Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Western heroes are known for their silence. Bruce Wayne says nothing in this issue -- not one word. The narrator of the story is Bruce's great-great grandfather Alan Wayne, whose name does not actually appear anywhere. The girl with the prophetic link to her Grandpa Jerome will become Alan's wife, the mother who dies in childbirth while delivering Bruce's great grandfather Kenneth. The family history is linked together by references to Alan's father, Judge Solomon Wayne. Furthermore, we get brief nods to the architects Van Derm (from earlier in Morrison's story) and Cyrus Pinkney, a religious fanatic from Alan Grant's 1992 story "Destroyer" who lived in the 1860s and believed that his buildings would ward off evil. Van Derm is the architect who began Wayne Manor under the direction of Darius Wayne. Pinkney continues the work, which is unfinished as of this issue, which is set sometime around 1870 to 1890, after the death of Solomon's brother, which has earlier been pegged to 1860. There is brief mention of Darius along with Revolutionary War hero "Mad Tony", who is a reference to a real Wayne -- "Mad" Anthony Wayne who followed up his accomplishments in the Revolution with campaigns against the Native Americans in what are now Ohio and Indiana. Geographical entities ranging from the city of Fort Wayne to the Mad River are named after him, and so is, by the admission of Bill Finger, the fictional character Bruce Wayne, because Finger wanted to link Batman's real name to the history of America. Things are really coming full circle.
For reasons that are not stated, but hang ominously over the story, Alan Wayne is headed to a bridge to commit suicide rather than face a family legacy that he considers "haunted". He mentions a rail terminal with a bleak ending, which at least symbolically calls to mind the rail line under Wayne Manor that should have been built and used in his lifetime, perhaps for a dark purpose making victims of those who tried to take the figurative historical Underground Railroad to freedom. On the bridge, he encounters his great-great grandson Bruce, his future wife, and a wagon "from Hell" carrying the story's master villains, Vandal Savage (the immortal, making his second appearance in this series) and... someone else.
As mysterious as Bruce is to the characters in the story, the casket remains to us. Bruce gets to look inside, because the girl, whose family owns the ancient necklace that belonged to Anthro's wife recognizes him as the figure that their family -- the remnants of the Miagani Bat-People -- has been waiting for and after the events of #4, waits for still. The family attacked in the opening pages is thus either Miagani or has been entrusted with their legacy and that of the Van Derms, who last had the casket. So, one reveal of this issue may be that Bruce is part Miagani, and therefore part of the line that awaits his own return.
We don't see what Bruce sees inside the casket, but he removes his book from the 1640s and perhaps some other papers. Something else is left inside, and as Bruce takes the book with him in his next time jump, the items of the casket are thus separated for now.
Of the story's two villains, one is anything but mysterious. Vandal Savage (Monsier Sauvage) has a memory that has lost some of its secrets due to the enormous amount of past he has to remember -- an idea from Jorge Luis Borges' story El Inmortal. ("When the end approaches, memory contains no more images, only words.") He remembers encountering Bruce once before, in ROBW #1, and is much consumed with memories of a more recent encounter at the side of Napoleon a few decades earlier.
By far the most portentous figure in this story is the other villain, who shares Savage's gift of extended life, and is perhaps the reason why Alan Wayne looks so darkly upon his family legacy. The Thomas Wayne earlier referred to as a devil-worshipper, is here to confirm quite plainly the dark rumor. We also find out that this Thomas Wayne, like the later one, is a doctor. There is nothing really but the interpretation of comic book art (which is always difficult when comparing the work of two different artists, not to mention when the character undergoes the passage of a great deal of time) to tell us whether or not Old Thomas Wayne (henceforth, OTW; Bruce's father is YTW) is Doctor Hurt. He matches his demeanor, his diction, and his firm orientation towards evil. The hair color and hairline seem not to match. But it may not matter so much if the face or actual physical body match. We have already been told, as part of a different lie, "Wayne became Hurt". Seeing the older Wayne for the first time makes that seem increasingly likely to be true, at least for OTW, if not YTW. This is particularly reinforced by the line from Batman #701 about "sickness at the root of the family tree, a worm at the foundations". OTW appears to be the worm. This story affirms that he has been retroactively made into one of the devil worshippers from the 1990 story "Dark Knight, Dark City". We also know that he is an "old gambler" and is, as Hurt is known to be, linked to roulette. Hurt, as El Penitente, seems to have followed exactly Vandal Savage's suggestion to OTW to build an empire in Mexico as a base from which later to attack America (at that time, an infant nation by Savage's immortal standards). OTW also uses a Hurt tactic in destroying with dynamite the casino/brothel behind him... something like the destruction of Mayhew's house back in Batman #669 and his disregard for the house in Mexico he abandons in Batman and Robin #11, when his line "Let it all fall down" suggests dominoes as well as luxurious mansions.
OTW has been alive for 150 years (so, born around 1730 and very approximately 35 years old for the Barbatos ritual in 1765). He wants the casket, and Vandal Savage appears interested as well. It remains a bit of a mystery what he wants it for. He says it has the secret of life eternal, which is something that someone so far past the century mark with an appearance of youth might seem already to have. Maybe he has only procured, through evil means, a really long life, but not eternal, and he wants to get the infinite extension to that deal. He and the girl both have information on the casket, though they have completely contrasting goals. She says the box has bells (OTW refines that to "the bells of Barbatos") that a "dark god" (a phrase used in ROBW #2 to refer, apparently, to Darkseid) is opening his box and there's bells. When someone from Apokolips has a box that makes sounds, we have to wonder if it's a Mother Box. Did Anthro inherit such a thing from Metron? Is something in the rocket from Final Crisis the mysterious thing in the casket? It seemed that only Superman's cape was able to withstand the great passing of time. But Superman's cape wouldn't make a sound or scare Jack Valor so much when he saw it. Whatever the source of the bells, Grandpa Jerome knows that the box's "bells at the end summon another from the shadows, one who won't stop until the wicked are brought to account". He furthermore says through his granddaughter that the opening of the box will bring about the time when "all the days of the world is one day" (Vanishing Point?) "and he must be strong for us" (Bruce is always good for that).
OTW's words to Bruce are enigmatic but probably very important: "are you one too? I'll get you all in the end!" When he says "one" and "you all", does he mean Waynes? If so, the second person suggests that he is perhaps lying after all, and not a real Wayne but a pretender. If he is a biological Wayne or not, he certainly represents a darkness opposed to the good Waynes who've been part of the family line.
Jonah Hex has always been a winner in the DC canon. He shot and killed an evil version of Superman in Jeph Loeb's "Absolute Power" story, and helped beat a JLA/JSA team in a 1978 Gerry Conway story. He wins the duel with Bruce. And there part the members of this issue's cast. Hex takes, but then dumps, Napoleon's gold. Bruce jumps through time (perhaps an eclipse of the sun is taking place on the other side of the world?), once again through water. After being shot and hit by a truck, how will he survive? Maybe because he saw inside the casket?
Alan Wayne refers to his offspring Kenneth, Bruce's great grandfather to be, as "our dark son, delivered from a gaping tomb." Is this only because his birth killed his mother and Alan's wife, or is Kenneth another bad Wayne? His portrait shows him in a cemetery.
And OTW (whether or not he is a real Wayne; whether or nor he is Hurt) flees Gotham and America for England, with passage on the S.S. Orion (again, the name of the constellation as well as the New God) for Liverpool. Alan, who seems to know a lot about OTW, hints that he uses blood to achieve his longevity. Given the timing, I might speculate that OTW's activity in England could include a stint as Jack The Ripper, who was supposed to be a doctor, but that would take place off-camera.
The last time Morrison showed someone beating the Omega Effect, it was Shiloh Norman with the help of a Mother Box. Bruce saw inside the casket. He's sure to survive his injuries with the casket's help or not. The scene appears to be sometime around the "1978" seen on a newspaper in Batman #678 mentioning "Gotham's Hurt Missing". Possibly a bit later since the X-rated theaters around Bruce mention video. Bruce is thus a child in the same world where Bruce the adult has arrived. The next issue will show us the events leading up to the Wayne murders, and more about "Gotham's Hurt", who is probably in some form OTW with another century of life extension under his belt.