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 everything I missed. (Also, this issue seemed so straightforward, I almost thought about skipping the annotations on #680, but maybe I'll have enough to talk about once I get started...)
Batman #680: The Annotations
Cover: Alex Ross continues his metaphorical approach to covering "Batman R.I.P." as Batman wears a completely different costume here than he does in the issue. Also, he doesn't fight the Club of Villains. Also, also, he doesn't breakdance inside, either. I hereby label this cover, "go, Batman, go, Batman, go!"
Page 1: Bossu's minions lurk on the rooftops while Charlie Caligula's centurions provide valet service, apparently.
Pages 2-3: Dr. Hurt in the Thomas Wayne proto-Batman costume describes the "Danse Macabre" which is all about gambling with human lives. The red and black motif, so prominent in this arc -- and in Batman #663 -- continues with the table setting and the roulette wheel.
Page 4: This is a pretty straightforward Dr. Guy Dax-turns-into-Le Bossu sequence (and, honestly, I assumed the two characters were the same guy because they looked similar facially -- that's a knock against Tony Daniel's art, I guess, since his ugly faced guys look like ugly-face-with-mask guys). But, Dax/Bossu does have a line that links thematically to the notion of Batman's duality: "In order to give expression to the honest beast within," he says, "I am compelled to an elaborate process of disguise."
Page 5: Nurse Scorpiana stands over the body of Dick Grayson, who was institutionalized mistakenly a few issues ago.
Pages 6-7: Batman, still wearing the Zur-En-Arrh costume cobbled together on the streets, talks with Bat-Mite, and has two great lines about superhero fashion: "The colors demonstrate total confidence. Robin dressed this way for years and survived."
El Sombrero, master of death traps, has prepared Wayne Manor for Batman's imminent arrival, and tells the minions to assume their positions for the Danse Macbre, but the Joker, a force of chaos, has other plans as he butchers his way to El Sombrero. [Edited to add: this scene takes place at Arkham, apparently.]
Page 8: As he did in the previous issue, Batman calls Bat-Mite, "might," which seems to imply the possibilities inherent in the character, or possibly the concept of strength. Either way, Bat-Mite is part of Batman's psychic reboot, offering some guidance on his journey. "Who is the Black Glove?" is, of course, the big question for Morrison's Batman run, and this issue maybe answers it at the end.
Page 9: Batman refers to Bat-Mite as "soldier" here, which is what Frank Miller's Batman calls Robin. Perhaps it's a sign that he's regaining his sanity or at least his "normal" mental state, because all of a sudden Bat-Mite withdraws. I've proposed that Bat-Mite is just a figment of Batman's imagination -- part of his psychic reboot -- but I didn't expect Batman to come out and ask the question directly. Bat-Mite's response is typical Morrison: "Imagination is the 5th dimension." Oh, yeah. Why didn't I think of that?
Pages 10-11: Is there a precedent for all of these rich guys wearing masks as they attend the Danse Macabre? I don't know of one, but it's a pretty funny image, I think. And I love when the generalissimo whines, "Batman is cool! Batman wears black!" in protest for this weird Zur-En-Arrh Batman on the monitors. I don't know if this is exactly Geoff Johns-channeling-fanboy-rage like Superboy-Prime, but it's close enough to make me laugh.
"I own the keys to Batman's mind" seems to imply a hubris on Dr. Hurt's part, but maybe he has even more tricks up his sleeve still.
El Sobrero flies through the window, courtesy of the crazed Clown at Midnight Joker. Hurt seems to misunderstand everything about the Joker when he says, "you'll be disappointed by the way it messes with your pattern..." The Joker doesn't have a pattern. That's the opposite of the Joker aesthetic.
Pages 12-13: Wayne manor has been booby trapped by El Sombrero, but since he's clearly out of comission, I'm not sure who's talking to Gordon here, but I assume it's Dr. Hurt. The red phone hotline is an allusion to the Adam West Batman television show.
Damian, Talia, and a few of her League of Assassins peeps show up just in time. (And since Damian is surely to be the new Robin by next year, it's important to get him back into the action ASAP.)
Page 14-15: Batman's cat and mouse game with the Joker. His reference to the "Dead Man's Hand" is an allusion to the scene in DC Universe #0 in which Joker showed four of the five Aces and Eights. In their scene from that one issue special, red and black was the major motif, and since it's so pivotal to the climax in this issue, I really don't understand why it wasn't in the main Batman title.
Okay, so, Batman here is all about logic, and the Joker laughs at such notions. But when Batman says, "Cupid and the Devil" in connection with the red and the black, he's not wrong.
Page 16-17: "Love really is blind," says the Joker, giving Batman yet another (quite obvious) clue as to what's going to happen at the end of the issue, but Batman is too stubborn to pick up on it. And, let's be honest, it's tough to really take the Joker at face value. The red and black tiles are a callback to the floor pattern in Batman #663.
Joker even goes so far to say "jet-black irony" to clue everyone in that the word "jet" does indeed mean "black" just in case we didn't make the connection yet.
Oh, yeah, also the Joker slices his tongue because (a) he's crazy, and (b) it's the whole "forked-tongue" thing of the serpent who tempts humanity. It's a biblical allusion and all that. (Keep it in mind for later.)
Pages 18-19: "You think it all breaks down into symbolism and structure..." says the Joker. "No, Batman, that's just Wikipedia." Ha. My Morrison book is all about the symbolism and structure of Morrison's work, so the Joker must not be a fan. The Joker does get off a few more zingers here, dismissing everything Batman tried to do -- like the Dr. Hurt sensory deprivation experiment -- to get inside the mind of the Joker. Batman's "fatal" flaw was in trying to approach the chaotic and insane with a logical, reasonable plan.
The Joker's lines about "it's so simple," "it's all a big joke" reflect the specific situation Batman finds himself in, and the Joker's general worldview. As you'll note, if you've read Grant Morrison: The Early Years (a.k.a. the Joker's least favorite book), when I asked Morrison about his absurdist approach to comics, he said, "you should be able to make people cry and you should be able to make people feel emotions, but underneath it all, it's all bloody ridiculous."
Pages 20-21: The red and black poison petals (as seen in the previous issue) fall as Bruce Wayne struggles with his identity. Is he Batman? Bruce Wayne? The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh?
Page 22: Batman holds the Bat-Radia (which is just a plain old junky radio, actually), ineffective and useless. Clearly the red and black has overtaken the entire color scheme inside Jezebel Jet's chamber.
Pages 23-24: Jezebel Jet is revealed as the Black Glove. Well, she pulls on a literal black glove, and she's clearly working for the bad guys. I suspect, just as I proposed in my annotations for issue #679, that this is the devil incarnate. Although I didn't think Jezebel Jet was the Black Glove herself, it makes sense that the Devil would take the form of a temptress -- "Cupid and the Devil" as Batman said himself earlier in the issue.
"Now do you get it?" the Joker yells at Batman, and it's clearly a message from Morrison to the reader, too. Do you get it? The red and the black? The clues and hints? The devil is in the details.