Rikdad is on Twitter. Occasional updates to be found at:
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.
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!