Jun 6, 2018

Grant Morrison's Batman: The Other Reading List (Part 2 of 3)

And, so we return to our reading list. Or, more honestly, our list of books, plays, paintings, and other works that specifically are not Batman comics, but do appear or are referenced directly within Grant Morrison’s Batman-starring comic books.

Grant Morrison has said, more than once, that he enjoys inspiring people to researching philosophies, history, or outside texts, with references or allusions in his comics. Yet, when we see reading lists for his Batman comics, of which he has written many, what we inevitably receive are lists of other Batman comics. No shame in that. There are some great Batman comics, but if a painting appears in a comic, if someone made the effort to script its presence and others cooperated in bringing it, visibly, into panels, maybe that painting in significant?

The Other Reading List
A List of Books, Sculptures, Plays, Etc, Relating to Grant Morrison’s Batman, 
That Aren’t Old Batman Comics, Part 2
Travis Hedge Coke


Batman’s biological son is named Damian, but let us look at this Herman Hesse novel of a homophonic title. A small boy, afraid of death, afraid of being unable to navigate school or society, afraid of hunger and anger, of disappointing his parents, of disappointing the universe, and of anything or everything going permanently forever away in death. And, he makes a friend, this boy, who is brave and powerful and wise and lives outside schools and parents and death.

Our boy learns from this friend. He grows up to become him, or adopt his face like a mask. His face and his ways. Because, they protect him and they protect what he sees as the world. They break the shell of the confinement that is death and society, to let him and potentially all of us, have wings.

Not literal wings. These are beings of flesh and hunger.

Except, that the boy may not have met his hero, his friend. He made a friend. He made a guide.

The Garden of Death

Hugo Simberg is a man who made a doorknocker that caused Death to actually knock on the door. His 1896 masterpiece, The Garden of Death, shows three skeletons, dressed in black, tending flowers and other potted plants tenderly and studiously. Morrison returns over and over to Batman as steward of death, of Batman as he who will remember the fallen, as an intimate of death. His city is compared to a garden, tending lives, his home, itself, possesses an enormous and significant garden that invokes death, and his most steady companion at home, Alfred, of course, cultivates prize roses.

Death can be caring, and must be studious. Everything is always dying, a perpetual process. Death lasts longer than life, beginning when life begins, continuing life’s entirety, and extending beyond, because, well, you’re dead. Death, then, is your most intimate guardian angel, the companion most familiar with all your moments

I Ching

I Ching, in Morrison’s Batman, is both the name of a small, blind man and the name of the classic book of changes. A text for cleromancy, the I Ching is used to as a predictive aid, and to explicate the past and present situations. Most likely the oldest work in our list, it straddles a line between what in anglophone cultures might be called, “magick” and “practicality.” The Chinese word that has come to be read as “changes,” in the term, “i ching,” indeed, may have meant way long back in the BC years, “easy.” The I Ching is designed to make things easier.


“I only exist for Herr Professor Pyg 
As a figment of his huge imagination 
Mirror, mirror on the wall 
Who is the villain of them all?”
Written by Momus, Pygmalism  is a song that draws on the myth of Pygmalion, and the George Bernard Shaw updating that gives us My Fair Lady, and concerns us not with the male “shaper” of the female he falls in love with, but the woman under the knife. Or, hammer. Or, weird, obsessive, horny hands of the old pig shaping her.

Lest we forget, while myth and retellings are often romanticized in public memory, the myth is ridiculously sexist and the Shaw advocated death camps for “undesirables.” Man makes sculpture; plays with sculpted breasts so feverishly he brings her to life. Man decides woman is trash; molds her into something temporarily resembling human as part of a wager with another man.

Meanwhile, we have Bruce Wayne over here, on the left, with his mommy complex, his watching out for prostitutes, his supervillain girlfriends and meaningless arm-candy he uses and discards for reasons.

The Approach to al-Mu’tasim/An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain

Jorge Luis Borges enjoyed writing essays and reportage of unreal facts and people, including al-Mu’tasim and the writer pursuing the truth of him, and the Herbert Quain, popular and often-unreprinted author.

“Essentially, both critics are in agreement: both indicate the detective story mechanism of the novel and its mystic undercurrent. This hybridization may cause us to imagine some likeness with Chesterton; we will soon see that there is no such thing.” - from al-Mutasim
What is the use of reading about fake things, we may ask, before noting that most of what we read is probably about fake things, or certainly, adopted perspectives? The objectivity of objective journalism is only a faked perspective. So, too, the subjective position of most published screeds.

The Knight, Death and the Devil

A 16th Century engraving by Albrecht Dürer, it has been praised as “of such excellence that nothing finer can be achieved,” and later, by the Nazis, to lionize what they wished to promote as a heroic and necessary struggle. So, a weighty image, a knight passing precariously close to the Devil and to Death, trusty dog following him, carries also the weight of loving and terrible history. An accretion of ideas and ideals have caked onto the original image until it cannot truly be seen on its own grounds.

What is taught to us, we cannot easily unlearn.

Even the foxtail on the end of the knight's lance carries more connotations now, and has lost any surety to its original purpose. Is it a signal to the audience of his innate corruption? The sign of a hunter? A fetish of protection? A stylish flare or mere reportage in illustration?

What we bring in, is ours.

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