Deconstructing the Complete and Utter Insanity of ‘Batman: Odyssey’
With the recent release of Batman: Odyssey #6, we are now exactly halfway into the yearlong tale that we feel comfortable claiming, without hyperbole, is the most insane comic book we have ever read. If there is a comic book equivalent of the hilariously nuts cult film The Room, it is surely Batman: Odyssey, a miniseries illustrated by legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and written by legendarily terrible Skateman writer Neal Adams.
Today, Editor-in-Chief Laura Hudson and contributor David Wolkin sit down and attempt the nigh-impossible task of figuring out exactly what happens in Odyssey, a book that has both challenged and redefined our notions of Batman, comics, and our tenuous grasp on sanity.
Laura: Have you read any of the Neal Adams interviews about Odyssey? Because hearing him explain the book really helps set the stage for me, in a couple of ways.
"I have simply wandered along this trail, like a deer stalker you might say, and retrieved all these bits and pieces that have been left lying around."
David: I don't think that's what deer stalkers do. I'm pretty sure that deer stalkers shoot deer, right?Laura: I think he might be confusing them with hobos. Oh man, how hard would I read Batman: Hobo by Neal Adams?
David: Can you imagine the amazing things he would carry in his bindlestiff?
Laura: I think you mean his Bat-Bindlestiff.
David: And the Batmobile would just be... a passing train. And Robin would be one of those punky teenagers that I used to have to kick out of that headshop I worked at in college.
Laura: The Batcave would be a cardboard box. And Catwoman would just be a cat who keeps stealing his food.
David: There's a relationship implied there that I'm not entirely comfortable with.
Laura: But here is the best quote from a Neal Adams interview about Odyssey:
Q: Can you give us an overview of the plot?
Adams: I cannot give you an overview of the plot.
David: Did he really say that?
David: Laura, I've read every issue of this comic no less than three times and I can't give you an overview of the plot. As far as I can tell, there are at least three separate plots within the book itself. I think.
Laura: And I'd also like to say before we go any further that for this reason and many others, I do actually love this book. I hope it never stops.
David: I agree 100%. There are many things in this book that I adore, not the least of which is the task of attempting to understand it.
Batman Odyssey: Issue #1
Laura: We open on Bruce Wayne, who looks faintly like Chace Crawford of Gossip Girl, expositing the hell out of what he is doing in copious word balloons. First question: Who is he talking to?
David: It's unclear, but it seems Shirtless Batman is talking to the reader. Every issue opens this way, and it literally gets sexier every single time. It is as if the reader just had a one night stand with Bruce Wayne and wakes up to him telling a story on a monthly basis. 12 issues, 12 Sexy Nights with Bruce.
Laura: It's pretty clear from the get go that neither Batman nor anyone else he encounters will have a single thought, no matter how mundane, that will not be shared with the reader. Within the first two panels, you have no less than two characters both speaking and thinking in separate dialogue bubbles simultaneously, about absolutely inconsequential sh*t including but not limited to: the history of trains, and why Bruce Wayne should bang the conductor's daughter.
David: Plus narration boxes!
Laura: And suddenly, Batman is charging up a train with a loaded gun. A gun that he is trying to hold in one hand while he climbs.
David: Which was a stupid thing to do. We knows this because the thought bubbles are telling us that he's thinking that drawing the gun early was stupid while the box is telling us how future Bruce feels about carrying guns.
Something to consider: Imagine you are on a date, and your date is saying everything that Bruce is saying in the narration boxes.
Laura: And then there is the caption box where Adams manages to actually insert Bruce's thoughts, in quotes, INTO THE CAPTION. Beside his thought bubbles. And at one point there is a caption that says "I thought..." right next to a thought balloon.
David: Did you know that bats scramble on the sides of trains? It would help if Batman also thought some trivia about bats at us so that this could be an educational book too!
Laura: I appreciate this both because 1) He is telling us something that we can see with absolute clarity and 2) he is reminding us that Batman is a character who emulates bats, through the voice of Batman.
David: The issue you're alluding to will bring us to one of the primary challenges of this comic, I think. Which is the multiple plots and how they overlap. Like, shirtless Bruce is telling this story right now, but then it seems like he's actually telling a story about this time that he was telling Robin a story about the time that he was on the train. And that's when things start to get crazy.
Laura: You mean when we discover that there's a maniac there with him on top of the train? A Spanish maniac? Whose codename is MANIACO?
David: He is a maniac, Laura.
Laura: Meanwhile, back in the Batcave, Batman gives a handgun to his child sidekick, who is immediately lost in the throes of gun fever. Batman gives Robin this gun in order to explain how important it is that Robin stay away from firearms.
David: "I was a fool to pack guns. Robin, hold this gun."
David: And then we get our first non-sequitur guest star! The first of many. I'm not really sure what happens here. Man-Bat just sort of shows up, and then Batman scolds him a bunch?
Laura: The best part is that Man-Bat attacks Robin right in the middle of the lecture about guns--
David: --and Batman doesn't even notice.
Laura: Neither of them do! Man-Bat flies Robin up to the ceiling, and flings him across the Batcave, while Batman and Robin continue their philosophical debate about guns as though absolutely nothing is happening. While Robin is hurtling towards a stone wall, he's still answering Batman's hypothetical question about the best way to survive a gun battle.
Then after three or four pages of fighting that is never acknowledged in the dialogue, Batman finally notices Man-Bat, who turns to him in a moment of Lynchian non-sequitur and says that "the answer is 8."
David: I think you mean "B."
Laura: Is that what it says? I mean, either way. He literally could have said anything and it would have made the exact same amount of sense.
David: That's the beauty of this. And then Shirtless Batmans's captions go insane. (Or should I call him Nude Bruce?) This guy is completely unstable. He goes from completely freaking out at Man-Bat to hopping towards the Batmobile with Robin and making some very uncharacteristic jokes.
David: That happens. Batman makes a joke about barking seals. Oh, and they just leave a highly unstable Man-Bat in the Batcave.
Laura: But not alone!
David: Of course not. There is another, larger Man-Bat there.
Laura: Who starts freaking out about not letting Batman see the cave, which is not the cave they are in at all, but another cave.
David: Do you know what cave he's talking about?
Laura: I can only assume it is Plato's Cave, which sounds a lot like reading this book: Desperately trying to ascribe meaning and order to the bizarre, jumbled images projected before you without any context.
David: I don't know what to believe anymore.
Laura: What else of note happens in this issue?
David: The Batmobile is a car, then it's a plane, then it's a boat, then there is a panel that is pretty much right out of All-Star Batman and Robin.
Laura: I love how everyone freaks out non-stop about everything that happens in this book. Riding in the Batmobile BLOWS Robin's mind. Batman deciphering the plan of a villain BLOWS Gordon's mind. Everyone is in a state of perpetual shock and excitement about each incremental advancement of the plot.
David: Yeah, they show up in the awesome Corvette Batmobile, but then they just whip out hang gliders and float away. And Commissioner Gordon and all the cops act like Batman's their crazy rich uncle who buys everything in the SkyMall catalog.
David: Issue #2 is easily the best and most insane issue in the series, without a doubt. The first page is when it becomes clear that Nude Bruce is telling us a story about the time he was telling Robin a story about what happened on the train. And while he is telling the story about the train to Robin, all of these other things are happening, which Nude Bruce is also telling us about. SO: he is simultaneously attempting to tell us two stories, and in Story A, he happens to also be telling Robin about Story B.
Laura: Is there a way to make a narrative map of this?
David: Yes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%B6bius_strip
Laura: The dialogue is so amazingly tone-deaf in ways both small and large, but in such an interesting way. Like the father who tells his roughly 7-year-old daughter to "stay organized" when they are held at gunpoint by criminals.
David: It's much more fun to imagine one person shouting these things, like the narrator on the Watchmen motion comic. Sometimes I read it aloud, too.
Laura: For this reason, I have helpfully created an Xtranormal video that reenacts the pages and pages of bizarre dialogue wherein Batman tries to explain the inner workings of a hydrogen engine to the world's stupidest criminal.
Also, the evil plan concocted by the villains at the museum, as I understand it, is to steal dinosaurs and inexplicably shoot tanks of hydrogen.
David: No, Laura. It's a hydride. Everyone knows this. The doctor knows this. The doctor's small daughter knows this. Batman knows this. The guy with the gun? He refuses to accept it.
Laura: Even after Batman pauses for several pages to conduct what is essentially a very violent AP chemistry class.
David: This was exactly like my high school chem class. Someone explaining something very simple to me three times, and continuously calling me an idiot. And then I'd get punched in the face.
Laura: Batman rescues the professor, but then gets assaulted by goons with automatic weapons in a splash page that plays out like Passion of the Batman. And/or an amazingly bloody krumping battle.
David: This might be the best page of comics in 2010. I once spent an hour trying to figure out the dance moves that he does in here. There's at least one Charleston.
Laura: Then while he's lying on the floor, spattered in blood, we get the caption: "Dis-attached, Batman's brain floats off..." An image I deeply wish had been illustrated. Seriously, a separate plot thread featuring the adventures of Batman's floating brain would have been amazing.
David: But Batman's brain floats back to the first plot thread, so you technically get exactly what you want.
Laura: Oh crap, it really does. And it begins "I don't even know why I didn't finish the story for Dick." Which is basically a meta-acknowledgment of how disjointed this story is, by the writer himself. Batman doesn't know why he didn't finish the story. Adams doesn't know why. Nobody knows.
David: Also, let's acknowledge the emergence of the yellow caption box. I believe that's third person omniscient, out of nowhere?
Laura: Yes. Side by side with the blue caption box, which is Batman narrating first person from the original plot thread. At one point, and this is amazing, after the yellow caption says, "This is unusual for Batman," literally a panel below Batman completely contradicts the OMNISCIENT NARRATOR and says, "This wasn't unusual... for me." Fight! Fight for control of your fictional reality!
David: Also, do you realize that Maniaco suddenly goes from helping Batman stop the guy who was blowing up the train to being the guy who is about to blow up the train?
Laura: Holy crap, you're right. Then all the original bad guys jump off the train, and Maniaco says, "It's like they were never here!" And he's so right, because we are suddenly in a totally different story.
Also, Maniaco has a transmitter with a button that when pressed will blow up the train... five minutes later. I love how Batman takes it apart and tries to figure out how to "unpress" it. I'm pretty sure that after you have sent a signal through the air to an electronic device, you cannot "unpress" that signal by pulling the button up again. But I am not a technical genius like Batman.
David: He's like my grandparents were with email. "DEAR LORD HOW DO I CLICK UNSEND?" But it's all right, because those five minutes give Batman time to shoot at everybody on the train. And it is the Best Thing Ever.
David: The passengers won't leave the train because they think he's crazy. So he shoots guns at them. He shoots AT them.
Laura: Yeah, he he doesn't just fire a gun into the air. He unloads multiple clips while shooting TOWARDS the passengers, action movie villain style. If it were possible, I'm pretty sure he'd be lunging at them in slow motion, screaming while spittle flies from the sides of his mouth.
David: I don't really get how he didn't accidentally hit anyone.
Laura: I mean, maybe he did? How would we know? He fired an incredible number of bullets at a large crowd of people in a small metal room. Then the train explodes, and for one panel Batman basically says that he died, which would kind of be a fantastic new twist to the story -- if he were actually telling it from beyond the grave, including the story of the first plot thread where he's telling the story of the other two plot threads where he's telling stories.
David: This is, appropriately enough, the most confusing explosion that I've ever read in a comic. Explosions, by definition, are not meant to be confusing things.
Laura: But because it is Neal Adams, it still looks amazing. Actually, you know what? I think I have discovered the secret to reading this comic: Don't look at any of the words. Just look at the pictures, because Adams is still a great artist who understands visual storytelling.
David: It's a good point. It's strange that Adams sort of undermines his own gifts as an artistic storyteller with all of this unnecessary narration. Or perhaps it's another meta thing happening here. The confusion is essential for us to understand Batman's state of mind as everything is unfolding around him.
Laura: Is the entire series a metaphorical representation of what it's like to be shot? Because so far it is basically an anthology of disconnected stories about Batman getting riddled with bullets.
David: Perhaps what it's like to be shot twice in the same spot in 20 minutes? That angry guy after the train crash actually shoots him through a bullet hole.
Laura: I really, really hope at the end we find out that Batman really did die in one of these shootings, and that the entire series represents the fractured recollections of his life that ran through his mind in his last moments, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge style.
Regardless, after we see Batman lying near death from the train wreck shooting, nude Bruce appears again and explains that incident at the train was actually a flashback he had in the plotline at the museum. Even more confusing, issue #3 opens with Alfred nursing Bruce as he tries to recover from a bullet wound, except that it's impossible to know which shooting it's from.
David: Incorrect. Issue #3 opens with Bruce leaning in to kiss you.
Laura: The urgency in Nude Bruce's eyes seems to increase with every interlude.
David: Then we flash back to Alfred taping Bruce up from the train situation, and then the two of them have the weirdest conversation.
Laura: Are you sure that's from the train shooting? Because apropos of nothing, he's talking about how some man named Harry Tree – whose name we have never heard before – just killed another woman.
David: Yeah, you're right. So this is after the situation where Batman played dead at the museum. I THINK.
Laura: Or maybe it takes places after an entirely new shooting at an entirely different time. I think this is genuinely a real possibility. Regardless, his conversation with Alfred includes this touching exchange:
David: Also, more evidence of Batman's looming insanity. He goes from getting ready to sucker punch Alfred, to having a puppy dog face and opening up to him.
Laura: Batman in Odyssey is basically an abusive boyfriend checklist. Is he prone to extreme mood swings? Does he call you names and demean you? Does he threaten you physically if you don't do what he wants? Does he own a gun?
David: So there's a little bit of Lifetime movie in here too! Starring Meredith Baxter Birney as Alfred Pennyworth.
Laura: I want to make an animated gif of the angry face and the puppy dog face just flipping back and forth into each other:
David: And then we flash back to the museum where Batman is pretending to be badly wounded, and we get the best narration ever as two thugs talks about shooting Batman in the face.
Laura: While Batman also talks about them shooting him in the face. From the future. I honestly think this is a fair paraphrase of their conversation:
Batman: Then they decided to shoot me the face.
Alfred: Shoot you in the face?
Batman: Shoot me in the face.
Thug #1: You should shoot Batman in the face!
Thug #2: I'll shoot him, but... in the face?
Thug #1: Shoot him in the face!
Batman: Then he shot me in the face.
Thug #2: I'm shooting him in the face!
And then he shoots him in the face.
David: Let me just say that Batman is incredibly gifted at describing, in literate prose, the time that a guy shot him in the face three times. Also, you realize that this is now the second time that Nude Bruce is telling us about the time that he told someone else about that time. First he told us about the time that he told Robin about the time on the train. And now he's telling us about the time that he told Alfred about the time at the museum.
This. Is. Insane.
Laura: Again, it makes a lot more sense if you don't read any of the words, and just look at the pictures. Of Batman getting shot in the face. Except it turns out he actually has a bulletproof voice-activated clear facemask that drops down to protect him, so he doesn't really get shot. Then he jumps up and kicks their asses, while turning into the world's most awkward Sun Tzu.
Laura: Then he says this: "They are still POIGNANTLY DANGEROUS."
David: I don't know what that means.
Laura: Nobody does! I think what we're seeing here is the exact moment when he discovers Thesaurus.com.
David: I wonder which Batman is narrating this part, by the way. Is he telling Alfred this stuff? Like, he was really angry and needed to open up, so he busts out this soliloquy about the art of hand-to-hand-combat?
Laura: Oh wow. And then he completely gives up on trying to describe the art of fighting and just says that his martial arts moves were totally like a scene out of Seven Samurai.
David: I didn't even get the whole Seven Samurai thing. He's just like, out of nowhere, "one time I watched this movie about with fighting in it. I am fighting right now."
Laura: Adams is asking the reader to visualize the combat as though it is a battle from a Kurosawa flick. Which is so nuts, because we are working in a visual medium RIGHT NOW. You can show the readers what it is looks like with actual pictures, in sequence. But instead he just draws a picture of Batman punching someone and tells us to imagine that it actually looks like a totally sweet Japanese martial arts film.
David: Warning: Random people are about to appear literally from nowhere. And Batman and Robin actually do a "whaaaaaaaat?" Something that helps me read this comic is to imagine Robin is played by a young Joey Lawrence, by the way.
Laura: We also learn that the enigmatic riddle from the, uh, Riddler was far, far dumber than we'd previously imagined. Dear English speaking people of the world, riddle me this: How would you please complete this sentence, which was supposed crafted by an evil riddle supergenius:
Too loaded you can't order
Time to hear a friendly hint
How 'bout an after dinner _____
David: You realize that the Riddler actually says "mint" the page before Batman figures out mint, right?
Laura: NO. This is the best part. It turns out the answer is actually "WATER." Because we all know after we've completed a hearty meal, that's traditionally the moment when a hostess presents her guests with the customary after dinner water.
David: There is no logic to be found in that statement whatsoever.
Laura: Not least of all because order does not actually rhyme with water. Unless you have a terrible, terrible Boston accent.
Laura: On to issue #4! Which kicks off with a cover where it appears Batman is about to eat the hair of a small child!
David: Tucker Stone pointed out to me that they appear to have Photoshopped real hair onto the cover.
Laura: In this issue, Batman confronts the Riddler, who is not actually the Riddler, a fact we learn thanks to the amazing shoutout to the 1997 Nicholas Cage/John Travolta movie Face/Off where Batman ACTUALLY PUNCHES RIDDLER'S FACE OFF.
David: Do you have any idea why Batman says "Reuben Blades" right before tearing off The Riddler's face mask? But what does Panamanian singer and actor Ruben Blades have to do with this?
Laura: Have we ever heard this name before? Ever?
David: In real life, yes. He was in Predator 2. It's weird that Adams randomly decided to name this assassin after a famous Panamanian superstar.
Laura: OK, so Reuben Blades is pretending to be the Riddler because something something, and then for roughly the same reason, he shoots a little girl that happens to be standing nearby. Which appears to be Batman's cue to drop catastrophic amounts of LSD.
Laura: It's interesting how the father of the girl seems to show absolutely no anger towards the actual murderer -- Reuben Blades -- and turns immediately on Batman instead.
David: Batman straight up beats the hell out of Reuben.
Laura: Yes, but not before Reuben punches Batman while saying, "Hero! Jerk hero!" Because in addition to the father, the ACTUAL MURDERER has decided to blame Batman for her death, seconds after killing her.
David: It's more interesting how everybody freaked out about the girl being dead, but no one is actually paying attention to the little girl, who as it happens? ALIVE. It was a flesh wound. Batman almost killed a guy over a flesh wound.
And then Batman grabs a guy's camera and takes a picture of Reuben's brutalized face!
Laura: The best part of this issue is that after Batman has spent exactly six pages trying kill Reuben while Commissioner Gordon tries desperately to pull him off, the little girl lives. And then Gordon says, "You were going to kill that guy."
And Batman says:
Yes. Yes you were.
David: Your abusive boyfriend theory works way too well.
Laura: And then for no reason, Deadman.
David: "And then for no reason" is something that basically holds this story together.
Hold on. We need to go back to the most important panel in this entire series:
David: I could write a book about that panel.
Laura: The second Alfred/Bruce conversation is almost as nuts as the first, and includes a panel of Bruce Wayne laughing hysterically while saying, "Sworn to secrecy, ha ha! Such a thing! Such an octopus of a thing!" What.
David: Then Bruce brings Talia back to the cave, but is it the Batcave or THE CAVE HE DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT? Remember that?
Laura: No, wait, now suddenly they're on a pier or something. God, this is like trying to describe the plot of a dream. She shows him a photo album where there's a picture of them together as children, and OUT OF NOWHERE Ubu appears and tries to steal it, and calls Batman a "eunuch." Then, and this is completely true, a giant manta ray flies out of the ocean, and stabs Ubu in the heart, in a tragic parody of the death of Steve Irwin. TOO SOON.
Also, who is the purple guy in Huntress drag? Who shows up and calls Ubu a jelly roll?
David: I don't know? Also suddenly another Robin, who is blond, appears for two pages, says nothing, isn't explained, and then disappears. And in at least one panel, he has a tail.
David: Plus, the best cameo ever: KENNY POWERS AQUAMAN.
David: Finally in issue #5, it's sexy banana time with Nude Bruce!
Laura: I can not believe Nude Bruce is actually eating a banana.
David: Oh, and on page one we learn that the Riddler impersonator's name was actually Reuben Irons. So yeah, the Reuben Blades thing was an error!
Laura: I still don't know who either of them are.
David: You know who Reuben Blades is. Trust me.
Laura: Nude Bruce takes us back to the docks, where where Batman is swimming around with Aquaman and a whale. And suddenly the manta ray who impaled Ubu brings him back to he surface where we learn that like every other character who appeared to die in the series, he's not dead.
David: You know something that Batman is not in this comic? A detective. Everything surprises him.
"Aquaman has a whale in the ocean? That's CRAZY!"
"That guy that someone called Ubu before is actually Ubu? And Talia knew? INSANE!"
Laura: Talia finally tells Batman about the secret history between their families, sparking a grating couples argument that is about as much fun to read on the comics page as is it would be to experience while locked in an elevator with them in real time. This conversation goes on for pages and pages while Batman takes off all his clothes. In public.
David: And Deadman is kvetching the whole time.
Laura: I don't understand anything.
David: Then you are just like Batman.
Laura: Meanwhile, somewhere else, three dudes that look like the Joker are slicing a dude's face open. Should I even ask how we got here? Or how Batman did?
Laura: And then the cops show up but they're not the cops?
David: Right. Real cops don't say things like "drop dat clown." "Dat" is a word used exclusively by petty thieves, henchmen and thugs.
Laura: So instead of handing Joker, who is now only one person, over to the fake(?) cops after mutilating a prominent member of the community, Batman takes Joker for a joyride in the Batmobile, where they say the word CLOWNS about 20 times as the Joker explains that all Batman does is catch CLOWNS. Because clowns clowns clowns clowns clowns clowns clowns clowns clowns.
David: The next Batman movie should be called "Never... Just... Clowns," by the way.
Laura: By the fourth page I honestly could not believe I was still watching them talk about clowns.
Laura: And suddenly Man-Bat attacks Batman again for no reason, gives him a mysterious key, and a bunch of things happen that I don't understand. Am I missing anything significant?
David: Let's see. A series of inexplicable and seemingly unconnected things happen in the course of 4 pages?
Yeah, you've got it.
David: Laura, upon looking at the first page of issue #6, I've had something of an epiphany: Whoever Bruce is talking to on the first page of each issue is clearly tied to a chair and gagged.
Laura: The axe is genuinely a little frightening.
David: That's what I'm saying! Sh*t just got REAL. He's basically about to torture a guy!
Laura: He's about to torture US. It's like a prelude to some sort of Reservoir Dogs moment. The collective audience is about to lose an ear.
David: If you read the book as if Bruce has been telling all of this to a hostage, it becomes a totally different story, and at least 3-5 times better.
There is also a shocking number of ellipses on this first page.
Laura: Wait, does the text in these speech balloons even meaningfully connect? This is exactly what they say: "In fact?? They both intended that Talia and I marry when... yet... a year ago Man-Bat, Kirk Langstrom tried to... warn me of something." It's like Bruce Wayne is talking his way through a stroke.
David: And then in the bottom... half of the... page... He starts talking about the murder of a child... except: THE.. CHILD... WAS... NOT... MURDERED.
When you get to the second page, though... I am reminded once again about Neal Adams saying that a lot of comic will be how Batman is unable to keep up with the tech of his enemies. And here he has a 3-D display coming out of his damn belt. Batman has a crotch computer.
Laura: I prefer to think of it as a groin projector.
David: I wonder how he controls the cursor.
Laura: Now we're introduced to yet another new villain, a man named Doctor Slattern. Does Adams know what "slattern" means? Because it specifically refers to women. And it means "slut."
David: Words seem to mean so many things in this book. Although we are told that Doctor Slattern "needs help with the climax of his experiment." Maybe Doctor Slattern is in charge of all the SEXY experiments at Arkham, did you think of that?
Also, he actually wants to be called Trigger, and not like the horse. Because Batman wasn't sure about that. "Oh, this guy with guns wants to be called Trigger. I'm the world's greatest detective. It's probably after the horse, but let me ask just in case it's actually about guns."
David: And what ensues could possibly be considered the best rap battle in Batman history.
Laura: After the inevitable defeat of Trigger in the impromptu rap battle, we also learn that Batman can literally run through walls. Just straight up run through them.
David: I like to think of it as "Batman likes to be prepared for walls."
David: So after Batman lays down some raps and leaps through a wall, we're suddenly returned to the Batcave, right? But WHEN?
Laura: I'm looking right at it and I really don't know. Because it seems like we're jumping backwards in time to when Batman met Deadman for the first time, but Deadman is floating down into the scene from the panel where Batman escapes, implying it happens after.
David: Neal Adams broke the Fifth Wall. ...Is there such a thing as a... fifth... wall?
Laura: Doesn't matter. Neal Adams is making new walls just so he can break them. Also, when they talk about Deadman's apparently random shooting by a league of assassins, Bruce says, "Do you know who fingered you?" Which is really a very personal question.
David: And his answer to that question is a "plock of spit." Deadman was fingered by a plock of spit. I am the first person in human history to type that sentence.
Then on the next page, we get the Best Bruce Face ever.
Laura: Oh my god, this face. It's like Bruce Wayne is about to turn into Large Marge from Pee Wee's Great Adventure
David: YES!!!! "Tell em Ra's Al Ghul sent ya!"
Laura: Everyone in this book is in a nonsensical state of total disbelief at all times, like they can't believe the comic is actually happening. You and me both, you guys.
David: Turn the page again and Ra's and Ubu show up. The Batcave officially has an open door policy in this book.
Laura: We also finally get to meet the blond Robin who showed up before with no explanation. His name is Primus, and he apparently can't stop slugging an old-fashioned Coke long enough to say hello to freaking Batman. In a moment entirely representative of the book, Robin says, "Oh man, you have got to hear this guy's story!" And then never tells it.
Look at his face in that bottom right panel. It is HORRIFYING. I think he's about to unhinge his jaw and eat regular Robin.
David: Please note that Ra's Al Ghul, a man of Middle Eastern descent, refers to Batman as "Senor Murcielago." Meaning that Ra's could very well have been in disguise as El Maniaco on the train.
And just who the hell is this other guy, Jamroth Bok? I'm getting nothing off Google. AND WHY IS HE IN A HUNTRESS COSTUME?
Laura: I have no idea. And why is Bruce fighting Ubu again?
David: Something that keeps happening in this book: 4-6 people will inexplicably gather and 2 of them will fight, while the others stand around and casually converse with each other.
Laura: Wait, they actually do explain why Ubu is fighting Bruce, and I guess it's a weird S&M thing:
Laura: I don't know how to make that not gay. Really, the plot of the series would make a lot more sense if it were a porno. People show up out of nowhere, get physical for the most bizarre, tenuous reasons and then cut to other scenes at unconnected times where it all happens again with different configurations if people.
David: Do you think that somewhere on the internet there is a fan for whom Bruce and Ubu are OTP?
Laura: Let's ask Google! Wait. David. I just did a search, and... Have you been asking questions about Bruce Wayne's sex life on internet forums? You can tell me.
David: THAT'S NOT ME!
Laura: Suuure it isn't.
David: Just get ready, because the next few pages are going to make your head explode.
Laura: Wow. Alfred offers to straight up murder a dude.
David: Yo, he don't give a hydroelectric dam, Hudson.
Laura: Then, in the best of all possible endings, our first six-issue run concludes when Bruce Wayne actually lies down in the middle of a tense debate with Ra's. And takes a nap. While Deadman screams over him like this is the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
David: Yes, yes and yes. A fitting bookend to the first half of this tale.
Laura: It also closes with Bruce announcing that now he is finally to go on his ODYSSEY to an unspecified place. And it should be clear to us where it's going next, because as Batman says, he's given us all the clues.
Laura: Tell me, David. Where do you think he is going on his Odyssey?
David: You already know my answer is I have no idea. I would like to think that there will be a Bat-boat involved.
Laura: I think you're not being ambitious enough. You know it is going to be way crazier.
David: Is that even possible? Like, the next six issues will be Batman traveling through the tattered remains of the Ultraverse, trying to find Ra's Al Ghul's long lost forgotten child?
Laura: Are you questioning the ability of this comic to take you to depths of madness heretofore unseen? Some people might call that hubris, David.
David: You're right. If anything, I've been humbled by this book. I thought that after 15 years, I knew how to read comics. Clearly, I do not.
Laura: I mean, we've seen so many things at this point.
David: We saw Aquaman as Kenny Powers. We saw Alfred making sex hands.
Laura: We saw a giant manta ray leap out of the water on to a dock and stab a human bat in the chest.
David: We saw Batman shoot at a crowded train full of civilians.
Laura: We saw naked Bruce Wayne in a sexually charged scene with a banana. We saw the look in his eyes as he prepared to torture us, personally, with an axe.
David: We saw the best typo in comics history lead to an unintentional mention of Panamanian super-celebrity Ruben Blades.
David: I have to be honest. I've read a lot of comics with Neal Adams art, and I've always loved it. He's truly a legendary creator. This is the first thing I've ever read of his that he's written, and at this point, as much as I'm enjoying it in my own way, I simply have no idea what to make of it. Part of me wants to believe that this is totally leading somewhere, that everything ties together in a very real way, and that even the ultra-confusing use of overlapping thought bubbles, speech bubbles, caption boxes, and mulitple sources of narration from the same person at different times is actualy serving the larger story in some sort of brilliant way.
Laura: I don't think it's intentionally serving the story in any way. But that doesn't mean it can't be brilliant a la Tommy Wiseau.
David: Reading this feels like waking up in a ballpit filled with every action figure of every Batman character ever made and then at the moment you open your eyes, they all start telling you their life stories.
Laura: It feels like a digital upload of every Batman comic in existence to my brain went horribly wrong and this is the David Lynchian fever dream my brain constructed to make sense of the phantasmagoria of images scattered around my consciousness.
Seriously, doesn't it seem like dream logic sometimes? People that no one has ever seen before show up for no apparent reason, but everyone just seems to know who they are. No one explains anything, except when they do and it doesn't really make sense but it doesn't matter. Things change without warning and reality warps to embrace it as we bounce back and forth to different scenes without any sort of logical transition.
David: Do you think maybe someone is performing Inception on Batman?
Laura: Actually, that makes a lot of sense. All the different temporal points are different dream layers. And Naked Bruce is at the top in "reality," controlling all the machinery and threatening our prostrate bodies with an axe while our minds remain locked in deeper and deeper worlds of fictional madness.
David: Or... Oh my God, I know who else Nude Bruce might be talking to. Neal Adams himself.
Laura: You're right. That's how he knows this story.
David: Can you imagine if someone were to ask Adams about his writing process, and he was all "Oh, Batman tells me all of this."
Laura: Batman appears to have some serious structural issues in his storytelling.
David: Or perhaps it is simply impossible for a mere human being to replicate the supreme storytelling abilities of The Batman.
Laura: Interpreting the divine gospel is difficult for every prophet. We are but imperfect vessels of the infinite.
David: Think about the best Batman stories as gospels. And in like 2,000 years, some religious scholar will be like "And then there was the Lost Gospel of Neal."
There's a necessary recovery period that comes from reading these comics all at once. But I am so pumped for whatever is coming in the second half of this, even though I'm not mentally prepared for it at all.
Laura: Yeah. I'm not sure if I can handle it, but I can't wait.