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.


  1. I haven't read this issue yet, but, we are assuming the Batman fighting with Damian on the covers is Dick. What if it is this clone from the pit?

  2. Damian is going to clash with the clone right now, with Damian out of costume. Presumably, however that ends, any scene showing Damian in costume is going to have to take place later, because the clone isn't going to wait for Damian to get dressed so their fight can proceed.

    The solicit for #10 shows Damian in costume and explicitly describes a conflict between Damian and Dick. So I think the answer is: #9 has Damian vs. the clone. #10 has Damian vs. Dick.

  3. Hi Rikdad, let me first say I enjoy reading your blogs — they are always very insightful and reminds me what I love most about comics, the debate involved. Just wanted to throw one idea into the mix, I believe Darkseid placed the dead clone body for Superman to find (all charred up) so it would appear he killed Batman with his Omega Blasts and thus Supes and the other superheroes wouldn't go looking for him as he goes through the Omega Sanction and never-ending stories. By doing this, Darkseid assures the Dark Knight will stay out of his way (as he assumes he will win Final Crisis).

    Just a thought.

  4. Rikdad,

    Nice post as always.

    "The larger question: Is Coal directly tied to the larger evil that has been behind Morrison's entire run on Batman?"

    A-ha! I was wondering if you would catch a clue in Coal's dialogue that strongly hints that he IS connected to Hurt. Right after he talks about how the "Beast'll be born" (itself an allusion to a Yeats poem mentioned in Batman #666), Coal says: "Divvent ye knaa there's a hole in EVERYTHING".

    So Coal knows about the "hole". In Batman #681, Hurt claimed to BE that "hole":

    "I am the HOLE in things, Bruce, the ENEMY, the piece that can NEVER FIT, there since the beginning."

    It's not a sure thing, but I think it's strongly, strongly hinted--to those of us aware of all these tiny textual correspondences, at least--that Coal is connected to Hurt.

    How do Darkseid, the other "bad [New] gods", and the Crime Bible stuff play into this? Personally, I think that's all kind of like window dressing that Morrison's just playing off rather elegantly. It's neat stuff, and it's all "evil", but I think Hurt is still at the top of the pyramid and will represent the sum total of all the antagonism directed against Bruce and his heirs.

    The other dialogue from this issue that really interested me were some tossed-off lines of Batwoman's: "What is it with these CRIME COVEN people and their stories for kids? [...] Like that but with a Satanic ninja twist." In story, this refers to Coal's gang with their apparent "Mary Poppins" motif, and also to the "Alice in Wonderland" motif of the villain that Kate fought last year in Detective Comics. I think it's ALSO a sly metatextual comment on comics writers: Superhero tales are "stories for kids", but so many comics writers (like Morrison himself, and Greg Rucka to name just one other) cross these stories with seedy criminal, if not straight-out "evil", trappings.

    So, hm, in a roundabout way Morrison is making an allusion to himself as an author having a "satanic" bent. He actually said this of himself before, in Animal Man #26, in which he appeared as a character. Talking to the title character about all the horrible things he did to him as an author/god, Morrison says: "Someone ELSE creates you to be perfect and innocent and then *I* step in and SPOIL everything. It's a little bit SATANIC, I suppose."

    All of this doesn't necessarily mean that Grant Morrison, in story, is the real Devil, trying to corrupt Bruce's soul. But it's a neat correspondence, at least.

  5. Rick -- Quite likely! This was mentioned on the DC Boards. However, it only makes sense as a backup plan. Darkseid didn't think there would be any heroes around to look for Batman, should his plan have worked. And he was the ruler of the Earth at the time this happened. So if this was to act as a decoy, then there was an implicit admission of the possibility of failure. Which is somewhat out of character, perhaps, for Darkseid.

  6. DAL, you caught me being sloppy there. I noticed the "hole" line when I read it, but didn't fit it into the post. There's also the hole in reality opened up when Darkseid falls.

    Other good observations on your part. I suspect that there is some more nuance lingering in the dialogue, and even the art. Despite the clone being the center of the action, the scenes with Coal had the feeling of being the more meaningful part of the story.

  7. Rikdad, was the word "hole" actually used in some instance when Darkseid's fall was mentioned? (I'm not encyclopedic when it comes to FC.) I always wondered why exactly Darkseid would have "fallen" if he had won the battle that supposedly took place in heaven before Final Crisis #1. If Darkseid fell through a "hole", though, then maybe in some sense Hurt was responsible.

    I absolutely agree that the scenes with Coal were more important. Good call on sussing out the chess motif with a white king and a black king with a queen and eight pawns. I would guess that was intentional on Morrison's part.

  8. P.S. Looked through some of my notes and see that in FC #5 Mister Miracle says: "A fallen DEVIL-GOD is dragging us down with him into a deep, dark hole in time, with no hope and no escape."

    Then in FC #6 Sonny Sumo recounts that through the Omega Effect he "stumbled through a hole in MY life, into HIS life. With the end of the world at my heels." I don't have the actual issues with me, so I don't know the whole context of all this, but I think it might be worth thinking about how Darkseid and Bruce now have fallen through "holes". Lastly, in FC #7 Nix Uotan talks about the "black hole at the base of creation" and says that's where "Darkseid fell through existence to his doom. Leaving Hell deserted." Hm.

  9. Heh interesting, all this talk but noone talking about the possible idea that Damian might kill the Bruce-Clone and thus another mystery from #666 is set in stone? :D

    PS. Rikdad, if i'm correct didn't this issue retcon small things from Final Crisis? Darkseid being in the base, the condition of the clones... was there something more too?

  10. I'm going to call that the woman on the end of King Coal's phone is the domino killer.

  11. DAL, also in FC #7, Darkseid says that there is a black hole where his heart should be. There are also places where spatial language implies a hole ("pit", "hold", "singularity"). Note that a singularity is, in terms of physics, the center of a literal black hole.

  12. Shiny Jim, I guess the key would be if it's also someone we know. If the big surprise reveal in #12 is a character that had never been seen, in any medium, until B&R #10 (at the earliest), that would be an underwhelming reveal. It seems to me as though the Domino Killer is going to have to be someone whose existence was at least dangled before us before a couple of sentences in the last two issues.

  13. Drazar, if Damian kills the clone, it could indeed serve as part of the #666 backstory, although Morrison had said that #666 would perhaps indicate how things go in the fourth arc of this series, not the third.

    There are definitely apparent contradictions between scenes in Darkseid's layer in Final Crisis and the flashback in B&R #8. They are not blatant contradictions because things we didn't see in FC could have happened before or during the things we did see. However, in tone, it feels very unlikely for the scenes to be consistent: Darkseid seems to be seated from the entire time that Turpin became Darkseid until Mokkari, et al, pass out (or die) incapacitated on the floor. They are still there when Batman enters Darkseid's chamber.

    So it looks unlikely for Darkseid to have stood up, gone to the Evil Factory, and then have returned to his chair. Not impossible, but it gives a very different impression from that in FC.

  14. I should add that in FC, Godfrey states that the Batman psycho-merge killed the clone army. In B&R #8, Mokkari states that he euthanized the clones. Back in Batman #683, Mokkari states that the psycho-merge is killing the clones and that he and Simyan can "save" the clones as cannon fodder. (Which would presumably mean alive, as substandard soldiers, not as dead bodies.) Then he and Simyan flee and seal the laboratory in haste.

    Really all three accounts seem to be inconsistent with one another. Batman #683 makes it seem as though the clones are stil alive, or dying without Mokkari's involvement. FC makes it seem as though Darkseid was in his chair until Superman arrived and indicates that Mokkari took the time to kill the clones. And B&R shows a scene consistent with neither of those. You can, again, imagine a busy scene in which the characters move around more to create all three of these scenes, but they feel inconsistent.

  15. I wonder how much will be wrapped up by issue 16 with Dr. Hurt coming back in 13 i presume. Looks like in September we will have the end of the return of bruce wayne and #16 come out, so we will see where we go from there.

  16. Just a few more quick things to note:

    Batwoman says that the "religion of sin" she's trailing dates "back to the DAWN OF TIME". So does that mean that we're going to see the start of this religion in the first issue of the Return of Bruce Wayne mini, since he could be considered back at the "dawn of time"?

    Batwoman was drugged and put in a coffin--repeat of what happened to Bruce at the start of #681. (I love these correspondences of history repeating!)

    Batwoman Kate Kane is dying in Dick's arms just like the original Batwoman was dying in Bruce's arms (see the flashback Morrison included somewhere in the "Last Rites" issues). (I love these correspondences of history repeating!)

    Lastly, is it worth thinking about how in some metaphorical sense Bruce could have "died" because he broke his rules (no guns and no killing) in order to fight Darkseid? We all know that Hurt cursed him at the end of 681, but Dick's reiteration in this issue that Bruce "NEVER fights to KILL!" makes me think back again to 655, 673 (to an extent), and the Joker's constant harping during RIP that Batman tried to kill him. Not saying this stuff necessarily foretells anything, but it's interesting that the insistence about how "Batman doesn't kill (or use guns)!" has reappeared again in the newest issue.

    About the supposed FC contradictions: Mokari (as shown in this issue) could have just TOLD Darkseid that he was "forced" to euthanize the replicas in order to seem more in control (rather than tell him that they started dying on their own).

  17. Rikdad, really like reading your stuff. You might be reluctant to do this but have you thought about getting a twitter account? These posts are great, but you could always throw short thoughts out there once in a while from whatever it is you're reading and what not. Plus it would be really interesting to see how many followers you get.

  18. Hey Rikdad i'm really sorry for posting this in this blog post, but here's a crazy theory on Return of Bruce Wayne... with a spice of buddhism and abit of hindu!

    Buddhism has 6 paths, and we all know they believe to be trapped in a wheel of life that they need to work from the outer rings to deeper and closer to the centre, so they reincarnate and possibly move along way closer to the finishing line. Specifcly the tibetins call it the wheel of time... Weren't they related to Batman's thogai thingy? I'm not so sure anyhow, anyhow moving along:

    Beings in Hell: the lowest and worst of the circles. Wracked by torture, characterized by aggression. <-- CAVEMAN Batman!

    Hungry ghosts: the realm of hungry spirits, characterized by craving and eternal starvation <-- Witch Hunter Batman fightning the witches!

    Animals: the realm of animals and livestock, characterized by stupidity and servitude <-- Pirate Batman. Now this is a stretch when real pirates we're rather democratic, but hey fictional stereotypes right? Sorta like how Witches work.

    Asura: the realm of jealousy, anger and constant war. The asura are demi-gods but like men, are both good and evil <-- Cowboy Batman

    Humans: the human realm! the enlightment is in their grasp, but they are too dedicated for their desires so they are nearly blind to the enlightment or so. <-- Private Inspector Batman.

    Deva: The final ring. they are god like beings with so much pride and satisfaction, but also sorrow. :( They are part of the celestial kingdom, and so forth... This is The Dark Knight Batman. The prep time Batman, this is Bruce in his final ring as his possible final reincarnation happens/has happened or so.

    So am i just a nutcase or am i onto something? If you got interested i'd recommend doing some research on the devas and the 6 paths of buddhism too. I'm sure you can read things better than me!

  19. CW, I actually just created a rikdad Twitter account, but so far my activity on it is absolutely zero. I Twitter in my "day job" and it's too much bother to switch back and forth on a regular basis. I may fire up Twitter activity at any time, but my workload is pretty heavy, so it might get relegated to nights, weekends... or not at all? Thanks for the comment!

  20. Drazar, funny enough that I was just looking at the Stations of the Cross looking for a way to shoehorn the domino clues into that when I saw your post. (14 stations and a domino countdown from 12 makes it seem like it doesn't work.)

    It seems to me that the Buddhism-ROBW parallels could be explained simply in terms of two forms of advancing timelines. Human civilization did progress from animalistic to "godlike", and Bruce's path as well as Buddhist attainment do also. You could take completely unrelated timelines (like biological evolution, or industrialization) and make loose parallels between any of these paradigms of advancing complexity.

    I like the idea of a connection, and Morrison definitely *would* do this kind of thing, but to see it for sure, we'll have to see the stories patch up the more nebulous connections. Otherwise, I'd say it's just a case of one thing advancing looking like another thing advancing.

  21. Few more things to think about:

    -The end of issue #8 of B&R is like a flipped version of the end of issue #656 (think I have my numbers right) of Batman. Where we once had cliffhanger where a vulnerable Bruce was brought before Damian wielding a sword, now we've got a cliffhanger where a vulnerable Damian is greeted by a menacing version of his father.

    -The whole "Is Damian a clone of Bruce?" thing is still somewhat unresolved. And remember when Tim questioned the legitimacy of Damian's descent back in #676? So we've got a genetically created adult clone of Bruce facing a boy who may have been cloned from Bruce. At the very least, we know that Damian was harvested in an artificial techno-womb, much as Darkseid's Bruce clones were.

    -This has been mentioned above, but I just wanted to underscore how Morrison is playing with the idea that, just as Kate Kane is pursued by evil because of her last name, Batman is also in a sense "descended" from Cain/Kane because of his creator's last name. Along with Hurt/the Devil claiming to be Bruce's father, this is the second time Morrison has played the "Bruce is descended from evil" card. So figuratively, Batman--the good guy who looks like a black devil--is said to hail from Cain and Satan. Of course, Morrison will probably not insist that such a descent is literal, but these are the themes being played with in the background.

  22. DAL, I was noticing a similar-scene instance last night: When Flamingo is fighting the two duos, Scarlet grabs his head from behind and is soon thrown off. This happens when Squire grabs Clone-Bruce as well.

    It's a good point that Damian's biology is still pending. Of course, when Tim got the non-answer, he responded "The son of Satan is my brother?"

    Cain/Kane (if you mean Bob Kane) is something that is already on the table without any writer's say-so; "Kane" happened to appear in one of the video camera shots when Bruce was zapped by Zur En Arrh, but it's hard to discriminate between the "homage" use of Kane and the sinister use. And the sinister homage use.

  23. I sensed a bit of sinister playfulness regarding Bob Kane when Batwoman said "What is it with these crime coven people and their obsession with stories for kids?" In addition to the in-story references, I take this to be Morrison making a meta comment on the nature of superhero comics and their creators (who are "a little bit satanic" according to Morrison in Animal Man #26). In other words, Bob Kane is metaphorically a one of "these crime coven people" (he's "Cain", after all) who created a story "for kids" (Batman) that took on a "satanic ninja twist". Just my reading of it.

    As far as Tim and Damian go, I think the themes are working their way towards questions of what the most legitimate heirship is. Tim is a Wayne, but not by birth. Damian has blood ties--but is he less legitimate because Bruce did not produce him of his own volition? Would a genetic clone be more or less legitimate an heir than a son would be? (And is Damian 100% Bruce DNA, or he is half Talia as well?) Also, there's Dick Grayson, who isn't a Wayne at all, but he's the ward, the first adopted son, and the guy who has actually taken over the mantle a few times now. Lastly, Jason Todd is the black sheep of the family, but he also brings some (legitimate?) grievances to bear on the family. Four Robins all with different relations to Bruce. Which one (probably either Damian or Tim) has the most legitimate RIGHT to Bruce's legacy, and how will this struggle come to a head? I think eventually we'll see another Tim vs. Damian fight to bookend Morrison's run.

    The warring Robins--with competing "rights" to Bruce's legacy--are mirrored a bit by the warring criminal factions. In B&R #8 King Coal says "And Pearly's nivvor gettin' his clarty paws on what's MINE by right." Pearly King is supposedly real royalty; he traces his blood back to King Arthur, even. But Coal also calls himself a King and says that HE has a "right" to what Pearly wants.

  24. I feel obliged to mention, although the ambiguity may have no meaning in the story, that there's something funny about King Coal calling a mine "mine". Even more so when he intended a "rite" to go on in the mine to say that it's "mine by right"!

  25. DAL, another instance of "kid's stories" -- the parrot in B&R #4 keeps repeating "Yabba doo time", a deliberately inane selection of lyrics from the Flintstones' theme song.

  26. Neat points. Regarding "mine", in the "Club of Heroes" arc the Musketeer says "There's GOLD in the mines of the underworld." We've often noted the times that the underground is alluded to in this run ("Batman in the Underworld", "Joe Chill in Hell", how Batman is like Hades, how Dick went underground three times last issue, how young Bruce fell into a bat cave). There's a definite undercurrent theme of value being "underground" (subconscious?), and of course value is something that people want to OWN, or make their OWN. Whether Morrison realizes it in this instance of not, the related "mine"/"mine" play on words is a definite feature of the English language. Coincidentally, in one of my own pieces of literary writing, I played on that homonymy myself recently. It's weird how Morrison's Batman is so suggestive of so many different meanings. I remember in one of the first posts of yours I ever read, you expressed how impressed you were that the deeper you looked into the run the more possibilities and meanings you saw. I forget the exact words you used to describe this vertiginous sensation, but you worded it very well.

    Don't know about anyone else, but I haven't read the preview for B&R #9 yet. I like to try to hold out and wait for the whole issues all at once.

  27. I was wondering what the significance beyond what's literally shown of Batwoman's death is. Does it mean that King coal got what he wanted, and also what's going to happen in detective comics?