The Great Morrison Bat Study #6: The Third Man

Batman 672

In Batman #672-675, what I’m calling “The Third Man,” Grant Morrison‘s master plan for our titular hero truly begins to show itself. As one might expect, things also start to get more than a little crazy. By the arc’s second issue, “Joe Chill in Hell,” readers are thrown into a world of questionable reality and time jumping, hallmarks of Morrison’s work on the title that become especially important to “R.I.P,” Final Crisis and Return of Bruce Wayne. I suspect this is the arc where Morrison started to lose some readers, and I admit that, having not looked at these books for years, it took me two read-throughs to make sense of it myself.

Despite that, it’d be almost impossible to overstate the importance of “The Third Man” to the rest of Morrison’s Batman work. In this arc our primary antagonist, Dr. Simon Hurt, finally reveals himself, and we get some glimpses of his ultimate plan to destroy the Dark Knight. At this point we’ve already seen some mystery surrounding the Black Glove and his long-term machinations against Batman (notably in “Three Ghosts of Batman” and “Club of Heroes”), but it’s “Third Man” that head-on embraces the notion that someone is out there plotting against our favorite detective. We don’t know the whole story yet, but the connection between Simon Hurt and the Black Glove is pretty obvious, and once Bruce figures that out it’s off to the races with Morrison’s epic.

Now, the notes! There’re a lot of them this time because, as I said, this arc is dense. And, truthfully, it’s probably only going to get longer from here, guys.

- There’s a lot of talk about “Hell” and “the devil” in this arc, especially in reference to Simon Hurt and Batman’s ultimate villain. When these comics were initially being released, I remembered a lot of misdirection about Hurt truly being the literal devil. The Third Man even says as much to Batman. Of course we know that’s not the case; he was merely corrupted by a “devil” from the Fourth World. Still, this arc is rife with that symbolism.
- Jezebel’s backstory — being driven to noble work after the murder of her parents — is very similar to Bruce’s, probably by the Black Glove’s design.
- Again Alfred proves to know everything; here he advises Bruce caution in dealing with Jezebel.
- Lots of references to “the dream” in this arc as well. That’s referring to the events of Batman #156, “Robin Dies at Dawn,” which I’ll talk about at the end of this article.
- Bruce’s “death” scene at the end of #672 is crazy. Within two pages we get references to “Robin Dies at Dawn,” Zurr-En-Arrh, Batman’s creation, and Bat-Mite.
- #673 has many callbacks to 52‘s “Thogul” ritual, which the first entry in our series spoke about. Seemingly, in Thogul Bruce’s mind takes him on a time-jumping journey throughout his whole life which seems to foreshadow his later trials at the hands of Darkseid, especially “Last Rites” and Return of Bruce Wayne. That’s made more interesting by the fact that Thogul is referred to as “death, after-death, and rebirth.”
- In one of his mental flashbacks, Bruce talks about why he keeps the Black Casebook. Turns out it’s Alfred’s idea to keep Bruce grounded. It allows Bruce to treat his heroism as one would look at any other job or procedural task, and not get too caught up in the drama around it.
- Joe Chill deduces that Batman works for Bruce Wayne, which is precisely what Bruce wants everyone in the world to think come Batman, Inc.
- In a flashback to his first discovering the bats under Wayne Manor, Bruce has some really interesting narration: “I must be around five years old when I first sense the presence of a gaping, toppling void in the center of existence.” Almost those exact words are used to describe Darkseid in Final Crisis; remember that our evil god falls backwards through time, creating a hole in all of existence. I think this is intended as Bruce feeling Darkseid’s curse upon him even at an early age.
- Another time jump: Bruce imagines a funeral. Whose? His, probably. Pallbearers include Alfred, Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson along with Clark Kent, Ollie Queen and someone I can’t recognize. Notice that DCU superheroes have appeared sparingly in Morrison’s run thus far; “Club of Heroes” even goes out of its way to not mention Superman. I have a guess for why this is, but I’ll save it for later.
- Bat-Mite acts as Bruce’s spiritual guide here, not for the last time. But what is that evil-looking thing perched on his shoulder?
- Albeit in flashback, Batman #673 gives us the first true modern appearance of Dr. Simon Hurt.
- In that same flashback, we learn that Batman underwent sensory deprivation experiments in an attempt to understand how Joker thinks. I had earlier mentioned that even if he’s not in every story, Joker’s influence on Morrison’s run is incredibly pervasive. Here’s a great example of that.
- Batman’s isolation chamber incident is connected to the Thogul ritual, which I posit is connected to his kidnapping at Darkseid’s hands and his ordeal in the Omega Sanction. How many times must Batman be reborn, anyway?
- The story at the heart of #673 features Batman torturing Joe Chill, his parents’ murderer, and ends in Chill’s suicide. I feel it’s kind of a controversial story and I don’t have much to say about it yet, save for these notes: again Morrison takes us back to the very origin of Batman by bringing in, in a sense, Batman’s first villain. Also, again a gun is important.
- Hurt refers to himself as a “Batman specialist.” Hah!
- Another great joke: when Batman regains consciousness he shares with the audience: “Everything is a clue… concentrate!” Grant breaks the fourth well to tell us to pay attention!
- Bat-Mite (presumably part of Bruce’s hallucination) brings up the idea that Batman has been the victim of post-hypnotic suggestions for years. The Third Man tells us that the same has happened to him.
- Although Morrison loves to pull from Silver Age Batman comics, I’m pretty certain the ordeal Bruce mentions where he originally fought the “three ghosts of Batman” is a new Morrison invention. At any rate, it’s not in The Black Casebook trade paperback and I could find no mention to it previously happening on the Internet.
- Although The Third Man tells Bruce that Hurt is the devil (wrong), he does get something right. “Sometimes he visits this world to destroy the good and make slaves of men like me.” This is precisely what Darkseid does both in Return of Bruce Wayne (in which we see him enslaving Hurt via his Apokolyptan weaponry) and Final Crisis (the anti-life equation).
- Again Morrison makes sure to let readers know that Bruce is always ready. “As Batman, I have to be prepared for all kinds of eventualities.” Come “R.I.P.” you can’t say he didn’t warn us.
- “What if there were an ultimate villain out there, unseen? An absolute mastermind closing in for the kill?” Indeed.
- Curiously, the Third Man says to Batman “if you kill me now, you can stop what’s going to happen.” How is that true?
- Reference connecting Hurt/the Black Glove/the ultimate enemy: After the Third Man gets away, Batman asks of his ultimate enemy “is he telling me his name” while clutching a black(ish) glove.
- It’s interesting that Jezebel Jet seems to always know exactly what to say to Bruce, such as noting that he seems like “the mask of a man.”
- The villain in Batman #675 is a 9-Eyed Man, exiled from the 10-Eyed Cult we saw in 52. I’m still not sure whether these ineffective 10-Eyed guys are actually working for Darkseid/Hurt, or if they just couldn’t excise demons as powerful as those Bruce is cursed with.
- #675 gives us yet another scene of Dick and Tim picking up Bruce’s slack while he’s otherwise occupied. Who was worried Batman couldn’t carry on without Bruce, anyway?
- Twice in this arc, Batman laughs, and it’s a really creepy “HA HA HA” laugh lettered big and red, almost reminiscent of the Joker. Hmmm.
- Damian and Talia both deduce that there’s a long-term plot against Bruce afoot. I wonder if they have any idea of its depth.
- By #675 Bruce has pretty clearly figured out that the Black Glove is indeed his ultimate enemy.
- Bruce is weirdly open about his identity to Jezebel here.

Further reading (from Batman: The Black Casebook trade paperback):

Detective Comics #267 (“Batman Meets Bat-Mite”): The first appearance of Bat-Mite, a troublesome imp from the 5th dimension. It’s left up to interpretation whether he literally appears in Morrison’s run or if he’s an element of Bruce’s mind, although “R.I.P.” addresses that question in an interesting way.

Batman #156 (“Robin Dies at Dawn”): Here Batman volunteers to undergo a military isolation experiment and hallucinates the death of Robin, causing him to go a little mad in his waking life. This issue is so, so important to Morrison’s Batman run that I kind of want to own it and stick it before Final Crisis #6 just because. This is the first (and only, until #673) appearance of Dr. Hurt, and it’s amazing that even in this fairly innocent Silver Age story he feels cold, calculating and menacing. It’s such a perfect fit that Morrison directly lifts dialog from this issue for many scenes in “The Third Man.” It truly feels as though Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff planned this story out with Morrison. Just a wonderful read.

Up next: “Batman R.I.P.”!

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

  • Rebel Rikki

    COMMENT NOT RELEVANT TO THE ARTICLE:nnI don’t know if anyone remembers, but this arc came out the same time as the excellent “Superman and the Legion of Superheroes” in Action Comics. A major plot point to that arc was that some unknown enemy had manipulated the time stream to make it appear that Superman was a xenophobic, hateful individual.nnI remember thinking how cool it would have been if THAT long-term enemy were the same as Batman’s. I don’t recall precisely how things turned out because I didn’t follow Johns’ Legion stories much past that, but didn’t the Final Crisis Legion tie-in reveal Time Trapper to be that enemy? So I guess my wish was not to be. On the other hand, that WAS a Final Crisis tie-in, so perhaps Time Trapper DOES have some connection to Darkseid just like Hurt? I don’t know, I’m probably grasping at straws here, but I really like the idea that Darkseid and his agents have these incredibly long-term byzantine plans to destroy the two greatest heroes of the DCU.

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