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.


  1. it sounds like I'm going to need to track down Dark Knight, Dark City. the "danse macabre" connection, at the least, is fascinating.

    this really was a stellar issue. the tempo of this series has been building building and its bubbling up right now.

    I re-read morrison's entire run on batman over the past few days, and something struck out at me, which we had noticed but hadn't contextualized: the same black smeared hand is used in the batcave when the black glove strikes as on the back of the Red Hood's 'business' cards. to me, this fits in with the theory that Jason Todd was - probably unconsciously - part of an orchestrated plot by Hurt.

  2. I'm definitely going to have to reread this issue. I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but what did you make of that coded-language sequence with El Penitente scolding Sexton?

  3. Lance, the danse macabre in DKDC is quite different, but a good scene nonetheless. The name is only used after the fact.

    The black hands point was mentioned here:

  4. Adam, it's interesting that El Penitente mentions "Mexican train", the domino game from #7. It looks to me as though there is no Domino Killer, but El Penitente is responsible for Domino *putting*. Otherwise, I think he was just whipped into a frenzy of hyperbole, and nothing he said really called for additional interpretation. Eg, "99 fiends" = the four thugs.

  5. yeah I recall that we had talked about it; I think its getting more and more safe to infer a conclusory connection from it at this point. juicy stuff.

    as always, rikdad, you're the master of your craft with this.

  6. Another great read from GM and you Rik. One thing I'm a little confused about though. Didn't Wayne Manor completely collapse a few years ago? I don't have the issues anymore to check, but I seem to remember it being destroyed. If that is true it seems weird that all these clues could suddenly appear from hundreds of years ago. Just wondering what your thoughts are on that.

  7. Thank, you Lance -- great comments from you on the DCMB.

  8. Kevin, I think the destruction of Wayne Manor is to be "reimagined" at least slightly as part of the post-IC retcon, if only to make this story work. Morrison has referred, visually, to the earthquake, but I think we could imagine a detail like the extent of destruction to be retconned.

  9. i mentioned in the dc forums that Oberon Sexton's line "I have...exceptional hearing" seems to be to a clear reference to bats, and their superior sense of hearing. This seems to point to OS as an Omega Sanction Bruce Wayne life, possibly without a full memory, but who knows...

  10. I was thinking how Gothic will fit in this Morrison run. One clue from that story was the relationship between Thomas Wayne and Mister Whisper. Thomas was a good man and he looks Whisper's eyes like glass.

    This issue was very good! Everything is fitting!

  11. This was absolutely fantastic, one of the five or so best issues of Morrison's run in my opinion (I'd say 673 was the best, followed by 674, 677, and 683, though not necessarily in that order). This is one of those issues where certain suspicions START to crystallize...while other, unforeseen avenues of thought suddenly appear for the first time.

    I have to say, however, that I just can't devote much time to this anymore. Not that I have been as heavily invested in B&R as I was in RIP...but I just don't have the time, even though--with this issue in particular--I'm even more convinced of the high literary value of what Morrison's doing. This is really one of the very, very best comics I've ever read, and I think it's a genuine piece of literature that is worth having post-graduate theses written on it, someday. But...if I don't post so often in the future, at least I know that there are great minds still wrestling with this stuff and typing out their thoughts. I agree with what a lot of you guys say, and after I (re)read an issue, it's nice to see that others have caught many of the same Morrisonian touches that I did while reading. I'll still try to post any insights I find, and hopefully I won't be late to the party in noting something that other people on forums have already noted. I just don't have time to check all around anymore; I'm limiting the comic sites I go to.

    As for B&R #10, though I've yet to reread the issue, something I was struck by (that Rik didn't note above) was the continuance of the paired "underground" and "buried treasure" themes. Because of the reference to the Underground Railroad (which in reality wasn't a literal railroad underground, of course), and because of what Damian says about the Thomas Wayne fund for railroad victims, I think it's worth scouring Morrison's past writing for railroad themes...Guess we should reread the Manhattan Guardian mini-series...

    It also interested me to find out that Barbatos the demon is also said to be able to "lead men to hidden treasures that have been hid by the enchantment of magicians."

    As to the specifics of who's who, where Bruce fits into what histories, and who Hurt REALLY is ("He's still mostly the Devil!" "No, he's really Thomas Wayne, at heart!"), I have a feeling that the fascinating contents of this issue are going to cause the internet to go even more nuts with competing speculations and theorizings. Like I've said before, I'm not really in this for the prognosticating, or even the strict detective work. Rather I like to note the thematic clues and how Morrison's ideas interact with one another. It's great, though, to read the posts of Rikdad and others on here who try to bring everything together and pose interesting questions. Thanks for a great blog and a good group of commenters here.

  12. I'm also considering there is no Domino Killer at all here, but i could end up wrong.. I just can't imagen Joker or Talia working together, not to mention we already know the general and jezebel jet we're attacked by Joker and Talia respectively.

    Now what i'm slightly worried about, believe me i'm a huge Morrison fan, is that with Bruce in the omega sanction he might more or less have his hand in making sure the Wayne family has this Wayne Manor and that the Batcave is to be found and expanded more or less... lets hope we don't really see a Batgod from Morrison.

    Other than that what a great issue! Thomas Wayne reveal was ridicilously awesome in so many levels. :D The Oberon Sexton quote on the hearing is indeed interesting, but i'm still thinking it's Joker due to the physical look... Can anyone here consider Bruce looking normal and not mr. muscle? :p

  13. One more thing: Architecture and magic was present in Gothic and Arkham Asylum too. Why if Bruce Wayne in the past was playing with those things, like Amadeus Arkham did with the asylum, like Mister Whisper and the church as a soul captor, and then Gotham (and idea worked by Alan Grant over the Anton Furst drawings in "Destroyer" run).


    "In the “Destroyer” storyline we learn that the religious fanatic architect Cyrus Pinkney was hired by the equally moralist Judge Solomon Wayne, ancestor of Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. For Solomon Wayne, a city should be a sanctuary, a fortress protecting culture and civility from the “godlessness of the wilds.” For Pinkney, Gotham needed structures to defend itself from the evil spirits responsible for corrupting man. Through a mystical epiphany, the Mad Bomber came to believe that Pinkney’s buildings literally kept “the demons” at bay. Cities have the power to effect the consciousness of its inhabitants and the ubiquitous gargoyles of the “Gotham Style” were intended to frighten people onto the path of righteousness." (Jimmy Stamp, On Influence: Batman, Gotham City, and an Overzealous Architecture Historian With a Working Knowledge of Explosives).

    It makes sense to me now.

  14. B&R #10 was an impressive issue though the previous arc didn't have any mention of oberton sexton and it seemed more like a filler.In thes issue though there was no Gm trademark actin scenes,it was an interesting read but I found some plot holes in the story on which i would like my fellow commentors' views too.
    1.Dr. Hurt to assume that Oberton Sexton will be able to kill Batman when even he and Joker were not able to do so.
    2.An earlier commentor has already mentioned about the destruction of wayne manor.
    3Bruce was in Bludaven where he supposably died. Then how did he returned to the cave beneath wayne manor.
    4. In the end of final crisis the time capsule sent by The daily planet is shown behind the old anthros how did it reached there.
    5. Another idea tat is seem to be coming to the surface is that bruce played some major role in creating or affecting the history of wayne, if it is shown it would be kin of preposterous.
    5. nothing is being referred here how bruce will be coming to the present time.
    6.Also i couldn't understood why dick said the house is coming to life and damian said he is a freak. I think there is more behind the lines.
    7.And the way dick deduced the secret way I didn't quite liked it. he used the pictures as a way to it. Then how bruce was able to place the clue in those pictures as they are being hanged by alfred. How is he able to position the haed of his ancestors in the way to show the path to th secet passage. It seemed quite a wild guess and less detective work.
    8.Also when Damian is looking at the picture of mordecai wayne .mordecai's eyes are closed and in another frame when the picture is again shown the eyes seem to be open. Also it is shown at the end of the issue which seems to signify certain mystery not only about the person who he is but also about the figure.
    Also again at the end Hurt's back is shown with the mark of W[i have already mentioned in previous comment} which signifies may be his somekind of relation to Waynes.

  15. Rikdad's your writings always provide me with a certain prespective to the morrison's writing.In a way Morrison is a grave digger because he includes certain elements of yesteryear issues about which no one really knows about especially of the presnt decade or modern era.In your previous post 'IS BATMAN DEAD' some of the commentors' like squidracerx and darkwolf01,etc mentioned some really good points about the problems with presnt Dc continuity especially with the morrison's run on Batman.IMO, the end of final crisi in which superman uses the miracle machine was quite blasphemous. Also in my opinion his story seems to be running more in the other dimension as it has pretty less in common with other issues on Batman. Also IMO Gothic was more of an elseworld tale than it was of a canonical batman story. recently I have heard about the breaking of 4th wall in the blackest night related to superboy-prime which again shows the downward spiral of DCU.Like to know ur views on it.

  16. Kevin; there is the slight possibility that Bruce rebuild the original secret room (yes including the messages) without Alfie knowing about it.

  17. Rikdad, could you expand why you think it so obvious now that Sexton is not BW (from your comments on the DCboards, which I just read last night), beyond the fact that it seems too obvious? My own personal interpretation of the "I have excellent hearing" is that Sexton bugged the building to make sure he was protected. I don't find the art a good guidance to whether he is the Joker or BW. I'll admit that I would prefer the latter.

    I commented on your previous post (next to last comment on that one) that it seemed clear from this issue that your theory on the terrifying secrets of the dominoes seems right on the mark. The Mexican train on its way is a good indication, the references to the underground railroad. Bones of the Wayne ancestors, or could it be bones of the slaves, which instead of being carried to safety, where used for satanic rituals?

    Another observation on Catholic references/rituals. There was/is a sect of monks called los Penitentes, which flagellate themselves (although flagellation was pretty common in catholic orders in general). It is interesting how Morrison, who is Scottish, has many hints of the Catholic church as a cult with devious purposes.

  18. DeLima, exceptional hearing is definitely a "bat" cliche.The biological reality is a little more interesting. They actually have highly specialized hearing, and would perform poorly at anything but echolocation. But if this is the Joker trying to "be" Batman, then he might make the same boast. And if it's Grant Morrison, then he obviously would have perfect "hearing" for his own story.

  19. DAL, good points, and I hope you keep them coming.

    Morrison's played the "ghost train" theme many times, although that's not a train in the real sense. Of course, TKJ had Gordon ride the Joker's version of one.

    Back in "Batman and Son", the Spook had a lair of underground tunnels. Obviously, "underground" and "underworld" comes up over and over, especially in #677. In #680, it's very deliberate that Batman has to descend to face the Joker.

    But other train references before B&R, I don't know of. In B&R, we have the ghost train, Damian takes a roller coaster to escape from Pyg, the London scenes show King Coal's train, there's a network of rails for the coal cars in the mine, and the Mexican Train.

  20. Drazar... not sure how the Batgod will play out. The "miracle in Crime Alley" means something, but probably not demonic.

    Note that the Joker should be considerably taller than Dick Grayson. No art shows them on even terms, but it looks doubtful that he's as tall as the Joker.

    I've meant to note somewhere or other, Dini had the Joker fooling Bruce with a disguise in Det. #833-834.

  21. Roberto -- thanks for the architecture link! Got it (from you, I assume?) on Twitter at the same time. Fun read. Calls to mind ZEA Batman talking about The City in #679.

  22. Gautam:

    1: Is it a plot hole? We don't know what "strike at" means, and O.S. could turn out to be, say, Grant Morrison. Also, Doctor Hurt was totally capable of killing Bruce. He wasn't trying to.

    2: The degree of destruction caused by the earthquake may be retconned by Infinite Crisis.

    3: Bruce never got back to the house after Final Crisis. He went into the past, so he could influence Wayne Manor from the past. Alfred and Dick describe this in almost laborious detail in the opening pages.

    4: Time was all mixed up in Final Crisis.

    6: He meant there were clues everywhere.

    7: Bruce is really good at making his plans work.

    8: Mordecai is probably Bruce in a past life. He was also shown in #680.

    The "W" probably does stand for Wayne, but we don't know which -- Thomas (the first one), Bruce, or some other?

  23. Gautam (second post), you mention a lot of things there and I guess you disapprove of them. I loved Final Crisis (I should review it; I started this blog right after it ended) with a couple of reservations. Gothic has never been confirmed as in- or out-of- continuity since Infinite Crisis, but that doesn't matter to the story so far. I have issues with much of the Superboy Prime story, but I liked the last Fourth-Wall story with the Black Lanterns, mainly because it was deliberately funny.

    I don't think DC is in a downward spiral. It's better now than at most points in the past. Some comics I don't comment on (or read) just because I don't have time. I think there's plenty that's good. I think Greg Rucka and Kurt Busiek and Gail Simone have written lots of good stuff and I haven't even gotten around to mentioning them.

  24. ehepd, O.S. didn't tell Dick about the phone call from El Penitente. Either he thinks it's OK not to tell him, or he's really not looking out 100% for Dick's best interests. He fled the attackers instead of crushing them physically. So if he's Bruce, he doesn't know he's Bruce. If his face was scarred by criminals, then he was a victim. And the ROBW stories show Bruce absolutely kicking ass gloriously in every past life. So it's not imposssible for him to be Bruce, but things are a bit off. He's also too chatty.

    Morrison definitely has some good Catholic content popping up in this story. He gets into the vibe of other cultures and does interesting things with them, I think. The African-Americans in "Mister Miracle", for example. Now the Penitente extremists.

    Some people called out his Japanese superheroes in FC as not realistically Japanese, but my reply was: Are American superheroes realistic Americans? Of course not. Nobody in America talks like Bart Allen. So I don't know any real Penitentes, but I appreciate the references in the story.

  25. Don't forget the single, blink and you'll miss references to demons at the end of Final Crisis - Darkseid's descent empties hell.

  26. With all of this stuff about undergrounds, trains/railroads, and (the Joker's) roller coaster stuff, remember that in the previous issue Batwoman said that being dead was like riding on a roller coaster in the dark.

    Also, note that at the end of this issue Dick and Alfred's communication technology stopped working. Technology sometimes working only sporadically (at best) underground due to evil influence is a recurring theme. In the previous arc it happened when Batwoman was in the subway and it also happened for most of the time in the Lazarus mine.

  27. DAL, not all railroads are paths, but to generalize the railway theme, note that Alfred mentions a corpse-road on the grounds. What famous Shakespearean play mentions a corpse-road (a "church-way path")? Midsummer Night's Dream. Which has as a main character? Oberon.

  28. Yes, that was me in twitter. Ok, maybe Gothic was out-of-continuity, but, people, we are talking about Morrison. Everything is symbolic in the story and he's playing with everything he can work: the Devil, roses, architecture, magic, rightness versus evilness, and Batman/Bruce Wayne in the middle.

  29. unfortunaetly havent read the issue yet, but one thing. This may have been overlooked on purpose, but Dr Hurt gives some clear evidence of which Thomas Wayne he is. In 681 he describes clearly the scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne's deaths and says he pretended to be dead and chill was supposed to shoot Bruce... so yeah.