Time and the Batman and Our Memories of Both
by Travis Hedge Coke
False memory has been a significant factor in Batman comics written by Grant Morrison, on one scale, since the late 1980s/ early 90s, with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and Gothic: A Romance. On another scale, since his 1983, How to Become a Werewolf, composed of panels reproduced from various comics – Journey Into Mystery, Captain Marvel, World of Fear – and published in his band’s fanzine.
Time and the Batman, the celebratory comic published in Batman #700, takes place in the past, the present, future, further future, and even further future. As the Batmans and Robins of different eras attempt to solve a series of interrelated crimes over many many years, the comic draws on material from throughout Batman’s existence is a fictional character, ironically with some of the oldest material being the source of some of the farthest future scenes.
The opening sequence, Yesterday, art by Tony Daniel, colors in lettering by Ian Hannin and Jared K Fletcher, is set in a never-was transition period, betwixt our cultural memories of the 1966-68 television series and the 1970s reassertion of seriousness and consequential crime led by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and 100 page giant comics edited by Archie Goodwin.
A sort of hauntology classic Batman, this is received memory Gotham City. Riddler, Catwoman, even Batman characterized by behavioral, visual, and speech tics did the 1960s television program, while Joker transitions during the chapter, bypassing Adams/O’Neil for a version influenced most strongly by Frank Miller comics from the 1980s.
The distinct thick nosepiece and drawn on eyebrows of the bat cowl as worn in the television program. The purring Catwoman. A bulletproof vest wearing, SWAT ready James Gordon standing beside Officer O’Hara, the one very 1980s, the other, only really appearing in the 1960s television show. And, all facilitated by professor Carter Nichols, created in the mid-1950s, who had only one Comics appearance between 1963 and 2010.
Batman had over twenty years of appearances before the infamous and beloved television program with Adam West, but especially from our vantage point now, it was prologue to him coming alive.
Distinct continuities and eras merge into an agreeable, portable memory.
Drawn by Frank quitely and Scott Kolins, Colors by Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina, lettered, as all successive chapters will be, by Jared K Fletcher, the story’s second chapter, Today, also draws from Frank Miller bringing in a version of the Mutant gang from The Dark Knight Returns (already a remix of elements of the 1980s-hot Uncanny X-Men, including Cyclops’ visor and the term, “mutant,” itself), embedding them in a context both 2010 and 1990s, with a visual and roster debt to the early 90s Batman the Animated Series.
Today reiterates the compassion and aid nature of Batman, a position rooted most firmly in the 1970s and the 2000s Batman stories. That the Batman in this chapter is the Robin of the previous chapter, and that it was Batman’s aid and compassion that helped him not only to become Batman, himself, but simply – very likely -saved his life, after his parents were murdered, is coincidental, but confluent. Of course, that earlier Batman, Bruce Wayne, also placed that Robin, Dick Grayson, in front of untold – and often told – dangers, as we saw in Yesterday.
In the third chapter, Tomorrow, 2-face-2, a living sequel to classic villain, Two-Face, rebrands himself as January, after the god Janus. He remixes threats from Batman’s heyday in a generic post apocalyptic city over the edge. The Monster Men of one of Batman’s earliest published adventures, jokerized; a toddler version Terry McGinnis, protagonist of the television program, Batman Beyond; a smattering of Morrison’s contemporary Batvillain creations; more Frank Miller nods in bulky future Batman and a police commissioner who is a woman with short red hair and glasses.
At what point do serials become parody, or rehash?
Adam Kubert and Brad Anderson make Tomorrow their own, as do the artist before and after them in this sequence of chapters. But, “their own,” is inevitably a pooling well of colluding memories and colliding approaches.
David Finch closes out Time and the Batman, with Richard Friend, Peter Steigerwald, and Fletcher, via a sequence of single page futures stretching to the year 85298 and ending in what could be today, or yesterday, or the week following right now.
Ultimately time and Batman are truisms. They are understood events, living, volatile, crystalizing cultural memories.
We piece together our Batman, as this comic does, an admixture of inference, interference, in similarity. Agreeability. Our Batman, as this Batman, is ahistoric, temporally diffused and suspended.
Towards the end of Time and the Batman we see Batman use a gun, and for many depriving Batman of guns, which he used for years, is a great crime of bowdlerization, and attributed to the Comics Code Authority. Which is nonsense.
In terms of publishing history, Batman only used firearms a few times in his earliest adventures, shooting at giant monsters, shooting a vampire, and on panel swearing off and against guns in a deliberate move by the earliest Batman writer, Bill Finger. This would be more than a decade before the Comics Code Authority even came into existence.
Guns-blazing, murder thrilled Batman is a false memory. It is, for some, agreeable. Others have been convinced of it by repetition of the telling. Single panels or context lacking scenes may mislead.
Indeed, the scene in Time and the Batman, is a Batman and Robin shooting robots, although, un-pictured, in the original story this riffs on (The Year 3000!, originally published in 1945), that Batman does kill Fura, the Earth-conquering alien).
Similar to the gunplay and murder situations, it is not difficult to find as a person who will tell you, confidently, that fantasy or science-fiction elements do not belong anywhere near Batman. The earliest published comics involving mad science, vampires, and werewolves, does not hinder this conviction. The existence of Joker venom, Mr. Freeze, and the resurrection pools of Ra’s al Ghul are rationalized as non fantastic.
What is important here, is not recognizing every allusion or reference. Many of the subtler references may be, after all, not actually references. Sometimes a Crime Alley is just a Crime Alley. A bat isn’t the bat, just a bat. This is only one of many remix stories Grant Morrison wrote for Batman, including Last Rites, which sees Batman’s published history recut as a jigsaw nightmare, the extended Doctor Hurt saga, in which Batman’s anxieties are turned into a maze of triggering visuals, keywords, and stimuli, or the Talia saga, in which, to gain his appreciation, Talia attempts to codify and play out an archetypal and intelligent Batman scenario (and over eggs it). Remixes are a fundamental aspect of hauntology, and Batman is haunted. And, Batman haunts us.
Around the time Frank Miller was writing The Dark Knight Returns, he said something to the effect of explaining everything making it too easy to criticize, to take apart. In providing us with irreconcilable admixture, Morrison avoids that easy criticism. We can barely apply linearity to Batman, how are we going to grapple his political position? It is, if nothing, a commercial and noble effort, setting up commerce and nobility in our hands, and in our heads.
Time and the Batman and Our Memories of Both
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