Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the Supervillain Field Manual, examines a major comic news item and reviews a few comics among the week’s comic book releases.
As you’ve probably heard, Grant Morrison went on Kevin Smith’s Batman podcast recently and said the end of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” quite obviously depicts Batman reaching out and snapping the Joker’s neck, killing him.
“That’s why it’s called ’The Killing Joke,'” Morrison said.
Smith said he had absolutely never seen the ending that way, and I have to admit, neither did I. Morrison’s interpretation of the ending set off a huge wave of think-piece blog posts, tweets, and opinion articles about whether the rest of the comic bears out his theory. Some people agree, others don’t.
I think that’s all fine. We can have healthy disagreements and debates about what stories actually mean, or when something ambiguous happens, what really happened. I love ambiguity in stories. I think it makes them more interesting sometimes.
Take, for instance, the latest issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Batman,” in which Bruce either hallucinates a cave (he’s badly beaten and on medication) or is shown one via a projector in his study during the famous “I will become a bat” scene. We don’t know which one it is, and either option is pretty valid based on what’s in the art. I’d believe either one.
What’s problematic is when we start arguing about which interpretation of a story is the “definitive” one, the one that’s actually the “real” interpretation. One volley in the argument about “The Killing Joke” has been to pass around Moore’s original script to “prove” that Moore didn’t intend for Batman to kill the Joker.
Well, first of all, a writer doesn’t have to explicitly state something to intend it. We don’t know what Moore actually intended; he hasn’t weighed in on this debate, and probably won’t. Second, artists and letterers make their own contributions to stories. A big factor in Morrison’s interpretation was in the lettering, with the laughter stopping (though the letterer, Richard Starkings, has said the neck-breaking wasn’t part of it; he and Bolland even discussed it).
Third: Intent doesn’t matter. Readers can interpret stories however they want. If it’s supported by the text, it’s valid.
Can we argue about what things in stories mean? Sure. But trying to establish “definitive” and “conclusive” readings? That kills all the fun.
And now the comics of the week!
“Superman Unchained” #3
(DC Comics, by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee)
This issue deviated a bit from the structure the previous two issues established. No big action sequence kicked this one off, instead, we got some talky scenes of Superman meeting and finally speaking with the mysterious, superpowered character who’s been lurking around the edges up to now. In the immediate, it makes this issue suffer a bit. Things slow down to the point of being comparatively kind of boring (it also doesn’t play to Jim Lee’s action strong suit), but it’s worth all the build toward a pretty great last-page tease. It also makes the new guy, Wraith, seem a lot more complex than the mindless monster he might be most closely compared to, Doomsday. He’s turning into a great villain.
(Image Comics, by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton)
The real beauty of “Revival” is how well it exemplifies what a horror comic should be without being loaded to the gills with cheap scares. This is a comic all about characters and a town grappling with the weirdest of scenarios, and basically all the creepiness comes from the characters. Norton’s art and the colors by Mark Englert do a lot more to make things scary with just a look in a character’s face than a hook going through someone’s chest. That said, the last page of this issue does indicate the forces behind what’s happening are going to become a little bit clearer very soon. It’s exciting stuff.
“Blood Brothers” #2
(Dark Horse Comics, by Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller and Evan Shaner)
What a fun comic. A couple of reformed, adventure-seeking vampires chasing after The Real Bad Guys, remembering the crazy hijinks they engaged in back during the Inquisition. This is a comic that’s just loaded with clever, funny ideas, like Vampires Anonymous, a meeting of which we see here. And Shaner’s art? Just a delight. Perfect for the tone of the book. I’m so happy to see more genuinely funny comics coming out.
(Marvel Comics, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee)
Speaking of great art, Chris Samnee, everyone. There’s a sequence in this issue where Daredevil is riding around with Silver Surfer on his board and having the time of his life. You can feel it in the art. The way it seems to move, the look on Daredevil’s face. I could look at that panel all day. And it’s part of a great little one-shot story about an alien visitor who isn’t what he seems. As this series has been doing all along, it mixes lighthearted fun with real pathos in a way that just plain works.