Saturday, January 30, 2010

Batman and Robin #7

Usually I approach posts about a single issue as an essay or review. Here, however, it seems fitting to do so with annotations, because there are so many little facets that may not fit together until later. So here, from front to back, are some observations regarding Batman and Robin #7:

Cover: The bat-corpse in the sarcophagus seen at the end of #6. Here we see that it's quite skeletal, with little if any flesh.

Dick carries the man he loves most. The pose is nearly identical to that of Superman holding Batman on the last page of Final Crisis #6. Like the famous rendition of Superman holding his deceased cousin in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it's also quite similar to Michelangelo's Pieta.

The action in London opens mid-explosion, with no explanation for why this is happening. Batman has saved a little girl by seconds. Rescuing children has been a frequent theme in Morrison's run. It's how his first issue of Batman opened, and how we first saw Damian as Batman in #666. It was also part of breaking up Pyg's scheme in the present, as hinted at in the solicit for #1 which didn't quite come to pass, because it was Pyg, not the Domino Killer, whom we saw abducting a child.

Squire begins to fill us in. She knows that there's one more bomb because King Coal said so. Why does she know what King Coal said? Did he confess or was he overheard? His name is a twist on the nursery rhyme, Old King Cole. There seem to have been more bombs, but we don't know how many.

Batman rendezvouses with Squire. Lucky those buses and cranes were around to facilitate his travel.

To stop the bomb, Batman goes underground for the first of three times in this issue.

Batman throws a bomb to let him stop a bomb. The burning black heart reflects King Coal's name (that's what coal does, burn). It's a well-connected villain who has his own train esconced in the London Underground. The phrase "black heart" comes up often in Morrison's writing, including in Batman #673, when Bruce speaks of "a deep, black well where my heart should be." Dick rescues the son, a self-titled prince, of the self-titled king we meet later. The son's language calls to mind the god-and-devil lines from Morrison's run that initially seemed figurative but ended up literal.

In Basement 101, Batman goes underground for the second of three times. The villain names are mixtures of puns and cultural references of perhaps no great importance. "The Morris Men" once again puts the author into the story, perhaps foreshadowing the reveal of a fourth-wall role for Oberon Sexton. Highwaymen (like Robin Hood) were some of the early inspirations for superheroes.

The jailer is concerned with the Pearly King speaking too much. The King himself takes pains not to give away information aloud, while doing so with gestures. Is he under surveillance? If so, does it have to do with the "eyes and ears of El Penitente" being everywhere?

The interrogation resembles the most famous scene in The Killing Joke, which Morrison has reprised already in DC Universe #0. Even in having the standing Batman on the left and the seated villain on the right. However, Pearly is not trying to hinder Batman -- he has obviously already prepared a helpful clue by putting a map into the dominoes. This is not depicted with consistency from frame to frame.

There is a tank of eels behind Pearly.

A game of cards played using real people is reminiscent of the Black Glove gambling on matters of life and death. King Coal lost to Eddie and had resorted to violence to renege on the wager. It's not clear why he needed to attack London in order to strike at Eddie, but Batman stories never pass up a good slow-acting death trap.

Coal is black and pearl is white. Two sides of a game. Street royalty (Pearly's diction is Cockney; he thinks he's royalty) against country (coal mines, or colliers, are inevitably in rural locations). South (London) vs. the north (Newcastle). And so we are also told that King Coal subscribes to "fanatical superstition". Is King Coal working for El Penitente? The Crime Bible people seem to be affiliated with him.

The legend of King Arthur and a Cauldron of Rebirth is perhaps a light embellishment by Morrison on actual epic poems. However, this deserves careful attention because Morrison has touched on this theme already, in Seven Soldiers, spinning an epic battle for a cauldron, lost by Arthur and his men, into a battle against the Sheeda. There, Morrison states that Arthur set "out to recover the Cauldron of Rebirth from Unwhen, the bleak otherworld on Sheeda-side. Thus are these deeds remembered by bards in later ages... And three times the fullness of great Arthur's ship we went into it. Save seven, none returned." As in the actual epic, Preiddeu Annwfn, Arthur does not win the cauldron. That poem describes the Cauldron as pearl-rimmed, which is probably where Pearly's motif comes from. As Arthur failed to win this cauldron, a Grail analog, the effort to revive Bruce isn't going to work out for Dick, either. Are the Sheeda going to enter into this story? I suppose not.

Perly's cup has a crown with the Maltese cross and fleur de lys on the sides. That's not an uncommon design for the crown of royalty.

How exactly is it that Pearly is playing dominoes when dominoes have already come up five times in this story? (The trunk that Toad was carrying. Dominoes in the hands of Toad, lab of Pyg, and hand of Santos. Pyg mentioning dominoes from his cell.) Full set of possibilities:

a) The author is using a theme that has no explanation within the logic of the story.
b) Some intricate, but humanly-explicable, criminal organization is leaving clues for Batman and has Pearly as well as Pyg and other agents under its control.
c) Some cosmically-powerful agency is sending Batman the domino clues without having an organization in the usual sense.
d) The author of the story is a character within the story, and is using dominoes for some purpose we will find out later.

Talia is salivating over Damian's soon-to-be ascendency in power and evil. Or so she thinks. A lead-in to next story arc, all foreshadowed long ago by #666 stating that Damian was bred to kill and replace Bruce Wayne.

Alfred says that the body's identity was ascertained by "several" reliable sources. Dick later cites Superman; perhaps there are others? But if DNA is the only evidence, this hints that some stand-in (e.g., the clones) may have been substituted. I have argued, though, that this is not the simplest explanation, though it's possible.

The Batgyro was Batman's new weapon back in Detective #31!

The coal pit has everything omenous going for it: It's on the purportedly cosmic "Ley line", has spooky backstories suggestive of sacrifice, with links to King Arthur (see above). Dick notices that men carried something heavy in. Presumably this means the coffin with Batwoman. We don't know how Batman arrived, but it seems like men carrying a coffin would have been a likely course.

Batman goes underground for the third time in this issue. Even for a guy who operates out of a cave, that's unlikely to happen by chance. The emphasis on the underground calls to mind the title of #677: "Batman in the Underworld".

Dick estimates that he might be back in pixie boots by New Year's. That's eleven days from December 21 to January 1.

King Coal's men glow. Why not?

They are involved with some attempted sacrifice (and, apparently, resurrection) of Batwoman, which is what the Crime Bible crew has been after since "52". But that means that these superstitious criminals think that putting a dead into the pit does more than bring them back as a live hero. So maybe what goes wrong here will have more to do with the pit than any problem with Bruce's body. Batwoman says that the covens believe that the Knight of the Beast will rise on this night. As in Watchmen, a plan has already been put into motion when we find out, and there's no going back. But instead of the evil Batwoman that King Coal expected, it will be evil Batman.

That's Bruce's left hand coming out first. The English word "sinister" comes from the Latin word for "left". Dick made contingency plans for backup in case he needs to fight the resurrected Bruce Wayne. We're sure to see him wish he'd brought more backup.

Update: DAL's very-sharp comment (to this post) that the first lines of B&R #1 are a probable comment on the series as a whole is very likely correct. Given that, I added the comment (also below) that the Russian Lev looks like Dan Didio. Here is a depiction of each of them, side-by-side. Aside from the obvious differences in emotion (Didio seems to be smiling, not yelling, in every photo I can find), it looks like a pretty good match. The first lines of Morrison's run on Batman spoke of the confusion and ambiguity that would typify the run. If this series indeed began with a Fourth Wall moment, then it makes it seem more likely that the "Mo G" graphic was a hint that the masked mystery writer Oberon Sexton could be Grant Morrison himself, the "Gravedigger" of Bruce Wayne... and perhaps other major characters.


  1. Stewart's art was so fluid and energic! Loved the issue!

    What makes me wonder and scratch my head is Talia's question does Alfred believe Bruce is dead. Does she know something? Or is it just the women's instinct playing here?

    Seeing Damian receiving a spine makes me wanna bang my head why Oracle just can't get a proper spine and just stay as Oracle, but hey thats for another discussion.

    Have you seen the #9 variant cover by Stewart? It's in and it's not colored. We see Damian in a wheelchair and a Batman behind him. Is it left uncolored to imply it might not be Dick behind him? Or is it just done to derail us? Makes me wonder.

    I'm still intriqued how the Batcorpse will be. Will Morrison have Darkseid inhabit the body? Will the lack of soul make the body purely evil? Will Dr. Hurt inhabit the body and thus Dick/Damian are FORCED to *kill* a Batman? ;) Just 2 weeks to wait luckily! So awesome!

  2. Good stuff.

    About the hand rising at the end of the issue: I guess it's worth noting that this is yet another 'black glove' image. As you pointed out, this is a left ('sinister') hand, and it's black. This is the opposite of the 'red right hand' phrase used repeatedly in the previous arc. If I remember right, in the original Milton poetry, the 'red right hand' referred to the vengeance of God. So, here's the opposite: more evil, devilish stuff.

    Maybe you already knew/heard about this, but Talia's line about Damian being a future 'Alexander' also seems like an echo of what she said on page one of Batman #683.

    Only a week and a half till the next issue. (YES!)

  3. In occult terms, the left hand is also linked to the Tantric concept of Vama Marg, or the Left Hand Path, which is usually associated with infernal black magic and "the shadow." The occultist Kenneth Grant has written quite a bit concerning this topic, and I know Morrison has name-checked Grant before, so he's no doubt familiar with his work.

  4. I haven't seen these noted anywhere else yet, so, for what they're worth, here are two Easter Eggs I just noticed in B&R #1:

    The first line of the new series (spoken by one of Toad's goons) was "You said this would be EASY! A simple EXCHANGE, you said!" This seems like a meta commentary by Morrison about the idea of changing who's in the costumes of the title characters. (We already know that this sort of meta comment occurred in part 1 of RIP too, when Bruce talked about how the new Batmobile turned out. Structurally, Batman #676 and B&R #1 have similarities. In B&R #1 Damian makes a similar meta comment about him fulfilling his dad's original Batmobile plan.)

    Dick and Alfred also have an exchange about how dominoes are also known as "bones". Note that the other bones in this series are the literal bones of Bruce Wayne.

  5. Loved the issue, my only small concern is, seems like Morrison is making up a LOT of new characters. How is he going to fit everyone in during the 16 issues including dr hurt and his guys. I'm sure he has a plan but seems like theres 2 new more villians is each issues.

  6. Drazar, interesting thoughts on what mind is in the bat-corpse. I figured it might be like how ZEA Batman was Batman minus Bruce Wayne. This could be Batman's abilities minus all the justice, without being any particular person we've seen before. Your suggestions are interesting possibilities if it is someone. But I think it will just be Batman's body minus his soul.

  7. DAL, that is indeed a hand quite similar to, eg, the Black Glove TPB cover. Your two Easter eggs are good catches. The "bones" may be why dominoes were chosen; "domino mask" is another possibility. "Domino Effect", the title of issue #1, is probably key. These arcs keep spilling over, one to the other. That's how a writer writes a series, if my notion of the Fourth Wall nature of the Domino Killer plays out. Didn't every (other) episode of the Batman TV show have a cliffhanger for the next episode? Like dominoes, making the next one fall, keeping things twisting.

    Your comparison of #655 and B&R #1 is apt. The "better Batmobile" flies; that seems to mean the new team is a good thing.

  8. Sypha, interesting pointer once again. Where did Morrison refer to Kenneth Grant?

  9. John, there are actually more than two new villains per issue -- if you count the ones who are killed by Jason Todd. And even more entities whose names we hear without seeing a face. That's what makes it so hard to put things together. So many heavyweights whose roles will converge in the final few issues. There seem to be at least three distinct forces among the bad guys: Hurt / El Penitente, Oberon Sexton [Domino Killer?], and the Joker. Fireworks sure to come.

  10. DAL, your comment on the "simple exchange" is right on the money, and it made me wonder: Is the Russian who says it, Lev, supposed to resemble Dan Didio? Is that some back-office chatter taken from the real world to the page?

  11. Rikdad, he referred to Kenneth Grant years ago on his old website (or as I like to think of it, the red one). It was probably in response to a letter he had gotten, asking about what voodoo books he had read. I think he had stated that Kenneth Grant's books influenced the kind of magic that Sir Miles & Beryl were involved in in London in the 1950's.

    Actually, now that I think about it, Alan Moore's namedropped Kenneth Grant also. He did an article on Grant for (I think) KAOS magazine (entitled "Beyond Our Ken") and one of Grant's books, "Beyond the Mauve Zone," appears in "Promethea." Which leads me to think that Kenneth Grant is the occultist of choice for English comic book writers who dabble in magic!

  12. Oh wow, Lev resembling Didio is a great catch! When I first noticed the significance of the line the other day, at the time I did wonder whether the line was "supposed" to represent a comment of Morrison's to Didio or vice versa (because I'm not sure what Didio contributed to the decision of who the new Batman was going to be), but I never realized that Lev actually looks like Didio. (If this guy is supposed to represent Didio to a small extent, then I guess that counts as a bit of fourth-wall breakage, right there on the first page of the series. Taken in that light, I think a Sexton=Morrison reveal might be a little more likely now...)

  13. It occurs to me that Bruce coming out of the Lazarus pit is not unlike Lane coming out of the pool in Batman 666. Has Dick unleashed the future? And there is a display in Damian's batcave with two Batmen and a Robin. Is that what will happen from #16 onwards?

  14. Rikdad, I have two questions for you.

    1. What happened to the Joker after R.I.P when the ambulance he was driving got knocked into gotham river. I was wondering because since then he hasnt made any appearances.

    2. Who do you think the new Black mask is? I know it will be revealed in Batman 697, but i was wondering what are your thoughts?

  15. ehepd, that similarity has been noted, with the reverse emphasis. When people tried to determine if there was *really* a Devil in #666, it was suggested that maybe Lane was coming out of a Lazarus Pit. The problem being that Lane had no idea he was going to be blasted into that hotel swimming pool, so the chances of it being a Lazarus Pit (and crucial to his survival) seemed pretty slim.

    I always assumed that the two Batmen operated at different times, and the display was not capturing a moment in time. (The same way that Mount Rushmore shows four US presidents side-by-side, but those men were not even alive at the same time.) Your suggestion is possible, but would it be two Batman operating together indefinitely, or only for one mission?

    I have no idea what the future of Dick Grayson will be. Bruce Wayne will clearly return and be Batman. Dick could adopt a different identity, or he could die.

  16. jlev,

    (1) The Outsiders crossover for RIP indicated that the Joker had been returned to his cell immediately after RIP. No other story (so far as I know; I don't read *all* DC comics; the recent Brave and Bold showing the Joker is possibly set in the past) has shown his whereabouts, and I suppose that the "Outsiders" account may simply be ignored.

    Morrison is going to handle the Joker next, and Didio said that it will be a big moment when he confronts Batman. Morrison also said, as of last May, that he hadn't yet decided exactly what he was going to do with the Joker. I think it's likely that the Joker is the one who killed Cardinal Maggi, and whom Oberon Sexton is investigating. People have guessed that Oberon Sexton might be the Joker; I don't think so. It seems likely, though, that the Joker will be gunning for El Penitente / Hurt; that's what he promised at the end of RIP.

    2) I've given the Black Mask mystery less than my full attention, but I think it's Jeremiah Arkham. There are relatively few valid suspects and he's dead-center among them. In the DCU, magic or time travel or shape-shifting could always lead to an answer that contradicts the clues we've seen, but if the story is "fair" in the Agatha Christie sense, I think it's almost a lock to be Arkham.

  17. The day-glo Coal Miners hearken back to American icon Scooby Doo (Who in the 60's teamed with none other than Batman and Robin). Every week they explored an abandoned mine and encountered thugs disguised as "G-G-G-G-Ghost Miners!" or "G-G-G-G-Ghost Pirates!"

    Potential Fourth Wall breaking on Oberon Sexton's part actually work toward my own theories that he's Joker in disguise. Who better in Batman's book to break the Fourth Wall?

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  19. Do you not think that Morrison is putting too many pieces into place to be resolved in 9 issues, or do you think that he will be extending this story into the second season of Batman and Robin?

    I haven't had a chance to read '52', so what exactly is the Crime Bible and what is Batwoman's link to it?

  20. Hey Rik, just wondering if you've seen this article.

  21. Henry, there's no guarantee that all of the loose ends will be tied up. RIP certainly had more loose ends going into the last issue than possibly could have been resolved, and indeed many of them were not. (and may be addressed in B&R).

    In a nutshell, the Crime Bible is the centerpiece of a cult who sees evil on a religious level. Batwoman, whose real last name is Kane (which sounds like Cain), is someone they really want to sacrifice as part of their belief system.

  22. Devin, I actually commented on that in the comments section of that post. Look down to January 11, if you see them chronologically.

    In summary, "I think this is the kind of theory that falls into the category of being well thought out, and *could* be the basis of a good story, but isn’t particularly likely to be the same idea the writer happened to have in mind."

  23. Thanks Rikdad... Keep up the good work with the Blog!

  24. Rikdad,

    Just reread the Red Hood arc and wanted to post the new things I noticed. Apologies if any of these things have been mentioned before, but I haven't seen them.

    As with Toad in issue #1, the first scene of this arc also opens just after the completion of an "exchange"--only this time we're shown a criminal with a bag of actual money (not a bag of dominoes). Carrying on from the "simple exchange" motif, in issue #5 Dick notes that "Jason's back with some girl. I think he wants to REPLACE us."

    This time through, the appearance of Oberon (who I continue to think is most likely the Joker) caused me to think about what the Joker would DO in reaction to (the "real") Batman's death. Wouldn't he go in mourning? Oberon is in all black. Wouldn't the Joker shirk his Joker identity since it wouldn't be right for him to continue to appear as the "yang" if Bruce's "yin" isn't around? Wouldn't he also investigate into the demise of Bruce? Oberon is doing detective work. Might the Joker try to bring Bruce back--"dig" up his "grave" in a sense? Just my thoughts. In a way, though, I'd prefer the craziness of Oberon turning out to be Morrison.

    Explicating El Penitente's philosophy, Santo says that "crime will be the new social order, and if you're willing to admit it, you're welcome to join in." This sounds a lot like the classic Devil's offer of "The whole world's going to hell--Why don't you just admit that and join me?" Hurt gave Bruce a similar "join me" offer in #681.

    Dick tells Damian to put one of Jason's guns down. This recalls how Bruce told Damian the rules (no guns, no killing) early on. In #666, after killing Lane, Damian says with shame "I promised my father I wouldn't kill." Note that Damian wanted to take one of Jason's guns to fight Jason. In the scene shown in #673, Bruce took Joe Chill's gun to hurt (in a roundabout way) Joe Chill.

    Dick says to Flamingo: "Newsflash...Tell El Penitente Gotham is..." This recalls what Damian said to Lane in #666: "Tell your big, bad daddy [i.e., Hurt/El Penitente again] to bring it on, anytime. If he wants what I OWE him..."

    This idea of "owing" could be important. What the future Damian "owes" Hurt is his soul. The second line of B&R #4 is "Paying what you OWE is good." B&R #1 opened with another "exchange" gone wrong. Now in the first issue of the third arc we see Dick basically do a deal with a (domino-carrying) criminal to get information. (Dick saved the life of Pearly King's son and used that as a bargaining chip.)

    This is all--maybe sooner than we thought--leading up to Damian doing a deal with the Devil. "Paying what you OWE is good"--but is it "good" to give the Devil your soul, even if you promised him that? Apparently, in #666 Damian still has his soul even after doing the bargain. Will this be another "exchange" gone wrong, for Hurt in this case?

    Can't wait till Wednesday.

  25. your theories are awesome, and it really blows that the DC message board deletes them. If you ever want to check out another forum that doesn't delete threads like that, check us out!

  26. Another great post. Now that B&R will be bi-weekly up until #10, will you be posting about each issue regularly?

    Also, I've been linking nearly every of your posts from my blog (, because I really think anyone reading B&R needs to be reading this blog too.

  27. DAL -- Several good points. I think the general theme of replacement is part of the run, as of course it was in Morrison's Batman run, and he's spoken in interviews of his fondness for all of the alternate takes on our favorite heroes. (Which is, I would add, in some sense all a series of alternate takes on Superman.)

    It's hard to disprove O.S. possibly being the Joker, but I can't see why El Penitente would threaten him. Nobody could think that threatening the Joker would earn his cooperation.

    Repeating patterns (and phrases) is of course a Morrison trait; those are plenty of good examples you list!

  28. Will, thanks! I started this blog in part to create a permanent home for my content, and there's nothing (recent) that DC has deleted that I don't have saved. All will appear here in time!

  29. Adam, thanks! I imagine that I will post on the day of each Morrison-Batman issue except where circumstances keep me from it; or, if things seem utterly straightforward. For example, I didn't post right after each early issue in B&R as the clues hadn't "snowballed" yet to critical mass. And I expect the next two issues to be more of a self-contained plot rather than part of Something Big. But #7 sure had a lot worth talking about, as the comments here show.

  30. Great blog! A great addition to the reading experience of the comics!

    I wondered if you had thoughts regarding any significance behind the Oberon Sexton name.

    The "Tober Omi's on the loose" reference in #3 is something I continue to find interesting. Especially in reference to your theories about fourth wall breaking and what Oberon Sexton might represent, which might sync up with some of the Twin Peaks themes.

  31. Mike, Oberon is a fairy king and a sexton tends to a graveyard. So "the king of the dead", or even "the killer", at a stretch.

    "Tober Omi"'s referent is uncertain. It could mean Pyg, or Pyg's boss, or Pyg's boss's boss. I'd guess it refers to Pyg. And even if it doesn't, and Pyg has a boss, we're unlikely to find out specifically of whom that line spoke.