Wednesday, June 23, 2010
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.