Jul
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The Morrison Batman Notes Part 1 – This Is Your Brain On Drugs

Posted by on Monday, July 7th, 2008 at 12:01:34 PM

I’m seeing a whole hell of a lot of confusion about Batman R.I.P. out there, which is perfectly understandable – it’s a pretty damn opaque story, even more so than Final Crisis. In the interest of art appreciation, I’ve decided to try to go through Morrison’s recent Batman work and see if I can help shed some light on this fairly byzantine plot, as well as point out the myriad continuity references Morrison makes.

Also of considerable interest are Tim Callahan’s annotations and musings about this run – as always, this article is just one dude’s opinion. Apologies to the numerous people I’ve talked about this run with over time whose ideas and comments I’m probably about to partially steal, but thanks to you anyway, especially Chris Eckert.

This was originally going to be all in one go, but when I finished I realized I somehow wrote 8500 fucking words, and nobody in their right mind wants to read that. So I’ve split this up into the Kubert issues (655-658, 663-666), the Williams/Daniel issues (667-669, 672-674), and the R.I.P. issues (672-678) (which are jam fucking packed). I’ll have it serialized out throughout the week.

Before we begin, I just want to mention many of the recurring themes/phrases/ideas throughout this story, that you’ll see me pointing out:

  1. Hallucinogenic drugs/through isolation: Batman tripping balls is the overriding concept throughout this entire run, and the seed from which almost every other aspect and plot development takes place. Drugs, and their effect on the human psyche, especially in combination with living an iconic fantasy life, have brought Batman to a very fragile point. None of this is new, half of Batman’s enemies use hallucinogenic poisons (especially the Joker and Scarecrow), and he’s been poisoned or on drugs like every third Batman story since 1960.
  2. Nature vs. nurture: This is especially evident in the rivalry between Tim and Damian for the right to be Batman’s son, as well as the ruminations on Batman’s own upbringing. This theme generally extends more into the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul crossover, which I won’t be discussing here since it seems to have little relevance to R.I.P., and I’ll also probably feel like an idiot when it becomes important and I have to do an appendix, but ah well.
  3. Red and black: These two colors show up everywhere representing good and evil, with special relevance to the colors on a roulette wheel.
  4. Zur en Arrh: self-explanatory after the latest issue, this is Batman’s implanted Manchurian Candidate codeword and the identity of a planet from Batman #113 that Bruce was abducted to (no wonder Morrison is referencing that story; he loves alien abductions) and on which he had the powers of Superman. The guy who summoned him was the “Batman of Zur en Arrh”, who had on that horrendously/hilariously ugly costume Tony Daniel reintroduced at the end of 678.

Throughout, I’ll also be taking a look at the various suspects for the identity of the Black Glove, whose identity Morrison calls “the most shocking Batman revelation in seventy years.” Taking a look, then, at the likely suspects:

  1. Bruce Wayne: Batman’s fucking with himself, a la Len Wein’s seminal Untold Legend of the Batman miniseries, where he got hurt in an explosion and started blacking out and being his own worst enemy, in a very personal and similar manner to the Black Glove. He’s supposedly cured by the end of the story, which was also a rather excellent round-up of his origin and life up to that time in continuity, and contained a lot of elements Morrison seems to be reusing (Thomas Wayne’s original Batman suit, for instance).
  2. Thomas Wayne: Batman’s father is alive, actually a con man, and out to reclaim Wayne Manor. I personally think this is actually going to be an issue four or five fakeout Morrison employs, a la Jason Todd in Hush, and it was hinted at in Batman #677. However, I just think this would be too crazy to stick, and would also harm Greg Rucka’s (in my opinion underrated and brilliant) Death and the Maidens, a story Morrison’s expressed fondness for.
  3. Dick Grayson: Pretty damn unlikely, considering recent events in R.I.P..
  4. Tim Drake: See above.
  5. Alfred Pennyworth/Beagle: Anyone who’s been reading my stuff on this site knows that this is who I think it is, and I’ll be pointing out instances of his absence and evidence of his guilt. I’ll be taking a look at the reasons against, too, but I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty damn sure this is the culprit and recent issues have only backed that up.

So. Let’s go.

Batman #655
Batman #655

Batman #655 – “Batman & Son Part 1: Building a Better Batmobile”

(art: Andy Kubert & Dave Stewart)

Page 1: Gordon falls. He’s on the stereotypical “Joker smiling venom”, which makes you laugh until you vomit out your insides. A modification of it shows up in #663 as the aerosol released by the combination of the red and black roses.

Pages 2-3: The Joker is wielding his signature brutal weapon (the crowbar), traumatizing a number of children in a way broadly similar to the young-age traumatization of Bruce Wayne, by beating the shit out of a guy who seems to be Batman.

Page 4: DRUGS! “I *love* messing with your head. Ever taken an acid trip?” If Joker’s conscious of what’s coming, that’s a nice clue; otherwise, it’s simply talented prognostication. The last line, “Hydrochloric, that is.” was added into the final issue but wasn’t in the original Wizard preview; whether that was for censorship purposes (which seems unlikely given later issues) or simply to obscure the eventual theme is unclear. Batman pulls a gun, showing this is the first of the Three Ghosts – the gun-wielding maniac who we later see placed into context in #665.

Page 6: This is the gunshot wound Joker is recovering from in #663. The graffiti on the walls, “Zur en Arrh”, places the word into the readers’ lexicons early (and also sets off legions of furious Google searches).

Pages 11-12: Note Alfred’s white glove while in his butler/supportive role. He initiates the idea of attending the Action For Africa party (where he meets Jezebel Jet and Damian) – could he have tipped Talia off? Alfred’s dialogue indicates that the Batman portion of his personality (if there exists such a thing) is currently dominant.

Page 13: Bat-Poles! Also, it certainly seems like the Batmobile could be interpreted as a metaphor for Bruce’s life, especially considering the title. Tim obeys Bruce’s wishes regarding taking the cover off the car. He also a eats a sandwich, beginning an onrunning Tim Drake Eating thing that continues throughout the run; the eminent Chris Eckert has an article on this (and other interesting points about Morrison’s Batman run) coming up that’s pretty fantastic and convincing. What if Alfred forgot to feed the bats?? (And why does he keep feeding the Robin?)

Page 16: Francine Langstrom is interrogated via serum by Talia. The kid is Damian. Francine supposedly died in the 2006 miniseries Man-Bat by Bruce Jones & Mike Huddleston, but judging by this issue and her later apperances in Batman and the Outsiders common sense prevailed and that book was ignored, which was probably a smart decision because it wasn’t especially good.

Page 17: The Earl of Wordenshire is England’s Knight of Knight and the Squire, who last appeared (previous to this) in Morrison’s three-issue JLA: Classified arc (#1-3) with Ed McGuinness. He appears again in #667. Kirk Langstrom is Francine, husband, the Man-Bat, who injected himself with a serum that sometimes transform him into, well, a big hominid bat.

Pages 20-21: A fun Bruce/Alfred conversation that’s especially interesting if you consider Alfred’s possible villainy.

Page 22: “You were on the moon?” He actually kind of was, with the Morrison-era JLA. “I hear talk of ALTERNATE UNIVERSES where the laws of physics are different and ANYTHING goes!” That could be interpreted as him slyly referring to the events of the then-recent Infinite Crisis, or to his original adventure on Zur en Arrh in Batman #113, where differences in physics gave him the powers of Superman.

Page 23: Artemis Fowl is a series of novels by Eoin Colfer, about the world’s youngest crimelord – something especially relevant considering the upcoming appearance of Damian Wayne – perhaps he knew what was about to happen? I mean, he bails to the limo now, too, something Bruce mentions as a tendency of his later on in #675.

Batman #656
Batman #656

Batman #656 – “Batman & Son Part 2: Man-Bats of London”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Dave Stewart)

Page 1: The introduction of Jezebel Jet, this run’s love interest (and an interesting mirror reversal of Silver St. Cloud). Note her look and colors – BLACK skin, RED hair.

Page 2: “All this comic book stuff is WAY too highbrow for me. I collect tribal art, schizophrenic painters, “outsider” work, I believe they call it. …there’s a MESSAGE here somewhere. I know if I just stare HARD enough…” Ha! Practically baiting the reader.

Page 5: “My butler’s the only one who knows how to make the CELLPHONE work.” Even when Bruce is acting, his dependence on Alfred is palpable.

Page 8: “If there’s one thing I HATE… it’s art with no content.” Again, practically baiting the reader.

Page 10: Aunt Agatha is a reference to Batman #89, where Bruce Wayne’s long-lost Aunt Agatha comes back to help the boys with, uh, living and stuff, as a prototype for the TV show’s Aunt Harriet.

Page 20: The union Talia is referring to is from the 1987 graphic novel Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr & Jerry Bingham, although it occurred out of love rather than sedation. A different version of this appears in Damian’s flashback in #666; whether that’s a mistake or a clue I’m not sure.

Page 21: “DRUGGED senseless.” – another reference to Batman getting drugged up (against his will?)

Batman #657
Batman #657

Batman #657 – “Batman & Son Part 3: Wonderboys”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Dave Stewart)

Pages 2-3: Note Bruce brings Damian to the Batcave before Wayne Manor, showing that he considers Damian to be the son of the Bat, not Bruce. (The fact that he wore his mask while boning Talia probably indicated that as well).

Page 4: Tim obeyed Batman’s wishes not to look at the new Batmobile in #655; Damian just tears it off, as Batman remarks it’s “not finished yet.” If the Batmobile is a metaphor for the vessel through which Batman traverses through life, this definitely shows the difference – and the contrast speaks to the nature vs. nurture theme, as Tim is not Bruce’s son (but is a well-adjusted, smart kid) while Damian is of his blood and is fairly bloodthirsty.

Page 8: “Ahh… memory lane.” Alfred reflects on Batman’s angry years as a kid, establishing his surrogate-father role for Bruce himself. Thomas Wayne may have been Bruce’s father by nature, but Alfred was largely his father by nurture. He has two fathers, like his two sons.

Page 10: Note Alfred’s look as he closes the door.

Page 13: “The fifth dimension?” Bat-Mite is from the Fifth Dimension. “Hey, you take SUCTION CUPS and SMOKE BOMBS and ELECTRONIC GIMMICKS, and you add the power of SUGGESTION, is all I’m saying. Illusion. Psychology. Technology. #%&*ology.” Definitely pointing to the power of hallucination/suggestion/psychological attack that comes up later, akin (in conjunction with the Black Glove’s overall theme of rich-people-playing-checkers-with-people’s-lives) to John Fowles’s The Magus and its semi-adaptation, David Fincher’s The Game.

Page 15: “The SERVANT left his prints on the KEYPAD.” How? He was wearing white gloves the whole time, unless he did it on purpose…

Page 22: Note the original-Batman costume from Detective Comics #235, which introduced Thomas Wayne wearing that costume to a ball and therefore inspiring Bruce. (The costume is later torn up and sent to Batman to initiate the previously-aforementioned Untold Legend of Batman by Len Wein).

Batman #658
Batman #658

Batman #658 – “Batman & Son Part 4: Absent Fathers”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Guy Major)

Page 4: “It takes more than a MUGGING to ruffle my feathers.” What mugging? What was stolen? Ostensibly, Damian just figured out the keycode from the fingerprints on the keypad. “And I’d keep a very close eye on HIM.” Alfred deflects blame and plays Damian against Tim throughout the run.

Page 10: “I have a lot of stuff nobody knows about.” His eggs are in so many baskets that nobody has all the intelligence about him – perhaps even the Black Glove?

Page 20: “For people like US, the world is the gameboard, and NATIONS are pawns.” This mirrors the checkersmaster persona of the Black Glove.

Batman #663
Batman #663

Batman #663 – “The Clown at Midnight”

(art: John Van Fleet)

Page 3: “Black and red flowers.” As a general note, the prose in this issue is borderline-hysterically pulpish and florid, mirroring the writing style of Bruce Wayne in the Black Casebook itself, the “hard-boiled style Alfred loves to read.” Also note this attack takes place at the Red Hook Dockyards.

Page 4: “Deep in the dense architectural reefs of midtown, primary reds and yellows and the hot purples of gigantic moving advertising hoardings are turning the rain into something that might as well be liquid stained glass … to rinse the lowlifes and the high rollers off the bustling streets and back into the bars, the theaters, the crack houses, restaurants and clip joints, as if the sky itself, in some spontaneous creative frenzy, has chosen to empty an ocean of raw printer’s ink on the gaudy, just and unjust citizens of Gotham alike.” Red, yellow and purple are the primary colors of Batman’s Zur en Arrh outfit later on in the run, and the vibe around that outfit’s apperance certainly reflect the armageddon feeling of this passage.

Page 6: This establishes, within Morrison’s run, the entire institute of Arkham’s patronizing/borderline insulting attitude towards Batman.

Page 7: Attack two: Black Brothers Department Store.

Page 8: The combination of red and black flowers releases the death pollen. Batman mentions that they represent snake scales and rebirth – just as this issue is Joker shedding his former skin and evolving, so is Batman R.I.P. that for Bruce.

Page 9: Harley, of course, as the “checkerboard doll,” is both red and black and an agent of change and rebirth. She’s using a red spraypaint can, but that might just be Van Fleet’s choice.

Page 10: “Gotham Noir” – Noir for black, obviously. The Gotham Noir is mentioned numerous other times in Morrison’s run, as well.

Page 16: Joker thinks, “Why be an orphaned boy when you can be a superhero?” Has Batman ever told Joker his origin? If not, is this just Morrison screwing up, or…. who told him?

Page 17: “Red and black. Like a bat. In a dream. In a window.” Another reference. Later on, in #672, when the bat crashes through the window (in Bruce’s dream!), it’s jet black with bright red eyes.

Batman #664
Batman #664

Batman #664 – “Three Ghosts of Batman”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Guy Major)

Page 4: A “Pennyworth Blue” rose, one issue after the story with the red and black flowers. Also apparently rare. Additionally, note the resemblance to the blue hallucinogenic flowers from Batman Begins, a movie Morrison has named as a major influence on his run.

Page 11: Graffiti sighting #2 for “Zur en Arrh.” This is the site of the second Ghost of Batman. The shorter ginger cop is Farelli; he’s mentioned by name in later issues, and is the GCPD secret-keeper regarding the Ghosts.

Page 15: Here we see that Batman’s taking the street rap for both the First Ghost skullcapping the Joker in #655 and his insane kid decapitating the Spook back in #657.

Page 16: We never see Ellie again (although a girl has a similar face in #666), although I assume she’ll pop up again.

Page 17: Batman’s narration, much like #663 and the Black Casebook, continues to be intentionally overly pulpish and florid.

Page 18: For the insanely sheltered kids, the powder with the syringe and spoon is heroin. The hooker is inexplicably wearing Bart Simpson pajamas.

Page 19: Enter the Second Ghost, with a deliberate similarity to 1994 Knightfall villain Bane. We later learn this Ghost is a former cop named Muller.

Page 20: The black casebook is Batman’s journal of all of his wacky ’50s sci-fi adventures. The first Ghost, and this one, make up two-thirds of a trio about which he once had a dream (this part doesn’t seem to be an existing story, but rather a detail Morrison put in).

Page 22: The huge footprint on Batman’s back evokes his previous spinal cord breaking by Bane himself in Knightfall.

Batman #665
Batman #665

Batman #665 – “The Black Casebook”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Guy Major)

Page 1: Note the graffiti doesn’t say “Zur en Arrh” anymore. Is that on purpose/the same graffiti? Could Batman be hallucinating it? Could it somehow magically follow the Three Ghosts?

Pages 4-5: This is Bruce’s downtown penthouse from the ’70s, during his smoking-jacket Hugh Hefner phase.

Page 6: Bruce is hallucinating about Damian and the Three Ghosts. The first two are clear, but note the third looks more like old-style 1930s Batman than the Third Ghost we see next issue and in 672-674. Could that have been a false Third Ghost, and the real one deals with possible guilt over letting Joe Chill kill himself (673)?

Page 7: “I had to administer a rather HIGH DOSE of painkiller.” Or hallucinogens, considering last page… Hugo Strange’s monster serum was used to make an, uh, army of monsters, a story recently well-retold in Matt Wagner’s Batman and the Monster Men and originally in Batman #1 (where the Joker also debuted).

Page 8: Alfred shows he’s been reading the Black Casebook and making an electronic copy (for what purpose?). Alfred tries to play off its contents as Batman tripping balls, but Bruce is convinced at this point of its reality.

Page 9: The first example of Alfred blaming Tim’s insecurity and eagerness on Damian’s recent arrival. The time Batman is referring to beating up Superman is likely from Jeph Loeb’s Hush.

Page 17: Farelli again. Batman blows up the old Batmobile he was using that he grabbed from the penthouse garage, hence why it looks all vintage.

Page 22: The first on-panel appearance of the Black Glove, with face unseen, watching Bruce and Jezebel in Paris. This page effectively absolves Bruce, since he can’t really watch himself make out with Jezebel, and it absolves Jezebel from being the Glove herself (although she could definitely be working for him).

Batman #666
Batman #666

Batman #666 – “Batman in Bethlehem”

(art: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang & Guy Major)

Pages 2-3: A riff off the classic Finger/Kane origin story from Detective #33 and Batman #1, which was laid out similarly and carried the same title. A few items of note:

  • Talia and Bruce are now naked and boning in a shower – conflicts with Kubert’s own rendition of the union in 656. Also, Bruce has his mask off now.
  • He rebelled by… torturing rats with poison? What the hell is this kid, Kenard from The Wire?
  • Note Daddy Batman’s suit – big chest symbol, deeper pockets. If it’s still coming, it has to be after R.I.P., since Batman’s wearing the same old thing in Final Crisis.

Page 4: The dollthing has face paint like Ellie’s from last issue.

Page 6: Yeats’s “The Second Coming” is a widely-quoted (and pretty awesome) apocalyptic poem inspired by (it’s debated) one of the many wars and revolutions of the 1910s, especially World War I and the Russian Revolution (which are kind of related, so hey). The woman in the wheelchair is Barbara Gordon, the Commissioner’s daughter, who was crippled in Moore/Bolland’s The Killing Joke and in present time leads the all-girl superteam Birds of Prey.

Page 8: Alfred’s long dead, presumably, and now represented by a cat with black and white fur (resembling a tuxedo).

Page 9: The right window holds what seems to be an abandoned Joker outfit; the left, a group of Batmen seemingly working together (based on Damian’s comments later, it’s likely Bruce, Dick and Damian). The big Batsuit guy is the one we saw dead in the origin story pages ago. Damian’s loading up on Vicodin in the last panel.

Page 11: As later explained in #674, the Third Ghost’s obsession with Satanic imagery comes from Dr. Simon Hurt faking his family’s murders by the hands of Satanists in an attempt to duplicate the tragedy that fuels Batman. Barbara says “that monster was responsible for the death of… of a good FRIEND” regarding Damian, implying she’s coursecorreting her statement from something else – so she’s probably talking about Dick Grayson, her former lover, rather than Bruce.

Page 12: I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but the Third Ghost is singing/stating a satanic modification of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Page 13: “Bring me Batman’s eyes!” Between the Ten-Eyed Men in 52 and calling the Joker the mal ojo/”evil eye” in #663, I’m starting to notice a pattern…

Page 15: All new villains, same as the ones murdered to create the pentagram map. Perhaps they’ll be introduced in the book proper after R.I.P.? Professor Pyg’s dollotron does look a lot like Ellie.

Page 16: The Third Ghost is referring to his psychotorture at the hands of Simon Hurt, filtered trough his Satanic obsession.

Page 17: “The victory is in the PREPARATION.” Wingman later states this advice he received from Batman in #669. The “first three YEARS” comment implies Damian’s been doing this for a while.

Page 18: Damian confirms the two Batmen were Bruce and Dick. The time the Third Ghost is referring to could be his torture of Bruce in 672-674, or a role yet to be played in R.I.P. The old man/dragon could be more of his Satanic obsession, or it could be Alfred/the Black Glove (I apologize if this theory is wearing on you, I just really think it’s true!)

Page 19: Have they stated Damian’s age? Is he anywhere near fourteen? He certainly doesn’t look like it.

Page 20: Again, who is the old man/dragon, and how could Damian offer him his soul? Is this literal or metaphorical? This all depends on how much of the supernatural aspect in this run is insanity/hallucination and how much is reality, which I’ll discuss later as Bat-Mite shows up.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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