Monday, August 29, 2011

Special Bat-Friend

“Special Bat-Friend”
Excavating, reappraising, and cataloging Planetary early in the 21st Century

[The twelfth in what should be a comprehensive series, both these small essays and the related annotations are intended for someone who is already familiar with the series. Spoilers will be dropped as necessary, events and concepts discussed out of their order of first-appearance, and general summaries of stories will not be provided. The annotations are primarily speculation, with no hard evidence to back them up. All of these posts may be subject to severe and dramatic rewrites without notice, as new things occur to me, and of course, I welcome any further annotation suggestions or general feedback at . If I include an annotation derived from someone else, from this point on, I will gladly credit the provider. If I don’t credit an annotation, it means I derived the conclusion myself, or I simply cannot recall where I got the information first.

This project could not exist without the fine work of The Planetary Appreciation Page, the now defunct Warren Ellis Forum, the slowly-defuncting Barbelith messageboard, and the Planetary team of Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura DePuy/Martin, John Layman, David Baron, Scott Dunbier, and the many letterers, designers, and other contributors.

This project is dedicated to mystery archeologists everywhere, of every walk and a myriad of tastes, habits, and ingenuities.]

The best Batman, to me, is the one Warren Ellis and John Cassaday leave us with here, the good parent. The best parent. Maybe that has to do with never knowing my father. Perhaps, it is a side effect of an innate conviction I am not good enough to be responsible for children. Could be I want to belong to a crimefighting family and see my mother kick muggers in the face. Let's leave that to the biographers and psychoanalysts, if any ever surface for the job.

It's an awesome take on Batman. The best parent version removes any concern with the contradictions of various versions by making the contradictions actually the definition. Batman is a cop and a vigilante, he is an anarchist company man, he can help you up out of the muck and he can hit you with his car to stop you. And, statistically and by all observances, he is less likely to kill you than just about anyone. He's the goddammed Batman, even failing he is kinda better than you or me but we can be as good as him, if not as efficient and accomplished as he is, if we put the effort in.

The sell of Batman is often that we, especially as kids, could be Batman if we tried. No, we can't. For one thing, reality wouldn't even allow Batman to be Batman. For another, we don't have the money, the R&D department, or the field surgeon gentleman's gentleman. We can be as good as Batman, though, as decent. We should.



00 The Planetary field team are in the "shadow of the Bat."

01 Red skies because they are experiencing a Crisis event. Meaning, in the context of the DC Comics shared universe, that different realities are collapsing together.

01.01 This panel and the final of the comic mirror one another, with a "what is that against the moon" motif. May also be a reference to this mirroring technique being employed in famous Batman comic, The Killing Joke.

01.02 Enough grotesques for one building? That is Gotham-y.

02.01 As are the neo-Modernist architectural feats here. This, the WildStorm Universe version of Gotham City is very Anton Furst, designer of the 1989 Batman movie.

03.01 This is the WildStorm version of Richard Grayson and the Joker.

03.02 Their schlubby visual, unshaven, awkward posture, indicates the level of difference between these two and their DC universe versions, due to the absence of a Batman in their lives.

The Joker, here named Jasper (presumably in reference to Marvel Comics' Mad Jim Jaspers), is not only not visibly going around killing people or laughing his head off, he is holding down a real job.

03.03 When Dick opens his mouth, we see how bad it is. Without Batman, the orphaned boy grew into a stuttering, insecure mess, who can't dress himself properly. But, he is still trying to do good, participating in the functioning and for the curious Planetary Organization.

04.02 "It all looks like this" is more or less true. Little of Gotham's streets and layout is ever represented as less than seedy.

05.05 GCPD is Gotham City Police Department. (Pr'y don't need to point that out, do I?)

06.01 Crime Alley in the DC Universe's Gotham is actually Park Row, it's just called Crime Alley because that's very descriptive of it. Notable events on that Crime Alley (and not this one for obvious reasons) include the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents and a young boy, Jason Todd, trying to steal the hubcaps off a parked Batmobile years later.

07.01-04 1986 is the year Crisis on Infinite Earths was published, a comic about a multiversal collapse taking place across the whole DC Comics line and shared world.

08.02 The lamppost is visually similar to the one sometimes represented as being above a young Bruce Wayne and his just murdered parents. All the posts in the area would, hypothetically look the same, but this may be meant to be exactly that one.

08.03 Jasper's behavior here is an indicator that the homicidal and sadistic tendencies of the Joker are not entirely based on a presence of a Batman, only - apparently - his motivation to go do something about them more than touch himself looking at crime scene photographs.

09.02 Evert street in Gotham has porn or prostitutes or both.

Finger Street is a street in the DC Gotham as well, named for Bill Finger, co-creator and writer of Batman and many related characters.

09.03 The Conquerors of the Uncanny are a team from Alan Moore and Rob Liefeld's Judgement Day that takes place in the Awesome shared universe. The comic was a rebooting of various concepts to separate them from the Image shared universe they previously existed as part of, when Liefeld split with Image. This comic is a DC publication under the WildStorm imprint, WildStorm having previously been a part of the Image shared universe and since bought by DC Comics.

10.01 John Black, the WildStorm universe's Bruce Wayne. Bruce, without Batman, is a damaged, lip-biting, incidental murderer and wandering vagrant.

11 This bubble emanating from John Black is a variation on the multiversal snowflake seen elsewhere in Planetary. This pattern will reappear alongside elements from the other crossover oneshots, Terra Occulta and Ruling the World in the final chapter of Planetary during the rescue of Ambrose Chase.

12.01 The cityscape as changed, here, and is photorealist in nature.

12-13 The entire scene has become littered with carefully represented details including exaggerated weathering of walls, pipes, water damage, and litter on pavement. Early indicators that we are in the Alex Ross version of Gotham City.

14 The Batman, in the style and wearing a costume designed by Alex Ross, painter and comics writer.

15.04 Typically, we never see what a batrope is suspended by, but this being a "realistic" world, we do.

17.0305 Every street in Gotham has fetishwear and prostitutes. Jakita is simply seeing Batman in the context of his city as she knows it. And, also, implicating her own leathers.

18.01-03 I know Ross has painted these absurdly big bat-weapons before, but where?

27.01 A Batman in the style of the 1960's television show. The eyes have been darkened and the symbol on his chest relieved of its yellow oval by DC's legal department, as a matter of likeness rights.

The buildings are simpler than either version previously seen, in solid colors.

28.01 Bat-Female-Villain-Repellant is in line with the absurd fix-its that Batman of this television series could produce from his belt, most specifically, Bat-Shark-Repellant.

28.04 This costume shred easily, implying the previous was armored (hence standing up to Jakita's superhuman punch).

29.01 Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman. There are now minimalist backgrounds, mostly of the same muddy dark colors.

31.01 "Mr. Freeze" is a Batman villain, appearing in comics as well as film and television versions of the property.

35.03 A Neal Adams version of Batman.

36.01 And, a Neal Adams style Batmobile.

36.02 Normative handcuffs and not a stylized set of bat-cuffs fit with the semi-realist ambience of Neal Adams usual Batman work.

37.03 The downturned corners of Batman's mouth are very Adams.

38-39 The recurrent panel of Batman seen here resembles a similar arrangement in "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.

40.01 This is the original-era Batman, complete with purple gloves and set in a city that is era-appropriate. And, he's wielding a gun, as earliest Batman is the only canon version to do so readily.

Batman is also framed, here, by the moon, although only his head and no a full-body framing as elsewhere.

41 This is the death of the Waynes in front of their son, Bruce.

42 Batman of the future. This is Cassaday's own design. Batman's head is again haloed by the full moon.

43.02-04 If you have not sussed that John Black is an alternate Bruce Wayne, this ought to make everything click.

44.04-05 "How do you cope?" By doing what he does here, in letting Black go into the custody of the Planetary team. By doing right.

45-46 And, by doing, as he explains here: You give safety and comfort to other people, show them they are not alone.

48.04 Similar to the first page, the shape on the moon that may or may not be a Batman.

[Click here to see further annotations for Planetary]

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