Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapters 6-7

It’s pretty much a matter of rare nerd consensus that the most unpleasant incarnation of Batman is Frank Miller’s version in All-Star Batman & Robin, or “Crazy Steve” as Linkara christened him.  Now that I’m seeing him fleshed out in this book, though, I think Batman & Robin‘s Batman might be a contender.

“Where’s Alfred?” they asked simultaneously.
The bell rang a third time.
Suddenly, Alfred appeared behind them.  “I must have dozed off,” the butler explained – and not without a certain embarrassment.  As he confronted Bruce, he looked painfully contrite.  “My sincerest apologies, sir.”
Bruce held up a hand and smiled.  “First time in thirty years, Alfred.  I think we can find it in our hearts to overlook it.”

Okay, I get that the intent here is to show Bruce trying to ease Alfred’s discomfort with humor, but still, it’s almost like joking, “Oh, Alfred, do it again and I’ll have you shot like the worthless, crippled horse you are!”  Ah well, at least he didn’t ask if he was retarded.

On second thought, maybe having that particular interpretation of Batman involved would be the best thing for this book.  Can you imagine post-insanity Frank Miller’s ASB&R going up against the punny movie Mr. Freeze?  Get a fan fic writer on that, stat.

I know I’ve been hard on Michael Jan Friedman, even though he’s really just the victim of an unenviable writing assignment – and the need for an artist to get a paycheck in a capitalist, post-industrial society, of course.  He won over my sympathy especially because he needed to have this scene introduce Barbara Gordon Wilson, who is on a technical level the film script’s own walking, talking biggest misstep, what with her entire introduction and character feeling like an afterthought.  As much as I still love the Tim Burton movies, they did leave B&R in the lurch in this regard, making Commissioner Jim Gordon such a non-entity that introducing his daughter as Batman’s new partner could only come flying at the speed of sound out of left field.  Still, there were various ways a good scriptwriter could have gotten around all that.  But, alas, a good scriptwriter B&R did not have. Making her instead Alfred’s niece was a lazy patchjob that, as we’ll see, robs any drama from Barbara’s decision to become Batgirl.  (As with so much of the Joel Schumacher movies, comparing the big-budget Hollywood movies to what the plucky animated series was doing with the same material, in this case making Barbara Gordon first becoming Batgirl a desperate bid to save her father, is helpful. Or depressing. Let’s go with depressing.)

Batgirl

 

Part of the problem too is that Batgirl’s character, fitting to her “Oh damn, I just finished an entire draft of the script but the studio just said we gotta throw in another element of the franchise here” secret origin (so I presume), is that she’s so cookie-cutter. She attends a snotty boarding school, yet she secretly does stunts on motorcycles!  Yep, she’s got Strong Independent Woman (TM) written all over her tights.

And, to give him credit, Michael Jan Friedman does what he can here. He fleshes out Barbara’s connection to Alfred, elaborating that Barbara isn’t really Alfred’s niece, but the daughter of his lost love, Margaret Clark (not a character from the comics, but I think the name does come from a DC editor). Of course, how Margaret’s husband and Barbara’s actual father handled his wife’s old flame having a paternal relationship with his daughter isn’t explained, although I like to think Friedman is hinting that Barbara might actually be more than Alfred’s niece. At any rate, it is a nice bit of characterization for Alfred – leaving some things to the reader’s imagination, while detailing both Alfred’s sense of honor and feelings of regret.  Too bad it doesn’t really do much for Barbara “Wilson.”

On the villains’ side, we find out that Mr. Freeze commits crimes to try to save his cryogenically frozen wife, who was dying of a rare disease. But he might also be a little bit insane.

“Do you think I’m mad, Frosty?”
Frosty wrung out his sleeves. “That’s really a judgment call, Boss. Not for me to say.”

Okay, I genuinely liked that bit, notwithstanding that Mr. Freeze dubbed his henchman “Frosty.” Too on the nose, doctor!

But it doesn’t help that we get hints of the tragic version of Mr. Freeze, yet buried under an avalanche (see, I can do it too) of puns.

Freeze scowled.  “To be frozen. To never change. A life of perfect ice-olation.” [Ow. -Ed.] He shook his head. “There is no perfection in that.”

As for Poison Ivy and Bane…ah, I didn’t really talk about Bane last time, did I? That was probably B&R‘s greatest sin among the fanbase: turning a villain who was a genius bruiser, who broke Batman’s spine, into a mindless, voiceless henchman. Personally I thought it was even worse that the whole implication was that Poison Ivy couldn’t be a threat unless she had a superstrong thug at her beck and call.

The driver hesitated for a moment. Then he chuckled and turned around in his seat. His nostrils flared, drinking in what he must have thought was some exotic and expensive perfume.
“Okay,” he said. “what is it?”
“Don’t look now,” she whispered provocatively, “but I think you’re about to be replaced.”
The man looked at her quizzically. “Huh?”
Suddenly, a hand reached in through the open window – a huge hand – and snapped the driver’s neck. Then his door opened, and he was dragged out onto the pavement.

Basically, it really didn’t take long for the mousy and somewhat ethical scientist we met to become a serial killer. I know that’s an issue with villain origin stories in movies, but…well, I’d be the first to admit that if I ever got superpowers I’d probably go on a revenge spree, but even I’d probably feel a little bad about offing bystanders (well, at least at first).

[Bane] was about to put the engine in gear when the door beside Pamela opened again – and a man in a business suit slid in. […] “I’m sorry,” he said weakly. “There must be some mistake-” Pamela smiled. “Silly darling, there’s no need to pretend in front of the driver.” Grabbing his face, she kissed him passionately. By the time she let go, the man was dead. As he slumped to the floor, Pamela reached over and opened the door. Then she pushed him out with her foot. He slid to the ground beside the limo driver. “Love hurts,” she advised the corpses as she closed the door. “In my case, it kills.”

Groan.

Although, of course, I wonder, would Poison Ivy’s powers of pheromone seduction work on lesbians? Or conversely would they work on gay guys? I guess we’ll find out. (Sorry, it’s Joel Schumacher, so…I had to work that joke in somewhere).

Finally, the two chapters conclude with what was actually a deleted scene from the movie, where Pamela confronts Bruce Wayne at the ceremonial opening of the Giant Chekhov’s Gun…I mean, Gotham Observatory. We meet Julie Madison, who was Bruce Wayne’s love interest and even fiancee way back in the early years of the franchise when Batman was fighting werewolves and breaking criminals’ necks. But she basically just exists as a walking reference, so we can move on to Poison Ivy, who tracked Bruce Wayne down because he had at one time funded Woodrue’s research but stopped because Woodrue was a “lunatic,” manages to hand him a proposal for environmental reform, which appalls Bruce.

“Your intentions are noble,” Wayne conceded. “But with no diesel fuel for heat, no coolants to preserve food…millions of people would die of cold and hunger alone.” Pamela shrugged. “Acceptable losses in a battle to save the planet.”

So, I guess in Schumacher’s DC Universe Wayne Enterprises is the only business in the world that provides fuel and refrigeration? Anyway, Pamela has a public breakdown worthy of a PETA member.

“You’re so smug in your towers of stone and glass,” Pamela went on. “So ignorant of Mother Earth and her ways, so blind. A day of reckoning is coming. The same plants and flowers that saw you crawl from the primordial soup will reclaim this planet. Earth will be a garden again,” she told them. “Somehow, I will find a way to bring your man-made civilization to its knees. And there will be no one to protect you. No one.”

I really don’t want to turn these posts into “Ways In Which the Animated Series Handled the Franchise Better than the Schumacher Movies,” but…

Plus I know I complained about how even the animated series characterized Poison Ivy as an ecoterrorist, but even that worked out better than what we have here.  When Poison Ivy is introduced, we see she spent years planning to murder a man simply because his actions indirectly threatened an endangered species of flower. That at least makes her warped view of environmentalism into a pathology worthy of Arkham Asylum. Here, though, she just comes across as a bad political blogger’s strawwoman of an environmentalist or a reverse “Captain Planet” villain.

Oh well, at least she’ll be inexplicably acting like Marlene Dietrich soon, which is…an improvement?

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