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.


  1. I love how theres so much fightning in Batman and Robin! Morrison truly demands the best from each artist for the fluid stunning combat for our eyes to enjoy. :D I just really hope we get to see some Tim Drake in the last arc from Morrison. It seems the guy is being left out, but hey we'll have our June comic info sooner or later to get some info on the 5th arc! :)

    But yeah Megacon is right now going and Dan Didio had some interesting things to say: :)

    He states how Dick being a Batman is important and Dick isn't changing who he is, while Morrison has his twists and interests going on. Not to mention incase this blog talk turns into "oh noes Didio Might kill off Dick!" lets remember that the Infinite Crisis thing had BOTH fan backlash BUT also creator-backlash from Johns, Waid and Morrison!

    What might happen with Damian selling a soul and a "Dead Batman" is that Damian is LED to believe Dick has died. After all we do know Devils/Satan do enjoy a good lie or two. ;) Or perhaps the death is more thematic with Dick throwing away the mantle and asking Bruce to be the Batman once more? Ah theres so many possibilities out there. :)

  2. This is really nice to read. Especially because I'll admit, most of the "timing" moments to me didn't seem like a strength but just luck. Falling through the trap door, for instance, wasn't something he planned, and he could only stop the lobotomy when he woke up.

    Which is not to say I didn't love the moments. But I like them more now thinking about it this way, almost in a thematic way? Especially what you say here, which I think really does use Dick well. He is still everything he always symbolized, the light to Batman's Dark. If Bruce is always followed by shadow (even going back centuries to an ancestor who dealt with demons) I could almost see somebody like Dick as a talisman for being..."blessed" might be the wrong word, but you know what I mean.

    Like the moment where Damian almost beheaded him really did stand out to me as really meaningful, that Dick not only wasn't beheaded but he wasn't hurt by the betrayal either. So he's spending the scene being at his best--asking if Damian's excited, being excited as the clues, rolling with everything, and then being saved from the sword.

    Kind of like the Road Runner. It's like the opposite of Bruce but just as effective--Bruce is always saying "I already knew you'd do that so I did this." Dick just steps aside--or whips out the paint to draw a tunnel on the side of the mountain so he can run through it.

    Damian's struggling without being either yet. If he makes a pact with the devil he'd have failed, imo.

  3. Drazar, thanks for the pointer! Cons have provided great insight in the past. Right now, Aquaman seems to be a hot topic!

  4. sistermagpie, I kept thinking much the same thing, that wins on last-second timing feel so un-real and unsustainable. A transatlantic trip gets him to the save with a second to go? But then again, Bruce's signature preparation is only infinitesimally more realistic. Batman basically had Google in his basement twenty years ago -- with essentially no employees.

    The Road Runner is a good way to think of Grayson. The one thing missing from #10 was Dick going against an enemy, and I already can't wait to see him in action again!. That's definitely going to be very soon.

  5. Good stuff, Rikdad.

    Off topic--and maybe someone has said this before--but thinking about Pyg's "dollies like dominoes" comment just now made me think about Oberon's "riddle of the corn dolly". Both Pyg and Oberon are thus connected to "dollies". What could this mean? Is there some connection (thematic, at least) between Pyg and Oberon? Not to pound the Joker-as-Oberon drum too hard, but similarities between Pyg and the Joker have been noted before--both use drugs, gas, have made mental slaves out of people, and hideout in circuses (note too that the Joker and DICK the former acrobat also have a circus-theme connection). Morrison himself in some recent interview compared his new creation Pyg to the Joker and said that hopefully the Alan Moore and Brian Bolland of the future will someday team up to write the "best comic ever" by focusing on Pyg.

  6. First Rikdad, since I think this is the first time I'm commenting, I'm a long time admirer of your insights.

    And on topic, I'm not so sure any Batman is going to die any time soon. Morrison did say the coming issues will tie into Batman #666, but Damian is only 10, at most 11, years old at this point. In Batman #666, Damian was fourteen when Batman died. Even if this is a part of Batman #666 that is connected to Morrison's Batman run in the present, and we don't know yet if this future Damian is a future that Morrison is building toward or a future similar to the one seen in New X-Men, I don't think a dead Batman is going to play into it. The satanic connections to the Wayne family in the past, and potentially in the future with Damian, however, I am expecting to learn more about.

  7. Kris, thanks!

    The most "economical" reading of the ambiguous evidence in #666 is that if one of the Batmen die when Damian's 14, that would be Bruce. Which leaves open what's going to happen now when he's ten to make #666 fit "considerably". The stakes of the deal, though, aren't to save a Batman, but Gotham. I think Dick's going to come out of this run perfectly healthy, but there may be a moment where Gotham's survival is in doubt. I think that's what El Penitente's angling for -- similar to the stakes in "Gothic".

  8. DAL, Pyg is yet another person referring to children's stories (among other things). A corn dollie, of course, is not for play.

    King Coal, too, used an airborne narcotic. I think what's coming is way bigger, though -- "addiction you can catch" has already been on the table since issue #3. Something much closer to Whisper's and Joker's visions of a holocaust has to be lurking.

  9. Hey Rikdad, first time commenting here. I've always enjoyed reading your thoughts on Batman or anything Morrison related. Really awesome stuff man. Really, keep it up.

    Anyway, after reading this particular post I hadn't realized how significant Dick's timing was until you put all the pieces together as well as how much Dick's "child at heart" personality shines through when he's Batman. I agree, I hope Dr. Hurt does try to break Dick just so he can realize that Dick isn't just a cop-out of Bruce, but someone entirely different. :D

    On a side not, I enjoy how issue #10 Damien's finally realizing what it means to be Batman and Robin. Also Alan Wayne tombstone, any Idea who he is? That name seemed to important to just pass up.

  10. I am happy to see the timing stuff and the connection to his acrobatics get its own post! Am I allowed to feel just a little bit proud of myself? :). The timing is evident not just in the writing or the "luck", but also in many other action sequences (his romp through London with Squire), in the double punches, etc. I choose to see it as Dick being a natural at the superhero gig, effortless, rather than him having dumb luck. And Morrison has said something along those lines in interviews. For me the timing, as I noted before, is essential to Dick's style because he is an acrobat. Those two things are intimately connected. Trapeze acts are all in the timing. You either time it perfectly or you fall (fail?).

    And I think another theme that Morrison is working on is that Bruce always knew he could count on him as a partner because of his timing and that Damian is learning that now. In a way Dick is the perfect partner for these two both because of his natural ability and his "looseness".

    For what it's worth, given Batman's comment about always being able to count on Nightwing, at the end of RIP, I always interpreted Dick being captured and taken to Arkham as not luck, but part of the plan, to be there for Bruce when he needed it most.

    On the other hand, the theme can be taken too far. One of the few things I have not liked about Morrison's BR run (and the majority of Tim Drake fans, at least on the internet) is shoehorning in that Dick is somehow not smart. Of course that has been a staple of Dick's portrayal from Denny O'Neil to Chuck Dixon and others. It always seemed like regression compared to NTT days (i.e. not good with numbers, etc.). Partly is just the fact that there are different eras of fans and of different ages. Nonetheless it would be nice if the fact that Dick is/was a great planner/strategist/detective was not continuously ignored except by a few writers. Besides the always quoted "Who is Donna Troy", Year 3, even parts of the Judas Contract or the Brother Blood sagas showed the character in a great light.

    All in all however, I love Morrison's portrayal of Dick Grayson and I think he has made this incarnation of Batman extremely interesting and successful. Not taking anything away from Bruce of course. But this partnership Dick/Damian is just pure fun to read.

    And now... for something completely different. I've been thinking that mutatis mutandis one could look at the RIP run as the first part of Faust and BR as the second part.

  11. Andre - would have to agree with you there. The Alan Wayne gravestone definitely seemed to be deliberate, rather than a random, throw away name.

    As with the rest of you, I have thoroughly enjoyed Dick's tenure as Batman, and like how Damien is starting to realise how good he actually is in the role.

    The idea of timing is interesting - could it be that timing is what Damien lacks, and something bad happens as a result? The death of a friend that Babs referred to in 666? I'm sure someone else has made this point, so credit to them, but its interesting.

    I'm still thinking it through about Oberon Sexton. The further we go down the rabbit hole, the less likely it seems that it will be GM, which suits me, as I didn't think it would work in a Batman book.

    Either way, this book is really hotting up - just a shame that we have to wait 4 weeks till the next one.

  12. maybe more adequately BR and ROBW together as part II

  13. ehepd: Well there's time-traveling in ROBW, and there was certainly time-traveling in Faust Part II. The main character was thought lost at the end of Part I, and Bruce disappeared after RIP/FC. Faust sold his soul in Part I, though, and Damian isn't going to get to that point for a while. I don't really think Bruce's decision to become Batman was any sort of "Faustian bargain", though, despite the devilish overtones of the costume. Alfred, however, says that "bargains were struck" by the original Thomas Wayne's sect. I think the Faust comparison is interesting, but I don't think Morrison intended it or built off it (not that authorial intention matters, though, if what you can dig up using the comparison is interesting in its own right).

    Rikdad, yes I see the differences between the characters but was noting the similarities. Now, from the "dollie"/"corn doll" stuff I got to thinking about how corn dolls were used in pagan religions. Penitente & co. play on Christian motifs (and an almost Manichean good vs. evil setup), but Oberon has connotations to older, pre-Christian times and pagan themes (fairies, etc--spirits and gods that are not necessarily good OR evil). (A Native American "Bat"-tribe would be decidedly pagan as well, but this stuff could be easily "Christianized" if someone thought to equate Bat-daemon with Satan.)

    The wikipedia article on corn dolls also notes that in certain places long ago there was an edict not to make corn dolls "or set tables (for the house-elf, compare Puck) at night". Of course, Puck is in Midsummer Night's Dream, same as King Oberon, and I've noted before how the mischievous spite Puck ("Robin Goodfellow") is like the Robins, like the Joker, and like the Devil in various, differing ways. So the "riddle of the corn dolly" may have something to do with a Robin and/or a "Puck", not that there's necessarily a direct narrative connection ("Don't set the doll and cookies out for Robin!"). (Sorry for going off-topic this way again.)

  14. DAL, thanks for the reply and the thoughts. Mine was a pure flight of fancy, hence my qualifier. But here is what I was thinking: not necessarily authorial intention, rather more of an influence in Morrison's good/evil dichotomies grand narrative.

    I was thinking more along the lines of Bruce wanting complete knowledge of the criminal mind, of evil and hence letting himself be isolated by Hurt as the faustian bargain. And I was thinking of the ROBW coupled with Dick as Batman as Bruce's redemption, in the sense of accepting the limitations of knowledge and of reality, i.e. there are things that cannot be explained. Or perhaps the Faustian bargain was not made by Bruce, but rather prior ancestors as your quote points out, and Bruce is now during his time-travel redeeming ancestors.

    And for what it's worth there is a white/black/red symbolism in Faust and of course Oberon. I guess it was all the talk of demons and spirits that made me think along those lines.

  15. ehepd, you should definitely feel proud -- you've made scores of great observations here, and highlighted the "timing" citations first!

    Yes, the timing in London is also insane... his swing from a rope to her bike was awesome even by fictional standards (and well drawn by Cameron Stewart!).

    I'm behind on the Faust material; I've been reading The Invisibles recently looking for angles there.

  16. Thanks, André! I don't know who Alan Wayne is, but we never saw the name on the painting in position #7. I figure we've got several yet-unknown Waynes to find out about, and Alan's just one of the bunch... maybe the one from that painting... maybe not. How many can play a major role? Mordecai and both Thomases ought to. Probably not too many more... but we'll see!

  17. DAL, another thought on the "train" theme you mentioned on another thread:

    Morrison's made much use of underground trains in Seven Soldiers and (almost identically, so far as I've read) The Invisibles, and has this theme pop up in Final Crisis. That might tell us more about how he's going to use trains than anything yet in the Batman run.

    Of course, the Underground Railroad is extremely ripe with possibilities for discussing battles between good and evil.

  18. henryj, even the fact that Damian is spazzing into Manchurian Candidate outbursts is enough to set up some major regret. Even if he simply fails to help Dick (or "Batman"), it could make the difference in the coming confrontation.

  19. Rik, yeah I'm in the process of rereading Seven Soldiers now. From what I remember, Manhattan Guardian and Klarion are the relevant series for underground stuff.

    I'd also be interested in hearing what you think of the Invisibles. I was kind of underwhelmed when I read through it a few years ago. Not bad by any means--some great parts--but kind of...immature in a way, overall, in that Morrison's reach exceeded his grasp, I thought.

    More tangential Shakespeare connections: Oberon says that "good men will always find shovels to dig with". Puck is a "good man" in that he's "Robin GoodFELLOW". And the most famous "gravediggers" in all of literature are in Hamlet, which has been referred to repeatedly throughout Morrison's Batman run.

  20. Hey Rikdad, nice post.

    As usual I only seem to comment when I disagree with something you have said, but that’s not to say that’s all I think of your posts, that’s just all I can be bothered to post myself, lol.

    A comment on your statements of the attack on Dick and how he isn't being effected and how you view his jokes as an indication of this.
    I would not be so eager to go to this conclusion. Dick's jokes have increased with this current issue and I'm not sure that is accidental. Speaking as a Clinical Psychologist, I can say that making jokes and being light hearted of serious situations is a very common defence mechanism used to “cover up” anxiety, fear and psychological “weakness”. Now while I feel Morrison is being consistent with Dick’s characterisation with his light heartedness, that is not to say that Morrison doesn’t view Dick’s behaviour as having always been a defensive response to the horrors he has seen.

    If Black Glove/El Penetente is attacking Dick (which is something I very much agree with you on) then based on his attack on Bruce we have no reason to assume that the attack on Dick would be any less sophisticated and personal. I would not be surprised if Dick’s jokes increase in frequency and, if I am correct, I expect someone like Damien or Alfred to comment on the inappropriateness of one of his increasing jokes/comments in the near future (which is common for someone to do when their judgement becomes more clouded due to the stress).

    Overall, I say Dick’s jokes can be seen as more an indication that El Penetente’s attack IS being successful, opposed to it NOT being successful.

    In some way I hope I am wrong, because I enjoyed this last issue the most out of any of the B&R issues so far (more so than Quietly) and that was mainly due to the Dick and Damien interactions, along with the unfolding mystery. I would love for this just to be part of the “fun” of Dick being Batman and nothing more. However, based on how Morrison has unfolded his arc thus far, I feel that Everything needs to be taken as part of a greater whole with nothing being taken as “just how it is”.

  21. Also, in thinking more of this issue, if this turns out to be the case that Dick's jokes and light heartedness are his defense mechanism, then it would not be the first time Morrison explored the notion of defense mechanisms of the heroes of the Batman world. I forget who it was 9I think either Bat Mite or the Monk....i dont have the comics on hand ATM)but it was stated at one point that Batman was the defense mechanism of Bruce Wayne to cover the grief and trauma of his childhood.

    I like the idea of this aspect of teh heroes being explored, it makes there actions make alot more sense to me.

  22. Gutter, that's an interesting angle. It was front and center in the TV show M*A*S*H* for most of the run: The surgeons' joking was explicitly interpreted as a defense, and the material often drifted from comedy into bitterly ironic, clever but not funny, barbs. A canonical image I have is of Hawkeye ranting during surgery, making observations that were technically witty, but devoid of joy (or the laugh-track).

    That said, the things Dick has met up with in this run are much less shocking than seeing his dead parents reanimated in BN: Batman (what isn't!?). Why ever it is he's laughing, I think the key to how Morrison will play it will be Doctor Hurt miscalculating the hero's strong suit, and in this case -- I hope -- some scene where Dick is still laughing and joking at the moment that Hurt expects him to knuckle under.

    So far, aside from the double punches and his interrogations, we haven't really seen Dick laugh in a villain's face -- with the Evil Clone, it wouldn't have made sense, and with Jason, Dick was reaching out when they took him in -- then honestly enraged.

    Another element of Dick's distinctly non-Bruce-ness is the simple fact that he's not a Wayne, so all of this family tree stuff that might be ponderous for Bruce is orthogonal to Dick's identity. He's not going to be weirded out in the slightest by finding out that Bruce had an evil ancestor or six.

  23. One more thing about Dick vs Bruce. I think if Dick was more like Bruce he would be messed up mentally. Bruce was always paranoid and suspicious where Dick isn't as much so. If Dick was, he would probably have started speculating as to what was the deeper plot behind the attacks on him (pyg, jason, clone). If he was more like Bruce, he would be crazy, and that's the point. Hurt would try to break him, but Dick wouldn't take it as seriously as Bruce. In my opinion, Bruce was always crazy.

  24. Hi Rikdad,
    I must concur with GutterTreasure on the 'defence mechanism' thing...but upon closer seems to be a personality difference too...Dick IS more humorous and light-hearted by nature. I suspect he'd have been the same if his parents hadn't been killed.
    Peter Parker's a better candidate for a man covering his weaknesses with his gift of the gab.

    There was some research into cognitive styles over the decades which resulted in the creation of a dichotomy - chaotic versus ordered styles...
    Bruce is a typical 'ordered' thinker...with his plans, strategies and blah...Dick seems to be the quintessential 'chatoic' thinker.
    Based on the framework, it can be argued that Bruce and Dick are ideal partners for the most part, while their differences will clearly prevent them from working together beyond a point (apart from wanting to be his own man, Dick clearly would not be able to be 'himself' around a man who plans for unthinkable contingencies every waking minute and this would lead to some kinda estrangement).
    I am curious...what are Dick's worst fears?
    While Dick clearly won't give in and take things lying down if Hurt starts messing around with him...he also does not have Batman's relationship with fear...Bruce's resolve brought fear to The Devil's eyes (as you commented on the DC boards)...I se Dick frustrating El Penitente...but not frightening him the way Bruce did.
    As for the various elements of evil converging on Dick with a vengeance...well, something tells me he'll deal with them.

  25. Anand, I'd say in the past people have said that Dick's greatest fears would be losing the people he loves, though I'm not sure how Hurt would do that. Also, Blockbuster already did it. It seems like he would want to go for something more pychological. Oh wait, Dick also seems to be pretty afraid of failing--though maybe he's not so much afraid as hard on himself about failing. Letting people down would count as failing.

    I don't know whether Dick would strike fear into him or not...though just recently Knight specifically said that Dick *terrified* him when they were kids. He said: "You know I used to be absolutely terrified of you when you were Robin. This rough and raucous little demon boy, always somersaulting around, cracking weird jokes in some barely decipherable accent. I was right to think you were a bit bloody mental, wasn't I?"

    So there's a reference to Dick's jokes being connected to his being terrifying, along with his constant somersaulting. He's referred to as a "demon boy" in bold and he's also said to be mental. The difference being the type of mental, of course. Bruce is so controlled that he can tip over into obsessively mad. Dick's at home in the chaos. He may be wearing Batman grey and blue and black now, but his natural colors are circus brights and sequins with tinny music and three rings at once.

  26. Hello!
    Good blog!


  27. Just a few thoughts...

    Dick being a born performer/acrobat HAS to have perfect timing otherwise...SPLAT! His parents as well worked without a net which in part led to their demise but not directly so. That being said I would think their is a great deal of effort and preparation in Dick's work because without it the "timing" wouldn't be there.

    Off topic...I wonder if anymore will be read into the message Bruce left for Dick in regards to him not taking up the mantle and defending Gotham as Nightwing. Was that in an effort not to put the "spotlight" on Dick or more as a vote of confidence for the Nightwing persona.

    I'm probably in the minority here, let me 1st say I love the entire Morrison run, but I would have liked to have seen a Nightwing & Robin book and have seen Bruce's wishes play out with the boys as Gotham's protectors. My idea lacks Damian because I prefer Tim as Robin. However given the status quo I have always thought that Damian was the one not long for this world with the story playing out where Dick's own Robin was killed in action but given the importance placed on Batman #666 it's highly doubtful.


    Really cool interview, I'd recommend watching the whole thing but at a little before the 6 minute mark Morrison states something very interesting. When asked about killing off Batman he says that he may not literally be killing him off and that there are fates worse than death, namely coming back in some screwed up way. After reading that I thought about the theory that Dr. Hurt is actually Bruce who has been around since the dawn of man and is basically evil. Any thoughts on this? Also if no one has seen the recent DC solicitations, Morrison is returning to Batman with issue #700. That's 3 Batman books he'll be writing. Quite a surprise and pretty cool.