Thursday, September 9, 2010
The three-headed nature of the struggle means attacks come from every direction. Robin beats, and is beaten by, the Joker, who uses the devices from the utility belt against the police. Dick and Jim Gordon are swarmed by Dollotrons. The Joker blackmails Dick into working with him. Doctor Hurt is caught off-guard by a chemical attack by the Joker at the same time that Batman swoops in, once again forced to fight a swarm of enemies who are dangerous due to sheer numbers. Then an enslaved Jim Gordon hits Dick from behind, showing the total control that Pyg's contagious addiction exerts on its victims. Finally, the Joker plans to use Damian as a weapon against Hurt.
That's a lot of action -- none of it terribly unexpected, at least given the preview that showed the Joker's escape in progress. The story is rich, however, in themes and tone, with a few lines carrying particularly important implications for where the story is going.
The horse/knight theme I mentioned earlier has crept out of the artwork and into the dialogue. The first image in the story is the horsehead in the Wayne Manor library, seen when Alfred goes either to check on Dick or to perform some other important chore in the Batcave. The final words of the issue are the title of #15 -- "The Knight, Death, and The Devil", with the words cleverly laid over the characters they represent: Dick, the Joker, and Doctor Hurt. In between, we see Hurt yell to his adversary, in a chess metaphor, that his knights have been beaten. But who is the audience for that line -- Dick or the Joker? Given that Dick is a knight, the Joker may be the one Hurt is addressing, even though his mouth is close to Dick's ear. It remains unclear if the horsehead on the mantle is a mere symbol or has some real power. Alfred may be looking at it as he passes by. Soon enough, it will be a silent witness to Hurt's gunshot aimed at Dick.
Hurt is getting a lot of practice for that shot. He fires at a pumpkin for no clear purpose early on, and later, we cut to a shot of him holding the smoking gun as a series of watermelons have received similar shootings. This is an intensely odd display of Hurt's behavior, seemingly for no purpose other than to enjoy in anticipation the shooting of Dick Grayson. He's chosen fruits that are roughly the size and shape of a head. That he seems to expect to undertake that specific manner of execution suggests some sort of ritualistic significance, either to fulfill some mystic requirement or because he will derive pleasure from it. It is a divergence from the otherwise stolid behavior we've seen him conduct as he goes about his business, and together with the wearing of the old bat-cowl and hitting Alfred with the champagne bottle, tells us more about Hurt's personality than all of his evil hand-wringing.
There is, however, plenty of that. In describing Pyg, Hurt tells us once again, that he enjoys corruption for its own sake. He describes with "might makes right" a vision of Gotham that matches the vision Lane has in Batman #666, with Lane "praying for a world where the strong are free to exploit and abuse the weak". Speaking to criminals, he celebrates crime, and plans to act on his contempt for the incorruptible, describing it with Hitler's term for a "new order" much as Lane, the Devil's messiah -- at least in his own mind -- dreamt of his version of a "better world". His vision is well underway, with the Mayor, who was shown to be working for Hurt in Morrison's Batman run, in attendance along with criminals and the media.
Other details in this issue point to #666. We see Batman fighting Dollotrons and Professor Pyg hanging upside down in a human inverted crucifix. Hurt's ceremony takes place in Crime Alley, which is apparently the scene of one Batman's death in #666, "the crossroads" where Damian chooses to deal with the Devil. The promised interaction between this story and the potential future of #666 is drawing near, and it is likely that the places where the details don't match (e.g., Damian is now ten, but fourteen when he makes the deal in #666) are to be considered dust swept under the carpet. This probably isn't a dress rehearsal for the real meeting between Damian and the Devil four years from now, but the in-continuity version of those events with, probably, a different outcome when it comes to whether or not Damian agrees to deal.
The ceremony itself, with Jim Gordon as a hostage, resembles the classic Joker story "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker!" from Batman #321. But this time the Joker is, if not a hero, an enemy of the villain. Senator Vine, whom Hurt seems earnestly to try to protect, gets Jokerized by a "golden domino" in a reference to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of many references to children's literature in the run to date. Vine's earlier concern that Hurt told him that he would keep the Senator "outta harm's way" echoes the lines Black Glove members spoke when things went sour for them in Batman, R.I.P. Meanwhile, that Hurt uses drug addiction to flip Jim Gordon to his side is reminiscent of the very first page of Morrison's run, with a Jokerized Commissioner Gordon falling through the air, and also makes good on Lane's information in Batman #674 that Doctor Hurt makes slaves of good men. And for Jim Gordon, in an act of betrayal that at once suggests Odysseus and the sirens and Jezebel's betrayal in RIP, to succumb shows that virtually no man is too good to escape his grasp.
We get almost total assurance from Hurt's quest for the casket -- and chagrin that opening it will destroy the contents -- that Hurt is, basically, the same entity we saw as old Doctor Thomas Wayne in ROBW #4, and he uses now as then, the line "in the end". Back then, he wanted it to provide him with true immortality -- the mere centuries of life prolongation that Doctor Hurt has already enjoyed may be something short of eternal life. We know from Alan Wayne's estimate of OTW's appearance that Hurt has aged in appearance since c. 1880, so he may be aging at some reduced rate, but still on a path to die eventually. The key point is that his continued quest for the casket is a very important piece of information about Hurt's nature. While it had been surmised earlier that Hurt may have achieved immortality and true devilish nature between the events of ROBW #4 and RIP, the fact that he has the same goal now as then -- along with his aging -- suggests that he is not so very different, experience aside, than he was 130 years ago. It may explain why he exclaimed "Not like this!" at the time of the helicopter crash -- not that the crash itself would kill him, but that it might keep him from finding the casket and thus doom him to an eventual death of old age, or when his Manfred-like deal with the devil ran due.
Meanwhile, as much as those implications make Hurt seem more like an evil man with a dose of immortality than the Devil himself, Pyg bestows the devilish label of a "goat" in Gotham upon Hurt, suggesting Baphomet, a character associated with Satan. Pyg's rants reinforce that he was broken, like an animal in the experiments of Harry Harlow, to become a more perfect servant to Doctor Hurt, as part of a larger pattern (along with Flamingo and the three replacement Batmen from the GCPD experiment) to enslave good men to do evil. Pyg, eager for a PCP fix and to destroy reason, rambles on about his captivity, mentioning the rats in "Rockville" as a possible turn of the fictional asylum Rockland referenced in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl".
Meanwhile, the choice of Crime Alley as Hurt's chosen location resonates with the Wayne Murder itself, an event whose centrality to the Batman mythos cannot be overstated. Clearly Hurt knows about this event. Quite likely, he ordered it. But with Bruce Wayne absent, it hints at a larger agenda for Hurt to stage an event here, the same location where the event/fantasy that opened B&R #13 took place.
While Hurt goes about his plan, the Joker plans to strike at Hurt, even though the Joker is convinced that he cannot stop the dominoes from falling. The mystery of why dominoes were name-checked by Hurt and used by the Joker continues, although it seems that the Joker is using dominoes to mock Hurt, for whom dominoes seems to have some other role, larger than the plague already sweeping Gotham, which shouldn't bother the Joker all that much, save that he doesn't get to carry it out, since it is similar to his own vision of mass casualties. The Joker's first casualty in this story is Damian, who falls prey to toxins on the Joker's eyelids and/or fingernails, and has his turn interrogating the Joker go terribly sour. Damian ends the issue upside down, much like Pyg, but with his arms at his sides, with an ironic smile painted onto the tape across his mouth. At issue's end, the Joker plans to use Damian as a weapon against Hurt. Clearly, Robin will not resist that idea, although the Joker will have to distance himself from the freed Damian. Later, the Joker uses toxins to attack Hurt's audience, using popcorn (the "catering" he referred to in his call with Dick) as the delivery vehicle.
If there is a single line in the issue that packs more meaning than it seems to, it is Alfred telling Dick that he has prepared the mansion and the cave as Dick had requested. This has enormous implications. Whatever those preparations are, it means that Dick expects the confrontation to move from Crime Alley to Wayne Manor and even down into the Batcave. As we saw in the flash-forward last time, he is of course right. When he hisses to Hurt "You don't get it do you? You're finished." Dick is speaking of those preparations. That line, in reduced lettering that suggests a whisper, is Alfred telling us that Dick, for all his affinity for timing is going to end this scheme with no more help from Bruce Wayne than in having taught his friend that victory lies in the preparation.