The Great Morrison Bat Study #5: Club of Heroes

Batman 668

“Club of Heroes”  (Batman #667-669) is probably my favorite story in Grant Morrison’s Batman run, due in no small part to the stunning artwork of JH Williams III. Consequently, it’s the arc I’ve read through the most, but I find new surprises hidden within its pages every time. This is a classic three-issue tale that shows us Batman at his best.

In “Club of Heroes” Morrison makes several important connections to his overarching Batman story. For starters, it’s our first real introduction to the Black Glove, here presented as some kind of twisted gambler that places bets on the roulette wheel of good and evil using people’s lives as chips. It’s kind of a strange way to meet the character who becomes Batman’s ultimate nemesis, considering the gambling angle is dropped entirely by the time we get to Batman & Robin. Still, this arc reveals a couple key things about this villain. We know he’s incredibly resourceful, he has lots of connections to various rogues and he seems to know exactly how to defeat any given hero (seen in the way he takes down members of the “Batmen of many nations”). It’s that last bit that sets up his deconstruction of Bruce Wayne, of which the events in this arc are merely an opening volley.

Indeed, Bruce is never really in that much danger throughout this story, but it continues the vaguely claustrophobic tone established in “Three Ghosts of Batmen.” Consider its setting, for instance: “Club of Heroes” takes place in a booby-trapped death house (illustrated beautifully on JH Williams’ cover for Batman #668). And then there’s Wingman’s final lines to Bruce as he makes his getaway at the end of the arc: “It’s you they want to kill…. The Black Glove is closing around you, Batman!”

This arc also provides a crucial stepping stone on Bruce’s journey to forming Batman, Inc. It’s been hinted that a number of the Club of Heroes characters will be showing up in that title. This is the arc that re-introduced them all to the world, and it’s a key part of Batman’s realizing he doesn’t and shouldn’t work alone.

Here’re my random notes on “Club of Heroes,” followed by some extracurricular reading!

- Lots and lots of the red/black motif happening in this story. There’s the roulette wheel, for one. Also a lot of the panels are colored in such a way that they primarily feature only red and black in stark contrast.
- “What do eccentric men who have everything do when they get bored?” Key question. Also Mayhew’s later line to Batman: “Money changes everything – that’s what you’ll never understand. People like me are beyond the law, beyond morality.” Of course it’s super-ironic that he’s telling that to Bruce Wayne.
- I honestly don’t remember if Mangrove Pierce (the actor) or Peter Mayhew (the Black Glove’s “customer” in this story) come up in later Morrison stories, but I feel like they might, especially Pierce (considering we see posters of a movie he starred in called The Black Glove). These are characters to watch.
- Another good arc for Tim Drake here. I think my initial criticism regarding Morrison perhaps shortchanging him is wrong, although he definitely mostly disappears for the second half of Morrison’s epic.
- This arc gives us our first mention of El Sombrero, who becomes important in later Batman & Robin issues.
- Man-of-Bats gives a terrific speech in Batman #669 about other heroes being inspired by Bruce. It’s very well-written and quite moving.

And here’s some bonus reading from Batman: The Black Casebook:

Batman #65: “A Partner for Batman” – Batman trains a European counterpart, Wingman, and Robin gets jealous. Even in this story, written some 50 years prior, Wingman is pretty ineffective as a crime fighter, and kind of a jerk.

Batman #86: “Batman – Indian Chief!” – The first appearance of Man-of-Bats and Little Raven (later Raven Red). Interesting that Man-of-Bats works out of a cave with bat-symbols carved into it… possible inspiration for Morrison’s visuals from Return of Bruce Wayne? This is actually a pretty cool story that features some great undercover work from Batman, and it ends pretty much guaranteeing the characters will come back one day. It just took a few decades.

Detective Comics #215: “The Batmen of All Nations” – First appearance of most of the Club of Heroes, including the Musketeer, the Legionary, El Gaucho, and the Ranger. Knight and Squire are here too, but they came from an earlier Batman issue. This story also establishes the fact that Legionary never gets to do anything cool in all of comics history.

World’s Finest #89: “The Club of Heroes” – Second (and last til 2007) appearance of the Batmen of All Nations. Also the first appearance of John Mayhew. Morrison exercises his brilliance here in taking what many would write off as merely a trope of silver age comics – the hyper-compressed, poorly-explained actions of John Mayhew – and building a character out of it. Interestingly, though, this issue is mostly about Superman, who isn’t mentioned at all in Morrison’s story. I think Morrison purposefully leaves most DC superheroes out of his tale until Final Crisis, but it’s a strange omission nonetheless.

More GMBS here:
GMBS #9
GMBS #8
GMBS #7
GMBS #6
GMBS #5
GMBS #4
GMBS #3
GMBS #2
GMBS #1
GMBS #0

tags: batman, gmbs, grant morrison, jh williams III

  • Mike M

    Ya the club of heroes are awesome.

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