Batman: Jazz #2
June 9, 2014
This entire endeavor will be a failure if we don't see Batman playing a saxophone at some point.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. About a year or two ago, we talked about "Batman: Jazz".
(Shots of "Batman: Jazz #1" are shown)
Linkara (v/o): It was stupid. Basically, Batman accidentally discovers that a made-up jazz legend responsible for "modern jazz" who supposedly died years ago is alive and well and performing in nightclubs. Oh, and he visits said nightclub in full Batman regalia because he's kind of an idiot. And then, he and the jazz legend are attacked by... whatever the hell these things are. Oh, and this is also the same writer who brought us...
(Cut to a shot of "Batman: Fortunate Son", showing Batman saying that classic line...)
Batman: "Punk" is nothing but death...and crime...and the rage of a beast.
Linkara (v/o): ...AKA Batman's lifelong quest to rid the world of rock music.
(Cut back to "Batman: Jazz #1")
Linkara (v/o): And I already love it more than most comics I review because they wisely kept this to three issues instead of stretching it out to unbearable lengths like "SCI-Spy" or "Kamadi At Earth's End" or "All-Star Batman and Robin". It's been suggested that the jazz legend, named Blue Byrd, is likely a stand-in for the real-life influential jazz player Charles "Bird" Parker. He helped create bebop and died in the mid-1950s.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Batman: Jazz #2" and see if we can figure out if this series actually has a reason for existing.
(Title sequence plays; title card has "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams playing in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover is okay, if a little weird. We have Batman – or possibly Black Panther, since we can't see his mouth – falling down towards that bald guy from Last Action Hero, who happens to be wielding a machine gun. And behind them is a vague drawing of a guy playing a saxophone... and then the same image of a guy playing a saxophone, only put through a Photoshop filter. Must be a jazz thing.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open where we left off last time, with Batman being repeatedly eviscerated by shards of glass flying through him, as fired by some kind of living Picasso painting. You know, Batman always figured he'd die the same way as his parents: shot to death by some random punk in an alley. Of all the possible ways for him to go out, I don't think he quite planned on this.
Linkara: Then again, you have writers like Grant Morrison, who believes Batman plans for every scenario, so... it's entirely possible he totally anticipated this. (as Batman) Okay, Robin, in this variation on scenario 46-D, a jazz demon will launch shards of glass out of his saxophone at me. (as Robin, annoyed) Okay, Batman, this is getting ridiculous! (as Batman) Shut up, Robin, this is totally possible! Now, in scenario 47-A, a super-intelligent emu will use its psychic powers to mind-control me...
Batman: (narrating) Three musicians in masks--the Brothers of the Bop.
Linkara (v/o): "Masks"? I think there's more than just masks, dude. One guy has a drum for a torso that shoots out missiles.
Batman: (narrating) Suddenly they're huge.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Cave Dwellers)
Tom Servo: (seeing Ator) I'm huge!
(Cut back to the first page)
Batman: (narrating) Suddenly, the sax blows glass.
Linkara: (confused) A saxophone that doubles as a glassblower? (shrugs) I'll take fifty.
Batman: (narrating) Glittering* in the night like fallen pearls. Stained with blood. Shards rip me apart, and I'm a little boy in pain.
- NOTE: Batman actually says "glinting", not "glittering".
Linkara: (irritably) It's a giant jazz demon shooting out shards of glass from its saxophone that repeated stab you! Please do not try to pretend this is anything like when your parents died, you pretentious twit!
Batman: (narrating) What am I doing here?
Linkara: That's what I'd like to know! I still can't remember why you actually got involved in this whole thing. We have had basically zero plot points until the demons showed up.
Linkara (v/o): Blue Byrd quickly makes his escape, with two of the Brothers of the Bop – I guess that's what we're calling them now – in pursuit. Unfortunately, the Bop Brothers feel the need to rhyme everything they say.
Bop Brother #1: Gate's gonna skate-- 'less we set 'im up straight--
Bop Brother #2: --with the hip-chick called fate-- and don't be late. Mate.
Linkara: Going at this rate, I'm put in an emotional state. It's annoying and pointless, so don't try to debate.
Linkara (v/o): To be fair, I've done an entire episode of this show in rhyme, but that I at least tried to keep a consistent meter, and I was doing it because it featured the Grinch. I was going for a Dr. Seuss thing! The hell is their excuse? Anyway, back to Batman, he's still in pain.
Batman: (narrating) Because of the glass. No. Not glass.
Linkara: (as Batman) Transparent aluminum!
Batman: (narrating) GAS. The brothers fired gas.
Linkara: (as Batman) Classical gas!
Linkara (v/o): Batman realizes that it's actually some kind of hallucinogenic gas. You'd think, with how many times he encounters this with the Scarecrow, that he'd be used to this by now.
Batman: (narrating) There is no glass. There are no wounds.
Linkara: (as Batman) This ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around!
Batman: (narrating) I am... no... child.
Linkara: (looking offscreen) I AM A MAN!
(Like always, he reaches out and punches offscreen; cut to Viga, who is apparently doing a comic book critique of her own, that of a "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" comic)
Viga: Cake batter? Cake batter stops Changelings? You would think it would be some sort of magical some sort of– (suddenly, Linkara's arm appears and grabs the comic, pulling it away) HEY!
(Linkara pulls in the "MLP" comic and looks at it, becoming confused)
Linkara: Hell? "My Little Pony"?
Batman: And you, mister, are no giant.
Linkara (v/o): Um, Batman, he is clearly still bigger than you, and even as you punch him, he is still clearly bigger. Otherwise, it wouldn't look like this. Speaking of the punches, check out the one here where he tells the saxophone-playing one to shut up. He actually seems to be arching his entire back so that he's almost upside-down. Because, sometimes, improbably spine contortions aren't just for women in superhero comics. Drum Missile Guy manages to hit Byrd with some of the missiles, and it seems Batman's attempt to literally bend over backwards has screwed him over, since the third Brother of the Bop whips a cord around his neck and tosses him aside. With Byrd seemingly killed, the Brothers of the Bop make their exit.
Bop Brother: If the truth be death's friend, we the oop-pap-ti-booly-boppa livin'-- end.
Linkara: (confused) Is death also friends with pointless scatting?
Linkara (v/o): Later, Batman has brought Byrd to the hospital. He's still alive, just barely, but he's investigating just what the hell happened by calling in a character from last issue: Countess Van Veesedstene. Much like Byrd is based on Charles Parker, the Countess seems to be based on friend and patron of Parker, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, and I'm sure I'm pronouncing that wrong. The Countess calls this whole thing absurd because no one would wish ill on Blue Byrd. Batman questions who would want him dead, despite, well, you know, her saying just two panels ago that nobody would. The world's greatest detective, everyone!
Countess He shouldn't have to suffer this...this second death. He shouldn't have to see the world turned this cruel and cold!
Linkara: Yeah, no one should have to live to see this dreary artwork.
Countess: Why are you asking me this? Why aren't the police turning this city upside-down to find these...these murderers of art?
Batman: Bear in mind that Mister Byrd returned from Europe under an alias...and you and I agreed to preserve that alias from attackers.
Linkara: (as Batman) I'm telling you something that you already know, because the audience didn't see that conversation, and we need to provide exposition.
Batman: As far as the police know, he's just another homeless old man attacked in a park.
Countess: An old black man, you mean.
Linkara: Yeah, because the Gotham City Police, known for their dedication and totally effective law enforcement, would TEARING THE CITY APART, the mayor demanding constant updates on the situation, if it had been an old white homeless guy.
Countess: You ask who would want to kill him? This entire greedy, racist society!
Linkara: (as Batman, holding his chin in thought) Society itself? (looks up) So... the Illuminati and their secret lizard replacements! (clenches fist) Yes, of course! It all makes perfect sense!
Batman: Can you be more specific?
Countess: His death revealed the ugliness of this country! It was his final artistic statement!
Linkara: (looking up in thought) Yes, I recall that massive social upheaval that completely revised how people saw the world and the country when Blue Byrd died in Gotham City. That's why we all listen to bebop and jazz, and there are no wars or traffic accidents, and DC Comics doesn't suck right now.
Countess: Now even that's been taken from him! He's been brought back from death, made to suffer in anonymity!
Linkara: The hell are you talking about? He FAKED his death, nobody knows he's really alive, and his purported artistic ("finger quotes") "statement of yours" is still intact! What are you complaining about?
Linkara (v/o): Batman has had enough of her bullcrap and decides to leave, but she suddenly gives him a lead: Dido Bloom, an old songwriter who had stolen music right off of Byrd's records and turned it into a hit song. If Byrd had lived, he could have sued him for a hell of a lot of money.
Linkara: You know, I think I figured out the real problem with both this comic and "Batman: Fortunate Son": namely, they're not Batman stories.
Linkara (v/o): Now, don't get me wrong: there isn't some set rule that says a Batman story must be something in particular, that it has to fulfill guidelines and follow a specific structure or something. However, the thing about both of these stories is that these are not stories about Batman.
(Cut to shots of alternating shots between the "Batman: Jazz" series and "Batman: Fortunate Son")
Linkara (v/o): When Batman is solving crimes, we're with him and trying to see how he's going to crack the case, learn all the details of the mystery, and see him struggle to bring a wrongdoer to justice. "Batman: Fortunate Son" and "Batman: Jazz" are not about that, though. Both of these comics are about a conflicted musician "in it for the art" in one way or another, struggling against people who don't truly care for him and his legacy. Everything is about the musicians; how influential and important they are to rock 'n' roll or jazz, how everybody but them is phony and a lesser person because they don't share his inherent genius or artistic merit. "Fortunate Son" tries to make it a Batman story by having the conflict with Robin over Batman's hatred of rock 'n' roll, but it's so ridiculous and stupid that they had to force retcons into his backstory to justify it, and even then, you really have to just scratch your head because nothing really changes about Batman in the end of that story. It's still just about how super awesome special Izaak Crowe is. And going on these first two issues of "Batman: Jazz", the same seems to be the case here, but worse. Batman at least had the retcons to try to make it his story in "Fortunate Son". Here, he's just investigating an attack on a guy that has more importance placed on him, except, of course, he's a fictionalization of a real person, with attitudes, backstory and events glamorized to make it more narratively satisfying, as opposed to the sad truth of a very talented, creative man who died tragically young because of the irreparable damage to his body from his drug and alcohol abuse. So a lot of it comes off as slightly disrespectful to the real person. This is not like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, where you take a real person and add in something ridiculous so it becomes parody. This is a dramatic story about a person who is not real, but is based on a real person, who, in a conspiracy theory turn, faked his own death, unlike the real person, who was indeed DEAD. It's up to you whether you're okay with fictionalized representations of real people and stuff like this, since there are arguments to be made on either side about it, but I don't think it's handled well in this book.
Linkara: Neither of these comics are Batman stories. These are stories where Batman is thrust into events that have nothing to do with him, and we're supposed to care because Batman is there. But really, it's just wish fulfillment fan fiction about dead people. Probably because the writers are really into these musical genres.
(Cut to Linkara standing in another room in his coat)
Linkara: We will be right back after these messages, so I hope to see you there. (pulls out his magic gun and aims it at the camera, smiling) Or else.
(AT4W logo appears in the corner as we go to commercial break; upon return, Linkara is still aiming his gun at the camera)
Linkara: And now we're back. (looks at gun) I can't shoot you through the camera.
(AT4W logo appears in the corner again as the comic review resumes)
Linkara (v/o): But hey, maybe we can still get at least some decent Batman detective sleuthing out of this if we forget about the constant attempts to convince how angelic their music is, despite, you know, that continuing problem of WE CAN'T HEAR THEIR DAMN MUSIC BECAUSE THIS IS A COMIC BOOK AND NOT A CD!!! (grunts in frustration) Anyway, Batman arrives at the penthouse of Dido Bloom, who even has a bunch of goons who work for him who he pays to, by his own admission, "beat the crap outta people who give him trouble."
Linkara: Man, don't mess with jazz musicians; they're scarier than the friggin' mob!
Linkara (v/o): So now we get to see Batman's detective skills at work; namely, he flat-out asks Bloom if he stole the music, and Bloom admits that he did take it, but he certainly wasn't afraid of being sued, since Byrd couldn't afford to pay for a lawyer, due to all the money he owed to his drug dealer. Also, the sound a piano makes is "tink a plink".
Dido: Now listen, shamus--
Linkara (v/o): "Shamus"? The obscure word for a detective or a private investigator?
(BECAUSE POOR LITERACY... IS NOT PRESENT HERE. KUDOS!)
Dido You want criminals? Why don't you go hassle those hip-hop sampler types-- takin' actual recorded tracks, robbing their own people!
Linkara: (as Dido) Damn kids and their rap music! (gestures toward himself with his thumb) Back in my day, we stole music legitimately!
Linkara (v/o): And judging from that dialog, I doubt we'll be seeing "Batman: Hip-Hop Hero" anytime soon from these writers. Bloom suggest some other people he could go investigate: the many women Byrd had affairs with, his drug pushers – yeah, I'm sure, forty years later, the pushers are still holding a grudge over a guy who died without paying his bill. But in particular, he singles out Byrd's ex-wife. Batman finds her quickly.
Batman: (narrating) She's still listed as Donna Lee Byrd. Widowed four decades and no remarriage, no change of name. Byrd stays with people.
Linkara: (as Batman) They really need to figure out a life outside of him. It's getting silly at this point.
Linkara (v/o): Batman explains to her that some people attacked a man whom they thought was Byrd, and he wants to know who would do something like that.
Donna: Someone terminally unhip...
Linkara: (as Donna) Someone who doesn't speak in slang, the unhippest of hep cats!
Linkara (v/o): When Batman suggests the drug connection, she turns him down.
Donna: "The world's most famous junkie," that's what he called himself. But he never burned anyone badly. He wanted to be respected...to be loved. He just hadn't learned how.
Linkara: If only Byrd had had access to early '90s educational videos about how drugs aren't cool!
Donna: You see...Blue never really had a childhood.
Linkara: (as Donna) His parents were murdered by a criminal. One evening, a saxophone flew into his room, and he was inspired to become... SAX MAN!
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, now we get a recounting of Byrd's early life: marrying young, living on the wild side for a bit, his father dying at a young age... and this seems to be the big difference with the actual Charlie Parker. Mind you, I'm getting this information from Wikipedia, so it could be wrong. Based on that, Charlie Parker had an absent father, but still encouraged him to get into music and was a small-time musician and entertainer himself. Here, the rationalization seems to be that because he lost his father to violence, Byrd has an ongoing ache in his heart that he spent his whole life trying to drive away, and that ultimately, even when he was around people, he felt completely alone.
Donna: (narrating) Except for music. He gave it everything, and it kept him going. Only his obsession could keep the wound from destroying him.
Linkara (v/o): And then she turns it around and seems to contradict herself by saying he was a good father who wanted a normal life for his family and enjoyed schmaltzy music, and this doesn't match with the "obsession with music that kept his aching heart going, and he's [an] alone, poor, tortured soul" thing.
Linkara: Complex character or inconsistent writing on a guy who faked his own death and made the rest of his loved ones think he was dead? (points to camera) YOU MAKE THE CALL!
Linkara (v/o): When Batman brings up the Countess' theory of about the world breaking Byrd's spirit, his wife calls it horse crap.
Donna: She would. All his hangers-on needed him to be the soul of hipness. They didn't even like it when he wanted to study modern music in Europe.
Linkara: (as Donna) If my husband wanted to join the Eurovision contest, then more power to him, I say!
Donna: (narrating) What destroyed Blue was his childhood pain, and the addiction it left him with. That's all.
Linkara: (as Donna) Although, mostly it was the heart attack, I'd say. That probably destroyed him the most.
Linkara (v/o): But apparently, she decides to flip-flop again, this time waxing poetic about the guy, saying it was a public suicide, that Byrd knew the walk in the rain to the Countess' place would kill him, and he wanted to die on his own terms and whatnot.
Donna: (narrating) I'm only sorry he had to die in Koko's place... and not back home with me. I never even saw the body, because she took so long to tell me. Buzzy identified it at the morgue. Do you know the coroner wrote down the wrong name? And listed his age as 55, when he was only 35? No one was paying attention. Even in death he was abandoned.
Linkara: Uh... yeah, about that... I don't know about the wrong name thing, but yes, the coroner for Charlie Parker did misidentify his age... mainly because Parker's body so heavily damaged the drug and alcohol abuse, he looked like a fifty- or sixty-year-old. The coroner was paying attention. That was part of the problem.
Linkara (v/o): The wife says she was never jealous of any of the affairs he had and doesn't know who the hell the Brothers of the Bop are when Batman asks, so his only remaining lead is an old connection of Byrd's named Cosmic Ray.
Linkara: You know, technically, nobody has really been wiped off the suspect list here. What I'm getting from all this is that all you need to do to throw Batman off the trail is tell a long, boring story about a guy, and he'll leave you alone.
Linkara (v/o): However, Batman can't locate Cosmic Ray, and instead decides to check in on Byrd after waxing philosophical again about how everyone seemed to see Byrd so differently.
Batman: (narrating) Tortured artist, instinctive demon, good provider. Wounded child.
Linkara: (as Batman) Pinball wizard.
Batman: (narrating) My computers don't help.
Linkara: (as Batman) I went home, played "World of Warcraft" for three hours, and still no closer to the truth!
Linkara (v/o): Batman spots the Brothers of the Bop again as they prepare to attack Byrd in the hospital. But this time, he's ready, getting the drop on them and equipping himself with a gas mask. And he decks them but good.
Batman: (narrating) I think I hear a jaw break. It's the first sound I've liked coming out of that mouth.
Linkara (v/o): And that sound he likes? "WAP!", apparently. The saxophone-playing Brother tosses an eighth note-shaped grenade into Byrd's room... from across the street. Damn, he may be a jazz-themed supervillain, but I think he missed out on his true career in baseball. Batman leaps into the window after it.
Bop Brother #1: Bats be nimble, bats be quick--
Bop Brother #2: --bats can't catch our boom-boom stick!
Linkara: (raising an eyebrow) Okay, I know you were doing it for the rhyme, BUT THAT WASN'T A STICK, MORON!
Linkara (v/o): Batman grabs the bomb and chucks it back out the window.
Batman: (narrating) Faster-- than I've ever-- moved.
Linkara: Oh, yeah, screw saving Jason Todd before that bomb went off that killed him. No, no, no, no. The fastest you've ever moved is saving the life of a jazz musician who's only in this miniseries. (holds up index finger) That's the real dramatic weight.
Linkara (v/o): The Brothers are long gone after the explosion, though, and Batman decides to ask Byrd where Cosmic Ray is. He barely manages to get out the word "Baird" before he's shooed off by the nurse attending to him. After a brief montage of interrogating people who knew Ray Baird, who was apparently in and out of prison, he finds Baird in a rundown apartment.
Baird: They call that music. That ain't music.
Linkara: (as Baird) Damn auto-tune! Learn to sing, dammit!
Baird: In my day we had some real music.
Linkara: (as Baird) Let me know when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch are back, dagnabbit!
Batman: Tell me about the music, Cosmic Ray.
Linkara: (as Batman) Can you score me some tickets to Katy Perry?
Linkara (v/o): So, after all that work to find Cosmic Ray, does this finally give us our answers? Of course not. It's yet another Citizen Kane-esque recounting of Byrd, just from Cosmic Ray's perspective. In this case, Byrd was a smooth-talking scammer, able to convince anyone to do anything for him, even scoring free drugs from him by creating elaborate webs of deception. However, he really admired Byrd and would never do anything to hurt him. What he does tell Batman that gives him a new clue is that Byrd owed money to mobsters who had brought drugs into uptown to begin with, since Byrd would get drugs from anybody, and those were the kind of people you didn't piss off. However, this seems to put Batman also on a bit more paranoid road. Thinking back to what Byrd had said in the first issue about having a new identity...
Byrd: (narrating) "...lets you leave yourself behind and move on."
Batman: (narrating) Or lets you pull off the ultimate scam.
Linkara: (as Batman) He's gonna pretend to form a boys' marching band in River City!
Linkara (v/o): And so, our comic ends at some palatial mansion where Batman knocks out the guards.
Batman: (narrating) If the answers are here... I'm getting them now.
Linkara: But we aren't, since those answers are apparently in the final issue. (closes comic and holds it up) This comic... (hesitates slightly) Well, it's better than the first issue, but it's still not very good.
Linkara (v/o): I can't say for certain if there's more or less pretentiousness in the second issue, since while everyone is still spending every waking moment talking about how awesome Byrd is, they at least have multiple different points of view on the guy, though the wife's views seem to change, depending on what page you're on. Sometimes, he's just a simple guy trying to provide for his family; others, he's a tragic junkie with daddy issues. Batman is almost a nonentity; it could be any hard-boiled detective in this role, and it wouldn't make a difference. Hell, it'd probably be better for it since we wouldn't have had that ludicrousness of the first issue, with Batman showing in FULL COSTUME TO THE JAZZ CLUB. Here, the ridiculousness is toned back a bit on the Brothers of the Bop, but they're still ludicrous and out of place.
Linkara: Whenever we get to the third issue, maybe it'll actually redeem the whole thing, but chances are, they'll say it's about Batman because he has issues with dead parents, too. Which, uh... Yeah, thanks for that bit of weak symbolism. (throws down comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Everyone is very casual and unimpressed when friggin' BATMAN shows up to see them.
A plus for this comic over Fortunate Son? Batman doesn't spend four hours on his computer learning everything there is to know about Jazz ever while yelling "Pigs... from a gun!"
(Stinger: Linkara is looking at Viga's copy of the My Little Pony comic)
Linkara: (shrugs) Eh.
(He tosses the comic aside. Cut to Viga)
Viga: Ponies... Ponies... (comic suddenly lands in her lap; she becomes elated) PONIES!