Oh hell yeah. This issue was incredible.
Page 1: Batman’s fully enveloped himself in his new persona. Note his weapon, the baseball bat, making him a literal bat-man. (I can’t believe I had to have this pointed out to me.)
Pages 2-3: The tailor doesn’t seem to be Paul Gambi, the Crime Tailor. As an aside, as I stated on Tony Daniel’s blog, I utterly adore Bat-Mite’s little cheering expression while Batman gets his interrogation on. Fantastic.
Page 4: This is where things, obviously, start getting weird. Batman’s always been associated with perching next to gargoyles; however, the rapport with the city here is new. Le Bossu’s gargoyle henchmen go along with his Hunchback of Notre Dame theme.
Page 5: “A machine designed to make Batman.” This is perfectly in standing with Morrison’s assertions about the nature of urbanism from The Invisibles, as well as the The Magus/The Game-inspired aspects of this whole arc. How deep does the rabbit hole go? Is the entire city of Gotham a playground designed to create such a wonderful human creature, or is Bruce Wayne fucked up and listened to his imaginary friends? The way Morrison’s managed to make it so it could really go either way is fantastic.
Page 6: How does Bat-Mite know it’s the teeth? Did Batman find the scar? Or is it just Bruce’s subconscious? I still tend to think Bat-Mite is real, but this issue certainly makes it more ambiguous.
Page 8: Bruce has apparently set up shop in the theater where he saw Zorro the night his parents died. He’s apparently back to Hobo Bruce Wayne mode and in control of the shopping cart; Bat-Mite’s later statements about the nature of Bruce’s hallucinations certainly call his own existence into doubt, as the entire Honor Jackson/Lone-Eye Lincoln (like the penny? Thanks Eric) trip that culminates in Crime Alley last issue could very easily be Bruce’s completely internal spiritual journey at this point. The balloon where only the first letter of every line Bat-Mite says is capitalized appears to be a mistake, as “tlano” is oddly in lowercase and he doesn’t maintain that speech pattern for the rest of the issue (Sorry, Randy Gentile; you still did a great job with Zur en Arrh Bruce and Joker’s unique modes of expression).
Page 9: The Zorro reference makes me consider its slight similarities with the term Zur En Arrh, something I’ll go into later. It’s interesting how Morrison brings back completely the idea of how two of Batman’s passions were born that night; he was almost equally influenced by Zorro as he was by the death of his parents. Darwyn Cooke’s excellent Batman: Ego is a fantastic exploration of this replationship. I’m still mystified somewhat by the entity on Bat-Mite’s back. Note, as well, that Bat-Mite and his piggybacker aren’t in the reflection in the mirror – I can’t track down any evidence of Mr. Mxyzptlk, Quisp the Thunderbolt, genies, or djinns not showing up in mirror reflections, so this is strong evidence that Bat-Mite is a helpful figment of Bruce’s imagination.
Additionally, consider the fact that Dr. Hurt was aware of the Zur-en-arrh episode, which was apparently simply a hallucinogenic flashback. You can’t just pick that kind of information out of someone’s head during an isolation experiment; indeed, it would seem likely instead that Hurt was given access to the Black Casebooks as they were being written, as I can’t figure out any other way he’d know about the word and its significance.
Page 10: In the first panel, Robin is leaving a voice message for the Knight and the Squire (Cyril and Beryl). I was totally wrong, it appears, about the armored dude being Springheeled Jack; last week’s Robin named him as Swagman, which fits perfectly with his Ned Kelly armor to peg him as the Dark Ranger’s nemesis. Tim’s wielding of the streetsign pole (or whatever it is) as a lever to topple Swagman echoes his traditional use of a bo staff (think Donatello of Ninja Turtles) as weapon. “Waltzing Matilda” is a popular Australian folk song, echoing Swagman’s working-class aesthetic.
Page 11: Beryl gets Robin’s message. Note that Knight has previously had a public nervous breakdown and recovered from it; given Alfred and Mayhew’s origins, that could easily have also been the result of the Black Glove.
Page 12: Charlie Caligula’s “Senator Fishy” is an interesting conflation of the Joker’s old fish scheme (from the Englehart/Rogers Detective run) and the actual Emperor Caligula’s penchant for giving animals political office.
Page 13: “Martius” is Latin for “of Mars.”
Page 14: Is this actually Alfred’s voice, or someone impersonating him? It’s unclear, but I imagine Hurt couldn’t do that talented of a reproduction. If it is Alfred, why would he not send some kind of codeword, even under duress? He’s always seemed particularly selfless in these kinds of situations…
Page 15: That’s El Sombrero’s calling card, obviously.
Page 16: The reasons for Hurt’s charade as Thomas Wayne are unclear. Given his apparent age, it’s highly unlikely he’s actually Thomas Wayne; Thomas Wayne, Jr. hasn’t been mentioned so far in this run, although I will admit this scene makes his appearance more logical; however, given the fact that the Club of Villains are still around to put on a show for, perhaps the Black Glove actually is Alfred. Either way, it’s certain that Hurt isn’t Bruce’s father, and given the Black Glove’s previously established love for falsifying records it seems unlikely that the “truth” about Bruce’s lineage is true, and therefore Hurt would only be repeating it for some other purpose.
Page 17: “Grotesque charade” seems like an oddly scripted line. It’s still unclear what the actual effects of Scorpiana’s little robots are. Particularly interesting is Hurt’s last line – “We’re breaking the Batman at midnight” – the concept of breaking, as opposed to killing, the Batman has been a major theme throughout his entire existence, crystallized with the ’90s’ infamous Knightfall/Knightquest/KnightsEnd storyline where Bane literally broke the Batman’s back. The Second Ghost of Batman’s physical appearance has always evoked Bane’s, and Morrison’s recently made a deal about his admiration for our buddies at Mindless Ones’ breakdown of why Bane matters.
Page 18: Mars, God of War. It’s probably unlikely it’s a match with the first issue of Final Crisis, though. After ZEA Batman’s awesome psychological pegging of Caligula, he whips out our favorite omniscient Sony Walkman to externalize his judgment. I mean, it’s not Batman who thinks this; the Bat-Radia told him so. Is he insane or Grant Morrison super-sane? You decide.
Page 19: “What’s that thing BEHIND you!” I can’t imagine what he’d be referring to other than Bat-Mite, as ZEA Batman’s Batbat is in front of him.
Page 20: Le Bossu’s psychiatrist identity is named as “Dr. Dax”, and quickly disposed of once a bunch of his gargoyle dudes gangbeat Jeremiah Arkham (who seriously seems to get the shit beaten out of him, deservedly, during every major Batman event). Dax/Bossu is still playing with Nightwing’s mask; given recent events in Trinity and Robin showing it’s got a self-destructive capability, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was reverse-engineered from the RIP plans, so that may play a part. Also notice that around Arkham the entire color scheme switches to red and black; however, I’m not sure if the red skies are a result of the Final Crisis and the Bleed or just incidental.
Page 21: And the grand stage is set. The black and red flowers are the same as the ones from Batman #663, so perhaps the Joker has actually been orchestrating this all along, making him the Black Glove, since he was supposedly “recruited” in #676. Jezebel appears to be continuing to not cooperate with the Black Glove, and is being sacrificed at the altar of his place of death. Whether the black and red cans of paint are meant for her or some kind of transformation of Arkham’s facade is unclear; I mean, let’s be fair, Jezebel is already red and black. The red lighting (echoing DC Universe #0) on the floor in the final panel creates a red-and-black checkerboard effect.
Page 22: Joker is clearly aware of the theme, and has been for a long time, from Batman #663 to DC Universe #0 to now, whatever the significance of red and black, it was knowledge shared by both the Joker and the Black Glove prior to R.I.P. But what’s really mindblowing and interesting here is the final splash, of Batman in the rain, with the Batbat, against a backdrop of the neon signs of Gotham. In my earlier annotations, I noted this passage from Batman #663:
â€œDeep 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 â€¦ 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 printerâ€™s ink on the gaudy, just and unjust citizens of Gotham alike.â€
Reds and yellows and purples, the colors of the neon Gotham nightlife, and the colors of the Batman of Zur-en-arrh. Look at the Zorro influence earlier in the comic – and think about the night Bruce’s parents died, close to the theater with the sign displaying “THE MASK OF ZORRO.” Look at the crossword puzzle of terms created by the signs on the last page of this issue – “Zur-en-arrh” looks an awful lot like the kind of memory that would be seared into a young boy’s brain formed by the placement of random signs over the theater marquee for “ZORRO.” The term’s obviously been of considerable significance to Bruce for a long time, before the hallucinations (“Paging Doctor Freud!”) and before Dr. Hurt, and the references to Crime Alley and the theater this issue are just too pointed to ignore.
The last item of discussion is whether or not Bat-Mite is real. I was convinced at the end of the last issue that he was, but the mirror scene here seriously throws that into question; then again, who knows how fifth-dimensional entities work with mirrors? If Honor Jackson and Lone Eye Lincoln are part of Batman’s internal reboot, and Bat-Mite is, as Tim Callahan insightfully and aptly puts it, the “spinning wheel of the computer screen as his psyche reboots,” then a few things don’t line up – why would Lone Eye Lincoln say Honor Jackson was dead if he was a figment too? Where did Bruce get the Bat-Radia from? And how does Bat-Mite fit so well into Morrison’s established extradimensional DCU cosmology?
And do I really have to wait until September 24? C’mon, I know someone from DC must read this eventually, show some pity for a man! I’ll sign the NDAs in blood!