Monday, April 20, 2009

The Black Glove's Plan

Purple haze inside my brain,
Lately things don't seem the same
- Jimi Hendrix

During Grant Morrison's run on Batman, we saw clues from the very beginning (well, from the spread on the second and third pages, when we first saw a replacement Batman) that there was a bigger, darker plan that was lurking behind the smaller adventures that the Dark Knight faced. He beat numerous opponents as they faced off against him, but a mastermind was lurking in the shadows. The real nature of this plan was let slip only very gradually, over a span of 23 issues.

The first clues (the "Gun" Batman, Zur En Arrh graffiti, and uncharacteristic violence on Batman's part) appeared in Morrison's first issue, #655. The name of the villain, The Black Glove, was first mentioned on the first page of Batman #667. In almost every issue, there were more clues regarding the Black Glove's plan against Batman. And we were asked by Morrison (both inside the story and outside the story) to discover the identity of the Black Glove.

But a parallel mystery, much less high profile, was to figure out just what exactly the Black Glove's plan was. That was a tougher mystery, in my opinion. Even when we got clear information as to how the Black Glove operated (the wagering in the Club of Heroes storyline, Batman #667-#669, resembled the climax of RIP, The Danse Macabre) we didn't know that we'd gotten clear information because Grant Morrison was trying to fake us out at every turn, just as the Black Glove was trying to fake out Batman.

Among the many curveballs was the fact that Morrison took the "Robin Dies at Dawn" story from Batman #156, from way back in 1963, and worked it into his plot. But even more so was the remarkable fact (worth its own blog post) that the Black Glove worked as hard to cover up every one of his moves as he did to make the move itself. Deception, a key priority in warfare, was part of everything the Black Glove did. Comic book stories are not known for their subtlety. Usually the bad guy makes bad-guy facial expressions and has bad-guy character flaws, and you know who it is from the beginning. But this plan was hard for the reader to piece together -- and naturally so. If it couldn't surprise us, how could it possibly surprise Batman?

Here is the play-by-play of the Black Glove - Batman war:

1) The Wayne Murders: This is something hinted at, but never stated outright. Simply put, the details of the Black Glove parties subtly matched the story in Detective #235 wherein we found out out that an encounter at a costume party led to criminals targeting Thomas Wayne for a deliberate killing, not the accidental mugging we'd seen in earlier versions of Batman's origin and the final pages of Batman #681 show shadowy figures apparently watching as the Waynes leave the theatre and head to their deaths. Nothing was asserted, but there's reason to suspect that the Black Glove may have targeted the Waynes for death. If so -- why? Maybe there's a concrete motive like revenge. Maybe they were killing them just as something to wager on. We can't possibly know unless the story continues in the future.

2) The Black Glove Organization: We do know that the Black Glove has been holding annual parties for the purpose of betting on matters of life and death, for five members chosen among the world's wealthiest people to wager on. These parties go back "way back" according to Doctor Hurt, and we were told that Jezebel's father participated twenty years ago.

3) The Isolation Experiment: Sometime early in Batman's career, Bruce volunteered for an experiment that subjected him to isolation for ten days. This experiment had three purposes: The Army organizers stated that it was to help with the exploration of space. (Something that made more sense as a research project when the story was set in 1963 and spaceflight was new.) And Batman's purpose, which he only revealed to Robin, was to experience the madness that was supposed to result from isolation, so that he might better understand the Joker. But Doctor Hurt's purpose was to use the access to Batman to program him with psychological commands. To understand Batman? Perhaps -- we don't know if he actually cared about understanding the Caped Crusader. To attack Batman? Yes. He tried to program Batman with a mental command to stop being Batman and retire. This effect was the topic of the 1963 story, as an accidental side effect of the experiment. But in Morrison's re-rendering, we have to understand it as a deliberate attack, for Doctor Hurt to see if he could stop the world's most determined individual from continuing with his crime-fighting career .

Batman did not realize that it was a deliberate attack. It sidelined him for "a couple of weeks" (according to Nightwing in Batman #675) but he overcame the influence of it, and resumed his Batman career. His recovery probably matches the details given in Batman #156.

4) The Gotham City Police Department Experiment: Here's what happened -- Doctor Hurt trained three Gotham cops to be like Batman. He tried different approaches for all three, and was willing to kill people in pursuit of that goal. One night, he had all three of them fight Batman (apparently he was able to get Batman's cooperation thanks to mind-control going back to the isolation experiment), but none of them were a match for the real thing.

Now -- why did he do it? Two of the three men had their memories of the episode wiped out, and were left to resume their lives (worse for the wear), ready for him to recall them to service thanks to psychological keywords in their minds. The third was turned into a brutal monster whose mental state was fairly limited. But all three re-emerged, clearly at Doctor Hurt's behest, to trouble Batman. To kill him? No -- only one of them seemed to be trying to kill Batman (one at least wanted to torture him first). To be loyal and capable servants to Hurt? Perhaps, but two of the three died very shortly after being re-activated. I think it's most likely that the specific encounters Batman had with the three were designed to have a psychological effect on him. Not wearing him down so much as undermining his confidence in his own identity and capability. 

It is the case that one of the three, Lane, has been used as a lackey to Hurt (flying the helicopter in Batman #681 and serving his evil master in the far future as seen in Batman #666) but Hurt expected to have already beaten Batman before he needed Lane in those respects.

5) The evil monk's attempt on Batman's life: In Batman #681, we see that an evil monk poisoned a good monk and then tried to kill Bruce right after Th√∂gal. The attempt failed (because Batman thinks of everything). It is very hard for me to square this away with the rest of the plan, because if Batman had simply died that that point, the rest of the plan would have been pointless. And Hurt later passed up easy opportunities to kill Batman. So maybe the idea was simply to send one of his lackies down swinging and to use the occasion to try to undermine Bruce's confidence. It seems that Bruce was aware of the plan against him from this time, and considered himself to be in a duel that played out slowly over the months to come.

6) Jezebel's role as Bruce's lover: Plain and simple, a bad woman entered Bruce's confidence and used her access to him to plant psychological suggestions undermining his role as Batman (especially in Batman #677, but really in every single scene where she opened her mouth and said anything). She delivered the fateful psychological command to him by saying "Zur En Arrh" and she played the bait in the trap that was thrown at Arkham. But it turns out that Bruce saw through her acting very early on and was on guard, even making preparations against her. Batman thinks of everything.

7) John Mayhew's Island: John Mayhew is rich -- rich enough to be a member of the Black Glove. He bets he can kill Batman. He loses. Almost certainly, it's Doctor Hurt we hear (but don't see). So the question is: Is this really part of the Black Glove's plan against Batman? Like the monk's attempt to kill Batman, it is something which would have ruined the rest of Hurt's plan if it had succeeded. So we have to figure that either Hurt was sure that Mayhew would fail (which seems like a sure thing, since Batman beats everyone and Mayhew is more like a nobody) or that Hurt was willing to deal with the outcome no matter what. I think the answer is 75% that Hurt was sure that the monk and Mayhew would separately fail and 25% that perhaps the plotting by Morrison hadn't worked out that level of detail. But it seems key that the event, while failing to kill Batman, would have a psychological impact on him, showing him that rich people are sometimes very bad. Like his parents? And Bruce himself?

8) Zur En Arrh: Apparently, Doctor Hurt planted a trigger word into Bruce's mind that allowed him to switch off the Batman personality whenever Bruce heard it. The Black Glove spray-painted this phrase all over Gotham, which seemed to erode Batman's mental well-being gradually. Finally, Bruce was left incapacitated when he heard it. This might have led to Bruce's permanent downfall if he hadn't begun programming himself with a backup personality, the Batman of Zur En Arrh. Ideally, it would have led to ZEA Batman taking over right away and fighting the Club of Villains as soon as they entered the Batcave. His preparation hadn't started soon enough, however, and it took a day or so for the personality to take over. Luckily, he survived the drug injections that Hurt gave him and was ready to fight off the rest of the plan against him.

9) RIP and The Danse Macabre:  Doctor Hurt expected Bruce to wallow in the alleys of Gotham for a day or so. Then the gargoyle henchmen would round him up and bring him to Gotham where the Joker would "kill" Jezebel, leading Bruce to rush in to save her. Bruce's use of the ZEA Batman changed this only slightly, enabling him to fight his own way in, but still fail to save her. However, he had prepared in a number of ways. The "Bat Radia" had a transmitter that locked the doors of Arkham. He had given himself an antidote to the Joker toxin, so he was only knocked unconscious by it, not killed. And he was in his right mind when he re-awoke inside the coffin. And moreover, was not upset by his betrayal at the hands of Jezebel, because he'd never trusted her in the first place: a reference to a line she said way back in Batman #664 was the smart indication that Batman was always ready for this plan. Once he dug himself out, he was Batman again, ready to knock down any of the hired muscle and to out-smart or out-will the mastermind of the plan.

10) Grasping at straws: When Doctor Hurt and Batman faced off outside of Arkham, Hurt tried to use the mental command from the past to get Batman to "retire from crime-fighting". This didn't work. Then he tried to shoot Batman, and the bullet glanced off of Bruce's body armor (which Hurt and his henchmen put on Batman themselves?!). Then he claimed to be Thomas Wayne. And finally he threatened to tarnish the Waynes' reputations with a sex-and-drugs scandal unless Bruce agreed to join him in a war against virtue. Bruce faced down all of these challenges in about thirty seconds.

11) The curse: Knowing that he had failed to break Batman's body or spirit, Doctor Hurt cursed Bruce to wear the cape and cowl just one more time. This actually worked, and in Final Crisis, Batman "died" when Darkseid zapped him with the Omega Effect.

The ultimate goal of Hurt's plan was to break Batman. Not kill him, but force him to give up. To ruin a "noble human spirit". And at root, that is Hurt's motive in all cases. With the Black Glove organization, he's been ruining human spirits for years. Because Batman was the ultimate in human attainment, he became Hurt's target. And he passed this test, proving that he could out-smart the ultimate opponent, and never quit fighting.

5 comments:

  1. This is JG from the dcboards.

    Based on what Morrison wrote, Hurt had two goals for Batman that he seemed to go back and forth on. The two goals were 1) kill Batman, and/or 2) corrupt Batman or cause Batman to quit. I think Hurt's ideal goal was to corrupt Batman or cause Batman to quit. But I think he was so frustrated with Batman sometimes that he did simply attempt to outright kill Batman to end Batman's war on crime. I think Hurt's particular goal at any one moment correlated with his confidence in his ability to succeed in his war with Batman.

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  2. JG, I think that's right as far as the final gunshot and the curse go. In the case of the monk's poison and Mayhew's plot, I find it hard to reconcile with the elaborateness of Hurt's plan that he would aim to kill Batman when the plan had not yet made its attempt to break him. Of course, Hurt is not trying to profit in a rational way, so just about any course of action is explicable as long as it's anti-Batman. I think it's easy to dismiss Mayhew's plot as something that would "spook" Batman without worrying too much if Mayhew might succeed. Perhaps the monk's poison occupied a similar role. I will devote yet another post to the Black Glove's strategy, which fascinates me beyond the particulars of his objective.

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  3. I have to say, I really dug R.I.P. and your posts are fantastic commentary to it, but there's one coincidence that just keeps bugging me -

    AND, I'll fully admit that this may have an easy solution that I just don't know because I haven't read any of Morrison's pre-RIP stories -

    but isn't it coincidental that Zur En Arrh is both the TRIGGER used to disable Batman and Batman's SOLUTION to being disabled? As I understand it, Hurt programmed the trigger phrase on him at some point during/from the isolation experiment - but where did he get the idea for it? Is it really just a coincidence that when he used that planted trigger to disable Batman, Batman happened to have a "back-up personality" CALLED Zur En Arrh in place to save him? If so, that seems like a stretch...

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  4. I don't think it's literally that Bruce had named his back-up personality Z.E.A. or even expected to BE that person. It seems Z.E.A. was designed to drive Bruce mad and Bruce just happened to have a contingency that deals with it. Like, hypothetically let's say Hurt had implanted another phrase, Mary Poppins, that caused Bruce to go insane and believe he was Mary Poppins... Bruce's mental contingency backup would kick in and even though he's still running around like Mary Poppins, at least he's still in control. So it's more like ZEA wasn't the actual backup, but the backfire as a result of the mental backup.

    Now... trying to tie this to Final Crisis... it it wrong for me to consider that the entire year of Batman + Batman RIP was all in his head after being captured by Darkseid? Like it was all what happened in his head while being experimented on? Or to take it to another level, is the Omega Sanction linear? So Bruce is captured by Darkseid, escapes, gets nailed by Omega sanction, then lives the life of Batman RIP... only to return to where it started: escaping from Darkseid and getting hit with the Omega all over again... a hellish loop that Bruce is locked in?

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  5. I've been stewing on the "what if the prior attempts (mayhew, monk) had killed Batman?"/ruined Hurt's plan questions, and I think there's a more satisfactory answer -

    Hurt had to be sure that Batman was worth the trouble.

    If Batman had fallen in any of these seemingly lackluster attempts to kill him, the Danse Macabre would've been a waste of time anyway.

    Lane and the Monk both wanted to convey a message to Batman as well as kill him, a message about their dark master. That is the real curiousity to me.

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