French Lesson: Batman and Robin's Trip to France

I almost don't have to tell you by this point: English translated into very bad French in comics is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine. Not only because I'm a francophone myself, but because we live in a Global Village where such resources should be easy to find for writers and artists. Not software resources, HUMAN resources. People who speak and write French. And hey, American comic book people, RIGHT HERE ON YOUR CONTINENT! Alpha Flight has shown that IT'S POSSIBLE to do a language justice, so why don't you want to play the game, Batman and Robin #26?

In this story written by David Hine and drawn by Greg Tocchini, Batman and Robin meet up with France's own Batman, Nightrunner. The Louvre has been turned into an artistic disaster zone the liked of which France hasn't seen since Mr. Nobody and the Brotherhood of Dada ate Paris with a painting. That's all well and good. A problem crops up when Hine introduces Skin Talker, a crazy supervillain whose skin can manifest posthypnotic commands... all in French. If you can call it French.The first dermatographic, for example, strings together three words in a call to orgy. I guess it's not meant to a coherent message, but even in that, it's flawed. "Tuer" and "Manger" are simple enough. "Kill" and "Eat". Of course, if they're commands, they should be in the imperative "Tuez" and "Mangez". So it's really more "To kill" and "To eat", which makes less sense. The third word, "Bisou" is completely ridiculous. It's baby talk for a kiss, most often used to refer to a goodbye kiss on the cheek (like saying "kiss kiss!"), but not a verb. I think the intent is to make the hypnotized victims have sex, as "bisou" comes from "baiser", which (in France especially) is a verb that can mean that as well as "to kiss". How the translation came about is a mystery to me.

Skin Talker's next message is syntactically challenged:
"Fais ce que voudras" is missing a subject there. It means "Do what you want", but there's no "tu" ("you"), and the verb is in the future tense, so he's just telling us to "Do what would be wanted". Whatever that means. The phrase does occur in such works as Dumas' Three Musketeers. It is an archaism that means "Do what you will". What I find strange is that Dick Grayson Batman still knows how to translate it:

"Do what thou wilt"? First of all, French doesn't even have an archaic equivalent to those "Shakespearean" pronouns. If we accept that "Fais ce que voudras" is an archaic/poetic phrase (and it is), why wouldn't Dick translate it into modern English? If I hand him some Latin, does he translate it into Olde English? So it's strange. Doing a little research, the first relevant hit for "Fais ce que voudras" is Celine Dion's 1986 single "Fais ce que tu voudras", which Wikipedia translates as "Do What Thou Wilt" (does she have an English version of the song?). Are we to believe Hine's French comes from Celine Dion songs? And that he still forgot a pronoun? Better to believe he's a Dumas fan... but then I call foul on Dick's spot translation.

Writer David Hine takes me to task in the Comments. Check it out.

13 comments:

PK said...

Hi! I'm french and would like to give you my understanding of "Fais ce que voudras".
It could be a reference to François Rabelais (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francois_Rabelais) and his Abbey of Thélème (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francois_Rabelais#Th.C3.A9l.C3.A8me).
Hope it helps

Siskoid said...

Yes, I thought of Rabelais too, but that's even MORE archaic. Skin Talker must be a literature student gone mad. I still don't buy that Batman can translate archaic into archaic though. It all seemed an improbable use of the French language.

mkhall said...

My first thought is that Dick knows his Crowley. Aleister Crowley based the Law of Thelema on Rabelais, and used a mock-archaic form to add occult gravitas in The Book of the Law.: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

But it is more likely that it is sloppy writing.

David Hine said...

I may occasionally be sloppy, but not very often. French grammar is a little different to English. "Tuer, Manger, Baiser" is aspirational. Skin Talker is offering it as an opportunity to the crowd to let their inner desires loose. It's often used in French when the Imperative form might be more commonly used in English.

"Baiser" was replaced by "Bisou" in a later version of the script than the one I wrote or approved, along with a couple of other errors. I assume someone in editorial decided "Baiser" -a mild form of "To Fuck" - was inappropriate. I can only answer for my own script, which incidentally did not include the error "...a millennia" either.

"Fais ce que voudras" is of course absolutely correct and is a quotation from Crowley. I made that quite clear with the title on the following page. "THE WHOLE OF THE LAW" refers to Crowley's "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". You're quite correct that he was in turn quoting from Rabelais. The French translation is occasionally rendered as "Fais ce que tu voudras sera toute la Loi" but I do prefer he more antiquated "Fais ce que voudras sera le tout de la Loi", particularly as Crowley was certainly referring to Rabelais.

I hope that's helpful. It's nice to see someone out there keeping tabs, but please don't assume the writer is always a lazy asshole.

mkhall said...

David, thank you for giving your explanation. I can't comment on the French aspects, as my grasp of the language is limited to two courses taken 35 years ago.

With "sloppy writing" I was using shorthand for the process from story through script, lettering, and editorial mischief. It's something I regret, as I'm a writer myself, and shouldn't use such abbreviations where they won't be understood. I apologize for that. (In my own defense, I wrote that pre-coffee, and while checking on Hurricane Irene, which is not only bearing down on my house, but also tracking the path of my move this week. Still, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)

I didn't call you an asshole, though. That term's reserved for people I know personally and politicians. You are a writer who cares enough about his craft to be annoyed that someone changed his script, and about his audience enough to comment on a blog questioning his use of French. There are a lot of people ahead of you in the line to be called assholes.

David Hine said...

Don't worry, I know you were being far more polite than that. 'Asshole' is one of the milder terms I use when errors do slip through, sometimes directed against myself along with a good dose of self-flagellation.

Mainstream comics are produced at a faster rate than almost any popular art form and that means errors will always slip through, but in this case, fewer than you may have imagined with regard to the French. That was my point.

I don't comment on reviews or blogs that are critical of the quality of writing in general terms, though I always take note of opinions. I only comment when I think there's an inaccuracy or misunderstanding of intent.

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the insight, Mr. Hine! While I can't say it was an extremely bad use of French (if you click the French tag, you'll find some doozies), but it was at least strange. But it's interesting to know where you were coming from and it does justify some of the choices.

What the focus of the post doesn't make mention of is how much I otherwise liked the issue. Great, crazy ideas, dynamic art, and an awesome final punch (or pair of punches). My simple Twitter review was "Fun art history villainy in the Brotherhood of Dada vein. Nice to see Nightrunner too."

I hope I didn't offend, as the blog is rather tongue-in-cheek even when it turns to rant.

David Hine said...

Not offended at all - well only slightly - and you were dead right with the "Bisou". I know why it was changed but I wish I had been consulted before it went to press. "Kill, Eat, A Kiss" doesn't quite have the feel I was after.

The whole "Baiser" "Bisou" thing is interesting because in archaic French "Baiser" did mean "to kiss", but it has come to mean much more. If you want to talk kissing you now have to use "embracer" for a good old snog, or for a more chaste kiss "Faire une bisou" or "Faire la bise", literally "make a kiss." But I digress...

Using any foreign language in comics is always a minefield. I do feel fairly comfortable with French as I speak it fairly fluently and my partner, who is French, does check it for me.

And it did give me the chance to drag myself away from my work to chat to you guys...

Siskoid said...

That's cool! Really, my question was whether Dick would be as fluent and literate as you are ;-)

You've made me a believer and gotten yourself off the hook as far as the language issue goes, and I've advertized that fact in my social networking outlets.

Siskoid said...

Oh and while I have you here, allow me to go on record about how much I enjoyed Bulletproof Coffin. :)

Delta said...

Good on Mr. Hine for engaging here.

David Hine said...

Any excuse not to work...

Thanks for the comment on Bulletproof Coffin. You can blame me and Shaky for everything that goes down there :)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hine: that B&R story creeped me the hell out. If that was your intention, congratulations, I may be sleeping under the couch for a week.

 

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