Re: Graham Nolan.
Yesterday, Jesse and I saw a film.
Having slept on it, some digested thoughts;
-First, just to get it out of the way: on a pure cinema craft level, this thing is bulletproof. Everyone slays their part, the script (while some places threadbare) is tight, and in the final analysis, it’s probably the most visually beautiful film Nolan’s made to date. The bleak place where the movie spends most of its Big Gloom looks like something out of a Moebius comic; it’s just stunning. And I looked hard for Anne Hathaway in this thing, but all I saw was Selina Kyle.
Young as I am, Knightfall would have been the first mainstream Batman storyline I was aware of. Everything else I knew of the character came from the Bruce Timm cartoon, which was viewed incompletely and in no particular order. I remember seeing posters in the window that strange, record-store-ish comic shop I was never allowed into — Bane, massive and anonymous behind that awful mask, staring at me as he bent the screaming Batman over his knee. Huh. Later, slightly older but no so’s you’d notice, I got the first Knightfall trade. I didn’t realize there were two others, see. In that last chapter, I kept waiting for Batman to turn it around. But whenever he tried, Bane would just knock him further down into the cave. He’d throw everything he had at this monster — shit I had televisual evidence would be enough to fell any foe — and Bane kept coming. I remember this feeling of helplessness as Bane hoisted the man up. This moment, etched in the Jim Aparo lines which told only truth about the Dark Knight, interminable on the page. Then the page turns, and the Caped Crusader is beaten and paralyzed on the Batcave floor, and there aren’t anymore pages. No To Be Continued. From the beginning of my comic book literacy, I have known Bane to be the ultimate and most terrifying foe. And, over the past fifteen years of most writers not really knowing what do with him, I’d allowed myself to forget.
But, Bane. As helpless in my theatre seat as I was with the book in my hands, Bane was back. That cool intellect, now married to a disarming joviality. That casual, apathetic cruelty. That patience. You know, I think that’s what gets me the most. He’s so inhumanly patient. He’ll stand and watch as you wear yourself thin getting to him, and then he’ll wait for you to throw your first punch. And he’ll keep waiting. And then you’ll stumble, gasp for breath, and then he moves on you. Just beyond your limits, just within that vast country where you are helpless and spent, waits Bane. The bogeyman of my childhood. Tom Hardy, Chris and Jonathan Nolan, whomever was responsible for that fabulous costuming, brought the anti-Doc Savage to life — and though there are some dissenting opinions in this matter, I absolutely dug how he played out in the third act. Hans Gruber, Darth Vader, and HAL 9000 have worthy kin the TDKR’s Bane. It’s just that maybe I didn’t sleep so well last night.
-In a cast of standout characters — which, one reviewer pointed out, seems designed to make the film’s lead look boring by comparison — Bruce Wayne comes through stronger here than he has in the entire series, the entire franchise. The Nolans very cannily drop the Batman On A Learning Curve aspect from the previous movies; where Begins Bruce struggles to make the mystery come together and Dark Knight Bruce is consciously pushing a need to be smarter, the decently older Rises Bruce just straight up IS smarter. He casually divines the solutions to several minor crimes in his first ten minutes of screen time, not in the flashy Sherlock way, but in a way that subtly reflects the way his mind has gained sharpness and sophistication over the near-decade since we see him Begins. Building Batman is not the point here. Bruce already has everything he needs to… I don’t know exactly how to say this so its palatable to me, but to fulfill his destiny. And if we really want to go down this line of discourse, we might say that Begins is about the body and the physiological reaction to fear (to the extent that the main weapon in the film is a chemical that induces it), Dark Knight is about the mind and the cognitive reaction to fear (to the point that its main villain spreads fear by confounding logical expectation), and Rises is about the soul and the spiritual reaction to fear (to the degree that I choose not to talk about here, for fear of spoilers). In each stage, Bruce has to overcome those respective levels of fear — and, I now realize, the way he does it is always by placing his trust in other people. He gives Jim Gordon the keys to the Batmobile. He gambles on the strength of the social contract against the Joker’s plans for mutually assured suicide. As another reviewer pointed out, these films state that power in any form is inherently corrupt, anarchy leads to exploitation, and that a better world is possible only through trusting each other. Better living though giving a shit about other human beings. And for all the hemming and hawing about cannons on the Batpod, that’s a pretty important part of Batman fiction that requires a decent level of insight to get to.
-These movies, the Nolan Batman trilogy, give us a Batman that never quite works. His ethics, his methods, his effectiveness, are all 85% there. There’s a flaw at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s Batman crusade. I wonder if the whole awkwardness of Bale’s Batman is a part of that — the voice, the open mouth, slight lumbering nature of the man, none of which are really present when not in costume (excuse me, armor) — is supposed to play to that. There’s a part of the climax of TDKR that speaks to that, at least I think it does. By the films ending (and it is a very, very good ending), that flaw has finally been seen to. Filled. Purified. Body, mind — once you’re done with the soul, you’re finished, aren’t you? You’ve won. You’re a human being. Not this crude matter, but a luminous being. And this is a very bright, sunlit film. In his last moments on camera, moments that will give you a very special kind of emotion, the man we’ve watched develop over three movies and thirty-nine years finally gets his shit straight.
-Ending on a slightly less lofty note: Bale and Hathaway have a very interesting chemistry here. This constant getting-one-over-on-the-other that somehow never feels gimmicky. It just seems, and this is kind of a funny thing to say, like the natural protracted interaction between a master detective and a master thief who are each, to varying degrees, constantly lying. I don’t think Bruce would come across as well as he does without Selina to play against, and vice versa. In their interactions, we see a side of him we haven’t before, which leads to what is probably the funniest line in the series. Move over, “…Like a submarine.” For the first time, I bought Selina Kyle being into this guy. And it has absolutely nothing to do with whips and capes.
-But yes, the knife heels are kind of silly.
-But the new lights-out Bat Trick is neat enough to cover for it. Which is, in and of itself, a pretty neat trick.
The Dark Knight Rises: Five Keatons out of Five.
Whenever people ask me for a tip on becoming a writer, the first tip, literally the first one that comes to mind, is to build a library. Seriously, whenever I can, I go to bookstores and I buy up anything on their remainder shelf relating to history in particular. Biographies and reference books as well, but history first.
I believe that a shelf full of history books is the greatest possible idea machine someone can have. The internet is not the same, exactly, holding a history book and reading the close details of our past in particular serves as inspiration every single time. Many, many stories you guys might have read of mine had their roots in these books I bought on clearance at sidewalk sales and in remainder aisles.
For example, the first villain I created, The Black Swan, in Deadpool, is based on a biography of King Ludwig II, the ‘mad king of Bavaria,’ who was obsessed with the fantasy operas of Wagner, and helped create a renaissance of architecture and art that has lasted to this day.
You can’t read history as a writer and not get ideas, it’s just impossible.
I’m sure a lot of you already know this, but Kilmainham Gaol is a real place, a prison built in Dublin, Ireland, built right around the year 1800. At the time, it was considered quite ‘humane’ and progressive, even. It’s been out of commission since, I think, the 1980’s, and is now a museum.
It’s disturbing as hell, and was one of the least ‘humane’ places I have ever been in. It held, at one time or another, nearly all of the imprisoned Irish Nationalists, and at one time, public hangings were held right out in front, later, the executions were no longer public.
There are things about it that are very haunting…it’s several levels, the main room is shaped like an oval, so a few guards could see every cell. Doors did have this design, that of an eye with a viewing hole in the center, on the cell’s interior, so that the prisoners felt they were being watched 24 hours a day by both the guards and by God, never a moment’s privacy. They were made to feel like hopeless sinners. No peace, even in sleep.
They were also not allowed to speak, not even to themselves.
Perhaps the oddest thing is that the jail did not separate men from women, even children. They were tossed together, five and six in a cell, regardless of sex or age. Children as young as five were incarcerated for petty theft.
Also, it’s odd, but women were deliberately treated worse than the men, at both an institutional and practical level. Men had beds, cots, anyway, women slept on filthy hay on the floor and were often subject to particularly brutal torture and treatment.
One of the most horrifying stories is that of Anne Devlin. In another issue of Secret Six, Jeannette describes having been a prisoner here at the Gaol, and her story is essentially an abridged version of Anne’s story.
Anne was an Irish nationalist posing as a housekeeper for Robert Emmett, who was planning an uprising. She was arrested and tortured, but would not reveal anything.
Later, she was arrested again, and became the particular target of brutal treatment, vengeful actions because she refused to tell anything about her employer. Police surrounded her with bayonets and stabbed her, she refused to talk. They tried to bribe her, they threatened her with ‘ribald’ comments, and she refused to say anything.
Robert Emmett was captured, and when he heard of her refusal to say a word against him, he begged her to tell the guards everything about him that she knew, he was doomed anyway and it would end her torment. She refused.
She was repeatedly tortured, and deliberately kept in a cell where, as Jeannette says, all the sewage from the jail ran over her feet each day. She was tortured and otherwise abused, kept in the dark and in solitary, for three years. Her family was arrested, her twelve year old brother died in jail just a few cells away.
She refused to utter a single word against her compatriots, and this became an embarrassment for the police, who treated her with endless cruelty. When she was released, she had several illnesses that would stay with her the rest of her life and looked like a broken old woman at the age of 28.
Again, the people who built the gaol were quite proud of the ‘humane’ qualities of the prison.
If you read the Secret Six volume, DEPTHS, much of that story is informed by Kilmainham Gaol, as well as prisons in North Korea and China that function to this day. It was about moral relativism, and how being in power doesn’t necessarily mean being moral, or decent, or humane. About how the state can be allowed to do things that would make us aghast if committed by a serial killer. Some of the tortures used in these places, and even, as we have seen, by our own government, are little different from what we have seen the worst serial killers do, the only difference is the tacit or explicit approval of that country’s government.
This is why I believe we can’t listen to the family friendly rebranding of torture as ‘enhanced interrogation.’ It is still torture. It is still applied to force confessions from the innocent. It is applied for political gain. It is applied to silence opposing viewpoints. It is applied against the poor, the disadvantaged, and in greatly distorted numbers against the ethnic and religious minorities.
But it is still torture.
It’s said that you can judge a country by how it treats its prisoners. I leave it to the reader to decide what that says about your own country.
In any case, the entire story was inspired by a visit to Kilmainham Gaol.
Reblogged mainly because I know of at least three people watching this blog who’ll get something out of it. Also because I didn’t know thing one about the Kilmainham Gaol before reading this, and when that happens, there’s something of a moral imperative to pass it along, don’t you think? Well, time permitting.
“You can’t read history as a writer and not get ideas, it’s just impossible.” True as hell, but especially applicable to comics creators, I think. There’s an that immediate download of visual information married to the ability to hang succinct, wikipedia-like descriptions on those visuals that enables the creator to transfer fast chunks of information to the reader without throwing off the rhythm of the story. I’m thinking of The Invisibles in particular, or Immortal Iron Fist, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’m not saying comics are the ubermedium, superior to all, but I do think the technology of comic books is uniquely suited to a creator using history like this to enhance the texture of a piece.
(The inversion: comics that don’t take advantage of this tend to be pretty boring. Like GI Joe cartoons on paper. When people decry comics as being ‘storyboards for movies,’ this is usually what they’re talking about it. Graphic literature, as with all things, is all about Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.*)
(*with the frequent attachment: But Please Don’t Make Me Feel Stupid While You’re Doing It, I’m Fragile.)