Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Batman and Robin #9

Evil Twin

The plot brought few surprises. Aside from Dick Grayson and three allies speeding back from the UK even faster than the Evil Clone, we knew what was coming: Batwoman, Alfred, and Damian survived. The clone lost, and seems not to have.

But sometimes the talking is where it's at, even though this issue had the series' best action scenes since #2.

Evil Clone, who had no onscreen speech in the last issue, did quite a bit of talking this time. To convey a Frankenstein-like slurring, Morrison used online chat conventions of improper spelling, but it was easily decoded. While quite un-Bruce-like in intent, the clone had his memories, but distorted, with the traumatic memory of its last few minutes in the lab layered on top. By telling us some things that only Bruce knew, the clone offered some interesting information, but, as has so often been the case in Morrison's work, with a lot of noise (the clone's imperfect mind) obscuring to some unknown extent the signal.

As the clone gradually loses a fight, first to Damian (and Alfred!), then to Dick, the Knight and Squire, and Batwoman, he offers the following choice bits of intelligence (some additional threatening and prattling redacted):

On himself: Blood. Tainted. Sour blood. ...  Something seriously wrong with my brain.

On the memories that were too much for the clones to take: Gunshots cracking inside my skull, day and night! ... And others, like me. Newborn, screaming, clawing pearls from their eyes. ... See her, her pearls spill down Broadway in the rain. Her heart stops and blood runs cold on Crime Alley.

So we know that the clones have something wrong with them, and there's the hint of a mystery there that was pending from their appearance in Last Rites: If they have Bruce's biology and his experiences, why did they fail? Why didn't they absorb his ability to take that psychological punishment and rebound?

Therein lies a metatextual essay that Morrison has been writing since "52". Morrison has repeatedly articulated with his stories and interviews that the darkness that Bruce experienced between 1988 and 2005 was "too much". He shows this in a montage in "52" #30, and the same scenes are repeated, almost exactly, in Last Rites leading up to the clones being overwhelmed. In the first case, it is Dick Grayson looking back, beginning the conclusion of his speech to Tim Drake with "In the end", the same qualifier the clone uses in this story. In the second case, it was Bruce deliberately piping memories to the clones, knowing that these particular memories were too much. And Morrison paid a delicate homage to the work of Steve Englehart, showing a one-panel flashback to Detective #474 (1977) as part of Simyan's effort to spare the clones; Mokkari congratulates Simyan for that choice. It's Morrison's compliment to a run which made very similar artistic choices to his own. But then, Bruce turns the narration back to the 1988-2005 period, and it does the clones in. But to give the Lump energy to rise and save the day, Bruce feeds him some memories from Morrison's run: the demon-cutting ritual, meeting Damian, and RIP. It's a small abstraction to say that Morrison grades the eras: 1939-1987 good; 1988-2005 bad; 2006 on, good. At least, if we mean good and bad for the man to experience; whether there is an intended comment on the readability of the comics, that's not implied. So the clones simply got what Bruce got, and it was, in Dick Grayson's explanation from "52", too much for one man to handle. In the author's view, the clones are where Bruce was going when Morrison took over.

On DamianI'm your father, Damian. Those tests proved what I feared most of all... You are here to replace me. They sent you to taint the bloodline, for all time. Damian, Demon's Head! In the end it was you. You were my biggest mistake.

As to Damian, we have perhaps gotten the answer as to the genetic testing first mentioned in Batman #677 -- Damian is Bruce's son, but there is something tainted. Something other than his mother being Talia? We don't know. But something tipped Bruce off what we were also told in #666, and know to be coming in the next few issues of this series: Talia intends for Damian to usurp the Wayne line for her plans of conquest. Somehow, Bruce knew this. we knew it, too. Dick is about to know it.

Upon taking a kick from Batwoman: Augghh. Kathy! How could she do this to me?

The clone mistakes Batwoman for Batwoman. That is, the one Bruce knew and loved, the yellow-suited brunette Kathy Kane (as opposed to the black-suited redhead Kate Kane; is that clear enough?).

On the verge of killing Damian: And I say, "What - what - does it take to stop the gunshots?" And city's big black voice reply "The sacrifice of a son."

Possibly the most important line of the issue: Because in #666, we found out that saving the city required the sacrifice of Damian's soul. The clone is speaking of a literal blood sacrifice, but given the looming importance of #666, there's no doubt that this is foreshadowing the deal with the Devil that is perhaps coming. It's clear that Bruce will be anguished by Damian making the deal. Perhaps that's what makes Damian say in #666 "Looks like I let him down again." The deal may be, though not the first, the most significant time.

To Dick Grayson, upon the clones's own decay, collapse (and death?): I'm what you... what you will be. Udd.

Another, more chilling foreshadowing of #666. The clone is dying and says that this is what Dick will be. There's no way the clone should know if Dick is soon to die unless it has something more than the clone's memories. Maybe King Coal was right, and it is The Beast. I should say that I think that Dick will probably cheat a coming brush with death, but the little hints and clues are making survival too tenuous to be sure of.

The Once and Future King

The first two mentions of pearls in this issue clearly refer to Martha Wayne's pearls falling when she was murdered. However, these and the third mention, in reference to Pearly, begs us to look at the character Pearly more closely. (And make me embarrassed that his motif alone wasn't enough to do so two issues back.)

Pearly's a criminal. His jailer calls him a nasty piece of work and horrible. And yet, he's the white king contrasted with black. Though it's tit-for-tat, he helps Dick Grayson without holding anything back. (At least it seems to be help before Evil Clone is the result.)

And so, we can wonder: Is Pearly really a good guy? In fact... if his name is thus bound to the late Mrs. Wayne, is he a figure of more significance? Could he even be an Omega Sanction home to Bruce Wayne?

We learn one more thing in this issue and given the writer's British roots, it may be significant: Pearly's name is Charlie English. He's a self-styled king. Was there ever a King Charles of England? Yes, there were two, father and son. King Charles I's reign was ended when he was executed during the English Civil War. After an interruption in the monarchy, during which there was no king, his son took over with the same name: King Charles II. The son was also called the Merrie Monarch. Does this father-son pair sound like any Final-Crisis-enduring Gothamites we know of? The pattern breaks when we note that Pearly's son is named Eddie; obviously, that's not Charlie II, but Eddie the Pearly Prince does have a profound resemblance to the classic Robin look, domino mask and all.

We always have to be cautious as to when a pattern is intended and when it really has something to it. I'd say, though, if this all weren't intended, it should have been, at least as a parallel if not a hint to something more about Pearly.

And if Pearly "is", in any sense Batman, who is his black opposite meant to represent? Well, I think that's someone we'll be seeing pretty soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Batman and Robin: OS and DK

Digging For Sexton

Having asked so many questions in my last post, I have yet to offer my own answers. Another issue of Batman and Robin comes out tomorrow, but it is a long way from the finale where the answers will come.

Although I asked sixteen questions, I think two get to the meat of the series; the rest are actually intended to help us find the answers to those two, which are:

1) Who is Oberon Sexton?
2) What is the deal with the dominoes?

When I was trying to piece together Grant Morrison's run on Batman, I read hundreds of comics to try to turn up every last lead. An example of how far I went is here.

In the last 23 hours, I read Morrison's entire run on Animal Man looking for insight on whether or not he is Oberon Sexton. I knew that Morrison put himself into that earlier series as a character, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. He also did so in Flex Mentallo, which I had read, and one of my favorites, Seven Soldiers, as well.

Although I've already offered a take on why I think Morrison could be Oberon Sexton and/or the Domino Killer, it seems that as more evidence is considered, the more it seems like it's the sort of thing Morrison has done in the past. Many good points and leading questions in the comments here suggest it, and the 26 issues of Animal Man back it up -- not just on the point that Morrison would do such a thing, but even in the fine details.

And yet, other leading suspects, like the Joker or the dispossessed spirit of Bruce Wayne can't be excluded. So I'll devote a section to each of those three, considering the pros and cons of the possibility of each as Oberon Sexton. Which leaves, of course, thousands of less-likely suspects as well as "He's just Oberon Sexton" left to consider.

Is Grant Morrison in the story?

As noted earlier: They are both British writers of mysteries. Oberon Sexton wrote a book called "Masks of Evil". A comment here from "Michael" noted that Sexton says that he will give the answer to the mystery of the Corn Dollies later: A Corn Dollie is a pagan symbol thought to hold the spirit of the grain after it has been harvested, a status that currently applies to Bruce Wayne. So, if Sexton is the one with the answer to that story, then Sexton is Grant Morrison.

When we see Sexton in his hotel room, it is littered with notes and he is interrupted by a phone call. This is much how the first scene with the writer (based on Grant Morrison) proceeds in Flex Mentallo. As noted earlier, the television appearance by Sexton has the name "Mo G." onscreen, and Morrison is frequently called "G. Mo".

El Penitente calls Sexton and demands that he help him with his plan. This implies that Sexton has some sort of unique ability, something that a hired thug couldn't contribute. But the writer of the story could do absolutely anything.

Given the domino theme in the plot (Pyg ruins Sasha; Sasha helps Red Hood; Red Hood goads Dick into reviving the Evil Clone; the Evil Clone's attack on Damian will help turn him against Dick), I have wondered if the monicker "Domino Killer" is to be taken in the sense of "one who kills many, one after the other, as dominoes toppling". And in Animal Man, there is explicit vilification of writers as killers in just that sense. In issue #19, a character says that writers "kill us in the billions". Grant Morrison, on-panel, says that he is an "evil mastermind" and "wicked puppeteer". Referring to Animal Man's origin in comics of the Sixties, Morrison says to the character "Someone else creates you... perfect and innocent and then I step in and spoil everything. It's a little bit Satanic, I suppose." "I wrote your grief and your rage... it added drama... by killing characters..." In Flex Mentallo, the writer based on Morrison (but not called such by name) is overtly the villain of the series, doing evil by writing the heroes' defeat.

In this sense, the writer is a "domino" killer, taking characters and killing them one after the other. For Morrison, of course, his biggest kill (in a sense) is Bruce Wayne himself. Other writers, like Crisis on Infinite Earth's Marv Wolfman, have "killed" billions or trillions. Precisely the sense in which a writer, like Sexton, would be called Oberon (the king) Sexton (of gravediggers). He's one of the ones controling the story who is being referred to in #6 when Jason Todd says "This world had other plans for me."

Likewise, the writer's omnipotence is perhaps required to explain some of what we saw. The placement of the dominoes has some mysteries behind it, and while those can be resolved in other ways, it could also be that it's the power of the writer making the improbable or impossible take place.

If El Penitente is making a demand of the writer of the series, what would it be? Maybe the dominoes that Pearly played were meant to foul up Dick Grayson's detective work. Maybe it's getting Dick Grayson to go wildly out of character to put the body into a Lazarus Pit. (Something he argued vehemently against in Nightwing #139, when Tim wanted to bring back his parents.) Maybe something yet to come.

In principle, there was something even more striking in Animal Man, a discovery that closes a loop that I would think someone must have closed before, but which I cannot find in its entirety anywhere in Google searches as of today: The yellow aliens who have power to see outside the story, the ones who made Animal Man, are the same aliens who Animal Man encountered in "52" #47 (an issue which coincidentally [?] showed Bruce undergoing Thögal). These aliens spoke not of the fourth wall but of teleportation in that issue, but they are the same ones, and their terminology ("Space B"), as others have noted copiously, was picked up by Bat-Mite in Batman #674 as part of the series of visions in which Batman remembered going through Thögal. What is significant is that Morrison has paved a trail leading to Batman from characters who have fourth wall awareness: the yellow aliens are aware that the comics are just a story; they share terminology with Bat-Mite; he is the bridge between Batman and "imagination".

To rest my case here, I can think of only two reasons to doubt that Morrison has put himself into the story: One, the point that is made by fourth wall reveals, he has already made in other stories. Two, Batman may be too big, and too mainstream to have something like this take place, whereas Animal Man had no audience save for those who enjoyed Morrison's postmodernism.

Is Oberon Sexton the Joker?

I have much less to say about this possibility: It's hard to disprove, and impossible to prove. The Joker feels like the guess most fans are making, and there is some evidence for it. Morrison said that he is doing something that he thinks is original with the Joker, and making him a detective would probably fit that bill. The Joker could easily have gotten rid of the real Sexton and used the 24/7 mask to cover his face. (Somehow, people in comic books rarely notice the voice of an imposter; probably because their words are typed.) As you can see in this (conveniently chosen) panel from Detective #168, Oberon Sexton's outfit is a very close match to what the Joker was wearing in his first appearance as the Red Hood. At least, in this panel -- in other panels, he was wearing a white shirt and a tie that happened to get blacked out in this panel. Note that Sexton wears red glasses, and you see that his look is a close adaptation from the look in this panel -- as close as you could expect without him wearing a Red Hood!

One piece of information that could be evidence or could be irrelevant: Sexton says that multiple criminals have gone by the name "Red Hood". Depending on which older story is in continuity, that may be privileged information that Sexton shouldn't have unless his identity is that of an insider like the Joker -- or, again, Morrison. But we simply don't know which old Red Hood stories, if any, are relevant. It would definitely be a juicy irony to have the Joker mentioning himself on television like that.

Two things counting against the Joker: Sexton is tracking the serial killer who killed Cardinal Maggi; it seems very likely that the Joker is the one who did that, and so there'd be no need to have notes in his own bedroom tracking himself. And, there's seemingly little sense in El Penitente trying to threaten the Joker -- that certainly wouldn't result in swift compliance. I feel that the possibility of the Joker being Oberon Sexton is far weaker than the case for Grant Morrison, but it's not discredited. The match in clothing is interesting, but is also of the kind of deliberate red herring Morrison has left in the past.

Is Oberon Sexton an Omega Sanction Life of Bruce Wayne?

If that headline makes you notice the double "O.S., you see one possible clue that Oberon Sexton is an amnesiac Bruce Wayne. Suppose, living a life unmarked by tragedy, he is still a detective at heart, but lacking in motivation, turns to write. And Bruce Wayne would naturally write very well. Then, when tragedy befalls him, with criminals killing his wife, he gains in his life as Oberon Sexton the motivation that Bruce Wayne acquired as a boy. Thus launching his investigation as a real detective.

I've noted earlier that Sexton's first line to Dick Grayson resembles an early (but not the very first) utterance from Bruce Wayne to Dick Grayson way back in Detective #38 (I wanted to make the reference to Detective #168 seem recent by comparison). It is Bruce Wayne's fifth speech panel to Dick where he says: "I guess you and I were victims of a similar trouble", whereas Sexton opens with "It seems we have a mutual interest in crime."

Morrison deliberately ran some very subtle red herrings regarding Doctor Hurt's identity, pointing us in at least five different directions. I think the fact that clues of this kind underlie Oberon Sexton set up an interesting reveal, but the bulk of the evidence, as I read it, points to Morrison himself. As others have noted, this could be something hinted at, and intended, but never openly revealed. We will just have to see.

Two Games of Dominoes

If Grant Morrison is not the Domino Killer, then my next guess is: Nobody. Those feel like two guesses going out on a limb given the nonconventional nature of both. But the case for no Domino Killer starts, first, with the observation that in four appearances of dominoes, nobody died! That certainly weakens the  case for "Killer" being an appropriate part of his name. Heck, the Riddler's killed people -- he's not the "Riddle Killer".

Aside from this, there is the seeming impossibility of the "calling card" use of the dominoes. Not only have they appeared in some tactically unlikely places, requiring the coordination of seemingly unrelated agents, amazingly showing up just when Batman does -- but also, the last single domino was found in the same moment that Jason Todd left a "Red Hood" calling card. Simply put, there's not much space for this to be a big reveal when we saw someone else killing far more people and leaving calling cards, and turning out to be the villain of just one story.

A potentially revealing slip is in the erroneous solicit for Batman and Robin #1, which reads in part that Batman and Robin's first mission is "investigating a child who's been abducted by the mysterious Domino Killer". It's obvious that nothing like that happened in issue #1. Instead, Dick found the domino in Toad's hand and then later presumed that that meant there was a Domino Killer. But imagine the story retooled so that the solicit for #1 were accurate. What would have to happen? The scene of Sasha's abduction (her apartment) would have to have had a dead body with a domino in the hand. And this would have happened early in or midway through #1 and led Dick to conclude that a Domino Killer had committed the deed and taken the girl. But we know (in fact, even the solicit for #2 admits) that Pyg took Sasha, and Pyg is not the Domino Killer. So what this tells us likely is: Dick's wrong. He's assuming that Jason's M.O. of leaving a calling card is someone else's M.O., but it isn't. The domino isn't being left with the body by the killer -- it was probably either in their hand already, or was planted by the writer to create a mystery. Suppose that the domino has a ritual or healing power. It was in Toad's left hand, and was perhaps in Santo's as well. They may have been praying for protection or healing -- some religions have artifacts that are supposed to be held in a particular hand while praying.

I'll add the observations of a poster named allysonsattic and a commenter here named Gautama -- perhaps Toad is dead, and wanted to die.  When the Russians said "Now we die", he looked ecstatic and said "Yes!" In The Wind In The Willows, the Toad character breaks out of imprisonment by playing sick. If the domino had a regenerative power, like the Lazarus Pits, that may have been his escape, turning losing into winning. Morrison has made death an escape for Mister Miracle as well -- and Graeme Greene has done so with his version of Toad. Maybe that's going on here. If so, then it explains why Santo would grab his domino upon being lethally assaulted (Jason Todd seemed to believe that he'd killed everyone in the room). Yet the same motivation is true even if they simply believe in a spiritual benefit to dying with the domino in one's hand, a sort of criminal rosary. Perhaps Pyg had one handy for the same purpose, if he weren't dripping the liquids from those test tubes out to make a deadly toy for spreading his virus.

In only hours, we'll have another chapter in the saga; the big picture has yet to come entirely into focus.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Batman and Robin: Questions

In my last post, I offered a baseline explanation for a large part of what's going on in this first year of Batman and Robin. I'd like to add to that explanation an additional observation about the likely role of the domino theme, on an artistic level.

The title of issue #1 is "The Domino Effect". That term refers to a chain of causality, as when a line of dominoes fall, with each one setting off the next one. That is how this story has been structured: Pyg's work turns an ordinary girl into Red Hood's sidekick. Red Hood's remark sends Dick to the UK where he accidentally resurrects an evil Batman clone. That clone goes to Gotham where his attack on Damian is likely to help lead to Damian battling Dick in the fourth arc. And if Doctor Hurt / El Penitente attacks Batman while Robin is already occupying his attention, the attack might succeed, resulting in the kinds of things we saw in Batman #666 -- an anguished Damian as Robin kneeling over the bloody Batman. Which might even lead to Damian selling his soul to the Devil to make up for the loss of Batman. Which would fulfill what El Penitente said in #6 (and Morrison said in interviews), that by beating Dick Grayson and Damian, Doctor Hurt would have thereby settled his score with Bruce Wayne.

That is likely the sense of "domino" intended outside the story, by the writer. But that leaves the explanation of what's going on inside the story, which still has some blanks to fill. Here's where it gets interesting, and interactive: The rest of the story, broken down into multiple choice.

Who's Who

1) What is Oberon Sexton's secret?
1A) He is really Mangrove Pierce
1B) He is really the Joker
1C) He is the last life that Bruce Wayne is living in the Omega Sanction
1D) He is Grant Morrison, who is writing the same story that he's in
1E) He has some superhuman ability

2) What is the Joker's role in this story?
2A) He is Oberon Sexton
2B) He is the killer of Cardinal Maggi whom Sexton is tracking
2C) He lent his circus from The Killing Joke to Professor Pyg
2D) Nothing we've seen yet; he'll arrive later

3) What is Bruce Wayne's role in this story so far?
3A) He is the soul inside Oberon Sexton
3B) He has arranged the appearance of the dominoes through actions from his past lives to communicate something to Dick Grayson
3C) He has not played a direct role

Suspicious Moves

4) Is Toad actually dead?
4A) Yes
4B) No

5) Was the antidote Dick found real, or a trick?
5A) Really an antidote to the contagious addiction
5B) "Meant to be found", and to trick him

6) Who was the recipient in the drug deal before #1?
6A) A representative of or friendly partner of El Penitente
6B) Someone who wants to work against El Penitente
6C) It doesn't matter

7) Why did Pyg says that Niko betrayed him?
7A) The entire deal run by Toad was not authorized by Pyg
7B) He expected cash, not dominoes
7C) Because Toad, Niko, and Lev failed by being captured
7D) No reason; he's crazy

The Dominoes

8) What is the physical nature of the dominoes?
8A) They are totally ordinary dominoes
8B) They can spread the contagious addiction
8C) They have a regenerative healing power for those who hold them
8D) They are something horrifying, such as human bone

9) Why are the single dominoes showing up?
9A) They are a calling card, brag, or a taunt, counting down to something bad
9B) They are going to spread the contagious infection
9C) They were talismans or instruments of healing for El Penitente's underlings
9D) Bruce Wayne is trying to tell Dick something
9E) They are symbols in a story by Oberon Sexton / Grant Morrison

10) How were the dominoes delivered?
10A) A metahuman snuck in with speed or invisibility, or teleported them
10B) Damian did it
10C) Multiple agents on-scene, like Tony Li, did it
10D) The writer, Grant Morrison, made them appear
10E) The people with dominoes had them the whole time

11) Given the planted dominoes, why did Pearly also have dominoes?
11A) No reason; coincidence
11B) Someone is spreading dominoes far and wide
11C) Someone made a point of planting them to confuse Dick into thinking they are part of the sequence, but they are not

12) Why is the secret of the dominoes "terrifying"?
12A) They are counting down to Dick's death
12B) They are counting down to massive numbers of deaths
12C) They are composed of human bone
12D) They are associated with the deaths of the Waynes or Graysons

I'm not even asking who the Domino Killer is! That's implicit in the answers to the other questions.


13) What did El Penitente ask of Oberon Sexton?
13A) To offer the results of his investigation to El Penitente
13B) To play a part in an upcoming attack on Dick
13C) To rewrite the story and thus plant Pearly's dominoes as a false clue in front of Dick
13D) To rewrite the story in a way that will attack Dick in an overwhelming fashion

14) Are the financial irregularities at Wayne Enterprises related to the main plot?
14A) It's a totally separate plot
14B) It's part of an attack by El Penitente
14C) It's part of an attack by Talia
14D) It's part of an attack by the Joker

15) How will the fourth arc tie into Batman #666?
15A) Dick will be the Batman who dies; Damian will deal with the Devil to bring him back or defend Gotham
15B) The clone will be the Batman who dies; Damian, not realizing that it's a clone, will deal with the Devil
15C) No Batman dies; Damian will deal with the Devil to save Gotham
15D) Damian doesn't actually deal with the Devil, but meets him

16) How will the fourth arc tie into Detective #235?
16A) We'll finally find out about the Waynes' involvement with the Black Glove
16B) Not at all
16C) We'll see some scenes that speak to this, but they will be ambiguous

I think it's safe to say that the answers to most of these questions would wrap up just about any remaining mystery. Now -- what are the answers? There were some very leading questions among the bunch. I don't think I see the whole picture yet, but I think many of the questions can be narrowed down to a much smaller range of possibilities than the full set I listed. Yet, there may be some correct answers I didn't list. I invite people to give their answers. I'll offer mine early next week. Of course, there'll be opportunities to revisit the questions after every remaining installment of the story.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Batman and Robin: Facts

An Announcement

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Q & A

A useful exercise in getting to the bottom of something is to list everything one knows and then the questions that fill in what one doesn't know. I have a draft in progress of about 14 key questions surrounding Grant Morrison's run on Batman and Robin, but before posting that, I'd like to list some observations. I won't take everything from the top, but will post in two sections: An encapsulation of major story points that seem to be relatively certain; and, a list of small observations that have not appeared on this blog (or in some cases, anywhere). A post later this weekend will pitch the questions that follow.


While much about the run is uncertain, each of the following seems to me to be fairly likely (although not completely certain):

El Penitente is an identity of the Devil on Earth; the same entity as Doctor Hurt.

Someone has been working to undermine the Black Glove, hunting down its members. Oberon Sexton is investigating those killings.

Several mid-level villains are working under El Penitente on some level. We saw how he makes pitches to existing villains in B&R #4. He also creates villains from good men, as happened with the three Gotham policemen who became Replacement Batmen. Flamingo and Pyg are two more examples. All of these involve psychology: brainwashing, conditioning, brain surgery.

El Penitente has a larger plan to attack Gotham as a form of revenge against Bruce Wayne. It involves a drug that will addict and ruin the entire population of the city.

Dick Grayson will face the most intense portion of El Penitente’s attack while also contending with Damian, who has been turned against Dick by Talia.

Small Details

I've collected some observations that seem to be new to the story (or are arranged in a new way). There are also some small questions, or ones that seem peripheral to the story. The big questions that frame the major points that we don't yet understand will appear in my next post.

The first point here is a mixture of observation and conjecture: In the drug deal that preceded #1, Dick finds dominoes in the trunk where Toad expected money. One explanation would be that Toad gave drugs to someone expecting there to be money in the trunk and was the victim of a bogus payment, with dominoes inside the trunk all the time. However, it would seem to be obvious to check the trunk before leaving the scene. Given the other tactical mysteries concerning the placement of dominoes, it is possible that Toad did verify that there was cash in the trunk, and the switcheroo happened ("magically") after he looked.

The cover of #2 shows an outstretched arm holding a domino, perhaps being offered to Batman. This resembles to a limited extent the hand of Toad, which is holding a domino. However, Toad (dead, or at least really sick) has his hand resting on the floor while the hand on the cover is clearly being held up, suggesting that it represents the placer of the dominoes, not a victim. The blue jacket and white sleeve almost resembles Toad's clothing, besides the color, and the fact that Toad's hand is much more amphibious than human. Moreover, the domino is in Toad's left hand (as is, seemingly, the one in Santo's hand), whereas the one on the cover is in a right hand. Pearly, who is helping Batman, uses his right hand. Is left (as in the hand we first see of the Evil Clone) a sign of evil, and right a sign of good?

Another out-of-story sign of dominoes at the end of #3 shows a black-gloved fingertip setting off a line of dominoes with a sequence going up (unlike the descending countdown in the story). This could match Jason Todd's costume, as it is accompanied by a caption for "Revenge of the Red Hood".

The phrase "Domino Killer" appears just once in the story, with Dick saying "Domino Killers" in #2, in apparent reference simply to the case of Toad.

The next point takes off on the suggestion of a poster on the DC Messageboards. allysonsattic suggested (without giving much reason for the suggestion) that Toad may actually be alive. There is some reason to believe this could be true: When Professor Pyg gives a soliloquy at the end of issue #3, he speaks through a slot in the door of his cell and says "Oink". After that, we see another "Oink" come from what seems to be a drawer in a morgue. This makes it seem that someone believed to be dead is actually alive. Of course, that is a major theme of the story given Bruce Wayne's non-death. But who is speaking from the morgue: Toad, or one of the Dollotrons? The Mr. Toad character in The Wind In The Willows fakes incapacitation in order to escape, and this Toad is clearly based on that one, down to the penchant for bad driving. But, if it is true, what would it mean? Dick notes that Toad doesn't show up in any existing database: Why did Morrison want to make that point explicit?

In the third placement of a solo domino, there is a tactical mystery: In a room where some highly skilled crimefighters are standing, a domino somehow gets into Santo's hand without Red Hood or anyone else seeming to approach him. The details in the story point to a very suspicious circumstance: There are six mob bosses in the room, and we see five of them hit with apparently lethal force from the Red Hood. However, in the next issue, Jim Gordon ticks off the names of the bosses who were found dead where Santo was found, and he only names four. The missing one appears to be Tony Li, who superficially resembles the Green Hornet or his Asian sidekick Kato. Is this a mere oversight on Grant Morrison's part -- or Jim Gordon's? When Dick Grayson finds Santo alive, he implies that none of the others in the room have survived. Note, moreover, that Tony Li was singled out by name before Batman and Robin entered the building, and it was he who had snipers posted nearby. But the snipers disappeared before the Red Hood's assault -- perhaps as the first victims of it. His organization is called the Neon Dragon Triad, which suggests either a strange dish at a Chinese restaurant or an evil version of the Christian Trinity. Finally, note that Tony Li was seated next to Santo's chair, in a position where he might most easily plant the domino before vanishing.

In the teaser at the end of #1, Doctor Hurt is holding two keys with a rectangle that says "WAYNE MANOR". This rectangle is about the size and shape of a domino; is it related to them? A separate observation about the keys: These are by no means the sort of keys that would be part of Wayne Manor's actual security in Bruce Wayne's adult life. Is that a bit of artistic license, or are those perhaps the keys from the era of Thomas and Martha?

The Pearly Prince seen in #7 looks like some past renditions of Robin. Does the Pearly royalty represent the good guys?

At the end of #8, the Evil Clone and Damian are at the top of a building and the "next issue" teaser at the end of the issue show Damian being thrown off. This is suggestive (save for a role reversal) of the dead Batman seen on the pavement in Batman #666. Will this fight end with the fulfillment of "the night Batman died", with the clone as the Batman who dies? With Damian uncertain who this is, might he sell his soul to bring the clone back to life?

Morrison says that the Joker's role in the story will be "an idea I don't think has been done before with him". Is he fighting crime? Given that the solicits for #11 and #12 mention the return of older villains, it seems highly likely that the Joker is the one referred to in one or both of the solicits. Dan Didio has said that it will be "a major moment when the Joker confronts the new Batman". It seems certain that those two issues will be packed with major moments.

The solicit for #12 refers to the "terrifying secret of the dominoes". For something to be terrifying in the usually-violent world of comics, that means either the potential for a massive number of victims, or a particularly gruesome violence done to anonymous victims, or harm threatened (or done) to characters we particularly care about (eg, Dick Grayson, the Waynes, the Graysons).

Morrison said that this chapter in his story would run through #16, with significant portions of the story wrapping up earlier, by #13. #16 should come out about the time that Return of Bruce Wayne #6 is sold. Does Bruce Wayne actually return before ROBW ends? Is the Batman seen on the cover of ROBW #6 a different one than "our" Batman? Is it the Earth Two Batman?

Those are some "small" points, as I see them. Next post: The big questions!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Batman and Robin #8: The Body

The Batbody

In W. W. Jacobs' story "The Monkey's Paw", an aging couple is given a magically-endowed preserved monkey's paw that bestows upon them three wishes. The story is a classic representation of the trope that magic may work great evil by granting the letter, but not the spirit of a wish. Their first wish, for money, is granted is the form of a cash settlement that comes due to their working-age son's death – a horrible outcome they vehemently rue. Their second wish is to bring the son back to life. This, too, goes badly as they hear the scuffle and banging at their door of what is surely a corrupted, evil version of their son. And so the third wish is to have the undead son go away.

Batman and Robin #8 gives Dick Grayson the experience of the second and third wishes. Going (arguably unforgivably out of character) against the advice he hammered upon Tim Drake in The Resurrection of R'as al-Ghul, he places the body from Bruce Wayne's crypt into a Lazarus Pit and finds, to no reader's surprise, that the choice was a mistake. Lazarus Pits have always been known to madden the subject, which would have perhaps been a sufficient explanation for the experience going badly, but a distinct and separate reason comes to bear here.

Batman and Robin #8 has a reveal, long teased inside and outside of stories, including in Geoff John's Blackest Night, that the body of Bruce Wayne, seen several times since his demise, was not really Bruce Wayne but one of the clones created by Mokkari in Final Crisis. The logistics of this have confused some readers, so I'll break it down here:

1) Mokkari uses DNA from the captive Bruce Wayne to create an army of clones. The clones are brought to maturity rapidly, in about a month, and in that time are speed-programmed with the memories and experiences of the real Batman, give or take a few tweaks. (This is exactly the plan Luthor used in creating a subservient Superman clone in Action Comics #500.) We see this in Batman #682.

2) Batman, unconscious and physically restrained, becomes aware of the process and fights the mental control of Mokkari's instrument of psychological control, the Lump, a character who puts others into his dreams. Batman eventually wins the confidence of the Lump and gets the otherwise immobile creature to rise and set him free. Batman #683.

3) Mokkari reports his failure to Darkseid. Final Crisis #5.

4) In a flashback that is not quite harmonious with the above, Darkseid tells Mokkari to save one of the dead clones, stating that he can use it, although he doesn't elaborate on how or why. Batman and Robin #8.

5) The real Batman confronts Darkseid and is beamed by the Omega Sanction into the past. Apparently, nothing whatsoever is left behind in the present, which is exactly how the Omega Effect is first portrayed in Forever People. Batman's fate, however, will be to live a series of futile lives, as seen in Grant Morrison's Mister Miracle miniseries. Final Crisis #6.

6) Superman finds the dead clone and assumes that it is Batman, since it is an identical copy of him down to the DNA. Confusing Superman may be the purpose for which Darkseid intended the clone, although the logic behind this is not clear. Darkseid intended to win his confrontation with Superman, and presumably did not plan on being shot by the real Batman, so it's hard to know how much of what unfolded was part of his plan or backup plans. Final Crisis #6.

7) The body is placed in a grave whose first in-story appearance is in Batman and Robin #1. It is subsequently seen in Blackest Night, with Black Hand removing the skull and using it to create Black Lantern rings and to animate, briefly, a  Black Lantern Batman. Blackest Night #0-6.

8) The clone's skull is recovered and reunited with the body (which was found by Dick and Damian in Blackest Night: Batman). It is placed in a crypt next seen in Batman and Robin #6. It is this body which is removed by Dick and taken to the Lazarus Pit.

Because the clone is insane, it must obviously be stopped. It has returned to Gotham, and its "plan" is uncertain, although it's about to engage in a violent clash with the wheelchair-bound Damian.

What next? Will the clone be killed? Will it roam free, unaccounted for? Will it be put into a cage and be used, eventually, to provide the body for Bruce Wayne's spirit upon his return? If it does die, does that fulfill one of the "death of Batman" scenes from Batman #666? And given that the next story arc seems to have Damian battle Dick Grayson, that makes for two Damian-vs-Batman stories in a row. With Bruce Wayne set to return, we will have three Batmen in just a few months. Morrison, of course, has filled his work with alternate versions of Batmen.

Kings and Madmen

Perhaps the more momentous scenes in this issue show us the machinations of Old King Coal. The issue opens with flashbacks showing how he captured the Pearly Prince and incapacitated Batwoman. Then, in step with the battle of the two Batmen, we see him trigger an explosion that accidentally settles the fight and his celebratory comments afterward.

Why is this character, alluded to but not seen in the previous issue, so interesting? His relationship with the Pearly King resurrects Morrison's use of games as a template for events in his story. We have a white king and a black king, and that immediately invokes the notion of chess. The black king has a black queen (off-camera) and also a number of black pawns, with (coincidentally?) eight of them seen in the panel where Eddie is captured.

Old King Coal's plan is to destroy London and rule a New Jerusalem from Newcastle (the center of a coal-bearing region of England). "New Jerusalem" is a term often used to describe the capital city of a new religious order to arise in the undefined future. William Blake's poem "And did those feet in ancient time" posited that England had a future and past with centrality to Christianity beyond what is historically recorded. Given Old King Coal's leanings, however, it's clear that it's not Christ but Antichrist as the central figure of his religion. Blake's poem mentions "dark satanic mills", commenting on the industrial problems of his time.

Coal refers to "the Beast", a name from the biblical Book of Revelations, which also introduced the idea of a Christian New Jerusalem. He believed that sacrificing Batwoman would bring about the rising of the Beast from the Lazarus Pit. We have some reason to wonder if the evil Batman who arose is the partial fulfillment of Coal's belief.

The larger question: Is Coal directly tied to the larger evil that has been behind Morrison's entire run on Batman? His efforts are unquestionably similar to things we've seen before. Are they part of it? His henchmen wear face-covering masks, like those of Pyg's dollotrons (and in contrast to the Pearly Prince's Robin-style domino mask). He takes down Batwoman with an airborne narcotic, like the airborne drug of Pyg. He speaks on the phone (to his female companion, his "bleedin' Donna" as Pearly put it) of a "new age of crime" -- contrast El Penitente's underling Santos speaking of his boss's "new model of crime". Clearly everything about Coal's operation relates to El Penitente's evil master plan under the veil typical of Morrison's work, that many similar things coexist, leaving us to guess which are directly related.

It's also hard to read scenes about Coal's interest in "evil gods" juxtaposed with an appearance by Darkseid and not consider a possible relationship. Coal's men mention Mannheim, the head of Intergang who has always represented a tie between Darkseid and Earth. Meanwhile, the various stories of Greg Rucka over the past few years have spoken of the Crime Bible in connection to biblical events, including the figure Cain whose name is the same as that of Batwoman Kathy Kane (and Batman creator Bob Kane!). It has been conjectured that the evil of Doctor Hurt and Darkseid might be related. Clearly, they are similar. Are they intertwined? How high -- or how far over -- does this conspiracy go?

Even if Coal is simply a criminal whose inclinations lead toward religions of evil, the story is moving, in just four more issues, to a conclusion that scales up the hierarchy of evil to the devilish pinnacle. The solicit for #12 promises that the domino / Domino Killer plot will be revealed, with "the shocking truth behind" El Penitente (who is surely tied to if not identical to Doctor Hurt) coming, along with the "surprising return of a fanfavorite character" (certainly, the Joker would fit that bill). In giving Greg Rucka space to continue to work his evil-religion plot, it's unlikely that Batman and Robin will try to bite off the whole universe of evil in the next four issues (during which a lot of other stuff has to happen). But big things are coming.