Monday, November 1, 2010
We've seen these underground demonic rites three times now, counting Milligan's story and such a scene in Return of Bruce Wayne #5. In all three, when a group is about to commit itself to the will of an evil spirit, one man backs out. In ROBW #5, the man is Carter Nichols. In DKDC, the man was named Thomas -- Thomas Jefferson. In the B&R #16 preview, the man is also named Thomas, but is probably Thomas Wayne, as seen in ROBW #4, who goes on to become Doctor Hurt.
The great difference between this scene and the corresponding scene in the original is that in the original, the intended sacrificial victim is trapped alone in the cellar with what proves to be an actual large bat, but which manages to speak across the centuries to Batman when he frees it, and the woman's spirit, in the present. It should be noted that the DKDC story has certain parallels to Morrison's own "Gothic", which was being printed at the exact same time; an ad for DKDC even appeared in one issue of "Gothic."
Because the man who is trapped appears to have planned this moment he, not Jefferson, is probably the one who objected and caused the others to flee. In any case, this is certain to be the moment at which Old Thomas Wayne (OTW) acquires the life extension that seems to have lasted a touch over 200 years, at which point the aging process must have resumed, or the young-looking man could not now be posing as Bruce's father.
The preview shows us nothing of the source of the demon but the shrine upon which the victim lies. OTW's identification of bells with Barbatos indicates that Apokoliptan technology is probably present, but this is not clear, so perhaps no such artifact is actually in anyone's grasp.
Bruce's jump in time before this scene was to and from 1718, when Jack Valor was 15. Jack appears much older when he writes his journal; he would be 62 when this ceremony takes place, so it is possible that he witnesses the casket after the ceremony took place. His journal begins in 1746, when Jack would be only 43; it's not quite clear how the 18th century timeline works out.
We know that Hurt lost the casket c. 1880 and still had not found it by c. 1980. He tries to use a time machine -- a strange prop in a story about magic -- probably to grab Barbatos from a time when Hurt had seen him before. But Bruce grabbed the device at the moment it opened a portal, and then became something that he himself did not expect -- if Hurt set the device to a time useful to him, then this bat-demon is likely to be Bruce, somehow transformed as Nichols' device grabs him from the path that the Omega trap had set him on, in an image like the actual large bat from ROBW #1. This could be a series of juggling time portals. Maybe Bruce "ditches" the Omega trap here, or maybe he uses Nichols' device to carry it to the End of Time. Nichols' device, we were told, would require a huge energy source which Hurt somehow provides. Dick encounters an energy source in B&R that keeps him from communicating with Alfred. Whatever the logic and logistics of how these stories come together, the elements are all in plain sight. An energy source, evil will, two portals in time, a bat, and a bat man.
What we have yet to see is if this evil, supernatural but often sci-fi-seeming technology has anything truly demonic, in the sense that earthly Satanists would mean the word, about it.
Hurt, who appears alternately convinced that he is the Devil and aware that he is not, is perhaps headed for an existential comeuppance: If he finds out that the demon he worshipped is the good man who is destined to stop him, and that the great spiritual evil is just a sci fi gadget. On the other hand, he seems aware of the latter distinction in ROBW #5: "200 years ago, Barbatos was beyond our abilities to explain or comprehend -- a demon, a myth. Now we have dark science on our side. A new understanding of time and unearthly lifeforms." It doesn't seem that Hurt would be surprised or disappointed to learn that a box full of wires may have granted such power as he's gotten. And if he finds out that he has been "following" Bruce all these years, that's as much a blow to Bruce to have inspired evil as it is to evil to have been duped.
Milligan may or may not have intended for the appearance of a bat in his ceremony to correspond to the one who has, by legend, visited Bruce in his study, inspiring his guise -- a story element that Morrison depicts in Batman #682. Morrison may have been foreshadowing Hurt's fate when we see that bat's body scooped up by Alfred and set afire. Bats and the Devil surrounded in flames -- this is an image in B&R #3, as I show here.
Before Wednesday's finale of this story, I will post on the words of Doctor Hurt, how he describes himself. This preview shows him on the cusp of becoming what he is. B&R #16 will possibly follow his origin with his fate. Exactly what he made of himself in the meantime is a mystery whose answers may lie in past issues, or #16, or nowhere at all.