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 While, needless to say, some suppositions are way past outdated.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.


  1. Wainwright=Wayne Right?

    That amused me for some reason. Great work Rikdad. I enjoy these things as much for the digging into Batman lore as I do for their connections to Morrison's run.

    Say what you will about Morrison's Batman run, but it's really done it's damndest to get people interested in all of Batman's wacky history, not just the Frank Miller Batman we were stuck on for so long.

    It's really interesting to see these Alan Grant, Peter Milligan, and Denny O'Neal stories folding into the tapestry of what Morrison is doing.

  2. Mercurialblonde, good point -- I'm sorry that WAYNE-right slipped past me! Today's post was about just how very non-Frank Miller Batman has become (= Dick Grayson).

  3. If you can't enjoy Morrison's run whatsoever, do what i already told you. Drop the book, never look back and enjoy Paul Dini and other titles we're it's all about Batman againts the supertitisious criminals. Morrison was told to write a superhero Batman and whats what he is doing while making things from the past canon whenever its written by Denis O'Neill to Alan Grant to even Frank Miller.

    If you cannot enjoy the title whatsoever, you really should just drop it. I mean it doesn't seem to be worth the 2.99 dollars whatsoever.

  4. I think I stumbled on to something. In Batman and Robin #10, when the new bat-family is going through the portrait of the Wayne family, Alfred explains that a gap is from Thomas Wayne in the 1760's... because he was a devil worshiper. When Dick falls through to the secret cave, we see the word Barbatos (a duke of hell who led a group of devils) written over the name Thomas.

    What if Dr. Hurt/Black Glove/the Thomas Wayne from RIP is in fact the Thomas Wayne from the 1760's, who leads a group of devil worshipers?

  5. Hi Will,

    I think I mentioned this in the previous post on B&R 10, when I said that we should not be surprised if we later see the missing painting and it has Hurt's face.

    Some people on the DC Message Boards are utterly certain that this will turn out to be the case. I don't think it's quite *certain*, but it's definitely a solid possibility. I think Morrison committed so hard to the villain of RIP being The Devil that we can't find out that he's merely a really bad guy from the 1760s who made a deal with The Devil. But it could be The Devil in old Thomas Wayne's body or something like that.