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