Well, here we are at the end. When I set out writing the Great Morrison Bat Study I thought it would take a few weeks. Instead, six months later, I’ve delivered fairly in-depth (though by no means exhaustive) annotations of every issue in the first five years of Grant Morrison’s Batman saga. Before I bid you adieu completely, I wanted to post my final thoughts on the matter in an essay, so if you were curious to the totality of what I was laying down, here it is in concentrated form.
The Plot (What the F Happened?).
Darkseid’s the cause of it all. When he enslaves Earth with his anti-life equation (Final Crisis #6) only Bruce Wayne can stop him. To do so, Bruce commits an unthinkable act — he fires a gun (“For you, I’m making a once-in-a-lifetime exception.”) The bullet from that gun injures Darkseid’s body immeasurably, allowing the rest of Bruce’s allies in the Justice League of America to defeat him. But Darkseid’s not foiled so easily, and for Bruce’s hubris in striking down a god he pays the ultimate price — he’s struck by the Omega Sanction and beset by an Apokalyptan “hunter-killer curse machine” that will follow him throughout time, gaining strength as Bruce works his way back from the dawn of man to the present day. When the curse machine reaches full power, it will destroy the world.
Darkseid’s curse, as we know, takes the form of a bat. In fact, his curse may be where bats come from. When we deal with the characters and concepts of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, we enter a realm of Platonic forms. Is it possible that Darkseid’s curse on Bruce Wayne actually represents all bats? Its early appearances in Return of Bruce Wayne #1 would seem to suggest as much.
If you believe that, then it’s entirely possible that the bat that flew through Bruce Wayne’s window so many years ago (thereby causing him to become Batman) was another example of Darkseid’s curse embodied. Remember, Morrison has enjoyed showing us this scene again and again throughout his work. “Batman was never alone,” right? Alfred was there, cleaning up the bat. I think Darkseid was there too.
What I’m saying is that, while Darkseid’s curse obviously follows Bruce throughout Return of Bruce Wayne, it must be present his whole life, right? It’s the “hole in things,” to return to an oft-repeated phrase. In “The Third Man” Bruce even says he knew it existed since he was five. It’s implied that Darkseid’s curse is the reason anything bad has ever happened to Bruce, from Bane breaking his back to his parents being murdered. Darkseid’s curse created Batman. But there’d be no curse if Batman hadn’t shot Darkseid.
Batman created Batman, and he did when he fired a gun.
I know it sounds crazy, but it seems to be the only explanation. Bruce Wayne is the cause of his own misery. Morrison’s epic is all about Bruce overcoming that darkness inside of him. When Bruce underwent Thogul in 52, that’s what he encountered. “I found something dark inside. A shape I can’t say or describe. A scar on my consciousness.”
Do you want to unpack this a little further? Bruce Wayne shoots Darkseid because Darkseid killed his own son (in Bruce’s words: “You shouldn’t have killed Orion”). That act of filicide is the inverse of the action that created Batman, the murder of his parents. This time, instead of Bruce watching helplessly as Joe Chill guns down his mother and father, he takes aim and fires at a monster who killed his own kin. It’s the yin and yang of Batman’s creation, the balanced equation of Bruce Wayne, a dark antagonist (be he street scum or evil god) and a gun.
“Batman Was Never Alone.”
The whole of Grant Morrison’s story is constructed to divest Batman of his brooding loner status. At the climax of Return of Bruce Wayne #6 Batman learns his “first truth:” that there was always someone there with him, whether it’s Alfred providing wise sagacity or Darkseid cursing his existence. Of course, this realization dawns on Bruce very slowly. It’s not for nothing that he at first resists his son Damian reappearing in his life, or that Morrison basically withholds any other DC superheroes from his stories (excepting Final Crisis, which was inevitable) until Return of Bruce Wayne. In fact, the way Bruce ends up defeating Darkseid’s curse is incredibly out-of-character — he relinquishes his memory and gambles that the Justice League can take care of it for him, thus leading to one of the most satisfying lines in all of comics:
“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.”
One could argue that all of this starts with Damian; Batman’s finally forced to have someone in his life that he doesn’t want. We follow that thread through “Club of Heroes,” out of Return of Bruce Wayne and into Batman, Inc., which takes Bruce’s new status as a team player and institutionalizes it. How else would Bruce Wayne roll?
More on the Yin/Yang: Let’s Look at the Joker.
Although Joker isn’t the primary antagonist for most of Morrison’s series, he’s always lurking in the background. He even bookends the saga: “Batman & Son” opens with Joker, while Batman & Robin #16 more or less closes with him. If we look at his presentation here, I think we can make a pretty strong argument that Morrison establishes Bruce Wayne and the Joker as two halves of the same whole, another yin/yang relationship (Joker even directly refers to this in Batman #680). Please pardon the high school English paper nature of this assertion, but I also think Bruce and the Joker represent the duality of life and death.
First let’s cover the ways they’re similar — and there are so many. Batman and Joker each keep their own casebook (or jokebook, as it were) — though Batman’s is meticulously detailed, while Joker’s seems to have nothing written in it (“you have to be insane to read it,” Damian says in Batman #700). Bruce and Joker both play dominoes, one literally (via his identity as the Domino Killer) and one figuratively (by setting up events throughout time). Both, in fact, are long-term schemers (look at how much orchestration Joker pulls off throughout Batman & Robin).
Most germane to this story, we see Batman and the Joker both switch personalities. Batman embraces his Joker side when he becomes the “Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh” in “RIP” (Joker even remarks he “looks like a clown”), while Joker dons an all-black costume and takes to detective work under the identity Oberon Sexton to fill the void left by Bruce Wayne in Batman & Robin. The difference is that Joker seemingly changes at will (“The Clown at Midnight”) while for Bruce it’s involuntary. That makes sense; we even learn in “The Third Man” that Bruce first underwent Dr. Hurt’s sensory deprivation experiments in an attempt to learn how the Joker thinks. I guess he never quite got it.
As for the life/death part, think of the imagery Morrison associates with these characters throughout. We see Joker in graveyards a lot, from “Clown at Midnight” to Batman & Robin; hell, in the latter, he even dances with a corpse! Meanwhile, the whole of Morrison’s stories is about Batman being reborn — he literally comes back to life at the end of Return of Bruce Wayne, and besides that undergoes a number of experiences meant to refresh his body and soul.
Bruce Wayne and the Joker represent, I think, the totality of existence, or at least existence in Gotham City. Dr. Hurt and Darkseid are cancers, trying to take that existence away. Joker’s not Batman’s ultimate enemy so much as he’s Batman’s ultimate foil. Besides, the ultimate enemy spot has a new taker — Dr. Thomas Wayne.
I talked about this a lot in my Batman #666 write-up, but Morrison’s story isn’t exactly self-contained. Though it focuses mostly on Hurt/Darkseid’s effect on the Caped Crusader, there are several hints to another sinister threat lying in wait. Nowhere do those hints become more prominent than when we spend time with the Third Man, a villainous Batman who sold his soul to the devil for power. Most of my thoughts on him can be found in the aforementioned #666 post, but I want to repeat this much here: the events surrounding the Third Man are, I think, crucial to understanding what Morrison’s doing over in Batman, Inc. right now with the mysterious Leviathan. Much like the first half of Morrison’s story (“Batman & Son” through “RIP”) is in some unsatisfying way complete, I think looking at the works I did gives a pretty full picture of what’s going on, but not a total one. We’ll have to keep watching Batman, Inc. to find out more. Of course, you don’t have to twist my arm.
So that’s the end, everybody. I want to thank everyone who followed along and gave me tips and feedback. I hope you took something away from this series. Perhaps I’ll revisit it one day. Until then, you can catch regular reviews of Batman, Inc. and other comics here on Nerdy Nothings!
For your reading ease, here are links to all the other Great Morrison Bat Study posts:
00. Reading Order
01. Final Crisis #6, 52 #30
02. “Batman & Son”
03. “The Clown at Midnight”
04. “Three Ghosts of Batman”
05. “The Club of Heroes”
06. “The Third Man”
08. Batman #666
09. “RIP: The Missing Chapter,” The Butler saga
10. Batman & Robin #1-9
11. Return of Bruce Wayne #1-3, Batman & Robin #10-12
12.1. Return of Bruce Wayne #4-5, Batman & Robin #13
12.2 Return of Bruce Wayne #6, Batman & Robin #14-16
13. Batman #700
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