I dunno what kind of overview to give here other than “holy shit, this issue was incredible.”
So holy shit, this issue was incredible. Annotations below, and Tim Callahan‘s got his take up on his site as well.
Page 1: Le Bossu’s gargoyles and Charlie Caligula’s gladiator henchmen stand watch over Arkham Asylum as the Black Glove’s patrons arrive for Hurt’s presentation. The title, “The Thin White Duke of Death,” is a clear allusion to 1970s era David Bowie, and is a line from the prose issue #663 used to describe the Joker.
Page 2: “…to play a GAME with human lives.”
Batman doesn’t think so! The only named member of this troupe is the priest, Cardinal Maggi, so the others I’ll dub (for now) Saudi Prince, Texas Oilman, the Politician and the General. (These are just guesses as to their actual roles/functions, but let’s go with it for now.) The middle monitor is Caligula’s soldiers keeping the actual Arkham staff contained while the Black Glove sets up shop.
Note that once again you have the entire concept of class associated with wealth being tantamount – Hurt mentions that these are the richest people in the world. They aren’t just powerful or famous, they are wealthy, and that’s reminiscent of Joe Chill’s whole rant about class divisions and class warfare justifying his crime back in #673.
Also, Hurt mentions they meet once a year to do this – I guess last year was Mike Mayhew’s little shindig. The domino mask and old Batman costume bring to mind the original “The First Batman” story from Detective Comics #235, also the first appearance of the costume Hurt’s wearing, where Martha wore a moth costume with masks reminiscent of those worn by the patrons here. And, of course, all the colors in the room are red and black.
Page 3: Good versus evil being the basic bet is the same as it was in the last Black Glove arc.
Page 4: Le Bossu’s extended, pathetic plea for attention/origin story almost reminds me of the kind of sob stories villains in Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein would spout before Frankie would shoot them point blank in the face with a mystic sawed-off.
Page 5: I actually figured Dax was the disguise, not Le Bossu, but I guess this is certainly easier. What we’re seeing here is the release of the Joker to tower over the Club of Villains much like Batman towered over the Club of Heroes.
Page 6: Maybe I don’t see it, but how is the bat-signal glowing? Unless that’s just Bat-Mite making fun of his idea of stealth gear.
Page 7: Obviously, the Joker didn’t seem particularly impressed by Le Bossu’s speech, and he’s about to express his contempt for El Sombrero.
Page 8: Bat-Mite continues to be Batman’s voice of strategy. Explosions!
Page 9: “What’s NEXT, soldier?” A clear reference to Frank Miller’s take, sort of affirming Zur En Arrh Batman as the extreme of the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns. As for the answer to the Bat-Mite question, Morrison has, I think, managed to keep it ambiguous while making it clear that it really is up to the reader how to interpret it. It can be a crazy DC Universe sci-fi tie-in, or it could be a psychological aspect of a down-to-earth Batman story. It can stand as a set, or apart. Your choice.
Page 10: Look at these four dudes on the top row. Compare.
We’ve got a dude in a suit (judge), Saudi Prince and Texas Oilman (bankers), Cardinal Maggi and a general as the Duke. And they’re here to engage in the murder of a noble spirit. Saudi Prince’s comment about actors is particularly telling about the Black Glove’s methods, and again brings Alfred to mind considering his acting pedigree. This could be referencing the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom; the above panel is from Morrison’s previous reference to it in The Invisibles.
Page 11: Thin White Duke of Death indeed. “How extraordinarily… inevitable you are” brings to mind the chapter “Unbearable Inevitability of Batman and the Joker” from #663. Robin’s inclusion in the pattern implies that the red (Robin)/black (Batman) duality was intentional, and the rest of the page is Hurt’s ignorant/bizarre used-car-salesman pitch to the Joker.
Also, it’s really striking how different he looks here from every other appearance since he was shot in #655. Why did DC even use the Joker in that time span? It’s like if Magneto appeared in, like, Avengers, Uncanny X-Men and Iron Man between Genosha getting blown up in New X-Men #116 and his return in #146.
Page 12: I don’t see how Bruce’s identity can survive this – I mean, why the Hell would there be a red telephone with a hotline to the police station at Wayne Manor?
Page 13: Yeah, there goes any chance of Gordon not knowing who Batman is. The last time we saw Damian, in #675, he was practicing his archery.
Page 14: Again, the wealth/class element. It’s also now clear that Joker knows Batman’s identity as well, although that was implied in the prose of #663 when his thoughts showed he knew Batman was an orphaned boy. I can’t see it being knowledge he’d ever act on; it’d take the fun out of the game.
Page 15: Again, references to the Dead Man’s Hand from the story in DC Universe 0. Love and death, the build-up and the tear-down, how we love to treat our celebrities and heroes and the treatment Batman is about to get.
Pages 16-17: “And THEN I found out who DOCTOR HURT is and why he hates YOU.” So Hurt is somebody – somebody with a real reason to hate Batman. Someone who’s obsessed with class and wealth. I think this is Joe Chill’s son, mentioned in #673. The son he “lost.”
This all ties back to the “First Batman” story in Detective #235. In it, it was revealed that at the masquerade ball Thomas Wayne went to in the Batman costume, he was captured by Lew Moxon to perform emergency bullet removal and Wayne straight-up foiled their plans. Ten years later, Lew Moxon gets out, and:
I’m not sure what it signifies yet, but it’s an indirect link from the original masquerade party to Joe Chill and the hit taken out on the Waynes.
Page 18: “Love really IS blind”, setting up the climax of the issue. Again, “very bad, very RICH.” Joker then proceeds to lay a brutal beatdown on first Batman and then me for having the gall to think Morrison is using symbolism, structures, hints and clues. (I still think he is!) Le Bossu’s clearly gotten mutilated by the Joker, who was less than impressed with his self-pitying monologue of monstrosity and, it seems, went ahead and fucked up his face to make it more like the mask he wears.
Page 19: Just as in #663, the Joker just wants “the goddamn Batman to finally get the goddamn joke,” something he seems to be almost successful at considering he’s now got ZEA Batman threatening death. I’m totally unclear as to the significance of the Cardinal pouring out the wine on the table with El Sombrero’s body – is that just like pouring a 40 out for a dead homie?
The Joker’s role in this is also surprisingly reminiscent of the Moore/Bolland Killing Joke, where he orchestrates a similar soul-crushing disaster for Commissioner Gordon, whose mind survives.
Page 20: Jezebel Jet’s pleas seem to trigger Bruce to start returning to normal, since his word balloons are restored in the final panel. (Where, oddly enough, it seems like he has a black right eye and a red left? Or is that just Major’s coloring being weird again?)
Page 21: The red petal falls, and the neurotoxin activates, apparently an advanced form of Joker gas. The roses were used previously in the prose issue, #663.
Page 22: I’m pretty surprised Joker didn’t stab Hurt in the face right there, especially with Hurt condescending to him as a “servant.”
Page 23: Realization begins to dawn…
Page 24: …and the reason for Jezebel Jet’s name and color scheme become readily apparent as she literally puts on black gloves. Obviously, this ending is more than a little bit vague, so let’s go through the possibilities:
- Jezebel Jet is the Black Glove, and she’s been orchestrating the entire affair. This doesn’t seem like that big of a revelation, and the entire “introduce new character who is later revealed to be evil at the end of the big mystery” thing reminds me way too much of Tommy Elliot and Hush.
- Simon Hurt, as Joe Chill’s kid, is the Black Glove. Jet’s an associate.
- The Joker is the Black Glove and he’s feigning servitude, but that doesn’t fit in at all with the class warfare aspects.
- It’s still Alfred, the ultimate actor, coordinating the ultimate play. After what happened to the Club of Villains, it’s fair to say that they’re low enough on the totem pole to justify the beating-up-Alfred charade.
Obviously, you know where I lie. What ’bout you guys?