Monday, 11 April 2011

How do you take your average orphan and turn him into a lunatic in a fetish-bat costume? The Joker, of course, has a theory: But his version, from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, is only technically correct. Bruce Wayne did have "one bad day," yes, but it was different from the "one bad day" the Joker had: The difference could be that wives and children can be replaced—for tax purposes, if not in our hearts—whereas birth-parents cannot, but while that's true, that's not the most significant difference. The most significant difference—the one that, despite not knowing the secret identity of the Batman, the Joker deeply understands—is that "one bad day" is far worse when, instead of being told of a death secondhand, you witness it yourself. Hence, his plan: The Joker could have chosen to abduct Barbara Gordon off the street and dump her in the river, but instead he waited until Commissioner Gordon visited her apartment, because he knows that losing someone you love is one thing, but witnessing that person's death causes psychological trauma of a far greater intensity.* In short, without knowing that Bruce Wayne is the Batman or how he came to be the Batman, the Joker knows exactly how to make a Batman: make the victim watch. Lest you think that either the Joker or myself are pushing this argument too far, consider the visual history of the Batman's formative moment. It was first represented in Detective Comics #33: There's almost a duo-specific word-picture relation coursing from the first panel to the next. The text of the first declares that "[t]he boy's eyes are wide with terror and shock," and the second depicts the boy's eyes, wide with terror and shock. The focus, textually and visually, is on Wayne's eyes. On what he sees. The second, and first fully fleshed out, representation occurs in Batman #47: How significant are the young Wayne's eyes in this panel? They've been isolated from his head and framed with anger. It's not the "one bad day" that changes Wayne into the Batman, because there was "something about young Bruce's eyes [that] made the killer retreat," and that "something" consisted of a combination of awful accusation and eidetic memory, though even that is not enough to transform the owner of those disembodied eyes into the Batman. (Many a poor soul has witness many a beloved one murdered, after all.) But there is "something" to those eyes, as here they are again in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One: They have, I grant, been shoved back in his head, but they're still isolated in an extreme close-up. Miller and Mazzucchelli follow Batman #47 in having young Bruce's eyes directly address the readers' so that they might see what Joe Chill sees above. Only not. Chill's already fleeing in Year One, so the attention of those eyes is even more focused on something outside or beyond the frame, almost as if Wayne seeks communion through eye-contact with an unseen audience. "You understand why I had to become this," those eyes seem to plead. But no matter how...

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