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.