Friday, July 04, 2008

"Batman R.I.P." Part III: Batman #678 Annotations

I've been annotating "Batman R.I.P." and discussing Morrison's Batman run nearly issue-by-issue since his "Clown at Midnight" story. Click HERE for all my relevant Morrison Batman posts, and comment below to tell me where I went wrong.

#678: The Annotations

Page 1: As I mentioned yesterday, the opening dialogue here comes directly from Batman #113, in which Bruce Wayne is transported to the alien world Zur-En-Arrh--a story in which the Bat-Radia plays an important role, and a story which ends with Batman wondering whether or not it was all a dream. But how could it have been, since he end up with the alien Bat-Radia in his hand!

The second panel juxtaposes an excerpt from Batman's Black Casebook--the series of notebooks he has maintained about his strange adventures over the years--with an image reminiscent of "The Rainbow Creature" from Batman #134. In that story, Batman and Robin are turned "two-dimensional" by the attacking Rainbow Creature.

The third panel shows the "Robin Dies at Dawn" entry of the Casebook. As you'll recall, this story is from Batman #156, and it involved a strange sensory-deprivation experiment which caused Batman to fail to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Dr. Hurt the leader (???) of the Club of Villains in Morrison's run, was the scientist who appeared in Batman #156.

The fourth panel is from Batman #153, "Prisoners of Three Worlds," which involved three alien races (the bird people, that purple flying thing, and the little green aliens), the original Batwoman (depicted in the panel as well--in her yellow and red ensemble), Batman, Robin, and the original Bat-Girl.

All four of the stories alluded to on this page dealt not only with science-fiction elements, but caused Batman to question his own perceptions of reality.

Page 2: Tim Drake, Robin, reads excerpts from the Black Casebook, because who wouldn't? He's been worrying about Batman's mental state for a while--he was with Bruce Wayne at the caves of Nanda Parbat in 52, and he knows things aren't right with Batman's head.

The parts about needing to know what goes on inside Joker's head shows that Batman may have undertaken his own explorations into psychosis, and perhaps this whole "Batman R.I.P." descent into madness is a way for him to fight the Joker at a more primal level.

Here's an interesting correspondence that I recently came across in my Batman research--something that might be completely irrelevant, or it might tie Morrison's whole run together. In Batman #152, Batman finds himself infiltrating the "False Face Society" a VERY Club of Villains-type of organization. These aren't the same characters we see in Morrison's Club of Villains, but check out how similar they look:

And at the end of that particular story, the guy with the top hat and mask, the leader of the "False Face Society" is revealed to be the Joker!

Clearly Morrison would have been familiar with this comic, since he's referenced the issues around it, and perhaps there's more than a passing resemblance between the False Face Society and the Club of Villains. The references to the Joker on page two of Batman #678 makes me suspect there is.

Page 3: That's Pierrot Lunaire in the tree and Springheeled Jack waiting by the door. They're bad guys. Members of the Club of Villains/Black Glove organization.

Page 4-5: Pierrot Lunaire is a killer mime, so it's only appropriate that his battle with Tim Drake would be completely silent.

Page 6: This is the second appearance of Honor Jackson, who first appeared on a single page in Batman #676, right after Batman's pursuit of the pathetic Green Vulture. As I said at the time, homeless people love Batman, and I compared the homeless black man to Woodrow from Saturday Night Live, and both Jog and Douglas Wolk compared him to the magical negro cliche. Either way is good. You'll remember, of course, that Batman gave Honor Jackson a big wad of money back in issue #676--because Bats loves the homeless as much as the homeless love Bats--and that plot point will connect to something later in this issue. Oh, Morrison, you expect us to read all the issues, don't you?

Oh, that's Bruce Wayne on the ground, after being induced into some state of delirium by the trigger word "Zur-En-Arrh" at the end of the previous issue, but you all knew that.

Page 7: I like that Batman/Bruce Wayne's first words in this issue are, "Stuff? Don't know stuff." That's the problem, isn't it, Batman? You don't know what's going on and neither do we--even if we have a collection of your Silver Age adventures. But it's fun to guess.

Honor Jackson recognizes Bruce Wayne even though it was Batman who gave him the money two issues earlier. Perhaps Jackson just recognizes the very famous Wayne from some publicity, but he specifically says, "Honor Jackson never forgets a good turn!" seemingly in reference to ye olde wad of cash. Homeless people are not only fun and magical, but they can see through disguises. Good to know for future reference.

In unrelated annotation news, "Soljer" was a character Jim Shooter created for Superboy #210 (featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes). I mention it here, because it's what I think of when I see "soldier" spelled that way, and I like that Legion story a lot (mostly because it has some pretty Mike Grell pencils). It also plays into my theory that Morrison's entire Batman run actually takes place in 3008 and Computo is the Black Glove. J/K! Ha!

Pages 8-9: Here we get the present day homeless action crosscut with the black, white, and red flashbacks to what happened between the last issue and this one. We see Batman going into shock after saying the trigger word, and then Dr. Hurt coming in and doping up Batman with some crystal meth (which is bad for you, kids!).

When Dr. Hurt says "How you've grown, hmm? How long has it been?" we're probably supposed to think that Dr. Hurt is referring to more than just the time they hung out and played with sensory deprivation. No, this Dr. Hurt knows Bruce Wayne from way back. Could it be his long-thought-dead father? His suspiciously rarely referenced older brother? His post-op transgender mother? One can only speculate.

Jackson establishes the structure of this issue as a heroic quest story by calling it an "odyssey," and that makes him the Supernatural Aid. You know, like Gandalf--also a crazy homeless person.

Pages 10-11: Nightwing fights some fourth-rate gladiators and makes jokes that even he knows aren't funny. When I was going back and rereading a lot of the mid-to-late 1950s Batman stories, I was surprised at how often Batman ended up in Rome or ended up fighting people who looked like centurions. I guess Morrison had the same kind of stuff lodged in his brain as well, from all that Bat-research, because here we go with the Roman dudes. They probably work for Charlie Caligula, another Club of Villains guy. Oh, and that's Scorpiana at the end, which doesn't bode well for Nightwing, apparently, because he's never heard from again! Except in Arkham Asylum (as we'll see)!

Pages 12-13: Jackson and the Wayne-with-the-heroin-jones play at Gulf War Veteran for a bit before fighting with the menacing Psycho Riderz. These guys are obviously just an excuse to see Bruce Wayne kick some people in the neck, but they are called the PSYCHO Riderz and Morrison's Batman is all about psychosis, so there's that. Just pointing it out.

There's no dialogue in the final panel of page 13, but you know they're both thinking "feets, don't fail me now!" Especially Honor Jackson, being a cliche and all.

Pages 14-15: "Delta Force," is a reference to Army Special Forces, since Bruce Wayne is all badass with his fighting skillz and all that. But let's not forget that Delta Force is also a movie starring Chuck Norris AND Joey Bishop. Morrison was probably thinking about that cinematic masterpiece while writing every Batman issue ever.

How does Bruce Wayne know what his haircut looks like? One wonders. Does he have a mirror in his slacks?

"Sherlock Holmes" is a fictional detective who Batman met for "real" in Detective Comics #572. Neither Chuck Norris nor Joey Bishop ever played Sherlock Holmes in a movie, sadly.

Jackson hands the Bat-Radia to Bruce Wayne here, although we don't know that until the end of the issue. How he ended up with the Bat-Radia we do not know, although as the Gandalf-analogue in this story, he does have the power to grant sacred boons and all that. Plus, he's like Captain Caveman with that cart of his--he can pull anything out of that sucker.

The quest was to get some booze, which goes to show that it's all about the journey, not the destination. Unless the destination is booze-ville.

As far as I know, this is the first mention of Lone-Eye Lincoln, but I haven't read EVERY Batman comic in the world yet.

Page 16: Ah, Gotham City at sunset. Honor Jackson disappears here because he's a ghost! (As we find out shortly.) Or is he? He's probably a delusion, since Jackson never actually interacts with anyone else in the issue and nobody besides Bruce Wayne talks to him. That would explain how he "recognizes" Bruce Wayne even though he met Batman. You know you've hit rock bottom when your delusional guardian angel is a crazy homeless person.

Page 17: Turns out, Jackson's been dead since yesterday, after blowing a hundred bucks on "smack." That would be the street name for heroin, if you're from 1978. The hundred bucks came from Bruce Wayne two issues earlier. Perhaps you should devote the rest of your life to avenging Honor Jackson's death, eh, Batman?

But even though Lone-Eye Lincoln (if that is his real name) offers Wayne some smack of his own, the real purpose of Jackson sending him here was so Wayne could revisit Crime Alley, the place where his family was gunned down years before. Of course, Morrison has indicated that maybe the Wayne family death was not as it seemed, so perhaps Batman will find some clues here. Or not, because my guess is that the Wayne family died just as they have been shown dying and the rumors around their possibly faked death are just another way to make Batman unstable.

Page 18: Sorry Robin, Nightwing isn't answering the phone because he's locked up in Arkham Asylum. He's frothing at the mouth an the attendants think he's Pierrot Lunaire, but we know he's not (mostly because of the Nightwing mask in panel four--a nice inclusion, since Tony Daniel isn't so great at differentiating faces and who knows what Lunaire would look like without his make-up? Maybe he'd look exactly like Dick Grayson. So the mask helps make sense out of the page).

Notice that now Batman and Nightwing are crazy. Who's next to fall victim to the insanity?

Page 19: Dr. Hurt puts on the "Bat-Man" costume once worn by Thomas Wayne at a costume party--the costume that possibly inspired Batman's own look, years later. In panel two, from left to right, that's Le Bossu, El Sombrero, Scorpiana, Charlie Caligula, and King Kraken--members of the Club of Villains, all.

When a villain says, "nothing can stop us now," you know what happens? They always get stopped! Villains should learn not to say that. From now on, villains should say things like, "we're doing okay, but we could be doing a lot better," and thus not tempt the karmic winds.

Pages 20-22: Bruce Wayne, using the magical shopping cart of the imaginary Honor Jackson, sews himself a new costume. As I mentioned in my look at Batman #113 yesterday, the lines, " would be far easier to consider this a dream. But how can I? For in my hand...I hold the Bat-Radia," come word for word from the Zur-En-Arrh space-Batman story in that issue from the 1950s. And, of course, when Batman says "I am the Batman. The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh," and reveals his fancy new costume, it's the one the alien Tlano was wearing in Batman #113. All of which, apparently, were Batman's delusions in the past--Black Casebook stuff and all that.

And, Bat-Mite, hovering behind him, is of course part of his delusion as well. His line, "uh-oh," is pretty great finish to the issue, mocking Batman's new look and at the same time underscoring the butt-kicking that will soon commence.

It's worth noting that Morrison himself has written plenty of stories in which Batman has travelled into alternate dimensions and battled with gods and demons and science. But in his Batman run, he seems to be treating Batman as someone who has imagined practically all of his supernatural adventures. In JLA, it might have been appropriate to show Batman as a science-fictional adventurer, but in his own comic, Morrison has taken a "realistic" approach to the character. The rules of his run here seem to be that everything that doesn't make literal sense must have been part of some delusion on the part of Batman. I don't know if that will play out through the finale, but I suspect it will. His Batman is human--a human who isn't able to process everything he's been through in life.


Anonymous said...

Thanks much! Your annotations are appreciated, pls keep up the good work!

Chad Nevett said...

It occurred to me, also, that Bruce Wayne could be behind this whole thing not as a way to attack Batman, but as a means to make him stronger and more capable. Batman either dies or becomes even better, partly by taking on himself and the top arch-enemies of every "Batman" in the DCU including his own.

Now, that is insane.

Anonymous said...

I am finding this story very confusing but highly entertaining regardless...

Ryan said...

Also, one of the two "doctors" in the Arkham scene is Le Bossu's respectable alter ego, last seen recruiting the Joker at the end of #676.

Greg said...

I'm a bit disappointed you're not taking Morrison more to task for using Honor Jackson. He's a Magical Negro, after all, and no matter how brilliant Morrison is, it's still a stupid cliché.

Good job, as usual, sir.

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't really buy the Magical Negro argument in this case--not fully. First of all, Honor Jackson is probably a figment of Bruce Wayne's imagination. Second--his race plays absolutely no part in the story. He happens to be black, but it's not like he has some essential "blackness" about him. I think it's reductive to simply label the character as a Magical Negro and dismiss the purpose of the character within the larger story. So, yeah, to me it's not anything to criticize.

Kris Krause said...

Nice annotations, as usual, Timothy.

I find it really interesting that both members of the original Dynamic Duo are mental right now and Tim is set to cross paths with Damian next issue. Hmm...

Could be important foreshadowing or it could be a red herring. But I think Tim looks too good at half-time to come out on top by the end of this.

Timothy Callahan said...

Yeah, Tim's doomed and then Damian-as-Robin will end up fighting side-by-side with Crazy Purple/Red/Yellow Batman.

Kris Krause said...

Sounds good to me. It's about time we had a Batman more colorful than his Robin.

Greg said...

Tim: In a lot of instances, the character's "blackness" isn't all that pertinent. Just the fact that the character's black is enough. Now, I'm not really all that put out by Honor, because he is integral to the story, but you can't deny he has many of the properties of the stereotype.

Timothy Callahan said...

It's more of an archetype than a stereotype, although it certainly can be both. But it's a Batman comic with a British butler and asian martial arts masters. So, are you really going to be bothered by Honor Jackson?

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that's Springheel Jack? He doesn't look anything like the Victorian legend he's named after, and his helmet look's like the one worn by Ned Kelly (an Australian outlaw from the 1800's). Could he be an enemy of the Ranger?


Eric said...

Great annotations. I think that Lone-Eye Lincoln is a reference to the giant penny in the Batcave. Lincoln is seen in profile, so only shows one eye.

Timothy Callahan said...

It's Springheeled Jack as far as I know--based on the solicitations for his first appearance.

Lone-Eye Lincoln is the giant penny? That's a brilliant deduction!

Who's the T-Rex going to be?

Anonymous said...

"Magical Negro"? Oh come on...

Lame name for a stereotype, doesn't even apply here.

Kyle said...

Yes, HJ knows things because he's a hallucination, but even if he wasn't, Honor doesn't have to know that Bruce is Batman. He appears to be inspecting Bruce's jawline in the relevant panel, and that could be stored in a memory of people who've been nice to him. Semantics = fun.

Anonymous said...

its probably just me, but I find RIP too dense and rather convoluted.

which is usual for morrison yea..

but not so palatable this time round.

ah well.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you noticed Honor Jackson's first line in this issue is, "...Maybe that's how it is on the planet of the little bat faries... But we got RULES on Earth and..." Could it be possible that Honor is actually Bat-Mite in disguise?

Anonymous said...

But in his Batman run, he seems to be treating Batman as someone who has imagined practically all of his supernatural adventures.

Ooh, I couldn't disagree with you more strongly, Tim. For someone who likes Morrison's work so much, that's a terribly flat reading. Surely the point is that - as Morrison himself has stated - it's all true. Every bit of berserk continuity.

If you haven't already, I suggest you check out Jog's review?

KYLE said...

personally, im beginning to think not every copy came with the bat fairy line or something. because ive seen countless people dissect this issue since it came out and not a single one mentions that. they pick up on the smallest stuff like half scrawled graffiti and such but a fairly telling line in actual dialogue getting skipped over seems suspicious.

or maybe people are digging TOO deep and skipping over some obvious stuff in a frantic search for grants "genius".

Josh said...

The issues are slowly getting better, but they're a lot more comprehensible with your annotations. I've only been collecting since the late 80's, so it's hard to know what's subtext and what should be taken at face value. I think Bruce went nuts when his parents were shot. They brainwashed him to think they were dead while they went off on their drunk sex orgies and they sent him off on his training as revenge on the underworld.

Anonymous said...

Honor does not hand Bruce the Bat-Radia- he hands him an old beat-up transistor radio, that Bruce imagines is the Bat-Radia.

The Bat-Mite is apparently real, however. Hallucinations are rough!

aral said...

That's a great annotation!

I really enjoyed it and I'm bookmarkin'

My 2 cents: Batman was a genius insane boy when he was eight and he wanted his parents to die when he was small and it was that guilt that turned him to be batman. yeah it's morrison's run.

Atreyu Hibiki said...

One thing I've noticed is that NO ONE is commenting or speculating on the Thing on Batmite's Back. Therefore, here's my theory -

It's the Outsider. Look closely at the way the lumps are drawn, and the eerie eyes, and the shape of the smile. This is Alfred's evil, insanely powerful alter-ego from the 60's, which has (mostly) been in remission since that time. He doesn't know that this thing has been inside him, and that his friends and confidants have been hiding the truth from him. Not until he starts typing up the Black Casebook, at least.

The Outsider has been brought out of remission twice, each time due to Alfred recieving a sudden shock. Discovering that the man you've been taking care of for his entire life has been lying to you for the past twelve years about something lurking at the core of your being would certainly qualify as a shock. And as something that Batman "deserves" punishment for.

The Outsider personality has been physically separated from Alfred on at least one occasion (in Batman Family #13). It may not actually be inside him at the moment, or it could have tweaked his personality enough to have him orchestrate matters from behind the scenes.

Now here's where my theory gets really weird:
Alfred is not only the Outsider.
Alfred is Batmite.

Alfred's subconscious mind has access to incredible power (the Outsider once turned New York City into candles!)
His subconscious mind knows that it has deeply hurt his good friend Batman, and would probably be remorseful.
Therefore, it's likely to create another personality to deal with this, one that would be 'helpful' to Batman and would have access to all of the Outsider's considerable powers.

We saw a similar situation near the end of Batman: The Animated Series when Harvey Dent's subconscious mind, reeling at how many horrible things he had done as Two-Face, created the second personality of the Judge, which then went out and violently fought crime.

Whether Bat-Mite is Alfred or not, we do see the Outsider clinging to him in a seemingly symbiotic manner. I postulate that part of the reason we haven't seen either of them in so long is that they've been keeping each other in check, holding their own secret war for the last several years of Batman's life.

Tim, I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I'm quite impressed with your thoughts and opinions. I'd love to hear your feedback, and that of any others, on this.

Anonymous said...

Two points. As someone else has already pointed out the Bat-Radia is an ordinary radio.

More importantly I think that this is actaully the ghost of Honor Jackson. The beer that he was drinking is still there when he vanishes, and I don't see Bruce, even in his current state, drinking beer.

When HJ first appears in the scene he is muttering something about the planet of the bat-fairies, and that on Earth we have rules. I think a certain bat-mite has pulled HJ back for this last task. That's right, I think Bat-mite is real and trying to help batman in a round about sarcastic way.

Ryan said...

Sadly, it looks like the False Face Society have already been revamped fairly recently as the thoroughly lame Black Mask's henchmen in the mid-90's.

amypoodle said...

Another Mindless piping up here!

I think the meat of it is this: Batman's psychedelic past may or may not be a hallucination, but the really interesting thing to Morrison is collapsing the division between the two.

Just you wait, Batman's No. 1 Fan will help will give our hero a helping hand before the end. It'll probably be ambiguous and that, but 'Zrfff'? That's 5D sigil speak, matey.

Tominator2 said...

The wings on that costume don't look right, even given some subpar drawing. Is it a nod to an occult image? A Rebis?

Cahse Garland said...

One thing you overlooked is that Honor looks like Baron Samedi from Voodoo mythology. The Baron is often portrayed wearing glasses with one lens blacked out- just as Honor has. Further, he is the guardian of the cross roads of death, and Honor rescues Bruce from death by OD in this issue. Add in his comments about salvation, and I think you have a good case for Honor being a ghost of some sort.

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Harv said...

Not sure anybody is still reading these comments or not, but every time I re-read R.I.P, I go back to this blog.

One thing I noticed this time is that saying Honor Jackson doesn't speak to anyone in the issue other than Bruce is wrong. He does make the comment to the Psycho Riderz about Bruce being his bodyguard. And right before he gets kicked in the face, the guy responds to HJ.