Again, a link to what’s come before.
The immediate interpretation of the issue title is the Nick Cave song of the same name, but its use within the issue makes it pretty clear that while that may have been an inspirational source, the context in which it’s used in the issue relates more to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” – which isn’t to say the song doesn’t eerily parallel the promises Red Hood is trying to sell Scarlet.
Philip Tan comes on as artist for this arc, and it’s certainly very different from Frank Quitely; losing Alex Sinclair as colorist gets rid of the posterized sky effects, and Tan’s art style owes way more to his time on Spawn than any precedent Quitely set, all stark shadows and straightforward panel layouts. This is a much darker look than what Quitely offered.
But anyway: new story, new start. Let’s go!
Page 1: The Lightning Bug is, as far as I can tell, completely new. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s just the “burn unit.” The billboards in the background seem to be Tan touches more than Morrison, and not especially pertinent.
Page 3: “Dabba-do time!”, for… anyone who doesn’t know this, whoever you are, is a reference to the old suburban cavemen Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Flintstones. The most I can come up with there is that it’s a veiled reference to Batman’s current situation as neolithic avenger.
Page 6: I checked this morning, and apparently “scarlettraces” is actually an existing Twitter account. So, well, welcome to your career as a morally ambiguous eye-for-an-eye vigilante in Gotham City. “Let the punishment fit the crime”, retributive justice – a concept consistently associated with an Old Testament God and morality, which is a theme Red Hood runs with. As a matter of fact, his penchant for ironic methods of punishment combined with the Old Testament motif makes the Red Hood very similar to that other red right hand of God, the Spectre. Which, bringing it full circle, is heavily implied to represent the red light of rage in this week’s issue of Blackest Night.
Page 8: “Vengeance arms his red right hand” is a reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost – “should intermitted vengeance arm again his red right hand to plague us?” is Belial referring to Yahweh’s Old Testament smackdown policy, so again we’ve got whoever’s under this Hood comparing himself to some good old-fashioned pre-crucifixion vengeance.
Page 9: This could just be my mind playing tricks on me, but I could swear that I notice a question mark in the white space between the shading on Red Hood’s helmet.
Page 10: Wayne Tower’s penthouse garden, pretty closely matching its last direct appearance in #665. The newspaper allegations that are being referred to are the (apparently) Black Glove-circulated lies regarding Thomas and Martha Wayne, Mangrove Pierce, Marsha Lamarr, Alfred Beagle/Pennyworth and John Mayhew from Batman R.I.P.. The “odd behavior” of Bruce Wayne that Lucius is referring to is likely, in an unexpected case of linewide cohesion, the fact that the “Bruce Wayne” in the public eye is actually Tommy Elliot/Hush with plastic surgery to make him look like Bruce Wayne, as established in Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s Batman: Streets of Gotham.
Page 11: I’m not sure if the financial irregularities Lucius is referring to regard the Bat-operation and the Bruce Wayne/Hush situation, or are a clue to a future storyline. Oberon Sexton/Gravedigger appears to be a completely new character; “Oberon” is the king of the faeries in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that sets in motion the series of misunderstandings that provide the comedy, while a sexton is a church officer in charge of a graveyard (which is appropriate, since his nom de crimefighting is Gravedigger). There are two previous Gravediggers in DC Universe continuity, but this one appears wholly unrelated. As mentioned in the #2 annotations, Dick’s time as a cop was during his Nightwing tenure in Bludhaven.
As for Sexton himself, he’s the first obvious (at least, within the issue) candidate for the identity of the Red Hood – red-lensed eyeglasses, scarred face, hate-on for crime, introduced seemingly innocuously at the beginning of the mystery. And his name has to do with tending all the bodies the Red Hood drops. I can’t find any reference to a “riddle of the corn dolly,” but a corn dolly itself is a ‘pagan’ harvest ritual idol that represents the spirit of the corn.
Page 12: The new Red Hood is pretty media-savvy, which doesn’t fit Jason Todd’s general M.O. although who knows where Morrison wants to take him. This scene is an indeterminate period of time after the last, so it’s still possible that Oberon Sexton is under the hood here.
Page 13: Glasses shot number one, as Red Hood places the goggles over Scarlet’s face so she’s seeing in shades of green. Red Hood’s comment about how he could have never planned for Scarlet is oddly reminiscent of many of Bruce Wayne’s comments about Dick Grayson, and how Robin was certainly never a part of his original plan. (The statement seems less sincere here coming from Hood.) The comment about this being the revenge on one crazy man in a mask on another is certainly going to end up being important, since it narrows the playing field – while definitely keeping both Sexton and Jason Todd in the game.
Page 14: Dick’s comments here are reminiscent of the gargoyles’ advice to Bruce in R.I.P.
Page 15: This is likely some foreshadowing regarding the climax of this arc – “a hood can become a blindfold” certainly applies to Damian’s outfit, but it could also apply to the view from inside that Red Hood. And the incident Dick’s referring to, with ditching the hood being one of the first pieces of advice Bruce gave him, is actually from the end of Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #8.
Page 16: Glasses shot #2: red lenses, green view. This time, Dick Grayson’s surveillance glasses.
Page 17: “Los Penitentes”, or “The Brothers of the Pious Fraternity of Our Father Jesus the Nazarene”, likely got their name from the fact that they did things like self-flagellation. But more importantly, they’re a group of laymen who got together to worship in the absence of a priest; El Penitente’s goon wears robes and a hood (of course) similar to those worn by penitentes in Spanish holy processions. Which adds to the Old Testament/New Testament thing going on here, or maybe Morrison just thought it was a cool outfit to base a crime syndicate off of.
Penguin’s comments about how he’s running things – and his partnership with (or subservience to) the Black Mask – stem from the events of Batman: Battle for the Cowl and what’s going on in Judd Winick’s Batman right now. The Flamingo being teased in the bottom-right panel we’ve seen before in #666; he was a dapper, skinny old guy who kind of reminded me, at least, of Spider-Man enemy the Vulture.
Page 18: The way to enslave and addict whole populations seems related to Professor Pyg’s mind control agent, and his plan to hold the city random based on a similar (if not the same) concoction. A lot of this arc seems to be about media branding and forward-thinking – the Twitter, the press releases, viral crime, the next generation of narcotics – as the Red Hood brands himself as a real Batman 2.0.
Page 19: I’m assuming Tony Li (as established a few pages ago, leader of the Neon Dragon Triad) was largely expendable for this, alongside High Rise Romeo. No idea about the Kato mask, either.
Page 21: As most longtime Batman fans will recognize, the “Jason” Batman’s referring to is Jason Todd, previous Red Hood, former Robin, Lazarus Pit alumnus and all-around wackjob.
Page 22: Regarding the “next in” images: Red Hood and Batman fighting; someone with filed teeth (probably the Penguin, who had filed teeth two pages ago), and what looks like a red grill on some kind of car.
So, who is the Red Hood? There’s really three apparent choices:
- Jason Todd. He’s the obvious suspect, this matches his previous M.O., he’s got the training, he’s a masked crazy guy who’s got it in for another masked crazy guy, even Dick Grayson’s initial reaction is that it’s him. Which is why it probably won’t be him, since then this entire arc would be really eerily similar to Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke’s “Under the Hood.”
- Oberon Sexton. He was just introduced in this issue, has the motive, is rich enough to have the means, and is generally clearly being presented by Morrison as a possible suspect. He’s so incredibly obvious that he’s as obvious as Jason Todd – which means the story has two completely obvious contenders, so really, it could be either one.
- The original wielder of the Red Hood, the Joker himself, creating his own bizarre inverted shrine to his great archenemy’s legacy. On the other hand, Morrison’s intimated he was saving Joker for Frank Quitely’s return (which apparently won’t be until at least #13 at this point), but if you count the smile itself as a “mask” then he meets all the criteria as well.
In other words – we have at least three very logical choices, and if any one of them were the only obvious choice, then the story would be incredibly predictable. But when you have three equally “obvious” characters, the entire thing is still completely up in the air – repeating Judd Winick seems unlike Morrison, but then so does pulling a Hush by introducing a villain and new supporting cast member at the same time and then having them be the same person. And the Joker’s just the easiest way out. So really, the entire discussion is as much up in the air as if there were no obvious candidates.
See you guys in a month.