Later this morning, the final chapter in “Batman R.I.P.” drops, so I need to get my crackpot theory out there tonight! THE MYSTERY DIES AT DAWN!
I’ll just lay it out here: I think Grant Morrison’s whole Black Glove mystery, the whole core of Bruce Wayne’s damaged psyche, all ties into a preoccupation of another famous orphan: FOOD! GLORIOUS FOOD!
I’m sure I’m not the only person who read Batman #678 and wanted to know why was Robin eating so much. Twice, he appears, investigating all the weirdness surrounding Batman and his Black Casebooks. Twice, he is stuffing his face with junk food. When I reread Morrison’s whole run to lend a hand in David’s annotations, I was really just looking for more “food” clues. Everyone wrote me off as grasping at straws, that I had gone as clue-crazy as Batman himself in the midst of a “Zur en Arrh” induced breakdown. But look at the evidence. LOOK AT IT! In Morrison’s very first issue (#655, “Building a Better Batmobile”), Tim Drake swings into the Batcave and…
…straight ganks a sandwich intended for Bruce Wayne! And he portentously tells Alfred to “feed the bats”! “The very idea I would ever forget the feed the bats,” scoffs Alfred. But since Alfred is obviously the Black Glove, what if he has decided against feeding the bats?
Perhaps you’re not convinced. Well then, read through Morrison’s run. Try to find Batman/Bruce Wayne eating something. He never does. This in itself isn’t that unusual: there’s very little eating, cleaning and other mundane acts in your average superhero funnybook. But Morrison has lots of food in Batman, just not in Batman. Issue #656 (“Man-Bats of London”) features a brief non-sequitur flashback to a younger Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sitting down to Thanksgiving turkey with Bruce’s Aunt Agatha. Issue #657 (“Wonderboys”) sees Damien (Son of Batman! Future Batman!) angrily refusing to eat a meal prepared by Alfred, shouting “YOU CALL THIS FOOD?” while flinging it across the room.
As Morrison’s second arc opens (#664, “The Three Ghosts of Batman”), Bruce goes on his first on-panel date with Jezebel Jet, apparently sharing dinner with her in the mountains of the La Flegere ski resort. While other patrons are show in the periphery eating, Bruce and Jezebel eat nothing, and have no apparent food on the table. In the next arc (“Club of Heroes”), the Batmen of Many Nations gathering on an isolated island, where many of them (most notably the gluttonous Legionary) enjoy a sumptuous banquet. But once it’s revealed they’ve been lured onto the island for some sort of murderous game, Batman’s warning to the other heroes?
Stay hungry, Batman! Of course, the next issue #668 (“Now We Are Dead!”) shows that Batman may be on the right track. The gang finds the Knight assaulted, sputtering that “[A] big bloke… made me swallow something…” That “something” was, in a cruel inversion of the popular non-profit, Bomb, not Food.
It doesn’t stop there. Issue 672 (“Space Medicine”) sees Alfred stand sinisterly in the kitchen while watching a televised account of Bruce and Jezebel’s whirlwind romance. Later that same issue, the happy couple parachute out of a hot air balloon “for charity”, presumably en route to a charity dinner or reception. But instead, Bruce is pulled away to respond to the Bat-Signal. Once again, Batman Doesn’t Eat.
That all looks to change come issue 675 (“The Fiend with Nine Eyes”) when Bruce takes Jezebel to a concilatory dinner, but an argument between the two breaks out, and Bruce Wayne tries to “cancel the tempura”. Before the tiff can escalate, an assassin attacks! Bruce (drawn in costumed silhouette but still dressed in a civilian suit) manages to dispatch the villains using the very food he ordered early to incapacitate them. Batman can use food as a weapon as well as his opponents, but he just can’t eat it! The ensuing fight reveals Bruce’s secret identity to Jezebel, and the two quickly reconcile.
Now that Bruce/Batman and Jezebel/Jet are now fully committed to each other, Bruce decides to take a huge step: he’s not only going to eat, but he’s going to cook dinner for his beloved! In issue 677 (“Batman in the Underworld”) he sends Alfred off, warning, “if you smell burning later, it’s only because I’m taking a stab at cooking dinner for Jet tonight.” But again, there will be no food for Batman, as the Black Glove’s plan kicks off and Bruce is felled by a post-hypnotic ZUR ENN ARRH suggestion!
Finally, Newsarama’s preview of tomorrow’s issue shows a post-Thorgal Bruce felled by… POISON TEA! It seems like he’s got good reasons to be afraid of food and drink. And eating and drinking seem to general be the domain of the villain: the Baney ersatz Batman’s den is littered with pizza boxes, the Salo-style General’s Roundtable in issue 680 are glutting themselves on food and drink, a triumphal Dr. Hurt pours champagne all over a bloodied Alfred in the burning Batcave. The fact that Tim’s eating so much seems like a big arrow pointing at him as the True Infernal Mastermind, as some others have posited. But I don’t think “food” is that simple a symbol in Morrison’s Batman.
As dangerous as food and drink can be, there is the small detail that without them, you die. Throughout the series, it’s implied that Batman is a defense mechanism created by Bruce Wayne to keep him from being hurt the way he was when his parents die. It makes him distant from all the mundane, prosaic things that make us human beings and social creatures, like eating. And like everything else about humanity, sometimes food is shitty and toxic and dangerous. But cutting yourself off from all of it is no real solution. Nearly all the scenes that bring Bruce closer to eating involve Jezebel, the person who freshly evokes all the feelings of longing, love and humanity that Bruce has largely denied himself. After committing fully to Jezebel, Bruce makes the first active attempt to eat in over two dozen issues. Food represents emotion and humanity.
And that’s why Tim Drake is eating. Back when Tim was introduced, he was meant to be an antidote of sorts to the “grim and gritty” road Batman was shuddering down. Batman was in his excessive-force post-Miller glory, poor ol’ Jason Todd had been sullied up, first by a Crisis continuity shift and then through murder-by-democracy. Dick Grayson’s history was just as tragic, and he was probably off getting drunk and fighting with his fellow Titans. As was the fashion at the time, everyone was fighting crime for profoundly tragic personal reasons, motivated by guilt and inner demons as much as anything to do with love for their fellow man. Enter Tim Drake, a hero-worshipping kid with a heart of gold, who wanted to help Batman! Not just help him fight crime, but help him cheer up! Tim Drake was motivated to be a hero by nothing other than the belief that it was the right thing to do.
Of course, the ensuing two decades or so have seen Tim become an orphan just like Bruce and Dick and Jason before him. It’s also seen a wholesale slaughter of any friend or girlfriend the poor dude’s ever had, so he can hardly be considered a non-tragic figure anymore. Morrison’s even referenced this in the book, and maybe this injection of tragedy is “R.I.P.”‘s excuse for having Tim pull a heel turn. But really, Tim’s come off as an empathic, well-adjusted guy in his every appearance. He’s the guy who wants someone to feed the Bat(s), remember? He’s the one willing to take a weekend off now and then. He’s the one eating Cheetos. Because Tim is in touch with humanity.
That’s my claim, and I will stand by it until David shows up at 11:00am with annotations that prove me completely wrong.