In the previous post, I talked about the likely guest stars who will provide the focus for Batman and Robin's second and third arcs. But Grant Morrison said that his initial run will consist of four arcs, and all indications are that the fourth will be explosive. What we know about this arc, still over half a year from its start date, raises more questions than answers, but the questions are huge:
Will Batman once again face The Devil? The Black Glove organization of gamblers? The Club of Villains?
What is to be said about Thomas and Martha Wayne's past? Were they involved in evil -- or targeted for death because they crossed it? Will their reputations survive the "dossier" that was leaked to the media?
Will we see the backstory of Batman #666 take place in the present? Will Damian make a deal with the Devil and have supernatural powers from here on?
Will Dick Grayson die?
Will Bruce Wayne return? If so, how?
Who will be Batman when this story concludes?
All of these questions arise from the hints we've been given. For the sake of brevity, I'll call the fourth arc of this series, which should start with issue #10 and run for three or four issues, "B&R IV" -- not to be confused with issue #4 (which will be in the middle of the second arc).
The Devil Went Down to Gotham
You don't have to look very hard to see that Doctor Hurt, who was the Devil, will resurface in B&R IV -- the last page of issue #1 contains four preview panels, and it seems very clear that each panel represents one arc of the series's first year, in chronological order. And there, in the fourth panel, is Doctor Hurt dangling the keys to Wayne Manor.
That is not very specific, however, as to what form his participation will take. The most lively possibility would be if he shows up in person, commanding a host of other villains, and launches an overwhelming attack on our heroes inside Wayne Manor. And that's quite possible. On the other hand, a panel merely showing Doctor Hurt doesn't guarantee any such thing. He doesn't need to have a physical presence to be a menace. He is not a fist-fight kind of villain. Doctor Hurt does run a mean plan, however.
Doctor Hurt had something at stake when the helicopter crashed, and probably not just the loss of a shiny helicopter. He really didn't want the crash to happen. So if he had something to lose, how is he back now?
Exactly what is Doctor Hurt? He's the Devil, but is he the body of an ordinary man, hosting the Devil, but possible to kill? Some real "Doctor Hurt" who had an ordinary life until the Devil possessed him? The newspaper headline in Batman #678 suggests that. But we don't know. He could have been walking around in that form for thousands of years. Maybe we'll find out more. Maybe the Devil hopped into Doctor Hurt after a failed attempt to possess Thomas Wayne -- he wanted the batsuit from Detective #235 back for a reason.
Morrison has indicated that the run, and therefore almost certainly this arc, will exhibit "the Black Glove characters" and some of the villains of RIP. Let's look at the rosters:
Black Glove, Roll Call
Dead: The general, whose neck was snapped by the Joker.
AWOL: Jezebel Jet (not a member, but threw in with them), whose plane was attacked by Talia's manbats. Could be dead, or could resurface.
Doomed: Cardinal Maggi, who dies shortly before the "six months later" scene in RIP wherein Dick and Damian catch up with Le Bossu.
Others: The electronics billionaire, the "Texas" oil billionaire, and the Arab al-Khidr. It's unclear what would have happened to then after RIP. If Cardinal Maggi was running free to be killed, then you'd think they might have, too. But they are all targets for both Talia and the Joker, both of whom vowed to get them. Those are two very bad enemies to have.
Because the Black Glove is an organization that replaces its outgoing members, we could also see the Black Glove with a new cast of characters replacing any who die. But probably only if Doctor Hurt is around to organize it.
Club of Villains, Roll Call
Dead: Sombrero. In Batman #663, the Joker listed sombreros among things that are inherently funny. So he must have had a gas killing someone who went by that name.
Captured: RIP showed Le Bossu and Scorpiana being taken down by Nightwing, although Le Bossu somehow gets out to be taken down again. Charlie Caligula was going to starve to death if nobody were to rescue him from the "Zorro" theatre where Zur En Arrh Batman had him. Maybe Bruce freed him before Final Crisis. The Murder Mime and Swagman were captured by the Club of Heroes. Of course, jails in the DCU have revolving doors.
AWOL: King Kraken was theoretically never captured in RIP.
The various henchmen seem to present a huge problem for the heroes' secret identities. Many of them stormed Wayne Manor, and probably most of them survived RIP. Will they come back and be dangerous for what they know?
The Ghost of Batman Past
Grant Morrison has said "Bruce Wayne's parents have still been accused of being drug addicts and all kinds of things, so we haven't dealt with the fallout of RIP, and the new Batman and Robin are kind of caught in the middle of a lot of that stuff as well." We know from Batman #683 that the news hit the papers. Bruce and Alfred did not seem overly concerned. But there is a huge backstory that's up for grabs, which I've discussed before.
The Ghost of Batman Future
Grant Morrison really raised the stakes by stating that "certain events in #666 ... form the basis for" B&R IV. Separately, he said that "Damian selling his soul to the devil" from that issue might give you "an idea of how some upcoming events might play out."
Well, then. This is a loaded hint because if Damian does make the deal with the devil now, he'll forever after have at least one supernatural ability -- the regenerative ability (and/or immortality) seen in #666. That's actually the smaller of two implications, with the other being that "Batman" will die now, sooner rather than later. Since Dick is now Batman, could that mean that Dick will die in B&R IV?
It's not impossible. But it's not what a straightforward reading of #666 suggests. But let me qualify this in advance: Batman #666 makes a number of portentous statements, but they are also non-specific and very brief. Very little is signed on the dotted line. Several statements are made, in art as well as in words, that someone dies while Damian is involved, and that there is a bargain, etc. But the language does not nail down who exactly dies (Bruce and Dick are of course the main suspects), and does not strictly rule out that it may be talking about two or more events even when it sounds like they may all be one.
So the simplest interpretation of #666, which may or may not be correct, is that on some future night, a Batman dies while Damian, Robin, at the time, is somehow to blame (presumably through negligence, not murderous intent). And on that night, Damian makes a bargain with the Devil: His soul in return for Gotham's safety, which seems to be delivered by means of Damian's immortality. If there is only once such event being referred to (not two or more deaths, or two or more bargains), then by far the most likely interpretation is that the Batman who will die in this event is Bruce.
For one thing, Damian says that he makes the deal when he's 14 years old, but B&R #2 said that Damian is only 10. So the simplest timeline is that Bruce will take over as Batman again (more on that later), and the death/deal will take place about four years from now in comic time, which would happen much later -- more likely never -- in publication sequence. This is further validated by the artwork that shows a Batman dying (or hurt very badly) while an anguished Damian looks on. This Batman wears a giant chest logo that matches the central (and larger) Batman in Damian's Batcave memorial. That should all match Bruce, then, rather than Dick.
If we read #666 with legal strictness, Dick has a virtual life insurance policy thanks to one little phrase that Barbara Gordon says: That Damian is responsible for the death of "a friend". Not two. So if Damian makes a deal with the Devil four years from now on the night that Bruce dies, then Barbara is blaming him for Bruce's death, and that accounts for "a friend", and Damian's not going to be blamed for Dick's death now.
And yet: Morrison does say that events in #666 will form the basis for B&R IV, and he's probably not talking about the feud between Lane on the one hand and Professor Pyg and Phosphorus Rex (both of whom die in #666) on the other. And it would hardly be a revolutionary event if one or two tiny facts were altered from that "future" story to the present one. So if the deal has to be the basis of B&R IV, but the deal is to take place years from now, what's the resolution?
Well, there are unguessably many permutations. Suppose the many small clues do describe two different events, but only one death. Suppose Bruce fakes "Batman"'s death upon his return. Suppose part of B&R IV (it can't be all of it; Morrison says that the "new Batman" is involved) is actually a flash-forward to four years from now and has no bearing at all on the present. As easily as the last chapter of RIP showed us Bruce outwitting the evil monk in the past and Dick confronting Le Bossu in the future, B&R IV could span two, three, or more points in time.
I think all of these possibilities, plus countless others, are cumulatively more likely than Dick's death ten months from now leading to Damian's deal with the Devil. And Morrison might remain utterly true to the events of #666.
So This Man Walks into a Cave...
Bruce is coming back before the end of B&R #13, and he will be Batman again after that.
Grant Morrison has told us so:
1) "Bruce is still out there. “Final Crisis” revealed Bruce is still out there and he’s got to make his way back in some way." "We’re not really entertaining the notion that Bruce won’t be back at some time."
So he is coming back. When?
2) Morrison plotted 12 or 13 issues for B&R and "Everything about [Bruce's absence] will be tied up by the end. Everything that's happening with Bruce and Bruce's world will be revealed in detail and resolved by the end of Batman and Robin's first year."
And he's really going to be Batman again? Right away? Not a mentor to the ongoing adventures of Batman Dick?
3) "We always knew that after “Batman R.I.P.,” we were going to do this run of stories where we didn’t have Bruce under the cowl."
That leaves a loophole that Morrison may mean something different when he says "this run" on different occasions, but that's a very small loophole when you combine it with the quotation in (2).
In fact, with the ghostly Batman seen in the preview panel for B&R's third arc, his return might even begin before the fourth arc opens. But knowing that the "new Batman" has to deal with the smear campaign against the Waynes, we know that Dick won't be stepping aside before issue #10.
The topic of Bruce Wayne's absence and how he might get back is a topic for yet more discussion, a bit less immediate than B&R IV, which itself is several months off.