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.


  1. My ideas related to dr. hurt and joker.
    Ra's al Ghul may not see himself as

    Evil, but he DOES see himself as a

    Demon. Possibly a "fallen angel", or a

    corrupted good man who plans to do

    good through bad methods. In fact,

    Ra's is a Doctor who gave up on his

    own humanity ... for the greater good

    of humanity. He hangs out in Pits.

    Total Demon allusions persist

    throughout Ra's' entire history.

    Joker doesn't go for all this "Good vs.

    Evil" nonsense. It has nothing to do

    with order vs. chaos. Law vs. crime.

    Sanity vs. madness. So apart from

    probably being the Domino Killer as

    revenge against Hurt for daring to call

    him a minion, and dumping hundreds of

    clues on Batman about who the Devil

    is (Red & Black - The Devil's Colors.

    The forked tongue. Loads more.) ... and

    betting on Batman ... and

    systematically murdering the Black

    Glove ... Joker has also used Pagan -

    Pre-Christian - trickster gods for

    aliases (Well, notably, Harley used the

    Algonquin trickster god Wisakedjak as

    HER alias, but it was part of Joker's

    plan). Anyway, now I believe he's

    masquerading as Oberon Sexton (King

    of Faeries = Pagan trickster). He

    doesn't like this new bastard taking up

    all of HIS Batman's time. Time that

    could be spent on Joker. He's very


  2. Anybody thought of this: dominoes were referred to as 'bones' by Dick & Alfred. Oberon Sexton = "gravedigger".

  3. Don't forget one thing: Whenever there was a Domino, Damian was present...

  4. @John: Yeah the Damian thing might be true if there indeed is a trigger for Damian, maybe Talia is controlling his son? #666 does refer him being engineered to kill and replace Batman.

    I still wish to believe Oberon Sexton is the Joker, yes i know you really can't black mail a lunatic like him, but lets remember Joker does recreate himself all the time, why can't he one day recreate himself as a good guy with actual morals and stuff?

    Ofcourse the observations that Oberon is Morrison seem to be pretty good, infact the theory is abit growing onto me but i do hope it's not going to be anything majorly 4th wall breaking stuff, i guess i just can't accept that in Batman comics lol, but hey better wait and see before judging. :)

  5. anders -- good point!

    John, true, except for Pearly's. But I don't think it's "terrifying" if Damian's planting them. He's not terrifying.

    Drazar, that's an interesting suggestion that the dominoes could be counting down to Damian's "Manchurian Candidate" moment, but the timing doesn't seem to work. He'll attack in issue #10 and the dominoes' secret is revealed in #12. It wouldn't be terrifying to say, "Oh, that's why that happened a couple of issues ago." Unless there's a bigger picture. Also, Talia could just send him a trigger in a letter -- he trusts her.

  6. Gautama, R'as is overtly devilish, artistically speaking, and so is the Joker. But Doctor Hurt is not either of them, and he's The (capital-T) Devil (capital-D).

  7. Nah Rikdad you misunderstood me. I'm saying Damian is unconsciously (spelling, sorry) placing the Dominos and he might be engineered by her own mother thru code languages, it's a far fetched thought tho for sure. Let's just wait and see what happens. :)

  8. It'd be tough to blackmail the Joker, but don't forget that the Joker worked with Hurt willingly (before he even knew the guy was supposedly the Devil ("fan of your work...")) previously. The Joker and Hurt didn't end on great terms, but they weren't at each other's throats either. Plus, don't underestimate the Joker's capacity to simply want to cause some chaos for a while. That's what he did in R.I.P. after all, even though he fully expected Bruce to pull out a victory. As far as the Joker-as-Oberon idea goes, I think the onus isn't on the Joker maybe not wanting to help Hurt again, for a while, for a kick--but rather it's HURT who would really display questionable judgment if he expected the Joker to help him again and stick to the script this time.

    BTW, just read issue 9. Nice issue, but few overt clues. There are a TON of half-hidden references and allusions to previous issues, though, so I'll look forward to reading what other people caught before rereading the issue myself and posting my own findings. On the first time thru, though, for me there were many phrases and images that seemed very familiar.

    Oh, and there was the semi-revelation that the Zombie Batman said about Damian's true nature, which must represent what Bruce himself knew before he was cloned.

  9. What if Oberon Sexton is Mangrove Pierce, and... Mangrove Pierce is one of the incarnations of Bruce Wayne (not knowing that)? That would make sense to me. Bruce Wayne bouncing on history and reborn as the late Mangrove Pierce, blamed by a crime he didn't commit, and looking for information (natural skills of detective).

  10. Roberto, OS could be Mangrove Pierce and also "the writer", but also, as you say, also Bruce Wayne. In fact, there would be one very ripe possibility along with that: It would also Bruce Wayne to meet his parents, because Pierce is at least several years older than Bruce. That's the kind of plot twist that Silver Age Superman was all about; I could see Morrison making a nice scene of it.

  11. Rik,

    I like the idea about the dominoes being a means of resurrection and it makes even more sense when you add the comment Sexton made about the corncob dollies.

    I think Morrison as Sexton is too much for a book of this magnitude. I also think that Morrison would be doing himself a disservice as a writer to pull that trick again. That kind of thing should only work once and yet he's already done it on multiple occasions. I hope he doesn't do it again.

    The Joker might very well be Sexton. You were saying that it wouldn't be likely that he would bow to El Penitente, but remember that the last time we saw the Joker, he was plummeting over the bridge due to Damian's awesome driving skills. For all we know, he has amnesia and has constructed this sort of Batman-like personality. I believe he has to know Bruce Wayne is Batman since Bruce unmasked himself right in front of the Joker in R.I.P. (though I like to think the Joker always knew who Batman was). And one of the people at the party where Oberon and Dick met said, of Oberon's origin, that it was one version they heard, or something to that effect. That's true of the Joker's origin as well.

    But I think it probably has to be Bruce Wayne. We know that he's coming back, but the question becomes how can he come back in a way that makes sense. Oberon Sexton is a good answer to that. If he's the latest Omega Sanction iteration, he could be considered to be a corncob dolly for Bruce, temporarily holding his spirit in our time so that it could be transferred to a biologically identical Bruce body (perhaps the crazy Batman clone?). Or he could already be Bruce in body and that's why he wears the mask. Regardless, "King of the Gravediggers" would be an appropriate title for a man who has lived (and died) countless lives. And as for taking orders from El Penitente, could it be that the devil himself is unaware of Bruce's travels and Bruce is playing him?

  12. I think if anyone's Morrison, it's Hurt. I mean, reading Batman 680, Hurt's set up a world of pain for Bruce, telling the Black Glove that they'll finally get to see the ruination of the proud spirit... and they respond by accusing the BZAE of not being the real Batman, and that they'd all bet on Batman winning anyway. Enjoying watching people suffering and betting on the outcome is pretty much what fiction is, with the author as the ringmaster.

  13. Once again, I have come late to the game.
    Is there any significance to the fact that the hat that Oberon Sexton is wearing is a Funeral Director's Top Hat?

  14. Feel free to delete these last two posts, but...

    OS is an "Amateur" detective? Much like Sexton Blake perhaps? And Blake’s first story was "The Missing Millionaire". Just a thought...

  15. MPG, I didn't know about Sexton Blake -- nice connection!