Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Van Derms

A casket bearing the bat-symbol appears to be, as Dick Grayson says, "the key" to everything big in Grant Morrison's intertwined runs in Batman and Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne. We know that it contains the writings of Bruce Wayne from his stint as a witch-hunter in the 1640s and papers he narrated to Jack Valor in 1718. As of 1734, it contains something else -- something Valor finds unspeakable and unsettling. It seems to make him feel as though he had participated in an awful rite, and makes him think of the end of the world. Maybe something else is placed in it after 1734. But whatever is in there, the sight of the casket makes the 99 Fiends say "Barbatos".

This casket has to be the handiwork of the Van Derm family, who have come up at least four times in the story, despite the extreme shortage of any actual text describing them. Martin Van Derm is seen c. 1645 as the keeper of the register of Gotham Colony. He is also a painter, and comes to win the trust of Bruce Wayne -- a trust which seems to extend to his entire family. At the end of ROBW #2, he seems to be handing Bruce's writings to his offspring while his narration tells us that "The Devil was not yet done with Gotham." Martin must finish his natural lifespan long before the alleged devil worship in the 1760s, so there is an important part of the story missing where devil worship begins in Gotham, perhaps sometime around the 1670s. The only person we know of who might be in the prime of life at this time would be the nameless person to whom Martin hands Bruce's book.

Later, in the 1730s, the Van Derm family has seems to be helmed by a "wealthy brother and sister", because it is they that Valor visits, and Van Derm is the name Bruce used to give him a destination. By this time, the casket has already been assembled and has the unsettling item inside. Devil worship has taken root sometime in the past century, with characters who have not yet been named.

According to Alfred's comment in B&R #12, Wayne Manor was built in 1795 by a Nathan Van Derm, who is thereby the fifth Van Derm to whom the story has referred, but only the second with a name. Once again, a role of great potential to affect the story falls to this one family. And one where knowledge of what is beneath Wayne Manor seems to have been necessary.

We know little more than this: That this family has been mentioned repeatedly, when there is no narrative reason to do so that has yet been made clear. The only Van Derm whom we have seen clearly has the same hairline as Doctor Hurt. And the names Martin, Nathan, Simon [Hurt] seem to fit in a sequence. The Van Derms have worked to serve the Waynes. Way back in Batman #678, Doctor Hurt relishes his expected victory and offers that the broken Batman might return to Wayne Manor, "perhaps as my butler." This line seemed like a clue at the time, that Hurt was someone who had been under the Waynes in the past, and wanted his family to take the upper hand.

It has been supposed, from the missing painting of old Thomas Wayne, and the allegations of devil worship, that Doctor Hurt is simply that ancestor of Bruce's, kept alive by some sort of satanic pact. But we already know that Doctor Hurt's current desire for the Waynes is to ruin their reputation with lies and then adopt a false identity as one of them. Is he one of them -- or a Van Derm who has used ill-gotten immortality to fight a family feud with them? Is the story about old Thomas Wayne's devil worship a lie to smear his name? RIP took place because Bruce wrongly trusted Doctor Hurt in the Army isolation experiment. Is the backstory in the past that he also wrongly trusted the Van Derm family, with Hurt being one of them?

Aside from the disproportional mention of this one family, we don't have any facts with which to answer that question. He feels that the Wayne fortune is "rightfully" his -- was it something he lost, or something he stole -- or planned to steal? He calls Gotham his home, and Bruce an usurper. But he also makes the direct lie that he is Bruce's father Thomas Wayne. We can't determine the facts of a largely untold backstory. But the Van Derms seem to have brought the Devil into this story. The story has told us just enough about them to make it seem likely that we need to be told more. The last two installments of ROBW have touched upon them near the end of the issue, and avoided using the family name when possible, as though Morrison wants to tell us just enough to keep them in the story, but outside of the glare of full attention. Perhaps because the big villain of the whole story is named Simon Van Derm.


  1. The actual, real-life origin of the Van Derm's involvement with the Waynes began in Shadow of the Bat 45 in 1995 in an interesting bit of contradiction from Post-Crisis continuity. In the story of Joshua and Solomon Wayne from Shadow of the Bat the two brothers purchase Wayne Manor in 1858, three years after it was constructed by once-wealthy magnate Jerome K. Van Derm, who took his own life after losing his money in failing businesses. This contradicted 1989's Swamp Thing 86, which had Darius Wayne having had the Manor constructed during the year 1800, still in the process of being finished.

    It is interesting that Morrison used the Van Derm family when reconciling the conflicting origins of Wayne Manor Post-Crisis, of Darius Wayne commissioning the Manor and of Solomon and Joshua purchasing it wholesale, for his Post-Infinite Crisis history, that the Van Derms have become an integral part of this story.

  2. Well this was greatly interesting and something i didn't pay attention to, so thanks!

    It's still intriquing regarding Barbatos and Batman himself. I liked the theory that Bruce channels justice thru "the good bat-force" that the Miagani worshipped, and then the Black Glove ruined this good bat-force and started channeling injustice thru "the evil bat-force" that might be Barbatos. This once again ponders the question what Hurt meant by in #12 with Hurt saying himself of being... was it evil shadow or double you? I don't have the issue here with me, so if im making a huge mistake here, sorry. :(

    Still it's an interesting question is Simon part of the Van Derms, but i have to admit i'd rather fancy Thomas being the devil worshipping Wayne. :p

  3. This I like much more than the 1760's Thomas Wayne possibility.

  4. I thought the vanDerms where supposed to be the ancestors of the Gordon family - Nathan's position is similiar to that of Gordon's in year one, he's got red hair, and with the right kind of etymological mangling, I can see how vanDerm became Gordon.

  5. It would be a plot twist if the Van Derm's were behind the whole thing and it would reconcile to the Shadow of the Bat issue,

    BUT if Hurt is a Van Derm who was jealous and took his jealousy too far and was envious enough to want to take Thomas Wayne's place, Hurt's story would start to look more and more like HUSH's, because that is his background story of jealousy and envy.
    I personally would rather it be a relative that turned to evil, or was possessed, or even THE Devil because that would be different, or even something more off the wall, instead of the same ol' same ol'.
    Especially with the HUSH story coming back into play in Streets of Gotham in the next issue.

  6. I am really looking forward to the story Grant is writing starting in Batman #701 that bridges the gap between RIP and Final Crisis! Wish we could have had that story before now... I wonder what trade it will end up being collected in.

  7. The Book "The Dark Twin" talk about one young Drost the "Dark Twin" who is selected to be his companion and adviser for the rest of his life (and to rule the tribe alone and ritually pass on the sacred kingship to the next generation if the King dies before his heir comes of age). When Drost is chosen to be the Twin of the young prince

    Hurt Say something about The Dark Twin

  8. Rikdad,

    Good account of where we are now on the Van Derms.

    All I have to add is that "Derm" could refer to "skin", which makes me think of the mask/skinned-off-face motif. Whatever that might possibly come to signify.

    Also, I'm not sure why you seem to suspect that "Simon" is significantly more likely to be a real birthname than "Hurt" is to be a real surname.

  9. P.S. Running with the "skin" metaphor: In RoBW #1 Bruce wears the giant bat's skin. So...not sure if that fits in with any overarching metaphor about Bruce's relation to the Van Derms and/or Hurt. But Batman is the good man who wears the imagery of the Devil.

  10. DAL, "Derm" indeed means skin and doesn't mean anything in Dutch. True, Simon could also be a faked name, but it fits the sound pattern of the two known Van Derm names.

  11. This comment may be late to the thread, but I figured it fit here best.

    I was thinking over possible meanings to the name Van Derm and I stumbled upon something that may or may not hold significance but I thought was interesting. If you change/slide the V in "Van Derm" to a W, you get Wan Derm; and this instantly brought to mind a few things:
    1) "pale skin" (which suggests our favorite clown?)
    2) Wan Derm sounds like Wonderm, or Wonder(as in Boy). Both Robin and the Van Derms seem to always assist/be-in the Wayne/Bat Family.
    3) An interesting play between Wan, Wane/Wayne, and the Moon imagery throughout.

    Not sure how this fits exactly, and some will feel that is too much of a stretch, but I thought it was interesting and perhaps applicable.