May 13, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 444: Batman #666, July 2007

This issue (sort of) concluded the "Three Ghosts of the Batman" story, though, by my count, we've only met two of them. There's a panel in the previous issue where we see both the gun-wielding Bat-cop from Morrison's first issue and the BatBane of issue 664. Next to them, in silhouette, is the third ghost, and he looks remarkably familiar to those of us who have read a historic Batman story or two. But don't worry. We'll get to him. Or he'll get to us, rather.

This issue, really, is the reason I said that things start to get weird with this storyline. We're dropped, in medias res, into a Batman story for which we have no context. Is this the future? Is it a dream in the morphine-addled brain of Bruce Wayne? Is it Damian's fantasy of his future? The answer is probably yes to all of those questions, and there's compelling arguments for each. And this is what I meant. Morrison, perhaps more than any comics writer, recognizes that the archetypal nature of the characters ties them to motifs, rather than narratives. Batman, be it Bruce or Damian, protects Gotham. If the story doesn't fit into a rigidly defined narrative universe, that's because the characters are too large to be limited in that way. The Batmen of Many Nations that the next storyline draws upon is one exploration of this idea, but so is the notion of a future Batman, playing out the same myth over and over again. The details might change, but the fundamentals are the same.

The other thing Morrison does is not explain himself, and I think that's something that often irks comics readers. The end of this issue really makes it feel like the story is going to continue, but actually, this is all we get. Again, it's a mark of that mythic nature of the character. His stories have been told in a serialized format for 76 years, and so to tell a Batman story one must also embrace that serialized nature, even if the story is not going to be continued. Later, we'll come to the Final Crisis event, during which Superman is faced with a meta-real explanation of his purpose in reality, summed up in the words "To Be Continuned." This phrase applies just as much to Batman. So even though we never see any more of Damian Wayne's adventures in future Gotham, his tales will be continued, as will those of the Batman, next issue.

One of the thrusts of my dissertation was going to be the longevity of superhero characters, their ability to outlive every single person involved in their creation. They are, as I think Morrison has said somewhere, more real than we are.


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