And we’re back after those messages! Finally, the main narrative line of the Batman books returns with Grant Morrison at the wheel aided by the ever-incredible Frank Quitely. And, in an all-new team-up, Alex Sinclair on colors, which leads to such interesting effects as the sky behind Wayne Tower looking like a badly compressed .GIF. While this issue is significantly more straightforward than the past few issues of Morrison’s Batman run, I have no doubt that things will get complex and trippy eventually, and until then it’s probably best to keep up continuity with these annotations, no? Besides, they’re fun.
Page 1: And Morrison goes for the in media res opening, as we’re introduced to the crime gang of Toad, Niko and Lev. I can’t take credit for this – so I’m linking to the Comic Bloc post that clued me in, and kudos to Ed Garland – but the Toad is a pretty clear reference to the Frog, nemesis of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, an anthromorphic animal variant on Batman and Robin who had a flying car and were created by… Bob Kane. Cute. “Minger” is British circus slang for cop.
Pages 2-3: This is a car chase in a tunnel. Check out that engine through the grill of Toad’s car, though – holy shit!
Pages 4-5: The blueprints Damian is referring to probably have something to do with the gyroscopes mentioned later – the blueprints for maintaining balance that Damian hopes to perfect, an idea I’m sure has multiple meanings. I’m fairly certain Dick’s apology there is dripping with sarcasm.
Page 6: Toad seems pretty welcoming of death here, a trait that might extend to the rest of the Circus of Strange.
Page 7: “Josser” is, once again, British circus slang for non-circus people. The “Pyg” he references is Professor Pyg, a new villain who we’ve previously seen in the future crucified by Michael Lane in his Third Batman outfit, all the way back in Batman #666, starring Damian as Batman.
Page 8: The synchronized, symmetrical punches to Toad’s face are evocative of the ’60s Batman TV show, which is cited as an influence.
The last time around, we had roulette wheels and playing cards repping for red and black at the battle to dominate the “villain’s game metaphor” proceedings, what with the Black Glove and the Joker’s Dead Man’s Hand. Now, those colors mostly form the signature colors of Batman and Robin themselves (especially with the flying Batmobile), while these dominoes are WHITE and black – and, despite still having an element of chance, more of a skill-based game. Could this signify that Gotham’s “game” has changed itself, from life vs. death and random acts of violence to good vs. evil and considered planning? Or do I just have apophenia?
Page 9: “Nanti” and “dinari” are, again, British circus slang for “nothing” and “money.”
Page 10: “Goodnight, mechanical dinosaur.” The wrecked old Batcave, along with Wayne Manor above it, is abandoned. The dog in the picture of Bruce, Dick and Alfred in better days is almost definitely faithful old Ace the Bat-Hound, who I guess had to get Aced at the Bat-Pound at some point (his Post-First Crisis version disappeared after No Man’s Land). I’m surprised Morrison hasn’t done that story yet, actually, considering his affection for animals.
Page 11: I’m guessing the unmarked grave next to Thomas and Martha (who I didn’t think were buried on Wayne Manor territory but what do I know, apparently) is Bruce’s, especially with the little bat-symbol-esque flourish on the top. This is the body that was left in the wake of Darkseid’s Omega Beam attack in Final Crisis #6, which has also recently shown up again in Blackest Night #0. I don’t know if we should consider the revelation of Bruce’s last wishes to Dick, that he not become Batman, in Battle for the Cowl #3 as canon, but if we do then Alfred’s statement regarding Bruce’s pride becomes pretty curious as I continue to hang on to my suspicion that Alfred is playing a sinister role in this entire affair.
Page 12: That said, I really can’t in any way argue with the return of the downtown penthouse Batcave (previously used pre-Crisis by Bruce), introduced in classic new-Batcave cut-away style. It’s definitely more befitting a man of Dick Grayson’s youth and vitality, and also nicely lines up with The Dark Knight, which Morrison expressed considerable fondness for. I have to admire Alfred’s ability to carry a tray of drinks and sandwiches while climbing down a ladder, as well. Dick’s using the new Batcomputer, looking up dominoes; the fact that Morrison goes out of his way in the script to equate them with bones will probably have some sort of future significance. Much like his father, Damian is immediately dismissive of Alfred’s food.
Page 13: Gyroscopes maintain balance, and I can’t imagine a man who found maintaining balance a “source of endless frustration” more than Bruce Wayne. Damian again seems almost dismissive of Alfred, while the statement “I promised I’d finish what he started” certainly seems rather more loaded than its immediate meaning. Dick brings up the circus slang, which he’d of course know from his days as a boy acrobat in the circus, as a clue to his organizational origin.
And, in a development that certainly provides further credence to Chris’s food theory, Dick absolutely loves Alfred’s sandwiches – which could be taken as Dick buying what Alfred’s selling (if, indeed, Alfred is in any way sinister) or simply the fact that Dick is, like Tim Drake, more of a normal human being. Damian’s used *TT* as a sort of more dismissive variant of Bruce’s traditional *HH* a few times now, dating back to Batman #658; I can only assume Morrison’s setting it up as a Thing.
Page 15: The red-haired dolls are Dollotrons, introduced along with Professor Pyg in Batman #666 – they basically act as his apparently mind-controlled automatons. The friends Toad is referring to in his cell are the Circus of Strange in the following panel; it’s possible, if totally unconfirmed, that they are in some way related with Bruce’s first major villain evil-psychologist Hugo Strange. Commenter FMguru correctly points out that the Ghost Train entrance indicates this is the same place as the abandoned circus the Joker bought and tortured Commissioner Gordon in all the way back in Batman: The Killing Joke.
Page 16: The neon lights of the Gotham cityscape in the first panel echo the colors mentioned in the prose issue of Batman #663 and the colors of Bruce’s Zur En Arrh personality. It’s widely speculated that Tim Drake’s become the new Red Robin, off searching for Bruce in his own title, but that’s unlikely to affect this.
Page 19: We saw this guy earlier in the Circus of Strange’s car, so I assume he’s the distraction so the rest of the gang can break Toad out.
Page 20: Niko seems to be stuffing parts of Dollotrons into his duffel bag.
Page 22: After Pyg’s rant hinting at the kind of fucked-up worldview that provides the backbone for most of the best Batman villains, the three preview panels seem to consist of Batman and Robin fighting Dollotrons and, interestingly, a double-twelve domino, as opposed to the dominoes throughout the rest of the issue that only went up to six per side. It’s also covered in blood, adding the familiar color red to what’s apparently now a black/red/white triptych – assuming the colors still hold meaning in relation to these games.
Page 23: Grant Morrison steals a page from the Geoff Johns Playbook with the “coming this year!” preview page, providing four interesting-looking little teasers:
- Damian ripping off his Robin badge and quitting like the petulant child he… well, he is.
- A new Red Hood, possibly Jason Todd, with a shadowed female sidekick who, as commenter Mike Barrett points out, is probably Sasha, Niko’s daughter from this issue, based on the hairstyle and her appearance in future solicitations – she’s mentioned as breaking out from Professor Pyg in issue 2, and issue 3 mentions “the origin of Scarlet” as related to a “mysterious red-hooded vigilante.”
- Dick Grayson (presumably) fighting Kate Kane Batwoman as, it appears, Bruce Wayne rises from a Lazarus Pit. This might be the body left behind in Final Crisis, and it comes out a soulless automaton, providing evidence that Bruce was not truly dead.
- Dr. Simon Hurt with the keys to Wayne Manor, signifying a return to the dangling mysteries from Batman R.I.P. – dangling like the keys in Hurt’s hand.
See you next month!