Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Neal Adams' Batman: Odyssey -- A Defense

You know what you could do that would make you really cool online? Trash Neal Adams' Batman: Odyssey.

You know what would make you even cooler? If you were to review Batman: Odyssey without acknowledging that it was the duo of Denny O'Neil and this very same Neal Adams that created the character of  Ra's Al Ghul and Talia Al Ghul, both of whom -- alas, largely due to Hollywood and the video game industry -- are now popularly seen as unequivocally integral to the Batman mythology. Despite the (unlikely) coincidence that the problematic, thorny, irreconcilable Batman-Ra's-Talia love-hate triangle forms the very crux of Odyssey's plot, you'd be a fool not to strive for "cred" by writing some place on the Internet as though Neal Adams were some senile, doting old kook ... which, even if Adams were such, he and O'Neil are wholly responsible for the very existence of two (out of three total!) of the aforementioned (possibly fatally) interwined, incompatible characters. (And besides Ra's and Talia, there's surely a whole bunch of stuff in Odyssey that we take for granted as part of the Batman universe [any of `em, even that of the atrocious "New 52"...] and mythology that we're indebted to Adams for...)

But, I mean, we all have been told that the harrowing Dark Knight Returns and the unreadable, pretentious Arkham Asylum set the bar for Batman "graphic novels" impossibly high, right? Knowing that, sahem on Neal Adams for not accepting that Batman has moved on without and that he's unworthy of a new Batman story featuring his creations Ra's and Talia Al Ghul, right ? I mean, living under the shadow cast by the landmark, apparently unanimously-celebrated (scroll down...) "Hush", an old fuddy-duddy like Adams has a lot of nerve asserting that he can tell a new Batman story, right?

Come on already. If you're not hopelessly passé like Neal "whoever" Adams is, here's a first-rate example of the type of self-reflection that would drive a Batman story (particularly a 12-issue one):
“Woah, that way totally crazy, unthinkable thing that just happened totally could only have been masterfully planned and executed so as to manipulate me ... which I'm just gonna allow it to do, 'cause it will be behind everything that I think, say, and/or do from now. The most important question ever is: what’s REALLY going on here?! How can I be sure that the world-renowned landscapist that I hired to maintain the Wayne Estate grounds REALLY mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedges, or if he just made it APPEAR that he had? This is a life-defining personal crisis ... and it very well may unlock all the secrets of the universe. ...no, really, I swear, if you know what to look for, I'm at this very moment right at the very center of the BIGGEST THING EVER. That means When the Joker and Harley Quinn shows up and do Joker and Harley Quinn stuff, that's just what they WANT you to think is happening. They're mere pawns in the BIGGEST THING EVER, which revolves entirely around me. I know it. I can sense it. I can feel it. I can see it (but not fully; not enough). And it’s taking its toll on me. Mentally and physically, I am being worn down to a point beyond what should have been my very last reserves. I have been outwitted and defeated. This is even bigger than the last year-long storyline with all the contrived crossover issues that you couldn't keep track of where this happened to me.”

Well, the thing is ... wordy-by-word, the above modus operandi interpretation applies equally to "Hush" and Odyssey. ("Hush" is in quotes because it was a story published in Batman. Odyssey is in italics because it was its own mini-series.) Seriously, 100% of that is what Batman is thinking in both stories. And, NO, I will NOT retract that ... not ANY of it. Just chew that over, already...
At the outset of Odyssey, "that way totally crazy thing that just happened" is ... (drumroll, please, if you'll entertain me) ... someone in a really good Riddler costume doing a really good Riddler impersonation firing a bullet into a child. Not preventing that from happening really infuriates Batman, nearly driving him psychotic and coming within a hairsbreadth of killing someone. But then, he takes a deep breath, and realizes that'd be a bad thing to do. ("That would've been exactly what THEY wanted ... it would've been exactly what THEY had planned ... it was meticulously orchestrated for the very purpose of driving me to do THAT WHICH I'D SWORE TO NEVER DO ... and it nearly DID!" [Paraphrased. But not that far off.]) 

On the other hand, at the outset of "Hush", "that way totally crazy thing that just happened" is ... (another drumroll, I implore you!) ... a rope breaking in two. (Yes, okay. It was a Bat-Rope, which are supposed to be uncuttable, or something. Well, there has to be the occasional bad batch, right?) Now, after what Bane put Batman through in "Knightfall", I can't really blame him for being paranoid (even though releasing everyone who'd been imprisoned Arkham seems way more of a coup than making one cut through a rope).(But in regards to "Hush" by itself, I'm not sure what's kookier: Batman being convinced that a shoddy rope breaking in half meant that Killer Croc doing Killer Croc stuff, Joker and Harley doing Joker and Harley stuff, Batman and Catwoman getting it on, and Batman and Superman doing "contrasting archetypes" stuff was all part of some intricate grand scheme ... or the fact that it really was all part of some intricate grand scheme.)

But, I digress. My point is ... well, let me put it to you like this: you're more likely to suspect that "there's more to this than meets the eye" when, A), you think it's unfathomable that swinging thousands of feet in the air between skyscrapers using a rope would prove hazardous, or, B), you're a superhero and you're in the process of beating up a villain that you've beaten up hundreds of times before and so he's practically family to you, but then it's revealed to you that you're actually beating up someone doing an uncanny impersonation of said villain, and your resulting confusion throws you off your game and you fail to prevent a little girl from getting shot. Hmm, in which of the above two scenarios seems more likely to have been intricately orchestrated and coordinated? I'm going with the one involving a REALLY good actor with a REALLY good costume-and-makeup job.

Don't get me wrong -- after each installment of "Hush"'s twelve-month run in Batman, I couldn't WAIT for the next one. I'm just saying: it's an awesome story, if you don't think about it too much ...  but if you do, what semblance there is of a plot seems pretty nonsensical. So why should the nonsencial "Hush" be celebrated, but the almost-as-(but actually less)-nonsensical Odyssey be maligned
Well, one thing that "Hush" does NOT share in common with Odyssey is that about half of the latter takes place in a realm at the center of the Earth in which dinosaurs, Cro-Magnon tries, and mythological Egyptian deities (or what seem to be such) still live and thrive. From what I gather, this really agitates readers who see Adams as "shoehorn[ing] his expanding Earth conspiracy theory into a Batman comic."

But the thing is ... this story doesn't push any type of ideology or belief system insofar as species thought extinct and undiscovered parts of the world any more than The Lost World or King Kong. Maybe Odyssey was the first fictional story -- let alone the first fantasy story, or perhaps first comic book -- that any of its most vocal detractors had ever read.

-- Ryan

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