Friday, January 22, 2010
I've posted before, here, here, and here, pondering the uncertain set of relationships between the various villains and other supporting characters in Batman and Robin. It's been possible to see beneath the surface and find some definite indications of a deeper story. For example, it seems clear that El Penitente is, on some level, Doctor Hurt. Maybe there's a nuance of difference there; one evil spirit inhabiting two different bodies, but the differences are going to have to prove subtle. I feel like the two names may just as well be interchangeable. On that point, the story seems to have clarity.
Yet, much remains uncertain. The sheer number of supporting characters (most of whom are villains) as well as the ambiguity of the clues has been tantalizing. In the weeks since a new issue has come out, I have asked myself some questions and raised some conjectures, and lately, these have begun to point to one larger conclusion which I will work towards in this post.
What's The Pyg Deal?
The ambiguity of the story is highlighted by the fact that it remains hard to figure out exactly what was happening in the first scene. It's clear that Toad attempted to conduct a drug deal and got dominoes when he wanted money. But who were the other players?
Four parties were involved in the drug deal. Pyg is the supplier of the "contagious addiction" (henceforth, C.A.). Toad intended the deal to please Pyg, but clearly it did not: the Russians are punished by Pyg, who cites betrayal. Toad expected to be broken out, but ended up dead, and it's likely that Pyg's agents were on the way in to kill him, since he was working with the Russians whom Pyg blamed. Pyg, Toad, and the pair of Russians comprise three sides of the deal. We also know that El Penitente ends up planning an attack on Gotham to addict whole populations, which very likely matches Pyg's C.A. If El Penitente ends up with C.A., the simple question is: Did he have it all along, or did he acquire it in the deal? This reduces to a simpler question: Is Pyg an underling of El Penitente?
Most likely, yes. We learned way back in Batman #674 that Doctor Hurt sometimes "visits this world to destroy the good and make slaves". This happened to Flamingo, who works for El Penitente. And while Doctor Hurt used sci-fi levels of brainwashing to train the Replacement Batmen, we've been told that "something happens" to make Pyg, and the real-world psychology experiments of Harry Harlow are obviously the model. Almost certainly El Penitente made Pyg and has had him under his control the whole time. And just as the Black Glove skinned and wore a face back in Batman #667, and Flamingo peels and eats them now, Pyg likes to put new, and not better, ones on people. Pyg looks like he came out of a different room in the same factory that made Flamingo.
If El Penitente is the overlord and not the customer in the drug deal, this also simplifies our understanding of the actions of the Domino Killer, who has planted dominoes when Toad, Pyg, and Santos were each beaten. If they are all working for El Penitente, then we can posit a simple relationship: the Domino Killer is working against El Penitente. (Toad's death can be explained as punishment for a deal that Pyg didn't like or as punishment for being on Pyg's team. But Pyg can't be the one who planted a domino on Santos, and we don't need to conclude that Pyg's intentions towards Toad were what led to Toad's death.) In contrast, if El Penitente is the customer of the drug deal, then we have to explain why his forces left dominoes instead of money but then received dominoes in kind when Santos was slashed.
The simplest explanation is that a chain of command went from El Pentitente to Pyg to Toad to the Russians (who had never met Pyg according to Sasha's father). The Russians had been Pyg's customers, through Toad, for a while, but the operation had moved to Gotham only recently. El Penitente has also moved (in this alias, anyway) to Gotham just now and while he claims to do so for reasons of profit, it's really to do his devilish business and settle a score with Bruce Wayne's proxies. In like fashion, Doctor Hurt only pretended to be an entertainer of rich, evil people when he was actually their gleeful corruptor.
It remains to be seen who the customer of the drug deal was, but it was someone who likes to plant dominoes in unexpected places, and as long as there's only one of those, it points us to the Domino Killer. But who is that?
Domino, Face Down
I look back at my own comments, three months old, on the Domino Killer with interest. The clues seem to contradict themselves. We see dominoes being left in multiple places and no single agent could seemingly be capable of all of the acts. Damian has been near the scene every time dominoes have turned up, but under varying levels of duress. Moreover, the acts of violence that accompany the dominoes have been carried out by different agents. We know that Jason Todd slashed Santos, but he doesn't fit the interview clue about there being a "larger mystery", and his role seems to have ended with the second arc.
My theory of a radically passive role of the dominoes -- that perhaps Toad, Pyg, and Santos were already carrying dominoes as a kind of good luck charm -- has one big problem: The sequential countdown would be statistically unlikely if three men carrying dominoes were victimized by multiple uncoordinated attackers.
As I mentioned in an older post, the Domino Killer seems to have some sort of amazing ability, either of stealth, of power, or of prophecy. Before I say more, I'll move on to another entity who has, on close inspection, one surprising artifact in his grasp.
King of the Gravediggers
Oberon Sexton is a mystery in this story. He may or may not be the Domino Killer. The wording of the solicit for issue #10 has ambiguous syntax: "Plus, more on Oberon Sexton, the Domino Killer, and the menace of El Penitente's drug cartel!" The phrase "Domino Killer" may be the second item in a list of three or it may be an appositive equal in identity to Oberon Sexton.
For quite a while, I've been musing over a possibility that I have not seen elsewhere on the Internet. That is, what if Grant Morrison has done with this story what he did with Flex Mentallo and was suspected by some to have done with Batman, R.I.P., to insert himself into the story as the answer to a mystery?
Sexton is "king", and British, and a writer... of mysteries. His introduction to Dick Grayson indicates on the surface a genuine fondness for the hero. (The syntax resembles that first spoken by Bruce Wayne when he met Dick Grayson in Detective #38.) It has been pointed out that he seems to know that the Red Hood has been the identity of multiple villains in the past, which could be a tip-off that he knows what nobody but the Joker should know. But obviously, Grant Morrison would know that as well.
So while I've thought, for a few weeks, about the possibility of Sexton being Morrison, it has seemed like at best an off-kilter conjecture. There is "evidence" against it (Sexton is English and Morrison is Scottish) and it feels like perhaps Batman is too big of a character to have Fourth Wall stuff going on in his stories while Animal Man and Flex Mentallo are not. But on the other hand, Earth Prime stories have worked with the JLA and Superman in the mix.
Even more noteworthy, the appearance of Sexton in Batman and Robin #5 shows him on television with the caption on the left reading "Gotham This Morning With Mo G." There is zero probability that a writer who is called "G Mo" put the phrase "Mo G" into his story by coincidence. And there's a wonderful irony there if the panel is calling out the mystery character's identity, hidden by the fact that the caption seems to describe the host of the show. In fact, the caption on the other half of the screen tells us that Sexton is the author of "Masks of Evil", which describes succinctly Morrison's genre.
This explanation cuts through the Gordian knots of contradictions -- How could someone keep planting dominoes in scenes of violence right before Batman and Robin get there? How could they show up when the parties behind the violence (the Circus of the Strange, Batman and Robin, Jason Todd) have no coordinating force behind them? If the dominoes were pre-planted, how could the numerical countdown proceed? All quite easy for the writer of the story.
Maybe too easy. The explanation is so powerful, it could be applied to any mystery, and while it's always somehow right (didn't Agatha Christie really plan all her books' crimes?) it's always possible for Sexton to have any other identity, including the one I suggested before -- Mangrove Pierce, who works for reasons inside the story, but who as a no-name, could perhaps not be a powerful reveal.
If Morrison has written himself into the story, he has gotten to meet Batman (and who wouldn't?), and has been found out by the Devil, who is reaching outside the story to give his writer a call. Who more than the author of the narrative's facts would the Devil want to influence?
Finally, one seeming contradiction keyed on how the solicit for #1 said that a child had been kidnapped by the Domino Killer. We know that the story was altered from what that solicit pitched: Pyg kidnapped Sasha. But how could a plot in which the Domino Killer kidnapped Sasha be turned into one in which Pyg did? Pyg couldn't have planted the domino in Santos' hand -- Pyg was incarcerated. But if Morrison is the Domino Killer, then any act in the story could have been pinned on him and also had an in-story agent carrying it out. And since Sasha had to undergo the "Pyg treatment" to drive the rest of the story, the Domino Killer could not be behind her kidnapping and be other than Pyg unless he's somehow "meta" -- a word I used in pondering the Domino Killer three months ago without considering a Fourth Wall reveal.
I will regrettably be out of touch on the day the next issue of Batman and Robin is, after all of this time, released. Hopefully, I have put the long time between issues to good use, at last, in pitching this notion which is either a true scoop or at least putting some clues out there where the skilled commenters on this blog can craft them into something better.