Sunday, July 28, 2013

Batman on the Edge of Despair

 Will Catwoman Pull Batman Back From the Abyss?

Peter Tomasi has reached the penultimate stage of the Kubler-Ross model exploring the five stages of grief.  The fourth of which to be examined here, depression.

Depression is a critical step in the grieving process in that if one does not successfully move on from this stage he or she may find themselves wallowing in it's abyss forever.

In my previous post that dealt with the bargaining phase,  I imagined this sequel to encompass something like a warm embrace from Catwoman to salve the damaged psych of the Batman. She would tell him the things he needed to hear and provide the loving touch his cold heart demanded.

It didn't exactly go that way.  Tomasi has different plans.

First, let's look at the analytical definition of "Depression" as included in the Kubler-Ross model. 

Depression - I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?" During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.

The above definition cannot be taken literally in Batman's caseHe is not the one that is dying nor is he near death.  Instead he is the bereaved.  His feelings mirror the "certainty of death", in other words, his son Damien will never come back.  The danger for Batman is the "disconnect".  Something, if not alleviated, will become so dire that he will push away everyone close to him and he will become the menace to society that Batgirl warned him of in the previous issue,  (Something that is going through the test phase with Carrie Kelly.)

I should've gotten wind of Tomasi's tact when the story opens and Catwoman is in the middle of a heist.  The object of her desire is a golden figurine, "Ram in a Thicket".  The allusion here is a story from the Old Testament where Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Abraham's deadly hand is stayed when he is distracted by a Ram stuck in a nearby thicket.  If I had put the pieces together here I would have realized that Batman was standing in for Abraham and he needed something to stay his own deadly hand before he did something rash.

Catwoman provides him with that distraction.

 Her solace comes none too soon.

In the above image Batman sits alone in the Batcave and he's replaying audio from a mission with Damien.  The signs of depression are clear.  The head is bowed and the eyes blackened with sorrow.  His posture is slumped in forlorn resignation.  In listening to his son's voice Batman seeks to recreate Damiens' presence.   It is a desperate venture and one that is hollow in nature.  Listening to the sound of his son's voice won't bring him back.  In fact it is a trap that forms a closed loop that keeps you perpetually in its grasp.

As I said, lucky for Batman, Catwoman is on the prowl.  I was a bit disappointed that Tomasi had Catwoman appear on the scene in the line of duty, not of her own volition.  The story opens with Catwoman receiving orders from Steve Trevor on behalf of the JLA.  So, Catwoman really is just using Batman to aid in her invasion of the Chinese embassy to recover a "valuable asset" not to directly aid Batman in overcoming his sorrow.

That's too bad.  Red Robin and Batgirl both actively sought out Batman, I thought Selina Kyle would do the same.  These two have been pretty close over the years and this would have been a great opportunity to bring them even closer and develop their relationship further.

I guess Tomasi had different thoughts.

At least we got this superb image from Patrick Gleason.  The above frame is worth the price of the comic alone.  With the villains easily subdued, Batman and Selina take to the sky in possession of their new charge, Jai-Li.

Batman shows a some heart here and gives the little girl a thrill ride for the ages.  I suppose Tomasi's plan was to have Batman figure out how to beat his funk on his own.  Batman sees a little girl lost and without her father so he substitutes himself and takes the opportunity to bring a family together.  His may be lost, so this feels good even if it's only for a few moments.

The above image speaks volumes in that regard.

It was a bit puzzling to see Carrie Kelley return for the final frames of the book.  She receives a fake message from Damien that Batman constructed in order to preserve the fiction that Damien is still alive.

This seems to go against moving beyond the hurdle of depression.  This moment signifies there is still a bit of denial going on.  For the comic book reality it makes sense but as far as Batman's psyche is concerned it seems like a step back.  Maybe Tomasi is just setting up the next storyline.

Speaking of which!  Nightwing returns to help Batman with the next step of the Kubler-Ross model, acceptance.   A perfect symmetry to end this journey, the original Robin.  So how does Carrie fit in?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bargaining With Batman

Batman's Sanity Hangs in the Balance.  Can Batgirl Save Him?

Peter J. Tomasi along with guest penciller, Cliff Richards, returns to his examination of Batman's grief in "Batman and Batgirl #21".  Tomasi has been using the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief and this chapter's examination covers the "Bargaining" stage.

Here is the Wikipedia definition.

Bargaining"I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time..." People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.

For this definition we are not speaking in the first person.  Or rather, I should say, Batman, is not speaking in the first person.  When the above definition says, "I will do anything for a few more years" Batman is really saying, "I will do anything for a few more years, if Damien were only alive".  

Batman, of course, is not dead here.  His son is dead and as we find everything in this chapter is post mortem.  

Tomasi has taken the interesting tact of handling this stage for Batman not through his eyes but through the eyes of Batgirl.  In fact, Batgirl, does a little Bargaining of her own.  

Batman has not asked for any help in coping with his grief (although he has shared some grief with Alfred) and here we find Batgirl trying to volunteer her help.  Naturally Batman rejects all her advances and pretty much spends the entire book ignoring her entreaties.  When they first meet in this issue, Batgirl can barely share two words with Batman before he storms off.  

This actually allows Batgirl to come to grips with a death in her own family.  Her brother died when she confronted him and he fell to his demise before she could grab him.  She blames herself and she takes this opportunity to make a confessional of sorts to her father, Commissioner Gordon.  She can't speak to him face to face, it would expose her identity, but it least she talks it out.  This alleviates her guilt to some degree and lightens the emotional load.  Too bad Batman doesn't afford himself the same luxury.

Batman makes his own effort at bargaining by confronting some two bit hoods that are attempting a robbery and holding some hostages.  The robbers decline his offer and make the mistake of going for the whole enchilada.  Classic mistake.

It's not clear what kind of bargain Batman is really trying to strike here.  Damien is already dead so he can't bargain for more time with him.  Are we to understand the bargain he really is trying to offer here is his own life?  Is Batman trying to sacrifice himself in order to join Damien in the afterlife in order to end his misery?

This would run counter to the aforementioned definition of "Bargaining".  It barely comes close to the part where there is a "sustainable solution".  If so, Batman would be dead.  He doesn't voice this but this would end Batman's career in crime fighting and his "raison d'etre" is to avenge the death of his parents and seek revenge for the innocent.  (Something he tangentially he refers to later in the Batcave.)  Deep down Batman realizes this and violently takes down the hoods.  

Batman doesn't bargain.  He can't even transcend the denial stage of grief.

Batgirl offers a unique solution to overcome Batman's grief and in doing so she allows herself a solution to overcome her own pain.

Batgirl offers to take the place of Robin which is a wonderful solution.  It would help exorcise her own demons and fill the role Batman so desperately needs, a sounding board to bounce his troubles off of.  I would have loved to see Barbara Gorden as the new Robin.  She can't get close to her own father as Batgirl but at least she would have had a father figure in Batman and he would have had the protege he needs to protect and nurture with the added benefit of not being so raw.

Batman declines this ingenious offer, telling her to go....

The fool.

Well, perhaps I should be a little more sympathetic.  Batman is deeply in the throes of pain.  The kind of pain that is of superhero proportion.  Maybe if talks his anguish out with someone he truly loves.  Someone he loves nearly as much as much as he loved Damien.  Perhaps then he could come to some sort of bargain and work through his depression.

I wonder who that could be?

Next up, Batman and Catwoman.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Dark Knight Descends

The Iconic Batman: Art of the New 52 #10 

I found this unusual perspective of Batman in "Batman and Batgirl #21".  Batgirl has been chasing down some heroin pushing thugs down by the Gotham docks when Batman suddenly makes his appearance.  She had just been wondering where Batman has been, as she wants to talk to him about the loss of his son, Damien.

This particular issue deals with the third stage of the Kubler-Ross model of grieving which is known as "Bargaining".  I'm not going into the depths of this particular topic at this point (that will be for a later post).  Instead, I'd like to comment on this striking frame as contributed by guest penciller, Cliff Richards.

You can almost hear Batman's cape snap open as he launches himself into the fray.  This dynamic entrance is made all the more surreal by having Batman's disembodied head wreathed in the darkness of his gothic veneer.

There is no encumberment of arms and legs to distract the viewer, just the bizarre promontory of Batman's head reaching out from some blackened netherworld.  Batgirl's narrative box exclaims, "Speak of the devil".  This just adds to the spectral quality of this depiction as Batman seems like some holy terror reaching out to pull those into some hellish place where he only dares to tread.

Batman's athleticism is often characterized by the inclusion of overwrought musculature.  Something I am often critical of.  I'd rather see a more human Batman rather than someone whose physique is comperable to Superman's.  Batman is a part of this world not something that is alien or unreal.

That is why I find this rendering of Batman so fascinating.  The other-worldly musculature is gone as is the human aspect.  All we get is tendril like extensions from Batman's cape which makes him neither bat or human.  Instead we get a minimalist vengeful wraith that characterizes Batman's innermost quality.

A rare feat.

Peter J. Tomasi has been exploring  the depths of Batman's pain over losing his Robin in these issues of "Batman and Robin" each with a guest partner.  In this issue Tomasi has found an ideal collaborator in Richards as Richards seems to understand that the depth of Batman's anguish resides in his mind.  So it is fitting we see this mind detailed in his cowled visage as his heart breaking struggle continues.

I'm not sure if Tomasi had any input into Richards work, specifically this frame.  But it seems like a partnership worth pursuing in the future.