Sunday, January 22, 2012

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey - Chapter Three

This is it...or at least the start of it...what is it? The culmination of the 1st chapter of Grant Morrison's multi-year Batman saga.  Why do I say the start of it?  Because as it panned out over time, "Batman: RIP" served as a lead-in to Bruce's role in "Final Crisis"  BUT there was also the "RIP: The Missing Chapters" that came out after "FC" BUT bridged the gap between the end of "RIP", dovetailed directly into the beginning of "FC", then back into a couple issues of "Batman" that detailed some of what happened while Bruce was captured, then back into "FC" then straight into the beginning of "Return of Bruce Wayne".  And this is all broken up between the "RIP", "Time and The Batman", and "Final Crisis" hardcovers.

Yes it is just a tad bit exhausting if you're trying to read it all in some semblance of a chronological order, which is what I am attempting to do, and was easy for my "Batman & Son" HC blog, but made more difficult with "The Black Glove" HC because of how the "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" HC took place in the middle of the two stories contained in that.  Hence why I divided it up into Part 2 and Part 2.1.

So how have I decided to handle this? Well I think I'm just going to address the actual "Batman: RIP" story itself here and not the full contents of the HC, since the latter half takes place DURING "FC", and save that, "FC", and "Time and The Batman" for the NEXT edition of this rather lengthy trip through Morrison's Bat-World!

After that equally lengthy preamble, let's get this mother started!!!

"RIP" essentially started in a one-off book, DC Universe #0, that essentially served as a jumping off point for that, "Final Crisis", and some other major events in the DCU.  As it pertains to Batman & Morrison's larger epic, as you can see from the picture above, it played heavily off the black & red themes that were present in "The Clown At Midnight" prose issue, as well as using the "Red and Black, Life and Death, The Joke and The Punchline" material from that issue as well.  This whole scene is actually very reminiscent of "The Killing Joke" meeting between Bats & Joker, something that didn't really occur to me on my first reading of that issue but hit me later on.

The two other main things from this ish that play into the larger story are the Dead Man's Hand Joker is dealing. Some quick wiki-research taught me that this was allegedly the hand Wild Bill Hickok was dealt before he was gunned down, only it was all black suites.  Joker here is playing off the whole red/black motif with his cards, his way of telling Batman he's going to die I suppose. And the other main point is a line from Bats to The Joker that I think plays heavily into Joker's actions later on in "RIP".  Bats says to him "Someone's hunting me. I can feel it. Someone who thinks they can do YOUR job better than you".  Trying to bait the Joker perhaps? Play on his sense of ownership towards Batman maybe? 

That right there is the first scene the readers sees when beginning "RIP" proper and suffice it to say, besides continuing the red/black theme, it's quite impossible to discern the figures in the Batman & Robin gear. Batman is obviously addressing some question the reader isn't privy to, and won't be for some time as the sequence that starts on the following page introduces us to a hunchback looking man whose first lines of dialogue pertain to him killing a doorman, following by a disembodied voice (save for a hand and eyes) essentially telling the hunchback, addressed as M'sieur Le Bossu, it's cool because it will all be very thoroughly covered up, "We are operators at the highest level", as the eyes say.  The next page:

We get to meet Dr. Hurt, the modern day version, for the very first time, and feast our eyes upon the "Club of Villains" speculated upon in the "Club of Heroes" arc.  Although none are named, save Dr. Hurt, and none have been seen before save El Sombrero, you know that these are the very same villains (Charlie Caligula, Scorpiana, etc) referred to by The Musketeer, The Knight, The Legionary, and the other heroes in that tale. You also know you're in for something bad when Hurt welcomes La Bossu to the "danse macabre" or dance of death. Another quick wiki-check and I get a whole new appreciation for that term in reference to this story:

Artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer.

For reasons that become all too clear in later chapters of "RIP",  this is the perfect description for what The Black Glove is all about.

We take a slight detour into the world of a weird, obviously drugged out guy in a green vulture mask attempting to kidnap a family, and the humor in this scene to me is that the parents are far more freaked out than the kid, especially when he gets a visual on something that causes him to say, "Dude. You are so dead." What is he seeing you may ask? Well it is the highly anticipated, long awaited debut of the brand new Batmobile first eluded to in Morrison's very first issue!!!!

Bad ass huh? Curious how Bruce says it's not how he envisioned it though, also funny that this "test drive" with Robin is his idea of recovery time after dying for 4 minutes. The Batmobile prevents Green Vulture guy from running over an innocuous homeless man who simply says "You have a very kind face".  The dynamic duo heads home to Wayne Manor, lamenting(?) the lack of criminals in Gotham, while Bruce de-cowls as he strolls through the halls of the manor and into the arms of...

Pretty heavy stuff right there, Bruce making out with Jet in half-bat regalia, while the story cuts back to Robin questioning Alfred on the previous women in Bruce's life. It's actually kind of nice to hear references to Silver St. Cloud and Sasha Bordeaux, it's a reminder to me how much the Bat-World as a whole (not just Grant) has generally acknowledged its continuity as one large story.  A few years ago I did a read-thru of every issue of "Batman" & "Detective Comics" from just after the Original Crisis through...well I think it was through "Face the Face"...and I was amazed at how much it all read like one ongoing story that frequently flowed, logically, from one part to the next even with different writers. There are obvious exceptions (like what happened during the 1 Year "post-Infinite Crisis" gap to Harvey Dent & Jim Gordon), but overall it's an impressive feat.

Anywho, Robin also readdresses the whole Thogal issue that keeps popping up lately and expresses his fears to Alfred about the effects that that, the Isolation Chamber experiment, and this 4 Minutes Of Death experience may have had on Bruce's mind. Alfred, ever the cheerleader, but also in this instance I think the voice of Morrison, rallies off the credentials of Batman and why he is so damn good at what he does. Still,  he also sees through Tim's fears and realizes there is something more to this all: Damian.

Tim asks if there was a paternity test, Alfred tells him that Bruce wants to deliver the results himself, leaving Tim to ponder the reality that "The son of Satan is my brother?", doubly amusing given the context of what came before, Issue 666 specifically, where Damian-Bats alluded to his own deal with the devil for the soul of Gotham.

Bruce visits his parents grave with Jezebel, he tells her that he's connecting the dots on something big, and she produces a mystery of her own, a black enveloped letter that reads "The Black Glove extends an invitation to Miss Jezebel Jet and Mister Bruce Wayne. The theme this season: Danse Macabre."

Cut to Arkham Asylum and a black, red, and white scene of utter death as blood stains the walls, dead bodies litter the floor, a news reporter on TV rips his own mouth into a joker-smile, and then we see this...

The last few pages were nothing more than The Joker's bloody interpretation of a Rorschach test as administered by some doctor, but not just any doctor, because as you can see in the last panel when the lights cut out, he informs Joker that he is indeed Le Bossu (in disguise?) extending The Black Glove invitation to The Joker. Then, as the first chapter comes to a close, we get our first clear look (at least in standard art) at the newest incarnation of The Joker, the "Clown at Midnight" or "Thin White Duke of Death" as he has been labeled:

Chapter two starts off with a violent bang down in the sewers of Gotham (Grant likes putting Bats there doesn't he?) as he, somewhat out of control (at least to the point where he doesn't realize he's been stabbed), is taking down a presumed felon while hollering "Who is the Black Glove?" in front of Gordon and the GCPD. Gordon points out that the only Black Glove they can find is references to that movie brought up in the "Club of Heroes" arc.

Back at the cave Bruce, dripping blood all over the place, is trying to connect the dots just as much as the reader is. Is there a connection between the movie & organization of the same name? Are John Mayhew, Dr. Hurt, Mangrove Pierce tied together in anyway? We know the movie is about two innocent lovers corrupted by a group of super-rich gamblers...could that be Jezebel & Bruce? One of the Black Casebooks is missing, Bruce refuses to let Alfred tend to his bleeding shoulder, and all Alfie is trying to do is inform Bruce as to Tim's state of mind regarding Damian.

Over to the villains of the piece as the plot the downfall of Batman, starting with a close-up on the red/black of a roulette wheel, connecting The Black Glove to the idea of gambling. El Sombrero, the death trap master, is perusing blueprints to an unknown building while Dr. Hurt is pontificating on the aims of the Glove...and what is most interesting about that is his claims that "No one knows him better than I do.", and how he refers to Batman as "our boy". It could just be a statement of ownership, giving the Black Glove power over Bats, or it could be something more given the familial claims made later by Hurt.  Also, in this speech, Hurt confirms that the little knife wound Brucie got was loaded with "Librium" that will somehow make him more susceptible to the trigger phrase he implanted back in the Isolation Experiment (a possibility Batman showed concern for after his fight with Devil-Bats). FYI, Librium is a brand name for an anti-anxiety drug frequently used to treat alcoholism but when overdosed can lead to somnolence (difficulty staying awake), mental confusion, hypotension, hypoventilation, impaired motor functions, impaired reflexes, impaired coordination, impaired balance, dizziness, muscle weakness, and even coma.  Not good for Batman...

So back in the cave where Bruce is bringing Jet for the very first time and he begins to explain to her that The Black Glove invitation is merely a trap, starts to tell her (in a somewhat paranoid fashion) about the perceived connections to Mayhem, Dr. Hurt, and how they are "closing in on us". Jet doubts him, she mentions how some people perceive him to be mad....

...and on the side we cut to Jim Gordon busting in on the Mayor's office as news begins to seep out of a sordid Wayne Family history involving Bruce's parents, Alfred, drugs, booze, adultery, Mayhew, Pierce, Marsha Lamarr, and claims that Thomas Wayne faked his death after having Martha murdered.  I never thought of it before, and I didn't really look for it in the earlier HC's, but as I read this I start to wonder about how "above the board" the Mayor of Gotham really is, after all, Gordon stated way back in the beginning of this that the corruption in Gotham goes all the way to the top. I wonder if there's a track record of this for the Mayor?

 Back to the cave where Bruce and Jet continue their talk while someone parachutes out of a helicopter. This conversation can be taken in several ways, one definitively given how the story unfolds, but in the moment it feels like Bruce's girlfriend expressing her fears about him, but simultaneously undermining all of his work, exposing his fears, and truly playing off that "enhanced susceptibility" perhaps.  The shots of the Robin outfits (including a Stephanie Brown memorial which I thought never existed), the various trophies in the cave, Jet mentioning her father over a shot of Thomas Wayne's Bat-Costume in a glass case, it all feels like toys and she caps it all off, by asking, "What if you're not well?"

In that panel above, Bruce responds exactly how I would suspect, by questioning everything, including Jet. Pointing out how The Black Glove would use everything, including Jet & her doubt, against him. He tells her about the meeting with the Joker, the Dead Man's Hand, the "H.A.H.A" the Ace & 8's symbolized, and she spins it into the one possibility that many a fan-boy theorized as this all unfolded, that Bruce Wayne himself is The Black Glove. She turns the rationale into a psychological one, the young boy inside Bruce raging at his life being sacrificed for Batman's quest, and this is probably the most in-depth any author has ever deconstructed Batman/Bruce Wayne!

He attempts to show her the Bat-computer, with screens full of the "Zur en Arrh" tags that have been floating in the background since the beginning of "Batman & Son", but all Bruce sees is static while Jet can see it perfectly.  Then the moment happens, the second she speaks the words on the screen, it all goes to hell...

And if that face on the screen looks familiar, it's because it popped up during the Devil-Bats arc right before "RIP", go ahead and go back at my write-up, I'll wait.....

Okay good, now that that's out of the way, the Cave is broken into, exposing that The Black Glove obviously knows that Bruce & Batman are one and the same, and we are left with Jet being surrounded by thugs while Alfred, returning from actually watching "The Black Glove" movie ("The bleakest filmgoing experience I've ever had the misfortune to endure..." he says), is assaulted in the mansion as it burns...

Man that cover is trippy....

So we start the next entry into this saga with a really weird collection of images, the Bat-Radia, a multi-colored monster distorting Bats & Robin, one panel depicting the Black Casebook (specifically the "Robin Dies At Dawn" entry) to give us some reference point for these odd images, and then another panel of Batman & the old Batwoman running from alien-like creatures. The next page reveals that it is indeed Tim Drake perusing the Casebook, presumably the volume Bruce said was missing last issue, and it is truly the text within the book that is intriguing.

This is Bruce's way of rationalizing the insane things he witnessed throughout his career, and on a parallel track, Morrison's way of reconciling the crazy stories from the past into continuity. All of this weirdness, these strange experiences, the things Bruce forced himself to experience, they all appear to come from one motivation and it's revealed in this quote, "I don't want to know what goes on in the Joker's head. I have to know". Bats is, in his own fashion, as obsessed with Joker as the clown is with him...

Tim is suddenly set upon by two members of the Club of Villains, unnamed to this point, but they are Pierre Lunaire & Swagman....enemies of The Musketeer & Dark Ranger respectively, and one thing I enjoy about Morrison's take on Tim Drake is how strong he is. In the page right before the two above, Tim's interest is suddenly caught by something off-panel leading to the motorcycle bursting forth, and although it's a bit hard to discern in the panel, Drake actually ramps his bike AT A TREE in order to force Lunaire to release his hold with the garrote!

Back to Gotham City, and Bruce is awoken in an alleyway by a very familiar looking homeless guy who is muttering "...maybe that's how it is on the planet of the little bat fairies.." as he walks into the story. Honor Jackson, as he identifies himself, begins to kick the unconscious body of Bruce until he takes a good look at his face (the one he called kind previously), and recognizes the de-cowled Batman, stating he "never forgets a good turn".  Bruce stumbles to his feet with Honor's help, but flashbacks to what happened between issues start to kick in...

Aside from the red/black motif of memory, the big question this evokes is why Dr. Hurt thinks Bruce should remember him? Is it just because of the Isolation Experiments or is it something more, that familial connection that seems to linger in the air, and is expressly stated later on? Whatever the case, Hurt injects our hero with Crystal Meth & Heroin before dumping him in the streets (and apparently undressing him from costume into street clothes as well).

Nightwing is beset by other Club of Villain members, in his case the minions of Charlie Caligula (The Legionary's arch-foe) & Scorpiana, while Robin takes a food break (wtf???) in the middle of his escape from Kraken to inform Grayson of what's going on and demanding he meet him at Checkpoint 5.  Maybe Tim thought he had escaped pursuit and was hungry...

Back to Bruce as he & Honor make their way through Gotham, stopping for Honor to buy drugs apparently, fending off an assault, while Bruce tries to recover some sense of identity.  He actually uses some detective skills to try and solve his own personal riddle, showcasing that even with no sense of identity these traits are so innate to his being that he can't help being the world's greatest detective. Honor gives him a "treasure", something he refers to as his best friend, but now it's broken but if Bruce fixes it, it will be his best friend too.  Honor tells Bruce he has to make a choice with a clear head... "You can fall...or you can rise".  Sitting on the riverside, with a tear in his eye, Honor tells Bruce he's never done anything to be proud of, but if he knew he could save one life, that would mean something...then he vanishes.

It gets odder as Bruce meets the man Honor told him to, a Lone-Eye Lincoln, only to find out that Honor died yesterday, "...blew a hundred bucks on smack and went out like a king", that $100 obviously being the money Bruce gave him after the near-accident with the Batmobile.  And where does this little meeting take place...

Yup, Park Row/Crime Alley, right where The Wayne's were killed...

Robin hits Checkpoint 5, no Nightwing to be found though because he's been drugged following his off-panel confrontation with Scorpiana, tossed into Arkham Asylum, labeled as Pierrot Lunaire, and is now under the watchful eye of the in-disguise La Bossu.

But what about the other man who was left hanging at the close of the previous issue? What about Alfred? Well we finally get an answer to that question as Dr. Hurt, now adorned in Thomas Wayne's Bat-Costume, toasts "crime and The Black Glove" alongside the rest of the Club of Villains. They have co-opted the Bat Cave as their base, they aim to do the same to Gotham, and now Hurt has taken the identity of Bruce's father (or has he simply reclaimed his own ID?).  Alfred sits, beaten & bound to a chair, forced to listen to all this, as Hurt states that perhaps "When Batman has finally seen the error of his ways, we may allow him to return, broken...perhaps as my butler."

Muttering "Zur en Arrh" to himself, Bruce sews something...his voice changes, he reveals that Honor gave him the Bat-Radia we saw on the first page/first panel of this chapter (but it's a broken radio), and he stand revealed, in another of Grant's throwbacks to old Bat-continuity, as The Batman Of Zur-En-Arrh with Bat-Mite at his side...

The left one is the Tony Daniel Zur-En-Arrh, the middle is the Original from Batman #113, and the right is from the "Brave & The Bold" cartoon which I included just because I thought it was so cool that take made it onto television...

Chapter Four kicks off with utter insanity as Zur-en-Arrh Bats goes nuts with a baseball bat in  hand and Bat-Mite over his shoulder as he prowls Gotham looking for answers. He discovers a bit about Le Bossu, talks to stone gargoyles after beating up thugs masked as ones,  and the gargoyles ramble on about slow-vision, the grids of Gotham, and how "people make the city and the city makes the people". The grids, once Bats is able to see them, show up as a checkerboard, continuing a theme of Morrison's run thus far, or as Bats describes it, "A checkerboard. A blueprint, A machine designed to make Batman". Meanwhile Bat-Might ("Might" is how Bats says it which is interesting) warns Bats of a tracking device that, as it turns out, is lodged in his teeth...and this being Batman, he just rips it out with a knife.

After a brief fight, Bruce hides out inside the ruins of The Majestic theater where Might drops some knowledge on us simple folk, allowing Morrison to bring the original Zur en Arrh story into logical continuity, explaining it as a hallucination induced by a Professor Milo's Gas Weapon. Milo, as it turns out, comes from a story way back in Detective Comics #247 & also appeared in Morrison's "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" graphic novel...

Essentially these two pages are the info-dump explaining just wtf is going on with Batman right now, and what this whole Zur-en-Arrh deal is.  Doctor Hurt, discovering the info via the Isolation Experiment, used the words as a trigger phrase to essentially shut off Batman. But being Batman, the most prepared human being in existence, he used that same phrase as a trigger for a back-up identity in the case of a serious psychological attack such as this: the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh.

Robin, still on the run from Swagman, puts in a phone call to Knight  & Squire, explaining the situation to them on voice mail, prompting them to  "...put in a call to the lads" as The Knight phrases it, the lads being the remaining members of The Club of Heroes.

Zur-Bats catches up to King Kraken & Charlie Caligula, prompting Charlie to shout "BATMAN IS DEAD", a moment that flashes me back to the very first page of "RIP" and the "Batman & Robin will never die" proclamation.

Gordon, with red shirted Ensign in tow, hit Wayne Manor, presumably to discuss the accusations against Bruce's family that have surfaced, and I must say that in one panel, Morrison does just enough to give the other cop, Bill, some character so it actually has a minute amount of resonance when his skull gets pierced with arrows on the next page after he finds El Sombrero's calling card.  Meanwhile, in the Batcave, Dr. Hurt...parading around in his own Bat-Costume...lets us all know that Arkham Asylum will be the site of the big showdown, and, while continuing to claim he is Thomas Wayne, accuses Alfred of being Bruce's father.

I really dig this scene because one panel both Morrison's dialogue & Daniel's art show the fierce loyalty Alfred has for the Wayne Family.  The look on his face of rage and disgust equals the content of his words even while Hurt smiles away, drunk on the desire to "...ruin (Bruce) in every way imaginable. Body and soul".  In a nod to history, Hurt also reveals that Robin has been promised to The Joker...and that the breaking of the Bat is scheduled for midnight.  Midnight seems to be a theme of its own in Morrison's Bat-run too. "The Clown At Midnight" story where Joker was fixated on breaking out of Arkham at exactly that time, the first chapter of RIP being titled "Midnight in the House of Hurt", and now breaking Bats at midnight.  There could be others, I would have to go back and investigate.....
...nope that seems to be it!

Zur-Bats captures Charlie, tortures him it seems, pointing out all his flaws, his desire to be The Joker, and threatening him with the Bat-Radia, still seemingly a broken old transistor radio. But what is interesting about this sequence, the reason I choose to include the page above, is Zur-Bats description of himself in the middle panel, "I am what you get when you take Bruce out of the equation" as Charlie screams "What's that thing behind you!", making me think that he somehow can see Might (even though Might is not drawn here).

The noose tightens as Arkham is prepared, Doctor Dax is definitively revealed as Le Bossu & his minions assault Jeremiah Arkham, the red/black flowers from the Joker prose issue are introduced, the floors are painted red/black, and The Joker stands revealed as being at the center of The Black Glove's plan...their maitre, or master/host. The shit is about to hit the fan...

"The Thin White Duke of Death", a reference to David Bowie & The Joker, is the title of this penultimate chapter of "RIP" and in the first few pages we get a direct correlation between the story of The Black Glove movie & the villains of the piece. It is indeed a group of the richest people gambling on human lives, and in this case, the triumph of over good over evil in the form of Batman. The table is set to look like the roulette wheel at its center, all red & black, surrounded by monitors, and even the wine is red in juxtaposition to the black clothes of those in attendance.

Le Bossu professes his evil inside to The Joker who simply grins, his bullet scar/third eye making it all the more eerie, and as Bossu dons his hunchback mask, Joker's yawn tells the exact tale of how he feels about this whole charade.  Bossu has to put on a mask and change his appearance to be a monster, The Joker just is...

Might reminds Zur-Bats that he can't run at this speed all night, while The Joker greets El Sombrero in his own fashion. A fight breaks out on Arkham grounds between Zur-Bats & the various henchmen, disks labeled red & black fly at the reader, then finally...the doors of Arkham are reached. One problem, Might can't continue the journey, "I'm the last fading echo of the voice of reason, Batman. And reason won't fit through this door."

For some reason that one panel of observation really amuses me...but I guess that is how these sundry rich folk see Batman, while Dr. Hurt continues to espouse big words and hyperbole about if "...the ultimate noble spirit can survive the ultimate ignoble betrayal?", then Sombrero, noose around his neck, crashes the party from above courtesy of The Joker.  Hurt is unfazed by his arrival while Cardinal Maggi (the only BG member named thus far) and crew look terrified.

Back to Wayne Manor as Gordon tromps through the gallery of pictures, with focus on the portraits of Silas & Mordecai Wayne (the latter looking a lot like Bruce BTW), and the Commish makes the acquaintance of Talia Al Ghul & Damian, who she doesn't hesitate to introduce as Batman's son.  Damian's "Mother I want a Batmobile" line made me chuckle...

Sidebar, this whole sequence is yet another moment in Bat-history that makes me question if Jim Gordon is willfully ignorant or just chooses to turn a blind eye towards the Bruce/Bats connection. He is in Bruce Wayne's mansion, which has been booby-trapped all to hell, and just happens to run right into Batman's son & his occasional love interest, and doesn't bat an eye? Really? I tend to think of Gordon as a man who knows the truth in his heart but prefers to ignore the uncomfortable reality of it...

Back to Arkham where The Joker has essentially taken over the situation; his horrid smile on all the monitors as Zur-Bats searches for both he & Jezebel.  Interesting thing to me is how she liberally screams "Bruce" the entire time, in full earshot of The Joker, and on monitors that The Black Glove members are watching, with little care to protecting his identity. It's no surprise The Joker shows little interest as he as often stated that Batman is real, whoever is under the mask is fake, but this may be the first time Joker has so blatantly borne witness to the identity of the man under the cowl.

The Joker taunts Batman the whole way with lines like "the real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense!", and as Zur-Bats finally comes face-to-face with his tormentor, The Joker utters four words that seem random at the time,  but given the pay-off in a few pages, make sense... "love really is blind".

I like how Joker slits his tongue in twain, it may seem extreme to some, but given the expression "speaking with a forked tongue", it makes sense that he would commit this crazy act while claiming to know who Dr. Hurt is & the reason he hates Batman.  Also, I dig how the whole "Batman shot The Joker" moment from the beginning of this comes back, primarily Zur-Bats insistence that "Batman doesn't use a gun"...

Joker continues to verbally berate Zur-Bats..."You think it all breaks down into symbolism and structures and hints and clues. No, Batman, that's just wikipedia." or "...there was some rabbit hole you could follow me down to understanding?", Le Bossu stumble through the halls of Arkham with his face now disfigured courtesy of The Joker, and it all comes to a head as the red/black petals begin to fall on a confined Jezebel.  Suffice to say Bruce should have taken heed to her first name also meaning a shameless or immoral woman...

Jet's been a part of this all along, playing Bruce from jump street apparently, which is readily obvious in the Batcave dialogue between them.  She was indeed undermining Bruce's confidence in his mission, and the joke that is always the same & is always on Bruce...well I suppose that is how untrustworthy the woman in his life always prove to be.

The last chapter opens with Bruce straight jacketed and locked in a coffin with the the dialogue looking handwritten, as if from the pages of a casebook.  There's also a loop back to The Book of Changes and the specific quote Morrison  had I-Ching drop in the "Resurrection" arc.

Flashback, in red/black/white, to the aftermath of the Thogal experience in Nanda Parbat and Bruce's realization that something was wrong in his mind..."a scar on his consciousness" as he calls it, where something was hidden, forgotten about, the "Zur en Arrh" trigger, and this is the moment where Bruce begins to create his emergency personality, his back-up OS essentially.

The rest of the Club joins the party, saving Robin from the combined assault of Swagman & Pierre Lunaire, Bruce continues his flashback to post-Thogal, and we discover that this assault on him started, at least, as far back as this experience.  The Black Glove stands around the grave while Joker places a bet on the wheel but when Hurt informs him he can't because he's not a member/memberships full, well Joker snaps the neck of the General to open up a spot. Joker's bet: double or nothing that Batman crawls out of the grave, intact, and hunts them all down.  His proof is the broken radio, Bat-Radia, that has been in fact hiding a micro-transmitter that, when activated, overrides Arkham's security and puts it in the control of the Bat-Computer.  Heh, even crazy Zur-Bats was cognizant enough to whip this up...

Flashback to Nanda Parbat, Bruce's revelations (not surprising) that he carries antidotes to poisons he's not immune to, that he is fully prepared to take on this "dark master", and that in Thogal, he "hunted down and killed and ate the last traces of fear and doubt in (his) mind."  And the dialogue/casebook entries that lead to him fighting his way out of the burial...well that is...inspiring...or maybe awe-inspiring is better...

The Joker tells The Black Glove why they will/have failed, and sums up a lot of what they tried to do with Batman in one word: Apophenia.  Looked it up and it is defined as the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.  Is Joker saying that is what a lot of the red/black, checkerboard, flowers patterns may have been in this whole story?

My other particularly favorite moment from this sequence is Joker sliding a joker card into Dr. Hurt's pocket while stating "devil is double is deuce my dear doctor. and joker trumps deuce".  If Dr. Hurt is indeed who he later claims to be, then The Joker could be seeing something...or rather implying something...that the rest of us don't get, at least not yet.

Then the moment comes when Batman,in his true uniform courtesy of BG, finally confronts them, tell Jet that he was onto her all along, ever since she said "I want you to know I understand", and proceeds to lay bare her story. Her "father" was a member of the BG who won Jet & her mother in a bet 20 years prior, Jet applauded as his enemies cut him up & made her the leader, and Bruce is now in possession of the one thing Jet places value in: a letter from her imprisoned mother.  In fact, the classic moment is when he decides to completely undermine her confidence by saying that his love for her was faked, "Love? Congratulate Alfred on the acting lessons!"  A lot of readers took this at face value, and took issue with how illogical the statement seemed given that he professed his feeling about Jet to Alfred even when she wasn't around to witness it, but I believe it was said as one last jab at her heart, the same way in which she took jabs at him in that Bat Cave conversation.

The Club of Heroes, alongside Robin, have stopped the violence in Gotham and reveal that everyone connected to The Black Glove movie is either dead, insane, or missing, and the urban legend surrounding it is that the Devil himself put a curse on it. Damian gets to drive his Batmobile finally, runs Joker off the road with it, "killing" him for like the 3rd time since Morrison took over (which upset a lot of people that he was so handidly dismissed after all this but come on, it's The Joker, it's all set-up for his next appearance), and Batman is in pursuit of Hurt.

Another bullet to the  Bat while lays out the plan, how the BG stemmed the tide of crime in Gotham to undermine Batman's reason for existence, littered "Zur en Arrh" on the walls of the city, drugged him, tried to break his mind, and all of it was done by a man claiming to be Dr. Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father. Bruce should have died alongside Martha he claims but Chill lost his nerve, Thomas' death was faked, he became Hurt, but Bruce refuses to believe.  Rather he thinks Hurt is Mangrove Pierce, a point quickly refuted by Hurt as he states in the last panel above how he skinned him alive & wore his face (as seen in the "Club of Heroes" arc).

He claims to be the hole in things, the enemy that has been there since the beginning, and tells Bruce how has has desecrated the name of the Wayne Family in the media, but a deal (with the devil?) is put on the table: Bruce joins the BG and it will all go away. I think we all know how that gets answered...and Hurt curses Bruce as he attempts to depart..."The next time you wear (the cape & cowl) it will be the last!"

The final entry in the Black Casebook (so described by Bruce himself) ends with him questioning if he "...found the Devil waiting for him, and was that fear in his eyes?" The escape 'copter containing Hurt, Devil-Bats, and Bruce explodes, going down in Gotham Harbor, leaving this somewhat iconic image behind...

But the story isn't over yet...Talia sends her Bat-Ninjas after Jezebel Jet and that ends with her presumed death while we get a "6 months later" page (like the "6 months earlier" blurb that followed the B&R can never die page in part one) where we learned Cardinal Maggi has died while Le Bossu attempts to torture and kill a cop until the bat-signal shines through the window, presumably bringing us back to that first B&R image.

We close our tale with the following image:

Another perspective on that fateful night that birthed Batman is actually a touching conversation between Bruce & his father, and in the light of what Dr. Hurt claimed, it's a nice memory to visit, of course in the black/red/white motif that all the flashbacks in "RIP" took place in.  And is there any connection between "Zur En Arrh" and "Zorro In Arkham"? I feel like there could be...

So in conclusion of this story, I think I enjoy it so much more now than I did initially.  That's not to say I didn't like it when it was originally printed, but picking up on all the disparate plot threads the preceded it, and seeing how they continue on to this day adds a whole new layer to Morrison's Bat-Saga.

In "RIP" we see a meeting of the Jezebel Jet story, the Club of Heroes, the Three Ghosts, Clown at Midnight, 52, and we also have the stage set for a lot of future tales as well.  The true identity of Dr.  Hurt is still unrevealed, will Hurt's proclamation of "next time, last time" come true, and if so who will take up the cowl in Bruce's place?  Is Damian's future indeed that of ish #666? See, in reading this, it is blatantly obvious that Bruce did not die at the end of the story because he was the one penning the final entry into the Black Casebook that provided the framework for this final chapter of "RIP".  Still it was kind of disappointing in the moment because we all expected some epic death scene to close out the story, and to be honest I was a little let down back then as well, but given the material that has come out since, this just makes me excited to reread the continued saga of Batman, as told by Grant Morrison.

And you know that I actually found most irritating about "RIP", and it reflects more on DC Direct actually, is that given the sheer number of new/original characters presented in this story via the Club of Heroes/Villains/Black Glove, not to mention the totally different takes on the standards with Zur-En-Arrh Batman & "Clown At Midnight" Joker, that not one damn action figure was released from "RIP"! I so wanted a Zur-Bats with Bat-Might, to build my own Club of Villains & Heroes, and most importantly, a crazy forked-tongue Joker!!!

Next time: "RIP: The Missing Chapters", "Final Crisis", & "Last Rites"...and reading them in a chronological fashion is going to be a fun experiment!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey 2.1

In the first part of this journey I covered the "Batman & Son" Hardcover, you can read that bad boy here.

In the second one I took care of "The Club of Heroes" & "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" arcs, and you can read that one here.

But before I can move on to the next Hardcover in line, "Batman: RIP", there are a few lingering tales from "The Black Glove" HC that I need to take care of, ones that have serious impact on that story, and feed off what has come before.

The first of these is from the issue pictured above, and it goes by the intriguing title of "Space Medicine". Chronologically speaking, this is the first appearance of Devil-Batman from issue #666 as he strolls into GCPD HQ demanding to see Commissioner Vane (who obviously is not around anymore) and claiming that "The Bat-Signal came on in my brain. The sleeper awoke".

Gordon continues to deal with the Mayor, in this instance him questioning Jim's relationship with Batman, while Devil-Bats sets fire to GCPD as well as several people in the building.

Jump to "Gotham Noir", their version of "The View", hosted by Vicki Vale as they discuss Bruce & Jezebel Jet's whirlwind romance, rumored engagement, their impending base jump for charity, and through Bruce's conversation with Alfred (harkening back to their talk from the beginning of "Bats & Son", we learn a little bit more detail about Jet's history. Assassinated father, gave up her life to carry out his work, she makes Bruce...laugh?!?

Back to the chaos at GCPD where Devil-Bats holds another officer hostage, flashes his GCPD badge, verifying he was in fact a cop, and trades up in the hostage department by taking Commissioner Gordon.

Back to Bruce & Jet as they prepare to jump, the Bat-Signal hits the hot air balloon they are jumping from, leaving Bruce & Alfred to make an on-the-fly excuse about Bruce overshooting the landing and ending up in the alleys.

Devil-Bats informs Gordon that he freed Branca, the Bane-looking "Ghost", just before Batman enters the scene for a little rooftop brawl.  The Bat-signal gets trashed, Bats gets shot in the chest at nearly point blank range, Devil-Bats laments on how the GCPD betrayed him..."sent me to hell to learn from the devil" are his words...then he shoots Gordon, and it all beings to get really weird.

Bruce's heart begins to give, Zur En Arrh is being written by some finger, a bat shatters glass, and we have the return (modern debut perhaps?) of a character that seems to utterly out of place in the general world of Batman yet somehow fits into the Morrison Bat world: Bat-Mite!

What an insane cliffhanger to the first part of this story huh? Before we get to part two, "Joe Chill in Hell", I want to point out a couple key points dropped into what was essentially a very fast-paced action issue.

One, Devil-Bats continuously referencing the devil & hell, very curious that this is how he references what happened to him as what the reader knows is that he was part of the big Bat-Experiment. Why does he look at this as a trip through hell and learning from the devil? Two, the reappearance of the Zur En Arrh theme that dominated the backgrounds of almost all of Grant's Gotham-based stories prior to this. Given that we don't see much of the city outside of GCPD HQ in this ish, there aren't any other appearances of those words, but the question now is who is writing them and where? Is it written on Bruce's brain perhaps? There also seems to be at theme of Batman look-alikes using guns, something Batman does not do...

On to Joe Chill....

This issue certainly throws the reader for a loop right from the get-go as we ended with Bats apparently suffering a heart attack and Bat-Mite popping out of the ether, then this ish starts with a guy popping a pill worrying about someone getting into his room, and some discussion of the Thogal ritual that has been mentioned previously in Grant's Bat-work.  It's an odd jump but you begin to see that there's something more to it than meets the eye.

We see Batman for the first time in that page pasted above and, between the old-style looking Bat-Copter, the costume design, and the discussion of the early days, this story is the early days. Or is it? The story flashes to Bruce's experience that was chronicled in "52" when he took part in a desert ritual with the Ten-Eyed Men to "wound his soul forever", then back to Batman who is flashing back on his parents murder and sporting a gun, back to Joe Chill this reality...has forged himself into a businessman but is being driven nuts by Batman's continued presence in his life. Apparently he is being watched every night by Batman...oh, and one of his guards looks a lot like the twins from The Matrix: Reloaded. Coincidence?

It turns out that guard, well that was Batman disguised, and he simply laughs in the face of Joe Chill, leaving him in a puddle of piss as memories drift from one moment to another, framed by words that likely come from the true Batman who suffered the heart attack.  Through this there are occasional references to days spent in Thogal

Does this mean Bat-Mite has been a part of Bruce's life since he was a boy, or is this just how it went down through the eyes of Thogal? The memories mix with reality & fantasy completely here as he reflects on Hurt's words over hallucinating Robin's death, Dick Grayson in this case, but the visual show memorials to Dick's, Jason's, and Stephanie Brown's versions of the costume. For one thing, the only Robin memorial in the cave is for JT, and even when she was "dead", Stephanie never had a memorial.  This is all part of the Thogal ritual & Hurt's Isolation Experiment...this is the reality Bruce's brain apparently created mixed with some actual reality as he tells Grayson he went thru the Isolation Experiment in hopes of figuring out how The Joker's mind works. And meanwhile there's that alternate dialogue that's coming from heart-attack Bruce providing framework to the moment. "Isolation Chamber? No this is the 30th day of Thogal. Or is it the 27th?"...all of the various experiments Bruce undertook are running together.

Batman with a gun again, the same one that killed his parents, the one Joe Chill used to kill his parents, and he passes it off as reality sets in: Joe Chill created Batman. As Chill ponders his decision, electro-shock paddles come into the scene on Bruce's exposed chest, text reads 49th Day of Thogal, Chill makes his choice, Bruce's eyes open while the text reads "Thogal Ends", BLAM!

Back to reality, Bruce's mind is sorting it all out as he realizes he had a heart attack and wakes up to this:

The next issue, "Batman Dies At Dawn", is a play on "Robin Dies At Dawn", the very first appearance of the doctor (then unnamed) who Morrison would evolve into Dr. Hurt, and the same story in which the Isolation Experiment took place.  This issue fills in a great deal of the back story of Devil-Bats and begins to get at some of the root causes of Batman's increasing mental duress. He begins to pass out, to hallucinate, and in one of those memory/hallucinations, states that "...I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crime-fighting" to which Bat-Mite retorts, "Wonder who hid that command in your head, Bruce", alluded to something being preprogramed into Wayne's mind in the way that I felt the "Zur en Arrh" from earlier was being painted onto his psyche.

The isolation experiment, it seems, went down in the very room where Devil-Bats is keeping Bruce captive...meaning it's within GCPD HQ, and Bat-Mite seems to be the guide generated by Bruce's own mind, mentally leading him to the conclusions that bring it all together.

Bat-Devil produces a folder, the secrets of the Isolation experiment contained within, and proceeds to set fire to it while repeating the same idea of "post-hypnotic keywords" that Bat-Mite mentioned. The doors in Bruce's mind are opening, memories coming back to the surface as he recalls the name of the doctor who conducted the experiments: Dr. Hurt.

Thank the inventor of bulletproof vests I suppose as we finally return to Jim Gordon on the rooftop and all he has to show for his gunshot is some slight damage to the shoulder of his jacket. Gordon gets the truth from one of his officers about the GCPD's involvement in the project that created the 3 Ghosts.

Back to Devil-Bats as he tells their tale while Bruce wonders why he thought all of this was hallucinations, flashbacks to the isolation chamber, and wonders if he was manipulated into forgetting it was all reality. More Dr. Hurt moments as we begin to see just how well he has studied Batman, and one panel in particular where I wonder if he is indeed watching footage of Bruce as a child because his words...."There. In his eyes, that moment when he vows revenge"...speak to me of a man who knows the secret of Batman's identity.

Devil-Bats, or Michael Lane as Bruce seems to have deducted his true identity, flat out states that Doctor Hurt is the Devil who "...visits this world to destroy the good and make slaves of men like me.", and it won't be the last time the reader hears that same claim. 

Bruce, using that ever prepared brain of his, breaks free and the reader gets that internal dialogue that essentially tells you what is at the heart of Morrison's take on Batman.

"Every day I run through a thousand different scenarios. I work out ways to defeat villains with M.O's and pathologies that haven't been thought of yet."

To hell with Superman, Batman is the ultimate boy scout. But everything that Bats experienced in this room, all the words of Devil-Bats, begin to take a toll on the psyche of Bruce as he questions if there could indeed be some ultimate evil manipulating everything behind the scenes, with a reach that even Bruce can't match or prepare for.

Before we get any answers from Devil-Bats or from Brucie himself, Branca bursts in but is put down by one of his own officers.  A chase ensues as Bats heads off after his devilish counterpart, but he comes up short, and gets left with one last parting thought from Devil-Bats...

"Ask yourself why we reactivated. Why your replacements are circling like vultures. Maybe it's because we know your luck is running out. You'll soon be gone"

And Bruce is left wondering, "If the king of crime is real, is he telling me his name?". 

So in this issue we get the truth behind the isolation experiment and most importantly, the knowledge that hidden triggers have been buried in Bruce's subconscious.  Reading back now, it's easy to pick up on "Zur en Arrh" being one of those triggers with the whole black gloved finger writing it in neon green across the page, but the story of Doctor Hurt remains a mystery.  We know he's a doctor who has apparently been studying Batman quite intensely for some time now but to what end beyond the experiment is unknown, and there's isn't much in this story to steer us into the direction the character takes in the future. By the close of this issue, all the pieces seem to be in place for "Batman: RIP"...Bruce is questioning the existence of this king of crime, wondering what psychological damage did he willingly let happen to him with the Isolation experiment, and seemingly unprepared for what could be waiting around the corner.  But before we get to RIP, there's one last important plot point to cover in "The Fiend with Nine Eyes"...

This is a story that takes place from two perspectives. The first is Robin & Nightwing as they battle what little crime still seems to be going down in Gotham while the 2nd take is a bit of a full circle if you will as Bruce & Jezebel Jet sit down for dinner a la one of the earlier issues in Morrison's run.

What makes their scene so interesting for me is that it goes down the road of what one would expect, the female in Bruce's life accusing him of being distant, aloof, mysterious (and not in a sexy  way), and actually refers to only seeing "...the mask of a man" in reference to Bruce.  And in typical Bruce fashion, he is about to blow her fact if this had been done by different artist, it would likely have been clearer that Bruce actually looks pained by this song and dance.  Unfortunately for this blow-off, life interrupts in form of the title character of this piece...

Another wrap-around to Morrison's little piece of "52", the Ten-Eyed Men who helped him prepare for Thogal, only this one is obviously missing a finger. He seems to be there for Jet though...

Cut to the Al Ghul family as Talia laments the relationship between Jet & Bruce, ordering Merlyn to find out all he can about Jezebel while Damian takes some bow & arrow target practice.

Back to Nine Eyes as he states that he was exiled from the desert tribe & that he is working on behalf of Jet's deceased father's enemies.

Back to Dick & Tim as they hunt down some criminal while discussing Bruce's experiences in Nanda Parbat. Grayson seems to think Bruce will be fine, while Drake seems much more concerned. Seeing Nightwing discuss Bruce's hallucinations of space monsters is actually kind of amusing because it's delivered with such nonchalance that only Dick could pull off.

Before that conversation gets anywhere, the duo head towards the smoke coming from the restaurant where Bruce & Jezebel were attacked, only now the situation is reversed and it is Bruce who is on the hunt...but in his Bruce clothes.

Back to the Al Ghul's as Merlyn, somehow, knows what's going down in Gotham, fills in Talia, while Damian intimates that he feels "Someone is out to get my father". Of course no one but Talia is allowed to hurt Bruce, in her mind at least, so she decides she needs a plan...

Bruce is in full on rage-mode, assaulting 9 Eyes out in the open, hollering about The Black Glove, while Jet walks into the scene leading Bruce to shout out the following: "Walk away. You were right. Bruce Wayne is a shallow, selfish, reckless mask of a man who never grew up. WALK AWAY!"  Then, just as Robin & Nightwing make their way into the room...

Jet puts the pieces together just in time for "Batman: RIP" to begin. She's not the first, she likely won't be the last, but she may be the one (at least based on the knowledge we had at this time) most likely to get it.  So where do we sit at the end of these four stories?

Well it many ways these stories took us back to the "Batman & Son" HC to wrap-up the unresolved plotlines surrounding the "Three Ghost of Batman" and introduce Dr. Hurt in the process. It also gave us our first (chronological) look at Devil-Batman as the one we first meet in #666 is in the future with Damian serving as Batman.  These stories harken back even further than that though to the very brief appearances Bruce makes in "52" many months prior to Morrison taking over as the writer on Batman.

There is a definite feel that everything that was started back in "Bats & Son" is coming to a head with "RIP". The Black Glove, the Thogal ritual, the isolation experiments, Dr. Hurt, Damian & Talia, The Club of Heroes/Villains, the 3 Ghosts, The Devil, we now know, it was all building to something major in RIP.  Morrison has done an amazing job of crafting a cohesive story that, at this point, had been running for over a year before it headed into the grand finale in "RIP". Well, at least the finale of Phase seems like there have been at least two finales thus far in Morrison's Batman (RIP & Batman & Robin/Return of Bruce) with a third on the way in the form of "Batman:Inc" sometime in 2012 or 2013.  It is a testament to both long-term planning and Morrison's ability to continually evolve the story that it has been rolling on for so long now and still feels fresh.

Next time, "Batman: RIP" and a look at all the little plot-threads that got us to it...