Here’s where it all comes together. Return of Bruce Wayne #6 answers almost every key question regarding what’s been happening to Bruce throughout Grant Morrison’s Batman saga. Batman & Robin #16, one of 2010′s best comics, fills in a few missing gaps and provides a stunning conclusion to years of work. When I read these books, I’m seriously tempted to wonder how anyone can not think Morrison’s an amazing writer. Sure, some of this story’s very dense, possibly even impenetrable to new or unmotivated readers. But for those really invested in Morrison’s years on Batman, I don’t see how these books can be anything but wickedly exciting and immensely satisfying.
In case you forgot, here’s what’s going on. In Return of Bruce Wayne, Bruce edges closer and closer to returning to the present, but if he does, Darkseid’s final trap will destroy the world. Over in Batman & Robin, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne have twin threats to deal with. Not only is the villainous Dr. Hurt (Bruce’s ancestor Thomas Wayne, but not his dad) planning to turn Gotham into a madhouse, but the Joker’s on the loose and waging his own war against Hurt, who dared to use him for his own gain. Darkseid, the Joker and the so-called devil — I think Batman has this covered, don’t you?
Are you ready? Let’s answer some questions.
Batman & Robin #14:
-The Joker reveals to Robin that he’s manipulating all the heroes to fight against the Black Glove. He sees this as his battle.
-Joker also says he’s now set events into motion he can’t prevent. “There’s nothing anyone can do to stop the dominoes from falling… and that’s the joke.” Joker has basically orchestrated all the non-Hurt stuff in Batman & Robin, including the mysterious murders way back in the first arc of the series. Now the domino metaphor he’s employed (remember, he masqueraded as the Domino Killer) has come to a head, which artist Frazer Irving cleverly illustrated in the last issue by occasionally cutting to panels of dominoes falling.
-The whole exchange here between Joker and Damian is great. Remember, Joker has a history with Robins. When Damian locks himself in a room with the Joker and brings his own crowbar, Joker quips “you might be the funniest one yet.”
-We learn here that Dr. Hurt has retrieved the Bat-box, which was hidden in the Manor in Return of Bruce Wayne #5.
-Dick confesses to Alfred that he thought all the mysteries in B&R were centered on him. Now he finds he’s trapped in a much larger plot.
-Great line from Joker, who steals this issue: “Batman and Robin, working for the Joker! Best. Gag. Ever!”
-Dr. Hurt employs our old friend Professor Pyg (from B&R #1-3) as his henchman. Pyg unsurprisingly likes to use animal language in his speech, including several references to rats and goats (i.e. “The rats are the young of the goats.”) Presumably the rats represent the sick citizens of Gotham, while the goat perhaps points to a classical demonic symbol? It’s interesting to note that in its original real-world usage, “Gotham” meant “goat-city” in the Anglo-Saxon tongue. Gotham has been connected to demonology from the beginning, it seems.
-In an interesting twist on Alan Moore’s classic The Killing Joke, Dr. Hurt here tries to corrupt James Gordon like Joker did. However, Hurt actually succeeds, though he has the aid of drugs.
-Note that Joker and Hurt both poison Gotham’s citizens — with viral addiction or classic Joker toxin — but with very different results. Hurt wants Gotham to lay in the thralls of uncontrollable cravings, while Joker just wants maniacal laughter. I think that says a lot about each antagonist’s worldview.
Batman & Robin #15:
-Joker dances with a corpse at the start of this issue. Who is that? Could it be the body of Catherine Wayne (nee Van Derm), who presumably was buried at the Manor (see RoBW #4)? Creepy.
-Alfred says he knows Dr. Hurt. Is he playing along with Hurt’s masquerading to be Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s dad) or have they actually met before?
-Some metatextuality: Frazer Irving here interpolates his version of the classic 16th century painting “The Triumph of Death,” which portrays the end-of-the-world paranoia it seems Morrison is trying to instill in us.
-Joker to Damian, on his purported nonsense: “I’m making sense squared, slow kid.”
-More on Joker’s plan, which (of course) involves a banana peel: “The banana represents the primal gag, the fall.” I think that has two meanings — that slipping on a banana peel is one of the “oldest jokes in the book,” as they say, and also that the fall of mankind via Original Sin is considered its primal mistake.
-Joker, on his game with Hurt: “I offered Dr. Hurt dominoes but he wants to play chess.” Joker’s self-assuredness in these issues is amazing.
-Apparently Hurt’s drug-induced cravings can burn out. Gordon conquers them, saying “Anger… something… stopped it.”
-Damian’s succinct summation of Dr. Hurt: He’s “a man who lived to long.”
-Hurt says Thomas and Martha Wayne took him in and showed him kindness. I think that’s the first we’ve heard of this, but it would explain how Alfred recognized him.
-Hurt claims he wants Damian’s soul (to feed to Barbatos as in RoBW #5 no doubt) but fittingly Damian doesn’t believe in souls.
-We learn Hurt even intends to adopt the legacy of Batman and pervert it. He wants Damian to be his evil Robin.
-Hurt does indeed recreate the ritual that summoned Barbatos.
-Dick notes to Damian about Hurt’s prized Bat-box: “It’s the box I found in the cave. Remember who left it there.” Dick knows Bruce is behind all this, even if Hurt doesn’t.
-From off panel, a few musical notes signal the opening of the Bat-box, just like in RoBW #4.
-What’s in the box: A note that says “GOTCHA!” Of course, this is the very last thing Bruce said before shooting Darkseid in Final Crisis #6.
-And here, as Hurt reels in surprise, the Dick/Damian tandem punch returns to knock him out. Awesome!
-Dick knew all along that Bruce was the bat-god being summoned. To Hurt: “You walked right into this one.”
-And on the last page, Bruce has returned. How’d he get back? Let’s jump to RoBW #6.
Return of Bruce Wayne #6:
-We return to the Vanishing Point (last glimpsed, very confusingly, in RoBW #2), where Bruce has the “last story to be archived,” with the “defining elements” of pearls, a bell and a handgun. Why do these define Bruce? It’s time to unpack the symbology that’s been following us this whole time.
-Pearls: Worn by Martha Wayne when she was murdered. Bruce famously saw these fall upon her death, giving him his last impression of his mother. We know from RoBW #4-5 that these pearls belonged to Catherine Van Derm and were given to her by Bruce Wayne in the past. HOWEVER. Remember that we saw a necklace before in RoBW — back in issue #1, a similar piece of jewelry belonged to the prehistoric Anthro and the Bat-people. It was stolen by Vandal Savage and taken back by Bruce, who then gave it to the proto-Miagani for safe-keeping. We know there’s a connection between the Miagani and the Van Derms (established in RoBW #3) — had Martha Wayne’s necklace belonged to Anthro? Comic blogger Rikdad goes so far as to suggest that Martha Wayne owned the world’s first necklace, which would certainly make it the “most significant” necklace in the world, thus capturing the archivists’ attention.
-The Bell: When Bruce was hit with Darkseid’s Omega Effect, he heard bells. Why? Morrison has shown us the moment of Batman’s creation many times in his saga. Remember: a bat crashes through a window at Wayne Manor. Bruce stares at it on the floor then summons Alfred to clean it up. But summons Alfred with what? A bell. The bell connects Alfred to Bruce to the bat, and the bat that crashes through Bruce’s window connects them all to something unearthly (more on that later).
-The Gun: This one’s the easiest to explain. A gun kills Bruce Wayne’s parents, thus creating Batman. Additionally, Bruce Wayne destroys Darkseid’s corporeal body with a gun, thus instigating Darkseid’s hunter-killer-curse, thus creating Batman. Again, more on that further down.
-What brought Bruce to the Vanishing Point was the device he grabbed from Carter Nichols at the end of RoBW #5, the “Nichols Engine.” It turns out the Temporal Archivists had been searching for that device forever. Why is the Nichols Engine and its connection to Bruce significant? Say the archivists: “You are the solution to one of history’s great mysteries. The first human deep time probe vanished on its maiden voyage.”
-We learn Bruce is hunted by “hyperfauna,” another thing we last heard about in RoBW #2. The archivists define this fauna as “an Apokoliptian hunter-killer ‘curse’ machine.” That’s what’s been causing Bruce trouble throughout time — a machine set on him by Darkseid.
-Here’s the Archivists on what happens at the Vanishing Point: “Everything approaches its ultimate condition here. Everything that happens is for the last and most significant time.” The Archivists establish a scenario that’s comfortably in Morrison’s wheelhouse — the hyper-symbolic.
-The final piece of Bruce’s life to be archived is a bullet.
-The Archivists refer to what’s happening to Bruce as “Batman’s final adventure… and his new beginning,” which I think is exactly how Morrison would like us to take it.
-This book returns us to the pencil-and-paper narration style of “RIP: The Missing Chapter”: “The sound of ancient, rusty locks unlatching. Bells and thunder.” It seems Bruce is starting to draw some connections between the weird events in his life.
-The Superman/Rip Hunter/Green Lantern/Booster Gold search party from RoBW #2 is re-presented here, finally giving that scene some sensible context.
-In this issue, Bruce reclaims his memory but quickly abandons it. How fitting that for someone whose strength is always knowing what’s happening, this time his master plan is relinquishing that ability and trusting in his friends.
-Speaking of that master plan, Bruce gambles on the fact that Superman and the rest of the Justice League can take down Darkseid’s weapon. This is an amazing bit of dialog from someone who’s heretofore prided himself on being a loner. “You were too powerful and dangerous to beat at time’s end. So I took a big risk. Right here, right now, in an age of superheroes… you’re just another monster for my friends to practice on.” Also note Bruce has adopted the methods of Dr. Hurt’s Black Glove — he’s gambled.
-Here’s Bruce’s explanation of Darkseid’s weapon: “A living curse made to destroy Batman and the world… a ‘death-idea’ that never tires, never stops.” Doesn’t that last part sound like Bruce himself?
-Very tellingly, in its last moment, the curse takes the form of a bat.
-Here we get another callback to the captions from “RIP: The Missing Chapter” — “whatever they touch turns to myth.” This is probably referencing the larger-than-life stature of Bruce’s friends.
-We see a page presumably showing the early Miagani fighting off Darkseid’s curse, which suggests it existed at the beginning of time.
-We learn the “Gotcha!” note in the Bat-box came from Jack Valor in RoBW #3; he put it there on Bruce’s instruction.
-Bruce’s mumbling explains a little: “Darkseid… trying to incarnate…in Hurt… in the doctor…”
-There’s a two page montage in here which is just crazy. We flash to the Thogul ritual from 52, to the Darkseid/Hurt quote “I am the hole that remains when everything else has gone.”
-We finally cut back to the scenes at the end of RoBW #3; we see Jack Valor take the Bat-box from the Miagani and put a batarang and the “Gotcha!” note in it.
-Now we learn the first truth of Batman, to which Morrison’s whole run has been building: “I was never alone.” Who else was there at the moment of Batman’s creation? Thanks to the bell, Alfred. Also, if you want to take the art which flashes back to Bruce’s creation scene here literally, Darkseid’s weapon was there. It was the bat that flew into Bruce’s study. It’s been following Batman forever. Now, I don’t actually think Morrison’s implying it’s Darkseid’s literal weapon that spurs Bruce on to be Batman. Rather, I think we’re in the realm of symbols again — the curse takes the Platonic form of a bat, and all bats which Bruce encounters reference it. Perhaps it’s possible that Darkseid’s weapon is literally the original bat.
-Bruce’s narration: “250 years ago, the hyper-adapter infected a human host. A pure strain of platonic evil.” That means Hurt. We’ll learn about how exactly that happened next.
-Last page, Bruce’s dialog: “The bells are still ringing. I’m not done yet. Not while Gotham City needs a Batman. Not until the night’s over.” Bruce has finally retaken his rightful position as the Dark Knight.
Batman & Robin #16:
-This issue opens with a flashback that provides the final piece of Morrison’s puzzle — how does Hurt become tainted by Darkseid? We drop in on an eighteenth century satanic ritual in which Thomas Wayne and his cronies attempt to summon a “daemon.” They think they catch the bat-demon Barbatos, but in reality it’s Darkseid’s hyper-adaptive curse.
-Even in these pre-devilish scenes, Thomas Wayne’s an asshole. He pretends to be a coward so his allies flee, leaving him alone with the power of the Fourth World.
-Hurt already knows about the Miagani and the Bat-box (“mystery box”). He’s done his homework.
-At the end of this scene Hurt becomes the “adapter incarnate.” Now he is Darkseid’s curse on Bruce Wayne embodied.
-The fight scene in the front of this issue, which features Bruce, Dick and Damian against Hurt and the 99 Fiends, is tremendous. Artist Cameron Stewart is so good on this book, and I wish he’d come back and do more. It was a very good choice to give Dick Grayson staff to fight with, so readers can easily distinguish him from Bruce.
-Here Dick lays out for us that El Penitente is Hurt’s Mexican alter-ego; all references to Penitente earlier in the series really refer to Hurt.
-Notice how quickly Bruce and Damian fall into a rapport. It’s clear Damian truly respects Bruce greatly.
-The gambling language of the Black Glove makes a triumphant return in this finale. Another clever bit of Hurt’s dialog: he refers directly to “RIP”: “Batman R.I.P. Rot in Purgatory.”
-Something to ponder: what does it say that an incarnated Apokalyptian weapon thinks it’s the devil?
-In fact, Hurt hasn’t given up his old games from “RIP.” He alternately wants Bruce to believe that he’s Satan and that he’s Bruce’s father. It seems he’s not quite ready to admit Bruce has got him figured out.
-Hurt’s creepy promise to Bruce: “You’ll fall forever into the hole I made.” That recalls Hurt’s assertion that he’s “the hole in things.”
-Like any good joke, Joker’s banana peel gag pays off in a fantastic callback and actually knocks Hurt out of commission.
-In Joker’s dialog to Hurt, he weirdly expresses that he thinks he and Dick are “too much alike.”
-Again, Joker asserts himself as the one controlling this situation: “I beat you at cards. I beat you at chess.”
-Joker buries Hurt, but alive. It’s a fantastic comic book ending that definitely leaves the door open for a return.
-Joker’s whistling too, in the same way we’ve seen music portrayed in RoBW. Is it possible Joker knows the language of the Miagani?
-Joker seems like he’s about to embrace a full-time life of crime-fighting… then Bruce knocks him out.
-Here again we see Damian worried about his future as Robin. Bruce’s response: “Batman and Robin will never die, Damian.” Of course.
-One wonders what cover story Bruce used with the public regarding Thomas Wayne.
-The end of this issue sees Batman embracing his first truth: he’s never alone. Now he’s going to institutionalize it. So here comes Batman, Inc. Here comes the future.
Up next: We look backwards, forwards and sideways with the time-warping Batman #700, and then I say goodbye.
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