I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Batman, Grant Morrison & Apophenia

The Grant Morrison run on Batman is threatening to be going on for another three years. I think now is as good as time as any to have a glance over what has come to before and to touch upon a specific idea that appears in the first section of his run. Oh, and if you hate *spoilers* navigate away from this page immediately.

At present, there are three major separating eras in Grant Morrison's Batman work; (i) the run up and finale of R.I.P. (ii) The 'Batman & Robin' and 'The Return of Bruce Wayne' and lastly (iii) 'Batman Incorporated and Batman: Leviathan. This blog concentrates on the first part.

As we all know, Grant Morrison is very important to the comic business. He is not only one of the few instantly box office names working in comics, but he also stars in My Chemical Romance music videos. Many fans will walk away from a title the moment that GM stops writing his run, and I can claim to be one of those that has done that. The appeal for me is that when GM writes it is loaded with thrills, spills, concepts and, usually sitting behind it all, a much bigger, cerebral thought. Part of the joy of reading GM is figuring out the subtext, and what the hell GM is really trying to accomplish. In short, reading Batman by Morrison was always going to be interesting.

Thankfully, because Morrison sells a lot of comic books he is blessed with the top artists in the business. It would be rude not acknowledge the wonderful art by Andy Kubert, JH Williams III and Tony S Daniels in the Part 1, after all they are tasked into making the GM visions real. Same can be said for the various colourists and the letterers who also contribute excellently to the project.

As mentioned before I will only assess a small theme in the first part of GM's Batman here. And these are collected in TPB as 'Batman & Son', 'Batman: The Black Glove' and Batman: R.I.P., should you want to check them out yourself, which I highly recommend. Here, I plan to concentrate on one idea that is crucial to the whole piece and that is: Apophenia, mainly because the idea is so well done that when it is signposted, it is the important theme for the work and is crucial to the completion of the story. My interest here is that while apophenia works as a tool for Batman, a different type of apophenia is aimed for me, the reader.

When the Joker proclaims 'aprophenia', it is a moment that most people were reaching to their dictionaries and typing the letters into Wikipedia. In short 'apophenia' means perception of connection and meaningful of unrelated phenomena. One of the apophenia used here is the clever use of certain colours throughout the work. Even when they are not entirely obvious.

What colours you may ask? Why Red, Black and Green.

The first scene that GM writes in Batman #655, is when the Joker is shot in the head, in amongst the chaos we see the first phenomena, in the background the red sky, that give a red tint to everything reflective in the scene. The phenomena can be reflected in the new Bat mobile (of which, in itself, is used as a narrative device in itself: as the newly built Batmobile is completed it is, obviously, black with red tinted windows and red internal displays. Thus representing that as the story develops, the new batmobiles development reflects the obsession of the two colours by the builder of the car). Red and Black is already shown to be the suggestion of apophenia, as a way of forcing Batman to use his detective skills to figure out this unknown threat.

We quickly meet the new Bruce Wayne love interest, and in amongst all of the super cool inventive set-piece and plot we miss the fact that although Jezebel Jet is a smoking-hot redhead, that's black. You could even investigate the name: Jezebel as 'The Scarlet Lady' and Jet as in 'jet-black'. This theme develops more and more as the storyline develops later, when Jezebel and Bruce walk through the Batcave we see the bright Red Robin-Mobile opposite a Black bat-bike. As the story unwinds, its surprising to note that Batman isn't at all surprised about her membership of the Black Glove.

By now, you ought to have figured out when red and black is seen the actions of The Black Glove are being done with the goal of slowly completing their grand conspiracy to destroy Bruce Wayne's alter-ego. Indeed this is confirmed at the start of 'The Black Glove' tpk, where we are told that red and black represents the choice of good and evil, as Doctor Hurt proudly tells us over a roulette table. Of course, as keen gamblers know, betting on red or black isn't the only choice on a roulette table, as in the choice of good and evil, there is another choice. That choice is betting on green. Green on a roulette wheel makes, like this story, everything a little more interesting. Green also gives the suggestion of apophenia to me, the reader, thus making the experience more mind-bending.

Green is personified by the Joker and his introduction to the apophenia begins in the strangest story of the entire run so far, 'The Clown at Midnight' issue. This issue is crucial for two purposes, one it is the first that blatantly spells out the significance of the colours red and black. Secondly, it features the rejection of the black and red (as personified by Harley Quinn) by the 'new self' green-haired Joker (he has to change psychotically because GM has just had him shot in the face by what Joker believes is Batman). To illustrate this brand new psychotic-greeny-self, Joker starts to speak with his unique green-only speech-bubble in later issues. Therefore, we the reader are led to think that Joker has a more significant part to play in Morrison's storyline, even though he is never a central character in it. However it is the Joker's significance to the readers interpretation of the story that is key.

It is in the prologue of R.I.P., we see Batman acknowledging the red/black theme as significant, it is confirmed by Joker through the use of the Dead Man's Hand. However, for the reader, it is less about the use of red and black playing cards, but it is the is the Joker's green that is central to how the readers sense of apophenia panning out (see the joker card with the red blood-spot: are we meant to ask where's the blood come from or to ask the true significance of the joker playing card?). Think about it, why should the Joker be used at all in this work (and not The Riddler, he's a lot greenier)? Why is he so important here?

Because ultimately the joke was on me. Joker announces that apophenia is at work, he tells us to have a look at Wikipedia in order to find 'structure and hints and clues'. Yes, you could analyse on one level that Joker is telling the Black Glove how Batman is always one step of them and their evil scheme. For me though, this can be interpreted differently, that the Joker is talking directly to me and he tells me that Morrison's idea of apophenia with black, red and green is actually a joke at my expense designed to get into my head. Red and Black is obvious, we're told all the way through about it. Green, however, makes me attempt to try to find a pattern that I'm not sure that the Batman would see. And in attempting to diagnose my reading level of apophenia within this Batman arc, I will eventually start to drive myself into a realm of insanity.

And that that is the ultimate joke.

And this is the genius of Grant Morrison.
He makes me think.