Friday, March 26, 2010

Oberon Sexton: An Unusual Suspect

I have, admittedly, tossed out a few ideas about who Sexton is and haven't locked in on any that convince me. I've been pressing harder to try to work out the Sexton / Domino Killer situation, and am not quite ready to write it all up yet, but I wanted to post another idea for people to run with. Like "Mangrove Pierce", the new suspect I have in mind is an extremely minor character. One who, if revealed, would not be a big "WOW" moment, but an "ah". And I think that's possible -- not all reveals are "WOW". Lately, I have been coming at this "bottom up", and asked: What has Oberon Sexton actually done? And what, therefore, is his motive? And the main thing he has done is come to Gotham and told Batman that there is someone killing the Black Glove members. We don't know if he's good or bad, honest or dishonest, but we do know that he's not 100% honest, because he didn't tell Batman about the phone call from El Penitente. So, if he's not all good, all honest, and he's telling Batman that someone is killing the Black Glove members, what is his motive? Possibly that he's one of them, and he wants Batman to save his (Sexton's) own skin. One of the newspapers in Batman and Robin #10 said, "Sir Anthony: The Mystery Deepens". An English (like Sexton) member of the Black Glove, possibly the one who identified himself in Batman #681 as having made his fortune in electronics. (He uses the phrases "nonsense" and "dear lord" in RIP; those may or may not be more likely from the mouth of an Englishman than an American.) In Batman and Robin #10, Sir Anthony is referred to as a "media guy". In the next panel, Sexton uses the word "media".

There is no compelling evidence that this man is Sexton. But the motive actually works. Suppose a rich, powerful man running a media empire notices that after Jezebel Jet's disappearance, at least two other Black Glove members are killed. That would make three dead out of the five who were still alive at the end of RIP. He'd obviously have a reason to fear that he might be killed soon himself. So he goes underground under another man's identity (perhaps killing the real Sexton and his wife). Now, he thinks he's temporarily safe, but still has an unknown force out to get him. So immediately after the public reappearance of Batman in Gotham City, he goes to Gotham and tells the world, and then Batman personally, that someone is out to get the Black Glove members. To further make sure that Batman is motivated to get the killer, he adds that Bruce Wayne is the next target. He possibly knows that the old Batman was Bruce Wayne and that the new one would be extra-motivated to save him. Of course, being English, covering the real Sexton's voice would be easier. If he's a famous media magnate, that could explain why Dick finds something familiar about him.

Note that this theory is agnostic as to whether or not the "domino" motif has actually been used to decorate the bodies of the victims. Maybe it's true. Maybe Sexton is lying to make it more compelling that there is one killer out there that Batman has to stop. But if he's lying, then there needs to be an explanation for how the lie is linked to the dominoes appearing in Gotham, which are - perhaps - another issue.

This evidence is not proof that Sexton is the incredibly low-profile character who was only named in the last issue. But this is the only theory I've seen that actually explains Sexton's actions without any additional tricky explanations. (I.e.: If he's Bruce, why is he withholding information from Dick? If he's the Joker, why is he investigating one murder, Malenkov's, that he himself commited?)

But I'll add: Sexton has arrived at the Wayne Cemetery with a shovel nearby, and this is utterly inexplicable. We don't know what he's going to do with it, but dig up a grave seems like a good bet. And then we don't know what or why. This could immediately disqualify Sir Anthony if Sexton's got some sort of exceptional (or cosmic) knowledge about the former dead Waynes. If that's true, then perhaps he is the black-tophat wearing Baron Samedi, a loa of the dead in voodoo, something that freedumbdclxvi suggested on the DC Message Boards.

But until we see him step outside the natural (or the Fourth Wall, in the case of another conjecture: that he is Grant Morrison), Sir Anthony remains a top possibility for Sexton.

Mangrove Pierce is a similar suspect, but less obviously has something to gain from telling Batman about someone killing the Black Glove members: He's not one of them, and an actor likely never was because he just wouldn't be rich enough. So for the moment, I think Sir Anthony is a slightly stronger suspect.

This was just a short post on the thinking I've been doing about Oberon Sexton and the Domino Killer. More to come!

Update: Two additional observations that add some support to Oberon Sexton being Sir Anthony.

1) It has been observed that El Penitente says "Your sins have found you out" to Sexton over the phone, and this is a line that Doctor Hurt used previously. Assuming that Sir Anthony was the "electronics" member of the Black Glove, then he was actually one of the ones to whom the line was originally addressed.

2) Sexton says that the members of the Black Glove have either been murdered or have vanished without a trace. This indicates that there are cases in each of those two categories. We know that three of the five (Malenkov, al-Khidr, and Maggi) have been murdered and did not vanish without a trace. It is possible that Jezebel was never found, so she may be one who vanished without a trace. We can't pick apart Sexton's syntax with a fine-toothed comb and get any further than a guess, but it seems possible that he would not list the two outcomes (murdered, vanished) and link them unless more than one person were in each category. In other words, it is at least plausible and perhaps likely that Sir Anthony is one who vanished (perhaps in addition to Jezebel, or perhaps the only one). And the headline "The Mystery Deepens" is compatible with a disappearance. Though, admittedly, such spare information is all compatible, also, with Sir Anthony being actually dead with a body left behind. My point here is that it's quite plausible that Sir Anthony is missing, with no body, which supports the idea that his body is somewhere else -- namely, in "Oberon Sexton"'s clothing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Acrobat Batman

In his Batman run, Grant Morrison three times had other people quote Bruce Wayne saying "The victory lies in the preparation." (Wingman quoted that once, Damian -- not verbatim -- twice.) Then, as RIP drew to a finish, when we saw Bruce in two losing situations at once, it turned out that he'd already gotten out of them with a plan that was in action. (He'd switched cups with the monk; he'd taken a number of countermeasures against the Black Glove.)

Given this way Morrison handled the last Batman, with what similarities and contrasts is he handling the current one?

At the end of RIP, Nightwing's entrance into the final fight is greeted by Bruce with "Nightwing. Nicely timed. You never let me down, did you?" That was right after he had been one moment away from a lobotomy when he snapped the straps holding him down and blocked Le Bossu's pick which was en route to his forehead.

Dick's stint as Batman starts with shortcomings, the encounter in the police station going somewhat poorly in #2. Alfred's pep talk to Dick concludes with "Everyone's waiting for the hero to take the stage." And when he's next in action in #3, Dick arrives to save Damian at the moment that Pyg has a club hoisted in the air, ready to bring it down. This saves Damian's life.

Later, Dick and Damian get dressed in thirty seconds before the webcam in the Red Hood's headquarters activates. They storm Flamingo a moment before he would have shot Jason Todd.

As the Evil Clone Batman has flung Damian from the top of their penthouse, Dick arrives from a transatlantic crossing to catch him mid-air, announcing "With me, it's all in the timing." Explaining the rampage of the clone, he says "I don't like to plan. I work without a net. I'm not Bruce."

And now, in #10, he happens to fall through the rose trapdoor just as Damian's sword is about to lop off his head. (It may be that the taking of the sword is exactly what opened the trapdoor; Dick had told Damian to look for a mechanism.)

Timing isn't Dick's only distinctive trait. His gymnastic ability has been credited since his origin in Detective #38. He's also funnier (saying "Wupps!" when he's trying to convince Toad that he might be dropped) and wears his heart on his sleeve, asking Damian "Aren't you just a little bit excited?" This is a Dick Grayson who's hard not to love -- a ten-year-old who had fun being Robin, and is still having fun as Batman.

In a Newsarama interview coming at the beginning of Morrison's run, he bemoaned the "grimness" that Batman had gotten into and said that the need to get him out of it was "urgent". Anyone reading that in 2006 must have expected that somehow Bruce would end up less grim -- and maybe that's what's coming after The Return of Bruce Wayne -- but in the short run, he's accomplished it quite easily by making Dick Grayson the man behind the bat-mask.

But where are things going?

As noted in another post, Batman #666 shows a future without Dick Grayson, one in which Barbara Gordon blames Damian for the death of "a good friend". Grant Morrison has stated that #666 will "form the basis for the final three-issue arc of year one of Batman and Robin". The length of the first "year" has been padded out to sixteen issues, so we don't know which issues that corresponds to now, but definitely to some part of the next five issues. Morrison further said that #666 fits in with Batman and Robin "considerably". #666 moreover refers to Batman dying. Right now, Dick is Batman.

The pattern established by Morrison with Bruce ("preparation") is nothing short of a declaration that Dick's primary attribute ("timing") is going to carry the day in the climactic battle. Dick's other distinguishing attributes will probably shine through, too -- while Bruce was resolute, Dick's light-heartedness has to be part of the finale.

We also know that Hurt is back to try what he tried before. And so, given that Hurt's many attacks on Bruce tried to pry apart his psyche, it's worth looking at Batman and Robin in the same light: a sinister circus (Dick's boyhood gone wrong), Jason Todd (the boy Bruce chose to replace him), and a sinister version of Bruce himself -- in three story arcs, three nightmare versions of his life so far. And yet, Dick seems not even a sliver damaged by the experiences. Hurt tried to break Bruce and failed because Bruce is so strong. But if he's trying to break Dick Grayson, he'll fail even more surely because Dick's so loose. He's not only unbroken -- he's still cracking jokes. I hope we get to see Hurt try to break Dick -- it's only going to end up funny.

But timing is suddenly what's called for. While Dick's trying to decode the mysteries of Wayne Manor, a task that you would think might sit back and allow a superhero to be patient, all hell is breaking loose. Damian is no longer trustworthy. In the final pages of #10, the communication link with Alfred has failed. Talia is sending her "executioner" after Dick, and "starts calling in favors" with other villains to get him. El Penitente's attack squad has followed Oberon Sexton to the Wayne cemetery, which is suddenly, based on things Alfred is trying to tell Dick, full of added significance. The acrobat is going to have to start to perform now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bat Spirits

A lot has happened in the Morrison-Batman universe since Batman #680. But right before the ending of RIP, I posted to the DCMB on the possibility of a bat-spirit being the villain. I couldn't come down in favor of that, but I found some things to say in its defense, and some of those look more interesting now after Batman and Robin #10. While, needless to say, some suppositions are way past outdated. Here is that post, from November 10, 2008, in its entirety:

Throughout Morrison's run, there have been hints that the Black Glove is like Batman, or even is Batman:

1) In #656, the poster of a black fist is shown before and after panels that show Batman's own black-gloved fist in the same orientation.
2) In DC #0, in the very panel where Batman asks the Joker, "What are you trying to tell me?" there is a close-up of Batman's fist which is, of course, in a black glove. This begs the reader to at least consider the possibility that Batman is the Black Glove.
3) Also in DC #0, there is a panel where we see half of Batman's cape, curling up from the floor, and it looks a lot like the five grasping fingers of a black hand. A similar panel occurs in #657.
4) In #677, Jezebel outright suggests that the villain here is Bruce.
Note carefully: She suggests that the villain is Bruce, out to get Batman. (Which is the dynamic in "Untold Legend of the Batman".) Not the other way around.
5) In #680, when Batman says that he's after the Black Glove, and asks Bat-Mite "Who is the Black Glove?", the whole situation has the feel of an ironic reveal waiting. That could be any of a number of answers (eg, Jezebel), but one ironic answer would be that Batman is the Black Glove.

The discussion of the two identities of a superhero as different entities is sometimes hard to take seriously. When it's been suggested that the hero of the Batman book may be his own villain, we often say "Bruce/Batman" or something like that. But I think we can make a categorical distinction here. I think if there is a distinction (and the story seems to be yelling that at times), there's absolutely no way that Bruce is the villain. "Batman", however, just might possibly be.

I've had a feeling that there's a subplot that's been hinted at, that "Batman" could be something that wasn't in Bruce when he was born, but is something really distinct. Not just like, say, Michael Phelps' swimming ability (which came through some combination of natural talent plus practice), but that a major reveal of RIP might be that some identifiable spirit jumped into his body. Either in Crime Alley, or when he made the vow to avenge his parents (a few days later?), or on the night the bat crashed into the study. All of which have been shown in flashback panels.

Someone else suggested that Bruce, like Damian, may have made a deal with the Devil. I'll add some obvious extensions to that idea: Maybe Bruce has some bat-spirit in him that explains his incredible success. (The "miracle in Crime Alley.") Maybe the demon-cutting ritual in "52" rid him of it, and maybe that somehow unleashed RIP. Maybe the demon was angry the whole time it wanted to use Bruce to do evil, but he had corralled it to do good. Maybe when it left him, it went into Hurt and began the final steps of this plan against him. All of these ideas are circumstantially supported by the story.

On the one hand, this sounds radical, and I think a lot of readers would dislike it. I think the more conservative viewpoint is that Bruce was always a remarkable individual, with exceptional talents in every way, and that the murder focused that potential. And that ultimately, the story of Batman is less about the image and crimefighting and more about the almost perfect actualization of a human being. But that it is natural. Like many real-world cases of a person determined to achieve something, but with greater talent and greater determination.

However, I re-read Shaman today, and was struck first by the realization that every bit of the "radical" interpretation that I presented here is included in that story (LOTDK #1-5, Denny O'Neil). I also realized that Shaman and Gothic have a lot of structural similarity, even though Gothic must have been scripted before Shaman was (fully) published. The "spooky" points in Shaman are kept just barely ambiguous, however, whereas in Gothic they are in your face and undeniable.  (Incidentally, an evil Native American "bat god" is the subject of World's Finest #255, and it turns out that a "Batman" who serves the role of keeping the bat god contained has been wearing a costume like Bruce's for many years.)

"52" #30 ends with Bruce telling Tim "Batman is gone". I think the only ways to read that are:

a) Bruce is delusional, and nothing has happened except in his mind.
b) Somehow, this swordplay was a kind of very rapid psychotherapy.
c) The swords were metaphysical and some sort of actual demon was cut out.

We have been told that Batman in Final Crisis is Bruce Wayne but "not necessarily how you know him", for reasons depending upon the end of RIP. Maybe this means that we'll get a very definite reveal about Batman having always had a spirit component that will be removed at the end of RIP.  A less "spooky" result that would be more psychologically grounded but functionally equivalent would be if the personality change already seen in RIP is never reversed (although maybe he'll go on to be something other than the Batman of Zur En Arrh).

Oh, by the way, in Shaman, when Bruce has his final showdown with the bad guy, the last thing he says to him is "Rest in peace."

However, I have a harder time seeing this bat-spirit, if we do get such a reveal, being the villain of RIP. For one, it seems like Hurt has been operating during the same timeframe that Batman should have had any such evil spirit in him. At least, Hurt started preparing this plan long before the demon-cutting ritual.

I think it's quite likely that Hurt is revealed as some sort of body-inhabiting spirit (see Twin Peaks). So perhaps Bruce has been a host for another such spirit. Maybe the spirit in Hurt is allied with the one in Bruce. Or is out to get him, and has been since they knew each other in some past life. Maybe the spirit was once in Thomas Wayne, and because Thomas Wayne was a good man, it couldn't do the evil it wanted, until Joe Chill shot Thomas and liberated the spirit, which freed it up to jump into Hurt's body.

When it comes right down to it, there are myriad possible "spirit" plots, and I don't see how to guess the full details if that's the reveal we're going to get. As far as the final identity of the villain goes, if we are told that the spirit currently inhabiting Hurt is to be called "Batman", that seems like a pasted-on ending to me. Hurt with the batsuit has been called, on the last page of #677, "The first Batman". Now if it does turn out that a spirit was once in (or trying to get into) Thomas Wayne and has since taken hold in Simon Hurt, I don't see anything essential about it "being" the same "Batman" that has been in Bruce all these years. We could be told that, but it would really be an ending of its own purpose. And then we could be pointed back to those clues that I listed earlier as the "evidence" for that result.

To me, this would seem like a weak result, so while I think that we'll find out that Hurt is some sort of spirit (or demon, or Desaad, who is sort of like a demon) and that "Batman" is another sort, I don't think we'll find out that they are the same spirit. But I can't prove it either way. So I do not think it's likely that "Batman" is the Black Glove.

According to the story (a Bob Haney special), there were some descendents of an Indian tribe living in a small mid-west town called Dalton Corners.  Some of the descendents were worshippers of a Bat-God called Gitchka.

There was also a family (the Wainwrights) living in Dalton Corners who were descendents of a medicine man who had kept the evil bat-god in check.  Each generation of Wainrights would take up the ceremonial bat-costume and make sure Gitchka was never brought to life.

I was curious if this Wainwright-Batman ever appeared again in the DCU but I can't find any mention of him anywhere.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Batman and Robin 10

This story will be remembered decades from now. Infinite Crisis gave writers the ability to rewrite the history of characters, a freedom which has been utilized fairly sparingly over the past four years. Now, Grant Morrison is pulling back the curtain on a backstory that he has obviously had in mind for his entire run. In so doing, he's providing a backstory for the entire Wayne family, and at the same time weaving together a large number of thematically related stories that originally ran between the Fifties and the Nineties. The theme: That in Gotham's past, Devil worshippers summoned an evil that permeates the city to the present day, an evil that Batman must fight as perhaps the true focus of his war for justice.

The idea that the bat-symbol originated earlier in the Wayne family goes back to Detective #235. Well-known stories that have referenced occult religions or Native American demons tying together the bat-man image or the site of present-day Gotham include "Thou Shalt Have No Other Batman Before Me" in World's Finest #255 (1979), BatmanThe Cult (1988), Dark Knight Dark City (Batman #452-454, 1990) and Morrison's own Gothic (1990). Each of these stories shows some different group in the past summoning demons. Batman and Robin #10 has paid homage directly or indirectly to all of them, by showing the bat-symbol in artifacts from in the distant past, the rose as a symbol, the name of the Miagani tribe, and the demon name Barbatos (which is Latin for bearded, but has "bat" in it).

The issue weaves together three plots in a heightening circle of tension as Dick's investigation of clues in Wayne Manor, by itself something that would not ordinarily mean danger or suspense, is threatened by an attack from Damian, who is suffering some from of control from his mother, who is motivated as always by the greater power of the al-Ghuls, and an attack from El Penitente's agents, who have pursued Oberon Sexton to the grounds of Wayne Manor.

The history of the Waynes has at least two irregularities in it: First, a Thomas Wayne from the 1760s who prayed to Barbatos on a bat-symbol in the "hidden batcave" that Dick discovers. His portrait is missing for now, and we should not be surprised if it depicts Doctor Hurt when it is found. The preview image seen at the end of #1 shows Doctor Hurt with a very old-looking key to Wayne Manor, which is not plausibly from the time of Bruce's parents, but could easily be from the 1760s. We may see El Penitente show up with that key very soon. Given the longstanding references to Thomas Wayne as a possible identity for Doctor Hurt (Morrison said "Doctor Hurt/Thomas Wayne/The Devil" in a Newsarama interview), the elder Thomas seems to provide an "out" for Hurt to be the Devil living in the body of an older Thomas Wayne, but not Bruce's father. However, note that some of Hurt's claims were specific to being the Thomas Wayne whom we know to be Bruce's father, and these are either straight-out lies or indications that Hurt somehow inhabited the more recent Thomas Wayne's body, at least momentarily.

The second anomaly in the family gallery is a Mordecai Wayne who resembles Bruce exactly but doesn't fit with the geneology. That is likely an Omega Sanction past life of Bruce who managed to avoid wedding his own great-great-grandmother [insert several more "great"s]. We will presumbly get confirmation or denial of these things as the story moves on.

Simultaneously, and surely not coincidentally, while Dick finds a shrine to a demon in Wayne Manor, El Penitente phones Oberon Sexton again, and he references demons, calling his team of thugs "The 3rd Hierarchy". When the hit squad shows up a moment later, two demon names are used for three of them: Belial (referring to a platinum-blonde pair of punks, one left-handed, one right-handed) and Zepar. Belial has subtly entered the story before, being the demon who spoke the line from Paradise Lost that appeared on Jason Todd's calling cards. The demonology on all of these characters indicates that they are lesser-ranking (hence, 3rd hierarchy). It may be significant, though, that up until now, aside from being obviously evil, El Penitente references have paid homage to holy Christian (specifically, Catholic) terms, such as Santo=saint, and that continues here with the instructions to shoot Sexton in the four points to "cross" him. But the overtly evil references appear here for the first time.

In various ways, we get more hints, but very slight ones, to Oberon Sexton's identity. We'd only seen him in a total of three pages (plus one panel) before this issue, and the few but suggestive things we saw have led me on a broad and wishy-washy series of guesses. This time, we learn something definitive: He has shared the results of his investigation (honestly or not honestly) with Dick, but did not mention the significant fact that he'd received a call from El Penitente. In the second call, El Penitente is murderously irate that Sexton did not "strike at" Batman in their meeting. This would seem to mean that El Penitente thinks that Sexton is either powerful in some unnatural way or an excellent fighter, because an ordinary person would be wasting their time trying to strike at Batman.

Whoever Sexton might be, there is something left to be explained. If he is an Omega Sanction life of Bruce Wayne, then there must be some exceptional reason for his not telling Dick about the phone call. Moreover, he could have dealt with the hit squad physically instead of fleeing them.

If Sexton is the Joker, it's hard to identify his precise role. If he's trying, in Batman's absence, to "be good" (wearing black and red -- the chromatic opposites of his natural colors), there's some pending anomaly in that he's investigating murders known to be, at least in part, committed by himself. Either he's suffered a loss of memory or is deliberately playing a persona who doesn't know everything the Joker knows. It is interesting to note the similarity between the scenes in which the Joker first encounters Dick Grayson back in Batman #1 and the scene where Sexton comes upon Damian in the cemetery. While the intention is lethal in the first scene and amiable in the second, the stage direction is fairly similar between them. And, as noted earlier, posing as a figure of the law is not a new thing for the Joker, although playing the role for this long is.

Where do things go next? We know from interview comments that Talia is going to strike hard at Dick Grayson, drawing upon known DCU villains to attempt to finish him off. The "shovel" teaser from #9 did not show up in any way in #10, so it likely will in #11, with the "Gravedigger" plying his trade to find -- what -- some other clue? Some trapped spirit, good or evil?

It seems like a sure bet that the threat will at least top those of the earlier-cited stories, if it doesn't mirror them. In World's Finest #255, a bat-demon Gitchka rises to begin ruling the world, and easily fells Superman with its magic before the proper bat-costumed shaman defeats it.

In Dark Knight, Dark City (which incidentally involved a circus and a danse macabre),  the Riddler seeks, as others sought before him, to control a demon that will confer great power -- a demon which, by being trapped under the city throughout its history is the spirit of the city, and which helped make Batman. It turns out that the demon, the spirit of an actual bat, simply wished to be free, and directed the Riddler to set in motion the events that would lead to Batman freeing the spirit and that of a young woman who would have been a sacrificial killing centuries ago.

Meanwhile, in Gothic, it was Gotham Cathedral that housed centuries-old evil works, being built to focus spiritual energies which Mister Whisper, seeking a way to cheat in a deal with the Devil, planned to kill everyone in Gotham to offer their souls instead of his own. He opened a time capsule (called "a casket" in the story, like the box in Joshua Wayne's portrait), where, in 1760 (the time frame of the older Thomas Wayne), he placed plague virus, which the bell of the cathedral was to smash in modern times, making Gotham a city of death. The mechanism to begin this involves moonlight passing through a rose window (a rose appears in the middle of the bat-symbol that Dick falls through). Batman, of course, stops the virus from being released, and at the same time set to peace the spirit of another young sacrificed female from the past. (Gothic and Dark Knight, Dark City were printed almost simultaneously, overlapping in their cover dates during mid-1990.)

El Penitente's drug cartel must have something very big in their plans, more like Whisper's plague virus than the mere addiction spread to several Gothamites during the Professor Pyg arc. We will find out more about the devil worship that took place in Wayne Manor, and almost certainly find that the symbology of Batman goes back to these earlier, evil times. Bruce Wayne will battle related forces in the past in Return of Bruce Wayne, and Dick and Damian will have to unite to stop the evil plan in the present. And this should be where some of the events referred to in Batman #666 begin.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Batman and Robin 10 Preview

Just a few hours ago, DC placed a preview to Batman and Robin #10 on its website. A few short pages provided a wealth of clues about the main mystery of the entire 16-issue opening portion of Grant Morrison's run on the title. Damian stands mighty, instructing Wayne Enterprise's board on the nature of the finanical irregularities that have long been hinted at, a moment of "and a child shall lead them" of biblical proportions. Then Batman confers with Oberon Sexton, obtaining copious information about the Domino Killer -- but is the information true? True or false, this is a huge fraction of the entire Domino Killer plot in just a couple of pages. Enough to make it worth revisiting the questions that remain open in this story. I will also incorporate some observations from the rest of the series.

Damian tells the board that the irregularities stem from an excessive and growing amount of money that has been siphoned off into an fund, in the name of Thomas Wayne, for the victims of railroad accidents. That piece of information is tangled in a number of possible deceptions -- the thing of which we can be most sure is that the fund is not being used simply to aid the victims of railroad accidents. Damian says that its use goes back years, so it's not something that began after Bruce's disappearance. Is it the fund that has always funded Batman's activities, and is no longer being covered up by Bruce? It's a bit suspicious that Bruce would leave a detail like that unaddressed. Is it something that has been siphoned out of Wayne Enterprises for the Black Glove? It's also suspicious that something like that would have escaped Bruce's notice.

The conversation between Oberon Sexton and Batman is, on the surface, full of details. Up until this time, the story had presented dominoes to us on five occasions. After the second, when Toad was found dead with a domino in his hand, Dick listed the oddities he'd faced in the first two issues and included a mention of "domino killers". The plural there when only one body had been found can be explained as his exaggeration as he registers a general frustration with the elements around him. Or it may be a clue that there is, after all, more than one domino killer.

Sexton describes a larger pattern. We were told earlier that he is an "amateur detective" on the trail of "a globetrotting serial killer." Now he lists five or six other victims, including three members of the Black Glove as seen in the finale of Batman, R.I.P. He gives a timeline of "six months" for the murders and disappearances. Assuming that the faces match with the ones they seem to match with, they are:

1) Cardinal Maggi, a Black Glove member seen in RIP. The newspaper announcing his "gruesome slaying" has previously been shown in the possession of Le Bossu as well as in Sexton's hotel room.

2) al-Khidr, an oil sheihk, a Black Glove member seen in RIP. "Choked to death on peanuts and poison".

3) Malenkov, the Russian general, a Black Glove member seen in RIP. (The "soldier" in RIP had a uniform similar to, but not exactly matching, that of current Russian generals' dress uniforms.) We saw the Joker kill him. Sexton says that "they found his remains inside an alligator, with a domino pattern painted on its back."

4) Jezebel Jet, working for the Black Glove and seen in RIP, but not one of the five betting members. We saw Talia's man-bats attack her plane, which either led to her death or some other outcome of Talia's choosing.

5) "Sir Anthony", British, accompanied by the headline "The mystery deepens." His appearance is similar to that of a member of the Black Glove seen in RIP who said that he made his fortune in electronics -- the match here is uncertain. It could be that a man with the first name "Anthony" was knighted after making a fortune in electronics. So it could be that yet another of the five betting members has been slain, or the two men could be different. If so, then this is the only victim on Sexton's map who was not in RIP. Dick, looking at Sexton's evidence lists "a media guy". That could be "Sir Anthony".

The one betting member of the Black Glove not, perhaps, named is a short man wearing a cowboy hat who smokes a cigar and is the only one with absolutely no spoken words. It's possible that he is the "media guy" and is for some reason left off of the map (perhaps the case that brought Oberon Sexton "west"). In that case, it's possible that every evil wealthy person present in RIP has been accounted for as a victim in Sexton's report -- those six and exactly those six. If not, then either Sir Anthony or the "media guy" are a wealthy person who was not in RIP, hinting that they entered the organization as a replacement once the killings started. The only one with a domino clue described to us was Malenkov. Given that some have "vanished", there would not be the possibility of a domino clue with the bodies. it seems likely that dominoes showed up in other cases, too, or else the other cases are linked to Malenkov by the prominence of the victims and only he had the domino clue.

There are irregularities in Sexton's report:

a) He had been contacted by El Penitente and given a demand to do something. Perhaps this meeting with Batman was that demand. Either way, Sexton does not mention that phone call, and does not mention the folder on his bed with the likely image of Doctor Hurt / El Penitente -- an admittedly blurry shape like that of a man wearing the Thomas Wayne batmask with the upside-down pentagram underneath. That Sexton does not mention the phone call indicates that he is fearful of repercussions ("since the eyes and ears of El Penitente are everywhere") and thus is probably telling Batman exactly what El Penitente asked him to tell, give or take a possible sneaky clue that he might work in subtly.

b) Sexton ends with the comment "They can bury the truth as deeply as they like, Batman. But good men will always find shovels to dig with." The teaser images seen at the end of #9 include a shovel stuck into the ground by the gravestone formerly used to hold the body of "Bruce Wayne". Either Sexton's final comment is delivering Dick a clue which leads him to take a shovel to that gravesite or someone else places the shovel there. But Sexton does not purport to know that Wayne was "buried" there. So why would he have knowledge enough to leave such a clue? Note that burial is how the Black Glove tried to dispose of Batman.

c) We know that Malenkov was killed by the Joker, much the same way that we know that Santo was assaulted by Jason Todd, and Jezebel by Talia. While it may seem to Dick or Sexton that there is a killer carrying out a pattern, we know for absolute certain that there isn't a single killer following this pattern. We have no doubt whatsoever who killed Malenkov. The question is how his body ended up inside an alligator after the events of RIP, which should have ended with the general's body in the care of the authorities. It is equally unclear how Le Bossu managed to get free after RIP. He had a newspaper mentioning Cardinal Maggi's death. Is his escape related to the removal of Malenkov's body? The Black Glove had Gotham authorities working for them as of the end of RIP, they may have chosen to start working on their agenda immediately and accordingly placed the body in the alligator and let Le Bossu free. (Whereas Jezebel has to escape on her own.)

Moving on, we have the five appearances of dominoes in the story in Batman and Robin.

The drug deal that opens the first issue remains a tricky thing to understand; Gutter Treasure has posted some comments regarding what was going on. Given dialogue in other issues, we can say:

I) Sasha's uncle is one of the customers of Pyg who used the drug to enslave women for the mob. Jason tells us this in #5 and Dick refers to that setup in #3. But it seems odd for both sides of a drug deal to be fleeing in the same car with just one trunk. This may signify that while Toad usually sold to the Russians, in this case he was going somewhere with the Russians to make a sale to some other, and perhaps important, unknown character. If that character gave Toad and the Russians dominoes, that's highly suspicious whether they intended to receive dominoes or not, and I believe that Dick's dialogue probably indicates that they intended to receive cash and were surprised not to.

II) Sasha says that the people who make and trade these new drugs sent Pyg to kill her papa. Given the solicit for #10 that mentions "El Penitente's drug cartel", we can be rather certain that Pyg worked for El Penitente. The fact that Pyg, like Flamingo and the Replacement Batman, was made into a villain out of a good person through real or unreal psychology is further corroboration of that.

III) Santo unquestionably works for El Penitente and moreover indicates "just when we think we have Gotham in our grip" that Batman has returned (he mistakenly confuses the Red Hood's activities with Batman's). This indicates that El Penitente has not just now struck, but has been doing so for at least a short time already. A Morrison interview indicates that Doctor Hurt will be back to finish what he started and El Penitente's comment to Sexton that he has "unfinished business" in Gotham and "scores to settle" leaves us with no doubt that El Penitente is fundamentally Doctor Hurt.

And the upshot of this is that all five or six recipients of dominoes in Sexton's report to Batman are members of Doctor Hurt's Black Glove while all three who have dominoes in Gotham are working for El Penitente... and thus we have eight or nine people in all, all of whom were associated with the same Devilish master, who have been tied to the dominoes. In every case, the domino has been seen after the person failed or was defeated. But we know without a doubt, in at least two cases, that it was not the person who dealt the defeat who placed the domino, and the set of defeats have been doled out by no fewer than four characters: the Joker, Talia, Jason Todd, and Batman himself. Meanwhile, unless it is the Joker behind all of this, the placer of dominoes is not the one who brought about any of those defeats. Finally, the domino pattern on the alligator's back is not a physical domino at all, so that nixes the idea that some physical effect of the domino (poison, restorative, or spiritual) is crucial to what's going on.

It remains the case that the Joker would have had a hard time planting dominoes in these situations unless, perhaps, he posed as a policeman in the GCPD, and was dressed as Tony Li in the meeting of mobsters. Note that the very first time that Dick Grayson, as Robin, ran into the Joker, the Joker was disguised as a policeman.

Now, what information is being disclosed by Sexton to Dick, and why? Dick should know something about the Black Glove simply from Alfred. As I noted on the DC Message Boards, Lane told Batman the complete and undoctored truth in Batman #674 while doing what Doctor Hurt asked him to. The Devil's fond of lying, but will send others to tell the truth when it serves his purpose. Did Doctor Hurt want to spook Bruce with his encounter with Lane, and thereby had Lane tell Bruce the truth? Or did Morrison simply want to tell us what was going on, and left the issue of Doctor Hurt's control over that message undetermined?

All of the events in this run may be an elaborate overarching plan to attack Dick's psychology. The first villain he faced had a circus theme. The second was the Robin with whom Bruce replaced him (the psychological wound of this was a major focus of Nightwing: Year One). The third was a version of Bruce himself. Is this just high-drama storytelling, or is it a targeted attack on Dick's confidence? If it is, and El Penitente is pulling the strings, then how does Sexton's report fit in? It's clearly incomplete as it doesn't mention El Penitente. The idea of a killer killing rich people in other countries wouldn't spook Dick Grayson, but the mention of Bruce Wayne stands out. Up until the last panel of #9, Dick thought that Bruce was dead, and wouldn't be worried about an attack on him, for the logical fact that Bruce wasn't around to attack. But now he thinks Bruce is alive and somehow mysteriously absent after the events of Final Crisis. Bruce's silence is proof that his usually reliable ability to take care of himself has been interrupted. That he is alive gives Dick reason to worry. El Penitente wants Dick to hear that Bruce Wayne is the next target. He wants Dick to know that the wealthy people were being killed by someone leaving dominoes. This increases the likelihood that El Penitente is responsible for the dominoes being revealed in the first place. (We don't even know that any of the wealthy people who were murdered had dominoes with them -- that's only something that Sexton has said about Malenkov.) Of course, El Penitente knows that Dick knows who Bruce Wayne is. Sexton likely doesn't know that, unless he is playing coy in talking about Wayne in front of Grayson like that.

It seems less likely than before that Sexton is the Joker if he has been menaced into doing El Penitente's will. If he is the Joker and retains his memory, he would know that he killed Malenkov. If he is acting as a new personality due to some bump on the noggin as his ambulance was run off the bridge (ambulances are long, blocky, and white -- the first "domino" to fall?), the secret that El Penitente mentions in the phone call is one that Sexton himself doesn't know.

It's also less likely that Sexton is Bruce Wayne. If he is, then he's being used in a way over which Bruce Wayne should be able to prevail -- if not now, soon.

It remains the case that the pattern of attacks and clues would work with a fourth wall reveal, but there's nothing more backing that conclusion in these two pages. But then, there can only be so much in just two pages.