For those of you who missed it, I already annotated Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 over at Comics Alliance. You’ll continue to find those annotations there, while Batman and Robin will remain here.
It’s been a while and there’ s a lot to talk about, so let’s get into it.
“Batman vs. Robin” Part One: “The Haunting of Wayne Manor”
Page 3: The fund for railroad accidents mirrors the overall “Mexican Train” theme of this arc. It seems likely that the Thomas Wayne being referenced here is the devil-worshipping Thomas Wayne of 1765 rather than Bruce’s father, and this is how he’s attained his wealth as Simon Hurt. (More on the Thomas Wayne of 1765 = Simon Hurt theory later).
Page 4: In light of the later-revealed fact that all of these deaths are jokes on the part of the new persona of the Joker, it seems appropriate to investigate them here. The Russian General/Alligator joke didn’t hit me at first, but Google searching reveals that there’s a highly bleeding-edge war-boner-inducing helicopter coming to the Russian military known as the Alligator. Equally interesting is that the Russian general was already killed by the Joker back in Batman #681, which suggests that this death was staged (or Morrison forgot, which is fairly unlikely). It’s notable that Jezebel Jet’s death is different from the public ones of the others, since she’s known to be killed by Talia with her Ninja Man-Bats back in #681 as well.
Page 5: The oil sheikh/peanuts joke is rather well known and is detailed here. I’m not sure how Sexton/Joker’s final statement to himself reflects on his new persona, about good men always finding shovels to dig with – is he referring to Batman, or does he now see himself as a “good man”?
As for the entire Sexton/Joker reveal that comes later, I just want to touch on how it illuminates an overriding motif: while it’s still unclear whether Hurt or Joker is the domino killer, Joker’s new persona reflects greatly on the domino/Mexican Train thing. In the game Mexican Train, unused dominoes are kept in the “boneyard”; the boneyard, of course, is a synonym for a graveyard, which relates both to Sexton’s last name and the name “Gravedigger.” There are two interpretations of this: either Joker is the domino killer, distributing the dominoes as he kills, or he’s being framed by Hurt, and he’s digging up the dominoes/bones from the boneyard to prove his innocence. Or maybe it’s a reference to the fact that all the Black Glove victims, as well (seemingly) as all of Hurt’s goons, wear domino masks.
Page 6: Nerdy note: this entire vista is in the exact same perspective as the entirety of the Ultima Online RPG.
Page 7: Dick’s reference to Tim’s surety about clues being sent from the past is largely chronicled in the first twelve issues of Red Robin. The mentioning that the cave system has been use since the Stone Age makes it fairly clear that the Batcave is the same cave from Return of Bruce Wayne #1.
Pages 8-9: The portraits, in order. We last glimpsed them back in Batman #680, when they were boobytrapped by El Sombrero.
Mordecai Wayne – Probably Bruce, from the upcoming Return of Bruce Wayne #2.
Thomas Wayne – This is where things get weird. A Thomas Wayne is not mentioned in Batman 452-454, the original Peter Milligan/Kieron Dwyer story that introduced the demon Barbathos/Barbatos. The only place I can find any reference to him prior to this, as a matter of fact, is this mysterious page, which has enough references to seem authentic but seems to be largely a work of speculative fanfiction on the part of the author. Still, this seems to be the only pre-Morrison reference to a devil-worshipping Thomas Wayne as part of the “Dark Knight, Dark City” crew.
Darius Wayne – Referenced in Rick Veitch and Tom Yeates’s Swamp Thing #86 as the guy who built Wayne Manor. In that story, Tomahawk ends up in the Batcave and grabs a magic rock related to Swamp Thing (the Claw of Aelkhund) from a huge bat, which seems like it could be Barbatos.
Joshua Wayne – Batman: Shadow of the Bat #45, by Alan Grant and Mike Dutkiewicz, told the story of Joshua Wayne, who died protecting a slave on the Underground Railroad. It’s likely he might be the Cowboy Bruce from ROBW #4, just as Mordecai is the one from #2, since his portrait also contains a clue to the future in the form of the Barbatos casket.
Solomon Wayne – Joshua’s brother, he was a high-class judge who built a bunch of gothic buildings in Gotham (which might line up with Bruce’s statement in RIP – that the streets are a machine to make Batman). Appeared in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #27.
Alan Wayne – Alan was Solomon’s son, and spearheaded the development of Gotham’s railroads (Greenberger encyclopedia) – which again backs up the entire Underground Railroad/Mexican Train background of Bruce’s family. His only previous appearance is in a text piece by Scott Beatty (using the in-DCU pen name Cecil Longacre) in the 1997 Batman Secret Files. In Morrison’s run, as we’ll see, his grave forms the centerpiece of the “Garden of Death.”
Kenneth Wayne – Kenneth was Alan’s son, and started Wayne Chemical. He apparently died early, and his wife Laura was a big prohibition activist after that. Also only in the Secret Files.
Patrick Wayne – Started WayneTech, ran the company through both World Wars. Only in the Secret Files. Thomas’s dad, and Bruce’s grandfather.
Silas Wayne – Great-Uncle Silas debuted along with this portrait gallery back in Batman #120, in a story where he was disappointed that Bruce was such a milquetoast. By the end of the story, he died, but not before Bruce told him that he was Batman, making him proud.
Thomas Wayne – Bruce’s father, obviously. I’d never realized that Martha was previously of the Kanes – so Bruce and Kate are probably cousins.
The Miagani tribe – from Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson’s “Batman: The Cult.” Back then, they were basically just a bunch of Native Americans who lived around Gotham – they weren’t mentioned as having any specific relationship to the Bat.
Page 10: It seems likely that Joshua, as well, is Bruce, although that would contradict his earlier appearance in Shadow of the Bat – unless Bruce shows up after Joshua’s death/disappearance and takes up his identity. The casket seems to somehow contain Barbatos.
Page 11: Not only is the constellation Orion, but the painting features a horse’s head and flaming boats, and Orion is near the Horsehead and Flaming Tree Nebulae. The best guess for the meaning of Orion is Bruce sending a clue to the future about the circumstances around his disappearance – his final case was the murder of the New God Orion in Final Crisis, who was the God of War (which Darius Wayne here is participating in). Now we hit the part of the story where Morrison has the characters start to vocalize the theories the fans are having – maybe Bruce is still around now! Maybe he’s Oberon Sexton!
Page 12: Joker’s exceptional hearing was remarked on back in Batman #663. I’m still not sure what the numerology about 99 Fiends comes down to – I thought maybe it’d correspond to a set of double-twelve dominoes, but no luck. I do like how Hurt refers to them as his storm crows, though – if he’s some sort of older, evil, more primal Batman, then he’s got this army of anti-Robins complete with domino masks. (Well, some of them.) Everything else is from classical demonology – the Third Hierarchy refers to Sebastien Michaelis‘s 1613 classification of demons. They’re basically the king shits of the demon world – they’re the fallen archangels as opposed to fallen cherubs and other divine scrubs. The Mexican Train is a clear double entendre – both the domino game and the fact that Hurt is literally going to take a train from Mexico.
Page 13: The four members of the 99 Fiends that we’ll meet this arc: Belial (a brother-sister team) (“two beautiful angels in a chariot of fire”), Duke Zepar (apparently the patron saint of date rape and dressed like a soldier) and Naberius (“like a crow” – fits his outfit). These are just Hurt’s hired goons, but he’s clearly riding the devil/demonology schtick hard, like any self-respecting crime boss in the DC Universe should.
Page 14: The horsehead over the fireplace ties in with the Orion/Horsehead Nebula thing. Mordecai’s absence from the portrait gallery makes sense – if Wayne Manor is less than 300 years old, and his Bruce’s Mordecai adventure takes place in 1765, then it wouldn’t have been hung immediately since Wayne Manor hadn’t been built yet. From the comments about Joshua and Solomon on the Underground Railroad, I’m starting to wonder if Hurt’s Mexican Train isn’t going to go directly to the Batcave.
Page 15: I guess Batman sees the horsehead, puts it together with the Orion clue, and then presses pressure plates behind the roses/’flaming trees’/stars to trigger the secret passage.
Page 18: Notice how Batman goes into a secret passage that is literally “sub rosa.” Damian’s movements are swift because of the spinal takeover.
Page 20: At first, I thought this was the room they summoned Barbatos in from 1765, but a scene next issue throws that out. I presume the Thomas there is the devil-worshipping Thomas Wayne, who at this point is almost definitely Simon Hurt.
Part Two: “Boneyard”
Page 1: The way Hurt just throws out symbolism here, you’d think he was trying to give me an aneurysm. The W in Hurt’s back, while repeatedly flagellated, looks to be an old wound; I (stealing from Something Awful’s Broseidon) would suspect Bruce carving a W into his back, Zorro-style, at some point in the past. Hurt’s dialogue here continues to imply that he’s Wayne – that he has something his in Gotham to reclaim from pretenders, that he’s Bruce’s dark twin (possibly a reference to the pre-Crisis mentally damaged Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s brother).
Pages 2-3: This page is basically a Jack T. Chick tract’s worst nightmare, with a total douchebag taking advantage of penitence to commit “spectacular new atrocities.” Then again, the priest’s probably Catholic to go along with the penitence theme, so Chick would hate him anyway. I like to think that the DEA agent who capped the priest was Hank Schrader.
Pages 4-5: The rail tunnel, probably built by Alan, and the end of the Underground Railroad that leads to the Corpse-Road. I imagine these are all events we’ll see in Return of Bruce Wayne. As for Dick’s comment about the paint being new, within a year – it’s likely it was all Simon Hurt, during R.I.P., which was six months before the beginning of Batman and Robin.
Page 6: “Pantomime poseur” would be a pretty accurate description of YOU right now, Mistah J.
Page 7: I presume Vepar is reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards in a play on the inverted cross – the idea of the devil being the anti-God. Gnostic types, these. I assume Joker is a “scented dandy” because he’s doused himself in enough cologne and whatever else to hide his natural chemical smell.
Page 8: I love Damian’s “DAMN!” face in the fourth panel.
Page 10: The line “death stroke” makes it pretty clear at this point that this guy is Slade Wilson, Deathstroke, super-assassin and possibly most overused DC Comics character of the 2000s. He’s basically a super-badass mercenary with swords and guns who blamed the Teen Titans for the death of his child, so he has a sincere personal mad-on for Dick Grayson that led to him straight up annihilating the entire city of Bludhaven back in Infinite Crisis.
Page 12: Notice again that the corpse-road is a railway – this is definitely how the Mexican Train will arrive.
Page 13: While Alfred clears up how this lines up with “Cataclysm” for the continuity nuts, I presume the painting of Joshua Wayne was located here since he set up the Underground Railroad connection with the Batcave.
Page 14: The Miagani tribe is discussed earlier, and we see its origin in Return of Bruce Wayne #1 as Bruce inspires Anthro’s grandson to fight back against Vandal Savage. I’m unsure what the energy source mentioned is, since this room is apparently empty later. It could be whatever’s inside the Barbatos casket.
Page 15: Actually, looking at Naberius’s statement, I’d bet it is Barbatos. Unsure why he says the 99 fiends have no master, considering Hurt is clearly their master – is it supposed to be some sort of criminal democracy?
Page 16: I love how Joker makes a legitimately excellent detective, largely because he had to be that brilliant to match wits with Batman for so long.
Page 17: Well, at least the speech therapy from #663’s certainly been working out.
Page 19: The appearance of the domino on Naberius’s body is curious, since it breaks the countdown of the earlier dominoes – we’ve gone from 12/12 to 12/11 to 12/10 and now to 4/1. Simultaneously, we never actually SEE Joker take it from the body – it’s fully possible that he faked its retrieval when he was carrying it all along. It’s still totally up in the air whether Joker or Hurt is the real domino killer – something which definitely makes Damian wonder as well regarding the differences in MO. It’s also interesting that Joker seems to be completely cognizant of Barbatos as well.
Page 21: I’m still totally confused by Damian’s hitting Dick making his Bat-symbol pull off of his shirt. It seems to be fully on in the first panel, but for the rest of this issue and next its ends are slightly removed from the fabric. I’m honestly not sure what it’s supposed to symbolize. Joker also totally knows about the 99 fiends.
Page 22: Deathstroke’s “permission to terminate” line is a play off of his name Deathstroke “the Terminator.”
Part Three: “Mexican Train”
Page 1: I’m still lost as to what’s actually going on with the bat-symbol here – is it really just from Damian hitting him from the shovel? Maybe it’s to try to symbolize that he’s less than Batman now that he’s fighting Deathstroke? I have no idea, honestly, that doesn’t seem right.
Page 2: Deathstroke’s so eager to cripple Grayson, not kill him – but to break him, to be his Bane. Talia’s comment about Dick corrupting his daughter refers to an arc in Devin Grayson’s Nightwing, #112-115, where Dick tried (and succeeded) to do exactly that. It was cut short by Infinite Crisis, however.
Page 5: I wonder if Damian’s comment about Slade wearing him “like [a] glove” ties into the whole glove/weapon motif, since Damian’s being used as a weapon by his mother and Deathstroke, just like the Black Glove was Dr. Hurt’s weapon.
Page 8: Is Damian blaming himself or Dick for the fact that he got angry? It could go either way from the dialogue.
Page 9: Sexton’s request not to be taken to a hospital is explained later when he’s revealed to be the Joker. I wonder if, at this point, Sexton is still planning on trying to lie to Dick and Damian, or if he’s going to tell them the truth.
Page 10: The giant bat Dick’s fighting in the top panel is the same as the giant bat Bruce wore in the first issue of Return of Bruce Wayne. I’m sure the river, much like the railroad, will bear some degree of significance – maybe the river will be a sort of metaphorical River Styx in the next arc, since Doctor Hurt will probably set up the Batcave as a sort of Hell to go with his demonology theme.
Page 11: Morrison’s playing fast and loose with the history here, combining the architect Van Derm from the ’90s Alan Grant history (where it’s bought by Solomon and Joshua) with Rick Veitch’s Darius Wayne origin for Wayne Manor.
Page 14: The Bludhaven incident Dick’s referring to occurred at the beginning of Infinite Crisis #4, when (sanctioned by Alexander Luthor) Deathstroke and the Brotherhood of Evil drop Chemo on the city, turning it into the radioactive wasteland Darkseid used to incubate in between the Infinite and Final Crises.
Page 16: If Damian 2.0 is going to be ten years younger than Damian 1.0 – I’m just saying, he’d be 10 when Damian was 20, just old enough to become his Robin. And if he’s made from the same augmented DNA combinations etc., if he’s the same kid, with the same upbringing, then he’ll probably rebel, too. Unless Talia switches things up, of course. This also brings up the whole nature/nurture question etc. which I can’t really figure out where Morrison stands on.
Page 17: David Brothers told me “I hope I can be a worthy one, mother” was Damian’s “I shall become a bat,” and it’s pretty damn close to that definitive.
Pages 18-19: In case you couldn’t tell Dustin Nguyen was helping out with this issue, check out these layouts and that cityscape. First off, note how ALL of Hurt’s goons here have domino masks. The “him” that Vine is talking about is almost definitely the Joker, with the “foes he cannot defeat” being, of course, Batman.
Page 20: This certainly seems to confirm some kind of mystical nature to Barbatos – it’d certainly have to be there to have Thomas Wayne survive.
Page 21: We never see the cape and cowl placed here – Batman’s taken them off by the time we see him on the last page of Final Crisis. The eclipsed sun is likely a reference to the eclipse (and probably continued eclipses) that signal Bruce’s journey through time – perhaps the Miagani later found Batman’s cape and cowl and enshrined them there, below the black sun that took their man-god away.
Page 22: There are a lot of comments made about Damian being a shitty detective – first by himself back in #666, earlier this arc about the mansion-Clue and now here with Joker slagging on him.
Page 23: It seems kind of unfair for Morrison to unload the dog collar and heart attack ones now rather than earlier, since we only had the alligator gag to go by. The cardinal/collar joke is pretty straightforward, but I don’t get the newspaper tycoon/heart attack/mistress one and none of the explanations I’ve seen really gel, other than that it probably has something to do with William Randolph Hearst.
Page 24: Baron Samedi – “He is usually depicted with a top hat, black tuxedo, dark glasses, and cotton plugs in the nostrils, as if to resemble a corpse dressed and prepared for burial in the Haitian style. He has a white, frequently skull-like face (or actually has a skull for a face) and speaks in a nasal voice. He is a sexual loa, frequently represented by phallic symbols and is noted for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. Additionally, he is the loa of sex and resurrection, and in the latter capacity he is often called upon for healing by those near or approaching death, as it is only Baron who can accept an individual into the realm of the dead.” This fits in pretty well with Morrison’s labeling the next arc, “Batman Must Die”, as “Batman R.I.P. as farce” – and engaging in Voodoo and the loa is all stuff Morrison’s mined before, especially in The Invisibles.