Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
So we left off in Part 5 with Morrison using Red Hood/Jason Todd (literally now the red-headed stepchild former Robin) to question how Dick could NOT use a Lazarus Pit to bring Bruce Wayne...the "real" Batman...back from the dead. So what do we get to kick off this 2nd HC Volume? That "whoah!" image pasted up above. Dick, carrying the corpse of Bruce Wayne, presumably headed for a pit...
BLACKEST NIGHT INTERUPPTION!!!
Some quick background information before we get deep into this story and it all centers around that zombie looking Batman above. For those who may not have cared to read it, and as a refresher for those who did, the Green Lantern opus "Blackest Night" that took over the DCU for several months featured a villain by the name of Black Hand walking around with the skull of Batman for several issues after committing some serious grave robbing. Eventually, as a way to sucker other formerly dead heroes onto the dark side (Supes, Flash, GL, for example) he resurrected Batman into the Black Lantern Bats you see above. It was a quick resurrection compared to all the rest, and one that didn't feel quite like the rest (more on that later), but following the close of the "BN" story, in some unseen story beat, Dick Grayson presumable reclaimed the skull and moved it from a graveyard to the safer containment unit we saw at the close of the last volume & the start of this one.
All caught up now? Good...
So we jump head first from that initial page into Batman, now in England, jumping from an exploding ferris wheel, carrying a child, and immediately heading off to avert the next disaster, this time in the form of dirty bombs planted by a King Coal, while being directed by Squire. What a way to throw the reader straight into chaos! It's an awesome action sequence following Dick as he uses every means possible to cover as much ground as conceivable through London while Squire does the same just in time for the two to meet in mid-air as she crashes out a window on her motorcyle! Cameron Stewart's awesome...
So they stop the bombs, saving a villain named Smooth Eddie English in the process (whose black & white get-up looks like reversed dominoes to me) then head over to Basement 101 which is described by The Beefeater (the Basement's jailer & one-time member of the Global Guardians) as "her majesty's extra-secure facility for so-called para-criminals". So something like Iron Heights rather than Arkham I suppose...
Anyway, once there Dick meets up with The Pearly King of Crime (Eddie's pop whose clothes also looks like a reverse domino) and we learn the truth behind the misadventures that opened this story. It looks like there's an abandoned coal mine in England being contested over between The Pearly Court & The Coals From Newcastle, and Dick's got a sneaking suspicion of just what is in that pit. Oh, and Pearly just so happens to be playing a game of dominoes...
...specifically a variation called The Mexican Train according to Dick. Kind of humerous how Pearly remarks that "You're a young man than what I thought" before espousing all his reasons for not revealing just what is in this abandoned mine, yet somehow seeming to state a lot. Squire inquires as to just what the hell is going on as Bats had her send Knight a diagram, mentioned a Shipment X, and informed her that "my regular partner's out of commission", referring to Damian who was riddled with bullets courtesy of Flamingo when we last saw him.
This scene immediately made me flashback to the initial "Batman & Son" HC where...
Talia is quite pissed off at Damian's decision to remain in Gotham with Bruce dead, chalking it up to a phase he's going through before he accepts "his destiny as the heir of Al Ghul".
Back to Bats & Squire who are flying around on nifty little personal Bat-Copters which remind me of something from an older Bat-Time, and they converge on the abandoned mine, which is also a convergence of ley lines (theoretical lines of spiritual power), and this all is going down at Mid-Winter/Winter Solstice/Longest Night of the year.
Obviously from their conversation Squire is aware of just who stepped into the shoes of Batman, likening Dick to The Knight (who took over the role from his father), but Dick quickly retorts that if all works out "I'll be back in my pixie boots by New Year's". Once in the mine Dick shows his hand to Squire, so to speak, revealing that Pearly gave him the layout of the mines via the shape of the dominoes. They are assaulted by King Coal's men, all glowing yellow for whatever reason, perhaps to look like ghosts, and they are quickly subdued by Bats, Squire, and The Knight who is already down in the cavernous maze.
Coal's men were carrying a coffin and "chanting about the twice-daughter of something" according to The Knight. Long-time Bat readers will immediately recognize the identity of the person that references, but Morrison doesn't force you to wait long as the coffin explodes and...
Batwoman, who Stewart draws wonderfully just like he does with everything, fills in the blanks as she explains the tie between King Coal & The Religion of Crime. There's a prophecy stating "...the knight of the beast will rise right here, on the darkest night of the year."
Dick immediately straightens that out, telling her that it is Batman being resurrected, not a monster. She questions who she is talking to, Dick explains Batman's death, and how Superman verified the identity of the corpse via bone marrow DNA, just by looking. Squire makes a comment in the background that The Pit is bubbling, a tell that Batman's corpse has already been dropped in the mire, presumably by The Knight, which he confirms a page later. Dick approaches The Pit, trying to convince himself he's doing the right thing if you ask me (funny from the guy who talked Tim Drake out of doing the same in "Resurrection"), and prepares for the usual temporary insanity that takes hold post-Lazaraus by donning some serious looking electro-shock gloves. Here we go...
Given those images at the bottom, this plan obviously goes awry...
But before we can get to that fun, we get the backstory of how Batwoman ended up in the mine tunnels. It all started when she followed a Crime Coven (like "Mary Poppins with a satanic ninja twist" she says) from Gotham into the undergrounds of England. Trailing right beind a legion of kids chanting for their Prophet Martyr Mannheim (a reference to crime boss from "52"), she sees Smooth Eddie get loaded into the train Bats saved him from last issue.
Flashback to a panel of Batwoman telling Batman this story at the side of The Pit, elaborating on the Crime Bible prophecy about the rise of a black messiah at the dawn of the age of crime. She think putting Batman in The Pit is indicative of the prophecy, Dick obviously refuses to buy into that one ("There is no God of Evil in there", is Darkseid that God?). Bruce rises from The Pit, The Knight's simple statement of "look at his eyes" screams of something being wrong, and the first words from the resurrected Batman being "AAAAAA!" seconds that notion. Dick punches him in the face with the shock-knucks, he basically laughs it off, prompting Dick to question, "What are you?"
And the answer is...
One of the clones, as seen in the "Last Rites" chapters of this story, that Darkseid had his minions attempting to create out of the hurt, pain, and memories of Bruce Wayne, the ones who started clawing their own eyes out from the sheer amount of trauma. Apparently one survived, hence the reason why the DNA looked the exact same to Supes when he scanned it, but also why the resurrected BL Batman didn't react to the heroes around him in "Blackest Night" the same way all the other resurrected Black Lanterns did (so noted by Flash & GL in the last issue of that mini-series). So what's it time for....
This Bat-Clone is too strong, too deadly, and overcomes the combined onslaught of Dick, Knight, Squire, and Batwoman. Fighting to killing according to Dick, which is the giveaway that this is in fact NOT Bruce, prompting a little "told you so" from Batwoman just as King Coal triggers an explosion from up above. The rubble comes down right on top of Batwoman, allows Bat-Clone to get free, and gives us a moment to flash to Gotham where Alfred goes to check on the vault where the Bat-Corpse was being kept. To Alfie's shock the corpse is gone...obviously Dick didn't tell him what he was planning either.
Batwoman is dying, Alfred is gathering Damian and informs him that "...Master Richard has taken the taunts of The Red Hood to heart & done something rather rash". What I find really interesting here in this single panel is how Alfred calls him Red Hood, not Jason Todd, and definitely not Master Jason like he does the rest of the Wayne family.
Batwoman dies in the arms of Grayson but prior to she recognizes that this Batman is the same as the person (Nightwing) who gave her a Batarang at Christmas (another "52" moment). Dick removes her wig at BW's request and she says she has an idea. What that is must remain a secret for the moment as Knight & Squire tunnel to that Bats' location to find the female of the pair dead. Meanwhile, King Coal escapes, joyous that The Beast is loose and the new Age of Crime has come.
Using a stolen plane Bat-Clone returns home to Gotham, Damian discovers what Dick's plan was as Alfred gets tossed into the room by the Clone. Damian looks at the Bat-Clone and says, perhaps hopefully, perhaps questioning, "Father?"
Hold that thought cause we are back to the caverns and Batwoman's dead body. What was her idea again? Oh yes, to have Dick overdose her on Morphine and toss her corpse into The Lazarus Pit! "I'd heard she was well hard..." as Squire says.
In the midst of digging through rocks & rubble, we get some nice character interaction between Bats, Knight, & Squire as Cyril (Knight) confesses he was terrified of Dick when he was Robin & Cyril was Squire. Dick takes a playful knock at Cyril, calling him "...a spoiled kid with a few boxing and jujitsu lessons who copied my act". Dick, in another moment of insight, explains how it was all in the fighting style that he realized the Bat-Clone wasn't Batman, "...like a good song in the hands of a really bad singer..."
Back to a wheelchair-bound Damian & the Bat-Clone in Gotham. Damian realizes it's a copy, "...smells of bleach and rancid flesh", while the combined efforts of he & a barely conscious Alfred do their best to survive. The broken dialogue of Bat-Clone reveal his mental damage, speaking in single letters, broken words, looking like text messages from a teenager, as he stalks Damian (who has now abandoned his chair) through Wayne Tower.
That page gives us a look at the fractured thoughts & memories that were dumped into the clone body by Darkseid's minions. Stewart makes this look just as painful as described when they were being filtered through The Lump during "Last Rites". It's great work...
Clone-Bat, in his broken fashion, referes to Damian as a mistake, his replacement, sent to taint the bloodline for all time. Damian, whilst tossing a live eletrical wire at Bat-Clone, retorts with "Stepping in gasoline was your biggest mistake".
Back to the tunnels where Batwoman is reborn from The Lazarus Pit, albeit with none of the psychotic side effects, and her father (she calls him her Military P.O.C in front of the others) finally gets into the caves as well to offer Dick a return ticket to Gotham.
Bat-Clone emerges from the fire Damian started, grabs the boy by the throat, and, with Alfred watching on, tosses the kid off the side of Wayne Tower.
Nick of time and all that...
The Bat-Clone recounts the death of Martha Wayne in it's own broken fashion, "See hur...hur purls spill down broadway in the rain", while Alfred prepares to fight if necessary. The Bat-Clone actually asks Alfred to "puh-puh-patch me up", showing that even the bond to Alfred seeped into the clone, while Batwoman & Dick enter the scene for another awesome Stewart fight sequence...
The next page, as has become customary in 2-person fight sequences in this book, end with a DOUBLE PUNCH on Bat-Clone. Dick hits on Batwoman, citing his love of crimefighting redheads, and questioning whether or not this means the dawn of a new age of crime. Back in England, Knight & Squire get after King Coal and that scene, of course, end with a DOUBLE PUNCH courtesy of England's version of Batman & Robin!
Dick explains and apologizes (how unlike Bruce) to Damian (who is already on his feet training) & Alfred how he likes to work without a net, possibly ironic considering how it contributed to the death of his parents. Alfie points out Dick's own warnings to Tim about using a Lazarus Pit on loved ones, which brings his train of thought ultimately to the conclusion that Tim Drake was right all along...
Another quick backstory for those who didn't ever pick up "Red Robin"...essentially, from day one, Tim Drake thought that Bruce was still alive, took on the identity of Red Robin once used by Jason Todd after Dick gave Robin to Damian, went on a worldwide quest that brought him into alliegiance with Ra's Al Ghul, before eventually finding evidence of that bat logo on a cave wall (as seen in "Final Crisis" & "Lost Chapter"). There's a lot more to Tim's story but Grant didn't write it so that's just the part that's relevent to Dick's...um....revelation....
So with the next part of our story we've got a new direction, trying to figure out just what the hell is the story with Bruce Wayne? But first, time to address an issue that has been lingering in the background for the entire run of this series: Wayne Industries. Several times over, whether it be from Alfred or from Lucius Fox, it was been pushed that Dick Grayson needed to get involved in the family business to which he generally retorted that it wasn't his area of expertise. Well the littlest Wayne promised to look in the family biz...
Damian, actually standing in front of the board, points out the financial irregularities he's found, primarily a steadily increasing amount of money pooled into the Thomas Wayne fund for victims of railroad accidents. Lucius states that they are under strict orders to honor that memory but suspicions have been aroused while Damian implies that a member of the board may be guilty of these irregularities.
Meanwhile Bats meets up with the returning Oberon Sexton to discuss the Domino killer issue that has been floating around since the first issue. Sexton has amassed a map of the victims thus far, all members of The Black Glove, including the dead Cardinal that was first mentioned/noted in that Le Bossu moment that overlapped into "RIP" & "Batman & Robin". Also mentioned by Sexton is the missing-presumed-dead Jezebel Jet as well as Bruce Wayne being the next likely target, hence why Sexton is in Gotham City. He puts it out there that perhaps, in light of the accusations against the Wayne Family (put out by The BG), perhaps Bruce is tied up in The BG as well. Batman states that the evidence is a joke, but heads off after receiving a call before continuing on with that line of conversation. What rushed Dick away in such a hurry?
The decision to search Wayne Manor (first time we've seen it since RIP) for clues to just where/when Bruce Wayne may be. Before the search truly gets underway Dick mentions to Alfred how familiar Sexton seems and that something big is going down. BTW, it's also nice...in a rather damaged way...to see Alfred make note of the booby traps El Sombrero placed in the mansion.
Dick notes how the JLA believe the Omega Effect displaced Bruce in time and how Tim believes Bruce has left clues in the past to allow those in the present to track him. As Dick puts it, "We can't talk to the past, but the past can talk to the future."
Which brings us to the scene above...a chronologically hung series of portraits of the Wayne family patriarchs beginning with a Mordecai Wayne up through Bruce's father Thomas with one missing gap. Another Thomas Wayne, this one from the 1760s, who apparently led a sect of devil worshippers...our story unites with the story told in "The Missing Chapter" & to a degree in "Dark Knight, Dark City".
The story goes that Thomas & his crew summoned a Bat-Demon of the Miagani Tribe and made all sorts of bargains, leading Dick to question if anything happened to "...associate this place with bat gods and bat tribes and devils?"
Damian notes how much the picture of Mordecai looks like Bruce, leading Alfred to remark the remarkable facial similarities between the Wayne patriarchs. Dick, knowing Bruce like he does, elects to look at everything as a potential clue, starting with the book in Mordecai's hand. Where did it end up? What's Mordecai's story?
There's a casket in Joshua Wayne's hand, another pic that looks a lot like Bruce, and he appears to be looking at something. Where is he? What's the casket?
Dick finds another painting, this one of Darius Wayne, the Revolutionary War hero of the family, riding horseback in front of burning ships and under the constellation of Orion. A coincidence that Orion was also the New God whose death Bruce was investigating in Final Crisis?
Damian begans to question the possibilities of Bruce actually being alive, the possibility that he is in the here & now but changed by his experiences so that the Bat Family doesn't even realize it.
There's a lot of information filtered into just a few pages by Morrison, but I want to point out something very cool I discovered while doing all this, something I didn't know initially. All those portraits on the Wayne Manor wall are of characters who actually existed in continuity, not ones Grant made up. Check this other blog out here to see for yourself. Warning, it's got some spoilers from "Return of Bruce Wayne"...
We take a break from the Mansion search to check in on Sexton as he gets another mystery phone call, presumably from El Penitente. What's most interesting about this chat to me is how "Mr. Sexton" is placed in quotes just like that, essentially stating that this man is now who he claims to be. The Mexican Train is again referenced, the 99 Fiends are mentioned for the first time, and those are likely the individuals creeping up on Sexton's hotel room as he speaks. Sexton escapes...
Dick & Damian enter the library, the painting of Thomas & Martha Wayne looming large over the fireplace. Alfred informs the duo that the Mordecai painting was only added to the gallery in the 19th century and it doesn't fit the official genealogy, further evidence that it may be a picture of Bruce. He also points out that Joshua & Solomon Wayne were "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.
Damian questions, sorrowfully it seems, if he & Dick will still be B&R if his father is alive? Dick jokes with Damian about how Bruce wouldn't put up with him, perhaps failing to realize the gravity of the question and the level of Damian's worry, more focused on the clue hunting (Bruce would likely be the same, minus the jokes). On the fireplace Dick discovers a correlation with the Darius Wayne picture (Orion's belt, hunter, horse head) and finds the secret passage aluded to by Bruce in "The Missing Chapter".
Damian flashes back on his time with Talia post-surgery, her insistance that he return to her side, that Dick Grayson isn't fit to be Batman, to which Damian begins to defend him but is abruptly cut off by his mother. The flashback ends with Damian stating that he "...won't be your weapon against them, mother" to which she retorts "We'll see".
The swing fails as Dick falls through a hidden passage, Damian realizes his mother did something to him, and a panel focusing on Talia has her stating "Summon my executioner". Dick stumbles through another secret passage, his connection to Alfred getting bad, and finds something familar from "Missing Chapter":
Alfred discovers a "Corpse Road" centered around the Wayne family cemetery as well as a Garden of Death while Damian, in shock/panic/horror over whatever Talia has done, stumbles into said cemetary and the arms of Oberon Sexton, still hunted by the 99 Fiends.
Damn that was a dense chapter! But before we can get back to the adventures of Damian & Sexton, it's time for a little detour south of the border...
The "W" on this man's back has a couple of different potential meanings. We know this is El Penitente from seeing those same scars on his back at the close of the Red Hood arc in the last volume, and as you can read above, it is refered to as a "double you. The mark of the shadow. The dark twin." I suppose that all fits because if the letter V or U were to cast a shadow next to itself, it would look like a W. Still given the presumed identity of Penitente as Dr. Hurt/Thomas Wayne, a presumption visually confirmed a couple pages later, the "W" is just as likely symbolic of the Wayne family name. Hurt sets out to "...reclaim what was always rightfully mine" as he boards a helicopter bound for Gotham City.
Back at the Manor Dick has discovered the hidden room, pointing out that despite the fact Thomas Wayne lived & presumably died in the 18th century, the "Barbatos" paint is within a year old, and there's a giant bat-symbol on the ground that, when stood upon, reveals a rail tunnel, likely part of the Wayne's history with the Underground Railroad, and kind of playing into the whole Mexican Train idea too.
Damian & Sexton are surrounded by 4 of the 99 Fiends, all named after demons & denziens of Hell. They fend them off somewhat easily but Damian again realizes that there's something wrong with him which cues the story over to mommy dearest herself: Talia Al Ghul. Apparently, with the addition of the new spine, she also installed some virtual control element, enabling the user of this device to essentially control Damian like a puppet. It also seems she has a specific "consultant" in mind to take control of her son for this operation...
Back to Grayson as he explores the "Corpse Road" under the manor grounds, leading him to some old abandoned water source, a location he immediately recognizes as the one in which the painting of Joshua Wayne is set. I like the little mention of the Gotham earthquake Dick throws out, just a nod to the book's history that fits perfectly within the framework of what is happening in-panel.
Dick stumbles upon a giant stalactite carved into what he calls a "half human, half bat guy" which Alfred nails as Barbatos and again mentions the Miagani Tribe and the antics of Thomas Wayne's devil-worshipping cohorts. Dick ventures beyond a twisted gate, broken off its hinges, and begins to lose contact with Alfred as something distorts the signal.
Up above Damian & Sexton continue to fight the Fiends, Naberius mutters something about "...deep underground...Barbatos wakes...", revealing some form of connection between this individuals and the demon, further solidifying for me that Dr. Hurt is the Thomas Wayne that summoned Barbatos since he's the guy directing this party despite Naberius' assertion that the 99 Fiends have no master.
Alfred realizes that Alan Wayne's crypt is the centerpiece of the "Garden of Death" while Sexton comments on the demonic origins of all the Fiends names. Damian, as astute as his father was, realizes that Sexton (who btw either just produced a domino from his coat or found one on Naberius' body) is faking his British accent. Damian just has one real question:
Sexton refutes the question, simply stating that he was here to stop Bruce Wayne from being killed, apparently by the Domino Killer. Damian sees through the story, questioning why a killer who has worked alone would suddenly have hired guns, but Sexton keeps moving on, trying to open up the vault of Alan Wayne. Damian is still struggling inside too, stating "My spine was replaced. My mother put something inside me." as Talia & her Consultant watch on, and with a shovel across Sexton's head, take over.
Grayson emerges from the tomb, clutching the casket seen in the Joshua Wayne painting, only to be met by a shovel attack of his own from Damian. Who's driving this meat puppet:
Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke...the long-time foe of Dick Grayson & The (Teen) Titans, an appropriate choice for Talia to use to murder Grayson. Slade pushes Damian's body hard, trying to kill Grayson, and making sure that Dick knows who is running the show. Damian begins to fight the control, giving Dick the opportunity to use those fancy shock-knucks to disrupt the control, while more of the Fiends begin to converge on the scene.
Control is broken, one of the fiends recovers the Bat-Casket that Dick found underground, yelling "BARBATOS!" just before Alfred turns the giant water cannons on them. The Fiends flee, Sexton tells Dick to meet him at his hotel so they can talk, "I fear this is only the beginning...", and Deathstroke convulses on the floor.
Dick recalls his memory of the how he found the Bat-Casket, Damian insists they go see Talia, and Alfred reveals some of his findings. Not only is the initial design of the mansion (circa 1795 & Darius Wayne) a stylized "W" but when you tack on the additions over the years, the outline of the funeral garden paths, it turns into a giant Bat-Signal!
Back at Wayne Manor Alfie, Dick, & Damian return to the caverns to verify the Barbatos stalactite as well as find a Bat-Cowl held to the cave walls by antlers with black sun painted over it. Dick's response, "Alert the Justice League", as he begins to connect the dots between Thomas Wayne, Barbatos, devil worhsip, and the Underground Railroad. He also connects the dots on Oberon Sexton's identity and heads off to his hotel to close that case. What does he find, besides the Black Glove connections between the Domino Killer victims? They were all killed in some form of a joke, and who else could it be:
So it's all coming to a head now with Thomas Wayne in Gotham and looking to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his while the Wayne clan begins to unravel the mystery of Bruce's whereabouts. It all continues next time as we look at beginnings of "Batman & Robin Must Die!"