Friday, November 19, 2010

Batman The Return

"The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough." -Niels Bohr

Comic book superheroes, even the ones who cannot overfly a continent whilst shooting heat from their eyes, live in a world where the greatest feats of our real world are matched and exceeded by well-prepared mortals on a moment's notice. For some fifty years, Batman has lived in a world that inherits all of the wild premises of the magical and science fiction allies on his various super teams. His own wonders of deduction and acrobatics inhabit a world in which humanlike robots have arisen from the hands of lone inventors. Antigravity, size manipulation, teleportation -- these are part of Batman's world, but have not been a part of his methods. To preserve the formula that has propelled the character through seventy years of success, we never see him ask Superman to provide him with a Legion flight ring. We don't see him teleport into battle even though he routinely does so in JLA titles. There is a rule here which considers the title on the cover to determine what Batman can and cannot do. In Batman: The Return, Grant Morrison starts changing the rules, but not as much as he could have. Batman begins adding to his arsenal, with things that the real world of 2010 does not have, but not -- the rules are being bent, not abandoned -- Red Tornado -level robots and Thanagarian tech. Batman is skipping a few years ahead of where he's been, but not centuries. As RetroWarbird mentioned in the comments to my last post, we are seeing the sci fi of technology, but not the cosmic sci fi of Bruce's last two or three adventures.

"Planet Gotham", the one-shot issue's story title, takes the Batman concept planetwide while bringing some of the DC Universe's wilder technology into his arsenal. The idea of Batman works, so the man who is obsessed with fighting crime has finally taken upon himself to mass produce it, to bring Batman to ten thousand cities instead of one, to protect six billion people instead of ten million. If only it were feasible, it's what a man obsessed with a mission to stop crime would do. And yet until now he has not. But now he is.

This issue begins with an origin, one that happens to revisit a moment from last week's ROBW #6 as well as Last Rites and The Dark Knight Returns. As we know, it is the moment that Batman became Batman and his first act upon doing so was to ask for help. As has been abundantly foreshadowed of late, he is going to ask for more help than he has ever done so far, and it begins with those who have stood beside him in Gotham. It continues in Batman, Inc. all around the world.

Kane and Finger's Bat-Man began by fighting realistic crooks and killers, but that only lasted twelve pages. Soon he was fighting mad scientists and monsters. It took far fewer pages than the length of Batman: The Return for Batman's creators to decide that his victory over ordinary crooks was such little challenge that it was time to put him against something bigger. Return introduces the something-bigger that will occupy Batman's resources as he hopes to fight all crime but may have to content himself with neutralizing this new enemy.

Morrison's first two seasons of Batman have involved a single shadowy force that lurks behind the scenes while sending forth a series of medium-sized villains to challenge Batman before the climactic showdown. In both of the first two seasons, this turned out to be Doctor Hurt. This time, it is the organization that the script pages in Return call Kultek but that the pages in the story call Leviathan. What are these entities? Morrison tells us in the script that Kultek is a sinister organization. The name Kultek is itself mysterious (it means "refugees" in Hungarian, quite likely by coincidence). The name Leviathan is a pointer towards some dark anti-Judeo-Christian religion, familiar territory after the demonic names and backstory of Doctor Hurt. Exactly how these things relate or do not relate remains to be seen. Is Leviathan precisely the same thing as Kultek? Is it a subdivision? Does it relate to Thomas Hobbes' portrayal of tyrannical government? To the Old Testament's sea monster? To the DC Universe's similar characters such as Kobra and R'as al-Ghul? The detailed answers are not here. What we do see in Bruce's two outings against Leviathan, and a third under his surveillance, is a sampling of what is sure to be a longer list of bad guys.

The action starts off with an incredible number of references to knowing and not knowing. The verb "to know" and its negation appear thirteen times, sometimes repeated twice in the same speech balloon. The idea of knowing is communicated even more times using different words. One of the men is named Farouk. In Arabic, that means "he who knows truth from falsity." Batman is, in comparison to his super-powered allies, a man who knows things. He is a detective -- as his enemy calls him, a master detective -- and he usually has made victory inevitable at the moment that he discovers what his enemy is up to.

And so this conflict between Batman and the new enemy is about knowing. Batman says that a thing which is known can beat Farouk. Farouk downplays his failures by saying that Batman will learn nothing from him. Batman seems to know quite a bit about the enemy, possibly from his brush with omniscience at the end of time. The enemy, of course, knows everything about themselves. We, however, know quite little. Who, besides Bruce Wayne, is "Fatherless"?

We know this: Leviathan (which appears in a narration box as though it is the location for the final scene) has some dark master. But the boy hails it. It is an entity, whether singular or plural. They use genetic manipulation to create superpowered beings, as bodyguards for the wealthy, but perhaps for some other purpose. They allow the entities to practice against one other. For those who were keeping score, Traktir held his own against Batman for a while and the Heretic is the one who beat Traktir and a whole team at once. The Heretic, who may just be one big eye under that cowl, is obviously a tough opponent. He also talks about what will happen in ways that imply either prophecy or delusion.

And as much as this seems like a time for a new story to begin, things are compatible with being another dive into the same pool. Leviathan, among its other senses (including a use in Morrison's Clarion The Witch Boy), is like Barbatos is a name from demonology. "Heretic" is inherently a comment about religion. The Heretic looks a bit like the Satanic Replacement Batman, Lane. A dark master controls a powerful web of subordinates. Can anyone stop him? The final panel, showing Batman, is posed very much like he was at the end of Morrison's JLA #11, when Bruce began to wage corporate takeover against Luthor's forces in Rock of Ages. Both even sport the same "To be continued" in the same corner of the page. And we know how Rock of Ages ended up. Game on.


  1. 'The name Kultek is itself mysterious (it means "refugees" in Hungarian, quite likely by coincidence).'

    being Hungarian myself I have to say you have it wrong. 'Kultek' in itself means nothing in Hungarian but refugee translates 'menekültek'. it's close but I don't think the name and the word relate.

  2. Wow, thanks, diface -- that's great information. Yes, that definitely looks too different to be a match. Köszönöm!

  3. you're always welcome, Rikdad. I appreciate the time you invest in analyzing Morrison's Batman runs and I always read all your posts. it was a pleasure to 'correct it' :-)

  4. Was anyone else abit disappointed that Bruce Wayne didn't become a more smiling guy, but even more determined than ever? I felt shocked when he asked Stephanie to forsake her old life for the sake of the "mission" and move into Britain to fight crime there, yikes!

    The mystery villains seem intriquing enough, at first i thought Batman Inc could be about Batman inc vs. League of Assassins, but now it seems Ras' al Ghul may have been resurrected for no greater plans for Morrison, unless! The heretic meet up with Damian indeed strangely reminds people of the Michael Lane Devil Batman, perhaps this is truly a devilish Batman and with the course of Inc, we might get Damian become a 12 year old and sell his soul? We know Damian truly becomes a bigger role once we hit the 2nd year of Inc, but then also one wonders when will see Damian's clone brother that Talia created. Surely Morrison wouldn't create an evil Damian for the sake of just doing so, there has to be a greater plan.

    I also simply just loved the ending of Return, Bruce being again and ALWAYS the more prepared man already is aware of the enemy and accepts their challange with a simple "Game on" phrase.

  5. I am really curious if the opening bat sequence can be compatible with the idea that the bat is actually the hyper adapter.
    Also, I am looking foward to be more lord death man, that guy OS evil! - anyone read street if gotham? It already is in conflict with everything Morrison is doing.

  6. Man, I love Leviathan - just a quick view of the wikipedia page gives you endless numbers of connections to to the run.

    Oh, and the scene in which the heretic has the Sheik's own son kill him is very similar to the scene in Final Crisis where Darkseid shows the children to Turpin.

  7. Drazar, I don't know if I was disappointed by Bruce's commandeering tone, or even surprised, but I thought we might see that change. But, no! We've hardly seen Morrison write a "Bat family" scene before, but it seems to match some of the tone of pre-Morrison Batman.

  8. Drazar, I wonder if the Damian clone, who is either unborn or a newborn, somehow figures into the Heretic addressing Damian directly. Arab-based masterminds doing genetic experimentation to make a better fighter... how many of those can there be without them bumping into each other?

  9. Jonny, I think the opening sequence, especially the script pages, are quite definitive that it is just an ordinary bat.

    I haven't been reading Streets. I assume that the other titles do not connect until they prove otherwise.

  10. In regard to the way Bruce addressed his team, I don't that is was a shade of the pre-morrison bruce but just an example of a leader commanding his team mates. Whereas in the past, Bruce might have secretly manipulated people into the roles he wants them to be in without giving them insight into the larger plan he seems to be more open with his family possibly more receptive to their own input. I think he's evolving into more of a father figure more than anything else.

  11. Shiny, yes, the Leviathan references are many. I always picture a whale, but, man, Morrison is going right back to the "Devil" stuff the moment that the Hurt episodes wrap up.

    To make a child menacing is particularly creepy, and the soullessly blank face here is just as bad as the red-eyed sharp-toothed ones in FC. As is the opening scene of Inc #1, in different ways. Grant definitely wants us uncomfortable.

  12. g, one thing I remember is that Morrison said that it won't necessarily be a good transition when Bruce comes back. "Necessarily" is a comprehensive hedge -- we may have already seen all the friction there will be. But it's interesting just to imagine that he decides what Dick will do or not do. Dick, at least, is the one most likely to talk back to him, although Babs analyzes him, which is a form of presumption that he doesn't push back against.

  13. At least part of Leviathan is a group of kids who function as a hive mind and live underneath New York, as shown in Seven Soldiers of Victory.

  14. Dick and Babs are Captains in his forces ... they'll always be able to question orders. So many people jumped on Bruce for being a dick this issue, but all I saw him do was bide his time and wait to play his hand.

    They all assumed his response would be that of the Bat-Dick of the last several years ... but the truth was, he'd already made up his mind about what was most effective and their input really did matter.

    I think for now, until something sinister comes into it, the back-reaction to his very offensive new leadership mode is more shock and awe than anything else.

    Pull it together, team. This one's the big one.

  15. Hey Rikdad, great work on this blog as always. I've been reading this for at least 2 years now.

    I was also disappointed in the lack of a smiling Batman(or anyone for that matter) but I have to place the blame squarely on Finch's art. I don't think he knows how to draw a smile. Take for example the scene of Bruce and Damian controlling the robots with video game controllers. That really could've been a great father/son moment between them with a simple smile from Bruce while Damian's annoyed. Instead it was a scene completely lacking any emotional rapport.

    Speculation: When they first showed the Heretic I assumed he was the "Fatherless" that Traktir referred to because of the way the scene immediately transitioned to Damian and him. This then made me assume that Fatherless was the clone of Damian. Maybe having something to do with the fact that Clones only have mitochondrial DNA from the mother's side? It's probably too early to tell though.

  16. And just like that, Morrison has me hooked on a new thread of possible mysteries and a greater story being told than what initially meets the eye.

    I won't lie, I'd be OK with Morrison writing Batman for the rest of forever, or at least until he runs out of things to keep us all guessing.

    I was wondering if the #666/#700 soul-sold Damian Bats future had been ruled out with Dick's living and Bruce's return. Good to see signs that it may still come to pass someday.

    Theoretically, at least.

  17. Wow, so I was going to post about the Damian/clone connections but apprently everyone and their grandmother thought of that one. It seems likely, especially given the Heretic's (assuming that the Heretic is the guy Damian met) bat ears and the fact that a large theme of Morrison's run is that of faux Batmen (of Nations, Inc., Hurt, the 3 Bats, Damian, Dick, Man-Bats, clones, Sexton, Hyper-Adapter, and the Red-Hood. Christ.) this seems likely. To clarify, I don't believe that this is THE Damian clone, but that we were shown that clone to learn that Damian's genetic info (and probably Bruce's) is on file and can thus be stolen.

    Another note. Just because Bruce is back and changed doesn't mean he can do it all at once. I really liked how he was unable to communicate to Damian why he brought him along: to spend time with him because he's his son and he loves him. Even changed, Bruce still can't quite find the words(yet).

    Another note (I'm on a role). I want Bruce and Selina to hook up. They certainly seem buddy-buddy in Inc. and she said something about engaged, though I'm not sure what was meant by this line. Anyways, the way they broke off way back in Hush fits Morrison's run. At the time, Bruce was mirred in the character derailment caused by the Apokliptian Hyper-Adapter (ie bad writers) and couldn't get over his own ego and paranoia. You'd think a changed Bruce would look back and go "Hey, we were happy together and I fracked up. Why not fix this?" It's understandable that it didn't happen earlier, given Bruce's entanglement with the Black Glove Immediately after leaving Nanda Parabet (is this because this is roughly around the time the hyper-adapter left Bruce and returned to Hurt, so he could start his plans (perhaps the desert and not the caves)? How does that work exactly anyways?). And it also fits Morrison's theme of breaking rules, as you've pointed out. Two of the most common elseworlds/fan-fic elements of Batman are of having Dick (or someone) take the mantle and of him being a dad. Those are done now. Damian is around for the long haul and Dick as Batman seems to be as well. What common Bat-taboo is left? Bruce hooking up with Selina (for a long-haul). Let's make it happen.

    Finally, I love how both new Morrison series (B&R and Inc.) open up as humorous issues (Catwoman, tentacle porn, and water? Win!) with deeply disturbing elements (Pyg and Dr. Death acid melting people). Who else could write a humorous issue where the opening is of a guy having his hands and face melted off with acid? I think Morrison's black comedy is one reason I enjoy this run.....

  18. The bat - nearing the end of his 40 year life - may also be telling us something about the end of Bruce Wayne. Now about 36, he is four years away from a confrontation at the crossroads and a death that will cause Damian to make a deal with the devil.

  19. I had a dream last night wherein via dream logic I managed to connect the dots and prove that "The Heretic" was the reanimated corpse of the Batman of Earth-2. I have no idea how that worked ... I just felt like we could use more crazy speculation.

    In fact, the Heretic's bat-costume is highly reminiscent of Hurt-Wayne's "Different kind of Batman", although he'd be glaringly obvious in the role.

    But then ... the create-a-metahuman pits are awfully similar to Darkseid's Evil Factory, and the "synthetic superpowers" bit is awfully similar to Libra's origin story - glass tubes, stolen superpowers.