Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hurt on Hurt

"Call me Doctor Hurt," he said, to an audience of seven villains. On a logical level, that statement contains a hedge: The head of the Black Glove does not tell the Club of Villains that he is Doctor Hurt -- he merely tells them, and us, to call him that.

Even by the standards of super villains, Doctor Hurt is an avid liar. Among the deliberate falsehoods he speaks, there may be some delusions as well. And yet, his words and the deeds that we've witnessed provide information about him. Grant Morrison's handling of Doctor Hurt has taken readers through two different long stories that make a mystery of who this eminently capable and patient enemy of Batman is. Hurt is not trustworthy enough that his words alone could lead us to know his one exclusive identity -- if he has one. But they do help us narrow down who Doctor Hurt is in the sense of what he is like, and identify the guises he wears, which include some obvious fictions as well as some of the candidates for his identity.

Everything Doctor Hurt says is a voice from two authors for two audiences. Hurt the fictional character says things to whomever is listening. And all of those lines were written by Grant Morrison to let readers know just what he wanted us to at that point in the story. Trying to juggle the two demands and others (such as making the dialogue good) in every line makes all of Hurt's dialogue the result of a many-way balancing act that is awesome to contemplate. It's quite a bit more complex than the bare minimum task that a writer faces in writing Lex Luthor. The result may bend at times the motive to sound like Hurt versus the motive to tell readers just enough and not more.

I will highlight a few different personae within Hurt's voice, and the voices and actions that reflect his attitudes about himself. These are not definite declarations of identity: to say that Hurt speaks as though he is the Devil is not to say that he necessarily is the Devil, any more than he is Alfred when he pretends to be Alfred in Batman #679. The qualities and identities that I will track here, quotation by quotation, are, with a pithy one-word code for each:

Devil: A supernatural being dealing out earthly rewards in return for corruption.
Sadist: A man who likes others to suffer as a pleasure for him in its own right.
Wayne: A Wayne who was born long ago but is still alive.
Thomas: This code indicates specifically the father of Bruce, not the Wayne who went by that name centuries ago.
Rules: A man who is on the inferior end of complying with arcane supernatural rules, implying some other power is offering something in return for his compliance with its evil requirements.
Poor: A man who has a poor man's contempt for the wealthy and out of insecurity from that past, he exults in his access to wealth and power now.

In terms of that code, here is Hurt in his own words and actions:

"The Black Glove aims to deliver a deluxe service high stakes experience at the very highest levels of the international game.": Sadist, Poor (Batman #667)
"eyewitnesses will be bribed or killed, the widow ruined": Sadist (Batman #676)
"damaged little aristocrat": Poor (Batman #677)
"complete and utter ruination of a noble human spirit": Devil (Batman #667)
"[Batman may return.] Perhaps as my butler": Poor (Batman #678)
[Hitting Alfred over the head with a bottle]: Sadist (Batman #667)
"The usurper never was my son, was he? It was you... you and Martha, my adulterous witch of a wife, am I right?": Thomas (Batman #679)
"I'm Doctor Hurt now": Wayne, Thomas (Batman #679)
"We intend to ruin him in every way imaginable. Body and soul.": Devil (Batman #679)
"the Black Glove invites you, some of the richest people in the world, to play a game with human lives.": Devil, Poor (Batman #680)
"Can the ultimate noble spirit survive the ultimate ignoble betrayal?": Devil (Batman #680)
Joker: "I found out who Doctor Hurt is and why he hates you.": Devil? Wayne? (Batman #680)
Joker: "devil is double is deuce, my dear doctor. and joker trumps deuce... pleased to meet you, admire your work, but don't, don't, call me servant.": Devil (Batman #681)
"I'm your father": Thomas (Batman #681)
"Hole in Things. The Enemy.": Devil (Batman #681)
"Unless, of course... unless Batman agrees to serve the Black Glove. And willingly dedicates his life to the corruption of virtue. Ready to deal?": Devil (Batman #681)
"Then I curse the cape and cowl, as you will soon! The next time you wear it will be the last!": Devil (Batman #681)

"99 Fiends, like storm crows, lead the way. The 3rd Hierarchy is already at your door, my stern judgment to enact.": Devil (B&R #10)
"Absolves me of all sin": Rules (B&R #11)
"Wounds [in the shape of a 'W'] remind me who I am": Wayne (B&R #11)
"Double You": Wayne, Devil (B&R #11)
"You know what I am": Devil, Rules? (B&R #11)
"reclaim what was always rightfully mine": Wayne (B&R #11)
"walk with me", "Christ will protect you from the bullets": Devil, Rules (B&R #11)
"slate's clear, washed in the blood of the Lamb; free": Rules (B&R #11)
"let it all fall down": Wayne? Devil? (B&R #11)
"Take me home. Gotham City": Wayne (B&R #11)
"return of the king": Wayne (B&R #12)
[opening scene: man pays hit man to kill his wife and son]: Thomas (B&R #13)
"Wayne Manor is mine. Gotham City is mine.": Wayne (B&R #13)
"And soon, when the Black Sun shines": Rules (B&R #13)
"I will break and corrupt this boy": Devil (B&R #13)
"You dare imagine yourself superior to a Wayne?": Wayne (B&R #13)
"...the key to eternity": Rules (ROBW #4)
"you little slut": Sadist (ROBW #4)
"Any attempt to tamper with the locks results in the destruction of the contents, remember? The secret of life eternal is here, in a box only you know how to open, so breathe deeply and do what Doctor Thomas tells you.": Rules (ROBW #4)
"Darius and Mad Tony": Wayne, Poor (ROBW #4)
"we raised batwinged Barbatos and drank the starry venom": Rules (ROBW #4)
"Are you one too? I'll get you all in the end.": Devil (ROBW #4)
"They say he too sought in blood the secret of life eternal… but that was blood of a different sort." ["too" and "different" juxtapose the case to that of Jonah Hex as a bounty hunter]: Rules (ROBW #4)
"I knew this prize would be mine in the end. But even I can't open it without destroying the contents, and that's my big problem...": Rules? (B&R #14)
"Perfectly corrupt, Pyg. Perfectly ugly.": Devil (B&R #14)
"I give you Gotham! The new capital city of crime! Where the only law is the law of might makes right! Where human lives are commodities! Where even men like our stubborn, incorruptible Police Commissioner Gordon must succumb to the new order of things... Soon you'll do anything for what we have to offer, Gordon. You and all the other innocent victims of Professor Pyg's viral narcotic. Instant junkies.": Devil, Sadist (B&R #14)
"Does it hurt now? I have the only thing that can stop the pain right here. But my customers have to do exactly as they're told.": Devil, Sadist (B&R #14)
Betsy Kane: "Then there was that terrible night... and every time I think of his sneering, awful face... The pearls were to identify her to the gunman... Doctor Thomas by day, Bad Tommy by night. Patrick and Silas had to cover up the whole thing. The stolen drugs, the rape charges, the secret room where they treated him for months while my grandson was sent away to a boarding school. He killed my daughter, of that I have no doubt. Then he stood there and admitted he'd turned her into a drug addict and... and worse.": Thomas (ROBW #5)
"You could be the richest man on Earth. You know who I am. I'm offering you the same deal I offered the others. And I bet you everything you can't refuse. Tell me that's not hesitation, Carter. If you don't want the wealth, the fame, the admiration of your peers... what about the woman? Think about what happened when Roderick Kane chose not to play. But don't think too long. Your visitor won't keep forever.": Devil (ROBW #5)
"No one important, Carter. No one who matters.": Poor, Sadist (ROBW #5)
"Barbatos will lead us to the hidden casket of immortality and life eternal. All is prepared for the ceremony of the bat.": Rules (ROBW #5)
"A man's soul is in his reputation, his legacy. Destroy a reputation, destroy a soul.": Rules, Devil (ROBW #5)

"Open the hole in time, Carter... call down Barbatos, the hunter, the finder of great treasure.": Rules (ROBW #5)

[Carter wins Doctor Hurt's wager] "Yes... Well done. I hope that thought will comfort you in the years of lonely obscurity ahead. Now run.": Devil, Rules? (ROBW #5)
Joker: "The big brother you never had is on the Devil's chopping block": Devil (B&R #15)
Joker: "most evil man in the world": Rules (B&R #15)
"It seems I may have returned just in time to protect my beloved city from disaster.": Thomas (B&R #15)
"Our handsome young acrobat will become a human vegetable. Unable to move or feed or change himself. With only broken memories of how it felt to soar.": Sadist (B&R #15)
"All I ask is something small in return. Something soul-sized.": Devil (B&R #15)
Damian: "You're not the Devil! You're a man who lived too long. We know who you are!": Rules (B&R #15)
"Become my creature, submit absolutely to my instruction and when your soul is extinguished in my service... perhaps you'll finally know by the gaping hole that remains what it is you've lost.": Devil (B&R #15)
"[Thomas and Martha] took me in. They showed me kindness.": Thomas (B&R #15)
"Now I've taken his face. He'll be remembered as a criminal, she a drug fiend. Their son mentally ill. The legacy of Batman will be one of monstrous failure and perversion.": Sadist, Rules (B&R #15)
"I will be Batman in my great black car, preying on the weak, in Gotham's endless night.": Sadist (B&R #15)
"The ceremony of the bat has begun. As the sun shines black you and I will summon the spirit Barbatos to open this impenetrable box of ancient secrets.": Rules (B&R #15)
"One last chance to save your friend. Raise your left hand and say...": Rules (B&R #15)
"Well... here we are come to business. Alone at last. You and I.": Rules (B&R #16 preview)

That list excerpts sixty-four of the items that are most revealing about Doctor Hurt's self-image; for the moment, I withhold a few more which indicate something a bit trickier and give us more insight still. The aforementioned pieces of evidence point in several different directions. Cumulatively, they are consistent with this back story:

Thomas was a Wayne born around 1730. Contact with a bat-demon in 1765 gave him limited life extension and perhaps other powers such as protection from bullets or the ability to cast a curse. He has tried to summon Barbatos again, perhaps to refresh his life extension, but has never been able to do so. He has pursued a few evil goals since then: He wants wealth and power, but particularly the helm of the Wayne family, which he considers to be rightfully his. In the meantime, he has come to seek the corruption of all virtue and he leads others, particularly the ultra-wealthy, to make deals that cost them their souls. In pursuit of those goals, he has claimed at least once to be the younger Thomas Wayne, which he is not, and has implied if not stated that he is the Devil, which he may or may not believe.

That account is consistent and is perhaps relatively complete. But there are hints of other important story elements that do not fit easily into that.

[to Bruce] "Remember me? How you've grown, hmm? How long has it been?" (Batman #678) That line may be throwaway trash talking to his enemy when Bruce is down. But we know that Thomas and Martha took Hurt in, so Hurt probably did see Bruce when Bruce was a boy. But he has also seen Bruce as an adult, so it is odd that he mentions that Bruce has grown. This could be sheer rhetoric; it is also consistent with possession of Hurt by another mind such that he doesn't recall, as he's speaking in #678, the Isolation Experiment but does recall meeting the Waynes earlier.

"['W'] is the mark of the shadow, the dark twin." (B&R #11) Of whom? God? Some long-since dead Wayne -- Darius? The much younger Thomas? Bruce? These lines and the "double you" (which is a pun on the name of the letter) mean that Hurt is in his own mind someone else's counterpart, but there is no obvious answer as to whom. Moreover, the "double you" (a pun on the spoken name of 'W') is compatible either with the counterpart concept or with possession.

"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... In the name of the first red rock and the rage, and the angels and dukes of the dark side inferno pits." (ROBW #5) This line (as well as the chanting of King Coal's men) indicates a link between earthly Satanism and Darkseid and Apokolips. This is consistent with the previously hypothesized back story, but suggests that Hurt has become specifically aware of the nature of the demons to which he refers (the 99 Fiends include dukes) as originating somehow with Apokolips.

"Souls to feed Barbatos." (ROBW #5) This is a line of crucial importance despite its brevity, as the following makes clear:

What motivates Hurt? The answer does not need to be one thing. A person can like both skeet shooting and butterscotch pudding. Hurt is (a) a sadist; (b) a man who believes that the supernatural offers him a reward that he is seeking; (c) a Wayne who wishes that specific fortune and empire to be his. Is he also (d) the principle tempter in the universe, the Devil? "Souls to feed Barbatos" does not deliver a clear negative answer to that, but it indicates that most of the quotations tagged "Devil" above can be explained more simply: Hurt believes that what he seeks from Barbatos can be obtained by paying Barbatos with souls. When Hurt spoke of destroying Bruce's soul, he identified himself as a being who seeks evil for its own sake. But the indication that the souls are for Barbatos gives a simpler explanation of his motives: He is still motivated by more than one thing, the (a), (b), and (c) above -- he is a sadist who wants to be the principle Wayne and get some deal (probably for immortality) as well. But there is no evidence that he has a separate motive to collect others' souls. In "Gothic", Manfred acted to cause deaths in order to further his goals, but only because it furthered his goals. He says "Regrettably, this involved the regular spilling of blood." (LOTDK #9) He goes on to call the murders he commits "atrocious." They are a means to achieve an end. Hurt's line "Souls to feed Barbatos" is consistent with Hurt regretting what he does as a means to achieve his desired end. On the other hand, as a sadist, he may enjoy it quite a bit, and his characteristic smile suggests that he does. But he has a motive besides doing it because he is the being whose purpose is simply to do such things. He believes that he is gathering souls to pay such a being.

While this makes it simpler to explain his actions as those of a self-serving man (the "Rules" role that Hurt plays), it doesn't contradict the more complex possibilities that he is also the Devil or is possessed by the Devil and speaking with multiple voices. There remains the interesting dimension of the audiences to whom he speaks. The following people are present when Hurt asserts or may assert that he is the Devil: Lane, the Joker, Bruce, Dick and Damian, the doomed priest, Nichols, and in vaguer terms, others. If he is sure that he is not the Devil, why would he lay the "deal" act on so thick? Why would he say "You know what I am" with the impersonal pronoun instead of "who"? When Damian says that Hurt is not the Devil, why doesn't Hurt say, "Well, of course not. But anyway..."?

This is where the audiences make it complex. Hurt may have told Lane something so Lane would tell Bruce. Hurt could say that he's the Devil because he believes it, or he could be a man playing by Rules who thinks that a soul is only ruined if a person deals with the Devil than if a person just accepts a thing they want. Maybe he debases the priest (who isn't going to live to talk to anyone else) by telling him that he is blessing the Devil. And therefore, anything Hurt says can be explained by two motives so that there is evidence of both possibilities -- that he believes that he is the Devil; or, that he finds it useful to ruin souls for Barbatos -- but proof of neither.

And what did Hurt say to the Joker off-camera in #680? He told the Joker who he was, then the Joker said that what he found out is part of why the Joker would not join forces with Batman against the Black Glove. The Joker later calls Hurt the Devil, which is a viewpoint (fact or fiction) that he only could have gotten from Hurt, so clearly Hurt told the Joker that he is the Devil. Why lie to the Joker? Is that a soul that is not yet ruined? Maybe Hurt also told the Joker that he began as a Wayne. Clearly, the Joker's investigations as Oberon Sexton have led him to that knowledge by now, but the Joker already wanted revenge on Hurt before RIP ended. Because he's a relative of Bruce? Because he tried to do the Joker's job of eliminating Batman? Or because the Joker wants to trump the Devil, taking it as a personal challenge to be a bigger villain?

Likewise, Hurt's motive for trying to get Bruce becomes ambiguous: Is it because he's the tempter of souls and wants to corrupt "the man who has no price, the man who cannot be bought or sold or swayed from his singular path"? (Batman #663) Or because Bruce is the "usurper" holding the empire that Hurt, the rejected Wayne, believes is rightfully his? By surviving when Chill was meant to kill him, did Bruce ruin Hurt's plan to begin posing as Thomas? Even Hurt's motive for taking the Wayne empire is ambiguous: Does he want the house or free rein to hunt for the casket?

The audiences make it complex and the double audiences -- characters inside the story and we outside the story -- make it doubly complex. Look at the timeline of the evidence above. Ordered by publication date, we see one thing: Of the first stories to be published (by the end of RIP), there are many pieces of evidence for the Devil persona, followed by Thomas, with Wayne and Rules basically absent.  Of the stories coming later, Rules and Devil are the leading themes referenced, with Wayne arising as a common theme, but much less prevalent.

Alternately, consider the evidence in terms of Hurt's personal timeline. We see a trend that is the reverse of publication order. Of events taking place before Batman's career started, the Rules motive is easily the most prevalent, with Devil, Wayne, and Thomas making only a couple of showings each. Of the events taking place after Batman's career started, the Devil persona is clearly the most prevalent. If we had seen this story in the order of DC Universe chronology, we would have seen a man make some sort of infernal deal to start the story, with a pretty clear track as it unfolded of who he was and what he became. The narration did the opposite: We had an utterly ambiguous figure who was revealed to us, one hint at a time, as the Devil, before the backstory was shown, one hint at a time, as to how he became who he is. And so the origin comes last, tomorrow, in Batman and Robin #16. At least, the preview shows us the beginning of the origin. At least, we may see more of the origin. We may not. As Morrison said in a recent interview, "At the same time it comes to an end now, so we learn a lot more about him, but I did want to keep a little bit of that ambiguity in there because that's what he's all about." The double motives and folding logic as each line in the story is told for two audiences has been so far a masterpiece of ambiguity.


  1. One great Post Rik I Read, One Question How Hell Scape Hurt From The Room In DC Dk ? And Why The Girl Dont Remember Their Presence In The End Of The Milligan Script?

    Salutes From Venezuela

  2. great post- i am on the edge of my seat for tomorrows batman and robin #16! i can't read it until after work, i am in suspense

  3. Mr. Mulder, On viewing the preview again, I'm not sure that Hurt stayed in the room; he may have left then entered it again, opening it. Or, if he planned this, he could have left himself tools before going in. Finally, if he's immortal, he could get even more creative about escaping, such as setting the wooden "door" on fire.

    The Milligan story is not exactly compatible with this one, but also, she was drugged.

  4. Great analysis rikdad! CBR and Newsarama have some spoilers in the advanced reviews, but I can't wait to pick it up tomorrow night. Questions yet to be answers for the run in general:

    a) Who is Dr. Hurt?
    b) How did Dr. Hurt get his powers?
    c) What happens with Dr. Hurt's plan?
    d) ... the Joker's plan?
    e) ... Pyg's plan?
    f) How did Bruce escape Darkseid's Omega Trap?
    g) How does the situtation of the JLA/the Archivist resolve?
    h) Now that Bruce is back, what is INC?
    i) How are the lies about the Waynes dealt with?
    j) What about the financial irregularities?
    k) Is Bruce's idenity safe anymore?
    l) Since Damian rejected the deal, does that mean #666 will never happen?
    m) What about Talia and the second Damian fetus?

  5. You Got Rights, Are Two different Views, Milligan And Morrison

    Is Amazing The Really Nature Of The Spirit Of Barbatos....


  6. I am refreshing this page every ten minutes. I cannot wait to see what Rikdad has to say about issue 16.

  7. It occurs to me that Hurt is quite literally the god-damned Batman.

  8. i caught a weird little reference. are you familiar with chuck palahniuk, author of fight club? he wrote a book called "rant" where one of the subplots is this idea that Jack the Ripper went back in time, killed his parents before he was born, and ended up becoming immortal.