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What an absolute scream!, September 16, 2017
This brief piece is burst open with macabre absurdity and psychotropic imagery--but of special interest is how Porpentine upends Batman's voice, with disturbing implications both for his identity in particular and for the notion of 'humanity' in general.
(Spoiler - click to show)We must hear the unthinkable. Batman can growl, grunt, groan, even howl with grief, but scream? To scream is antithetical to his axiomatic masculinity: is a Batman who is screaming still Batman? All the surrender that a scream contains, a woman's joy and her terror, has been displaced onto the screeching bats--to re-place the scream in Batman's throat is a threat to his integrity, his intelligibility.
Porpentine underscores how this screaming distorts Batman almost beyond recognition by how she depicts and refers to him--refers to it, rather. Batman's body is "gelatinously attentuated," stretched impossibly throughout the Joker's "giant ant farm prison." I can't think of a more delightful vision of a male dysmorphic nightmare: his hard, solid contours are made pliable, responsive, oozing perpetually and purposelessly, without direction. Batman has been stripped of manhood, of humanity, and reduced to 'itness.' The indomitable hero has become a bizarre creature, agonized and alone.
This awful transmogrification both precedes and proceeds from the screaming. The Joker's ingenious torment causes the screaming, true, but for the reader, (identified with the Joker by the second-person perspective,) the screaming comes first. In fact the screaming arrives before the game has begun, because of its titularity. And since the Sugarcane format pins the header to the left of the body text, the screaming echoes through the story, inescapable even after we've clicked away on our "two-tone shoes," leaving Bat-thing locked up behind us.
Batman's scream is not, indeed cannot, be described, only asserted. The scream's prison of inscrutability is in direct contrast to the Joker's animated vocalizations. We are treated to a "quaking, helpless laugh" which, ostensibly silent, is far easier to hear than Batman's screaming. The Joker's voice is perfectly legible, overdetermined by being so true to type. Xe weaves and swerves, hir quips going "up and down and whirling around" like the rickety rollercoaster that xe rides above the death swamps of hir lair.
This verbal dexterity stays firmly in the Joker's lane, however: gleeful evil, the quintessence of camp. Assuming hir gaudy mantle, we play the role of trickster demon to the hilt--how reassuring! Still, it can't quite ease the queasiness that Batman's plight summons up. Why so skittish? I've longed to revenge myself on this masculine paragon, to bring him low. Yet my victory tastes like bile.
The nausea that Batman is Screaming evokes is not simply a symptom of dependence on an Adversary for our grounding, such that its withdrawal injects us with vertigo. More upsetting is that Porpentine has 'filled our guts with possibilities.' What endless night of horrors, what gorgeous mischief might we accomplish, if only we can unman Batman? What are we if not subhuman, if the construct of 'humanity' as such is a massive, perverse fraud? It's enough to turn one's stomach.