May 20, 2016
The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 451: Batman #673, March 2008
In the first volume of The Invisibles, there's a beautiful story, told from the perspective of a henchman who dies in the first issue, called "Best Man Fall." It is a heart-breaking piece of art, one that forces its reader to question the underlying "us vs. them" mindset that we might have initially approached the series with. It's told in a completely non-linear fashion, one that mimics what one might suppose the flashes of life that we're told occur as one is dying to be. Today's issue of Batman is virtually the same piece, though it's instead our hero who is doing the flashing, and since we're in the mythic universe of the superheroes, there's perhaps a little more of the prophetic and significant to his experience.
This kind of non-linearity is not everyone's cup of tea, for sure. Consider something like Priest and Bright's Quantum and Woody (which, not that I've typed it, I'm super-excited to get to for this project), a series that was so non-linear that I'm fairly certain that we saw things in the early issues that we'll never actually see chronologically (and, at one point, they published the 32nd issue and then jumped back to regular numbering). Non-linearity can be confusing. It assumes a stance on events and causality that sees all of time as happening (a fallacy, to be sure) at the same time, or, rather, that the progression of time is an illusion created by a perceptive apparatus that can only perceive it a piece at a time. Just as I might perceive a single step as a movement through space, even though all of space is present and coeval all the time (time?). We're not wired to see time this way, but we have the intellectual capability of conceiving it this way. The comic book itself is a great way to visualize this. Before you open it, everything is there, contained between the two covers. You can open it at any point, see a moment, and know that the rest of the moments are also there, beneath the pages you're looking at. When we read in sequence, we are choosing to experience the time-space events of the narrative in a particular order. In lived experience, we can shift our mental viewpoint to think through lives as these kind of time-spaces (what Bahktin calls a "chronotope," though his use and my use differ somewhat), we can choose to see our lives in the way we might consider the wholeness of the comic book.
And so, at the end of his life, Batman is seeing that everything that happened to him happened all at once.
But it's not really the end of his life. You knew that. It's just the beginning of the end.