Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Fuddy-Duddite: Batman and Bill Hicks

There's a Batman fancomic making the rounds lately. I'm sure you've seen it. But in case you haven't, take a look.

Why does it leave such a bad taste in my mouth, I wonder? I like Batman. I like Bill Hicks. I like dark "what-if" narratives and from time to time I still enjoy "meta" stuff. And the writing is good! And the art is great! So why wasn't I knocked out of my chair by this?

I just remembered something from Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget. The subject of the section from which this is excerpted dealt mostly with music, but it does expand to other media as well:

Even the most seemingly radical online enthusiasts seem to always flock to retro references. The sort of "fresh, radical culture" you expect to see celebrated in the online world these days is a petty mashup of preweb culture.

Take a look at one of the big cultural blogs like Boing Boing, or the endless stream of mashups that appear on YouTube. It's as if culture froze just before it became digitally open, and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump.

So. You take one thing that people on the Internet already recognize and like (Batman). You mash it up with another thing that people on the Internet already recognize and like (Bill Hicks). And voilĂ ! Batman + Bill Hicks = Internet sensation.

That's probably an oversimplification, and it discounts the power of the artwork and the drama of the story, surely. (It's much more than just a straightforward mashup on these accounts.) But I can't think of any other reason for why I'm not as impressed as I'd like to be. It's just two things I'm already familiar with and I already like, and they're put together--and to me it feels somehow calculated and unimaginative.

Preciado (the writer) comments that what he and Bayliss (the illustrator) have in the works now stuff involving original characters -- which I do plan on checking out. They clearly know what they're doing.

And that makes the Batman comic a brilliant move on their part. You bring everyone to the table with something a whole lot of people are guaranteed to be impressed by (Batman + Bill Hicks; people already like what they already know), and some of them are guaranteed to stick around afterwards when you ask them to swallow something unfamiliar.

They're good.


  1. Think I'm gonna have to disagree on a few counts here re: art and writing. Batman and Joker look like Marvel Zombies by way of Ren & Stimpy and the dialogue seems wildly out of character and is either a cliche ("WHY GOD WHY") or a load of fluff (basically Joker's entire monologue). The whole Joker/Batman relationship issue is so well known and well-defined these days that even if you throw in everyone gratuitously dying it's ultimately the safest Batman thing you can write about.

    I want to say a big part of the Joker's character was also to deliberately never learn Batman's identity because it would be less fun, but I dunno what happened at DC in the last 20 years or so of Batman.

    I don't know how I feel about the Bill Hicks quote (beyond what you said: "holy shit look at this, two things I like, in one!", which does come off as extremely calculated for maximum focus group impact). It starts off alright as an illustration of how tightly Batman is locked into his life and how Joker might actually be the guy to get him out of it, even if it means killing everyone (which *is* a novel and well-realized idea, these guys clearly do know something), but on the whole it's a much more optimistic idea than "hey Batman: suicide pact!" It does make me think about what's going to happen with Wayne Enterprises but that's really not fleshed out at all in the comic itself.

    And anyway Preacher did the whole Bill Hicks thing first. Arguably had worse art though so there's that.

    1. I think he *does* know Batman's identity after the Batman: RIP storyline, but that's all been erased and rebooted since Flashpoint. So who the hell knows?!

  2. Hm. I like the art quite a bit, it's unique, overexaggerated, and would look great in a print comic (I doubt DC would ever take the chance sadly, but there are lots of indie publishers out there). The I've said it before and I'll say it till the end of time: I'm not really that into grim, ultraviolent Joker stories. Not to say Joker can't kill anybody, but this sort of story had been done to death (heh-heh) at least since the mid-'80s, and certainly since 2008 and The Dark Knight. I'm getting worried that eventually the 'radical deconstruction of the Joker mythos' will supplant the status quo, and then stories about a comically-unhinged Joker will actually be radical and unusual.

    I got nothing to say about the Hicks element though, because he's not one of my favorite comedians.

    1. That's why I'm so glad Batman: the Brave and the Bold handled the Joker the way they did. (YooToob example clip!)

  3. I definitely get the problem with the 'mash up two recognizable things.' It's far too common on Tumblr, which is why I do basically nothing but post there now, but I don't think this comic is as bad as all that. There's at least some thought put into it, more than a picture of the DeLorean crashing into the TARDIS, at least.

    I think the real problem is they used the wrong quote. There would have been a lot more sense to using his 'We're all one consciousness experiencing itself' bit (or however it goes). The dependency Batman and Joker have on each other is not a new idea, but adding Hicks' bit there would give it a new dimension.

    1. Hmm. The "one consciousness" bit would suit it better, but it's more of a blurb than a statement, and not long enough to serve as the narration for the drawn-out THEY'RE FALLING THEY'RE FALLING THEY'RE FALLING SPLAT ZOOM IN ON HANDS sequence.

      I guess I just wished they used something original than tacked on the epilogue to Hicks's late-career comedy routine.

  4. You get a gold star!

    ...or you would if the IMG tag were allowed. Dammit.