Saturday, March 10, 2012

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey: Level 8

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
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!

So that big murky Batman-lookin' shadow has arrived at Wayne Manor!!! But how they hell did he get there you may ask? Well look no further than this blog to answer that question and, ideally, fill in the last of the gaps that have been lingering since "RIP" ended. Who is Dr. Hurt really? What did the Omega Effect do to Bruce? What is the story with that Bat-Coffin? And where does Darkseid fit into all of this? Theoretically all those questions, and more, will be covered in this latest edition of my long-running Grant Morrison/Batman series. So let's get this bad boy started!

When we last left Bruce in "Final Crisis/RIP:Missing Chapter", he had arrived inside a cave with a dying old man inside, his memory rapidly fading away, using his last instincts to record a message across time for Superman, laying out some cave paintings of his bat-symbol, Wonder Woman's symbol, & the Supes-Shield.

The beginning of "Return" drops us into a prehistoric landscape where a rocket ship has crash landed amongst the people of the time. Besides the odd visual of a rocket in prehistory, the other thing that's immediately noticeable is that the skies are red a la "Final Crisis". Check it out:

So what I'm thinking is that the events of "FC", as pointed out in ish #6, are bleeding through time and this is part of that ripple effect. One of the things that always bugged me though is just what that rocket was since, ya know, it was the Omega Beams that transported Bats through time. And while I now know the answer to that query, with the help of some other annotations I've perused, I will leave it lie for a minute.

So the cavemen are obviously not speaking perfect English, their language a broken version I suppose would be most accurate description, but they are easy enough to understand. There's an "Old Man", a "Da-Man", they are discussing the "shining-cart" which is "same as brought down the fire in Old Man's Story". I suppose that is a reference to Metron delivering fire to a young Anthro at the beginning of "FC" and also teaching him the symbol that was used to prevent Anti-Life. Anthro would then be the old man Bruce sees die at the end of "FC/Missing Chapters", the same Old Man the cave people (Deer People?) are referring to. They also seem to be scared of the Blood Mob, their Blood Chief being a man they refer to as a devil.

The Deer People find tracks leading to a cave that is filled with bats and...

The cave people, obviously in shock from his strange man's arrival, respond rather calmly even with Bruce's garbled (at least to them) speech. "Wayrameye" translates to "Where am I?" for example...

So we learn the names of the other men in the tribe besides Old Man and Da-Man; there is also Giant, Boy, Surly, Giant, apropos...Joker, who laughs, drawing a "RRRR" from Bruce in response. Cute...

Man smells death in the cave from whence Bruce came, while Bruce heads off to investigate the rocket ship. Man finds the body of Old Anthro while Bruce discovers a shattered Bat-Signal, a pile of dust, and a wholly intact Superman cape. Why I didn't make this connection months ago I will never know, but I'm glad I found someone to steer me in the right direction to answer the question of the rocket, right back to "FC":

Yup...that rocket, sent out by Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Captain Marvel, & Supergirl was loaded up with memorabilia from Bruce's present, and likely due to the hole Darkseid's fall let in time & space, the rocket went through time during all the chaos and ended up here.

Man emerges from the cave with Anthro as well as a necklace belonging to a White Fawn (looks a lot like a certain white pearl necklace from Bruce's personal history) and the tribe proceeds to bury Old Man under stones. Giant is annoyed that the stranger doesn't teach them something like "shining ones are supposed to", Joker (I think) labels him "Man of Bats" due to the bats who preceded Bruce's emergence from the cave I imagine...

There's some insight into the tradition of the tribe as Man now is in the position of Old Man and must pass on the oral history of the tribe to Boy (who is in the process of trying to become Young Man), but before anything of that sort can happen, Blood Mob attacks!

Bruce leaps to the defense of his new "family" on instinct but the odds are too great, Man dies, Bruce gets a hand up on the Blood Chief, but the numbers again prove too much and the Chief, whose grasp of language is far better than the other cavemen for some reason, takes the white necklace, and prisoners, while Boy watches from the bushes.

The Blood chief, with a giant bat mounted on a pike, announces to his tribe that he has brought them gifts AND labels himself "Chief Savage", solidifying the notion that he is indeed Vandal Savage, the Cro-Magnon who gained immortality & enhanced intellect from radiation, leading the Blood Tribe. He's got Bruce, he's got the rocket, and is going to kill the former at sun rise. Why not now? Who knows...maybe he thinks the Man-God/Sky Man is weaker in the daylight.

Bruce is restrained, hands and feet bound, and left laying out in the elements with some hungry dogs and the freaky Giant bat looking over him. The bat seems to come to life, Bruce experiences some visions:

And awakes to find a prehistoric version of Robin in "Boy", his face painted like a domino mask & rocking the utility belt, as you can see above, as well as a shield painted with a bat logo. Bruce & Boy escape, with Wayne instinctively finding/taking penicillin from his belt, and leaving the scene until morning. Savage emerges from his tent in the AM, ready to "kill a god and eat his heart", only to find his dogs dead, the giant Bat gone and...

Bruce leaps into action against Savage, decked out in Bat-regalia, while Boy, declaring that The Deer People are now The Bat people (the eventual Miagani tribe presumably), also joins the fray. Bruce uses all the tools at his disposal in the utility belt to defeat Vandal, reclaims the white necklace as Boy makes note that something is happening to the sun (thinking that Savage had angered it). Bruce heads towards the sun, in mid-eclipse, Boy following behind with Blood Mob in pursuit...

They leap, hit the water, but only Boy emerges from the falls. The Blood Tribe turns on Savage, thinking he made the sun go away, and as he retreats, Superman, Green Lantern, & Booster Gold appear in the sky, aware of Bruce's situation as we know from "Missing Chapter", tracking the Omega Radiation through time. Supes doesn't hear Batman's heartbeat in this time, but what we do know is that "...if Batman makes it back to the 21st century on his own...everyone dies", at least that's what Supes says.

Cut to Bruce underwater, pulled from the depths by a woman as he says "Where's the boy", she calls Bruce "Master Demon" which he fails to notice it seems because something else has their attention:

Bruce fends off this octopus-thing with a sword (note the dead body at his feet) but wakes up to this woman reciting gibberish with a ferret/familiar on one shoulder, and dangling over the other shoulder, the Wonder Woman & Superman sigils. Now I suppose that means there is some potential connection between this woman and the Miagani tribe upon whose caves Bruce initially drew those symbols. Crazy to think that they persisted from prehistoric times until this time frame that hasn't been quite identified yet.

Morrison has always had a thing for sigils and the power they could potentially represent and I suppose the idea that these symbols, the ones of DC's Trinity, persisting through time for centuries gives them a power unlike any other.

As for the story, Bruce can't remember his name again...only able to recall a "W"...and this women seems to be a little more aware than your average bear because she senses that "...a great dark god as set his hand upon (Bruce)".

The Time Masters team (a loosely tied in mini-series that seemed to be more "Flashpoint" build that "Return of Bruce Wayne" connected) hit Vanishing Point in their continued trace of Omega energy. VP is essentially located at the last moment of time before universal heat death and essentially contains all known history in its archives, which are managed by a Bio-organic Archivist, apparently something common in the 64th Century.

The archivist lays out one concept of how time works, something familiar to anyone who knows Morrison's work with it's multiple timelines, time happening simultaneously, hypercube time, things living in that time with "scale and depth and dimensions we can only begin to imagine", so sayeth Rip Hunter. The archivist shows a projection of a "hyperfauna infestation" that looks suspiciously like the creature Bruce fought in the beginning of this chapter. Supers sets his keen eyes on the timelines, looking for the Omega trail, needle in a haystack.

Something that could be major, or minor, the Archivist mentions Space A & Space B....Bat-Might from "RIP" claimed to be form Space B & there was mention of Space B in Morrison's "Animal Man" run too...just a lil' side note. Actually now that I'm looking it up, it's a much bigger theme in Morrison's work as the Sun-Eater from "All Star Superman" travels through Space B, Rip Hunter fought Mr. Mind in Space B in "52" which Morrison had a hand in, so it's safe to say Grant loves Space B. I guess it's just all part of this Hypertime thing...

Back to Brucie, or whomever he may be, right now still acting as a detective of sorts in a very Puritanical looking setting, pulling impaled bats off the doors of churches, looking for the culprit. It seems the local women are trying to frame the woman who helped Bruce out earlier...oh and by the way it seems he has taken on the name Mordecai. Sound familiar? That's one of the people from the Wayne family portrait collection a few blogs back, the one that Damian pointed out looked a lot like his father. What a perceptive lad...and we also met a man named Malleus, and a Flemish painter named Van Derm is also mentioned. He was the guy who painted Mordecai's portrait that hangs in Wayne Manor in the present day...

So remember how I said note the dead body? Well I'd say it's safe to say that amnesiac Bruce has assumed the identity of said corpse, who just so happened to be his own relative Mordecai, and is finding a common bond in the woman, named Annie, as they are both lost & alone.

So we see Martin Van Derm making that portrait of Mordecai, noting Wayne's heavy scarring from his "...defense of God's creatures", to which Mordecai simply states his memory is hazy after being waylaid en route to Gotham (the first time it's referred to as such). He insists that Van Derm draws the book into the sketch so Bruce can remember it and what it contains. They are interrupted by Malleus who mentions a Bristol Bay (another Gotham name that persists to present day) and a dragon sighting in the area. Mordecai leaves his book with Van Derm & heads off to investigate...

A witness says he saw the 7 headed, 10 horned dragon feasting on men until the bats came out and ran it off. Bruce rocks his detective skills some more when they find a dead body, Malleus makes note of a coming eclipse which sets some gears spinning in Bruce's head. Safe to say that the dragon is the hyperfauna from the beginning of this chapter...

Bruce seems to be getting some memory back, remembering that Annie decked him out in dead man's clothes, she leads him to the caves of the people who were there before, the Miagani, the Bat-people. Bruce recollects that he's been in the caves before, deduces that Annie is responsible for the death of the real Mordecai via her summoning of the "dragon", the dragon that bursts forth out of the water in the cave.  She talks about her gods being "gods of the wheel of time and the never-ending world", "old lords of the land and the sky"....making me wonder if she wasn't connected, either consciously or un-, to the New Gods, Darkseid, etc.

Annie flees only to get nabbed by Malleus & his crew who find the WW & Supes sigils (perhaps burying their existence?), and he also mentions that it is "Gotham Town" at that moment in time to give you an idea of the size. Malleus crew set fire to everything while Bruce battles the "dragon", realizing something is wrong.

Meanwhile at Vanishing Point, The Archivist says "Annie" as he encases the Time Masters crew in a bubble...
In the panel that follows that I couldn't find an image of The Archivist drops his mask to reveal that it's been Bruce all along, telling the group "You'll all just have to trust me" as he takes the time sphere and leaves them behind while Supes attempts to explain how Bruce is now a walking Doomsday weapon.

Malleus has Annie hung but as the noose is placed around her neck she cries that "...I know your name, Malleus" followed by...
So Malleus was another Wayne all along...and Annie is the 2nd person to curse a Wayne as Vandal Savage did the same while being exiled from the Blood Tribe. Bruce enters the water once again while Annie casts her curse "until the end of time", and the text becomes experts from the journal...presumably the one Mordecai left with the Van Derm's, but the writing is likely that of Martin's. Included in these closing moments is a panel of an old man handing over a book while seated in front of the portrait of Mordecai. Much like the way Man was to pass down the Deer Tribe's stories to Boy, Martin is likely doing the same to his offspring.

As for Bruce...


Chapter 3 opens with a flash to the "gotcha!" moment of "FC" just as Bruce get blasted with the Omega Sanction only to wake up on the beaches (the accompanying journal entry by Jack Valor states 1734 but Blackbeard died in 1718 so this writing must be a recollection), to find Blackbeard standing over him, accusing Bruce of being The Black Pirate.

As someone who hadn't read James Robinson's "Starman" before this, I had no frame of reference but now I can point out that the original Black Pirate was Jon Valor and he was hung for the supposed murder of his own son Justin, and cast a curse on the town that would become Opal City to haunt it until his innocence is proven. That's a story in Robinson's excellent "Starman" series if you're curious...

Blackbeard wants the Black Pirate's treasure hoard hidden in Gotham COUNTY catacombs and wants Bruce to show him the way, the way only a ghost knows according to 'Beard. Almost forgot to mention that Bruce has a little flash to his rebirth as Mordecai with Annie...

A cowl is found in the drink, assumed to be Bruce's Black Pirate disguise (which would be an appropriate cape & cowl analog), forcing 'Beard to threatening death on a Jack Loggins who was crew on the ship as well. Loggins offers to lead 'Beard to the treasure, obviously this kid is more than he lets on, further evidenced as he details the history of Bristol Bay where they currently travel. It seems the last of the Deer Tribe joined the Bat-People in the caves, becoming the Ghost-People. Bruce, for his part, busts out some detective skills on Jack's appearance to put his social status in place.

As the group enters the cave, you can see the paintings of the WW, Bats, Supes, and New Gods sigils on the wall, the ones that prehistoric Bruce slapped on there as a marker of his presence back in #1. Something prompts Bruce to whistle, something in the depths of memory perhaps, and some bat-fletched arrows fly out of the walls, and in the walls around them..

The Bat-People are indeed living like bats. Loggins references Jon Valor's death a hundred years prior, Bruce drops some more science on how the methane from the bat-droppings killed people so everyone need douse their torches. A random boot (Bruce's?) sets off a spark though and the pirate's all catch fire right near the underground waterfall (the same water from Bruce's Puritan encounter with Hyperfauna?).

In present day, Dick & Damian search Command-D where Bruce was held captive by Darkseid while Red Robin debriefs the Justice League in a moment that I, as a huge Tim Drake fan, find to be awesome. He lays out how they followed the traces Bruce left in time (I like how he grudgingly calls Damian "Robin") via Bat-symbols in various forms that all tracked back to the cape/cowl/antlers relic Dick found during their search of the manor as covered back in Part 6 of this blog. And for some context as to when this takes place relative to Grant's story in "Batman & Robin", Damian makes a comment about getting back to The Joker, putting this moment somewhere before Dick's hotel room confrontation with "Oberon Sexton" I imagine.

Back to Pirateville as Jack Loggins confesses his true identity as The Black Pirate, Jack Valor, to Bruce while conversely Bruce tells him how he remembers it being 1640 only yesterday, that he thinks he's racing through time for some reason. 'Beard lights his...beard...on fire, presumably to scare off ghosts in the cave while Valor passes the cowl to Bruce. The pirates, thinking there's some conspiring going on, approach Bruce who "falls" off a cliff into the water only to return looking like a badass:
The fight with 'Beard breaks out, Bruce is repeatedly referred to as a ghost by him during it, and the outcome is never in doubt as Bruce defeats 'Beard soundly. Valor references the Miagani language being that of the whistle, hence Bruce's whistle that triggered the trap earlier, and then they force the pirate crew to go jump in a lake...seriously.

Valor introduces Bruce to the last of the Miagani tribe living in the caves, stating they claim direct descent from The First Boy (Boy from Chapter 1) and it seems they have learned to communicate via whistle to herd the bats.

So it seems that, inadvertently, Bruce is the inspiration for the Man-Bat stalactite statue that Dick finds in his searches of the Wayne Manor catacombs in present-day, Bruce IS Barbatos, but that's not the only secret waiting in the caves. There's still something that, if removed, will bring the "all-over" upon us. The "all-over" was mentioned in chapter 1 by the Deer People and I took it to mean a crisis event, and as for what that sacred item is:

The very same thing Tim Drake was talking about a few pages earlier...the cape, cowl, boots, and utility belt with an eclipsing sun painted over them. As for Bruce, he seems to again be experiencing some residual memories as he realizes he wore this clothing, mutters to himself about Miagani, Annie, and Man of Bats.

He & Valor leave the cave, Bruce telling him everything he can remember in the process, entrusting Valor with some important task, almost making him Robin-like in his own rite, before Bruce again disappears into the water under an eclipsing sun. Elsewhere 'Beard makes the joke about Gotham being "born under a black sun"...

Valor tells of his ensuing years pirating and how it was the meeting of a girl that finally settled him down and allowed him to complete his journey on behalf of "the ghost" as he refers to Bruce. He meets the Van Derm brother & sister in Gotham Town who instruct him to place his papers within the Bat-Casket we know from the last few ishs of "B&R" which he say also contained an old book and "something more of which (he) cannot speak". And as his story closes, he speaks of hearing bells tolling, "the bells of the All-Over"...

It's another time jump, this time to two men referencing Judge Solomon Wayne & his deceased brother Joshua as they stare upon his mansion, the one purchased from the Van Derm's, where they are set to meet someone. The panel as they walk in features a familiar card hand:

The 8's & Aces, the Dead Man's Hand, the hand The Joker was dealing in "RIP", except his was red and black, not straight black. And the man dealing the hand...

None other than DC's Wild West bounty hunter, dealing himself a Joker card of course, Jonah Hex. Looks like it's time for Bruce Wayne to visit the old west...

So I was looking to put this all in one post but as I reached this point I realized it was going to be a really long read that way thus I am breaking it up into two parts. The second half will cover the remained of the "Return" mini as well as Morrison's final issue of "Batman & Robin". 

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