The Complete and Utter Insanity of ‘Batman: Odyssey’, Part 3
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. After their shell-shocked review of the initial run, Laura Hudson and David Wolkin have returned to recap the second volume in a continuing attempt to do the impossible: make sense out of the descent into madness that is Batman: Odyssey. The voyage continues.
Laura: Today in Batman: Odyssey #3, the terrifying ordeal of the Exposition Hostage continues, as a character who may or may not be trapped in a locked room listens to Bruce Wayne tell the story of the times before and after the time someone told him a story about some other time. Which is to say, the story of the comic. The Exposition Hostage, obviously, represents the reader.
David: This issue opens with Bruce Wayne showing him all the pictures that he took of himself while he was on his Odyssey with “remote cameras.”
Laura: And by “pictures” he means “panels from the previous issue.” I also like how Exposition Hostage tries to avoid looking at all of Batman’s stupid vacation pictures but Bruce keeps shoving them into his hands, all LOOK AT THEM, F***KING LOOK AT THEM!
David: THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE WHEN MY BATPLANE IS AN ACTUAL BAT OR A DINOSAUR OR WHATEVER.
Laura: Bruce starts to recap the trouble brewing in the dinosaur world inside the earth, and lists a number of factions that are currently involved in the conflict, including “the assassins, R’as’ oilers, magicians, aliens and old gods.” Do you know what these things have in common, David?
David: Probably that I don’t remember these things coming up at any point prior to now.
David: But this is a thing I’ve said to you many times before.
Laura: Can we also address the slang used throughout the book for a moment? Because the way the characters speak from panel to panel changes so radically.
David: For starters, Primus appears to think he is British or Scottish, from what I can tell. Either he is talking about “jig time” or making Sherlock Holmes references.
Laura: Why, why would that be? He is a dinosaur boy who lives underground.
David: I suppose the British Empire could have reached farther than we thought with their colonial enterprises? “It’s time for us to colonize downward, old chap.”
Laura: Also, there are some racial undertones that I’m really uncomfortable with in this issue, so we might as well dive right in to that.
David: Oh yes, there are. I am not entirely certain that they are undertones.
Laura: The trolls… the trolls… are some of the most disconcerting characters I have seen in comics in a long time.
David: Well, to be fair, these are also cannibal trolls that try to straight up eat Robin.
Laura: Indeed, as they are leading Robin to the dinosaur underworld that somehow is ten minutes from the Batcave, one of the trolls LITERALLY BITES ROBIN’S ASS and then gaslights him something fierce. It’s like watching street harassment. Robin is like, “what the hell, don’t touch me” and the trolls are all, whatever b*tch, why you gotta be so rude? We’re just trying to have a little fun, and you gotta get all craaazy.
David: We just wanna get our eat on, son.
Laura: The booty just looked so good!
David: And then Deadman shows up to help, suddenly tangible and inexplicably carrying a frying pan and he calls the trolls “mud puppies” which, well has some, shall we say… “prejudicial connotations.”
Laura: Ughhhhhhh. This is my face, my face right now.
Laura: I am not exaggerating when I say that the trolls make me feel like I’m looking at some horribly pernicious racial caricature from the 19th century. And yes, I know that “mud puppies” is also a name for salamanders and that is probably what Neal Adams meant, but in this context it cannot help but sound like an absolutely toxic racial slur. The idea of creating an entire race of simpering, servile beings who alternate between obsequious bowing and scraping and subhuman stupidity is so ignorant that all I can do, all I can do is make that face. Because at a certain point being tone-deaf isn’t an excuse: It’s the actual problem.
Laura: Naturally, the trolls are also deceitful and violent as well, and beneath the veneer of servility, they’re basically just animals who are waiting to turn on you. If you just beat them sufficiently when they get uppity and teach them their place, however, they can be useful. Which is why Deadman — who cringingly has the whitest face that is literally possible — shows up to wail on the trolls with frying pans.
Laura: After the frying pan beating, they’re all good little step ‘n fetch it servants again, which is super disturbing and goes on forever and wheeeeeeen will this terrible scene end? Answer: After the trolls trot out to the bat stables and retrieve some giant bat steeds for their assailants.
Laura: Which, if you’ll remember correctly, is that same thing that happened with Jamroth and the trolls in the last issue, except that after the beating, he paid them for their services with a shiny spoon.
David: So the simple mud people like shiny things?
Laura: There is an “I’ll trade you $24 in beads for Manhattan” quality to this I am additionally uncomfortable with. Also, Robin totally advocates for their genocide, and Deadman agrees that this would be a great idea if the trolls didn’t have such practical uses.
David: Maybe we should just skip this discussion.
Laura: Yeah, my skin is crawling, so let’s move on. Now Robin and Deadman are flying on giant bats through the air, but Batman and Jamroth are also flying on giant bats through the air somewhere completely different and having an esoteric conversation about “abiotic oil” deposits deep inside the Earth. Which sounds boring but is secretly amazing because it turns out to be a key component of Expanding Earth theory, Neal Adams’s pet geologic conspiracy that states that the earth is constantly growing and scientists are just hiding it from us. When Jamroth says “abiotic oil,” Batman looks up and they basically do the Expanding Earth secret handshake.
David: Yes, that is exactly what they’re doing. And then… there are tanks.
Laura: Among many, many other things. As discussed, there is a weird underground land war being fought between R’as Al Ghul’s son Sensei and the dinosaur people, so Batman, Jamroth and Primus fly their giant bats to a military hangar and guess who’s there! A whole parade of nonsensical characters we’ve never seen before, including, notably, aliens and wizards. And not just any wizards. Jive-talking beatnik wizards. Who communicate with doughboys.
David: There are so many things I never expected to see in this comic, and the top of the list is a dude in a Wizard outfit saying “This is a righteous beef.”
Laura: Yeah, this is where things start to go totally off the rails, even by the extraordinarily high standards of Batman: Odyssey, into straight up David Lynch territory. This goes beyond Bruce Wayne’s seductive banana eating in front of a terrified hostage, beyond the bloody machine gun krumping battle, beyond even the time Batman appeared to drop acid and attempt to murder a Panamaian superstar dressed like the Riddler. All of it pales in comparison to what unfolds here, starting with a panel where a wizard and an alien use some very unexpected slang:
Laura: Then Batman and the wizard have an exchange that is so completely preposterous that I am going to reproduce it here in its entirety, because I believe that is the only way it can be fully appreciated.
David: And someday, someone on Youtube will make an audiobook out of it.
Laura: I hope it can do justice to these two cool cats and the groovy beat poem they’re about to perform. For maximum impact, try to imagine a background of cool jazz and fingersnaps playing behind this:
David: It turns out that Batman and the wizard know each other! Batman is friends with the jive-talking wizard because of course he is! I’m so happy that I got to type the sentence, “Batman is friends with the jive-talking wizard.”
Laura: Yes, the wizard’s name is Sylvester. And he likes to play the clarinet. Batman knows this, intuitively. Question: How is it possible that Batman knows the wizard so well that he’s on a first name basis and hip to his personal choice of woodwind, but still has to ask if his magic is real?
David: Is that a real question?
Laura: I don’t know anymore.
David: Well, they all start fighting what appear to be spacemen, but they are actually “oilers” or salt miners or assassins or something. I think this was covered in the first page of the book when Bruce gave a recap of things that hadn’t happened yet. It seems that Sensei is behind some of this, but I thought he was in Arkham with the bees.
Laura: He escaped with the bees, apparently.
David: OK, just to clear up what Sensei has done in this story so far: He escaped from Arkham Asylum with the power of bees and then went underground to start a war against magicians and aliens. You know that thing that Chris Sims says about how he doesn’t have to write jokes so much as write down exactly what happens? I’m starting to understand. Okay, so:
1. Dinosaur people
2. Cannibalistic trolls
3. Magic bees
4. Giant bats
5. Jive-talking wizards
Laura: I believe they are called “jazz magicians.”
Laura: 6. Glowing aliens from the book Communion
David: 7. Armored dinosaurs
Laura: 8. Doughboys
9. Oilmen (?)
David: Aaaaaand 10. Batman has gravity-based superpowers.
Laura: We know this because Batman picks up a tank and heaves it like a bowling ball at his enemies. But not before an incredibly sad panel of (not)Nude Bruce crying in his coffee about how he’s too weak to murder people.
David: He is the “weak sister.” Which all translates to “I really wish I could kill people!”
Laura: Dude is BROKEN UP about it. If only he could be a real man, maniacally blowing people away with a massive chaingun like Jamroth!
Laura: I am starting to have some real concerns now that we’re watching some sort of Bat-Hamlet play out. He wants to kill… but he can’t kill! But he must kill! Even though he feels guilty about both killing and not killing! And he will definitely tell us all about it at great length in as many half-naked soliloquies as possible!
David: Batman has watched a lot of people die in this comic.
Laura: On a side note, I kind of love that panel where a character we don’t know is hitting another character we don’t know in the head with the butt of a rifle and saying “Hey… I like this gun.” It’s such an odd, wonderful little moment. Because somewhere, somehow, Neal Adams thought to himself, “hmm, maybe one of the soldiers in this battle really likes his gun! I should definitely put that in.” And because this is Batman: Odyssey, he does.
David: But let’s get back to the rest of the battle because there are armored dinosaurs. And wizard fights!
Laura: And Sensei finally shows up, but he is weirdly out of scale and like ten feet taller than Batman. He is clearly from a different line of collectibles.
David: I think that’s a hologram. I think all of this is a hologram.
Laura: They are holograms that also project holograms from their crotches?
David: Of course. So Sensei and Batman get into it, and it’s a pretty cool fight.
Laura: The smack talk before the battle is great too:
Sensei: As for me, I am very good.
Sensei: I am the best, actually.
David: “I have not been scathed in 22 years”
Laura: But Sensei totally mixes metaphors when he’s trying to goad Batman into the fight, suggesting that Batman is “chewing off his leg to avoid a challenge.” That is not really something that a person does to avoid a challenge. I would submit that chewing off your own leg is actually a fairly challenging thing to do!
David: They do end up fighting, though, and they fight good. When Batman jacks Sensei in the face really hard, we learn that Sensei has the ability to not bleed. Like, to retain blood that should otherwise be bled in the case of an injury.
Laura: THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BLOOD
Laura: THE MUCH LESS INTERESTING MOVIE BY P.T. ANDERSON
David: Then the fight ends, and Sensei says that Batman had three chances to kill him and squandered them all. I can only think of one so far, which is the fight that just happened.
Laura: And how was that fight definitive? Batman punches Sensei in the face one time, and then Sensei is like, “game over, you lose,” mwahahas about how he’s going to kill everybody, and walks off. Sensei, the guy Batman specifically came to the underworld to stop. I’d say that Sensei “escapes,” but really he just moseys along, casually murdering a few people on his way off into the sunset while Batman just stands there and watches him go like this is the end of a sad country song and Sensei is just dust in the wind, man.
David: Also, Sensei punches a rocket on his way out.
Laura: He punches the rocket so that it flies into someone else, and Batman says that he “knows this technique but doesn’t know it.” What the hell does that mean?
David: He knows it but he doesn’t know it.
Laura: What is know knowing? It is similar to like liking? Or rape raping?
David: I think it’s like, we “know” what’s happening in Batman: Odyssey, but we also have no idea what’s happening in Batman: Odyssey. Maybe it’s similar to that.
Next time on Batman: Odyssey: Who the f*** knows?