The plot brought few surprises. Aside from Dick Grayson and three allies speeding back from the UK even faster than the Evil Clone, we knew what was coming: Batwoman, Alfred, and Damian survived. The clone lost, and seems not to have.
But sometimes the talking is where it's at, even though this issue had the series' best action scenes since #2.
Evil Clone, who had no onscreen speech in the last issue, did quite a bit of talking this time. To convey a Frankenstein-like slurring, Morrison used online chat conventions of improper spelling, but it was easily decoded. While quite un-Bruce-like in intent, the clone had his memories, but distorted, with the traumatic memory of its last few minutes in the lab layered on top. By telling us some things that only Bruce knew, the clone offered some interesting information, but, as has so often been the case in Morrison's work, with a lot of noise (the clone's imperfect mind) obscuring to some unknown extent the signal.
As the clone gradually loses a fight, first to Damian (and Alfred!), then to Dick, the Knight and Squire, and Batwoman, he offers the following choice bits of intelligence (some additional threatening and prattling redacted):
On himself: Blood. Tainted. Sour blood. ... Something seriously wrong with my brain.
On the memories that were too much for the clones to take: Gunshots cracking inside my skull, day and night! ... And others, like me. Newborn, screaming, clawing pearls from their eyes. ... See her, her pearls spill down Broadway in the rain. Her heart stops and blood runs cold on Crime Alley.
So we know that the clones have something wrong with them, and there's the hint of a mystery there that was pending from their appearance in Last Rites: If they have Bruce's biology and his experiences, why did they fail? Why didn't they absorb his ability to take that psychological punishment and rebound?
Therein lies a metatextual essay that Morrison has been writing since "52". Morrison has repeatedly articulated with his stories and interviews that the darkness that Bruce experienced between 1988 and 2005 was "too much". He shows this in a montage in "52" #30, and the same scenes are repeated, almost exactly, in Last Rites leading up to the clones being overwhelmed. In the first case, it is Dick Grayson looking back, beginning the conclusion of his speech to Tim Drake with "In the end", the same qualifier the clone uses in this story. In the second case, it was Bruce deliberately piping memories to the clones, knowing that these particular memories were too much. And Morrison paid a delicate homage to the work of Steve Englehart, showing a one-panel flashback to Detective #474 (1977) as part of Simyan's effort to spare the clones; Mokkari congratulates Simyan for that choice. It's Morrison's compliment to a run which made very similar artistic choices to his own. But then, Bruce turns the narration back to the 1988-2005 period, and it does the clones in. But to give the Lump energy to rise and save the day, Bruce feeds him some memories from Morrison's run: the demon-cutting ritual, meeting Damian, and RIP. It's a small abstraction to say that Morrison grades the eras: 1939-1987 good; 1988-2005 bad; 2006 on, good. At least, if we mean good and bad for the man to experience; whether there is an intended comment on the readability of the comics, that's not implied. So the clones simply got what Bruce got, and it was, in Dick Grayson's explanation from "52", too much for one man to handle. In the author's view, the clones are where Bruce was going when Morrison took over.
On Damian: I'm your father, Damian. Those tests proved what I feared most of all... You are here to replace me. They sent you to taint the bloodline, for all time. Damian, Demon's Head! In the end it was you. You were my biggest mistake.
As to Damian, we have perhaps gotten the answer as to the genetic testing first mentioned in Batman #677 -- Damian is Bruce's son, but there is something tainted. Something other than his mother being Talia? We don't know. But something tipped Bruce off what we were also told in #666, and know to be coming in the next few issues of this series: Talia intends for Damian to usurp the Wayne line for her plans of conquest. Somehow, Bruce knew this. we knew it, too. Dick is about to know it.
Upon taking a kick from Batwoman: Augghh. Kathy! How could she do this to me?
The clone mistakes Batwoman for Batwoman. That is, the one Bruce knew and loved, the yellow-suited brunette Kathy Kane (as opposed to the black-suited redhead Kate Kane; is that clear enough?).
On the verge of killing Damian: And I say, "What - what - does it take to stop the gunshots?" And city's big black voice reply "The sacrifice of a son."
Possibly the most important line of the issue: Because in #666, we found out that saving the city required the sacrifice of Damian's soul. The clone is speaking of a literal blood sacrifice, but given the looming importance of #666, there's no doubt that this is foreshadowing the deal with the Devil that is perhaps coming. It's clear that Bruce will be anguished by Damian making the deal. Perhaps that's what makes Damian say in #666 "Looks like I let him down again." The deal may be, though not the first, the most significant time.
To Dick Grayson, upon the clones's own decay, collapse (and death?): I'm what you... what you will be. Udd.
Another, more chilling foreshadowing of #666. The clone is dying and says that this is what Dick will be. There's no way the clone should know if Dick is soon to die unless it has something more than the clone's memories. Maybe King Coal was right, and it is The Beast. I should say that I think that Dick will probably cheat a coming brush with death, but the little hints and clues are making survival too tenuous to be sure of.
The Once and Future King
The first two mentions of pearls in this issue clearly refer to Martha Wayne's pearls falling when she was murdered. However, these and the third mention, in reference to Pearly, begs us to look at the character Pearly more closely. (And make me embarrassed that his motif alone wasn't enough to do so two issues back.)
Pearly's a criminal. His jailer calls him a nasty piece of work and horrible. And yet, he's the white king contrasted with black. Though it's tit-for-tat, he helps Dick Grayson without holding anything back. (At least it seems to be help before Evil Clone is the result.)
And so, we can wonder: Is Pearly really a good guy? In fact... if his name is thus bound to the late Mrs. Wayne, is he a figure of more significance? Could he even be an Omega Sanction home to Bruce Wayne?
We learn one more thing in this issue and given the writer's British roots, it may be significant: Pearly's name is Charlie English. He's a self-styled king. Was there ever a King Charles of England? Yes, there were two, father and son. King Charles I's reign was ended when he was executed during the English Civil War. After an interruption in the monarchy, during which there was no king, his son took over with the same name: King Charles II. The son was also called the Merrie Monarch. Does this father-son pair sound like any Final-Crisis-enduring Gothamites we know of? The pattern breaks when we note that Pearly's son is named Eddie; obviously, that's not Charlie II, but Eddie the Pearly Prince does have a profound resemblance to the classic Robin look, domino mask and all.
We always have to be cautious as to when a pattern is intended and when it really has something to it. I'd say, though, if this all weren't intended, it should have been, at least as a parallel if not a hint to something more about Pearly.
And if Pearly "is", in any sense Batman, who is his black opposite meant to represent? Well, I think that's someone we'll be seeing pretty soon.