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, 23 August 2011

Favourites: Anarky

There is no doubt that Alan Grant's most favourite Gotham City creation during his time as Batman writer was Anarky (I know Norm 'My Favourite Batman Artist' Breyfogle is equally important, and his art in this miniseries is top drawer, but this one is all about Alan Grant!). What we have got here is a Batman story as used as a vehicle for political discourse and subversion. And, as you probably guessed, I like that!

Anarky first appeared in Detective Comics #608 (September 1989. Visually, Anarky is a heady mixture of an Emperor's Royal Guard out of Star Wars and 'V' out of Alan Moore's iconic 'V for Vendetta'. As an aside, I recall reading somewhere that 'V' is an acknowledged inspiration for Anarky. In this comic the masked alter ego of Lonnie Machin is a fifteen year old, multi-millionaire who has utilised 'self discipline and rigorous application of rational thought so that the right and left hemispheres of his brain have become fused'. In short, he's a bright, wealthy young rebel with a revolutionary cause. Grant has always made this character's moral compass a Grey area to the reader- he is neither a hero, nor a true villain. While Anarky has a long history of criminal activity, these have tended to be against corporations and other's that the character perceives as being against the spirit of his political activism. In fact, I struggle to remember any incident where Anarky actually commits murder (and if you look at the body counts of other Batman villains, then this point is pretty astounding).

This was published in 1997 (although available in TPB, should you want it and you should), Alan Grant was nearing the end of the his legendary Batman run, and somewhere along the line he decided to make his Anarky 4 issue spin off miniseries something quite ambitious. Something a bit special.

Essentially, the basis of the miniseries is that Anarky decides that to nullify the world's evil, whom Anarky identifies and personifies as 'Parasites' (after a series of interviews with Evil characters chief among them is Darkseid, he is able to make this conclusion, although one is led to believe that a lot of the questions are very rhetorical, indeed designed to reinforce his own conclusions). This evil, Anarky decides, can only be eradicated from society by 'De-Brainwashing Gotham'. To do this he builds, and plans to use, a mind-machine that allows the people of Gotham (and inevitably the people of the world!) to 'experience pure, uncorrupted consciousness.' Therefore creating an evil-free utopia. Of course, the Batman foils this subversive, dangerous threat to the people of Gotham.

This hokey plot disguises the true genius of the real subtext of the story. This is the discussion of Man's relationship with contemporary western society, and how a better world can be achieved by new thinking and ideology. That any man who proclaims himself as a saviour of the world (or indeed the creator of a change in this new world) is, simply, way too dangerous to be trusted. Here, Anarky has defined evil (by doing his own research), he has decided that he the good (in profound Shakespearean moments of proclamation), and that everyone should now follow him to his utopia. And that there is no need to discuss this change, no need to seek consensus, because any objections are not valid. Afterall, Anarky is certain he knows best. The path to this utopian plan is prophetically signposted by the end of #1, where we are shown Anarky's secret shrine to those that have fallen under failed political experiments (ie. '10 million dead in Stalin's Russia). It is that in this confusing moment that it becomes clear to the reader that although Anarky's plan is well meaning and noble, it is actually confused and full of contractions. Indeed, Batman's true purpose in this story is to blatantly point out the contradictions of Anarky's own political agenda and to how he wants to get there. Batman is truly presented as the hero, he is the only one that can prevent the dangers of politcial/utopian experiments.

Indeed, the contradictions of Anarky are everywhere. He uses Big Brother CCTV to protect his belongings from burglars. He essentially appeals to the greed of the 'common worker' to ensure that building work is fully undertaken. He wishes to eradicate Evil, yet to achieve this he enslaves and sacrifices a demon. He learns his lesson though, as he is haunted by a vision of the apocalypse he created. In short, Anarky has convinced himself the genius of his plan without thinking through the possibilities of Rumsfeld unknown unknowns. He needs to be taught a lesson.

This lesson is taught when Anarky suffers a vision caused by his own machine. It causes Anarky into 'reading the life' of a character that is deeply affected by his new De-Brainwash Gotham. This new life story is an account made by the candidate for the US Senate, Edward Lussky. He is deemed very quickly a ' parasite' because he failed Anarky's own written 'Parasite Test'. He is then imprisoned in a food-less and money free Ghetto (the comparisons to the Nazi's Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, are blatantly spelled out- No messing around here.). Lusskey's story ends in a profound statement; after renouncing violence (therefore, showing himself to be good after all, and making a mockery of the original test), he is gunned down and concludes that any new political direction will 'always ends with a bunch of maniacs trying to rule the world'. This vision remedies the arrogance of Anarky when he emerges from the vision, he grasps the dangers of his new world vision.

As a BScEcon graduate I love this stream of political thought, discussion and activism. I especially enjoyed the issues own political history lecture (to which are all featured throughout this Blog, for you to enjoy in their subversive glory), which pop up almost like one page adverts halfway through the issue (and are presented here so you too can be fully subverted!). Because these lectures are not needed for the plot, it is simple to suggest that these are Alan Grant's lectures to his readership about his interpretation of the real world. By getting Anarky to break through 'the Forth Wall' (as they say in the TV-land) and using a dog as another audience member (the dog is like the reader, you see, whom Anarky would perceive as also being led by the leash). Basically Alan Grant dares the reader to question his/her own knowledge, and in doing so wishes to then enlighten the reader. That is why there is 'suggested reading' after every issue. You know a writer is as serious as a heart-attack when he dishes out homework at the end of comic book! To get away with something this bold and preachy, yet make the whole work very easily enjoyable, is the proof that Alan Grant really is a truly great writer.

The age of the character is also very interesting, While Alan Moore's 'V' is a grown man, 'Anarky' is a teenager. Why is this important? The use of young characters has been important for publishers as it helped link a character with a key demographic audience. For example, the basic idea of Robin (and all the other superhero kid-sidekicks that came after), was that a young readership would relate to that character, and therefore bond on an emotional level with the title if they could see readers the same age involved in the adventure. Once this relationship is established, then a loyal, specifically targeted, readership will follow. The target audience of the 1990's Batman comic seems to have been male teenagers (for example, Robin #3: “the teen wonder”), it therefore follows that the audience ought to be reading about characters their own age, which Anarky clearly is. Anarky is also made more important, and dangerous, because he engages the full attention of Batman (and, therefore not reduced to merely being Robin canon fodder, as would be the logical use of the character), and that he is a fully switched-on political activist at only fifteen years old. And that says a lot of where what Alan Grant wanted to do with the character's creation. He had designed a teenage character that was saying to a teenage audience 'everything you think you know is a lie' and that there are other political solutions to governance than what you are originally, or indeed are being, taught... Trust me, if Alan Grant tried this in the 1950's or early sixties, I'm sure that the wiry Scot would be hounded out of the industry by politicians with pitchforks.

Now, I want to tell you why I love these books. I seriously do not believe that this comic would be published today (less than 15 years later). And I think the proof for this statement is to look at the uproar created in the US regarding Captain America #602 'Teabag the Tea Party' caption. If this story was published today in Batman I'm sure that FOX News, and those of a similar political persuasion would be demanding that this be pulped, on the grounds that this is way too subversive for teenage boys. I was a teenage boy when I first came across Anarky in Batman. And I can categorically say... It is.