Monday, June 02, 2008

"Batman R.I.P." Part II: Batman #677 Annotations

People seemed to like my annotations on Batman #676, and who am I not to pander to readers? So here are my page-by-page thoughts on Batman #677:

Page 1: I like that this issue begins with a single word, "Who?" That's the big question of Morrison's whole run on this series, isn't it? Who is behind all of this? Who is the Black Glove? Who hired Tony Daniel? (sorry, it was just too easy and I couldn't resisit.)

Pages 2-3: Batman's line, " ever see a Gotham hood dressed like this?" referring to the guy with the rag-tag Halloween costume, complete with sneakers and a demon mask--that's a bit curious isn't it? Aren't Gotham's hoods often dressed almost exactly like this? Doesn't Gotham have hundreds of costumed characters, many of whom dress their minions up in rag-tag Halloween costumes? This isn't the Golden Age Gotham City, when it was just a bunch of gangsters in suits.

The "old movie" Commissioner Gordon refers to is The Black Glove, of course, the John Mayhew film Batman describes on the following page. But there is a real-life "Black Glove" film, at least it was called that in America. In the U.K. it was released as Face the Music, a 1954 film directed by Terence Fisher, known for his lurid Hammer horror films. Here's the IMDB summary of the Fisher flick: "Brad Bradley (Alex Nicol) is a famous trumpet player who is suspected of murdering a blues singer. Using only two minor clues, he narrows the suspects down to four people, after surviving some fights and having poison placed on the mouthpiece of his trumpet." A murder mystery. But it doesn't look at have any other connection to this comic. But surely Morrison is familiar with the work of Terence Fisher.

Page 4: Is that supposed to be the movie poster for The Black Glove film? Didn't it appear in the "Club of Heroes" arc and look a bit more professional? This one looks like it was drawn and lettered by a child. A clue! The Black Glove is Damian! Probably not, as it's just another example of the rushed artwork by Tony Daniel on this particular issue. For another example of the rushed and problematic art, look at the final panel on this page when Alfred comments upon a wound he cannot actually seen according to the way it's drawn here. As I mentioned in my review for this issue, when the comic is a mystery, and visual clues are important, you really need to have an artist who gets it right. Is Alfred's awareness of the wound a clue? How can he possibly see it from that angle? I think it's just inaccurate drawings.

Also on this page, we get the plot of the DC Universe version of The Black Glove movie: "It's the story of two innocent lovers corrupted and destroyed by a group of super-rich gamblers." That parallels the Jezebel Jet/Bruce Wayne romance, and the corruption from outside, although clearly Jezebel and Bruce are anything but innocent.

Page 5: "This thing goes back years and involves people my parents knew," says Batman. This issue is full of such references, although Morrison hasn't mentioned much about the previous generation of Waynes in earlier issues. But perhaps this Black Glove stuff isn't even about Batman. Maybe Bruce Wayne is just the target because of something his parents were involved in years ago. That would be an interesting reversal. So often in recent Batman stories, he's fighting against monsters he has created himself, and sure, he might turn out to be the Black Glove and it might be some kind of multiple personality thing, but what if it's not. What if it's a bunch of things set in motion before he even donned the cape and cowl. That would make it more like a Greek tragedy, then, wouldn't it. Unstoppable force of fate and all that.

Also, Batman says, regarding his relationship with Damian, "That's not what I wanted to happen." Really? Because you brought the kid home and just let him hang out for a while. Is Batman so emotionally obtuse as to not imagine the effect on Tim Drake? Apparently so, and Morrison seems to be exploring Batman's emotional issues--his inability to process normal human emotions, perhaps. After all, he refers to his girlfriend by her last name. Batman, a cold, professional lover.

Page 6: To tie the "super-rich gamblers" of Mayhew's film even more closely to the events of this issue, we see a roulette wheel at the start of this page as the Club of Villains plans their attack. Dr. Hurt claims that the Club has two motivations: "to teach our upstart idealist a lesson," and to do it "as a work of art." These are cliche, evil-villain things to say, but the "teach a lesson" bit implies something patronizing, which strengthens the connection between the villains and the older Wayne generation. And the "work of art" bit is classic Morrison--he frequently connects "evil" schemes to art, as in the rogue Thanagarian "chaos artist" in Animal Man or the Brotherhood of Dada from Doom Patrol.

Page 7: Hurt refers to Batman as "our boy" and says "no one knows him better than I do." Is Dr. Hurt a resurrected (or never dead) Thomas Wayne? That makes no sense, but he does act as if he's an evil father figure, surely. The trigger phrase Hurt refers to is "Zur-En-Arrh" the homeworld of the alien Batman from issue #113. For more on Dr. Hurt and the strange sleep deprivation experiment, see my commentary on Batman #673.

Pages 8-9: I like how Tony Daniel shows Batman sneering when he's got the cowl on--even when he's with his girlfriend on a "romantic getaway" to the batcave--and he only allows Batman's face to soften when he takes the cowl off. I've given Daniel a lot of flak for his work in this issue, but at least the facial expressions come across in these two pages. I also like Batman's comment that "Alfred and I used to huddle around a PC covered in bat droppings." I've seen some criticism of Morrison's dialogue in recent months, and I don't understand that at all. Yes, Morrison is an idea guy, a structure guy, but his dialogue is as good as anyone working today.

Pages 10-11: "Ed Sheldrake" might be a subtle allusion to Rupert Sheldrake, biologist, who Morrison would surely have been familiar with. Rupert Sheldrake is one of the main proponents of the "morphogenic field" a notion which Morrison explored with Buddy Baker's powers in Animal Man.

There's a lot of information on this page that explicitly states things readers have suspected, particularly the notion of Bruce Wayne's schizophrenia. And the connection between Alfred and the Black Glove conspiracy. The scandalous details of Thomas and Martha Wayne's life is new to me--does anyone know of any prior stories implying their secret history?--and the notion that Thomas Wayne may have faked his own death is straight out of any soap opera, but I would be shocked if Morrison actually pulled it off.

Pages 12-13: I like the implied danger of the first panel, as the assault on Wayne mansion begins without Batman's knowledge, while inside he tours through his own fetish objects--his history as a costumed character--on display in the batcave. Jezebel Jet asks the question everyone asks about Batman, "what if you're not well?" When she refers to "those sad, blood-spattered little super hero costumes," it's hearbreaking on more than one level (and it's yet another example of Morrison's ability to write effective bits of dialogue).

Page 14: This splash page, with the bat-gyros and batcopters looming overhead, makes Bruce Wayne seem to be at the bottom of an ocean, with sharks swimming above him. It's a nice visual metaphor for what Batman's going through right now.

Pages 15-17: Morrison loves patterns, and so does Batman. Detective work is, after all, figuring out the patterns in the appearance of randomness. His reference to DC Universe #0, the scene with Joker's incomplete "dead man's hand" shows how integral that scene was to Morrison's overall story--I hope those pages are included in the "Batman R.I.P" collection. Or maybe not integral, but relevant. And the decoded message? "Ha Ha." Perfect.

I like how Batman goes on and on about "numerology" and "qabalistic correspondences" as if his knowledge has become a burden. He can't see the patterns because he's looking at too much stuff. His paranoia has made every piece of information important, which would make him a really bad detective actually. He has to weed out the irrelevant stuff, and he seems incapable of doing that. It's Jezebel Jet who cuts to the heart of the matter: "what if it's you?" she asks, in half-conern, half-fear. All Batman can do is walk away, implying that he knows it might be true.

Pages 18-19: The trigger word, "Zur-En-Arrh" appears on the screen, but all Batman can see is "static." Then the images on the screen are replaced by the face of the alien from Batman #156, which was part of Dr. Hurt's sensory deprivation experiment--the experiment which caused Batman to lose the ability to distinguish hallucination from reality.

Pages 20-22: Is Batman having a stroke? That's how I read it--apparently caused by the trigger word. Le Bossu says "La Bas" in reference to Alfred--meaning "the lower depths" or "deep," implying that they have been looking for him, looking to beat him or kill him. It could also be a reference to Alfred being "deep" undercover, although the final splash page makes it seem as if Alfred's life is in jeopardy. He may not be involved with the Black Glove after all.


Chad Nevett said...

I kind of thought the same thing about Hurt, which is why Thomas Wayne, Jr. makes more sense--still an older male figure, but not quite so "out there" strangely enough. I mean, we've seen insane characters escape and become well-regarded psychologists in comics many times before; why not Batman's schizoid forgotten brother?

Anonymous said...

Tim, I like your well-meaning to enthusiastic critical scrutiny of Morrison's recent projects. It is a nice contrast to a certain weariness on some fans' part, see for example Geoff Klock and Tim O'Neil.

With the exception of Batman 663 ("Clown At Midnight") and 2 or 3 issues of his Batman and All Star Superman runs each I haven't been completely won over by Morrison's mainstream work of the last years either but I'm not willing to succumb to all-too-easy jadedness.

On the other hand I'd say I like Morrison's current Batman and Superman comics more than, say, his celebrated Justice League and X-Men runs (which were both not bad at all, as far as I've read them and considering that their premises were more constricting).


Kris Krause said...

Did anyone else get the feeling that all the possibilities set up in this issue are all red herrings? I mean, the stuff about Thomas and Martha Wayne was never mentioned in any of the earlier issues of this run. Morrison has said before that the identity was so obvious he had to hide it with red herrings and that makes Thomas Wayne (Sr. or Jr.) an unlikely candidate as he's only been brought into the picture now. If it were Thomas Wayne, the most I'd expect at this point would be the subtle references to him, like the costume of the "first Batman" shown in the cave.

I hope it doesn't end up being Bruce. Not because I care about Bruce becoming a criminal, but because that route screams Fight Club to me. I'm sure Morrison could make it a fun ride, but it's a road that I think is best left untraveled for some time as Fight Club is still quite a popular story despite being about a decade old.

But then again, getting back to my doubts over the identity of the Black Glove being Alfred, Thomas Wayne, Bruce, or Jezebel, if Morrison is adhering to a three act structure, we should now be entering the second act and that means that all relevant characters (and therefore possibilities) should have been introduced. So maybe it is one of the possibilities laid out in this issue, or maybe the three act structure can't be applied to R.I.P. because the last two years of stories can't be discounted as part of the story.

It's all speculation at this point, but I'm not convinced Morrison actually divulged the true nature of R.I.P. in any of the possibilities teased in this issue.

Timothy Callahan said...

I think you're probably right, Kris, in that it should be a character introduced before this issue and the Thomas Wayne stuff seemed to come out of nowhere.

Then again, maybe you have to think that every Batman comic ever was part of act I...

Does that blow your mind?

Anonymous said...

"La Bas" usually just means "Over there".

Anonymous said...

just a quick note - i'm not sure if anyone's noticed... the person revealing the information about thomas and martha wayne appears to be le bossu in disguise, if i remember right (i don't have the issue in front of me at the moment - if it's not le bossu, it's another of the club of villains guys)... which leads me to believe it's more of a red herring.

Chad Nevett said...

It's the mayor of Gotham City that talks to Gordon about the Waynes.

Anonymous said...

on page five, panel one, in addition to the stuff about people his parents knew, and the portentous statement about infection getting in, all we see of alfred are a pair of gloved hands, albeit white. but still...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I missed this but after reading the comic a few more times I noticed something that seems too perfect to be coincidental. On page 16, look at the second panel (Bruce in foreground, Jet in background). In every other panel in the Batcave, Jezebel Jet's face is always visible no matter how far away she is. In this panel she is fairly close and her face is completely blacked out AND there are bats flying out behind her, one of which is a little too conveniently placed to form a perfect pair of devil horns on her head :-) Might be nothing, might be foreshadowing.