Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey - Phase Four

Well this is going to be an interesting one for me to take one because, unlike the previous blogs where I took everything on in the order it was published, I am going to make an attempt to take this one on in the chronological order it took place....which is a total trip considering it's spread out over three different collections, "RIP", "Final Crisis", and "Time and the Batman".  I said in the previous blog that "RIP" was kind of the close of the first arc of Morrison's larger story, and these stories are the reason I said kind of.  I felt differently after I finished up though, but I'll address that when we're all said and done with this installment.  So first let me get the obligatory links out of the way, and then we shall get this bad boy started!

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes & Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP

Just like Bruce, the reader dives right into this story at the point where Bruce's part in "RIP" ended.  A bit of a trip considering that this is issue #701 and that particular story ended with #681.  In-between we had the "Last Rites" story (more on those in a bit) as well as the adventures of Dick Grayson & Damian as Batman & Robin for over a year.  See what I mean about how reading this in chronological-story order can be difficult?

So where we last left Bruce he was apparently consumed in the fiery crash of a helicopter manned by Devil-Bats & Dr. Hurt (who may or may not be Bruce's dad Thomas).  Unseen in this particular crop of that image above is the "Days to Omega: 30" countdown which (given that this was published post-Final Crisis) tells the reader how far in advance of that fateful story these moments are taking place. It's a useful tool considering how much of the question floated around at the time of when RIP & FC took place relative to one another.

The narrative is once again written in the form of a casebook log, intriguing given that we know how this all ends up, leaving a question of just when/how this was written, as well as giving us insight into the mental state of Bruce following the chaos of RIP.  One of the paragraphs also gives us a time stamp, informing us of the duration of the story as Bruce laments "I tried not to think about the last five days--wandering the streets of Gotham, deranged, poisoned, deceived."

The title page also provides some focus with a story dubbed "The Hole In Things" which is just what Dr. Hurt referred to himself as, and the image of the bat also laid over with the gun & pearl necklace that are synonomous with the murder of Bruce's parents.

Bruce emerges from the water sans cape & cowl, but of course he has a spare in his utility belt, he's the goddamn Batman after all!  He's met....in a nice touch...by the hooker from "Batman & Son" that he gave a WayneTech business card to, and she informs him that she has taking a job as a receptionist, that something as simple as Bats remembering her name helped changed her life.

Bruce arrives home, Alfred...black eye and all...waits for him, and we get some more insight into just what happened in "RIP".  Bruce's bout of insanity was due to him miscalculating the dose of Joker Anti-Venom & he confirms that both he & Alfred suspected Jezebel Jet's involvement in the whole scenario.  Still, no rest for the wicked as Bruce takes a sub to the depths of the harbor in search of Hurt or Devil-Bats, and speculates on Hurt's words, "I AM THE HOLE IN THINGS...THE PIECE THAT CAN NEVER FIT."

It was a nagging statement, one that put some spectre of a supernatural nature over Dr. Hurt and his identity.  It was something Bruce couldn't shake, something that haunted his dreams as he recovered from the drugs he'd been dosed with by The Black Glove.  Bruce wanders the halls of his own home as if a stranger, referencing how Hurt found some hidden room apparently behind the picture of Thomas & Martha, a room he promised his parents to never enter, and felt obligated to apologize for as he broke that vow.

Inside the room, scrawled across the walls in...blood maybe...was the name "Thomas" and one word writtten over the top: "Barbatos".  The pages of the casebook here allude to a "sickness at the root of the family tree" or "a worm at the foundations"....and as a long-time Batman reader may remember, the name "Barbatos" initially popped up in Peter Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City" story from 1990, a story where a late 18th century cult in Gotham tries to bring the demon Barbathos to life.  It was recently reprinted and looks like this:

Go buy it...great story, especially if you're a Riddler fan. Anyway, it's after the revelation of this hidden room that things get really interesting/confusing/complicated as the events of "RIP: The Missing Chapter" dovetail into the events of "Final Crisis" with Alfred's statement to Bruce that "...there's something I know you'll want to see." With 27 days until Omega, the skies have turned red (DC's surefire sign of a crisis-level event) and Superman contacts Bruce about someone killing a god (in this case Orion of the New Gods).  It's an interesting look into Bruce's thoughts via the casebook notes as he states "Super-people. I've worked so hard to gain their respect, they sometimes forget I'm flesh and blood."

As he prepares to leave, Bruce informs Alfred of Hurt's last words to him....that the "next time you wear (the cape & cowl) will be your last"....as the casebook pages framing the panels question the identity (devil or dad) of Hurt.  Alfred hands him the cowl, discussing the rumors & allegations about the Wayne Family circulated into the press by The Black Glove, promising to sort it all out when Bruce returns...which we all know when this was printed never came to pass.  En route to the scene of the crime, Bruce reflects on the whole in things being everywhere he looks, a "trap I was so sure I'd escaped was locking into place all around me".

With that last panel of #701, and the first page of #702, we crash headfirst into "Final Crisis" and pages begin to overlap.  Let me state that I am not looking to address every detail of "FC" because, quite frankly, one blog isn't big enough for that.  Rather I will look at the events & elements in "FC" and how they pertain to Batman's larger story. It's too much to address the whole ice cube tray/miracle machine stuff on top of Bat-stuff.

So the first page of #702 shares space with pages of FC #1:

Then pages #15 & 16 (ish) of FC #2 happen as Bats examines the corpse of Orion alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West), and Alpha Lantern Krakken. The Alpha insists the "backwater" technology can't possibly determine the cause of Orion's death while Batman insists that it was via gunshot wound. Watching Bats stand up to the GLC's internal affairs division is quite amusing btw...

John Stewart finds the bullet in FC #2, gets attacked, then in the 2nd & 3rd pages of #702 we see Bats investigating the bullet while the casebook blurb reads "...I'm relying on you to hear this".  Based on the page included on the left, it is safe to assume that the "you" in question is Superman.  The only question is what is he supposed to hear?

The next page of #702 showcases Bats essentially solving the question of how Orion died. He details it to Wally-Flash, how a bullet fired through backwards through time took the life of a New God and was embedded in concrete 50 years before its own creation. "Wow"

The next several pages of #702 overlap with FC #2 including these two pages, the left from Batman and the right from FC, interesting to me because it actually feels like each page contains 1/2 of a conversation between Bats & Supes.

The importance of this bullet, the way Bruce ties it into his own parents' murder, to every murder in history, is demonstrative of the way Morrison frequently looks at time...how it all takes place simultaneously, how it's all connected, how it continously births itself, the way this first bullet has birthed others.

He wraps Bruce's entire abduction scene in two different perspectives.  The straightfoward depiction in FC #2 as he realizes that Krakken has been co-opted by Darkseid and that an evil New God is essentially riding piggyback in the Alpha Lantern's body...remember that.  The depiction in #702 is done with similar art but with captions via the casebook, questioning if the attack was when "the box" opened up and how, at the moment when he was sucked into the Boom Tube, was when he "saw the shape of the trap that had been waiting for me since the day I was born".

The next page of #702 mirrors another page in FC #2 as Bruce, now the prisoner of Darksied's minions shouts to "Warn The Justice League! Warn Everyone!" and now the third collection, the "Last Rites" portion of "RIP" enters into the picture.

Now this story technically came out immediately following RIP and as such was an odd venture through an odd world.  Part flashback, part dream, part induced fantasy world, this two part story reads like Morrison finding a way to reconcile every wierd Batman story, and every depiction over the decades, into one.  We see possible outcomes if it had been something besides a bat crashing through the window that fateful night: a mothman or a snakeman for example, or as Alfred speculates, Owlman, Catman, Pigeonman, and others.  This is a jumpy, jumbled overview of the past, tied together by Alfred's frequent moments of second-guessing Bruce's decisions. 

A moment in Professor Milo's lab, memories of Dick joining the team after his parent's death, more speculation on what if Batman & Robin existed in the world of Hamlet, the original Batwoman factored into continuity for the first time since before Crisis, discussing the ever-shifting personality of the Joker, the moment of introduction to Dr. Hurt & the Isolation Experiment...and then we begin to discover that all is not what it seems...

The Lump? Quick Wiki search tells me he was another Jack Kirby creation, a foe of The New God Mister Miracle in the 70's, who Morrison has brought back for the purpose of hiding in Batman's memories as Alfred (hence the second guessing) and allowing Darkseid's minions to essentially stripmine Bat's memories.  It's an cool story convention as it allows Morrison to explore any story in Bat-continuity that he sees fit as it can all be memory.  That's why we see the original Batwoman's life & death, the real first love of Bruce's life Julie Madison, the "death" of Alfred, as well as the various (sometimes contradictory) takes on the bat-villains throughout time.  But there was something about Hurt that shook up the scenario it seems...

Bruce questions the connections between chemicals and crazy people, there's a moment of Adam West/Burt Ward-esque interaction in his memories, Joker returns to crazy, Dick becomes Nightwing, something Alfred says as he discusses a story he wrote about a world without Batman makes Bruce aware that things aren't right.  The path of memory then takes a turn into that world as Thomas Wayne stops Joe Chill from murdering them, Martha dotes on Bruce, he goes off to college, a Joker-esque attack goes down in Gotham, and a cutback to Darkseid's minions tells us just what is going on...

They are farming Batman's memories to fuel an army of Bat-Clones to "fight and die in the name of our Dark Empire"!  What a way to leave off the issue...and jump into the next issue with this...

The night of Damian's conception I suppose; followed by Bruce fighting Ra's, fighting a shark, fighting a werewolf, then getting it on with Talia once more, only to cut back to that "if Batman didn't exist" world that the previous chapter turned into.  Bruce tells Alfred about chemical racketeers killing a circus boy's parents, the joker killer torturing the boy, and Bruce feeling he could have saved him. Elements of truth filter thru The Lump's lies as Selina Kyle plays a role as a women who stole from Dr. Bruce, the well Bruce fell into as a child appears, a dog named Ace, and the odd skeleton in circus clothes...

The discovery of the bones sends The Lump into a frenzy and true memories filter through, taking us on a quick tour of Batman's past...picking up with Bruce meeting Jason Todd, his death, Barbara Gordon's shooting, in the real world the clones are killing themselves, Tim Drake finding out the secret, Bruce figuring out that the dream-Alfred isn't who he seems to be and The Lump responding by playing up horrible memories.  Bane breaking his back, recovery, fighting AzBats, the Earthquake, Hush, Jack Drake's death, culminating in a back-and-forth between Bats & The Lump...

And the revelation that it is the memories from all these traumatic experiences that truly motivates Bruce, and how it is too much for even these clones to handle as they claw their own eyes out.  Bruce realizes the chemicals he kept talking about were his brain's way of telling him he was drugged unconscious, the Lump lays dying in Bruce's mind (potentially taking Bats with him) but it is one final set of memories...the desert experience during 52, Thogal, the discovery of Damian's existence, the events of RIP....those serve as The Lump's fuel as Mokkari further points out how awesome Bruce is by asking the question "What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?"

The next page ties this story into "Missing Chapters" as this conversation takes place in both books:

I suppose it's more appropriate to say "Missing Chapter" ran into "Last Rites" since the latter was published first. A panel of the following page overlaps with the title of #702 as Bats studies the bullet in the Bat Cave, the Lump goes on a rampage in the Evil Factory which creates another tie to the story in "Missing Chapter". Before that jump I just want to point out how the captions that close out "Last Rites" belong to the true Alfred as he gives a fitting eulogy to Batman.  His comments that "...I can see him now in the grip of implacable forces, innumerable foes. Somewhere without hope..." seem especially poignant considering how we know Bruce ends up after his coming confrontation with Darkseid.

Bringing us back to where we left off in "Missing Chapter" as The Lump is decimating the lap and a semi-coherent Bruce, back to communicating via casebook captions, realizes they have done something to his mind. He express that there are "holes in his awareness and they seem to be getting bigger", and none of this could possibly be written in the moment so the question is still when did Bruce put this all to paper?

 Bruce is finding "the hole in things" everywhere, he finds the God Bullet, loads it into a gun, flashes back to the moment where Gordon asked him why he chose an enemy as old as time back in "Batman & Son", and he enters the chamber of Darkseid, running us back into Final Crisis #7 with a text bridge...

As with the fight against Krakken, the next few pages showcase the same material in different ways. The "FC" perspective is straightforward with dialogue rather than any sort of internal monologue, culminating in the "gotcha" right before the Omega Beams strike Bats down.  The "Missing Chapters" side of things provides us with the casebook excerpts, Bruce's thoughts obviously reflecting on this events from some other point, as he questions how many times this scene had played out, speculates on the "thousand extra layers of meaning" in the myth playing out in front of him.  FYI, Morrison tends to look at comic books as today's form of myth in case you haven't read any of his other work...it's a frequent theme.  Hell it's what the whole of FC seems to be about...

The "gotcha" (which felt odd in "FC") doesn't seem quite so out of place in the "Missing Chapters" take on events as it falls in line with the casebook blurb of that moment.  Batman fires one single shot from the gun using the God Bullet, and it represents the culmination of the very first moments of Morrison's Batman-run and a plot point that was brought up many times over, "Batman doesn't  use guns".  Harley & Joker both pointed it out in reference to the false-Batman who shot Joker, Batman himself points emphatically how he doesn't use guns everytime it's brought up, and here we are...in the closing moments of his life...he makes his once-in-a-lifetime exception and without it Darkseid could not have been beaten.

Those three images sum up the "Death" of Batman moments, but it's not the end of the story thanks to "Missing Chapter".  In the closing pages of this we finally discover (given that this came out over a year after the death pages) just what happened when the Omega Effect struck Batman.

Darkseid references an Ancestor-Box containing a "hyper-adapter" and tells the reader just what Omega Sanction does, creating an unbeatable "life trap" using history...essentially dumping the victim into increasingly terrible realities until they can figure out how to escape them.  The only person shown to have figured it out previously was Mister Miracle in Morrison's "Seven Soldiers"....

Bruce figures out that the trap, the box closing in around him, is time and Darkseid essentially froze him in time and spun centuries around him.  We see Bruce looking at the "Barbatos" wall in Wayne Manor (#701), observing bats flying out of  the well on the Mansion grounds & realizing his parents will die (#673), see the "funeral" from Neil Gaiman's "What Ever Happened To The Caped Crusader?" story that came out post-RIP, and Bruce seems to put things together with talk of "the grave, the well, the cave, the missing portrait"...

There's the image of Willowood Asylum which, after doing some homework, I found out was the place pre-Crisis where Bruce's brother Thomas Wayne Jr was locked up! So is Hurt that Thomas Wayne? Is he Daddy Thomas Wayne? Or something else?  The next lines of text seem to indicate just what he may be as Bruce states that Darkseid's fall created The Hole In Things (which is what Hurt claimed to be).  Does that make Hurt an incarnation of Darkseid or a human body in which he resides like Boss Dark Side or Turpin?  That last panel ties into "Time Masters" somewhere along the line, sending Superman, Rip Hunter, & Green Lantern Jordan on the search for Bruce Wayne through time, and also answers the question of where this last casebook was jotted down.  It was Bat's last act before he lost his memories in the fog of time, a bread crumb left in the past for Superman to find, and it is this final act that brings together "Missing Chapter" & "FC"...

The cave painting is left behind along with the recording of the final casebook entry and Bruce walks out into a world that is obviously prehistoric, given the apperance/death of Anthro that takes place in both #702 & FC #7, and walks straight into the "Return of Bruce Wayne" mini-series.  The thing I really dig is how both tales end on such similar lines..."But the fire burns forever" and "It never ends".

Man this reads completely differently when taken in this chronological order like a lot of the elements from Final Crisis make a lot more sense with the "Missing Chapter" included.  Previously it just seemed like a huge jump from the close of "RIP" and the exploding chopper to Batman doing forensics on the Orion crime scene to getting abducted by Darkseid's minions.  With the gap filled in via this reading, and the exact results of Bats taking the Omega Sanction laid out, the way in which we get to "Return of Bruce" is also more understandable.

Don't get me wrong...there are still a great deal of questions unanswered even with this take on the material, after all it wouldn't be a Morrison book if that wasn't the case.  The primary question is of course how Bruce will return to "life", and of course we still don't have a definitive answer as to the identity of Dr. Hurt, if he's even still alive, nor idea of the overall significance of Barbatos in this larger tale. 

As for non-Bruce questions: what fate will befall Gotham in the absence of a Batman? Who will step up to the mantle? Well we all know Dick Grayson & Damian assume the mantles of Batman & Robin and that is where we will begin our next chapter of this lengthy tour of Morrison's Bat-Verse!


  1. Awesome synopsis of the issues tying RIP to Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne. I think my preferred order of reading is 701, 682-683, and 702. What do you think?
    BTW, you accidentally credited Alan Moore with "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?" It was written by Neil Gaiman, titled in homage to Moore's "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?"

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the Moore typo! As for the reading order, what makes it so fun/interesting for me is that you can pretty much read it in any order. Chronological, order of release, whatever, and it tells a slightly different story!