And it starts. The first nine issues of Batman & Robin were mere child’s play compared to what we’re about to look at. The remainder of our Great Morrison Bat Study is full of incredibly dense, complicated comic books that don’t make their meaning apparent until a second or third read-through. I’ve gone through each of these books at least twice now, and I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed, so if you’ve got any insights into these issues please share them in the comments.
What we’re looking at here are two concurrent stories with events that bounce off each other, feeding into a rich tapestry that culminates in Batman & Robin #16. In the Batman & Robin issues, Dick and Damian explore Wayne Manor and find a mountain of clues that suggest Bruce is alive in the past and manipulating the present, but they also have to deal with the threat of the Domino Killer and the ultimate schemes of Talia al Ghul. Meanwhile, Return of Bruce Wayne shows us first-hand Bruce’s plight as he attempts to make his way back to present time.
The order the issues are presented in below is, I believe, the best way to read them. I find it essential to mix up the two series; it leads to a really engrossing experience in which we can see developments in RoBW pay off in the immediately following issue of Batman & Robin. Of course you don’t have to do it this way, but it’s really exciting to do so. Now hold on to your hat… it’s about to get crazy.
Return of Bruce Wayne #1:
-This issue opens with the time capsule rocket seen at the end of Final Crisis #7. How did it get here, in the same place as Bruce? Isn’t that weird? What’s important, though, is that this rocket is full of the symbology of DC Comics heroes — Superman’s cape, the Bat-signal, etc.
-This issue begins a common trope in RoBW: bats flock to Bruce. In fact, because of this, the natives dub him “Man of Bats” (like his Native American buddy in the Club of Heroes!).
-I love that the word “Joker” makes Bruce angry, although how does he recognize what the cavemen are saying?
-More Final Crisis convergence via the New Gods: the dying old man is Anthro, visited by Metron in Final Crisis #1. Upon his death, he gives to his son something that resembles a pearl necklace. His son says: “Ma wore this when they were young.” Some commonalities with Bruce/Martha Wayne here.
-We can see in the way Bruce carries himself that his instinct never leaves him, just his memories. In a way, it’s quite similar to what happens to him in “RIP.”
-I love that Vandal Savage is the antagonist in this issue.
-Who was the Bat-beast that challenged Savage before, thus giving his camp its nifty bat carcass? The art seems to imply it’s part of Darkseid’s trap for the Caped Crusader. If so, it’s interesting that Bruce embraces the trap, clothing himself in it to defeat Savage. That seems to fit with what we know of Darkseid’s scheme — it wraps itself around Bruce at his moment of creation.
-The general thrust of this issue involves a young man following Bruce’s example and becoming a caveman Robin. Remember one of the key messages of Morrison’s run: “Batman is never alone.”
-Importantly, this issue shows us the genesis of the bat-people or Miagani. They’re direct descendants of Anthro, who, again, is blessed with the power of the New Gods. This issue also shows us the beginning of Vandal Savage’s hatred for mankind.
-There are a few common elements that seem to mark Bruce’s time jumps, notably an eclipse and plunging into a body of water.
-When the superhero team searching for Bruce shows up, RoBW becomes the first Morrison Bat-story in which Bruce’s metahuman allies play a central part.
-Superman has Bruce figured out: “He can survive anywhere. Anytime. Surviving is what he does.”
-Green Lantern helpfully explains for us, if we didn’t catch it, that Bruce has no memory.
-Superman’s dialog here implies that everything happening to Batman is part of a larger trap. We already know that, but you know what they say about hindsight.
-What’s the deal with this sea monster creature at the end of the issue?
Batman & Robin #10
-Damian, in his role as Bruce’s business proxy, uncovers Wayne Company donations to a railroad accident fund set up for Thomas Wayne. Remember this for later.
-Oberon Sexton believes that Bruce Wayne is the Domino Killer’s next target. He also fills us in on the fate of Jezebel Jet, who’s “missing, presumed dead.” Further, Sexton thinks all the victims are part of the Black Glove.
-In case you’re just joining this epic story, Dick gets us up to speed: the Justice League thinks Bruce went back in time, Tim Drake believes he’s leaving clues in the past, and Alfred (rightly) thinks those clues are in the manor/caves (or, as Dick puts it, “the past can talk to the future.”)
-Here the notion of clues in the Wayne family pictures first arises. We see the gap for the original Thomas Wayne (not Bruce’s dad), the family’s “black sheep” who “led a rather distinguished sect of devil worshippers.” Says Alfred, he “summoned an ancient bat-demon of the Miagani tribe, and all kinds of terrible and bloody bargains were struck.” THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Dick’s response: “Did something happen way back to associate this place with Bat gods and bat tribes and devils?” Why yes, Dick, it did. Good call.
-Damian guesses that, if Bruce were leaving clues back in time, he might have posed in place of his ancestors for the family portraits.
-Damian believes he sees a clue in a painting, the “constellation of Orion over the bay.” Though this ends up accessing a secret passage in Wayne Manor, might the choice of Orion also refer to the New God whose murder sparked Final Crisis and Bruce’s killing of Darkseid? After all, Bruce’s last words were “you shouldn’t have killed Orion.”
-Damian also teases the idea that Bruce is alive “here and now,” but no one can tell because something had changed him. This seems to hint that Oberon is Bruce, especially when coupled with Dick’s assertion that something’s familiar about Oberon. I actually thought was true for awhile.
-We get an interesting phone conversation between Oberon and Dr. Hurt here. Hurt’s upset that Oberon didn’t attack Batman and “rejected [his] offer.” Now, Hurt promises, “the Mexican train is on its way,” referring to El Penitente. So we know the Black Glove is still active, despite Oberon’s (possibly faked?) claims that the Domino Killer is offing its members exclusively.
-Weirdly, Oberon claims he has “exceptional” hearing. Is this another tease at him being Bruce?
-Back to the portraits: our heroes discover that “Mordecai Wayne” doesn’t fit in the official Wayne genealogy. Could that be Bruce for real?
-Damian’s character arc here takes center stage. To Dick: “If my father returns, we can’t be Batman and Robin anymore, can we?” It’s the first time we see Damian really express any attachment to what he’s doing, and especially to Dick. Of course, Damian’s mother will have her say in trying to break up this partnership.
-Talia’s master stroke — to have Damian kill Dick — might be the plan she’s been referring to since all the way back in “Batman and Son.” She’s just not as good a planner as Darkseid, unfortunately.
-Dick, on investigating: “Once you see the pattern, it’s everywhere.” Very meta, Grant! That word “pattern,” in fact, is really important.
-To assuage Damian’s fears, Dick quotes to him “Batman and Robin will never die.” Interesting choice of circumstances in which to say that.
-The BARBATOS graffiti scrawled onto a wall of the Manor makes its return here, and now we see the word “Thomas” paired with it. I think at this point we can assume Barbatos is the bat-demon Thomas summoned.
Return of Bruce Wayne #2:
-Bruce’s mysterious lady friend Annie tells him that “a great dark God has set his hand upon you.” If you didn’t pick it up before, the signs that this all points to Darkseid are becoming more and more clear.
-Thanks to the Time Archivist (what a weird character), we know about the creature that attacked Bruce at the end of the last issue: it’s “hyperfauna,” a living being which has “scale and depth and dimension we can only begin to imagine.” Apparently it attacks beings that travel through time. Rip Hunter knows about it, so that makes sense.
-RoBW #2 features another dead bat. This one’s nailed to the door of a church.
-This issue gives us our answer about Mordecai Wayne: it’s Bruce’s fictional detective persona in Gotham settlement.
-The rumor around town is that Annie talks to the devil. Hm.
-Bruce is starting to develop a few hazy memories; he can now remember the cave from RoBW #1. … hey, it’s a start.
-Bruce is keeping a journal, which he has drawn into Mordecai’s portrait. That’s what we saw in Batman & Robin #10.
-Yet there seems to have been a really Mordecai, whose clothes Bruce wears. Was he really a Wayne?
-Annie takes Bruce to the cave of the Miagani. Could this be the very same cave Bruce landed in in RoBW #1? Geography suggests that’s unlikely. In a later issue, Tim posits that the Bat-people carried over Bruce’s symbology to the New World, and that’s probably what happened.
-This is probably nothing, but Annie’s motivations are very Poison Ivy-esque. I thought maybe Morrison was going to use a classic Bat-villain or stand-in in every issue of RoBW, but I don’t think that follows through.
-Here’s something Annie does that’s not like Poison Ivy: she worships the gods of the fourth world. How does she know about that?
-Brother Malleus, Bruce’s primary puritan antagonist, refers to Annie as a “jezebel.” Can’t be an accident.
-Bruce’s appearance at the Vanishing Point is tough to figure out. When does it occur? I’m thinking right before RoBW #6; in this issue, it’s a damn headache.
-Here, Superman lays out plainly that Bruce has been trapped by Darkseid, and if he manages to get back to the 21st century by himself bad things will happen.
-It turns out Brother Malleus is a Wayne, too — Nathaniel Wayne, whose painting we may or may not see in Batman & Robin #10. For his actions, Annie the witch curses him and “all his kin.” How does that relate to Darkseid’s curse, I wonder. Is it connected? Is this misdirection?
-The legend of Mordecai Wayne is credited with helping the birth of Gotham — his story allowed the early settlers to survive their first rough winter. Perhaps Bruce is so apt at divining the “patterns” in Gotham City because he helped establish them?
Batman & Robin #11:
-Hurt’s “W” wound “reminds him of who he is.” Is Hurt’s identity starting to become clear yet? He calls his wound the “double U,” or “the dark twin.” That is a bit of misdirection, but this next part isn’t. Hurt says he’s out to “reclaim what was always rightfully” his.
-All that said, what is the purpose of this opening scene in which Hurt gets blessed by a priest? Is it some kind of joke?
-Another question: are Hurt’s lackeys part of the Religion of Crime? It would seem to make sense.
-What is the Corpse Road beneath Wayne Manor? I think this will come back later.
-In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious who/what Barbatos is.
-Damian deduces that Oberon’s British accent is fake and accuses Sexton of being Bruce, though he gets no answer.
-Hurt’s lackeys say that Barbatos has awakened. How is that possible?
-Talia’s plot to off Dick here seems more like an inconvenience than a real threat. That’s probably part of Morrison’s “kitchen sink” approach to his giant stories (think about the Injustice Gang in JLA‘s “World War III”).
Batman & Robin #12:
-Did Dick hallucinate underground, or did “Barbatos” really awaken? If so, how did that happen and what does that mean?
-Van Derm, the Flemish painter from RoBW #2, designed Wayne Manor… on Bruce’s instructions, no doubt.
-Not really related to anything, but the scene where Dick goes off on Slade for all the destruction caused at Bludhaven is really unexpected and really cool.
-Here Damian really comes into his own as Robin; he makes the choice to stay with Dick fighting crime, creating an adversarial relationship with his mother. It’s almost the inverse of Bruce’s situation.
-One of Hurt’s thugs: “This train started rolling a long, long time ago.”
-Hurt speaks of his going back to Gotham as the “return of the King.”
-Dick’s figuring out Sexton’s mystery is weird to me. “It’s a routine,” he says. Are these jokes I don’t get? Apparently so; the blogger Rikdad has thoughts on the jokes here, although it seems the non-humor clues pointing to Oberon’s identity were much more concrete.
Return of Bruce Wayne #3:
-Here, for the first time, Bruce visually flashes back to the end of Final Crisis #6 and Darkseid.
-Every one of these issues is about the effect Bruce has had on people in the past, which always manages to influence the present. The “domino” theme concurrently running through Batman & Robin is pretty interesting, because what is Bruce doing if not himself playing a game of dominoes across centuries?
-We see dead, hung bats again — a common visual trope here — as well as the return of the Miagani. Bruce keeps ending up in this cave.
-It’s pretty uncontroversial to say that this cave is the present-time Batcave, right?. Thus, what Bruce sees here is the same stuff Dick stumbled upon in Batman & Robin #11.
-Where did the Miagani get the technology to make all these traps that foil the pirates? Are they from Bruce’s original rocket, perhaps?
-I mentioned him above, but in this issue Tim Drake makes a return to Morrison’s Bat-story. It’s strange that he’s been absent for so long, although I guess Chris Yost had to have something to work with over in Red Robin.
-Bruce’s fight with Blackbeard employs a lot of Batman-style tricks. Very cool.
-In case we hadn’t figured it out, we’re told by Bruce’s friend Jack that we’re looking at the “last of the Miagani. They claim direct descent from the first boy,” also known as Anthro from RoBW #1.
-Jack further explains the giant carving in their lair is their God, “Lord of the Night and the Dark Sun.” Alfred’s earlier explanation in Batman & Robin was wrong, then: the carving in the Batcave isn’t Barbatos but Bruce himself!
-By the way, Jack is Jack Valor, grandson of Jon Valor, DC’s original Black Pirate and a pre-existing character.
-Bruce begins to regain his identity here; he comes face-to-face with his cowl, the “relic” found by Tim. It’s a surprisingly emotional scene. “Me. I wore this. Me.”
-This issue brings back the idea that Bruce always jumps time concurrently with an eclipse, and there’s always some water involved. It’s hard to tell if that happened in RoBW #2, but it was definitely in #1.
-Blackbeard’s first mate Hands has some interesting commentary on Bruce’s city: “This Gotham’s a bad place. Some places are born under a black sun.”
-The last few pages of this issue, which tell the continuing story of Jack Valor and his mission for Bruce, are packed with stuff. For instance, this is, I think, our first contemporary glimpse of the giant tome with the bat-symbol on front. Jack notices it but can’t elucidate further. “I caught sight of an old book and… something more, of which I cannot speak.” What is that something more? Must be what’s in the book, right?
-Jack on his running an errand for Bruce: “All the way home, I felt a shadow on my heels, as though I had taken part in some midnight, awful rite. And all the way home I seemed to hear bells tolling, far off in the night… the bells of the All-Over.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about these bells, which Bruce mentions hearing when Darkseid hits him with the Omega Effect in Batman #702.
-We now flash to Bruce’s next time-jump, in the wild west time period. Here we see Jonah Hex playing cards, dealing a dead man’s hand with a twist just like the Joker in the prelude to “RIP.” He’s being hired to track down and kill Bruce Wayne. I mentioned in my notes for RoBW #2 that Bruce’s friend Annie might’ve been a stand-in for Poison Ivy. If that’s the case, might Hex be meant to actually represent the Joker in the past? We’ll see more next issue.
Up next: The end of the Dr. Hurt story!
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more