they argue about how to tell the story: “To me it’s 100% character! Not just their actions, but their ideas come from it: only men like them could have thought them!” The creator’s story takes place in Athens, and they are very aware of their subject’s roots in the classics. Perhaps their self-reflexive, dialectical style was meant to echo the style of the Socratic dialogues of Plato. Makes those ‘modern’ techniques not seem that new after all eh? Anyhow, it’s all very meta. Kind of most reminded me of the film version of American Splendor in it’s technique. Anyhow it was compelling stuff, Russell’s life story was more engrossing than I would have guessed, and offers a reason for everyone to take up the challenge of philosophy–to think for yourself.
The Escapists: Brian K. Vaughn picks up where Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay left off, transporting the story of comic creation to the present day. Here his hero is a couple of young friends who buy the out of date license to the Escapist characters and use the to relaunch the series. They also stumble into some superheroics with a publicity stunt involving an old Escapist costume from the tv-serial, capturing the attention of a mega-corp that wants that license back. Yeah, so that’s the plot. And well, what’s the what? Well, this book has a lot of love in it man, it’s got a small cast of three who pour their hearts into making words and pictures come alive on the page. Each issue cuts back and forth between their new Escapist comic, and their current real life predicaments, often blending the two for dramatic effect. All works well, and as someone trying to self-publish my own comic right now it all felt painfully accurate. Strangely the comic book scenes are done in what seems like an abstract but closer to photorealistic style, while the creators are cartoony rendering. This kind of kept me at arms length from any emotional punch for most of the story. But you know what? Fuck it. It rings true. And I’ll take anything that will inpire me to keep going.
X-Factor: Madrox: Multiple Choice. So that’s a long title! But what can you do when you’re trying to run name recognition on a second rate character on a third-rate series from the 90s? But fuck it, Peter David had a story to tell and I wouldn’t stop him. I was one of the people that liked X-Factor, probably more than the X-Men when he got going on it. David took a gang of well, the useless leftover mutants, and a well, non starting line-up artist and crafted a supreme-o series through, wait for it, solid characterization, a sense of humor and well told stories. Go figure! So anyway, he resurrected the series for the oughts with this story, a ‘noir’ murder mystery as our narrator Jamie Madrox, tells us a few times, where the victim in question is himself. Kind of happens when you’re the Multiple Man, able to split yourself into multiple duplicates, each able to live it’s own independent life. Well, David explores the limits of that, taking some new crazy ideas into the process, where Madrox’s dupes start having their own not just independence, but each becomes a fragment of his own consciousness, his guilt, his anger, his insecurity, whichever. Leads to an entertaining chase anyhow, particularly since one of the suspects seems to be himself. Great great stuff, fun to see Strong Guy and Wolfsbane back in action as always. Nice pacing too. This is how you do it people.
Man it seems that all I write about on here is Batman. How’d the hell that happen? I’ve got lots to say about Avatar, In the Loop, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, lots of different experiences really. But it all comes back to Bats. Well here goes. Recently, I read Batman RIP. It was something. Weirdness! Wonderful! Morrisson set out to tell a definitive Batman story. But it doesn’t quite work, at least not in the story itself. The beauty of it is it is not all explained. It tells well. The pacing is good. But there are some strange problems with it, some that come early on, others that happen in its curious climax. In fact the story doesn’t quite come together until its coda, an epilogue that ties into Morrisson’s other megacrossover Final Crisis, and told through Alfred using the slightly-metafictional continuity-spanning method that only Morrisson seems able to pull off.
But first, the story. Batman suspects an unseen villain is closing in on him, someone working at the edges of all his recent casework, pulling the strings to set him up for a big fall. He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but knows the name of his enemy is the Black Glove. All well and good. After a bit of expository narrative, filling us in on who Batman is again, his recent decision to let a woman into his life, a beautiful millionaire counterpart named Jezebel Jet, the trap is sprung. See, The Black Glove has secretly implanted Bats with a ‘trigger phrase’ that erases his memory and allows his enemies to overpower him, and well, turn him into a meth addicted homeless person. What comes next is a bit of a jump. It begins with this weird ellipsis; you just get the next bit of story and you have to fill it in yourself. You go right to the Batcave to the streets, where Bat now roams with Gotham city’s equivalent of Bubbles. And from there things get considerably stranger…
There are limits I think in how we can relate to Batman. Besides the obvious, you know, he’s a tights and cape wearing comic character. But look beyond that. He’s us. In a candy coloured world of super-powered gods and monsters, he’s the only one who is just you know, a dude. But any regular reader knows he is much more than that. He’s like Sherlock Holmes; we can admire Holmes, but we can’t relate to him. We relate to Watson. He’s beyond human in a way; by pushing himself to the limits; He’s a wonder of eccentricity; several steps ahead of the game in any situation. This makes him a difficult character to write about as someone who is facing challenges; facing adversity; what makes a challenge to Batman? And how do we relate to it as readers? How do we get sucked into the man Behind the mask? I would think he’s best left as the enigma; the x factor in a story; the way he gets written in Morrison’s JLA stories. Never the point of view character; always coming in as a frightening other that puts all the pieces together.
But that’s not the point in Batman RIP. The point is, what would break him? And could he be ready for it? And the answer is yes. Then as a counterpoint to the absolute is the JOKER; who is forever spinning in new levels of insanity; and Batman has to be one point beyond it. Ready to box him in. I thought there were great insights into the character there. I guess the question to ask of that comic is, did you believe it? Did it work?
I believed the moments of Batman walking around with Bubbles. Thought there was a good bit of subtle wheel of karma at play; how Batman’s good deeds DO affect the life of the city; In the way that they pick him up when he needs them. It’s not necessarily a new theme, but I think a necessary one, in a story that attempts to go as dark as this. And there’s a delightful play in the Joker’s ‘Danse Macabre’ with Bats, as he KNOWS the answer to the puzzle, who is bats betrayer, and is just enjoying the irony of watching him go through the motions of a standard damsel in distress set up. But strangely, behind that, is the knowledge that Batman himself knows that this was a setup. And he walked into it anyway. And I think that’s where it lacked the emotional punch.
The question of how that affected Batman didn’t seem to be an emotional hook of the story. Ultimately it’s just Batman screaming, “Yeah, well fuck you bitch! I never liked you anyway! I was acting! Acting!” which is far less interesting then the ambiguity that is laid out by the thought captions, that even when he knew she was betraying her he “was attracted to the bad in her.” So where does that go? That is the weird ambiguity at the heart of this, because in point for point, Jet’s betrayal, the revelation, are symbolically and narratively set up to be the climax of the story.
And yet. And yet. They don’t have the emotional resonance they should. So, okay, skip that, let’s move onto the question of the archenemy, the Black Glove, aka Dr. Hurt, aka Thomas Wayne aka Walter Pettigrew. Who was that guy? Like, dude, what’s up? In the fight to the finish, his actual identity is tied up in ambiguity as well. How did he know so much about Bruce Wayne? What motivated him? Why was he doing this? None of this is answered clearly; but Batman pursues him relentlessly, doggedly, to the death it would seem. I mean the story hits are there, there’s a big hollywood style climax helicopter explosion. That’s the end yeah. But ultimately in a way that leaves no resolution. Cause you’re like, if this all happened, what the hell does it mean?
So, if that is not the climax, then what is? Well maybe it was the internal struggle suggested by the monologue. Batman at this moment is thinking about how he pushed himself, pushed himself to the point of death, took his struggle, literally as far as he could take it, and wondered if it opened up to something evil. He stared into the void. He braved the void, and saw “the devil flinch”. His resolve remains true. Restatement of his mission. The circle is closed. And ultimately, maybe this is the thing suggested here, that is the struggle that must be undertaken by anyone brave enough to confront evil, darkness, sin what have you; the struggle to overcome darkness is ultimately the expression of the nobility of spirit, of the human character in all its best attributes. Yeah? Almost. But not quite.
So enter the epilogue, “The Butler Did It”, as we span a greatest hits of Batman’s memories, the greatest hits if you will of his career, all told through Alfred’s perspective. Begin with the Year One attired Bruce Wayne in his Vietnam vet fatigues saying he needs a disguise, fast forward to the start of Robin, fast forward further, Joker is hilarious not lethal; fast-forward again; Bane breaks Batman’s back, Azrael takes his costume. Gotham City is hit by an earthquake. It goes on and on. And in all of this the character keeps fighting. Inspiring. Being the thing that scares evil. That’s the moment he goes for… what is that… that Batman has a resolve of character that can never be underestimated. He’s human yeah? He’s a human who faces down the gods, if you want to get mythic about it, and as this is a tie-in to Final Crisis, in which, well he’s facing a God of Evil as his opponent, well, that’s his role.
It’s an interesting part to play. I don’t think humans often if ever won their battle with the Gods in the Greek myths, at least not without terrible consequences. Batman is kind of a Prometheus in this part. Maybe an Odysseus. Someone who dares to fight the gods, and somehow wins, even if he’s punished for it. But if our heroes of myths, legends, and well comic books really can’t take up that battle, who can? Maybe that’s it; like in the immutable; intractable universe it’s the human spirit that dares to go where it can’t go and be brave against what it cannot win. Like Chuck Yeager having the Right Stuff as he got blown up by endless test rockets. Or like Houdini pushing through his chains, locks and submerged straight jackets to rail against death. Or Joe Simpson, going deeper into the ice crevice and Into the Void. Maybe if there’s any meaning at all to Batman RIP, Morrision’s definitive take on the ne plus ultra of humanity, it’s that– the way out is through. And just like his 19th century counterpart Sherlock Holmes, as all comic fans know, Batman’s death will be a temporary inconvenience at best.