May 11, 2016
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 442: Batman #664, May 2007
Gotham is a really awful place.
I have on my shelf of role-playing games (honestly, they don't come much geekier than I) a few of the manuals for a strange game called Kult. The setting for Kult is a city populated by demonic creatures that serves as the archetypal template for all cities. One accesses this city by finding the places in the "real" world that intersect with it. I think that Gotham stands as an archetypal representation of everything terrible about our cities, a Frygian demonic parody of the heavenly City of Light. It makes perfect sense to have Batman stride, Hades-like, through this neon-lit netherworld.
Third last page. 5th panel. "And I'm thinking about the files in the black casebook." With that, Grant Morrison takes Batman out of his comfortable netherworld, and into a strange, spiraling (that joke will make sense in a few months) rabbit hole to Wonderland. I wish I'd been able to speak to some long-time Bat-readers as they began this descent beneath the comfortable unpleasantness of Gotham city. And it's not just a narratological descent, but a historical one. After the fact, DC published Batman: The Black Casebook, a collection of the stories from the 50s and 60s that inspired Morrison's work. Those were some very strange decades for Batman, well before the Dark Knight Detective persona was solidified in the 70s. And seeing these little goodies re-visited in the 21st century pushes Batman, and his readers, out of their Millerian comfort zone, and into the realms of the odd.
It's a glorious trip. I had to reign myself in this morning, and not grab the next issue after this one. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, we're told that Alice's fall down the rabbit hole is slow and gentle. Our journey with Batman is no such thing. Strap in.