What if there were an ultimate villain out there, unseen? An absolute mastermind, closing in for the kill? What if there existed an invisible, implacable foe who’d calculated my every weakness? Who had access to allies, weapons and tactics I couldn’t imagine. An adversary whose plots and grand designs were so vast, so elaborate, that they went unnoticed… until it was too late. How could I prepare for a challenge like that? Would I have the resources to deal with it? I’ve often wondered. If my hypothetical ultimate enemy can be imagined, I can’t help considering the possibility that he actually exists. Breathing… feels like drowning. And if he exists… if the king of crime is real… is he telling me his name?
– Bruce Wayne, Batman #674
By the time we were about halfway through Batman R.I.P., and our esteemed British colleagues the Mindless Ones were divining hints from ancient Chinese wisdom, and I was still rambling on and on and on about goddammit no seriously they WILL reveal Alfred as the villain, there’s one thing we all agreed on: whether or not Simon Hurt was actually supposed to be the literal Devil, he certainly was a metaphorical one.
The question is – what’s the significance of that? If Simon Hurt is the Devil – or, as our li’l buddy Damian states there to the left, “may as well be” the Devil – then what does that mean? What, for all practical purposes, is the Devil?
Let’s talk it through. The Devil is a mythological creature, around since the dawn of human civilization, that serves as a cautionary example and inspires humans to do good through fear. He has pointy ears, and wings like a bat, and lives on through our culture as an eternal deterrent against crime – if you fuck up, you’re going to go to Hell where the Devil will tear the flesh from your bones and you will be in eternal torment. Nobody’s sure if he really exists – probably not, in our enlightened, post-religious, rational age, but you might even say he’s a sort of urban legend.
In short: Batman is, and always has been, the Devil. He inspires fear, he only punishes the wicked, he’s the Lord of the Underworld in Gotham City. So, who’s Simon Hurt? How can both he and Batman be the Devil? Certainly they both represent different aspects of the popular devil archetype – Batman is the deterrent Devil, while Hurt is the tempting one, the snake in the Garden of Eden.
So – who is Simon Hurt? He’s seemingly not supernatural, other than an apparent long life span; his methods are purely grounded and rational, employing a great deal of trickery and illusion, setting up massive games with innocent people based on Job-like bets. Comparisons to Fowles’s The Magus or the movie that kind of ripped it off, The Game, wouldn’t be at all inaccurate. And even when he tempts, he still punishes them eventually – he leaves the other fingers of the Black Glove to die at the end of “R.I.P.”, and when he calls Oberon Sexton at the end of Batman and Robin #6, he repeats the same thing he told them: “your sins have found you out.” It’s implied more than a little that even if Hurt isn’t Thomas Wayne or Mangrove Pierce, he still did know Bruce’s parents, and he seems awfully young for someone of that age. So: to Hell with it, let’s ascribe immortality, it’s a concept that’s certainly on the table ever since Nanda Parbat and the Lazarus Pits back in “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul.”
So we have an immortal, unhinged devil figure, playing games with peoples’ lives (where he takes the pessimistic stance) and testing people by continuing to both tempt and punish. One who, according to the dialogue if not art of Batman #681, looks exactly like both Bruce and Thomas Wayne.
And now, we will also have Bruce Wayne running around 40,000 years ago, in a devil outfit, scaring the shit out of primitive man when they get out of line. For the next forty thousand years, operating as a primitive urban legend, becoming permanently entrenched in mythology and religion as an adversarial, frightening figure used to warn children and cowardly, superstitious adults against taking actions deemed inappropriate in society – crime, or sin. Not just metaphorical: Forty-thousand-year-old Bruce Wayne both inspires, and becomes, the Devil.
And if Simon Hurt were 40,03X-year-old Bruce Wayne, it would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? His obsession with the Wayne line, the vast amounts of wealth, the knowledge of Bruce’s future… how else would he have known to create a faux Batman that resembles Bane years before “Knightfall” even occurred? Or that the next time Bruce wore the cape and cowl after “R.I.P.”, in Final Crisis, it would be his last (at least, from Hurt’s personal timeline). Morrison says that the title of this summer’s Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne will become “increasingly ominous as the story progresses,” and that the story will have an “apocalyptic countdown” – is Bruce Wayne going to go even more nuts over the coming 40,000 years, changed by so much death that he transforms into Hurt? Or is Hurt a new personality, implanted by the Omega Effect and the Life Trap? Hell, we don’t even know for sure how this version of the Omega Trap is going to operate.
What DO we know? We know that Bruce is apparently going to be various Waynes throughout history, including Puritan-era Gotham Village, something that this below panel certainly seems to be alluding to:
What we don’t know is how. Is Bruce going to be born into a different body for each life, or is he going to be effectively immortal and keep living new lives? If he is immortal, how? Is it a side effect of the Omega Trap, or is it the time he bathed in the Waters of Life in Nanda Parbat back in “Resurrection”? Or is he just hopping from location to location bathing in Lazarus Pits, and that’s what drives him, pun completely intended, batty?
At this point I’m off even speculation and just into randomly throwing questions into the ether, so: Robin and Batman, Cupid and the Devil, the Joke and the Punchline. It’s a role Batman’s always played, so it’s only natural that as he goes back to the dawn of time to play a part in shaping the evolution of humanity, he fill that societal role for the whole world rather than just his beloved Gotham – and God only knows what he had to do with that city’s development.
It also fits in with a lot of the hints given throughout the book. The quote I opened on, from right before the onset of “R.I.P.”, posits that this hypothetical ultimate enemy is basically… Batman Plus. Jezebel Jet exhaustively discusses the possibility in Batman #677, pointing out that the Black Glove shares Bruce’s obsessions with games and riddles and etc. – just on a larger scale. So if Batman is the Optimum Man, as Morrison keeps selling him to be – the absolute peak of humanity – then who could possibly best Batman but an older, more experienced Batman?
“The victory is in the preparation,” Batman says – it’s what he taught Wingman (as revealed in #669) as well as Damian (#666). To become the pinnacle of human progress, Batman prepared – he prepared himself physically through martial arts, he prepared himself mentally through study and mastering the process of deduction, and after his incident in Infinite Crisis, he prepared himself emotionally by undergoing Thogal and “erasing the last traces of doubt and fear in [his] mind” (#681). By being Bruce Wayne, prodigal scion of Gotham’s reigning family, he prepared his surroundings with safehouses and hidden corporate holdings, an approach future-Damian takes to a hilarious but brilliantly lateral extreme by boobytrapping everywhere in Gotham with bombs. By raising Dick, and Tim, and inspiring Barbara, he prepares the future to continue his mission. Batman is nothing but preparation. So, a Batman with forty thousand more years of that? Well, that’d basically be the Devil.