Friday, May 15, 2009

Lovers and Madmen- A terriffic Batman/Joker tale!

I love the Beatles. Almost every song they ever did is a classic, a standard, a pillar of almost total perfection. Even today, many of the music industry's top singers and songwriters freely admit that they hope to attain even the tiniest portion of the Beatles success, ability and creativity. That's why I love it when artists are able to cover a Beatle tune and not just reproduce the original sound but really and truly work with the source material and make it their own. Case in point: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends and Earth, Wind & Fire with Got To Get You Into My Life.

In one of my recent blog rants I came down pretty hard on, among others, Batman comics from the past few years. I'm angry at their almost constant reimagineering of the Batman origin story. DC just spent 2 entire issues in a row doing this during R. I. P. I find this spate of "retelling the origin of..." to be irritating, unimaginative and senseless, thus my blog tirade ended with my plea for comics to "just make sense."

A few months ago I started reading Batman Confidential. Liking the current issues I was reading, I went a searching for all it's back issues because it's still a relatively young comic a little over 2 years old. I was able to track down issues 7-12, under the arc title of Lovers and Madmen, which originally came out back in early 2008. The cover stated it contained "the thrilling chronicle of Batman and Joker's first historic confrontation". Great, yet another rehash battle.... Zzzzzzzzzz. Even with this strike against it, I thought I would still give it a chance due to the fact that the current issues were pretty darn good, and that it was being written by TV show Hero's writer Michael Green.

This phase of Batman's career has been tackeled many times by son of the greats of comics including Finger, Kane and Robinson in the 40's, O'neil, Adams, Englehart and Rodgers in the 70's, and Moore and Bolland in the 80's just to name a few. Over the years each crew has added, subtracted, erased and redrew, ignored and explored various facets of the Batman/Joker relationship. So, you can imagine my trepidation upon finding "another thrilling chronicle...".Boy was I ever wrong. Reading this story once again reminded me of why I love comics and why I still hold out hope in an industry gone EPIC crazy. Green's take is very much in line with the then newest and now legendary screen portrayal of the villain by Heath Ledger. In Lovers and Madmen, the Joker is best described by pre-Scarecrow Jonathan Crane. "He's not a criminal. This isn't crime. This is EVIL."

This story is one of the best explorations about the struggle to understand the nature of evil and how far good will go to subdue and overcome it. This battle is best summed up in a conversation between Bruce and Alfred in the Batcave. Bruce has just found out that the woman he loves, whom the Joker sliced open during their latest confrontation, has taken a turn for the worst in the hospital.

Bruce: " I can't do it Alfred. When I began my mission I thought I would battle MEN who were monstrous. I never imagined I'd be fighting actual monsters. Demons. Things I don't even believe in. But DO exist. What killed my parents...he was nothing compared to what's coming. And this one... He's plutonium, Alfred. An atom split, rupturing two more--and two more...and two more after them in an ever widening chain--spreading the damage exponentially...until there isn't an atom left. In the face of that, my methods... are nothing. I can't do it."

In just this one page, this story was able to capture the essence of the entire superhero genre. And later in the story, Alfred sums up the feelings of all the innocents in society, all the friends and family of our heroes, and the pressures that they can come to bear on the superhero's themselves.

Alfred: "I have known you your whole life, sir... your best moments, your darkest nights...I was there. Many times I've said I hoped better for your soul than this mission you say chose you. This disinfecting of man's basest nature. That I wanted for you a LIFE. But this...YOU did this. You unleashed something foul and depraved. On whose lives you swore to improve. A dead thing. Killed by you. That makes more dead things. And now they call on you to rein it in. You cannot do nothing."

And to be fair, Batman's point of views aren't the only ones explored in this series. The Joker starts out as a brilliant but bored criminal, planning and committing ever more elaborate crimes. Yet, each heist, planned down to the smallest detail, brings him less and less pleasure. There's just no surprises, no fun. Until Batman breaks up one of his robberies.Later in the story Joker says "I owe it all to YOU. I didn't know WHAT to do with myself til a man put on a mask and called himself Bat." This is very reminiscent of the scene in the famous fan film Dead End, in which the cornered Joker says to Batman "You made me...Daddy!".

And later still during their climatic battle scene comes this wonderful interaction:

Batman: "You're CRAZY."

Joker: "No. I'm just funnier than you. I see the world right as rainbows and I have you to thank for it. I had nothing. Then YOU came, gave me my spinach strength. And now the world is full of color-- even sick sad bland bad Gotham is bright as sunrise. Or sunset. You pick.

Batman: "All those lives. All those people-- you MURDERED them! Why do you kill them?"

Joker: "Why do you save them?"

In the end, it's hard to tell who is really the crazy one... but it sure is easy to tell That this is a fantastic read. And not only is it a great read but also a beautiful book to look at. Denys Cowans' pencils, John Floyds' ink and stunning colors by I.L.L. combine to make images just jump off the pages. I particularly liked the use of the color red throughout to highlight key points such as sunglass lens, a ballroom mask and of course, blood on the Bat A Rang.

So, as I'm prone to say... Rush out in a buying frenzy and get these issues. By the way, just last week DC made this much easier to do by putting out a trade paperback compilation. So there goes your excuse of I couldn't find them all.
Until my next good read... ENJOY!

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