The Great Morrison Bat Study #9: 682-683, 701-702

Batman 701

RIP: The Missing Chapter:
When it was first released, the “Missing Chapter”of RIP, published in Batman #701-702, confounded me. DC promised these issues would illuminate events elided in “RIP” and Final Crisis to give readers a satisfactory account of what Batman had been up to before his trip through time. Mostly, I thought these books failed at that, especially given their strange pacing. The events of #701, which covered the time between Batman falling in the Gotham River and Orion being murdered, were ridiculously obvious; anyone could have put that story together. On the other hand, #702 moved at a breakneck pace through the investigation of that murder, the capture and torture of Batman, the death of Darkseid and the inception of Bruce’s time-lost adventure, and seemed to pile on more mystery than it cleared up.

Reading these again (twice, actually!), hindsight has substantially improved my view of this arc. I still feel some of the problems I mentioned exist, but I’m willing to go easier on these issues, especially the end of #702. The last ten pages of that issue give us a road map for Bruce’s time travails, albeit in an incredibly dense fashion. It’s a really fascinating read, if you know what you’re looking for.

So here’s what’s happening in “The Missing Chapter.”

-Even though Bruce talks about how much of an ordeal it was to escape from the Gotham River, it sure seems like he does it pretty easily. Again I say: there was no way he could’ve died at the end of “RIP.”
-In Bruce’s narration, we see he views himself as a lifelong survivor.
-Chapter One of this story is called “The Hole in Things,” a phrase Hurt has been fond of. We’ll finally find out what it means in this story.
-Here we get a return appearance from one of the prostitutes seen in “Three Ghosts of Batman.”
-Bruce says to Alfred upon his return “We were right about Jezebel.” To quote a famous Lone Ranger joke, “who’s we, Kimosabe?”
-The trend of clocks stopping starts here, as the Wayne Manor clock freezes at 1:15. This comes up a lot in Batman & Robin, so be prepared.
-I like that the narration of this arc carries on in the style of a Black Casebook entry.
-The notion of Wayne Manor’s hidden room first gets spotlighted here, and a lot of stuff that becomes important in B & R makes its first appearance, notably the BARBATOS graffiti. Also check Bruce’s narration: “What if there was something else? Some kind of sickness at the root of the family tree. A worm at the foundations.” What he’s describing is the 18th-century Thomas Wayne, but he doesn’t know it yet.
-Chronologically, Superman’s appearance on the Batcave’s video screen is the first time other superheroes appear in Grant Morrison’s story. Also, look at the way Tony Daniel draws Superman — he doesn’t look especially friendly here.
-Not for the first time, we see Alfred brush away Hurt’s attempt to tarnish the Wayne family legacy via faked pictures in a couple sentences. “None of it’s true, sir. We can prove that. The fellow in the close-ups looks nothing like me at that age.”
-Batman’s narration here conflates Hurt’s trap with Darkseid’s. He notes that he thought he’d escaped, but really it was closing in around him. Very astute.
-As soon as Chapter Two starts, we’re now fully in the world of the superheroes, with dialog lifted right out of Final Crisis #6.
-Not that it means anything, but reading Morrison writing the JLA is like coming home. No one writes Wally West like him.
-Batman’s analysis of Darkseid’s bullet gives us a lot to chew on. It’s “the template for every bullet there had ever been,” says Bruce. He himself makes the connection that it even relates to his parents’ murder. And speaking of parents and murder — no one seems to have mentioned yet that Darkseid uses that bullet to kill his son. It’s like the inverse of the event that created Batman.
-Lots of references in this story to “the box” opening. Upon first read-through, I foolishly thought Grant was obtusely referring to “Pandora’s Box,” but that’s not what Darkseid has in store.
-Batman’s narration, filled with doom and gloom: “Too late, I saw the shape of the trap that had been waiting for me since the day I was born…. That Hole in Things was everywhere. It was in every best laid plan.”
-We flash back to a scene ripped directly from “Three Ghosts of Batman,” where Commissioner Gordon mentions an “enemy as old as time and bigger than all of us.” My guess in that post was right: he definitely refers to Darkseid, although he doesn’t know it.
-The Batman/Darkseid showdown also comes straight from Final Crisis #6.
-What is the crazy face behind Darkseid? Is that his trap? Is that Barbados?
-Tony Daniel directly juxtaposes Bruce firing a gun at Darkseid with his parents’ murder. I’m telling you: it’s Batman’s act of violence that curses Bruce’s whole life.
-Bruce’s narration: “There were bells… the sound of ancient, rusty locks unlatching.” RoBW brings up this sound motif quite a bit.
-The end of #702 makes much more sense after you read RoBW. In fact, it pretty much tells you the exact fate that’s about to befall Bruce, albeit in very cryptic language.
-And here’s our explanation re: Darkseid: “Wounded by the Hunter [Batman], Darkseid’s dying fall made the Hole in Things.”
-Here we see the funeral Bruce hallucinated during “Joe Chill in Hell.”
-At the end of this issue Bruce meets, who, Anthro? A big Final Crisis nod there.
-One thing that has always bugged me: how does Bruce record his thoughts so that in the “present time” Superman can hear them?

The Butler Did It/What the Butler Saw:

These two issues, #682-683, may be my favorite Batman story of all time. They’re not, mind you, my favorite among stories involving Batman, but rather of those starring him. Think about it: most key Batman stories have little or nothing to do with Bruce Wayne. They often focus on the psychology of his (stunning) rogue’s gallery, or his crime-solving methods. The Killing Joke is purely a Joker tale, Long Halloween and Hush are all about the mystery, even Year One spends as much time building Batman’s world as it does Batman himself. But what I’ll call the “Butler Saga” sets its sights squarely on the man inside the Batman costume.

In the Butler story, two of Darkseid’s minions attempt to create a clone army fueled by the same tragedy that drives Bruce Wayne. They feed the clones a steady stream of traumatic memories stolen from the incapacitated Wayne, while Bruce himself hallucinates twisted visions of what might have been. It’s a fascinating story, sometimes funny and sometimes incredibly poignant. And in the end it proves why Batman deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other superheroes. “What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?” Mokkari exclaims as Batman uses Darkseid’s weapons against him. Batman can. He’s the best, and this story proves it.

Another important thing the Butler story does is provide a handy chronology of Batman’s career, focusing on the events Morrison seems to feel are most important. Indeed, these issues mostly take us straight through the Dark Knight’s timeline, and in doing so provide a gravity to those early golden and silver-age adventures that balances the outlandishness of the Black Casebook tales. Morrison shows us that many of the problems Bruce faces in his story — whether or not Bruce or Batman is the disguise, problems with women — go back to his very first days as a crime fighter. This perhaps takes on a new meaning when Return of Bruce Wayne shows us that Batman’s life has been cursed from the beginning, but for now it’s still a powerful reminder that for all his abilities, Bruce Wayne cannot overcome his deep flaws.

The Butler story is situated here in my analysis mostly for chronological reasons, since it takes place between the panels of Batman #702. However, I feel it serves mostly as a stand-alone story that can be read separate from the rest of Morrison’s work. That said, parts of it certainly prove germane to our larger study of this epic, so here’s some notes on the matter!

-Again Morrison revisits the “bat through window” moment of Batman’s creation, though this time he shows what different animals might have inspired. Also interesting — the bat is shown growing in size from panel to panel, becoming monstrous in its final appearance. Remember that image when Return of Bruce Wayne starts talking about Darkseid’s curse.
-This story’s title features the Butler because Darkseid’s goons use an Alfred proxy to conjure up Bruce’s bad memories. In fact they refer to him as Batman’s “oldest ally.” Thus Darkseid perverts Alfred’s role as benevolent sage, which Morrison has established in basically all his stories so far.
-Pay attention to how these issues introduce Dick Grayson. “It was as if color had come to our monochrome lives.” This notion that Robin somehow saves Batman is crucial to Morrison’s overall plot, I think.
-There are some really strange silver age references in this story that, unfortunately, were not collected in The Black Casebook trade. First, there’re a couple nods to the “Death of Alfred,” which this page helpfully explains, but the short of it is: Alfred was “killed” and revived as a monster, Bruce helped him out and apparently never mentioned it to him so as to keep traumatic memories at bay. Thus, the fake Alfred gives himself away here by mentioning the time he died.
-The other silver age reference involves the 1950s/early 60s version of Batwoman, real name Katy Kane. According to this page, Katy was a socialite who loved Bruce Wayne, but he could never connect to her. In Morrison’s version, though, Katy ends up breaking Bruce’s heart, which leads him to volunteer for Dr. Hurt’s sensory deprivation experiment.
-We see Batman here studying the Joker’s pathology. He’s determined that the Joker has “some kind of super-MPD,” or multiple personality disorder.
-In one of Bruce’s dream-worlds, in which his parents still live, we see him wishing they had died, or that he had died instead. That’s probably just his subconscious mind trying to correct itself to the way he knows things to be, but it’s an interesting note nonetheless.
-Stopped clocks pop up a couple times here.
-When Darkseid’s guys talk about using Batman’s pain to motivate their armies, the examples we see all involve the Joker (like Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon).
-Jason Todd: “I have hard evidence that Batman seriously needs a Robin.”
-When Bruce susses out the fake Alfred as the Apokolyptan weapon the Lump, the Lump’s defense is to insist that Batman has failed in his mission. This is Darkseid’s anti-life equation at work, though it doesn’t perform as intended on Bruce.
-When Batman begins to turn his mental resources against the Lump, we cut to panels of Bruce brandishing a gun yelling “What do you deserve?!” According to this site, that’s a reference to Infinite Crisis #7, in which Batman holds a gun to Alexander Luthor’s head, but Wonder Woman convinces him not to pull the trigger. I had forgotten all about that moment, but apparently Morrison thinks it’s important. Given that two key aspects of his story involve Batman (or people in Batman costumes) using guns, this does seem worth remembering.
-When Batman uses his own memories to turn the Lump on Darkseid, they all come from Morrison’s recent stories. How’s that for nepotistic continuity?
-Fittingly, this story ends with the real Alfred’s narration. We catch up with him as Bruce has been missing for over a month, and he wisely gives us these words to chew on:

“Batman’s big secret… it’s not about who killed Batman but who kept him alive all these years…. The enemy will look away for just a moment, underestimating him for that single fraction of a second too long. And no matter how dark the night, there will be no hiding place for evil.”

Yeah, Batman will be back. It’s what the Butler (fore)saw.

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

  • cory hargreaves

    it was tim drake that said “I have hard evidence that Batman seriously needs a Robin”

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