-All this talk of Shakespeare had me itching to read something of his--I've actually only read Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, although I liked them both very much. So I've been reading Julius Caesar, and it occurs to me that, although Batman might consider himself to be Marc Antony (the closest Shakespeare has to a fully good heroic character, I am led to understand), he corresponds more closely to Brutus. Like Brutus, Batman comes to violence through good intentions against men who have become too powerful. In fact, Batman will fulfill a very similar role much, much later, with Superman playing the part of Caesar, a figure of powerful authority that Batman is prepared to stop, should that power turn tyrannous. That's basically the argument he makes against Superman in Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns", with Superman essentially shilling (and standing) for the US government in its strength and arrogance. Brutus is more foolish than Batman, but I think his conflicts are somewhat the same.
JC, by the way, is pretty good. It has less of the philosophical asides that gave Hamlet's thriller plot its depth, at least so far, but the dialog is great, especially when it exhibit's Shakespeare's ability to convey deep thematic statements and strong emotions compressed into two lines for maximum impact. I'm also impressed with his ability to compress the issues and themes of the conspiracy against Caesar into the span of 24 hours, although I think the characterization suffers a lot from this, not only because the brevity of the play requires hit-and-run character descriptions (of which the most effective is Caesar explaining why Cassius is to be feared), but because the timeframe forces characters to make swift decisions that seem too momentous for that.
For instance, Brutus has been worried for a while now about Caesar's growing power, but he only takes a day to get to "And therefore think him as a serpent's egg / Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous, / And kill him in the shell." The character Shakespeare is able to flesh out the most, then, is Caesar himself, who comes off ambitious and foolish all at once--a little like Hitler did in Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"--but this is a character we have seen portrayed often before, and although I suppose I can't blame the Bard for that, it does lessen somewhat the pleasures of the read.
But for all that, the narrative momentum is there, and Shakespeare rightly gets a lot of interest and tension out of the hours leading up to the assassination, including the plentiful imagery of all the dreadful omens foretelling Caesar's death (the dead rising from the grave, a lion wandering on the Capital steps, thunder and lightning, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria). I imagine this play would do well given the kind of Baz Luhrmann modern-retelling treatment, with a Senator (or maybe a general) about to be elected President standing in for Caesar. Certainly the issues in the play continue to be very relevant today.
But I digress.
-It occurred to me (although I couldn't find a good place to mention it) that Bruce probably wasn't, as I joked, trying to cheat on Julie by asking Linda out a few comics back. In all probability the stories were conceived in the opposite order to which they were published, and then switched for some reason relating to the production of the comics. Thus it is a newly liberated Bruce who was on the prowl, which not only redeems him a bit but also shows the comic doing precisely what any long-form serialized narrative should do, when faced with a change in circumstances--find stories in it. The idea of Bruce's potential dates being the sources of narratives is a good one, and a good way to give meaning to Julie/Portia's decision to leave Bruce.
-I should start a running list of words I've invented during the course of this blog. There were two in the last post, the "dought bubble", a speech bubble that becomes unspoken thoughts at some point, and the "Batamari", my term for the post-modern assimilation and combination of popular culture that is Batman. There's also the "bat-thropic principle", the idea that Batman will always find circumstances that need him, or otherwise we wouldn't be reading about the story. Perhaps eventually I will fill a dictionary.
-Speaking of the "Batamari", one more point I wanted to make but felt I had rambled on long enough... I think the mixture of stories that co-exist in each issue of Batman--in this one, a tragic romance, a suspenseful action story, a little bit of classic horror, and a little bit of Hollywood satire--is what has allowed Batman to be reinvented over and over again in so many different ways. Few spin-offs and one-shots, at least in my reading/viewing experience, have the same element of multiple tones/genres co-existing. Usually they pick one that they like and run with it. The Adam West Batman show and movie chose the goofy action-comedy; the Frank Miller stories chose the serious action and social commentary bits; and so on and so forth. If you think of these original Batman stories as a beam of light, subsequent artists applied a prism, showing a rainbow of different colors, and then a lens, choosing just one or two hues with which to tell their story. I'll be interested to see, after this initial "Golden Age" run ends, whether or not anyone else is able to deliver the full package again.
That's it for now; I assume I'll be doing more of these Errata posts in the future. I don't like putting footnotes at the ends of the posts, because that prevents me from ending on a punchline, which is always preferable. And I'm sure I will accumulate more of these little notes, none of which are important enough to warrant a post on their own, but together probably deserve one.
Anyway. See you Friday, when we start Batman #5 off with a Joker story.