Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The chaos of this fifth arc is structured a bit further with each issue titled for a particular death-themed work of visual art; these are shown at right (clicking will enlarge the image, although the rich detail of the originals is still not evident). It is worth wondering if the paintings unlock a code that would tell us more about the issue that comes out tomorrow. Two of the issues are already in our hands, and there is possibly a bit of detail to decipher.
Hugo Simberg's The Garden of Death shows none of the title figures, but shows, in Simberg's own words, a place where the dead rest on the way to their eternal afterlife. The issue itself begins with a focus on the Wayne murders, through an enigmatic scene that depicts an alternate version in which Thomas pays Chill to kill Martha and Bruce. Then Thomas lives a public life with a private evil side. This is similar to claims that Doctor Hurt made in Batman, R.I.P., but clearly deviates in fact, because Bruce did not die and an evil Thomas did not continue to live on in public. As we saw more of the Black Glove's involvement with the Waynes in ROBW #5, one may speculate that the reason why Hurt did not assume the life of Thomas Wayne (as he is doing now in B&R) is specifically because Bruce was left alive and had borne witness to the death of his real father. This would terminally ruin Hurt's plan, and would add a great deal of texture to Hurt's reasons for hating Bruce Wayne, beyond the already-sufficient motive of his incorruptibility.
The second issue and the Bruegel painting The Triumph of Death share one obvious trait: An abundance of figures. Dick Grayson is mobbed twice by Dollotrons, who are individually by far his inferior in combat, but as a group manage to give him some trouble before another blow takes him down. The mob of Dollotrons resemble the army of skeletons who attack the living (also numerous). This painting also appeared in Batman #667, with Doctor Hurt posing before it in the video shown to the Club of Heroes.
Finally, Dürer's Knight, Death, and the Devil shows three figures who unambiguously represent for Morrison's purposes Dick Grayson, the Joker, and Doctor Hurt -- the preview at the end of B&R #14 makes that clear, with each name appearing over a panel depicting the respective character. So we might expect the stage to be cleared of crowds, and a proper showdown between the three central characters to follow. We also know that Damian will play a major role -- Morrison has said that this will be the moment that his character flaws will be redeemed -- but that could span the range from turning down a deal with the Devil to accepting one for the greater good.
The preview released today shows the Joker holding Damian hostage in what is almost definitely the rail line under Wayne Manor, where the Satanic Batcave is linked to the place where Dick found the casket which is now in Hurt's possession. The Joker dances with a skeleton who is very likely Catherine Wayne from ROBW #4, the woman who died in childbirth delivering Kenneth, the great grandfather of Bruce. Kenneth's son Patrick was mentioned in ROBW #5. This underground passage was where the Joker was attempting to enter when he was struck down, coincidentally, by Talia's plan in B&R #11.
In the battle between Batman and Hurt, the Devil holds the cards, and the Joker has identified him as the most evil man in the world. But for all of Hurt's smugness, that we know that Dick has had Alfred prepare the manor (where else would a knight live?) and the cave in some way that is guaranteed to bring Hurt's downfall. Knowledge is power: We saw Bruce holding the book that was in the casket in Wayne Manor at the end of ROBW #5, and it was clear that Bruce had, to every extent necessary, figured things out. That certainly means that he has figured out how to beat Darkseid's plan in ROBW. It may also mean that at that time, c. 1980, Bruce has left the critical clue (or the book itself) for Dick Grayson. It is clear, though, that at the end of ROBW #5 the book is on the grounds of Wayne Manor outside of the casket unless Bruce actually placed it in the casket at that time. If he did, then he probably altered the casket in some way that will ruin Hurt's plan. If he didn't, then the book is waiting for Dick to find it. The latter is more likely; Dick has confidence in and knowledge of what is coming.
The Joker has said that what is at stake is that "everyone dies", "in the crossfire" of the dominoes falling, dominoes that he started falling, and that no one, "not even me", can stop it. This implies that the Joker has set into motion a doomsday threat that is the real problem to solve; if he cannot stop it, this could be because some mechanism has been put into place. As it's the Joker who is involved, it could even mean that he is compelled to carry out some horrible act that he cannot resist perpetrating. It seems that he means to use Robin as a weapon against Hurt, but the form that this takes may not be good for Damian. It definitely ends with Damian tied up in the Wayne Manor library. Are the ropes holding him a ruse? The cover shows Damian making a Satanic deal; how will events mirror their equivalents in Batman #666?
This story will come to its climax in this issue and the next one. Robin in a coffin ("Robin Graves"... a pun on grave-robbing and Robin being "grave") and Batman with a bullet in his brain. The heroes begin this final act from a position of weakness. This sequel to RIP, with the farcical elements added by the Joker's interference, has yet to up the stakes (the Joker's atomic bomb should do that) while the action and revelations about the past tie up a three-way war. It's hard to predict the course of events, but the Dürer woodcut makes the Knight look very impressive.