As suspected by a few people in last month’s comment thread, the Red Hood is in fact the obvious option, Jason Todd. So that entire mystery’s away from us, although the domino killer and Man-On-Gargoyle are still milling around, not to mention Oberon Sexton.
Philip Tan’s art in this issue is rather confusing and unclear with regards to the storytelling, especially on the fifth page, so I’ll try to disentangle some of those things as we go.
Page 1: Well, I gotta say I never thought the two random thugs from the beginning of #1 would be so important, but here’s their backstory. The final panel is from the end of #3, with Sasha suffocating a dude we now know for sure was her father (she said “He’s my papa” at the time, but she’d also been saying that a lot).
Page 4: And yeah, so much for the mystery. I discussed Jason Todd way back in the Batman #683 annotations, but Damian’s exposition here is on the money. The time Jason got his brains beaten out by the Joker was his death in Batman #428.
Page 5: And here’s where I lose track of the storytelling. From the (what look like) soggy footprints on the second panel, it appears that Penguin is trying to exit backwards while holding the umbrella out in front of him and shooting from it. Damian throws a batarang into the works, which – as far as I can tell – screws up his umbrella’s propeller, and makes him shoot out of the building. Or alternately, he was going to jump out of the building and fly anyway, and Damian’s batarang screwed up his umbrella’s propeller after he’d already leapt from the building. It’s incredibly unclear, and (I realize I’m editorializing here) pretty disappointing after Quitely’s smooth, fluid action scenes in the first arc.
Page 6: I guess Penguin landed on top of the car and then bounced onto the sidewalk? The Mexican boss they’re talking about here is the still-mysterious El Penitente.
Page 9: This is the third major domino we’ve seen – the first when the Toad was killed, the second at Pyg’s lair with the antidote. And since I was giving Tan shit earlier, I feel like I should applaud his Penguin on the street here, since he really does draw him in an appropriately grotesque manner and pulls off the ridiculousness of him threatening people with a broken umbrella on the street.
Page 10: This is the seeding-future-storylines scene, with Oberon “the Gravedigger” Sexton repping the Dynamic Duo in the media and Lucius Fox re-emphasizing the Wayne-money plot thread. Sexton is still an enigma – he could be a new character, exactly who he says he is, or he could be Bruce Wayne, or the Joker, or God knows who. We also find out the name of his book (“Masks of Evil”), which I’m sure will have some kind of importance.
Page 11: Regarding the Wayne-money plot thread, the fact that it’s being reemphasized like this implies it’s not just referencing the Streets of Gotham status quo.
Page 12: You probably don’t need me to point this out to you, but Jason’s making a dark k/night pun there. I’m also really forced to wonder how Jason Todd conducted a remotely fair phone poll, which, as Chris pointed out reading this, is amazingly ironic considering the role phone polls played in his demise. For those who don’t know, Batman #427 ended on a cliffhanger regarding whether Jason was alive or dead, and readers were given two 1-900 numbers to call to decide. By a fairly slim margin, Jason died.
Page 13: As far as I can tell, this guy (who was probably the guy in the hood in the mob scene, since he works for El Penitente) says “The guy who did this to me… he’s dead… DEAD! Flamingo is coming… in an airplane from HELL.” I also love Morrison’s mob names (Gentleman-G Merriwether!).
Page 14: So now Jason Todd’s gone from trying to replace Batman to trying to make him obsolete. This is where we also start getting into debating continuity, and a few other points.
First of all, Morrison’s pretty fond of Alan Moore references in his comics, and painting his characters and concepts as outdated, sort of ugly concepts. With that said:
I’m sure they’d have a hell of a socially awkward ultraviolent vigilante bromance. And it can’t just be an art tic, since a lot of the changes that make that picture possible (the zits, the baldness, the hair difference) are courtesy of Morrison as specified in the script.
Which brings up the second point: that the Jason Todd Grant Morrison is using here is neither the pre- nor post-Crisis version of the character. He’s got the attitude of the street-urchin post-Crisis version, but the red hair was a feature of the pre-Crisis version, introduced in Batman #357, who was a happy-go-lucky ex-carnival type just like Dick Grayson. Additionally, when his hair was dyed black in #366, he does it himself (and puts on Dick’s costume) because he’s so eager to be Robin. However, it’s difficult to say whether this is simply Morrison revising history or just Jason Todd not admitting any of this in public. In any case, this is a new history for the character combining aspects of both previous takes in service of Morrison’s “all continuity is true” goal.
Jason’s visit to the Lazarus Pit was after his resurrection by Superboy-Prime’s continuity punches as told in Batman Annual #25, since he came back brain-dead and was taken by Talia to a Lazarus Pit.
Page 16: Again with the face-eating and face-wearing and losing of faces! God, Grant Morrison, we get it!
Then again, he bears more significance in this story, which is all about masks and faces; Oberon Sexton’s full-face mask (and his book title), the massive red hood that’s giving Jason Todd zits, Damian’s costume hood, Sasha’s second face/mask… Flamingo shows up here as a devourer of faces and masks.
Page 21: Red Hood gets shot in the chest and head, shattering his hood. Sasha’s narration reveals the general elevator pitch origin for the Flamingo, who had his brain “cut apart” by the mob – or by an evil psychologist they hired like, I don’t know, Simon Hurt.
Page 22: Flamingo looks a lot different here from his future self in Batman #666, although he’s certainly ostentatious (even though it’s hard to tell with all the shadows and Alex Sinclair’s coloring).
Welp, that’s the end of this month – a fairly straightforward issue. Next month we get #6, and then #7 will wait until January since, as revealed in this week’s DC Nation column, it had to come out after Blackest Night #6 – which implies Morrison’s going to be tying this book in with the overall DC Universe to a greater degree.