Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of the Decade #4

We've certainly seen over the years that Batman is an individual of unsurpassed talent and efficacy. When his deeds aren't speaking for themselves, we've been told by the narration, his own thoughts, and those of his friends and allies. We've heard the fist-shaking curses of his enemies in their moment of defeat. But nobody's ever described Batman's invincibility more convincingly than the account given to Doctor Hurt in Batman #681 by the one person who should know best -- the Joker.

With unmistakable glee, and a kind of pride-by-association, the Joker got the show-stealing moment in Batman, R.I.P., the scene that set up one other scene on my ten-best list. In lines as brief and as pointed as a needle, the Joker grinned at Hurt and declared, with sure knowledge of being correct, "I'd like to bet you have no idea what you're dealing with."

The Joker summarizes elegantly his own record of futility in trying to beat Batman: "Every single time I try to think outside his toybox he builds a new box around me." And after relating how even his attempt to offer a totally meaningless clue, the Red and Black, failed to stump Batman, the Joker practically salivates as he tells the Devil himself "Now it's your turn... Now you're in his box, too." Each one of these spare sentences reaffirms the metaphysical certainty of Batman's victory, and the Joker knows that he's telling this to a force of nature -- one that had treated him as well as Batman with insufficient respect.

And so, just an hour after having offered, wryly, to shake hands with the Black Glove, the Joker asserts his own superiority over the Devil as a mere deuce, trumped by the joker. You can hear the venom in his words as he closes, "I'm saying adieu. Pleased to meet you, admire your work but don't -- don't -- call me servant." And then with menace, he promises to collect the winnings he's sure he'll be owed. Events in Morrison's Batman and Robin may eventually show us that he's begun to collect.

In contrast to this exchange between villains, the next scene involves no one but heroes. At #3, a race to stop death suddenly halts and becomes something else, with DC's past, present, and future -- in more ways than one -- all coming together.


  1. A race to stop death ? Sounds awfully like the flashes trying to stop Orions death but I could be wrong.
    By the way Rik I'd be honored if you could come over to my blog and write a Guest Review for any of the 12 Grant Morrison Final Crisis books. Tell me if it's possible. I'm moving on to the character analysis of the FC characters and closing thoughts after which I'm doing Blackest Night GL and GLC. Hopefully I'll catch up with everything by the time Blackest Night 7 is sold.
    If you're interested I could make you author and co-admin.
    Gimme a buzz
    Great Blog.

  2. Gotta admit i loved this very moment in R.I.P :) Can't wait to see if Oberon turns out to be the Joker, or whatever the heck Joker has been doing will be great eitherway. :D

  3. Definitely my favorite scene from RIP. If this only made #4 on your list, can't wait to see what the other 3 are.

  4. #3 is about the Flashes, but not the scene in Final Crisis. I hope other people enjoyed (or felt) the Lightning Saga scene as much as I did.

  5. It was a great moment.

    R.I.P. was definitely my favorite story-arc of the decade, so I don't want to take anything away from it, but I do want to mention what I see as a problem or imperfection in the construction of the story:

    On the one hand, the point of the story is to see Bruce Wayne triumph against all odds: the story leads us to believe that this time he WILL lose, but then we see him pull out a victory (of sorts). But on the other hand, almost simultaneously, the villain is (presumably) revealed to be, literally, the ultimate embodiment of evil. To me these two parts don't fit very well together aesthetically, certainly not when they unfold simultaneously (as Bruce fights back, the "Devil" reveal looks increasingly likely; and at the moment of Bruce's victory his narration posits Hurt as the Devil).

    To me, this is too much sappy fanboy Bruce Wayne worship, and (by proxy) too much Joker worship. Both are great characters, and Morrison does a great job at expounding their greatness. But as I understand them these two characters are so great in large part because they are mortal and non-superhuman. Yet by having Batman beat (or at least stalemate) the Devil, and having the Joker in a sense beat the Devil as well, in my opinion it cheapens the characters. Morrison's Batman LITERALLY has a superhuman intelligence, or LITERALLY has such well-earned "good luck" powers that he HAPPENS to know just what to plan for subconsciously. And the Joker is LITERALLY the embodiment of a whirlwind chaos that not even the Devil can circumnavigate. It's too much. Not only is Morrison effectively making Batman and the Joker GODS, in a way, but AT THE SAME TIME he tells us that they're more powerful supernatural forces than the DEVIL is...And he makes this point AT THE SAME TIME as he reveals that the villain IS the ultimate EVIL.

    To me, these points--if you NEED to make them--would have been more effective if there was some breathing room between them. Whatever shock there is in seeing Batman beat the Devil is muted, because we do not KNOW for sure that Hurt is the Devil until the moment (actually the half-moment after) Bruce beats him.

    It's still a great story, and I'm not sure that a better one could have been told given Morrison's set up, but I still think, aesthetically, it would be better if Hurt is eventually revealed as NOT EXACTLY the Devil. (Give SOME wiggle room, even make Hurt a FALLIBLE human which Satan empowered, and it's totally understandable that such a figure could be beaten by Bruce Wayne. That would still honor Bruce Wayne, but not to a ridiculous extent.) Just my opinion.

  6. DAL, all good comments. One counterpoint is to consider "The Devil" not as one of the most powerful beings in the cosmos but instead as one of the good-but-not-ultimate characters in literature. Or, in baser terms, consider The Devil in terms of his win-loss record in literature. He lost in Job, to Daniel Webster, the kid with a fiddle in Georgia -- I think the Devil probably has a win-loss record well below .500 whereas Batman's well above .950. That metatextual take also applies to the end of Emperor Joker, another great moment, in which Superman tells the Joker (and it's true, metatextually) that the Joker is just an annoyance in the universe that exists because of Batman.

    I think the flaw you point to depends upon The Devil being infinite in some characteristic, which would make it not just fantasy but downright illogical for Batman to beat him. Hurt never shows any such capacity, and is basically defined by axiom to be The Devil. So in some sense, Batman got the credit for beating an infinite sort of opponent without having to resort to infinite means to do so.

    I think I agree that there's a sort of failure for the magnitude of the victory to really correlate with the events of the story. It may work better if you think simply that The Devil underestimated Batman. Yes, he could have put the coffin under a steamroller and won that way, but Batman exceeded The Devil's infinite expectations of finite beings. The key fact, in the Joker's words, "You have no idea what you're dealing with!"

    The Joker's trumping The Devil, a separate point, consists of three things: Talking circles around him; understanding Batman better; and not by happenstance being pitted against Batman at that moment. The last two are easy to buy into. The first works if Hurt has a mind of finite talent, and that is definitely part and parcel of the story.

    So in a couple of different ways, I think it works to have Batman beat The Devil. It's the ending I saw coming, but didn't necessarily embrace as much until a few months later, on the nth re-read, I thought that it's probably as uplifting as anything in Batman's past that he beat The Devil, and in a sense, it's the inevitable pinnacle of his feats. And, if Daniel Webster can do it, surely Batman can.