Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Showmanship, Suggestion and You Know Who

Ok, so the Black Glove -- the villain behind the fragmented events of Grant Morrison's Batman run? I've figured out who he is, but none of you will believe me.

It's simple, you see, once you look at it with the right pair of TV-addled eyes. You see, it's all a big trick. Or a big treat, depending on how the current 'Batman RIP' story finishes. Morrison's run began with Bruce Wayne attending a charity event in London, yes? Well, while he was there, it is my contention that he was snared by TV illusionist Derren Brown:



Taken from this point of view, the scheme behind Morrison's story becomes clear. On Brown's current TV show, Channel 4's Trick or Treat, members of the public who have applied to be on the show find themselves wrapped up in a bit of theatrical reprogramming. Whether this reprogramming is done with the intent to help the participant or just totally freak them out depends on whether they draw a trick card or a treat card. Oh, and they don’t find out what they’ve drawn until events resolve themselves, by the way – which makes it that little bit more fucked up when he, say, asks them to eat a bit of glass or whatever. And that was part of a confidence boosting treat!

Now, Morrison’s Batman may or may not have volunteered for the treatment he’s receiving, but there can be no doubt that the jumble of black-out experiences, forgotten memories, and hints of an intangible conspiracy have all the giddy “what the hell?” bounce of a good Derren Brown show. But is he being broken down or built back up? That’s the hook that Morrison’s run to date has built up to, and rereading it all in one sitting... well, there’s some amount of showmanship there.

Ok, so I'm obviously not being serious with the Derren Brown is the Black Glove stuff (though I don't know if that twist would be any more goofy than it being Thomas Wayne Jr) . I do think that Morrison doesn’t get enough credit for the performative aspect of his writing – his skills as a philosopher have been overstated by some of his admirers, but even his lesser works tend to keep me guessing as to what’s going on right up to the end (insert your own jokes as to the incomprehensibility of Morrison’s writing here).

Of course, you could also point out that this particular Batman run has elicited another feeling familiar to viewers of Brown's TV programs: that it's all just complete bullshit hidden behind elaborate stagecraft. Now, fair enough, a big part of Derren Brown's thing is to show the machinations behind mysterious nonsense (see his Seance show, for example). However, it's hard not to be skeptical about the extent to which Derren is able to manipulate people through suggestion -- shouldn't this guy be the ruler of the world by now? Or is he an actual, old fashioned supervillain psychologically, i.e. all he wants to do is mess with people in a colourful and unlikely way? Well, I guess that fits -- it's why I started this post off with a joke about him being the Black Glove, after all.

Of course Morrison's bullshit is bullshit, what with him being a guy who makes up stories for a living and all, but he needs to bring it all together in a way that's both convincing and exciting. He's messing with his audience, which is probably a good thing to do in a Batman comic, providing that the feeling that it's all starting to make sense isn't a total con. Me, I've got faith -- Morrison's a good showman, just like Brown, and I've got a feeling that he's breaking Batman to pieces with a clear idea of how he wants to reform him.


Now if only he had a more capable artistic assistant than current artist Tony Daniels, who I hear is a fan favourite but whose work strikes me as being stiff and unremarkable. This story needs an artist who could unite various previous interpretations of the character in a new way, someone who could dispel those worries that Morrison's run is all suggestion and no story. Someone like J.H. Williams, maybe? Heh, I kid -- great as Williams' stint as artist was, I know he couldn't fit the book into his schedule.

Still, it doesn't hurt to dream... no, wait, maybe it does!

Anyway, for all the frustrations of Morrison's Batman (see me ranting here), it's the monthly comic that currently has me most excited to find out what happens next. There are better superhero books out there (All Star Superman and Godland, for example), but the appeal of showmanship and suggestion shouldn't be underrated.

(EDIT: A question occurs -- do I find the showmanship of Morrison's Batman more engaging than that of All Star Superman or Godland because I know that the creative teams have greater freedom in those latter titles? Like, is part of the appeal here watching to see how much Morrison can do within the flexible-but-yet-constrictive setting of the DCU? This ties back into Derren Brown's shows, where a lot of the entertainment derives from a certain lack of credibility -- "he couldn't possibly do that". This is, of course, one of the key appeals of genre fiction, seeing how clever writers play with and break certain rules. So... yeah, I guess it's possible. That said, adherence to shared, corporate universe generates confusion and disappointment in the world of comics more often than not -- see some of the discordant reactions to Final Crisis #1 as discussed in this Grant Morrison interview for examples.)

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