The Complete And Utter Insanity Of ‘Batman: Odyssey': Part 2
Initially slated as a miniseries illustrated by legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and written by legendarily terrible Skateman writer Neal Adams, Batman: Odyssey launched in 2011 and quickly established itself as hands down, the most insane comic we have ever read. When we heard the news that the mind-threshing title would return for a second volume, we knew that our work here was not yet done. Because you demanded it, Laura Hudson and David Wolkin are back to recap the first two issues of the relaunched series in an ongoing feature that continues to attempt the impossible: making sense of Batman: Odyssey.
Laura: Is there some way we can do a recap for new readers who are just joining us?
David: Is that even intellectually possible? Last I remember, everything was incomprehensible and crazy, and Bruce Wayne fell asleep on the floor of the Batcave with everyone watching.
Laura: Yes, after a long series of totally inexplicable things occurred, Bruce curled up and took a nap in front of the entire cast after rolling around on the ground laughing maniacally, talking about octopuses, and announcing that it was time… for an Odyssey.David: Yes. He wore the shirt of the band he was going to see. Or, in DC Comics terms, he named the story in the story.
Laura: Actually, this might help. Here’s how Neal Adams described the first volume in a Newsarama interview: “In the first six issues, moving up into the seventh issue, I tell you these stories that seem to be separate stories, having nothing to do with one another.” That is the most concise plot summary I can imagine.
Laura: But as we kick off Volume 2, we find ourselves back in the room where a shirtless Batman (a.k.a. Nude Bruce) is apparently first-person narrating the story of the comic to a mysterious individual in the reader’s point-of-view, where things started getting creepy as Bruce seductively ate bananas and wielded axes in a threatening manner. More and more, I think that this person in these introductory sequences is some sort of exposition hostage.
David: EXPOSITION HOSTAGE. It’s like Reservoir Dogs gone horribly wrong.
Laura: Except instead of cutting off some guy’s ear, he just forces him to listen to interminable stories about his coffee maker for PAGES AND PAGES.
David: Yes. We need to address the fact that the second part of this epic story opens with Bruce bragging about his Keurig. In the world of storytelling, we know that one of the key rules is “show, don’t tell,” but what we have here is an excellent example of the loophole of “Well, what if I just show another guy telling?” I just imagine Neal Adams working on this story and someone hands him a cup of coffee and he drinks it and is all “This came from a machine? SHOW ME.”
Laura: Here’s is my very best guess at what I think Bruce is trying to explain to his coffee date: R’as Al Ghul’s son — whose name, I kid you not, is Sensei — is a bad dude, and he has decided to kill his father because he didn’t get to use the Lazarus Pit as much as he wanted and so he ended up aging over time because that is how time works. R’as tried to trick Batman into killing random people because that would somehow mean he’d also kill Sensei, which is why in the previous volume R’as replaced the Riddler with a doppleganger who was actually “that monster Reuben Blades,” a Panamanian superstar who killed a child and sent Batman into a murderous rage, except the child was fine.
Laura: Lord, I wish I could explain how much more sense the things I am saying make than the words that actually appear on the page.
David: And I can barely understand you. Also, it seems that Ra’s apparently engineered Bruce/Batman’s entire life so that he would eventually kill Sensei, because, you know, that’s easier than using a gun. Sensei also has a palatial three-bedroom suite that is somehow connected to Arkham Asylum.
Laura: Yes, R’as Al Ghul’s son — who again, is named “Sensei” — lives in a opulent hotel room that is inexplicably connected to Arkham Asylum, behind a long series of doors and traps a la the introduction to Mystery Science Theater 3000.
David: At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “But that doesn’t make any sense.” And to that, I respond “but the cupcakes aren’t wearing tuxedos, Laura.” You might also say to yourself, “There’s no way this could possibly end with bees.” But you would be wrong.
Laura: NOT THE BEES. Also, Neal Adams? Has never seen what a bee looks like. It’s like someone just described the idea of a bee to him in really abstract terms and he took his best shot.
David: No, no. They are magic bees.
Laura: Magic bees that have long, orange and black striped horns in the shape of carrots protruding out of their faces, and look like they’re wearing wraparound sunglasses from the late 1990s. Also, that one Arkham prisoner has some seriously lyrical dialogue about the bees: “Not of this world / They riddle through pure iron / These could eat the world.” He’s like five seconds away from breaking into a slam poem.
David: A Batman: Odyssey slam poem can happen. Euge can write it.
Laura: This whole scene operates through total dream logic. “It was this really beautiful hotel, but somehow it was also Arkham Asylum? And to get from one room to another, you had to go through a long hallway of locked doors and elaborate traps and this crazy dude lived there who could control bees with his mind and he made all the prisoners kill each other while Riddler and the Joker watched the whole thing from a skybox.” Is that a fair summary?
David: Let me try: A powerful man builds a home for himself in an asylum, locked behind many doors. He asks a gang of afflicted fools to break him out, but then breaks himself out with bees. Then he makes the fools fight to the death. Corinthians 23:8
David: AND THEN THEY GO INSIDE THE EARTH.
Laura: Yes, Batman and Robin go inside the earth while riding giant winged bats, along with their friend who also dresses like Batman and their other friend who dresses like Robin. Neither character has ever been explained. They find themselves chasing a guy on a T-Rex who is armed with a shotgun, and in true Neal Adams style, one of the characters lets us know this, a thing we can see in the picture we are looking at, by saying “THAT’S A SHOTGUN!”
David: I think we need to take a moment and simply say that Batman is fighting dudes on T-Rexes while flying on a giant bat. Despite whatever confusion surrounds this moment, this is possibly the best two-page spread in comics history.
David: On the next page, Batman calls a guy stupid for aiming at him while shooting him.
Laura: In the course of this battle, Batman, who has spent several pages in this issue telling us how he doesn’t kill, unseats the shotgun-wielding enemy and throws him down in front of the T-Rex while basically saying, “I hope this giant, murderous dinosaur doesn’t eat you! HAHAHAHAHA!”
David: “The Batman does not use guns. He uses dinosaurs.”
Laura: Also, the T-Rex’s name is Tiny. Nobody tells Batman this, but he knows it, intuitively.
David: Well, Batman gets knocked off of Tiny after trying to figure out how to steer it, and then wouldn’t you know it, there’s a flashback. In which Batman chats with Ra’s Al Ghul, while doing gymnastics in bed. I wonder if those rings have any “secondary” uses.
Laura: The gymnastics equipment permanently mounted in Bruce Wayne’s boudoir raises several questions, yes.
David: So hold on. This is a flashback to earlier in the story, right? But it leads to where they are now. In the “not-too-distant future.” So if this was then, and what just happened is soon, what is happening now?
Laura: I don’t think there is a now, David. The scene where they are adventuring in dinosaur world occurs IMMEDIATELY BEFORE the scene where they all leave for dinosaur world. The former is indeed set in the “not-too-distant future” as it literally takes place after the scene that follows it.
David: What’s also fun here is that both Ra’s and Robin feel left out and they’re both super pouty about it. I think a Ra’s/Robin team up could be pretty cool.
Laura: Yeah, Robin’s not allowed to come on their journey to the center of the earth for no reason that Robin can understand, but also no reason that I can understand.
David: Because no reason is given. That would be a cool thing to put on the cover of this comic: “NO REASONS GIVEN.” Then everyone heads out of the Batcave, and we’re left with Ra’s Al Ghul looking sad and it is amazing? (not a question) Sad Ra’s is pretty awesome. “Well, I guess I’ll go light some candles around the Lazarus Pit, and read 50 Shades Freed or something…”
David: And now, we need to get ready to head to the underworld. Where there are dinosaur people who copy Batman. And also copy Robin. Even though Robin can’t come.
Laura: A long series of even more totally insane things happens pretty quickly in the underworld, so strap in. We finally learn something about JAMROTH BOK, the man who dresses like a purple Batman and keeps showing up in the story for reasons that again, have never been explained. And here’s what we find out: He is literally a Neanderthal. Who lives deep inside the earth. Also, his blond sidekick who dresses like Robin (and is named Primus) is secretly a dinosaur. A dinosaur that evolved to look exactly like a person. ALSO ALSO, the dinosaur people live in secret spaces beneath the Earth that have slowly expanded into gargantuan caverns so large that they appear to have skies. I hope everyone understands what that means: Neal Adams has actually found a way to shoehorn his Expanding Earth conspiracy theory into a Batman comic. Sometimes, dreams do come true.
David: Given that Adams has been pretty vocal about his theories for quite some time, it’s quite a thing to see it play a direct role in something as notable as a Batman story. We also have to recognize that apparently the inner earth was like a ten minute walk from the Batcave.
Laura: For the moment I’m going to avoid getting too deep in the separate but equally insane world of Expanding Earth theory, so instead, here’s a quote from a Wired article where Adams gets schooled about his geologic theories by an actual scientist, as I think you may find it resonant: “After the introductions, Adams launches his secret weapon: a massive amount of verbiage.” While I don’t disagree that Adams has, in a sense, weaponized language, I think anyone who has read this comic will agree that the secret is out.
David: And with that, we are now done with issue #1. Do you know what’s happening at this point? Me neither, but giant flying bats vs. dinosaur people riding actual dinosaurs. Do we think it will get stranger from here? ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT.
David: This next issue brings us the end of Nude Bruce.
Laura: Yes, Nude Bruce tragically puts on a shirt and destroys our nomenclature. But I’d like to believe that at the very least, he is still Donald Duckin’ it.
David: He doesn’t just put on a shirt, Laura. He’s actively shilling for his own publisher.
Laura: Shirty Shilly Bruce, as is his wont, immediately launches back in the other story about the time after the time before the time, when Batman, Jamroth Bok, and Primus headed out in the land inside the Earth to pick up their sweet dinosaur mounts, but got waylaid by a bunch of trolls. PLEASE PLEASE let these be a metaphor for internet fans.
David: I’d like to think that trolls like us helped to sell this comic.
Laura: But Batman and company also need the trolls, because the trolls control the giant flying bats. So they punch the trolls in the face, call them “vile, useless dirt-biting scum,” and Jamroth pays them for the animals with a shiny spoon. Possibly, the spoon also represents this comic. Now mounted on their giant bloodthirsty bat-creatures, the heroes head off to battle Sensei’s T-Rex riding minions, and we’re treated to yet another battle scene plastered with captions where Batman silently narrates his actions in every single panel where we can also see what he does.
David: And if the scene where Batman gets thrown from the T-Rex seems familiar, that’s because it is exactly replicated from the same scene in issue #2. Which is to say that we saw the flash forward to what is happening now during a flashback from last issue.
Laura: Then Batman rides a stolen T-Rex, a thing he assures us, while doing a jaunty jete, that he does not like, and the heroes defeat their enemies and have a big, confusing argument about who is and is not going to the dinosaur drop. What is a dinosaur drop? Is it when the dinosaur beat gets incredibly sick?
David: It is… like carpool, but with dinosaurs. But while riding his T-Rex on the way to the dinosaur drop, Batman gets attacked by other dinosaur people!
Laura: And something genuinely awesome happens:
Laura: BATMAN. T-REX. FASTBALL SPECIAL.
Laura: This occurs during an attack by dinosaur people who have evolved from dinosaurs, but also eat dinosaurs, which also still exist. And Primus is their prince.
David: Primus, the Prince of the Cannibal Dinosaurs.
Laura: They all sit down for dinner to eat Batman’s T-Rex, and during the course of the meal Batman uncovers two traitors among the dinosaur people who have been helping Sensei’s men, and agitates the tribespeople into a righteous frenzy until they stab the two men to death. That is some more great not-killing, Batman.
David: Batman is very “oops!” about the fact that he convinced the tribe to kill two of their people.
Laura: Batman is totally having a case of the Mondays.
David: “Accidentally convinced a mob with predominantly raptor-based reptile brains to commit murder? Must be on a Batman Odyssey!”
Laura: I’d also like to note that there is literally only one scene where any female characters appear in either of these issues, and this is it.
Laura: Naturally, they do not speak. WOMEN IN COMICS EVERYBODY.
David: OOH LOOK AT LAURA HUDSON AND HER RADICAL FEMINIST AGENDA. There you go, commenters. I saved you the trouble!
Laura: As a final caveat, I think it’s important to emphasize that we really do make all of this sound so much more coherent than it is. I had to read almost every page four or five times to decode what was happening, and for every time Batman goes flying off a T-Rex like an Olympic diver, know there are ten pages of nonsense that are kind of like trying to have a conversation with a really drunk friend at a party where they mumble incoherently and repeat themselves over and over and switch between laughing and crying and then puke all over the floor.
David: Wow, yeah. That’s basically it.
Next time on Batman: Odyssey: Who the f*** knows?