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.


  1. heh. A post totally worth staying up for. You noticed a bunch of stuff I missed like always and I love #700 even more now. This may sound stupid, but I'm not sure what the real mystery of the issue was... just logically figuring out how Nichols died and that the jokebook was a MacGuffin or what?

  2. Very helpful Rikdad!!

    I have a question about your statement: "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."

    I'm missing the connection between Damian seeing the body as a kid...and knowing that this is the Specific house in "Granton" he has to go to. Could you dumb things down a bit more for me?

    Also, maybe I'm missing the point of the time loop...but when does Nichols originally go into the future to discover the fate of his older self? I guess it's a self-creating paradox, huh?


  3. Jeff, the house is based on two connections: the book (which Damian knew, from "Today", to be associated with Nichols) and the definite information from Max Roboto that the location Damian wants is in Granton. Damian also knows from "Today" that Nichols's house was there. It's not logically proof that it's the right house, but that's how Morrison's detectives work -- they are 100% certain to be right when logically then might have a decent chance of being right.

    The old body of Nichols *has* to come back to "Today" first for Today-Nichols to know that there is a future that he has to go to. Otherwise he'd just be shooting in the dark (8 years ahead? 12? 18?) if he even had a sense to go into the future at all. There has to be some overlap in "Today": Nichols sees the body (and perhaps has a chat with or reads a note by Today-Nichols-2) and finds out that he has to go ahead 15 years and bring Tomorrow-Nichols back. Tomorrow-Nichols gets to have a go at the Maybe machine. And Today-Nichols plants the clue (Tomorrow-Nichols!) that lets Damian rescue Terry. And moreover, goes back to help Yesterday's Batman.

    This, I think, *is* the mystery of the issue. Was it obvious? I felt like right away it seemed like it was going to be straightforward to work out a possible answer, but then it took a bit of thought to end up with a logical explanation.

  4. I personally felt Batman and Robin #1-3 did a better story when it comes to "BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!" moral story, but hey this comic had really cool references, tributes and cameos from various comics. Such as the space nazis of fura from the year 3000. The ones mad-max Batman and Robin fight. :)

    Overall this was a pretty decent issue on itself, the artists we're all very stunning and yeah it pretty much celebrated Batman and the idea that there will always be a Batman, even when Gotham stops existing. :)

  5. I should have thought of the book connection...thanks!

  6. Rikdad,

    You're suggesting that 2-face-2 shot old Nichols, right? (Old Nichols was one of the "hostages" Damian referred to right? I wonder why 2-face-2 would have already shot him?) Some reviewers are interpreting that Young Nichols shot Old Nichols with the eye-laser he picked up, and that the wound being on old Nichols when Damian-Batman arrives is an art error.

    Also, when Nichols says "I only came to rescue him from all of this," couldn't he just be referring to his old self? You're suggesting he's referring to Terry because saving the baby will have given his life purpose, right?

    Haha, my brain is hurting from this story.

  7. You should be published. How are you such an encyclopedia? Anyway, I love you blog and always check it out when a new Morrison book hits.
    Thanks for all of the insight. One thing I don't understand. How are they folding the Batman Beyond universe into the main DCU Continuity? It is clearly a part of the DC Animated Universe (Dini-Verse) continuity.

  8. I'm posting this just so I can wrap my head around Professor Nichols' motives and actions, with hope that you'll be able to verify or correct my line of thinking.

    Today Nichols 1 walks into his basement and finds his future self dead. Immediately after this, he is visited by his (not-so-distant) future self, or Today Nichols 2, who tells him that Today Nichols 1 needs to go into the future and retrieve the body of his aged self that Dick and Damien are called to examine. In "Tomorrow," Damien is able to piece together that the basement in which young Terry is being held captive by 2-Face-2 is the same one Nichols' body was found in at the beginning of "Today." He sees the time-travelling Nichols, who reveals that after he takes the body of dead, old Nichols to the past, he is going to place the phone call that tips off the police in "Yesterday."

    Here is the biggest question I'm facing: when does Nichols go after making the phone call? Does he return to his normal timeline (the one in which he finds the body and is instructed as to what to do by Today Nichols 2)? Or does he go back in time to call the police about the crime, only to be ambushed right after by the villains, setting up the "Yesterday" story?

    I'm really sorry if that's too much for you to decipher, or if I just completely butchered everything you said in your post. I'm just trying to make sense of everything (and maybe that requires me to have a better handle on how time travel "works").

  9. Also, just to clarify, what I'm really trying to figure out is when Nichols actually ages. If everything works out like I tried to work it out, wouldn't he be present in the timeline when Gordon/Dick/Damien examine the crime scene?

  10. Adam, you have it right. After Today-Nichols leaves Tomorrow-Nichols in the basement, he goes back to place the phone call. Of course, this gets him out of the locked basement. After the phone call, we have no idea where he spends the next fifteen years of his life before his eventual death. He must go back to his house at least slightly before the time when Two Face Two captures him. Since he is old and delusional, he probably goes back considerably earlier. Maybe he spends ten years enjoying his life before living the last five as an aging man. Since he disappeared from his own time in "Today", he can possibly return ten years later without anyone remembering. He might even return a *day* later. Or spend the rest of his life in the Roman Empire, just to return for his death. We don't know. Only what he does to make the plot in #700 work.

  11. Hahaha I really can't believe that I got that down. Thanks for your help; I've been reading an issue, reading your post on it, then rereading that same issue, and it really does enhance the entire experience. Super helpful.

  12. Coming to the party late on this one, since I just read the issue.

    I can't believe this hasn't already been mentioned somewhere already, on some message board, but the commentary about the "LOCKED ROOM KILLER" (last page of the "TODAY" section) seems like an oblique reference (a clue from Morrison?) to the Domino Killer. When Damian first mentioned "the LOCKED ROOM KILLER" I immediately thought of how Toad was murdered in his cell. Dick then responds "There IS no 'locked room killer'," just like many of us have wondered whether or not there was a real Domino Killer, or whether the dominoes have been there for other reasons.

  13. Rikdad,
    Do you have any input on my previous pair of questions?


  14. Also: 2-Face-2 says "Two silver dollars for a dead Batman's eyes!" And Lane in #666 said "Bring me Batman's eyes!" It's little touches like this (future villains yelling about wanting Damian's eyes) that make me love Morrison's run so much. It almost makes you suspect there's something special about Damian's eyes--like they're valuable because maybe they've been enhanced to record everything he's seen in life or something?

    And I guess we can assume that the "Tomorrow" section takes place after the events of #666: because Max had his eye in #666, because Gotham seems to have solved its extreme temperature problem by engineering its own climate, and because Damian doesn't seem to have a problem killing anymore (whereas he showed remorse for killing Lane in #666).

    I'm on my second read-through and, wow, once again an issue that I initially thought was only an average installment is rapidly rising in my estimation. After this many issues, Morrison's Batman can still take me totally by surprise.

  15. In addition to a clock, one can also beat time, but never defeat it. That's the answer I came up with, and the difference is negligible.

  16. Jeff, I don't think it's an art error. Nichols "committed suicide" perhaps by preventing his older self from getting medical treatment, but he gave himself a good send-off.

    I think he's saving the boy. He might have saved his older self, but only to a life of increasing dementia.

  17. Jonny -- thanks! I think little follow-up will be made of HOW the DCAU will fit into DC's future. Maybe none?

  18. DAL, great observation! The way Dick and Damian enter the scene from above even rang a bell when I first saw it, but I didn't wake up to the connection between Nichols' locked room and Toad's.

  19. J. L. Bell, "beat the time" basically works, although when one says "beat the clock", the meaning includes achieving a victory, whereas "beat the time" (i.e., tapping out a beat) is a surface-level connection only, so I think "clock" works better (especially with Dick having used the word in a way that stands out), but definitely, either works. ("Fate" would work even better, but that's not a phrase.)

  20. Another theme from Morrison's run -- almost so ubiqitous it's like observing that he used the letter "E" -- but #700 has people who are versions and doubles and reverses of one another. Six Batmen, several Robins, at least two Jokers, two Gordons, the old and young Nicholses, the old man and the baby on New Year, whom Two Face Two thought to be twins, and Two Face Two himself.

  21. One thing I'm not sure of after reading the comic and your comments, when Damian is training Terry, he says You're learning, McGinnis. You're all learning. What does he mean by ALL. Is it a reference to all of Gotham is learning about Terry, is there more than one Batman Beyond, or is it a reference to something else (maybe all the Batmen to come or even the reader)?

  22. I really liked the 3rd bit from the extra futures the one that had social weather at dusk oclock, it actually referenced the works of Geoff Johns talking about how people need at least 7 moods to function (7 emotions of the emotional spectrum) along with a nod to blade runner (the book not the movie so I really shouldn't call it that but screw it) with the synth mood, hope we see more of that in the project those two are working on (yes Geoff and Grant are doing a project together

  23. Just found this. Oh, it's definitely an art mistake. Your explanation fits enough of the facts to be acceptable, but means that the episode would have to be written in a pointlessly sloppy and overcomplicated way. Whereas an art error would make it lucid and efficient.

    Here's why I think so:

    When we first see Nichols in the "Future" episode, we assume he's dead, which turns out to be an error: but no purpose is served by this confusion.

    "Give me the book or past and future die tonight!" is a clear threat to Nichols' life, which is confusing when it looks like he's already dead, and still confusing if he's already mortally wounded.

    After 2-Face-2 is KO'd, he drops Max Roboto's killer laser eye, and the younger Nichols picks it up and pockets it. There's no reason for him to do this unless he's planning to murder his older self with it.

    Batman's "I can't let you... kill yourself" comes right after he pockets the device.

    The idea that Nichols will literally kill himself rather than leave himself to die is a much crisper one, but I think him taking the laser clinches it.