Sunday, February 12, 2012

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey- Book Five



Those are the other parts of this lengthy exploration in Grant Morrison's Batman work, with the first four looking at what I would label Phase 1 of his epic.  Part four, as I eluded to and totally forgot to elaborate on in the last blog, I have come to think of belonging to this phase of the story, the phase the culminates when "Batman & Robin" and "Batman Inc." collide...a blog for another time....three more down the line I think I figured.

So when we last left our heroes, Bruce Wayne died as far as all parties are concerned (well all parties EXCEPT Tim Drake but I'll only slightly touch on that a bit later since it doesn't happen in Morrison's book) and in Tony Daniel's "Battle For The Cowl" Dick Grayson officially took on the mantle of the Bat, taking out a crazed Jason Todd in the process, and Damian stepped up as Robin with Tim Drake becoming Red Robin (a disguise JT used at one point).  Now we're up to speed...

As soon as you get dropped into the action in progress, wonderfully rendered by Frank Quitely, you know that this is a whole different ballgame than the Batman Morrison penned prior to "FC".   I mean there's a talking toad driving a car, like something straight out of "Wind in the Willows"....


How cool is that visual? Man Quitely rocks Morrison's visions...and with the first bit of dialogue between Dick & Damian you feel like Grant had been writing Grayson the entire time.  It perfectly captures the antagonistic relationship between the two sons of Bruce...one biological & one spiritual/adopted.  Damian obviously feels Dick isn't up to snuff and Grayson obviously isn't 100% behind Damian...and that all is evident on one panel of dialogue.  That's powerful verbiage...

The new flying Batmobile blasts out some missiles, which I only point out as an excuse to show this art:

How awesome is the "bwkssssssssss" sound effect written into the smoke/fire cloud of the missile launch!!!

Damian points out Dick calling him by his real name, breaking his own rule, Mr. Toad gets dumped into Gotham Harbor, name drops Pyg which immediately hearkens back to ish #666 where adult Damian crucified a Pyg inside a church. Same guy? Is Morrison already establishing a nemesis for Damian-Bats for a future time that will likely never exist given the nature of comics (Bruce must eventually always be Batman)?  A cute double punch from B&R knocks Toad on his arse and exposes his briefcase to be full of....dominoes?

Dick demonstrates a touch of Bruce as he dangles Toad by one foot out of the flying Batmobile searching for information. Toad responds with some words I don't understand but Dick seems to, then he drops Toad....a foot to the dock below.  So what did Toad say to Dick?  Well he used the words "nanti" and "dinari" which, thank you googlepedia, I discover are Carnival terms for "nothing" and "money" respectively; hence why Mr. Grayson, the former circus acrobat, understood what Toad was saying.  Pretty clever of Grant to mold the villains of this piece directly into Dick's wheelhouse rather than just use Bruce's rogue gallery.


Dick shuts down shop in the Bat Cave, opting for an underground bunker in Wayne Tower, where he, Damian, and Alfred are also residing, presumably because the Mansion/Cave were totally trashed by The Black Glove in "RIP", and maybe because being in the cave just feels wrong for Dick with Bruce gone.  More of the relationship between Dick & Damian is played up, Damian claiming he can take on the mantle of the Bat if Dick isn't able to.  Dick's response of "Maybe one day Damian. But not today" rings just a bit differently given that, due to ish #666, we know that it is at least a possibility that that is just what will happen in the future. Of course it requires both Grayson & Bruce being dead so we're half-way there...

Toad is locked up by GCPD, an army of...something...funnels out of a Ghost Train amusement ride (another carnival tie), and this edition of B&R make their first visit to Commissioner Gordon and the Bat Signal.  We get a chronological reference point that Gordon has been lighting the signal for months with no answer but with the info from Toad that he was taken by B&R, "hope springs eternal" as Gordon states.

A dude with his head on fire spills out of a car, kills a few cops, then cut to a seemingly random scene of one of the men from Toad's car on the run from B&R and likely someone else.  This proves not so random though as we get our first look at the present-day Pyg...

Go back to the panel of the Ghost Train and it's evident that these creepy red-headed...people...are what was filtering out from the park, and Pyg is apparently making this guy Niko, as well as his daughter Sasha, into one of these "dolls".  Even the "Next in B&R" tease is pretty cool as the domino comes back, this time blood splattered, and the cover for ish #2 has the domino featured prominently in the presumably dead hand of someone...I'm beginning to sense a motif...

Another great opening page from Quitely that tells you something is not right.  Dick just looks crestfallen, the "R" in the foreground telling you that something happened with Damian, and Alfred seems ever the attentive parent coming to console Master Richard.

GCPD, and Gordon, ever astute realizes something is off with this duo, off yet familiar. We verify that Toad is indeed part of some circus troupe known as Le Cirque D'Etrange or Circus of the Strange, and we also get a name for the flame-headed dude from the previous chapter, Rex.  Now there was also a Phosphorus Rex referenced in ish #666 and given the whole "head on fire thing" I think it's safe to assume they are indeed one and same. 

We see B&R in action for the first time, battling Siamese Triplets in some beautifully rendered fight scenes...


But we also see Damian as quite a pain in the ass as he refuses to listen to Dick's orders to stay together, instead venturing off on his own to fight the big fat woman that's part of this circus.  She breaks out some more carny, calling Damian "raklo" which I learn means a non-gypsy boy and it's counterpointed by Dick delving into his own carnival background to interrogate the Triplets. Tossing out "I rokker the jib" (I  understand the language) and "gaffer" (boss) while the Triplets throw back "Tober Omi's on the loose" which I kind of translated to mean that "the boss is on the road". I am really digging Grant's incorporation of Dick's history into this story, he even references Dick's time as a Bludhaven cop!

Toad is dead in his cell, a domino at the scene, the #24 tile to be exact, and now we catch up to where the issue started as B&R return to the Bat-Bunker. Damian is bucking against the perceived restraints he is placed under, lashing out at Dick with lines like "This pathetic impersonation of my father makes a mockery of his memory!", running out while ripping the "R" from his chest, and proclaiming "I'll find a teacher I respect".  Now we are back to page one...

Dick's fears are legitimate, his doubt understandable, and Alfred is the perfect foil to this sort of inner turmoil.  It's a far cry from Bruce's general lack of doubt in himself & his mission, but it is just how Dick should be reacting.  And of course Alfie puts him in check by telling Dick to stop trying to be Bruce, stop trying to memorialize him, and rather use those circus roots of his, and think of Batman as a performance.  Just the words Dick needed to hear...it's just too bad that at the same moment Damian races headlong into danger at the abandoned carnival.  There he finds a girl crying, presumably the Sasha from ish #1, with her face now disfigured to look like the rest of Pyg's dolls, and he is assaulted by a legion of these deformed creatures.


Awesome cover...enter part 3 and Dick acting more like Bruce than before as he drags Phosphorus Rex across the streets of Gotham face-first.  Dick tells Gordon that "They're trying to make Gotham sick. That's what Professor Pyg does" which made me think of, once again, ish #666 where Commish Barbara Gordon makes reference to the world getting sick. Could be just me...

Over to the captive Damian, bound by Pyg, who breaks into an insane diatribe referencing Mormo (who is a female spirit that bites children), Tiamat (female chaos monster ocean goddess), "tohu va bohu" (Hebrew for formless & empty), and gorgon (female monster a la Medusa).  So he's obsessed with evil women and chaos I'd say.  He even makes reference to "...growing upside down in a world where a hug is a crucifixion" which just makes me think of how Damian-Bats treated Pyg in #666.

Oh yeah, and Pyg likes music...

That's just a little sample...Pyg's dance sequence is completely creepy, terrifying, and uncomfortable...on par with almost anything The Joker has done.  Damian sums it up perfectly as he unties himself from his restraints...



Dick breaks a scene elsewhere while Damian fights off Pyg and his Dollotrons at the carnival.  Dick now has the awareness of what Pyg's goals are as he warns that they aren't carrying bombs, rather germs to infect Gotham with...something.  Back to Damian as he fights Pyg's minions, attempting to save the now-Dollotron faced Sasha while Pyg, kind of on fire, attempts to escape via the Ghost Train ride. Dick with the last minute save on Damian who is at the mercy of Pyg for a moment, followed with another double KO from the dynamic duo a la issue #1.

Damian actually wonders about the safety of someone else, wondering about the whereabouts of Sasha while also, in shock, realizing that Dick saved his life.  It was a moment where you realize just how much of a kid Damian really is, and just how warped his perceptions of reality truly are.  It's like he expected to die alone fighting the good fight and it was completely beyond his realm of cognition to think Dick would help him.

"Partners, remember? Batman and Robin", Dick says as he hands the "R" back to Damian.

So what was the infection Pyg was trying to pass around Gotham? An aerosol narcotic Dick states, addiction you can catch, and in the process of discovering the antidote in Pyg's lair, he also finds another domino, this time the #23 tile.  Dick reveals Pyg's true name is Lazlo Valentin, that this all started as some sort of drug trade involving Russian gangsters until Pyg realized the potential of his drug-virus.  Gordon also confirms what I suspected from the moment Damian entered the carnival...this is indeed the same fairgrounds as "The Killing Joke" story...."I hate it here. They should have let the whole damn place burn to the ground" is what the Commish has to say.

Dick fills in Gordon about the dominoes, being far more informative than I suspect Bruce may have been, while we get a peak at Pyg in Arkham (assuming cause it's not really stated where he's locked up) where he delivers a rather cryptic message about looking away for a moment and then Pyg creeps in.  Sounds rather foreboding huh?

As for B&R, well we get another intersection between a previous story, in this case the opening/closing page of the "RIP" arc with Le Bossu, as well as placing this initial story arc in the chronology of Morrison's overreaching arc...


Meanwhile someone is watching Alfred in Wayne Tower, Sasha is getting all violent with the suffocating her father in a hospital and killing cops, where she is "saved" by the return of The Red Hood! Quick background, Red Hood was the pre-Joker identity of...the Joker...as well as the villainous identity of Jason Todd at one point. I suppose JT was "taking it back"...oh yes and the next issue blurb also features some more dominoes in play...


I had to include a Quitely cover because...well...to be frank...the art for the next three issues sucks.  I generally think Phillip Tan is a good artist but the whole Red Hood arc gets worse issue by issue. I mean I'll include art where necessary for plot purposes but I certainly won't be throwing in gratuitous pages just cause they so pretty. I will admit I dig the new look of The Red Hood though...wasn't sure at first but now I am sure.  Wish there was a DC Direct 2-Pack of he & Sasha...

So we open this arc with some guy calling himself The Lightning Bug getting stopped mid-murder by the arrival of the flying Batmobile.  He runs off, breaks through the window of some poor sap's apartment, and runs into The Red Hood and Sasha emerging from an elevator in what I suppose is the hallway of this apartment complex (the art makes it muddy).  Sasha slashes his throat, takes a picture of it, and tweets it (?!?!?) before Red Hood shoots the Bug and he crashes to the street where...


"Vengeance arms against his red right hand" is apparently a quote from Milton's "Paradise Lost" and has a ton of other potential symbolic meanings including God's right hand being vengeance, having blood on your hands, a reference to the devil, and then some.  Another research vein also pointed me towards a "Red Hand Day" which is a day designed to draw attention to children forced to fight in wars as soldiers.  Hmmm....sounds a lot like the Robin's of the Bat-Family, although they weren't so much forced.

So now we're off to Wayne Tower for a gala that immediately reminds us of the accusations leveled against the Wayne Family back in "RIP" and Lucius Fox's fears about how it could potentially effect business.  It also serves as a reminder that the larger world doesn't know Bruce is "dead" when Fox asks Dick if he's spoken to him.  I'm not sure if it's happened yet when this story was published, but at some point over in either Detective or Streets of Gotham we learn that Tommy Elliott (Hush) is parading around as Bruce Wayne, having surgically made himself Bruce's duplicate.  At some point in that story vein, Tommy is forced to act as Bruce under the watchful eye of the Bat Organization...



So during this gala Grayson is introduced to a man named Oberon Sexton who, according to Lucius, "...was scarred by criminals who killed his wife". Knowing Morrison like I do, I investigated meanings in that name too and discovered Oberon is the name of Fairy King from Midsummer Night's Dream as well as a moon of Uranus while Sexton is the guy who maintains a church, rings the bell, and caretakes the graveyards; hence the nickname "The Gravedigger".  Sexton also references a corn dollie in his first bit of dialogue so I looked that up and found that it was a doll, made from the last sheaf, left in the fields at the end of the last harvest to keep the spirit of the corn alive, then plowed into the field at the start of the following season.  Ooooooook....not sure if there's anything significant there yet...

Over to Red Hood's "cave" where he is practicing his own press release and the entire sequence is interestingly enough done with a red haze over the images save for one single panel.  Hood is kind of playing big brother to Sasha as she freaks out over her dollotron mask and what it may be doing to her.  He tries to make her feel special, and whether it's for selfish purposes or genuine, it is actually kind of sweet.  He even explains to her the purpose of The Red Hood with some sense of irony, "...this is about the revenge of one crazy man in a mask on another crazy man in a mask. Heh".  So while we don't have 100% proof yet that this is still Jason Todd operating as The Red Hood a comment like that pretty much confirms it...

A couple interesting pages as Dick attempts to teach Damian a thing or two and Damian, despite his smart ass responses, does seem to be warming ever so slightly to Grayson.  What are they spying on though? While that proves to be some sort of criminal gathering involving The Penguin, a purple hooded guy named Santo, and a few other mooks.  Santo references an El Penitente as well as the impending arrival of Flamingo (another character from ish #666).  FYI, Penitente refers to "the penitent one" or an associate in a party of pleasure or debauchery...sounds a little like The Black Glove there?

Santo is recruiting on behalf of Penitente, extolling the virtues of viral crime (like Red Hood's viral crime fighting), and of next-gen narcotics that can "enslave and addict whole populations"; sounds a lot like what Pyg was looking to accomplish in the first arc huh?

Red Hood drops in on the party, slaughtering all but Penguin & Santo, declaring that "Red Hood and Scarlet are here to watch them bleed"...them being Black Mask, Two Face, and all other crime bosses, then B&R crash the party as well.  Of course Red Hood & Scarlett film the whole thing on their phone Dick finally says the name..."Jason?"


Dick and Jason Todd have a much more civilized conversation than their previous meetings in "Battle for the Cowl", which isn't saying much, but essentially JT & Scarlet record the entire conversation, starting with B&R protecting Penguin from being killed by the deadly duo (lolz). JT is fully aware that Bruce is dead, but doesn't use the name, instead choosing to say "Batman is dead" which I read as a shot at Grayson's claim on the cowl. Damian gets jumpy and eats dirt courtesy of JT, Dick gets the upper hand on him, but Scarlet...who Damian now realizes is the same girl he saved at the circus...holds a knife to D's throat, allowing that pair to escape.  And let's not forget the #22 domino that Grayson finds on the scene....

The pictures of B&R protecting Penguin go viral, Oberon Sexton gets interviewed on TV and reminds us all that "The Red Hood is a name used by more than one notorious Gotham criminal".  A PHONE POLL conducted by the TV station shows that 57% of the viewers agree with JT's "let the punishment fit the crime" slogan...and the fact that Morrison used a PHONE POLL in a story with Jason Todd is quite the bit of meta-hilarity given that the same method was used to off him back in "Death In The Family".


Okay so Jason Todd has red hair now...and he tells us all that Bruce made him dye his hair black to look like Dick Grayson, but that white streak from the Lazarus Pit just won't go away.  Well the above image on the right is the Pre-Crisis proof of JT once being a redhead and since Morrison likes to have every bit of continuity every be relevant...well JT is now a redhead who looks a bit like Jason Blood and/or Rorschach.

We see the pink plane that Flamingo apparently arrived in filled with dead bodies, blood, eaten faces, and word gets from Gordon to Batman that he has arrived in Gotham as the Penitente enforcer.  Red Hood & Scarlet look to finish the job they started earlier by pouring bleach into the IV of Santo who survived the shootout earlier.  Scarlet stabs Robin, raging how she didn't save him, JT shoots Dick point-blank which reminds me of how Devil-Bats did the same to Bruce, although Dick doesn't have a heart attack as a result.

With Dick & Damian down, Scarlet & Hood take them to their HQ, set something up, and then bail only to run face first (or in JT's case bullet first) into one Eduardo Flamingo who stepped straight out of a Prince video (if Prince had had his brain dissected & been forced to murder his whole family):


Flamingo is much cooler as drawn by Quitely than as drawn by Tan...


See...

So what did JT & Sasha set up for Dick & Damian?  Well their very own take on the phone poll that murdered Jason Todd!  Only this time they have a naked dynamic duo tied down in front of a webcam with a promise that one million phone calls with turn the camera on so the whole world can see who B&R really are.  Yes it would be simpler to just flip the camera on regardless and let the world see that way, but this way it forces people to show some support for the way JT is going about his war on crime.  It's viral baby...and it is the way damn near every movie, TV show, comic book, hell every form of entertainment elects to market themselves now.  People market themselves virally via Twitter, Facebook, and the like....

So Flamingo...with Tan's art the worst it could possibly be...takes it to Red Hood & Scarlet while B&R escape from their little webcam trap in the nick of time.  Damian express some regret, some responsibility for the fate of Sasha, but Dick tells him he needs to put it away for now. Meanwhile Flamingo is decimating the Deadly Duo (lolz), kneecapping JT, trying to rip off Scarlet's dollotron face, and in a cute moment, JT, with a gun at his head, yells at Flamingo "So shoot me! Do it! I'll come back!"...commentary on his own rebirth as well as the general nature of death in comics perhaps?

I'm amazed DC let it slide when Damian called Flamingo gay btw...

Flamingo wipes the floor with the combined might of all four foes, putting multiple bullets into the back of Damian before Scarlet slices Flamingo's face off & JT uses a backhoe to dump him off the edge of a building.  Is he dead? Who knows since he shows up in #666's future issue but then again, it could mean that future is changing...


Damian is paralyzed by the gunfire, much like his father was once paralyzed by Bane, and JT dumps his innermost feelings on Dick as you see above, but he also puts it into Dick's head that there will be something worse than Flamingo coming, and that none of this would be happening if Bruce was here.  He questions how Dick hasn't yet used a Lazarus Pit to bring him back from the dead, accusing Dick of letting Bruce stay dead because he didn't want to live in his shadow.

For her part Scarlet used the confusion to get the hell out of dodge and in the process her dollotron face fell off!

Cut to Oberon Sexton's hotel room where he receives a phone call from El Penitente who informs him that his "sins have found you out, 'gravedigger'. Your little secret is no secret to me".  What does this mean for the future and just what the hell is his secret?  And wtf is up with Penitente's back and the giant "W" that looks carved into it? "W" for Wayne perhaps???

Then the big finish as Dick, exhausted, strolls up to a sealed vault and utters the all too familiar catchphrase "zur en arrh" which opens up to reveal..


Quick recap of events not written by Grant...in "Blackest Night" The Black Hand briefly reanimated Batman's corpse via Black Lantern ring but he was only used as a tool to tether onto other heroes who had come back from the dead and attempt to co-opt them.  So I would surmise that, as a result of that instance, in some unseen/unpublished story beat during/after "BN", Dick had the corpse moved from its grave to this underground vault. Now we are all on the same page...

So it's safe to say that JT's words go to Dick in the end because this is the same guy who fought Tim Drake at the foot of a Lazarus Pit when Timmy contemplated resurrecting his parents & friends during the Ra's Al Ghul story. 

So we've got that lingering over our heads as we head into the next volume as well as the secret of Oberon Sexton, the identity of El Penitente/connection to Black Glove, the domino killer mystery, and Damian's paralysis. Look to be an action packed story up ahead....












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