First off, a link to what’s come before.
With #4 hitting this Wednesday, I figured it was high time to get back into the game and take a look at the latest two issues of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. I just reread Morrison’s entire Batman run to refresh my memory, so I’m good and ready – here goes!
Batman and Robin #2 – “Batman Reborn Part 2: The Circus of Strange”
Page 1: This issue starts off after the encounter that began last issue; the next few pages of action are Dick telling Alfred what happened, as he requests here. Robin’s patch is on the floor just like the first “clue panel” at the end of #1.
Page 3: I can’t help but think “Casey at the desk” is a takeoff of “Casey at the bat”, but I’m not sure what the Hell that’d possibly ever mean. Dick’s description of Le Cirque d’Etrange as an “extreme” circus troupe probably places them in the class of operations like the Jim Rose Circus. Dick Grayson is shorter than Bruce Wayne, and of course Damian is shorter than Tim Drake, so the cop’s being perceptive there; Gordon notes that Batman’s voice is familiar (which makes sense, since he extensively dealt with Nightwing), and he saw “the kid” (who was named to him – surely Gordon must be able to figure out who Batman is by now) when Damian saved his life in Wayne Manor back during the events of R.I.P.
Page 5: I’m pretty sure “oummf” is just Big Top grunting to get through the car door, but “kushti” is circus slang for “nice.”
Page 9: According, again, to the incredibly helpful British circus slang page (Morrison must have used this), a “flick-flack” is a backward handspring, so the “flick-flackin’ freak” he’s referring to here is probably Damian regarding his escape.
Page 10: Toad did mention he had friends at the end of last issue, but he seemed to be ranting at the window in his jail cell more than telling anybody anything. “Raklo” is a non-gypsy boy, again, referring to Damian.
Page 13: “Rokker the jib” = “speaks the talk.” “Gaffer” = boss; “tober omi” = circus manager/owner. The last two are surely referring to Professor Pyg, who we later find out was, indeed, the owner of the Circus of Strange before his mysterious transformation into villainy and acute mental illness. Also note that Big Top loses the wooden gallopers on this page, since they come up later. The Russian people traffickers Batman’s referring to are, of course, Niko and Lev; I presume a Toad/Niko/Lev deal was busted up by the cops just prior to the start of the first issue, which still leaves the question of why Niko and Lev paid Toad in dominoes – and whether they knew that was what they were doing in the first place.
Page 14: Dick was, indeed, a cop in Bludhaven from Nightwing #31-100 during the time period he struck out on his own. This page also gives us Damian’s idea of interrogation; apparently the League of Assassins is all about sticking buckets on heads and hitting them with clubs. Damian’s trying to discern the origin of the wooden gallopers.
Page 15: Now, Toad’s been killed, and whoever did it left a domino as a calling card, much like the ones in the briefcase of “money” in the beginning of the first issue. This at least establishes that the “domino killer” is a third party outside of the Circus of Strange, and since Niko and Lev were both seemingly turned into Dollotrons, they can hardly be responsible either. The domino left is a double-twelve.
Page 16: It’s kind of adorable that “Damian’s way”, right after this, is making use of his detective skills by figuring out where the wooden gallopers are from. Dick’s comment that Damian is ten years old is particularly interesting – way back in Batman #666, Damian stated that he sold his soul to Simon Hurt/the Devil in exchange for Gotham’s safety at age fourteen, so we can’t really get to that story anytime soon without another flash forward in time.
Page 17: And we hit not only the beginning of the issue, but the exact moment from the first “clue panel” at the end of #1.
Page 19: I find the three roles Morrison chooses here curious, since there are certainly aspects of Hamlet and James Bond in Batman’s character – Morrison’s namechecked both of them, in #664 and #682 – but I can’t for the life of me see a connection between Batman and Willy Loman, other than maybe dogged single-mindedness. And, rather obviously, Alfred holding the empty cowl is echoing the classic Hamlet “Alas, poor Yorick” dramatic pose, since here it serves as a symbol for Bruce’s legacy.
Page 20: Damian arrives at Killing Joke Circus, and we see a number of the wooden gallopers holding up tents. Sasha appears to be tied to a carousel pony.
Page 21: And Professor Pyg takes the stage again. During his Robin career, Dick Grayson was commonly referred to as a “pixie”, or at least his shoes as “pixie boots”; the last panel, as evidenced by being wider than everything else on the page, changes location to downtown Gotham, where various Dollotrons appear to be committing colorful suicides with bombs.
Page 22: That, obviously, is the new Quad-Bat Alfred mentioned Waynetech R&D had dropped off earlier.
Batman and Robin #3 – “Batman Reborn Part 3: Mommy Made of Nails”
Page 1: Dick mentioned he was going to Police HQ at the end of last issue, so off-panel he must have already gone, picked up Phosphorus Rex, and taken him for this interrogation ride.
Page 3: Note Rex says “THEY’LL kill all of us,” so he can’t only be referring to Professor Pyg. This idea of someone being beyond Professor Pyg in the scheme of evil will show up later in the issue.
The comment about sickness is particularly important; back in Batman #666, Barbara Gordon comments “remember when the law meant something? Before the whole world got sick“, right before finding Professor Pyg’s reverse-crucified body. It comes up later, too – it’s clear, first of all, that celebrating sickness is not only a major portion of Pyg’s pathology, but also that Morrison seems to be crafting a model where Gotham is an organism and crime itself is an actual sickness that affects it. Batman and Robin’s roles in this model are explained pretty clearly later.
Page 4: And here’s where Harry Harlow takes over the annotating proceedings. I’d be incredibly remiss not to link here to Rikdad, to whom I owe an incredible debt for stating a lot of these connections so succinctly. The rest of these annotations will be as much of my own thoughts as I can muster, but I just want to get this link out of the way since I’m absolutely positive it greatly influenced my thoughts on Pyg’s super-important rant here.
The first line refers to a “despair pit” where “the inside went on forever.” Considering the appearance of the “mommy made of nails” on the next page, I’m quite sure it’s a reference to Harlow’s “pit of despair,” surely a concept Morrison would be familiar with considering his passion for animal rights. The despair pit experiments were, in short, sticking a bunch of rhesus monkeys with varying degrees of psychological health into complete isolation for up to ten weeks, and in every case the monkeys were completely psychotic when removed. Now, later on in this story it’s mentioned that “something happened” to Lazlo Valentin to turn him into Professor Pyg, and Pyg mentions something similar from his jail cell, so I’m going to guess that he was subjected to a series of Harlow-esque experiments (including one with a surrogate mother I’ll get into on the next page), and that the psychological trauma he underwent transformed him into the mentally ill supervillain he’s starting out his career as now.
Of course, also consider the fact that these isolation experiments are similar to the ones Bruce Wayne underwent at various points in his life – isolation experiences that recentered and rejuvenated him rather than driving him insane. And, of course, one of them was set up by Doctor Hurt in a lab.
Mormo is a Greek spirit who’s invoked as a bogeywoman for children, a sort of “mommy made of nails” who attempts to act as a deterrent for mischief.
Page 5: Tiamat is a Babylonian goddess, also representing chaos and killed by her children. “Tohu va bohu” is, as well, a formless void/chaos. The Gorgons seem to fit in less with the structure, not so much having a relationship with children or deliberately representing chaos, but they are certainly frightening female figures.
“That’s what it’s like to grow upside down in a world where a hug is a crucifixion” – here he must be referring to his time either in the despair pit or in the custody of whoever transformed him, since having a “mommy made of nails” would, indeed, turn a hug into a crucifixion, since physical contact would be met by, well, getting stabbed by nails. Here’s where I have to refer to Harlow again and his experiment on “the nature of love”, where he contrasted how rhesus monkeys behaved while being raised with terrycloth “mothers” and wire “mothers”, both of which would provide food. The “mommy made of nails” that Pyg’s constructed is very familiar to Harlow’s wire mothers, and I imagine during his time with whoever changed him he grew this bizarre affection for it (which goes against the results of Harlow’s experiments).
It’s also rather amusing that Pyg refers to a hug being a crucifixion in “the upside-down world”, since if the converse holds true he got one hell of a big fat hug when he was crucified upside-down in Batman #666.
I assume the “turvy-world” Pyg speaks of is the real world, since he refers to his Dollotrons as “well-spoken ladies” and “flower girls” (again with Pyg seeing himself as a Henry Higgins figure from Pygmalion, providing a rather arrogant service).
Pages 6-7: This section of the rant is less filled with references, so it’s more difficult to contextualize and, I think, more just provides a map of the contours of Pyg’s brain. I’m unsure if he wants to give the whole world the proverbial “pig’s trotters” or try to take them away; there’s also, again, the reference to a sickness, that Pyg’s embraced and he wants to exhibit to the world.
Page 9: As Batman noted earlier, the bombs we saw at the end of #2 were just an early distraction to get the chaos going for these germs, likely based on the mind control agent Pyg was selling the Russian human traffickers.
Page 10: Sasha seems into the “extreme justice” thing right off the bat, so she’ll probably fit in well with her new friend revealed at the end of this issue. I do love how Pyg actually squeals like a pig when he’s injured, though.
Page 11: I know Morrison’s credited Momus’s “Pygmalism” as the inspiration for this character, but all the “run piggie run!” references continue to remind me of Trent Reznor circa 1994′s swine obsession. I guess the ghost train ride is pretty broken down since Gordon took it back in 1988.
Page 13: Pyg seems to freak out when Batman shows up, like he was expecting and planning for it, and also seems concerned that he “isn’t dressed” (I wonder if that refers to the nice suit he was wearing in 666). When Batman’s about to knock him out, he’s cowering and babbling apologies like a child; could the figure of Batman have been a part of the psychological experiments that led to his creation, or is he just scared of the big scary guy in the black outfit?
Page 14: The Batman/Robin double-kick here mirrors the double-punch they gave Toad near the beginning of #1. I’m not sure if “the pig pen” is simply a joke Dick’s making or an actual name for Pyg’s base of operations.
Page 15: Note the next domino in the sequence (twelve-eleven) is laid down next to the experiment vials; I wonder if Pyg himself wrote “antidote” on the vial, or if it was whoever apparently showed up and dropped off the domino.
Page 16: Pyg is certainly a masochist. Batman iterates the stuff I alluded to earlier regarding the fact that there was a pre- and post-Pyg Lazlo Valentin. Gordon’s hatred for this abandoned circus is caused by his experience being tortured here by Joker during The Killing Joke, which was also referenced by Morrison back in #663 when Gordon showed derision towards Solomon and Sheba, the Joker’s two deformed dwarf mascots that he paraded around in that story.
Page 17: Note that Gordon’s still a little bit sick himself – if he represents Gotham, the “it’s not over” shows that he, and the city, are still somewhat sick. And in the final panel, Batman clearly establishes his role in the equation – as the antidote to the sickness of crime that infests the organism of Gotham. And, of course, the twelve-eleven domino is shown and clearly established as part of an ongoing mystery.
Page 18: Again with the sickness – the experiments that made Pyg sick are now occurring, on a larger scale, to the entire city. Pyg recognizes his master’s work in the grand scheme.
Page 19: This scene finally fleshes out both the first page of #676 and the second-to-last scene of #681; Le Bossu‘s dialogue here is taken verbatim from the end of #681, and the “EVEN BATMAN AND ROBIN ARE DEAD!” line is a clear predecessor to the exclamation at the beginning of #676, “BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!”
Page 20: I assume Le Bossu‘s face looks different here partially because of Quitely’s art style and partially because, rather than before, his face is actually disfigured as opposed to simply a mask. It’s also worth mentioning just how much Morrison uses power drills in torture situations in his run; the Third Batman had it, and now we’ve seen both Professor Pyg and Le Bossu wielding them.
Page 21: The picture of Bruce, Dick, Alfred and Ace from #1 is placed next to a picture of Damian and Talia, his own “mommy made of nails” that led to his unique brand of morality. As Alfred shutters the windows for sunset, a mysterious figure is watching from a nearby gargoyle – it’s unclear whether this is the upcoming Red Hood or an agent of the Black Glove a la the end of #665. (At the very least, in this case I certainly can’t stubbornly claim it’s Alfred.)
Page 22: I assume the “others” Sasha is killing are all the other Dollotrons, since they actually had the mind-control agent applied and she didn’t.
Page 23: She still seems pretty obsessed with Niko – was that the one she was just strangling, to put him out of his misery? Does she even know which one is her dad? If this new Red Hood is Jason Todd, he clearly doesn’t seem to have much of an aversion to blasting cops in the back of the head.
Page 24: The new Red Hood (or at least the new Red Hood outfit) debuts, setting up the next three-issue arc. The “next issue” clue at the bottom implies SOMEBODY with a black-gloved hand – either the Black Glove itself or just the Red Hood – is behind the dominoes, with an ascending (rather than descending like the ones dropped earlier) sequence. The Hood himself seems to be carrying an assortment of screwdrivers and power tools, so I assume he casually engages in torture.
And that’s it for annotations! But let’s take a look at a few general points and unanswered questions:
- I didn’t really comment much on the fight scenes since so much of that comes down to Frank Quitely’s unbelievable fluidity. There’s not much in the way of dialogue or clues there, just pure masterclass fight choreography in sequential storytelling.
- Question one: Who is the Red Hood? Jason Todd is the obvious choice, and the “domino” theme would even kind of tie in with his everpresent domino mask back from his earlier Red Hood costume (although that’s a stretch). Other than that, I can really only fathom another completely new player, or another agent of whoever transformed Professor Pyg (although he’s clearly at odds with Pyg, since if he is the domino killer then he shot Mr. Toad).
- Question two: Who completely fucked up Lazlo Valentin? It’s all but stated that, at some point, he went from being a fairly normal skeezy guy who ran a low-rent “extreme” circus to a batshit insane diabolical supervillain, and that whatever happened to him involved isolation chambers (“pits of despair”) and human recreations of Harry Harlow’s surrogate-mother experiments, to the point where he now transforms people into perfect dolls in an attempt to appease a synthetic surrogate mother made of nails that he feels he can never please. Since we’ve already had one major villain in this run who ran ethically questionable experiments on people in attempts to modify their behavior, and we know he’s coming back, I can’t help but think that it’s our old friend Simon Hurt.
- And finally, although this is more of an afterthought: whatever happened to Ellie, the girl hanging out with the hookers back in Batman #664? Morrison seemed to spend almost a whole page on her, and her cheek pattern matches that of the dollotron in #666, so is that just an Andy Kubert tic or could we see Ellie come back in some role or another? Wayne offered her a job as a receptionist at Waynetech, so…
See you in 24.