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!


  1. I've been reading you blog for a while now. Great work, I must say.

    I just want to share a thought that had passed my mind some time ago. You wrote a blog post about connections between David Lynch's work and Morrison's Batman; Morrison himself has been namedropping Lynch in interviews regarding B&R. How deep does the inspiration go? Was Morrison giving us hints? It remains unknown.

    What's interesting is that an actual black glove appears in one of Lynch's films. In 'Wild At Heart' Lula tells Sailor about her cousin, named Dell - an eccentric character with problems in separating his fantasies from reality. One of his delusions dealed with mysterious men in black rubber gloves who used to follow him around and spy on him. Dell was certain that they are the ones behind this total conspiracy that people suffer from. He used to say that 'trust and the spirit of Christmas were destroyed by ideas being controlled by aliens wearing black gloves'. Seems quite similar to Bruce Wayne dealing with Black Glove's machinations.

    What's interesting is that Lula repeats her aunt's opinion that 'one day Dell would realise that the aliens wearing black gloves are him and him alone'. It is mirrored by bat-family members' worries about Bruce's psychic health. Did Batman imagine the conspiracy? Well, it's quite certain at that point of Morrison's run that he didn't - Black Glove and Dr Hurt exist. But what if somehow the big twist of this run would be Bruce being responsible for Black Glove? There are theories pointing to this, based on visual similarities between Batman and Hurt in the final scenes of RIP or recurring display of Batman's own black glove (Bat-clone rising from Lazarus Pit etc).

    To remain clear, I'm not trying to prove that Morrison took his Black Glove story from Lynch or that Batman's fate will play out just like cousin Dell's. Just some food for thought.

  2. Good post, i hope you don't use twitter too much because i frankly enjoy blogs/forums much more! ;)

    I can't have much to comment except i have a question infact, one you might answer: We've seen couple of covers for 4th Batman & Robin arc and we see the colors blue and yellow in the background for some reasons... We know Talia is getting an old villain of Dick Grayson to finish the job of killing Grayson, but who could this guy be? Is the blue and yellow a theme of the villain? Crazy Quilt has alot of colors.... But thats really far fetched so my question is: Know any villains with the colors blue and yellow? That are known to have fought Dick Grayson specfically.

    Ofcourse we could always joke the villain is Dr. Fate and Booster Gold haha. ;)

  3. Good post. Looking forward to having another entry to read this weekend--good to maintain excitement before getting the third B&R issue in five weeks on Wednesday!

    navras--That's a great connection! Wild at Heart is the only Lynch film that I haven't seen, and I've been looking for an excuse to buy the DVD.

    The only substantive thing I have to add is regarding Pyg at the end of issue 3. Maybe I've said this before, but I don't think that final panel on the page shows drawers in a morgue. Rather, that's just the outside of Pyg's jail cell. The perspective is from the outside of the building. The boxes aren't the size of morgue boxes--they're the size of rooms. The perspective is odd, and the only thing in the panel to give away the scale are the two building tops/antennae at the top. I do think that the panel is odd and that it LOOKS LIKE morgue drawers, but those are definitely cell boxes/rooms. The "oink" of the final panel comes from the back of Pyg's cell, out a window. In the previous panel he's starting out his door. If we could see into the room in the final panel, we would see Pyg's back. Maybe the "morgue/undead" theme is meant to be suggested, but I definitely don't think reincarnation or anything sneaky right on the narrative level is going on. If the third "oink" looked different, I might think differently.

    Regarding Pyg's lower-case "oink"s, it might be worth pointing how that in the Batman run the characters who spoke in lower case text were Bat-Might and the Joker.

  4. Another quick thought...

    What if we're being led to believe that there is an actual person - the Domino Killer - while in fact there isn't one? Maybe the Domino Killer is not somebody's alias, but rather a title, which can be passed to another person? Perhaps when such decision is made by some higher authority - in this case the figure who plotted everything, be it Dr Hurt, Grant Morrison, Bruce Wayne or whoever.

    Notice how throughout issues of B&R many domino-masked criminals appear: Tony Li (I assume that's him in the green ridlerresque mask; that would make him responsible for the domino piece found in B&R#4), Flamingo, Pearly Prince, Dr Hurt himself... Maybe next in line is none other than Damian, who will become the next Domino Killer by trying to kill Dick in 'Batman vs Robin' arc? All those 'Domino Killers' may even not be aware that they're being manipulated by some higher entity.

    Of course this theory is full of holes, as there are more domino-masked characters in Morrison run, not all of them criminals (like Squire). But I think that it's important to try and think outside the box that Morrison built for us, the hood that he put on our heads. As Dick said to Damian, 'hood can easily become a blindfold'. Maybe we all are just like Jason Todd - hooded/blindfolded - so we can't see our mistakes, searching for the answer, while it is just in front of us. That would be typical of Morrison:-)

  5. Rikdad, great posts but I just had a couple thoughts...
    Maybe you over looked this on purpose, but the solicit for 12 also said the return of a fan favorite character... could be joker, but I also thought it would be Bruce Wayne but that would be to early unless B&R was out of the continuity... I'm also guessing the domino killer is going to be someone we've seen a fair amount, but not a main character. Talia and the league of assasins marked Dr Hurt for death so maybe she figure out he was el penitente and thats why she is killing members of his orginization... also though, drazar, I'm guessing the villain of Dick's will be someone from his days as nightwing so readers will recognize this villain immediately.

    Also Rikdad, I noticed you haven't written about detective comics, red robin, or the main batman series anytime recently

  6. Oh one thing I forogt to add is, where is that image of Hurt taken from, it's RIP isn't it?

  7. One last thing... Morrison, I think him, should do a joker origin story. Not much of Joker's past has ever been revealed, and somehow, it should be Joker telling it or Batman discovering the facts. After all he is the world's greatest detective. It's hard for me to believe Batman hasn't figured out more by now.

  8. navras -- great observation! I was just thinking about WAH, but I haven't seen it since it came out. Black gloves are always going to symbolize evil, but definitely everything Lynch is a possible influence on Morrison.

    Consider the Mayhew-Lamarr-Pierce love triangle: actors who play lovers have an affair in real life. I asked myself if I could think of a similar story outside of Morrison's Batman run, and the first thing that came to mind was Inland Empire! Another possibly direct influence... but it's hard in any of these cases to be sure. Although I think the TP finale -> Batman #680 case is hard to ignore.

  9. Drazar -- interesting comment about the colors. But aren't those just the colors of Batman's and Robin's capes? (Of course, Batman's cape is likely black, but comic book art uses blue to show the texture.)

  10. DAL, I suspect you are right; which is interesting given how hard I'd started to become entrenched on the idea that Toad wasn't really dead. I had thought that the "antenna" was a crack in the wall, but your interpretation of the artwork is well explained. I had assessed the similar font of the "oink"s as being caused by Pyg's influence on Toad, but of course, it is yet simpler to assume that it was Pyg himself talking.

    I still want to consider the possibility that Toad is alive, and I think there are other reasons to think that he might be, even with the "morgue" evidence taken out by your analysis. In short, the other single domino sightings (particularly with Santos) support the conjecture that the dominoes may provide a regenerative / healing effect vs. the purpose that Dick infers (the calling card of a killer).

    Navras, as you can see from my previous comment, I agree that there may be no Domino Killer. There may be no Domino killings! Or any sort of domino malevolence at all -- at least, vis a vis the people we saw with single dominoes.

  11. Mxylev, I did mention the solicit for #12, as a possible reference to the Joker (unless #11's solicit is a reference to the Joker).

    I am reading several titles (and/or care about several characters) that I haven't made the time to blog about, even in cases where I think they're wonderful. Basically, I have bigger limitations in terms of the time/energy to post than allows me to talk about all of the good (and wonderful!) stuff that's out there. I'm aiming more to focus on one thing well and move the focus around a bit -- I think Geoff John's run on GL has gotten the (distant) second most attention of mine, with my reading of 1938-1942 stories about third. I have a lot more to say than time to say it, so things like Wednesday Comics and Greg Rucka's great work with Batwoman just haven't gotten to the front of my queue. Likewise, some fantastic work didn't make my "top ten" list, and in some cases, that seriously pained me. There's just a lot of stuff worth talking about, and not so much time to do the talking. So for now, I'm keeping by far my main focus on Morrison's work on Batman.

    The image of Doctor Hurt is from Batman #680. For a long time I thought about making it my avatar in those places where I could, and it's now my Twitter avatar. The funny thing is, I had the image in my mind, but as it's fairly small in the story, I missed finding it the first time I went looking. But the image is perfect, IMO -- kudos, Tony Daniel!

  12. Yes, I too think it's still worth considering whether Toad is really dead, or whether he'll come back to life. Based on what happens with the character from Wind in the Willows, that possibility is still viable. WHY it would be worth bringing Toad back--for what story purpose--I'm not sure. Maybe just to make Dick look stupid, since in that case there would be no "killer"? I would think Morrison would have another, better reason, IF Toad is coming back.

    Lastly, to touch back on what we were saying about "mine"/"mine" under the previous post, it occurred to me that a mine is also a hole. ("There's a hole at the center of everything...", "I am the hole, Bruce...") Morrison's Batman certainly has a ton of literary merit, but for his sake I hope no psychoanalytic, hardcore Freudian critic ever gets ahold of it and starts diagnosing why the "hole" represents the greatest threat to Bruce Wayne!

  13. I'll throw out a weird idea. You said early in the post that someone is hunting black glove members. The Joker is being used differently than normal. What if he is hunting them down. I have to go back and read RIP, but from what I remember, he made some threat didn't he related to doing this? And hunting down people outside of Gotham is not his normal MO. He goes after Batman, not usually revenge. I'm waiting for the TPB so have not been reading the stories, just following along posts. So this could be way offbase.

  14. Steve, I'm not sure that having the Joker track down the Black Glove members would feel so original. He's certainly killed bad guys lots of times. Eg, in Infinite Crisis. He definitely threatened the Black Glove and when we first knew that Maggi was killed, at the end of RIP, it was already a strong possibility that the Joker had done it. Talia is also possible, but that would feel even less surprising.

  15. whoa, I totally forgot about the Talia swearing vengeance on the black glove part of RIP!!! This makes me think its likely NOT the Joker hunting Maggi.

  16. Rikdad, quick question (and forgive me if the answer is obvious, I'm at work and dont have my comics on hand), but why do you consistently refer to Toad's payment of dominos as not being what he expected? You have mentioned this before, and again in this post you say that Toad expected money to be in the truck of the car. I don't recall Toad ever stating or showing that he expected anything other than what he posessed. If I am correct, then he knew he was being paid in dominos, so the question should be; why do dominos have a monetary-like value to these characters?
    Please clarify.

  17. Gutter, the scene where Dick interrogates Toad has a very distinct logic behind it which I think went past just about every reader.

    Dick is interrogating Toad, so he wants to know something, right? Toad doesn't tell him where he's from or why he's in Gotham, but he says, in circus slang, that he wants his money. Dick drops him and indicates that that's all he wanted to know. So what did Dick want to know? A bit earlier, he asked Damian (rhetorically), "What kind of drug dealer gets paid in dominoes?" That was Dick's question. The answer was that Toad was expecting money.

    There might be a twist yet to come, but that's the logic of that scene: Dick took Toad's mention of money as an indication that Toad was expecting money.

    The truly great thing about the scene, unrelated, was Dick saying "Whupps" to scare Toad into thinking that he might drop him. That's one word you won't find Bruce Wayne saying.

  18. So what is it that he says in slang?

    (I'll be able to readit myself in a couple hours, just fif you are at your computer now to keep the convo going :-) )

  19. Toad says: "I'm telling you nanti [nothing]!" Which means that he intends to give no information. Then "Where's my dinari [money]!" Then Dick says "All I need to know." In other words, he told Dick what Dick wanted to know despite intending not to tell him anything.

  20. Ok, the translations of Dinari all indicate "money". However, I would be reluctant to rule out the meaning as being payment in general.

    The scene with Toad on the run, and when he gets out of the water with the suitcase, shows a fairly happy Toad (understandable as he believes he is escaping from Batman), but if he was not happy with the payment he had recieved I would not expect him to be very happy at all.

    Also, I recall a statement by Dick (I think) where he said "What sort of drug dealer pays in Dominos" (am I remembering that correctly?). Now, with Morrion's style (in FC and Batman) being that all statements are generally of the truth regardless of what practical knowledge the speaker could hold (an style also used by Kirby, in what little I have read of the Fourth World stories) we are lead to believe that the dominos were the payment, received and accepted.
    The dominos may hold a currency-like value within the world of El Penitente which Toad values.

    While I do not attempt to discredit your POV, I am just not convinced yet, although I do not rule out the possibility of your interpretation.

  21. Toad didn't see that there were dominoes in the suitcase unless he looked inside before the issue started. He was knocked out at the same time the suitcase opened.

    Of course, the dominoes may be payment, but Dick obviously thought otherwise. That's what he said "All I needed to know."

    The value of the dominoes (posited by others, to different degrees of illumination, and even posed in Dick's question) as "currency" is possible; if so, this could be one in a series of errors that Dick has made.

  22. A couple of thoughts after re-reading that first issue of B&R after work yesterday. Firstly, the issue of Dick holding Toad upside down. I believe the thing that Dick heard which satisfied his investigation was the circus slang in general, not that Toad’s mention of “Dinari” specifically. This is verified by this piece of information (circus slang) being the only piece that Dick is seen to use in his detective skills in the penthouse when he is attempting to track down the gang and eventually leads him to knowing about Pyg and his “Extreme Circus”. There is nothing that suggests that it is the reference to money that is the desired information, besides that it was stated prior to Dick’s comments. Money/Dinari is not mentioned again.

    Secondly, during the car chase the Russian uncle in the back seat of Toad’s car states that it was meant to be a “simple exchange”, which strongly suggests that their mission was one of delivery/pick up. Later, after the chase, Toad says to himself that he hopes Pyg will be happy and that he hopes this had all been worth it (exact quote escapes me). This indicates to me that the dominos, which were the only thing he salvaged from the wreckage, were an item he was set to deliver to Pyg and what he picked up in the “exchange”. This indicates that the transaction was not complete yet. So if money was what Toad was after, it is more likely to be what Pyg had promised him at the end of it all, Not what he believed to be in the suitcase.

    Sorry about all this, I just feel that there is too big of a jump in your logic that concludes that Toad believed there was money in the suitcase. Using my train of thought deepens the potential meaning behind the use of dominos within the story, as it now also has a value in transactions.

  23. Also, if this is the case, that the dominos had some level of importance to Pyg, I have a prediction as to what that may be/have been.
    In seeing the Domino in the cabinet with the "antidote", and knowing that Toad had a domino on his person, and assuming Pyg was wanting more dominos (as seen with the delivery from toad being of dominos), then are dominos part of the antidote that Pyg and others have for the contagion? is the antidote covering the dominos? Are the villians holding onto dominos in general because they dont want to be contaminated?
    It doesn't explain it completely, I know, especially once you move out of the first story arc.

  24. Gutter -- good, insightful comments. I think we're dealing in probabilities here -- it is somewhat difficult to be certain of an interpretation of the drug deal and its aftermath. However, there are more pieces of information than I (or, I think, anyone else) have laid out. For example, Jason tells us in #5 that Uncle Lev was one of the ones using the drugs to enslave prostitutes. If he's a regular buyer from Toad, then why is he in the car WITH Toad? Is this deal atypical of the norm? Or were Toad and the Russians dealing to some new outside party without Pyg's permission?

    Jason also tells us (your comment about "all" (or rather, some fairly easily identifiable subsets) of dialogue being factual applies also to Jason saying that someone *sent* Pyg to get Sasha's father and Santo (in #4) saying that El Penitente *has been* operating in Gotham. These combine to tell us with little doubt that El Penitente is Pyg's boss, and Pyg is Toad's.

    I suspect that we'll find out that one element of the whole year's events is that El Penitente has been directing a specifically anti-Dick Grayson campaign (hence the circus motif).

    Thanks for the insightful comments -- particularly the notion of how often direct discourse is authoritative is something that is useful in breaking down Morrison's stories. He throws lots of curveballs, but I think the straight clues stand out quite a bit for us to identify them and figure out the story from them.