Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapters 10-11

Right away we get another example of why the Batman & Robin ‘verse doesn’t work in prose or film:

[Mr. Freeze] was headed for a cell in the notoriously hellish institution known as Arkham Asylum…being put away with some of the most sadistic criminal minds ever to caress a switchblade.

Arkham Asylum just doesn’t fit in that well with a lighthearted, more Adam West-esque interpretation of the Batman universe. Sure, it can be mentioned, or even shown, but making it a central part of the story poses some tonal problems. I’m not sure, but I’d bet that’s one of the reasons a scene depicting Two-Face’s violent escape from Arkham Asylum in Batman Forever was cut.

This is not just because Arkham is grim and violent, but what it represents:  how most of Batman’s rogues gallery are damaged people – possibly irreparably – like Batman himself. It’s a heavy idea, one that falls right through a narrative filled with puns but light on all the little things like characterization. But at least it gives Michael Jan Friedman a chance to write in some cameos.

Through the small, barred window set into the door of one cell, he could see a dark-bearded visage emerge from the shadows. And a moment later, an arrogant smile. “It’s good to see you, Lord of the Frigid North,” the inmate declared in a resonant and commanding voice. “Perhaps we can join forces for a little revenge. As you know, it’s a dish best served cold.”

Meanwhile Poison Ivy and Bane make their base in an abandoned bathhouse, which [insert “Batman & Robin is so gay” joke here]. Bruce is on a date with Julie Madison, who is about to propose to him, but Bruce is distracted by his illicit desire for Poison Ivy, so [insert another “Batman & Robin is so gay” joke here]. And Dick and Barbara bond over participating in a motorcycle race, although it ends badly when Barbara castigates Dick for not even noticing that Alfred is terminally ill, which…is a really good point, actually. At least the Dark Knight Detective does know, and it’s actually all but spelled out that he didn’t tell Dick because of his trouble coming to terms with it. I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I’m pretty sure that’s more explanation than we get in the film itself.

batmanalfred

This was something else that Friedman tries to flesh out, but can’t quite because the film’s script left him so little to work with. To be fair, though, it doesn’t help that Alfred in these movies is, besides Commissioner Gordon, the most shadowy supporting character, as perfectly has he was portrayed by the great Michael Gough. In the comics and in the animated series (which animated series? The animated series, duh), he’s definitely Batman’s essential civilian partner in crimefighting, handling some of the logistical aspects. Depending on the writer or the era of the franchise, there’s more about Alfred being a father figure, if not outright being Bruce’s legal guardian, but the Burton-Schumacher movies steered away from all that understandably, since the family servant getting to be Bruce’s guardian is probably about as unrealistic as the idea of a billionaire in a bat costume going around beating up the mentally ill [Fun Nerd Fact: The whole thing is a rare example of Silver Age comics being more realistic than their more modern counterparts, since the former had Bruce’s uncle as his legal guardian after his parents’ death, while the “Modern Age” of comics made Alfred the sole person to raise the orphaned Bruce.]

Well, as far as the film continuity goes, there might have been a throwaway line in 1989 Batman about Alfred raising Bruce, and I will totally take the time to watch the movie again just to verify that! Watch this space!

Anyway, it’s not as bad as Barbara Gordon Wilson’s entire character and plotline, but the gravitas of Alfred’s illness also just comes flying out of nowhere. That’s not to say this movie and previous ones don’t establish that Bruce cares for Alfred, much more than one would care for an employee, but the idea that losing Alfred would be like losing a parent just isn’t earned. There’s no intimate scene of Bruce and Batman bonding or reflecting on their relationship, no flashback to Alfred caring for young Bruce, virtually nothing about how Alfred feels about the man he watched grew up risking his life every single night…that Alfred means a great deal to Bruce and Dick is just a detail to be spelled out briefly. The book handles it better, because honestly it would have to, but again the story is just so poorly stitched together Alfred’s whole illness even in prose is basically just the Macguffin of Sadness.

The two chapters end with Poison Ivy and Bane busting Mr. Freeze out of Arkham. Hopefully the cure for his wife that Mr. Freeze is working on will help Alfred! How neat would that be?