Please note: Due to the amount of material I have to discuss, the comics I’ve grouped together for the 12th installment of the GMBS will be split into two posts, of which this is the first.
I don’t think I’ve ever had more to say about a single comic than I have for Return of Bruce Wayne #5. If I could/if it was legal/if I wanted to, I’d just scan the whole issue here and let you all read it again, because basically everything that happens in it is super-important. Ditto RoBW #4, especially the final pages, which are absolutely loaded with keys to understanding the larger story in play. Rereading these books, I’m struck by how much Grant Morrison completely lays bare for us. Return of Bruce Wayne #4 straight-up destroys Dr. Hurt’s scheme of summoning the demon Barbatos over in Batman & Robin — we’re told, through Catherine Van Derm, that the artifact Hurt seeks summons not Barbatos but Bruce Wayne. Unless… Bruce is Barbatos?
The thing that confounds me most in these issues are a couple panels, one in RoBW #4 and the other in #5, that seem to suggest Darkseid’s bat-demon and Planet Earth’s bat-man are one and the same. Is this symbolic or literal? Has Bruce subsumed the Apokalyptian curse set on him by his Final Crisis foe, or do these books merely suggest that to those hungry for power (like the demented Dr. Hurt) Bruce appears to be possessed? Indeed, mistaking the two is the fatal flaw in Hurt’s plan… maybe Morrison and his artists (Georges Jeanty and Ryan Sook) are just tipping their hands to us in a more visual way.
While Bruce Wayne edges ever closer to getting back home, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne have a bit of a handful themselves in Gotham City. In our last installment, we learned that mysterious detective Oberon Sexton is actually the Joker, and his new game is helping Batman stop the rising storm brought on by Dr. Hurt. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, right?
Return of Bruce Wayne #4:
-We open on red skies. Very appropriate.
-In this issue’s beginning scene, a gaggle of crooks steal the mysterious Bat-box from the Van Derm family. Hey, guess what — we’re finally going to learn the origin of that box in the next post!
-Vandal Savage appears again as this issue’s antagonist, clearly still dealing with the resentment of humankind engendered way back in RoBW #1.
-Savage has hired a Native American spiritual advisor to crack the secret of the Bat-box, and here’s what Savage is told: “Bat-people… have secrets to turn the sky upside-down. You open that box, it’s the end of the world.” Also note: this advisor knows the language of the Miagani.
-We learn that Bruce has been tracking Savage’s men for awhile (presumably as long as he’s been in this time).
-Savage knows something about the Bat-box. “The Red Man’s talking about an older world than you can ever know.” Savage apparently has some knowledge of the New Gods.
-Savage also says, of Catherine Van Derm’s purported ability to open the box, that she’s “a girl with a gift beyond gold.”
-Another of this issue’s antagonists – “Doctor Thomas,” who’s clearly Thomas Wayne (although never referred to as such). He’s hell-bent on possessing the box because he thinks it holds the secret to eternal life (interestingly, this is the very same motivation that instigated Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series).
-When Catherine thinks about opening the box, she hears bells. These bells keep coming back. Soon we’ll learn their meaning!
-Thomas thinks those to be the bells of Barbatos.
-Here is where the folly of Thomas’ plan is laid bare. Catherine: “The bells at the end summon another… from the shadows. One who won’t stop until the wicked are brought to account. He’s here now.” This obviously means Bruce, who the book cuts to right away.
-Speaking of things that are heard: as Bruce approaches, Savage’s advisor hears “the wings of a bat.” Audible clues pop up so much.
-Here we get another fantastic fight scene in which Bruce’s instincts and training are far superior to that of those he fights, even without all his gadgets.
-Savage kind of remembers meeting Bruce. “Like some damn bat! Like before.”
-Last time I suggested that perhaps RoBW #4 would play at a connection between the Joker and Jonah Hex, since Morrison shows them dealing the same hand of cards throughout his series. It seems, though, that doesn’t mean much of anything, right?
-Very interesting: for a brief moment, Bruce has his hands on Thomas Wayne, though at the time he doesn’t really know how big a pain in the ass Thomas is going to be. .
-Catherine recognizes Bruce because of the pearls he carries from Catherine’s mother. Pearls continue to be significant to Bruce.
-Catherine reads Bruce a cryptic prophecy: “All the days of the world is one day and he must be strong for us all.” What does that mean?
-Catherine opens the Bat-box with a musical cue. This is presently similarly to how the Miagani’s traps are sprung in RoBW #3.
-Here’s the first moment where Bruce and Barbatos are conflated. The art is really ambiguous, but it’s interesting that this happens immediately after Catherine opens the Bat-box — did it actually contain a demon? I’m honestly not at all sure what to make of this page.
-Jonah Hex shoots Bruce, knocking him into a body of water and triggering his time-jump, as is typical for this series.
-At the end of this issue we learn definitively that the Catherine is part of the Van Derm family, and in the climactic scene meets Alan Wayne. The two are wed and sire a son, Kenneth. They also complete the unfinished Wayne Manor.
-Alan’s narration: “A blueprint sketched in lines of circumstance that converged there, somehow, in the unfinished house of Wayne and Van Derm.” These two families obviously had a history before — interesting they’d reconnect again and literally join their bloodlines.
-Upon Catherine’s request, Alan keeps the Bat-box, for Bruce “must return.”
-We also delve a little further into the construction of the Wayne gardens, mentioned in Batman & Robin #10. “It is thus in [Catherine's] sweet memory I have commissioned a garden in form so grand and so macabre its wings outspread will cast a shadow across time and the dead.”
-Alan mentions of Thomas that he’s suspected to be 150 years old at that point. He must know of Thomas’ legacy as a dark Wayne then, right?
-The end of this issue also sees Thomas ship off to England (interestingly, on a ship called the S.S. Orion — Orion keeps popping up!). Presumably, he works on establishing his Black Glove organization overseas; it has a serious international presence by the time we meet it in “Club of Heroes.”
Return of Bruce Wayne #5:
-This issue opens with Tim Drake (currently Red Robin) bringing readers up to speed on Bruce’s situation. Notice he points out that he “was Batman’s partner longer than anyone else.”
-We learn that Superman has retrieved Bruce’s strange recording from Batman #702 and brought it to the present.
-There are a lot of metafictional nods in the narration of this issue, which appropriately takes the tone of a hard-boiled detective story. That accomplishes three things: 1) it accurately portrays Bruce’s role in this time period; 2) it indicates he’s getting closer and closer to becoming who he once was; and 3) it gets the reader in on this detective game that’s been running all throughout RoBW. Anyway, here’s the first of those meta nods: “When you think about it, life is like a detective story…. It’s all shadows and clues, mysteries and secrets. And it always stars with a dame.” Though in this particular case that “dame” refers to Marsha Lamarr, in a larger sense perhaps he’s referring to Jezebel Jet from way back in “Batman & Son.”
-Marsha (though we don’t know her name yet) hires Bruce to find Martha Wayne’s killer, and she wants the process to make a scene, so she asks Bruce to wear his dad’s masquerade costume, which happens to look like a Batman suit (you can see this in the Black Casebook story “The First Batman,” and we also glimpsed Dr. Hurt wearing it in “RIP”).
-We find out the journal Bruce was carrying (written by Mordecai Wayne, his persona from RoBW #2) took the brunt of Jonah Hex’s bullet from last issue. Sadly, Bruce has lost all his memories again.
-Even Bruce’s dialog is meta: “I don’t much like jokers with guns.”
-Bruce’s client knows billionaire John Mayhew (from “Club of Heroes”) — he wants to hire her to make The Black Glove movie. We know from previous stories that movie doesn’t work out. We should also be starting to suspect the identity of the woman who’s hired Bruce.
-Now that Bruce is approaching contemporary times, the references to things we recognize start to fly: “Kane Chemical,” “Ace Chemical.”
-Martha Wayne’s mom thinks Thomas paid to have Martha killed. She thinks it’s suspicious that the killing would have occurred over pearls, a “worthless Van Derm heirloom.” This is exactly the kind of thing Dr. Hurt was pushing back in “RIP,” by the way. Martha’s take on the pearls: they “were there to identify her to the gunman.”
-Here we learn that Bruce’s client’s name is indeed Marsha, and we can connect the dots — this is Marsha Lamarr, the woman apparently killed by Mangrove Pierce but who England’s The Knight suspects was killed by Mayhew.
-Check out Betsy Kane’s coffee cup, which shows images of bats and a “W.” (hey, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Morrison believes in tasseography).
-Betsy shouts that “Thomas Wayne is alive! Laughing at all of us!” We know that Hurt spoke to her, masquerading as Bruce’s dad… a favorite past-time of his.
-Something else Betsy says that should sound familiar: “This city’s heart is black and broken.” The idea of the city as an actual sick entity keeps coming back to us.
-I’m really confused about Roddy Kane’s mumbling in this issue. Is there anything to it? Sometimes it seems like he’s actually commenting on something: (ex: when Betsy blames Thomas for Martha’s woes, Roddy seems to gasp out “Hurt”). Other times it looks like nonsense.
-Another question: any significance to the wasps in this scene? They seem to just be a nuisance, but maybe not.
-There’s a weird meta moment when Bruce asks Marsha about himself. Of the Waynes: “They had a son, right?” Marsha’s response: “I don’t suppose he’ll ever be right. They took him away on a trip to Hawaii or something.”
-Marsha gives Bruce a history lesson re: Wayne Manor, recapping many of the important events of previous RoBW issues.
-In a scene change to a military psychiatric hospital, we meet Dr. Hurt in his silver age capacity as an army doctor who performs mental experiments. He’s interviewing Carter Nichols, a scientist who believes he’s cracked the secret to time travel. Readers of RoBW #5 would probably have recognized Nichols from Batman #700, which was published before this issue. However, my own analysis hasn’t gotten to #700 yet.
-Check out Hurt’s offer to Nichols: “You know who I am. I’m offering you the same deal I offered the others. And I bet you everything you can’t refuse.” This is loaded. First, he’s definitely channeling the devil in his ability to tempt here. Second — the others? He’s got to mean the other members of the Black Glove, right? Third, check out the gambling language (“I bet you everything”) Hurt loves to employ and that factored so heavily into “Club of Heroes.”
-More from Hurt: “Think about what happened when Roderick Kane chose not to play…. Your visitor won’t keep forever.” So Hurt acknowledges he’s responsible for Roddy Kane’s tragic condition. But who is Nichols’ visitor? Some woman who’s traveled through time, perhaps?
-No matter how many times I read this issue, I still say “Oh my God” every time Metron appears. Did you catch him? He’s a wheelchair-bound invalid at the military hospital, and he says to Bruce “Batman beware the hole in things,” referring to Darkseid. This is a great nod to Morrison’s Mr. Miracle miniseries from his Seven Soldiers event.
-Bruce kind of recognizes Nichols, whom Batman has met.
-At this point it seems as though Bruce is starting to put together what’s happening to him. For instance, he clues into the fact that Marsha’s withholding something from him, like Jezebel and Annie before.
-Speaking of Annie: Return of Bruce Wayne #5 mirrors issue #2 in some interesting ways, as #4 mirrors #1 (similar villains and other supporting cast being a key).
-And speaking of Jezebel, Bruce and Marsha’s embrace here is quite similar to Bruce and Jezebel’s embrace in “RIP.” Plus Marsha is a redhead, and she does call Bruce her “Dark Knight.”
-Unfortunately, Marsha tells Bruce she intends to marry John Mayhew, which is going to get her killed.
-It’s possible all of the clues we notice about Marsha jog Bruce’s memory, because right after their kiss we get this narration: “I was getting close to something big. It felt like a cold tide of black water spiraling around a drain. It was hard to avoid the obvious conclusion. The whole thing was a hoax. It was a performance from the very beginning. A midnight masquerade. A black mass under a black sun. My head already felt like the hallway of a haunted house. And I couldn’t help thinking I’d done this before.” I’m not sure if Bruce does come to the “obvious” conclusion, or if everything really has been faked from the literal beginning, but Bruce now knows things are not what they seem.
-We learn that Hurt’s cult, which includes Nichols and John Mayhew, has summoned Bruce to guide them to “the hidden casket of immortality and life eternal.” Hurt still hasn’t given up that goal, it seems. Also, this is definitely an earlier iteration of the Black Glove.
-This wicked night takes place during an eclipse. We’ve seen this before.
-We also find out that Bruce was poisoned by a kiss from Marsha. She was setting him up to be a sacrifice victim.
-The ceremony: Marsha masquerades as Martha Wayne, who’s going to be filmed ritualistically killing Bruce in order to destroy the Wayne family name once and for all. The logic: “Destroy a reputation, destroy a soul… souls to feed to Barbatos.”
-In the ceremony, the Black Glove call upon the “Red Rock and Rage” and the “angels and dukes of the Dark Side Inferno Pits.” That sounds just like the Religion of Crime (who we last saw in Batman & Robin #7-9). It’s all connected.
-Marsha, on her motivation: “I’d do anything to never grow old.” So many characters just want to stay young.
-While Bruce burns, we cut to Betsy, who hears bells. Could that mean Barbatos approaches?
-Nichols has a change of heart and refuses to participate in the ceremony or join the Black Glove. As he backs away, Bruce grabs a device from him and teleports to safety. That device would be the time travel machine Nichols had been working on.
-As Bruce does this, again we see his image conflated with Barbatos. Are we to assume they’re one and the same? It’s especially telling considering Bruce’s narration: “What I could never have expected was what happened next, and what I became there at the end.” Did he become Barbatos?
-Side point: seemingly Hurt doesn’t recognize Bruce in the past? He’s just a pawn of Darkseid too, right?
-In the midst of all this, how do the Betsy/Roddy scenes relate? Why do we cut back to them when Bruce teleports away?
-By refusing to participate, Nichols “wins” Hurt’s wager. It’s the small victories that count.
-We cut back to the present, and Tim Drake hears bells too…
-And then we get that crazy, sinister image of Bruce on the last page of this issue. Maybe that’s what he “became.”
Batman & Robin #13:
-This issue opens with the twisted history proposed by Betsy Kane in RoBW #5, climaxing in Thomas’/Hurt’s return to Gotham in the present day.
-Hurt references the “black sun,” which he believes will signal Barbatos’ return.
-Picking up a thread from our last post, Dick Grayson expounds on some more reasonable evidence for how he deduced that Oberon Sexton was the Joker.
-Why Joker masqueraded as a heroic detective: he felt he had to fill in for Bruce’s absence (which he sensed somehow). Again, Morrison suggests Joker and Batman are two halves of the same whole.
-Additionally, it turns out there was a real Oberon Sexton, whom Joker killed — but Sexton was already a murderer; he was a crime novelist who killed his wife. Here Joker cites “karma”; he believed justice was being done.
-Joker says his motivation also included wanting to warn Dick and Damian of impending trouble. He’s had a sense for Hurt’s machinations this whole time; this was referenced as far back as “The Clown at Midnight.”
-Joker to Dick on Hurt’s scheme: “Looks like everyone dies in the crossfire. Unless you’re as good as he was.” Joker challenges Dick to live up to Bruce, as if Dick wasn’t already feeling pressured.
-Commissioner Gordon tells Dick that criminals are clearing out of Gotham “as rats leaving a ship.” Even here the Gotham as diseased metaphor creeps into the book’s language.
-Dick, on the Joker: “Everything the Joker says is a lie or a trick or a clue.” We should probably remember that
-An interesting, subtle difference between Bruce and Dick. “The other Batman called me Jim.” “I’ll call you Commissioner Gordon, sir, if that’s okay” (I love the “sir” especially).
-Gordon to Dick: “It’s been a long time since Gotham City belonged to anyone but the Batman, right?” “I like to think I’m just keeping the costume warm. But the Joker’s only the beginning of something much bigger. I still haven’t made all the connections.” Dick’s still unsure of his role as Batman, and he hasn’t got the detective thing down yet.
-Dick does, however, have some stuff figured out. “In three days time, Gotham experiences a total solar eclipse. An event that’s sure to have serious symbolic value for the kind of crazy people we’re dealing with…”
-Gordon to Dick: “Most of my cops prefer you to him.” Apparently Dick’s slightly softer methods haven’t gone unnoticed.
-When Damian interrogates Joker, it seems like Joker almost has a serious emotional breakdown. It can’t be, right? Remember what Dick said about him. That’s a really great scene, though.
-Joker also says to Damian: “You sound just like… like him…” which is probably something the kid loves to hear.
-Damian suspects Joker isn’t mad, but brilliant. Though he’s not quite right, he’s on to something. I imagine that partially stems from Damian’s drive to be able to figure everything out. He can’t get a lock on madness, but brilliance is totally in his wheelhouse.
-All the sickness metaphors pay off at the end of this issue — it turns out Hurt, along with our old friend Professor Pyg, intend to make the city literally sick with viral addiction.
Up next: The real, true, no-foolies finale.
By the way, for all my info on the Wayne family genealogy and the construction of their manor, I used this post on the DC Forums courtesy of user ronniebolts. Thank you for all your hard work, Ronnie!
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