Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Batman and Robin: Arcs #2 and #3

Do you like puzzles? If you follow the adventures of the world's greatest detective, then you probably do.

A story I read a long time ago (in Reader's Digest, of all places) said that a woman was walking down the hallway of her all-female dorm after taking a shower and suddenly realized that a man heading the other way was going to see her naked, and her towel was too small to cover her body. So she covered -- her face. Clever strategy to avoid being exposed. At least in one sense.

I think creators often do much the same thing in interviews, covering part of the mystery of their upcoming stories while giving away clues that don't say too much. But they "move the towel", so to speak, from one interview to another, and if you compare interviews from months apart you sometimes get to match the face with the body. So to speak.

I have been reading all of the public information on Grant Morrison's plans for Batman and Robin and found a lot of pieces of information that fit together -- or nearly so. He is quite forthright that the first year will consist of four arcs of about three issues each (in one place, he says that there were 13 issues plotted, so maybe one arc is longer, or maybe the 12 issues are followed by 1).

A lot of the details of what is to come are out there to be pieced together. In general terms, we can say what the set up is likely to be for the remaining issue of the first arc, plus the second and third arcs.

The fourth arc sounds like it will be extremely important, and full of connections to things we've seen in the past. To keep this post manageable, I will discuss the next eight issues of Batman and Robin and defer the analysis of the fourth arc for another post. It's well off in the future, anyway.

We have most of the first arc in our hands already: Dick and Damian are contending with the Circus of the Strange of Professor Pyg, and also with one another. We know that this will conclude in the next issue. It may work the Joker into the art, if not the story. (The circus carefully matches the one from Alan Moore's memorable The Killing Joke. Morrison also said that he would like to see Frank Quitely's rendition of the Joker, and Quitely is going on hiatus for the next six issues, although he'll be back later.) We know that Batman and Robin #3 will have a lot of interesting loose ends to tie up: Batman has to get his Robin back while confronting the dangerous psychotic Professor Pyg.

But there's more. A number of telling phrases tie the first arc to the second. Morrison says that the story has "a"bigger mystery, involving a character called the Domino Killer." Given that we've see dominoes already (one found on a dead man, or toad), this Domino Killer is behind the scenes. The solicit for #3 refers to a "mysterious red-hooded vigilante". Now watch the puzzle pieces fit together:

The second preview panel seen on the last page of #1 shows a man in a red hood. So does the art accompanying the solicit for #4, which states that "the Red Hood and his sidekick Scarlet" are "Gotham City's vicious new 'protectors'".

In an interview, Morrison says that the main villain of the second arc is "a character I've wanted to work with for a long time and I think we've come up with a cool new take on his M.O."

In an entirely different interview, Morrison says of his upcoming run "we’ll being seeing Jason Todd in a different role than we’ve seen him before. But it’s a continuation of the Battle for the Cowl story..." Note that Jason Todd did not appear in Morrison's earlier work on Batman, except in extremely brief mentions. So he is a character that Morrison has not worked with before, matching the earlier quotation.

Any questions? Clearly all of these pieces fit together if the second arc is about Jason Todd taking up the role of the Red Hood (which he already did during Under The Hood) and is a vigilante killing criminals, and who already did so by killing Toad in #2, off-camera. Given the modest amount that we already know about the third and fourth arcs of Batman and Robin, it's highly likely -- but I can't say certain -- that these pieces will fit together.

Another tidbit: dominoes as a clue? Toad's suitcase that he collected after a drug deal was full of them. But he asked, in circus slang for money ("dinari", a word which reminds me personally of the Book of Revelation 6:6, which uses the word "denarius" for money; and Revelation was referenced in Batman #666. Hmmm.). Translation: He thought the briefcase was full of money and the dominoes were a double-cross. By the same vigilante who left the domino in his hand before killing him in #2. Is the significance possibly that the vigilante used to wear a domino mask? Former Robin, hint hint? Or that he's calling out the current Batman for belonging in a domino mask? Robins everywhere here.

All of these clues do point to one thing, but that said, the same thing could be revealed in one panel and it still leaves us with 2.95 issues worth of unspoiled mystery as the second arc pits Dick Grayson against Jason Todd.

The third arc also has clues pointing to the involvement of a spotlight "guest" character from the Batman Family, so upfront they maybe aren't clues. The third preview panel on the last page of #1 shows the new version of Batwoman, and Morrison has said "I want to do a Batman/Batwoman team-up. That’s something I’ve been wanting for a long time." Looks like he's going to get what he wants. But the action in that preview panel is hard to interpret. It seems like Dick and Kathy are fighting, but then heroes often fight for a page before teaming up. It's just the way they are. A ghostly Batman (Bruce leaps to mind as a suspect) is watching. It's also interesting that Morrison has said "Greg [Rucka]'s doing Batwoman over in Detective Comics, and her story doesn't really touch on what we're doing here." I'll believe my eyes, though -- maybe the Detective story doesn't touch on this third arc, but she sure the heck is going to be in it.

Dick and Batwoman have some history: They fought side by side in 52, with Dick in his Nightwing identity. But there's also the ambiguous history of the original Batwoman with the same secret identity of Kathy Kane (but a different Kathy Kane!). The original (first seen in Detective #233) was a circus performer (like Dick) who later became wealthy (as, though a different means, did Dick). Note also that in Batman #682, Morrison uses a flashback to show us young Dick reflecting on his heartbroken mentor's situation, "I was a circus kid. I knew about Katy Kane, but what was I supposed to say to Bruce?" Given the old history, this line may mean that he knew Katy Kane personally (and know something less than good about her character), not just that he knows circus people in general. Anyway, this is all so pregnant with possibility as the new Batwoman and Dick meet, and maybe the old Batwoman is somehow reconciled with the new one. At the very least, if two superheroes had the same hero name and real name and one other person knows both of them, you'd expect him to at least mention it.

So it appears that Jason Todd and Kathy Kane (at least one of her) will provide the guest-star focus for the next two story arcs in Morrison's bat-saga. There will be much more to say (or speculate) about the fourth arc, because it is likely going to bring back two characters who each have a tremendous past to live up to: Doctor Hurt, the villain of Batman RIP (and depending upon how you look at it, the main villain of all time), and one other character who has been known to impact Batman stories over the years -- Bruce Wayne.

Original interviews:


  1. I really wish Red Hood was a new character and not Todd but I'm sure it will be good...I'll trust Morrison

  2. Beautiful analysis as always. I also think it's interesting that 13 issues of "Batman & Robin" will also bring us to issue #700 of "Batman." And I do think Bruce will be back just in time for that. :)

  3. I thought the new Batwoman was distinguished as being "Kate" Kane, the cousin of the original?