Sunday, 30 September 2007

Different Versions

Batman #669, by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams and various (warning: this post contains mild *SPOILERS*)

Reading this comic is like looking into a hall of mirrors – every page is a collage of difference, with what Batman is blurring into what Batman isn’t. Is he a wounded child, an unhinged fame-seeker or a bored millionaire playboy? Nah, forget that: he’s a detective, an inspiration to others and a kick-ass crime fighter. Like, duh!

Jog has already broken down the 'Club of Heroes' arc in terms of good adults, bad adults, bad creators and bad readers, so all I really want to say is that I love JH Williams’ art, and wish that he was sticking with the book for more than three issues.

It strikes me that when Williams illustrates one of Morrison’s scripts, the art very much is the story, in much the same way that the conceptual framework of a Dennis Potter play becomes its substance.

In, say, Blue Remembered Hills, the fact that the children are played by adults might seem like a gimmick, but the effect that it generates is inseparable from the overall impact of the play. In that play, the confusion of adult interaction with childlike behaviour becomes as central to the story as any of the games or betrayals that drive the narrative. Similarly, Williams’ belief in design as story is every bit as important to the success of the 'Club of Heroes' arc as the actual mystery plot.

Many of my fellow bloggers have already linked to Williams' discussion of the sense of history that he was trying to suggest in his mix of various character designs and drawing styles. What's received slightly less praise is the way that Williams makes the layout of the page itself part of the story. My favourite example in this issue comes when Williams encases the Knight's head in his family crest, making an iconic helmet out of the panel borders in order to suggest the lasting damage his father's breakdown has caused him. Or am I reading too much into this? Is this icon just something that the Knight and Squire wear on their costumes? This is what's brilliant about Williams' work, both here and elsewhere: like little Borges fragments, his pages allude to bodies of knowledge that may not actually exist.

Y'know how I just said that this element of Williams work had been undervalued? Well I'm just about to shoot the shit out of that point by quoting what Jog said on the matter. Here it goes:

I was struck by the elegance and depth of Williams' glove-shaped panels - it's not only an awesome way to convey the paranoiac presence of a killer, but it shapes the very comic itself against Batman and the Club of Heroes, evidencing an untouchably god-like presence.
And damn is that ever a fine point! Like the good folk on the Barbelith board have said, even if the Black Glove doesn't turn up on-page, they still have presence to spare!

Since both Jog and a handful of Barbeloids have noted that they found issue #669 a little hard to parse at points, I think it's worthwhile to look at something Williams said on his blog:

The overall effect of this arc needed to have this building up to a crescendo feeling and I think it does that pretty well. The 3 issues have a real sense of progression to them with the first being medium on a scale and the final being at the highest. Hopefully most of you will agree when you see it. That this story has this feeling of slowly burning and ramping up.

I reckon that the crescendo effect comes through in the way this arc develops, but there's a chance that by the end of this issue the volume of information is too high, that the last few pages are simply too loud to be read clearly.

Me, I enjoyed the frantic, pulpy feel of the finale. Watching those Batmen jet off like that I felt like I was watching them blow up the hall of mirrors and blasting off to fresh adventures.

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