Sep
16

Batman and Robin #4 – “Revenge of the Red Hood Part One: Red Right Hand”

Posted by David Uzumeri on Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 at 06:04:22 PM
Batman and Robin #4
Batman and Robin #4

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.

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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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Posted in Annotations · Read more by David Uzumeri

28 Responses

  1. El Penitente’s henchman’s speech tells me that Morrison is reading John Robb: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/ (his book Brave New War comes highly recommended, btw). The religious trappings are possibly a reference to the Mexican drug cartel La Familia: http://u.tv/News/Drugs-Taliban-declares-war-on-Mexican-state/9812dea5-605a-4f9c-9757-3901755703bc , something I saw mentioned on Robb’s blog about a month ago. That’s well within the lead time for this book’s script; but Morrison, being a hip and happening dude, probably subscribes to those online intelligence services that let cool people know about things like this before us plebians find out.

    Would they really recycle the name Gravedigger so quickly? If Rucka’s version was part of Checkmate, could this one be too? A contagion such as is discussed in this issue could certainly draw the attention of authorities from outside Gotham, so perhaps this is foreboding the possibility that we’ll get to see how Dick handles a “Batman vs. the law” situation.

  2. Quitely won’t be back till at least 13? Ugh, when did this happen? Last I had heard Cameron Stewart was taking over where Doug Mahnke was originally going to be since they’ve got Doug as a regular artist on Green Lantern now. Although it’s likely I missed something somewhere as I’m not the most up to date on news like this. Oh well, on the good side that means this pretty excellent so far title will be continuing on past what I thought was only going to be 12 issues. That’s nice.

  3. Not sure where you heard Mahnke was going to do an arc. For a long time the rumor was that it was going to be Frank Quitely(1-3), Phillip Tan (4-6), Frazer Irving (7-9), Frank Quitely (10-12).

    Now it’s been confirmed that the order is going to be Phillip Tan (4-6), Cameron Stewart (7-9), Frazer Irving (10-12). It’s been rumored that the book has been extended past 12 issues so Quitely can do a final three issue arc, but that’s not been confirmed.

    And as always, excellent work on the annotations David.

  4. The Penguin’s “Birdie-Num-Num” comment might be a reference to The Party, a fantastic old Peter Sellers movie. It’s throwaway and meaningless but G-Moz throws in stuff like that a lot.

  5. Morrison himself said (in a Wizard interview) Mahnke GOING to do the third arc, but then he decided to do GL instead. Morrison then said he personally asked Irving about replacing him, from the way he spoke it seemed he did this only a matter of days beforehand. FYI this interview was Junish/Julyish.

  6. Heh. I find it funny that you think that word from the writer’s mouth regarding informal agreements is the same thing as official word from the editor, publisher and company.

    Ha. Ha ha.

  7. I’ve not got this issue yet (and am a trade-waiter by nature) but, based on your notes, I’m wondering if Sexton could be a reference to Sexton Blake, the British pulp detective?

    Interestingly, one of Blake’s adversaries was “Zenith the Albino”, famously the inspiration for Moorcock’s Elric, but the albino aspect could point towards something Joker-ish.

    Reaching a bit I know but… it’s Morrison and a Moorcock connection (he’s big on Sexton Blake) and just “Zenith” have me thinking.

  8. Sexton Oberon is the third replacement Batman. What becomes apparent (and impressive) as Batman & Robin goes on is how Batman #666 is pretty much the key to the whole story. Damian/Batman specifically refers to the third replacement Batman as the “Boss” of all the newly introduced criminals– all of whom are now appearing making vague references to a Boss. Last time third replacement Batman was seen, he was in a burning helicopter. Hence full body disguise.

    What does it all portend? Who knows.

  9. PS. Batman #666 will also tell you where Morrison’s story will “end.” But I doubt it’ll end in the way it does in the past of the alternate future of #666.

  10. Isn’t the Third Batman now Azrael though?

  11. You wouldn’t even have to count the smile as a “mask.” You already have the original Red Hood outfit, where was knocked into the chemical vat (if you want to subscribe to that origin).

  12. @Burts Yes, I’m pretty sure the 3rd replacement Batman is now Azrael; but I guess maybe Morrison is entitled to change his mind if he doesn’t like what the editors did there.

  13. Well Sexton is apparently British and Todd is not. Unless Dick is making the “Jason?” comment in regards to it being obviously a new Red Hood, it seems like he would be able to tell an American accent from an English one, and both from faked ones.

  14. Yes, Michael Lane aka the 3rd Batman is the new Azrael. Nicieza ran this by Morrison who said he loved the idea of making his satanist villain actually be moral all-around good guy before Hurt got his hands on him.

    Hurt’s programming on Lane broke at the end of R.I.P., now he’s feeling penitent and wishes to atone for his crimes and blasphemy.

    Mike Marts said that Labe’s future “is set in stone”, so that means he will at some point in the future snap once and for all and then die at Damian’s hands. but that won’t be for quite a while.

  15. “Heh. I find it funny that you think that word from the writer’s mouth regarding informal agreements is the same thing as official word from the editor, publisher and company.”

    It’s morrison if you can’t trust him this isn’t a world worth living in

  16. Something that will be missed by most Americans is that Oberon Sexton is partly named after Sexton Blake, a fictional British detective that appeared shortly after Conan Doyle supposedly killed had Sherlock Holmes die, while falling from a waterfall in mortal combat with his arch enemy, Moriarty, in the Final Problem in 1893.* Blake was traditionally called “the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes.”

    More can be read at Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexton_Blake

    *Actually, the more I think of it, the more the ending of RIP should be seen as a reference to the famous Reichenbach Falls incident, not least of which being that, when Conan Doyle eventually gave into public pressure and brought back his most famous creation, it was revealed that Holmes never perished in fall, but faked his own death to continue to seek out Moriarty’s henchmen. Also, rather like David’s critique of introducing a character in a story to be revealed as the criminal mastermind behind it all, this is exactly what Conan Doyle does with Moriarty. Far from being Holmes’ constant nemesis as most people think today, Moriarty is introduced, and then killed off in the same story, and his machinations are only ever seen again in a story written years later but set before the Final Problem.

    Which just goes to show that retroactive continuity is nothing new, comics fans!

  17. [...] David Uzumeri is back on the Batrob annotations horse. Oh, look, he’s even done some for issue 4! As I said over in the FBB comments, his thoughts perfectly complement ours in that he goes in for [...]

  18. Well Sexton is apparently British and Todd is not.

    If that’s the case then we have good cause to wonder why Batman is in London in issue 7 (Cameron Stewart’s 1st issue)

  19. [...] Comics | David Uzumeri continues his annotations for Batman and Robin. [Funnybook Babylon] [...]

  20. Does anyone else notice the similarities between Oberon Sexton/Gravedigger and F. Alexander, a character from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange?

    -Sexton: Author. Physically scarred by criminals who killed his wife. Fights crime.
    -Alexander: Author. Mentally scarred by criminals who raped and killed his wife. Seeks revenge on one of the criminals who perpetrated the crime.

    The novel and Morrison’s Batman also link up nicely: both feature mind-altering experiments and repressed personalities (and the novel is also about crime and punishment, which fits well with this particular issue).

  21. also Terrance what I was trying to say before was that Morrison mentioned he spoke with Irving about doing the 3rd arc, but he just asked him in person, wasn’t official. Which is how I’m guessing the rumor of Irving on arc #3 started.

  22. David, excellent analysis as usual.

  23. I’m not sure why everyone’s acting as though the mystery of the Red Hood’s identity is ongoing. It seemed pretty clear to me that Morrison was yelling “Gotcha!” at all of the readers expecting a drawn-out mystery by simply revealing the Red Hood to be Jason Todd after a single issue.

    I mean, the Red Hood *could* be Gravedigger, but like Mike Barrett said, Dick would be able to tell a British accent from an American one. And he’d certainly recognize Jason’s voice. Plus, Gravedigger being the Red Hood is just so mallet-to-the-face obvious prior to the “Jason?” comment that it’d be ridiculous if he were indeed the man behind that other mask.

    As for the Joker, he, too, *could* be the Red Hood, but when the hell has the Joker ever been that muscular? Morrison in particular seems to like the Joker looking as androgynous as possible, if not outright feminine. And again, why the hell would Dick, upon hearing the Joker’s unmistakable voice, gasp “Jason?” rather than exclaim “Joker!”?

    Stop hunting for clues, folks. The mystery’s over. Jason Todd is the Red Hood. (“Gotcha!”)

  24. Good stuff.

  25. “Stop hunting for clues, folks. The mystery’s over. Jason Todd is the Red Hood.”

    http://uk.media.comics.ign.com/media/143/14327279/img_7188674.html

    “And also, we’ll being seeing Jason Todd in a different role than we’ve seen him before. But it’s a continuation of the “Battle for the Cowl” story?

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=20487

  26. Just a quick note, GM used the phrase “Let the punishment fit the crime” in the 3rd Invisibles series. Helga said it while they were making their ransom tape of Sir Miles.

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