Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Return of Bruce Wayne 3

The covers of ROBW hint that the individual episodes, like the Silver Age mysteries they mirror, focus on Batman winning the kinds of fights he usually wins in Gotham, but in each of several past eras known for colorful action. Halfway through the series, it is clear that these issues do contain such interactions, but it's equally clear that these fights are window dressing to several parallel larger agendas. ROBW is telling, also, the interlinked stories of Bruce Wayne accomplishing the following:

1) Beating Darkseid's plan to destroy the 21st Century
2) Playing a role in his own family history, and that of Gotham as a whole
3) Starting an underground hero movement which continues far forward towards our own present
4) Sending, via artifacts from the past, messages to Dick Grayson in the present that will prove decisive in a coming showdown with Doctor Hurt

Issue #3 shows each of these plots advance even while key facts remain mysterious. It is remarkable that this series can juggle so many distinct mysteries and tie in with the concurrent events in Batman and Robin, which is also, of course, scripted by Morrison.

#3 may show us a bit of how Bruce is working to defeat Darkseid, but does not pick up directly with the End of Time scenario shown in #2. In #3, the JLA remark that Superman and the others (Hal Jordan's presence in the JLA meeting may be an oversight) have not returned from their rescue mission. Wonder Woman describes our hero, in his present situation, as a "world-threatening rogue Batman". It remains unclear why the JLA suspects that the world is threatened when they are only beginning to figure out other key facts of the scenario. It is also unclear what is meant by "rogue". Presumably, they expect their most capable ally to be unaware of what they know. We have already seen by #2 that Bruce Wayne is, predictably, the one who is a step ahead.

#3 showed us another surrogate for a present-day character, with the youthful Black Pirate acting as a sort of Robin, and continuing on as a cowled crime-fighter on the high seas. Perhaps more significant as a force carrying on the bat-work were the Miagani, who had been converted into a bat-army, reminiscent of the Sons of the Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. The duration of their memory is apparently 11,000 years, spanning the whole time since ROBW #1, with no refresher in ROBW #2, where Annie says of the Miagani's presence merely that it came "before us". In the seventy or so years since then, the Miagani moved into the future Batcave, where the hero-symbol cave art remains, and forged a movement that will either prove to continue to the present or meet a spectacular end in the meantime. Given that Bruce's name in #1, "Man of Bats" is the name of the Native American Batman in the Club of Heroes (original appearance: Batman #86). It may already have ended by the skip-ahead showing Bruce in the late 19th Century, aimed for a showdown with Jonah Hex. Because the narration is now over a hundred years past the alleged devil worship involving Old Thomas Wayne in 1765.

The adventure in #3, and the steps that Bruce takes to pull of a triumph in each of the many ongoing plots carries the issue more than capably. But the issue was also packed with subtle surprises -- backhanded suggestions that the plot has considerably more depth than it seemed to one issue ago.

One key piece of narration tells us that the doomsday -- what the Deer People in #1 called the "All-Over" -- will apparently be triggered if Bruce's cowl is removed from the Batcave. (Perhaps they are quite incorrect in that belief, but it's the kind of foreshadowing that feels like it's true.) But removing the cowl happens to be exactly what the JLA intends to do, so on the surface, it now seems that the JLA is poised unwittingly to end the world, with Bruce knowledgable in his 1718 adventure of the stakes. He has directed Jack Valor to pass on the message, and it will seem to get to the heroes somehow as needed. Given this piece of information, it may be that Darkseid's plan was not to make Bruce Wayne a doomsday weapon at all, but to make the JLA think so. This may mean that the end of #2 showed Bruce trapping Superman and Green Lantern to help even the odds if he has to take on the JLA alone. We could have a confrontation where the two sides each believe that the other needs to be stopped. If so, it is of course Bruce who will prove to have been correct. Remember that the Deer People in #1 already had an "All-Over" legend stating in so many words that the end would result from the return of the shining ones, i.e., the New Gods as represented by Metron.

Another seeming surprise is that the Barbatos carving found by Dick Grayson in Batman and Robin #11 -- thoroughly evil looking, and there related to the devil worship of Old Thomas Wayne -- is seen in ROBW #3 to be the handiwork of the Miagani who are verifiable Good Guys loyal to Bruce -- look at how they copy his body language exactly when he examines the utility belt. The consequences of this may be that when Barbatos is unleashed in Batman and Robin that he/it proves to be a force for good and not for evil, and will thus tip the tide in favor of our heroes, and not in favor of Doctor Hurt. Note that the giant bat fought Vandal Savage before the events of ROBW #1. Is the enemy of Bruce's enemy his friend?

We also got a partial answer to the mystery of the casket and the book seen in the Mordecai Wayne portrait. Indeed, Bruce's book is inside the casket. But something more portentous is inside, something that Jack will not describe in his journal. His phrasing hints that the "final thing" is something from the event with Bruce in #2, and that it also reminds him of the All-Over. It is not clear, though, if these are general associations or if he saw something that was present. We know that Bruce left Jack with a message about the "hunter's belt" (the stars of Orion, which made an appearance in the woodwork in Batman and Robin #10).  The utility belt which Bruce examines closely in #3 is absent when Dick finds the cowl in B&R. Was Bruce looking at it, reminiscing, or did he remove something? One other change in scenery: The cowl's surroundings. The eclipse in B&R #12 is total, but the one in ROBW #3 is partial, showing a sliver of sun. Is this an art discrepany or meaningful?

We skip ahead (with a depiction of an eclipse which, for what it's worth, did not actually occur on the East Coast of the future U.S.A. in the months before Blackbeard's death). Now the action is sometime after the start of the Civil War, if we can trust the reference to the death of Joshua Wayne (who disappeared in 1860 according to Batman Secret Files and Origins). An apparent showdown between Bruce and Jonah Hex would be a good match: Hex helped beat the JLA in a Bronze Age adventure and killed Superman in an alternate timeline in Superman/Batman: Absolute Power. However, note that he disavows superstition right before the men who seem to hire him refer to "bad luck", and had earlier acted scared of the "haunted" surroundings; he may not take their job. If he does, he's got some omenous symbols at his fingertips: the Dead Man's Hand from DC Universe #0, with the cards all black (the color of the Devil, according to Bruce in Batman #680) and the joker card as creepy as the one who frequents Arkham. That's the same Joker whose confrontation with Dick in Batman and Robin #12 may not have happened yet when Dick and Damian explore the bunker in which Bruce faced Darkseid.

One thing we've seen of Bruce's jumps is that he arrives when a person in need asks for assistance from the spirit plane. First Annie, then Jack. If the pattern continues, then someone else is that person in #4 -- perhaps Jonah Hex is looking for Bruce's help, not his death. Good guys tend to patch things up after an initial clash; that's a likely guide to the action next issue.

Finally, a figure from #3 is mentioned in a meaningful way. Van Derm, the Flemish painter who shares Doctor Hurt's hairline, recorded his thoughts in a journal whose words appear at the end of #2. He refers, from his older years well after Bruce beating the dragon, to the Devil making an appearance in Gotham sometime after the 1640s and presumably no later than 1700 or so, if it's still within Van Derm's natural lifetime. This is the man who seemed to have passed Bruce's book on to his son in #2, and Bruce tells Jack to find him (or some other descendent of Van Derm) in #3. This is a family whose fate seems to be related to the coming Wayne-Hurt interactions. With the next two issues of Batman, the next three issues of Batman and Robin, and the next two issues of Return of Bruce Wayne all taking Doctor Hurt's story forward, this enigmatic and supremely evil villain is about to take center stage in Morrison's story and hold it right through the summer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mad Men and Bad Men

In the years between the world wars, a tradition grew of fiction portraying tough guys and detectives as they existed in modern American society. These stories filled the airwaves, the cinema, and pulp magazines. Comic books devoted to this sort of story brought this kind of story to readers, boys aged about twelve we might imagine. As of 1937, a kid could pick up a monthly issue of Detective Comics and read ten or so stories of tough, fair white male heroes taking on gangsters, foreigners, and other killers. More often than not, there was a woman to win – or overcome. The same kinds of stories found their way to the big screen in the years to come, founding the genre known as film noir. Stories like this have remained popular to the present.

Seventy-one years ago, a new kind of hero was launched in Detective Comics #27. At least in subtle ways, he was different than any character who had come before. He wore tights, a mask, and a cape, and sought to inspire fear. But beneath the guise he was an ordinary man – in fact, a rich socialite – who was simply impeccably trained. The stories were as light in depth as they were dark in tone, but the tradition of Batman has gone on to see admirable success and longevity. An original copy of his first comic book appearance has recently sold for over $1 million. The 2008 film The Dark Knight has grossed just over $1 billion. Batman's home base has always been in the comic books and animated programs that targeted a younger or nerdier audience than the mainstream, but beyond the two thousand comic books with Batman stories, there have been live action television shows and movies that percolate attention to the Caped Crusader to general interest. Batman is integral to American culture and is, moreover, big business.

Eleven years ago, a different innovation in storytelling hit cable television, portraying a charming sympathetic villain as the central character. Drawing on organized crime stories whose cinematic renditions had a collosal impact, The Sopranos attracted millions of weekly viewers and revolutionized television. From its first season, the show won such overwhelming critical praise that it seemed to have utterly defeated its competitors in dramatic television, forcing other shows and networks to decide whether to adapt or wallow in mediocrity. In comparison to the longer-lived Batman franchise, The Sopranos has no apologies to make for being for children. By universal consensus, children should not watch The Sopranos, even for a single episode, and the subject matter as well as the execution (no pun intended) is utterly adult in nature. Neither does the show require disclaimers for the intelligence or sophistication of the approach. The most respected voices in television criticism gave the show their full approval and the show garnered so many Emmy nominations that in certain categories it choked off opportunities for its rivals to collect any. The New Yorker, from behind the monocle it holds as it turns up its nose at the world, called the show "a transformative journey" for the viewers.

More recently, another cable television program has taken the reins as the deep culture-defining drama of our times. Mad Men has completed three seasons of its story of Madison Avenue advertising in the early 1960s, frequently creating perspectives that comment on our current world: what we as a society are like and how we got this way. It shares some of The Sopranos' pedigree (Matthew Weiner pitched the show before becoming one of The Sopranos' main writers; this stint earned him the recognition that put Mad Men on the air) and is in some ways a vehicle for similar enlightment.

I present these three fictional worlds and therefore their central characters together because of their commonalities and their differences. They are similar enough to suggest a common source of interest; understanding what they have in common is therefore a way to understand their viewers. The contrasts with the two television shows – serials with a lifespan measured in years – moreover says something about the prospects for the Batman franchise, whose endurance is sure to go past a century.

We can note first that all three of these fictional worlds centers on a white, American male of noteworthy resources. In different ways, Batman, Tony Sorpano, and Don Draper are capable beyond what the viewer can imagine. Tony is not particularly polished (though he looks good in a suit), but he is clever, and he is powerful. Things that men value in life fall to Tony in abundance. He eats well, he is always with attractive women, and among a certain circle, his word is law. In those ways, Don Draper is also successful. Without being able to (or wanting to) have his enemies killed, Don has all of the things Tony has, and more. He's perfectly good-looking, as is his wife, and he has legally come by as much money as he could want. He's universally praised for skill in his profession, which happens to translate to a verbal fluency that makes him the winner in every social setting. Like Tony, he enjoys – if enjoying is the right word – a string of highly attractive mistresses.

The winning ways of Tony and Don are surely not incidental to their series' success. While their shows are successful thanks to great acting, thoughtful directing, and deft looks into everything that life is about, they are unquestionably more successful than series about plain-looking, ignorant nobodies have tended to be. (Perhaps Taxi is a useful foil, but even there, most characters were either smart or good-looking, though rarely both.)

If the best shows on television can be forgiven the indulgence of giving their protagonists soap-opera levels of charm, wealth, gravitas, and talent, then is it a crime of unsubtlety for the Batman mythology to make Bruce Wayne the paragon of those qualities? To be clear: Bruce Wayne is richer by far than Tony and Don put together. He's at least as good-looking as Don (John Hamm could easily be cast as Bruce Wayne, were there a vacancy), and he could take down Tony Soprano backed by any platoon of Cosa Nostra gunmen ten times out of ten. A billionaire, detective, escape artist, chemist, acrobat, and self-made commando, Bruce Wayne is impossibly skilled in more ways than Tony and Don and anyone they ever met put together. Does this starting point automatically disqualify a Batman story from being of general interest? Tony and Don manage to drive compelling stories that the New York Times admires despite their larger-than-life lives. But is this because they are just barely larger than life? There are, after all, mafiosi and talented creative minds in this world. Even though Tony and Don do not exist in the real world, people like them surely do. Or near enough like them. Nobody like Bruce Wayne has ever existed. If one of the world's strongest men were also one of the fastest, most agile, most intelligent, and most wealthy, he would also have to be the very most driven to resemble Bruce Wayne. Does that fact make Batman a character outside of general interest? Is the thread of interest snapped when the outstanding protagonist is made unrealistically talented?

I don't think so. Because neither Tony nor Don is interesting because he is realistic. Tony and Don are interesting because of the way their exceptional qualities become irrelevant in the face of everyday concerns. This is the point of both characters, and much the point of, say, The Godfather, Part II's Michael Corleone – to take someone exceptional, at the verge of improbability, and ask: how does this exceptional man interact with reality?

Tony, despite being successful to an extent that all men would like to be (in an enterprise that many men would stay far away from), is bogged down by exactly the same concerns in life with which law-abiding men struggle. That is the starting point of Tony Soprano's existence. Chris Albrecht, the then-President of HBO Original Programming who received the pitch for the Sopranos reflected upon Tony's ordinary life problems and concluded "The only difference between [Tony] and everybody I know is [that] he's the Don of New Jersey."

Everything in Don's life is what almost any man would choose, and without the violence and risk of Tony's life. The only real flaw in Don's life is... Don. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Tony and Don have families. Bruce's defining moment in life was the loss of his family, a tragedy that left him with a world of grief but no "problems". Tony has no end of problems – ones that are easy to see and, were he not a sociopath, ones with which to identify. Don has relatively few problems save those he and his wife Betty make for themselves. His needs come from his lack of satisfaction and satisfiability. His crisis is existential.

And in that one sense, Bruce is more like Don than Tony. Because Bruce has absolutely no problems native to his own existence. However, while Don has the perfect job, perfect house, and perfect wife, Bruce has the perfect house and fortune, but otherwise lacks the relationships one would have in a normal life. Tony and Bruce share a life on the front lines of the war between law and crime; they are on opposite sides of it, but the action it entails, the scheming, the generalship – that much, they share. But Tony goes home to a strong-willed wife and two difficult offspring. Until the death of supporting actress Nancy Marchand, Tony dealt even more with the looming presence of his mother, Livia. Bruce, in contrast, goes home to no family at all.

For in all that a strange and cataclysmic event involving his family shaped Bruce Wayne's life, in doing so it left him without a family. Orphaned at an early age (8 to 10, in many tellings), Bruce never again (in most tellings) has an older relative telling him what to do. Nor does he take a wife who would require him to balance his superhero role with the trappings of ordinary life, nor – in the most everyday sense – does he ever have children to raise. When a boy comes ito his life, it's another orphan who also begins fighting crime, with Bruce, as his main pursuit in life. And it is exactly the lack of family that gives Bruce Wayne the space to be Batman. Not just in the world of the story, where heroes have such demands, but in the way readers apprehend him: For the early years of the Batman franchise, in which the character became popular, Batman was the man an adventure-craving boy might seek to be. Everything he did was exciting, morally upright, and skillfully done. He was the moral center of his own universe, and the one perfect man in it. These aspects of the Batman narrative are so compelling that one flinches from remembering the more obvious biographical details – that a man wears a bat mask and dons a cape to fight crime. This part of the premise is so strange and absurd that the Sixties television show could climb the ratings by making fun of it on a weekly basis. But the billion-dollar Batman, the film's Dark Knight, has so much weight to him that the silliness is forgotten.

Batman, in most tellings, is a man engaged in a war, and completely defined by that war. When a story introduces conventional domestic realities (such as a girlfriend) into his life, the goes on to bring those things to an end due to his single-minded focus. So almost all Batman stories are stories about a man opposing enemies, and inhabit the border between crime drama and war drama. Historically, this has proven a success basis for a highly regarded film. And The Dark Knight makes good on that potential, making Batman the central character in the top-grossing crime movie of all time.

Tony and Don both have things in their lives that one (particularly, perhaps, a man) might seek to emulate. Present one's self like Don. Be decisive and insightful like Tony. See the small details. Be prepared. Earn respect. Don't show vulnerability or doubt.

They both also, inarguably, have things in their lives that one would be wise to avoid. And so the great power of television serials depicting them is that they provide an ongoing series of life lessons. Both experience the pitfalls of making others look bad, or in showing others up. (It wins Don an enemy in his boss Roger. It wins Tony attempts on his life.) Both imperil their marriages with serial affairs. A weekly viewing of Tony or Don is a weekly lesson on how to be, and how not to be.

In contrast, there is really only one thing to learn from Batman: Try harder. The things that Batman does are not the things that virtually anyone else does, ever. If Batman comic books and films served as a training resource for Delta Force or SWAT teams (and they are not accurate enough to serve in that respect), then he would have an audience who could sympathize with him. People who could watch and think, "Oh, so that's how you disarm twelve opponents in fifteen seconds without being shot." Batman doesn't fit into a viewer's life except for escape (incidentally, "escape" being just another thing that Batman is incredibly good at). A hundred million people are willing to parcel a couple of hours out of a summer night to consider the issues entailed by a vigilante war that threatens to tear a city apart with its collateral damage, if the narrative is done just right. The Dark Knight did that. On Monday morning, the viewer goes back to school or work. They go back to being a spouse or daughter or member of a clique.

Tony and Don tells us something about how to live those lives. When they aren't being exceptional (which they do about half the time), they face what we face. Both of them lament that fact. In Tony's "Test Dream", he cannot tear himself away from a suspenseful movie to meet his daughter's fiance's family. He explains to his wife that it's "so much more interesting" than life. She points out, referring to his Mafia existence, "What, are you kidding me? It is your life." But only half the time, and for Tony, that's not enough.

Don may not know what he wants in life. It's not the wife and children and the big house. He tells a woman who is about to be his mistress that he wants her, but this is only true when he doesn't have her. Maybe Don would like to be Batman. We haven't seen anything that Don's contented with. And so, Don's life is like that of many viewers.

With two gunshots, Bruce Wayne got Tony's wish, the adventure, all the time, with no "life". Maybe Don would like to be Batman. Bruce drives very fast, spends a lot of money, hangs out with anyone he wants to, fights and always wins, and garners boundless praise from the whole world while he shows everyone else up. It keeps Bruce Wayne from ever having the doldrums that plague and consume Tony and Don. It also keeps him from being the protagonist of a widely-watched serial. He's too much what one might wish to be and not enough what anyone is.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Batman 700

Grant Morrison has written forty issues about Batman in the last four years. A large number of those have tied in to a single plot line: The contest between Doctor Hurt on the one hand and Bruce Wayne and his proxies on the other. But Batman #700 is a standalone story, self-contained, unrelated to the main story of the last few years.

Well, somewhat.

It begins, though, very much like the struggle between Batman and Doctor Hurt began: Bruce Wayne submits to the experiment of a man he trusts, a man of science, and that trust is turned against him, subjecting him to experiences for the sake of evil, turning the experiment into captivity that he has to break out of. That is chronologically how Morrison's Batman story begins, although we found it out no sooner than Batman #674. We also see a good man's glasses broken (which happens in the first "shot" of Morrison's run, in Batman #655) and the story ends with a good man (just a toddler) dosed by Joker venom (which is also in the first "shot" of Morrison's run).

This time around, the scientist is a good man whose experiment is taken over by a quintet of prominent Batman villains). Professor Carter Nichols debuted in Batman #24, back in 1944 -- the year after Alfred's first appearance. Nichols was the vehicle for a number of time travel stories taking the Caped Crusader (something, we learn, he doesn't like to be called) into times and places where fanciful stories pit Batman against just about everything a young boy might read about in history class (when that boy might wish he were reading, instead, about Batman). And here we have another parallel with Morrison's main Batman stories, which currently have Bruce Wayne on a serial time travel adventure thanks to Darkseid's Omega Effect. Return of Bruce Wayne is a modern take on those Professor Nichols stories. By putting these stories into continuity, Morrison is performing a similar task to the one he did by putting other sci fi stories into continuity by explaining them as hallucinations (which was the explanation offered by some of the older stories themselves).

The story is a mystery, and it throws down the gauntlet early, asking on the splash page if the reader can solve the "impossible crime". A related challenge is offered early in the first part of the story, "Yesterday", when the Riddler, not referring to that crime, asks a question that is not directly answered, but is repeated in the tripartite story's final panel. The impossible crime itself appears in the first panel of the second part of the story, "Today", when an older Professor Nichols is found shot dead in a locked room with no weapon. Is this really a mystery? Much of the explanation seems obvious from the start: His age is a giveaway that the body is from the future, and in the "Tomorrow" story, we even see that Future Nichols has been shot with the weapon that caused the death wound. Dick Grayson ends the "Today" story providing an explanation which is not inaccurate but also not complete. We see all we need to know in the "Tomorrow" section, but the lines between the dots are not drawn. They go like this:

In "Yesterday", the villains' raid demoralizes Yesterday-Nichols to the point that he can never again serve as the time travel service for Batman. It leaves the man traumatized. He destroys his equipment.

In "Today", before the main action begins, Today-Nichols-1 finds the mortally wounded Tomorrow-Nichols in his basement. He finds out from Today-Nichols-2 (the same man, maybe minutes or hours older) that he must go into the future to recover Tomorrow Nichols (himself) on the day of his death and bring him back to "Today". As soon as Today-Nichols-1 goes on that short jaunt into the future, he is Today-Nichols-2, who loops back to have that chat with Today-Nichols-1. Then he goes back to make a crucial phone call to the police in "Yesterday". Then Today-Nichols goes on to an unstated, but happier, life that eventually ages him to become the older Tomorrow-Nichols who is shot by Two-Face-Two.

Nichols lives the last fifteen years of his life with restored confidence and purpose. His final moments are spent lucid enjoying some happy dream that the Maybe Machine produces. Then, with a smile on his face, he succumbs to the mortal wound.

The larger purpose of this spaghetti-tangled time travel is to save the child Terry McGinnis. It's that boy, eventually the fourth Batman, to whom Today-Nichols is referring when he tells Damian, "I only came to rescue him from all of this." Today-Nichols learns about this precisely because of the arrival of the dying Tomorrow-Nichols. And the body of Tomorrow-Nichols is what tells Damian (as a ten-year-old Robin) precisely which house he has to get to as a twenty-five-old Batman, to save his eventual successor. Here we have another recurring element in Morrison's work, the time loop. (Also seen in Red Son (story by Mark Millar; creative assist from Grant Morrison), Seven Soldiers, and as both the bullet and superhero sigils in Final Crisis.)

Nichols explains the mystery to Damian with a note that repeats the Riddler's question. When the Riddler says it, he's referring to Batman and Robin, whom the villains had beaten, but cannot defeat. When Nichols says it, he's referring to... The Clock. One might variously say he's referring to "fate", "time", "destiny", etc., but "Beat the clock" is a definite phrase in the language, and it is highlighted when Dick Grayson, as Robin, on the first page says "I'll clean your clock, Joker!" The emphasis on your implies that "clock" had already been referred to. It had not, explicitly. And therein, Morrison calls attention to the word, answering the question (another time loop) one page before it is asked. Does Nichols beat the clock? Yes, every time he employs his technology. He, and Batman, get everywhere they need to, just in time... which is the actual meaning of "beat the clock".

...but never defeat. Nichols faces the same conundrum that Batman does in having a destiny he cannot escape. The Joker proposes to undo Batman (and himself) by preventing Batman's origin, and Bruce observes to Dick at the end of "Tomorrow" that this is not possible. Nichols cannot, either, defeat the clock. This is one of numerous instances that one part of this story reflects another part of it. And gives us still another possible parallel to Morrison's main Batman story, if the detective Bruce Wayne in ROBW #5 is faced, as I suspect will be the case, with the possibility of preventing the Waynes' murder -- precisely what the Joker proposes in "Yesterday". (And the topic of a famous Batman story from another anniversary issue -- Alan Brennert's "To Kill A Legend" from Detective #500.)

The story has yet another relationship to the main Batman story in progress, with a book serving as a MacGuffin -- the Joker's Jokebook arising in all parts of the main story in #700, just as the book that "Mordecai" Wayne begins in the 1690s has yet to reveal its significance in ROBW and Batman and Robin.

#700's main yarn is a richly textured story, with the first two parts each foreshadowing the next twice, with each Batman telling his respective Robin that the future will make the mystery clear, and with each of the first two parts positing (but not seriously) that its respective Robin will go on to be Batman. (The laugh line of the issue is Dick Grayson telling a bragging Damian "You'd be the worst Batman ever." Given the extraordinary quality of Batmen, that may actually be correct and not particularly something to be ashamed of.)

The story is filled with lots of little reflections of Batman lore. The prostitute seen in "Today", Holly, shares a name and profession with the younger one from Batman Year One and may be Morrison's appropriation of the character Holly Robinson. The first man seen with her resembles, perhaps coincidentally, a taxi driver who gives a ride to a prostitute and her pimp in The Dark Knight Returns. Dick and Damian then fight a version of the Mutant gang from DKR. The pimp himself is Lone-Eye Lincoln, the drug dealer seen in Batman #678 when Bruce is at his lowest moment during Batman, R.I.P.

And the story is self-reflective. The villain, Two Face Two, has a good, larger, older face, who is sleeping (like the almost-dead Nichols, who wakes up later, and knowing the story asks if it's time yet... for his death) and a "bad little face" (the issue's most fun line) that mirrors the temporary state of the hostage Terry McGinnis. And in another note of self-reflection, Morrison names a neighborhood of Gotham for himself, Granton.

While I have referred to #700's main tripartite story, it also moves into fast-forward in showing us three more futures with three more Batmen. And this proves the Riddler's complaint true and echoes the first line of RIP: Batman and Robin will never die.