Damn You Morrison by Jordan Ferguson
Friends! Good to see you, allow me to welcome you to what we've been calling 22 Pages: The Junior Year. All right, fine, only I've been calling it that. But that doesn't change the fact that after two years we've finally learned how to keep the wheels straight on this sucker. Smells Like Maturity will continue bringing you the foibles of Andres and Jameel, Correa will continue berating Reynolds throughout the Anchor Panel and I will continue to complain about boring comics are.
That is to say, man, was this summer just boring as shit for comics or what? Sure, Canada's getting some fan service with that Justice League: Moosejaw or whatever it is Jeff Lemire's doing for DC, but what's been surprising? Saga is still great. Wolverine and The X-Men and Mark Waid's Daredevil are still more fun than they have any right to be. Age of Ultron was a disappointing mess. Snyder and Capullo are doing Batman's origin story again?! Dr. Octopus is still masquerading as Spider-Man, but that oughta get reset and cleaned up in time for the next movie to come out. The announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman in the forthcoming Man of Steel sequel caused some preliminary pearl-clutching and panty-bunching but the ire has cooled substantially. Nope, in a summer that was all about Breaking Bad and an autumn that has me blasting through Grand Theft Auto V six hours a night, comics have failed to keep my attention and I am a fickle mistress, friends.
I mean, what does it say about the current state of my fandom when the most exciting thing I heard about comics this year is about a book that's almost two decades old?
Much as I have little love left for the self-aggrandizing mythmaking that goes into maintaining the Kevin Smith empire, you can't argue the dude's fan credentials or his willingness to step up and put his money where his mouth is, and his Fatman on Batman podcast [while unfortunately titled] is a prime example. The guy loves Batman, and he's been kicking around the industry long enough that he has no problem getting guys like Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Jim Lee or Jeph Loeb to stop by and talk about their lives, careers, and relationships with the Bat. While Smith can sometimes come off a little fawning in the “everything is the best thing ever!” style (no it can't, you have to decide), the caliber of the guests he gets in and the stories they have make most episodes worth your time, especially the three times the mad shaman himself Grant Morrison stopped by.
The first two appearances do a great job of running through his life and early career [delivered in his charming, lilting Scottish brogue, offer a much more endearing description of the ‘crystal-angel, meaning of the universe' story he told in Supergods] and his thoughts on Batman, a lot about Arkham Asylum, things like that. The third appearance, released last month as Morrison's epic run on all things Dark Knight drew to a close in the pages of Batman Incorporated, looked at some of his favourite stories featuring the character, including 80's classics like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke.
If you've never read The Killing Joke, I really wonder why you're here. I honestly do. But, silly person, it's possibly the best Batman/Joker story every made. Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Brian Bolland and liberally appropriated for Nolan's second film, it tells the story of the time The Joker very aggressively tried to prove his hypothesis that all it took for any person to end up like him is one very bad day. To that end, he kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and gives him one very bad day. Really, if you've never read it, stop reading this and go read that. Honestly. Cause there's a sort of spoiler coming.
The book ends with Batman's victory [surprise!] as his subsequent attempts to reason with The Joker. They're on a collision course, and if it keeps going like it does, one of them is going to kill the other. The Joker, in a brief moment of sanity, considers the offer, before deciding it's all too late for that. Then he tells a joke, that perfectly summarizes their relationship, and the two of them share a laugh in the rain as normal people would as the police lights appear in the distance. Morrison has a different read.
Now, that's certainly an interesting theory and OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I NEVER SAW IT AND NOW I CAN'T UNSEE IT!
I have read, and reread this book, dozens of times, and I never noticed the light “bridge” in the final panels clicking off, never noticed the laughter stops so abruptly, never even considered the symbolism they would represent.
And look, I'm not saying I'm completely on-board with Morrison's take [though it wouldn't be completely beyond Alan Moore to leave something like that open-ended], but the fact that I missed those details, regardless of what they ultimately mean, caused me to re-examine the very way in which I read comics. I remember one day years ago my homie Jeff and I spent an afternoon swapping sets of The Long Halloween and Dark Victory and how much more quickly I finished reading them. Probably because I'm a writer, I was all about the words, just blew through the stories, while Jeff, probably because he's an artist, took his time with the images before moving to the next panel. Morrison's take on The Killing Joke, right or wrong, serves to remind me, and should remind all of us, that the beauty of this medium we love is the way in which it combines the written and illustrative, and how both demand a closer reading than we might be giving to them.