November 11th, 2010
PAGES 2 & 3
Despite it’s apparent literalism – a giant bat – Barbatos’s manifestation is suitably odd and morrisonesque (I wonder how he was described in the panel notes). The fractal fuzziness around his edges suggests ghostliness, whilst at the same time approaching archon territory, or at the very least the way i always imagined they’d look up close. There’s also a direct visual link to the giant bat from ROBW 1. How or if this ties in one can at this point only speculate. Is the Hyper Adapter drawing inspiration from the fauna around it imprisoned down there in the cave, or from the Bat-God the Miagani worship? Is this simply how Thomas expects it to appear? But whatever the reason it chooses to look like this, it’s fitting that the bat-devil should look like the thing young Bruce confronted in the darkness of the batcave and older bruce in his living room or wherever it was. Study! Yeah, that’s it.
And I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I find its almost waxwork stillness very effective too. As though it’s just a really malevolent stage prop, a facade behind which the real menace seethes.
PAGE 6 & 7
‘By my blackened hand…’
This is one of those delicious morrison flourishes I really relish, where he takes something we’re familiar with to the point of invisibility and makes us see it with fresh eyes – in this case the black hand, the stained and tarnished hand, the hand charred by hellfire, the EVIL hand summoning the demon and eventually abstracted into a glove device, because evil belongs to no man, is eternal, and can be worn by all.
In the WWIII arc of Morrison’s JLA Mageddon might have looked like Great Cthulhu, but in the end he turned out to be a squidbomb. There’s a particularly nasty kind of abjection at work behind these kinds of stories, where the enemy wears a face, in this case that of Thomas Wayne, a real flesh and blood man, and Barbatos, a demon, and exhibits relatable traits, like personality, emotions etc., but where in actuality these things are little more than camouflage, or at the very best strategies to assist it in achieving its mindless aims. Thomas Wayne, the weapon in its hand, is as much a cardboard cutout as the ‘demon’ before him, the Omega Adeptus reduced to nothing more than Omega Adapter.
And the Omega Adapter itself? ‘Unending’, not in some divine way, but as a recursive program left running by Darkseid, a ‘hole that is Darkseid shaped.’ But only a hole. Darkseid is gone. And this is in the end why we’re watching a farce. All this pomp and circumstance, all this apparent meaning accreting around little more than a silly bit of computer code. God code, but nevertheless…..
There is no Hell. There are no souls to be saved. All ‘Barbatos’ ultimately offers is the chance to incorporate oneself within its function as a neverending gun. The holy grail Thomas drinks from turns out to be little more than shredded bat gut, the ‘foul cup’ of oblivion and the end of self. Another familiar Morrison motif from way back when – New Adventures of Hitler, anyone?
This, btw, is also veeeeery Batman, isn’t it? Or at least Batman as the spirit of rational enquiry exploring the irrational. Beneath mystery’s cape and cowl there’s always an explanation. In this case an explanation involving beings from archetypal, platonic worlds and super weapons, but an explanation nevertheless, one that goes beyond the imaginatively limited supernatural rationale provided by a surface reading of the text up to this point.
This is an interesting line. It could mean one of two things, and probably means both. Firstly, the Adapter may be touching upon the physical similarities between Thomas and Bruce, but also, on a deeper level, there’s the possibility it’s describing what Thomas will become post contamination, its ‘dark twin’, an extension of itself.
Zom: 3rd meaning. Thomas also embodies the possibility of an alternative history, one that harnesses the bat for evil and threatens to usurp the Wayne legacy and replace it with disrepute, corruption, madness and debasement. See the Hatchet job he did on Thomas and Martha, what he intends for Gotham – hurt instead of the healing offered by Bruce’s father – and the fucked up shit that Amy gets into in the paragraph below.
‘It’s all mine now, the way it always was always meant to be in my head. Your history, your home, your city.’
Here Thomas clears up the confusion surrounding Batman and Robin Must Die’s opening scene. As i argued at the time, it was an internal reality, not a literal revisioning of Bruce Wayne’s history. Thomas can only ever see the world in these terms, a world where everything Wayne related is corrupted and broken, because that’s all he lives to do now, to corrupt and break the Waynes. Even the *idea* of the Waynes. All input comes out topsy turvy. And for one brief, black moment he was in charge and his view of things was in the ascendent, even if it was just a load of deluded, stupid horseshit.
Of course the horseshit was there to set the tone for the rest of the arc, wasn’t it? This whole story’s been predicated on horseshit. In fact everything has, since the beginning. This was the first, big reveal, Morrison telling us ‘It’s all lies’.
Zom: The point of that scene in Batman Must Die wasn’t simply to give us a glimpse of Hurt’s subjectivity. How do you threaten a character like Batman? You replace his myth with its evil opposite. Morrison loves grinding metatext against text for narrative effect, see Final Crisis, and in the scene in question it became clear that he was setting Hurt’s vision, his story, in opposition to the batmyth we know and love. Dark twin indeed.
‘The Night Doctor…’
I’ve always maintained that Hurt’s meta-textual function is for the good, the end result of the surgery the Ten Eyed Men performed on Bruce waaaay back in 52 . Because for that stuff to make sense, to really pay off, I don’t think it was enough for Bruce Wayne to ‘end all supercrime in Gotham’ for a month or so. The effects have to be more profound and lasting than that, they have to represent real change, the ‘better batmobile’ invoked by the title of Grant’s first issue. Hurt may be possessed by evil intent, but his intrusion in Bruce’s life, an intrusion which effectively destroys Batman, resonates atemporally with the inititation rituals the character has put himself through, rituals that effectively reduce self to its shining core, allow for reintegration (the return of Bruce Wayne) and a whole new lease of life. It was never going to be as easy as all that. Grant’s stretched out the ritual, the consequence of the magic, the ‘wounding’, across his whole run so far.
‘You were contaminated by contact with a weapon from another world, Thomas. My Father tried to treat you in that Hidden Room. But you’re barely human at all are you?’
Thomas has already lost himself to Barbatos. He no longer has a personality. All he is now is the weapon in Barbatos’s hand. There is an horrific inversion here. Thomas, whose threats and lies were once upon a time terrifying because possessed of real charge, is now revealed as little more than a ranting, raving *thing* incapable of anything other than threats and lies. Sure he’s the ‘hole in things’, but it can’t be much fun being a hole, can it?
Zom: Holes are absences. Empty
Amy: This whole exchange vindicates my post ages ago where I argued that the graffiti in the hidden room represents a struggle between the last vestiges of Thomas Wayne’s humanity and the demon possessing him, with the demon ultimately winning out. I know Thomas engaged in this spooky tagging fest during RIP, but I still maintain it would’ve made more sense for this event to have occured during Bruce’s Uncle and Father’s attempt at debugging him years before. In fact I choose to read it this way. This way it has real pathos – Thomas the healer’s failed attempt at saving Thomas the hurt. Because another interpretation of the bad doctor is an inversion of a man who heals others, the man who hurts himself.
Zom was twittering about the way to play Joker’s supernaturalism, an important aspect of the character, I think. And this scene is a good example of it. It’s not on the nose, there’s nothing explicitly supernormal about it, but the way Joker’s played, the doomy inevitability of his placement here, it’s definitely pretty spooky, and suggests a degree of meta-textual manipulation on his part that borders on something…other.
There’s no heroic end for Thomas, just severe head trauma after slipping on a well placed banana skin, getting poisoned by airborne Joker toxin and then buried alive, even more a wreck of a man than he already was (and that’s saying something). Passing through the batcave, down the corridor and into the garden of death, Thomas is like a dreamer whose dream takes a misturn and she finds herself going through *that* door or down *that* flight of stairs… into nightmare. The secret, dismal annex where the monster lies waiting. And you can’t run. This is it. Mr Punch has got you! Jesus, this scene is really creepy.
‘The new kid and I are too much alike. I thought maybe you’d be a worthy adversary, but who am I kidding?’
This, I guess, is a further underscoring of the closeness between Joker and the ‘childlike’ Dick Grayson, and more evidence in favour of the idea that the reason the Joker went all fun for a bit there was because Robin appeared on the scene. What it also serves to highlight, though, is that this wasn’t in direct response to Robin, who the Joker doesn’t appear to have that much interest in engaging (Dick’s Robin/Batman at least), but as a result of the way Robin’s presence transformed Bruce. Bruce is his primary obsession. Everyone else will always ultimately disappoint.
I’m frustrated that I can’t figure out the symbolism of the six (or is it six *zero*?) dots on the coffin, but it’s cool that the thing’s been turned into a domino, the last one falling down, down, beneath the ground.
And there’s the Joker, VICTORIOUS, a rock god of death, playing his spade like an electric guitar! Oh, and the hole in the ground is a singularity (check the image again!), bending space around it. Darkseid’s final resting place.
And there’s the punch! It’s a testament to Morrison’s dramatic pacing in this arc that this isn’t just un-anticlimatic, but shades into the fucking awesome. To begin with it’s the traditional way Batman deals with the Joker, so that makes it an iconic ‘Batman’s back!’ moment, which is absolutely appropriate here, but it also highlights something we knew all along: Thomas isn’t the real threat. He only had ambitions to be. The ongoing war between Batman and Joker is a holy thing that for a second or two there was overturned and is now reestablishing its dominance. Joker had to kill Thomas, just as Bruce had to do the superhero thing and save Alfred. Anyway, after the degrading scene in the Batcave that saw Thomas malfunctioning like a man infected with a computer virus and Batman pitying him, there really wasn’t any more that needed to be said. Batman had his measure, the threat had been negated and its gravitas utterly undermined – Our Dark Knight won in every way that counts. After that Joker only had to sweep up the remains and tuck them safely away.
The Gravedigger, keeping the mythos neat and tidy.
Aaaah, the shit eating grin. I’m surprised more people haven’t mentioned this. Because Bruce isn’t just smiling here, which would be a rarity in and of itself, he’s beaming. I guess I can see how a casual reader might have a problem with this apparent personality transplant and the scene shift in all things bat-related that springs out of it, but the critics who’ve been reading Grant’s meta-run from the beginning (most of them!) really don’t have any foundation for saying this was too sudden. To begin with, you can feel Bruce’s tactical mind ticking over the course of these 32 pages – ‘Damian in a Batman suit‘, ‘..Two Batman..’, etc, he’s provided with a raft of problems, too many for one man to resolve in the time frame allowed, as well as actual evidence of how effective a fighting force he has at his fingertips, and that’s just the stuff informing Bruce’s attitude and decision *this* issue. If we include a time jaunt where he gets to extend his reach across entire centuries and the perspective of a man who’s died and been brought back to life, a man who’s visited vanishing point and seen everything from ‘outside’, then the new Bruce Wayne is just a foregone conclusion. Nothing jarring about him or his new baby. Grant’s Batman run, especially this issue, demands to be taken as a whole and if we want more fine detail, we’ll only have to turn to the new issue of Return of Bruce Wayne and Bruce Wayne: the Return. But this issue? It was NEVER intended to be read as a stand alone. That’s just silly.
Another important thing to say about this scene shift, and i’m veering towards contradicting myself here, is that even though we can, if we’re looking, see all the gears in motion, it does need to feel like we’re heading in a completely new direction. This issue really represents a sloughing off of Batman’s old skin, the gloomy, doomy, symbol laden Hurt years, to reveal a bouncing babyfaced Bruce underneath (You can almost see the amniotic fluid glistening on his skin in the issues last three pages). And I like this new Bruce Wayne. He’s brave, he takes risks, he’s the handsome saviour of his city just as his father was before him, living up to his legacy. He’s the human protector, the protector with a face, that the Batman of the Dark Knight film argued Gotham deserved, and Grant’s found a way to make him work. He’s a Bruce Wayne we can be proud of, his city sheltering beneath a canopy of bat-shields. Didn’t you feel safe, as you read those last few pages, knowing this man was in charge? That he’d be there to defend you? I know I did. What a guy!
For the magic to’ve worked, for the better batmobile to truly feel like it’s been built, everything has to change, a total facelift. ‘A new era in the fight against crime’. A new bat-title. This is our way in.
P.S. Personally, I choose to believe the Batman Incorporated logo at the bottom of the page really does light up beneath the podium, that it’s a diegetic component of the scene. Golden Bats. Holy Bats.
‘Holy Batman Incorporated, Batman!’