Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Detective Comics #848 Review

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen

Eww! Ewwww! Wait, I'm not sure that's quite sufficient. Ewwwwwwww! There really aren't enough "w"'s available to describe the disgusting ending to Detective Comics #848. When I read the first issue of the story, "Heart of Hush", I kind of expected that it was, well, a metaphor. I didn't actually expect him to go around cutting out people's hearts. And, okay, cutting out people's hearts is pretty gross, but cutting out people's hearts and leaving them alive strapped to rusty machines and tubes is just demented. It's even more demented than the standard "Batman's rogue gallery is demented" demented. Instead, it's more the "What is wrong with Paul Dini and why does he think we want to read this demented story?" demented. Dini manages in this story to cross the line from telling a story about crazy people to adding shock value to his book by brutally mutilating major characters. I realise people get mutilated in comics all the time, but it is usually, at worst, an arm or something. There are also a lot of gory deaths (Johns writes a lot of these), but this is a gory non-death, and it's revolting.

This issue almost makes me want to go back and rewrite my Captain America #41 review. In that review, I criticized Brubaker for leaving Sharon Carter as a tormented prisoner for seventeen straight issues before finally being stabbed so as to lose her baby. I criticised that book for falling into the "Women in Refrigerators" cliché of inflicting violence on the female love interest of the hero for the sake of creating drama. However much I thought (and think) that Brubaker crossed the line in that issue, I want to add the following line: "True, but at least he didn't have her heart cut out and leave her strapped to a gurney with tubes coming out of her chest". Brubaker at least had the good sense not to invent new ways of tormenting and mutilating his major female characters. I underestimated just how far authors were willing to go in brutalizing female characters in order to shock their readers. For that, Mr. Brubaker, I am sorry.

I realise that Detective Comics #848 is a part of a genre, epitomised by such horror fims as Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street, in which part of the, erm, fun is to see the new ways in which the villain is able to mutliate his victim. However, while I'm not a fan of this genre of film, at least half of what is impressive about these films is the use of special effects surrounding the violence. There's a kind of craftsmanship to creating the most disgusting-looking zombie or mutiliating someone in a way that no one has ever tried before and making it look like you're not simply blowing up a shopping mall dummy. Magazines like Fangoria are good examples of the way that these special effects themselves can be impressive, albeit in a not-especially-edifying way. However, since this is a comic book, none of this craftsmanship applies. There is no special-effects challenge involved here. New forms of mutilation are supposed to be interesting, just because they are "freaky".

I'm not really sure what else to say about this issue. I had intended to say something clever and funny about the use of asterisks in speech bubbles when characters are killed, but the ending of the issue kind of made me forget about that. In the last issue, I was impressed that Hush was being turned from a lame and confusing villain into a real threat and given real psychological depth. This issue continues that trend, though Dini seems to be intending to turn Hush into Batman's version of Jack the Ripper. I think I liked the lame version better. Although Batman's villains are insane, the Batman stories usually manage to stay on the level of the surreal. The stories are just kooky enough that one has enough metaphor to counterbalance the violence. However, a physician villain using medical scalpels will always be too literal. The violence of abused medicine will always be too close to reality to ever be anything more than simply grisly violence.

I know I'm supposed to be desensitized to this stuff by now. I grew up on horror films. One might say, "Reviewers are supposed to be neutral to revulsion and just praise the author for how well they produce it". Pfft. Whatever. Kudos to me for not being desensitized. Shame on Dini for expecting me to be.



ash said...

Why do you people want villains to be silly and non-threatening? Go read Archie comics. This is still nothing compared to movies like Saw. Any drama needs true risks. The biggest risk of all is death. Batman is known for having insane villains. Why do you want these villains crippled to just be silly. Villains should be scary, formidable, and sometime just plain evil. It's been proven rather definitively that comics' audience are adults. Why hold the content back to something suitable for a child, when it isn't directed toward a child?

Daniel said...

To be fair to me, I didn't say "silly", but "kooky", which I take to be a synonym for "strange" or "bizarre", not "silly". Some element of the bizarre is necessary for metaphor to flourish. When things become too literal, they lose the power that metaphor brings to a story, and medical violence will be in almost every case too literal.

Second, I have nothing at all against scary comics. If you read my review of Final Crisis #3, you'll see that I love horror when it's done well. The gutting of Catwoman, on the other hand, is just an attempt to shock readers, and isn't scary, just revolting and smacks of desperate writing. Your Archie comics remark is hyperbolic and ad hominem.

Third, I said nothing at all about children or suitability to children. Something can be inapproriate and offensive without necessarily corrupting the youth. Dini provides us here with the worst instance of the "refrigerator" cliché in a decade, and some of us tire of watching female characters brutalised because it's "shocking".

ash said...

How is my mention of Archie Comics an ad hominem? It's more of a non sequitar.

Anyway, I'm afraid I did jump the gun and was responding more to a different arguement than what you were putting forth.