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 even more straightforward than the last issue, but I guess I might as well comment on this one just for the sake of symmetry.)
Batman #681: The Annotations
Cover: Doesn't this Alex Ross cover look like a Matt Wagner composition? It does to me, although I can't come up with a specific reference. Can you?
Page 1: This is the last entry from the Black Casebook, and not only does Batman write about himself in the third person, but he underlines his own name. Thus, he reinforces the notion that Batman is just a persona, perhaps one of many inside the mind of Bruce Wayne.
Pages 2-3: The old hero-buried-alive trope. "Batman thinks of everything," becomes a recurring pattern as we learn more and more about the foresight Batman has -- he plans for eventualities that would never occur to your average fly-by-night superhero.
Also, there's an I Ching "Book of Changes" reference here which relates to the Denny O'Neal-created character (for the mod Wonder Woman era) who popped up in Morrison's "Batman" during the "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" crossover.
Page 4: My guess is that this flashback scene takes place sometime during the events of 52, after the Batman-cleanse of issue #30. Not the red and black coloring, which turns out to relate to a Joker-devised pattern (if he is to be believed later on), but also evokes the notion of the Devil as I've been saying for a while.
Page 5: I'm not sure what the "hole in [Bruce's] mind" refers to, exactly. Is it a reference to the Dr. Hurt sensory-deprivation experiments, when Hurt tampered with Batman's brain and inserted stuff that didn't belong? That's what I assume. [Although, Hurt refers himself as the "hole" in things. So there's that.]
But couldn't it also refer to some deeper, more primal psychic scar caused at the moment of Batman's origin?
I think it's too ambiguous to make a positive assertion, but it may not ultimately matter as the important part is the notion that Batman has planned way ahead, and created the Zur En Arrh Batman as an OS reboot for his brain.
Also, the monk apparently works for the Black Glove, or the Devil, or whoever you think is "the Master."
Pages 6-7: Robin vs. Pierrot Lunaire and the Swagman.
Dark Ranger, from the Club of Heroes, shows up. He says, "formerly the Scout," who I assume used to be the Ranger's sidekick, and since the original Dark Ranger died in the story arc running through Batman #667-669, the Scout must have taken his place. Note that this pattern, of the former sidekick taking on the mantle of the hero, is part of Club of Heroes history, as it happened with the Knight and now with Dark Ranger.
Will the same thing happen as a former sidekick (like, say, Nightwing) adopts the role of Batman? One assumes so.
Page 8:Do you think Tony Daniel drew this page and then thought, "geez, I guess I'd better Photoshop some kind of hideous, blurry buildings behind the characters now?" or do you think editorial called up Daniel and said, "geez, Tony, we like the poses here, but could you add something really distracting and out-of-place in the background? Cool. Thanks." Or maybe Guy Major did it.
Anyway, the Club of Heroes has shown up just in time to fight some low-level minions!
From left-to-right, top-to-bottom, we have the Squire, Little Raven (or Red Raven), Man-of-Bats, the Musketeer, the Knight, Dark Ranger, and the Gaucho.
Page 9: More red and black flashback action as we find out that Bruce Wayne has -- aha -- switched the poison goblets because he planned ahead! Or, as he calls it, "force of habit." Or maybe it's because of that Princess Bride marathon he has every year with his best pal Alfred.
Page 10: Dr. Hurt and the members of the Black Glove pay their respects to the buried Batman. Note that he has a purposefully shallow grave because Hurt's plan is to un-bury Batman just after brain-damage sets in. Why? Because.
Jezebel Jet, who has turned out to be EVIL Jezebel Jet, wants to disfigure him. Why? Because.
Pages 11: The Joker reveals that he's not a mere pawn of the Black Glove, as we all suspected, and then revels in actually betting on Batman to take these chumps down. That's the Joker for you -- when the chips are down, he's always going to bet on black.
Page 12: That bat-radia was more than just a crazyperson radio. It was a secret transmitter. Suckers!
And I wonder if Jet's line, "an old broken radio he found in a derelict's abandoned shopping cart," is verification that Honor Jackson was merely a figment of Bruce Wayne's mind (like Bat-Mite). I say, yes.
Page 13: Back at Arkham, Le Bossu (now with a broken nose and/or disfigured face) prepares to lobotomize Dick Grayson as Scorpiana assists. But, silly Le Bossu, Dick Grayson was trained by BATMAN. He's not going to lie back and let you pound a spike into his frontal lobe without a fight.
Page 14: Flashback again. Bruce Wayne saves the life of the monk just so he can tell the bad guy that Batman is ready for him. Also, Bruce Wayne apparently "killed and ate the last traces of fear and doubt," which is nice. And here we were all worried, back when we read 52 #30, that he was going to stop being Batman or something. Ha, that would never happen. Never ever, ever ever.
Except maybe at the end of this issue, because he is dead.
Page 15: I like this silhouette of bustin-out Batman. Nicely done, Tony Daniel.
But when exactly did Batman write this Black Casebook entry? He dies at the end of the issue, and by "dies" I mean, we all know he's not really dead, but he's "dead" for now. But this Black Casebook entry describes everything up through the final confrontation between him and Hurt. So is this him writing about the visions of his future? Or is this him writing about his adventure after he "died"? I say it's a forgery, written by the Richard Gere character.
Page 16: Is Batman hunched a bit awkwardly? Does the shape of the figure and the basic musculature evoke Jim Lee? Is the image not quite as iconic as it should be?
Check. Check. And check.
Then it must be a Tony Daniel splash page!
Pages 17: The Joker takes credit for the red and black motif, referring to the 1980s phone-in death of Robin story. This page makes it seem as if Joker played a much more significant role as a puppet master -- perhaps something even the Black Glove members aren't aware of.
"Apophenia" is when you see symbols and patterns in random and meaningless data. Which is what critics accuse me of doing all the time. And readers accuse Morrison of doing all the time. And it's been part of the Joker's whole deal for the past several issues, implying that Batman sees patterns which aren't even there. Yet, Batman's pattern recognition has been pretty accurate, so what does that mean? It means the Joker is the crazy one.
And here the Joker explicitly calls Dr. Hurt the "devil," and says the the Joker trumps him.
What is beyond Good and Evil? The Joker.
Page 18: Tony Daniel reaches into his bag of tricks and pulls out another Batman pose much like the one a couple of pages ago, except with less shadow!
Jezebel Jet says, "I though I smelled dirt," but, amazingly, Batman has no trace of dirt on him at all. Must be that teflon fabric he started using in preparation for the burial alive he knew was coming.
All of which begs the question: if Batman has such foresight, why does he wait until things look to be at their worst before he reveals his plan? Why not just nip it in the bud like two years ago? I guess Batman likes dramatic tension as much as the next guy.
Pages 19: Batman reveals that he did fall for bad girl Jezebel Jet, but he suspected she was part of the trap from the "second after" he realized he had feelings for her. He's been acting the part of the love interest all along. Sure he has. This was ALL part of his plan.
Page 20: Batman knows everything about Jet's history all of a sudden, which is nice. And he gives props to Alfred for passing along some acting skills to young Master Wayne.
If the Black Glove was around 20 years ago, what does that mean? Does that tell us anything we didn't already know? I don't think so. (Other than the notion that the Black Glove is an organization that wasn't created just to mess with Batman.)
Page 21: Nightwing to the rescue, to which Batman says, "I heart you Dick Grayson with all my hearty heart."
Also, in his Black Casebook entry, he reveals that he couldn't nip the plan in the bud, because he didn't know which bud would blossom into EVIL. A flowering evil of flowery flora. I'm pushing this metaphor too far, and I will stop.
Pages 22: Apparently Robin saved the city while Batman dealt with his own issues.
I don't know how he saved the city, besides punching a few costumed bad guys with the help of Batmen International, but the Squire says he did, so he did.
Robin pulls a wicked sweet wheelie as he races off to Batman's aid. Showboat.
Page 23: The final fate of Joker and an appearance by Damian and Alfred, all in a one-page scene. Talk about compression!
Is there a pattern to the fact that Damian is the one who sends the Joker over the bridge, or is it all randomness? Depends on whether you're Batman or the Joker, I guess.
Page 24: Exposition time. Note that between last issue and this one, Hurt and his cronies must have undressed Batman (who was wearing his purple, red, and yellow Zur En Arrh costume) and then dressed him in his more traditional costume. Then, on this page, he says he wants Batman to "put away the costume." Make up your mind, Dr. Hurt!
Hurt also gives Bats a verbal smackdown for being a trust fund orphan who "vents his rage and frustration on the poor," which is something I've heard Morrison say when he talks about the Marxist aspects of the Batman mythos.
Page 25: Dr. Hurt IS Thomas Wayne.
No, he's not.
He's Mangrove Pierce.
Okay, then he's "the hole in things."
Oh, "the hole." That wasn't on my list of suspects.
But you've gotta interpret "the hole in things...the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning" to be the Devil, right?
Right? Just like I mentioned a few months ago.
Page 26: Hurt, or the Devil, or the metaphorical Devil, or whatever, offers Batman a Faustian Bargain: dedicate his life to the corruption of virtue and save the reputation of everyone he ever loved. "Nah," says Batman, before a 39-degree Lightning Dive! (Which he totally must have practiced for just such an eventuality. The old Satan in a helicopter scenario.)
Page 27: The third evil Batman pilots the chopper, and if Hurt is the Devil for real, he doesn't show it by using his Devil powers in this scene. He just kind of whines about everything.
"The Black Glove always wins," Hurt says, as Batman's black gloved-fist makes the helicopter go all explodey.
Page 28: Robin shows up a little too late (maybe if he wasn't hot-doggin' all the way here...)
Then Robin sums up the entire Morrison run in three word balloons, except he left out all the good bits.
Talia shows up, with her League of Assassins and their injections of -- one assumes -- Man-Bat formula.
Page 29: It's a good thing Batman took off his cape and cowl before jumping onto the helicopter. Otherwise, Nightwing wouldn't have had anything cool to hold as he watched the flames from the rooftop. One wonders if he -- recognizing the symbolic importance of the moment -- would have swung by the Batcave, picked up a spare cape and cowl and come out to this spot to do the pose anyway. I can picture Dick Grayson doing that.
Obviously, this implies that Nightwing will become the next Batman until the real Batman inevitably returns (probably after a little bit of negotiation with the Devil -- maybe Batman will ride out of Hell on a flaming motorcycle! Cool idea, eh? What's Mark Texiera drawing next year?)
Page 30: This page doesn't show Jezebel Jet die at the hands of Talia's Ninja Manbats, but I'm pretty sure they didn't fly by just to hang out. Still, I'm sure Jet will appear again sometime in the next ten years. Count on it.
Page 31: Six months later, and no sight of Batman. That Battle for the Cowl thing must have kept him out of the limelight.
Le Bossu's "Even Batman and Robin are dead!" line on this page is answered way back in issue #676, as that Batman and Robin (who I guessed at the time -- and I stand by it -- to be Dick Grayson and Damian) shout "Batman and Robin will never die!"
I like how Morrison doesn't show that part again, but relies on the memories of the reader to connect the two pages -- separated by months and months of real time -- together.
Page 32: [Edited to add: Joe Chill pops up on this final page, foreshadowing the death scene to come. I presume his presence is merely ominous, but I think we can also assume that the Black Glove organization and/or the Devil was involved in Batman's origin. Or if we can't assume it, then we can guess at it.] We all know what happens to momma and poppa Wayne after that night at the movies, and the red and the black coloring ties it all back to the Joker and the Devil once again, but the cool part about this final page is when Thomas Wayne says, "they'd probably throw someone like Zorro in Arkham." To which little Bruce says, "what?"
Then, in backwards lettering "Zur En Arrh." As in a slurring of "Zorro in Arkham." That's what this whole thing has been about -- the crazed Zorro, aka Batman, and his adventures into madness. I like how Morrison turns a 1950s nonsense phrase into something meaningful to the Batman character.
Batman is "dead." The Black Glove defeated -- sort of. Dr. Hurt is exploded. The Devil may or may not have even been part of this. The Joker's in a flying ambulance, headed for the river. Plot threads still dangle, and I wonder how many answers we'll get in the next couple of Morrison issues, which are all about Alfred looking back at Batman's life.
Or maybe anyone looking for a plot in the life of a character merely suffers from apophenia.