November 17th, 2010
Zom: From a cave in Nanda Parbat to an old haunted house on the road out of town, and onwards to a better Batmobile. Let’s go!
Amy: Some quick preamble before we get into this. I admit to being as worried as anyone about the release dates, but that was before when the DC site made them looked really fucked up, when Batman: The Return looked like it was coming out the same week as Batman and Robin 16 or whatever it was not, and certainly never because Return of Bruce Wayne 6 was scheduled to arrive after Bruce had returned in that book. It was always obvious to me that ROBW 6 would cap Grant’s mega-story, if only because it was in that book that the real meat of the thing would have to be cleared up, dealing as the series does with Batman the myth, the eternal Batman outside of time and the linear flow of the batrob books. It was there that the spell would reach completion.
Moments before I tucked into the final issue, I discovered an old Grant Morrison JLA story in a Secret Files comic that as far as I’m aware no one I know has ever read before – the comic had been in my possession for years, but this was the first time I’d cracked it open. These kinds of weird coincidences always kick in when the deep magic is flowing.
Amy: This is where things get meta. As I said above, this is the last issue of Grant’s mega-story, concerned with Batman’s death and the literal end of all things – so of course it begins at Vanishing Point. Where else?
Zom: This first panel sets the tone of the art for this issue, decent enough, but you can imagine what JH Williams would have done those doomed spires and those glowering red windows and it would have been rather a lot better.
PANELS 2, 3 & 4
‘Your’s is the last story to be archived. These are representations of its defining elements. As they reach the event horizon they will appear to become frozen in time forever.’
As anyone who’s read Final Crisis knows, Grant Morrison has very clear ideas about the underlying metaphysics of the dc universe; that at the fundamental level, beyond the atoms and the quarks, the dcu is composed of story, just as our own, it seems, is composed of information. So what happens when a dcu object is run through a black hole? It compresses into pure narrative, or in this case charged symbols containing same, Batman stripped of everything other than his story’s core ingredients: a necklace, a gun, a bullet and, in this case, a bell….
(We’ll get to that later.)
I love how the sacred necklace will hang suspended above the bubbling singularity on the comic panel forever. What a beautiful, literal depiction of the bush robot’s quote. The void and essence eternally reflecting one another. Making one another.
This is the pure Batman, Batman as sigilized intent, blasted into the the big ‘O’ of the universe, ready to reactualise in a new form this thursday in Batman Inc. 1. Who needs wankathons when the characters can do it themselves, instory?
A final thought about this page. Isn’t it cool that Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, collapses down into Clue pieces?
Zom: To expand on Amy’s point, there are two understandings that readers need to be armed with to get the most out of this comic. Consider this a survival guide rather than a lecture. But you might want to skip this bit.
1. Magic in Grant Morrison comics is resonant, coincidental, synchronicitous and, crucially, ambiguous. Did Batman’s escape from Hades because he beat Darkseid or because Superman and Wonder Woman resuscitated him? Is God-Bats cold because he’s returned from the heat death of the universe or because supernatural things lower the temperature? Is Darkseid the void or a guy that Superman can punch in the face? It manifests subjectively, as things characters experience (Bruce in Batman #673 ‘a black hole in my heart’), and objectively, as things in the world (eclipses that look like holes in the sky, black holes at the end of time, etc…). Morrison writes magic like this because that’s the sort of thing magical practitioners, of which Morrison has been one, believe actually goes on with real magic, a blurring of the distinction between subject and object. As above so below, etc… This approach also makes a great deal of sense in fiction because the constituents elements, including interiority and exteriority, of a story can reasonably be said to be part of a grander unity, the story itself.
2. There will be readers who are uncomfortable with just how Batman-centric this universe would appear to be. It almost feels as if the reality shaking effects of Final Crisis came about as part of the grand bat-plan, and it’s undeniably the case that Batman plays a disproportionate role in the end of the universe, what with his story being the final story that gets told ever ever ever. Like Blackest Night with its Lantern focussed universal origin you could reasonably complain that Return of Bruce Wayne puts a parochial spin on the DCU. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, and as Amy has argued within this very post, everything is about Batman because in this mythic storyline Morrison draws an equivalence between the building blocks of his fictional universe and the building blocks of Batman stories when he happens to be telling Batman stories. Consequently, to fuck with the cosmic building blocks of the universe inhabited by Batman means, in this schema, to fuck with the story and mythic underpinnings of the character: a cosmic assault by Darkseid is necessarily a cosmic assault on Batman; A healing spell cast on Batman necessarily effects the whole cosmos, albeit in ambiguous and synchronicitous ways, and might well manifest as an assault by Darkseid… you see what’s going on here?
End of rant. Sorry.
PAGES 2 & 3
‘The Linear Authority has vacated this station. It is no longer safe. The Local Timeline terminates in 1 hour.’
Amy: Remember this is how it always is here, at the end. This gloomy siren-voice signalling the end of forever. The gorgeous way the archivist’s conversation is always punctuated by their eternal warning…. These empty, golden halls, haunted by robots mourning the All Over.
One quiet success of Morrison’s books has been the elevation of 60′s design elements to the DCU’s equivalent of sacred art. They only emerge when something profound is happening, when the New Gods appear on the scene or when we arrive at places like Vanishing Point. It’s a good example of the conversion of a strange and quirky element to something genuinely mysterious and other, something Morrison is concerned with generally. We know as soon as big sephirothic discs belted together with strange latticework show up that we’re somewhere otherworldly and essential. And, thinking about it, what really fascinates is that this is not only the case in Morrison’s DCU, but in his MU also, suggesting that, at their core, these twin superuniverses emerge from the same impulse and the same underlying, ultimate design. And arguably in large part they do, Saint Jack. This is Grant as reverent, and bloody right too. Kirby and Co. represent superhero comics as they were figuring themselves out, before it was entirely clear where they had to go, a pre seventies era Morrison feels a good deal of affection for, given his predeliction to take his books in the strangest, most novel directions he can.
Illogical Volume: Remember when Andrew Hickey talked about how Grant Morrison’s recent work was all about “entropy, information and life”? Bet he feels smug when he reads pages like these, eh?
Also: The Literal Authority is my new pet name for Geoff Johns, so thanks for that Grant!
‘Your data is the last to be packed into the hole’
Zom: The hole in question being the black hole mentioned in an earlier issue as a repository for all the information in the universe ‘a message in a bottle’. So many holes in things so little time. Morrison’s Batman has been infested by them since Batman #673, where they were mentioned in two sequences: One illustrated by the well in the grounds of Wayne Manor and used to describe the revelation that his parents will die, and perhaps most tellingly for this issue, that he will die; The other in a re-visioning of the scene with the Ten-Eyed Men during the Thogal ritual, where Bruce talks of a black hole in his heart, which the TEM claim to be able to heal. Its important to note here that the hole in things concept is chained to the Nanda Parbat ritual by this canny bit of retro-continuity. Dealing with this hole is the ritual’s sole business and the magic won’t be over until the hole is dealt with.
I love the message in a bottle analogy because it suggests the possibility of rescue, the hole overtly framed as good as opposed to bad, but it’s not the only instance: Batman falls through a hole in time (yes, the Bush robots explicitly refer to his darting around in the timestream as a ‘hole’) and goes on a journey of literal self discovery that starts with Bruce Wayne stepping out of a black hole, is punctuated by black holes in the sky, and ends in this issue with a huge revelation about his nature; The bush robots drop Batman’s information into the black hole as the climax of an effort to save the universe from extinction; Later in this issue Batman goes down into the underworld, the hole in things a mortally wounded Darkseid fell through (again, explicitly described as a hole in another issue), to confront the dark god on a splash page where the top tier of panels look like they’re trying but failing to emulate a hole, and returns triumphant for, again to quote the Bush Robots, a ‘new beginning’; And finally the Hyper-Adapter blasts out of the same black hole that Bruce stepped out of in the first issue and onto the spear of Vandal Savage. Some of you might consider this reaching, I consider it the sort of resonant stuff that goes in Grant Morrison comics when it comes mythic time.
The point being that Bruce’s private black hole, those elements identified in #673, the death of his parents, his own mortality, have always been a source of strength as well as pain. Batman was born out of that black hole. His ability to confront his own finitude is at the root of what makes him such a great superhero. It’s also a necessary condition of him needing the help of his friends. Who could argue with that?
Man, is there a better sentence in the whole world than ‘Apokoliptian hunter-killer “curse” machine’? I mean, seriously, describing someone/thing as ‘apokoliptian’ is cool enough – yeah, you know, this guy who lives at world’s end – but……
I enjoy the implication that the hyper-adapter has no real shape, that it just infects stuff, and that if you were going to represent it, it would be as some kind of germ monster from a detergent ad, only a bit cosmic. Obviously this ‘curse machine’ business gets a bit confusing in deep focus – how, for instance does a curse machine tie into Annie’s curse, or Hurt’s for that matter? Well, don’t worry about any of that. All you need to know is thatr there is such thing as living hunter-killer intent and it’s latched onto Bruce Wayne’s history and pre-history and won’t let go. That it will pursue him till the end of time. Whether it was caused by Annie’s magic or Darkseid’s is irrelevant. This is magic, both caused the other and the Hyper-fauna appears at the intersection.
‘Each new iteration of the Omega Sanction brought me closer to home and to death, the only escape.’
Illogical Volume: Look, I swear I’m going to do more here than riff on a blog post Andrew wrote almost two years ago, but this is another bit he can feel chuffed about since it perfectly syncs with his claim that “entropy is the only thing that allows us any freedom at all”.
Because really, this is what makes Morrison’s mighty metafictions feel so mortal and compelling – whether you’re reading Seven Soldiers, Doom Patrol, or The Filth, you can always feel the end of all narrative rushing up to meet the characters. They can’t stop it, and neither can you since it’s already been written – like the man said, this is essential to the metaphysics of Morrison’s DCU. But how would Batman deal with this? Well, shit, obviously he’d try to escape “the only escape” for as long as possible! And you know what? He’d look good while he was doing it. Even if he was wearing a speed suit at the time. And being drawn by Lee Garbett.
There’s a hole in everything you say? Well, that’s scary an all, but what happens when you trick the hole into falling into itself?
‘Strange, even this old haunted house on the road out of town seems somehow familiar. This crumbling castle on the brink where it’s almost always too late. And there’s something out there prowling, coming closer.’
Amy: Methinks Morrison’s been watching Inland Empire. Shades of the ‘house that can’t be seen from the road’.
In my ROBW 2 post I mentioned the ways Morrison attempted to spook up his sci-fi environment, but here Bruce underlines exactly why Vanishing Point is already spooky enough thanks. Sure, Bruce’s words remind us we’re reading a Batman comic so things need to be suitably gothic, however they also infer that this is a mythic, eternal place, with shifting definition depending on context. It can be a ‘crumbling castle on the brink’, a hunter gatherer’s fire defending him from the circling shadows, the last hub of light and life before the universe tips into the maw of the black hole. We all know this place. We’ve all been there. And we will all return there in the end.
PANELS 4 & 5
‘Everything that happens here is for the last and most significant time.’
(The page fullstopped by a bullet.)
Again, this is why the Clue pieces, because the last moments of life are the most significant, when we reduce down to the essentials – everything else dropping away.
Illogical Volume: I love the way Morrison has overplayed those three Clue items in the last few months. When the necklace first turned up in Return of Bruce Wayne #1 I found my eyes rolling deep into my skull – alongside the “joker”/”RRRR” sequence, it just felt a bit 1602 for my tastes.
And then, when Morrison started to talk about how he was repeating these elements like “themes in a fugue“, well, I couldn’t help but smile, since I’ve always enjoyed Morrison’s gift for hyperbole. Post Batman 701-702 and post RoBW though, I’d be hard pressed to deny that he’s found the music in these basic story elements.
It’s all about the other “hole in things”, the one problem Batman’s never given the opportunity to solve: the murder of his parents. Even travelling back and forward through time like this, Batman still can’t do anything to alter this. Even when he trips into the right ear all he can do is turn up to get damaged in the aftermath. That’s why Doctor Hurt’s entrance at the start of Batman & Robin #14 felt so brilliantly bad-touchy – like Zom said at the time, it fucked with the foundations of Batman’s origin story in a way that was as kinky as it was catastrophic.
Remember: no matter how complex this story might seem, it all comes back to these Clue items in the end. All of these bullets and Batmen zipping back and forward through time… they’re only in motion because of this one act of simple brutality, an act that can’t be undone, not even in a comic, because to do so would be to unwrite the story as you went on. Looking at the bullet, trapped there in suspension, I’m reminded of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro, in which two slowed down projections of Hithcock’s Psycho are left running side by side in opposite directions, stuck on an eternal loop. I didn’t hang around long enough to see it myself, but apparently the two screens only meet to show the movie’s most famous murder scene – a murder that would be thoroughly shocking, if it wasn’t so played out, made haunting and new, familiar images unravelling in slow motion in a darkened room.
Lee Garbett’s no Hitchcock, of course, and he’s no Douglas Gordon either, but such is the density of Morrison’s ongoing Bat-narrative that I can’t help but get a similar kick out of this. It’s that old Morrison magic at work again, making the basic stuff of superhero comics new again. Like Amy says, he always finds strange new ways to make this material sing, the brilliant baldy bastard!
Amy: I told you the archivists were walking mandelbrot sets, didn’t I? Yes I did. I also said this:
I like the fractal suit though, it’s a clever way of nodding to the idea of infinite information contained in finite space, which of course describes the archive of the Linear Authority perfectly.
and it bears repeating.
‘You are the solution to one of history’s great mysteries. The first deep time probe vanished on its maiden voyage…’
There’s been a lot of online headscratching about the ‘Nichol’s Box’ and what it means, but its really quite simple.
‘Over several millennia we searched for the Nichol’s Enigine in every era — a hole – - a gap in the archive.’
It’s a another bloody hole in things, or more importantly, Bruce is a hole in things. This is the first intimation we have that Bruce, as he accumulates omega energy, is being transformed into a walking, talking singularity.
Illogical Volume: I know I’ve been a little harsh on Garbett so far, but the truth is that he simply doesn’t do very much with some real striking material in this issue. Can you imagine Frank Quitely drawing fractal robots at the end of time? That sentence doesn’t quite give me tingles like ‘Apokoliptian hunter-killer “curse” machine’ does, but it comes damn close!
‘May I say how honored I am to be a part of Batman’s final adventure…. and his new beginning.’
Amy: Because the archivist knows that everything flushed down the plughole has to loop round and begin again. And before you say Batman doesn’t fall into the singularity remember what I wrote above, remember what happens later, and think again. No one escapes Vanishing Point till story’s end. It’s almost as though, once coming into contact with the singularity, the comic itself starts to fragment and collapse, a fifth dimensional black hole sucking everything in, no matter what era we attempt to escape to. It’s telling too, that the fragmented, bitty approach to story shades into the one employed in Final Crisis. This book is a coda to that, only this time we get to see the insides of the black hole and how to escape it.
And don’t you just love the idea that the Bush Robot is the ultimate inspiration for Batman Inc.?
‘The sound of ancient, rust locks unlatching.’
Illogical Volume: Bruce’s narration kicks in here, picking up from where it left off in RoBW #5. The narrative captions are ridiculously important to RoBW as a whole – they’re nowhere to be seen in issue #1, which is all about basic communication, big concepts reduced to their most compact and primal. The captions creep in towards the end of issue #2, and issues #3 and #4 are narrated by outsiders, men who provide rough sketches of the myth of Batman and Gotham as it develops. It’s only when you get to issue #5 that Bruce starts to narrate his own story, but you still have to wait to this panel before he’s narrating the story as Batman – notice how the caption background is in the familiar style of the Black Casebook entries, with Bruce’s handwriting on lined paper. Everything’s shifting back into focus. Almost there now.
‘Bells and thunder.’
Amy: It makes sense that ancestor box should DOOM!, BONG! and CRASH! rather than ding, reverberating, time-stretched across generations.
‘What do I use to make them afraid?’
For the answer turn the page.
Illogical Volume: But before you do that, make sure you take in the fact that the caption backgrounds have shifted between this page’s first panel and its last. Like the captions in issue #5, these words are coming from a Bruce Wayne who hasn’t quite remembered to be Batman yet. This is obviously because they’re telling his origin story, but wait – there are further complications on this theme yet to come!
This is the struggle underlying the whole thing. Bruce Wayne and the symbol of absolute darkness – the bat, Darkseid – facing off in his study. He can give in to the demon, plummeting down into his own black hole (‘bleeding in time’), or he can use it.
But in order to use it, the first thing he has to do is…. ring that bell.
Amy: Here Batman, because this is Batman, not Bruce, describes his own, personal hell. The hell he’s been trapped in for years, with only the brief respite of Dick Grayson appearing on the scene – his lonely war with nothingness, trying to save everyone, but most of all himself, from the hole in things. We’ve discussed this before, so needless to say we don’t need to go over it again here, but as we all know there’s a certain section of bat-fandom, the finchian neo-millerites, who would be happy to see Batman remain here, slowly dying in his study, but for as long as Morrison’s writing Batman, for as long as it feels meaningful, I’m happy with idea of a Batman in process, because I agree with Grant that this Batman is sick. That he’s lost all his humanity, the side of himself that functions as a person in the world, with other people.
Or maybe it’s always been there and he’s forgotten it.
Maybe he just needs to stop putting so much effort into the growl.
Ring the bell.
Don’t you just love Grant’s commitment to that hoary old wilsonism, the ’23′. For those in the know it’s another way of nodding to the idea that all times are one time.
Illogical Volume: Don’t you also just love the punnish transition between the last panel on page 8 and the first panel on page 9? It’s pure Alan Moore, of course – Watchmen vintage – and it’s thrown in here as just one of the many techniques that are used once then discarded in what is, for better or worse, a constantly-adapting hyperstory.
Amy: Jeeze, a better writer than Geoff Johns needs to sell me on Hal Jordan being a perfect match for that power ring, because right now I am so not feeling it. Kyle Rayner all the way.
Illogical Volume: Aye, say what you will about Kyle Rayner, he might have been a bit too keen on imaging robotic dinosaurs and aww that shite, but at least he didn’t act like a total cock under pressure! Hal Jordan, meanwhile, is a hateful wee scrote of a man, which is why the way Frazer Irving drew him in RoBW #2 was pretty much perfect.
‘We’re in a time sphere under construction….’
Amy: Neatly inverts a doomsday into a FUCKYEAH! moment. This issue’s first.
The sphere itself is reminiscent of Wonderwoman’s invisible plane in DC One Million… Maybe….
‘It’s the heat death of the universe. Even body temperature’s a super-feat.’
Amy: And because this comic contains a Superman, he has to save the day at least once. That’s what Superman does. This is a nice contrivance on the plot’s behalf, though, to reduce Superman to near powerlessness sans kryptonite. Good use of silly comic book science just plausible enough to convince for one panel.
‘Hold your breath, guys, here it comes… THE BIG ALL-OVER!‘
Illogical Volume: Also, if you were wondering what would happen to the DCU once The Literal Authority (Geoff Johns, remember!) had properly buggered off, then you’re given the answer here as Our Heroes shoot off into a world of fresh possibility!
I kid, I kid – Johns is a symptom, rather than the disease, but you know… this does look like fun, doesn’t it?
Amy: Batman is the only superhero who gets to – what, biannually? – take down the JLA. Some might say this is because writers have a habit of overcompensating for his apparent weakness, but I say it’s because he’s fucking COOL. And never more so than here. This is the Batman from hell, made of the Bats, the existential terror that spawned him. The real bat-demon – Michael Lane eat your heart out.
Amy: Okay, Garbett, the first couple of panels are amazing – the knight’s move, that weird light punch – but what on earth is going on with panels 3 and 4? Is Starman strangling himself? Whatever, Batman completly owns these fules.
Amy: Some reviewer (I’m not going to name names) was going on about how fandom (not anyone I know, but still..) reckons Morrison’s bad at relationships.
Are these the same people who need character moments spoon fed to them or what? ‘Relationships’ are not talking heads scenes, or any scene where interpersonal dynamics are conspicuously flagged up. Just because people are droning on at each other with nothing else happening – as is all too common is superhero comics – it doesn’t mean there’s anything relatably human going on, people! Morrison is bloody excellent at character and relationships because he doesn’t draw his inspiration solely from comics, (Mark Millar, Geoff Johns….), he has broader points to make about art and life that extend beyond the confines of the panel and is responsible for some of the most heavily psychologised comics ever written. Anyway, for in issue evidence of what a load of nonsense this is you only need to turn to this scene. I mean, Tim’s inclusion here, at the end, really says all you need to know. He’s still, lest we forget (I know I nearly did), Bruce’s Robin, the Robin who in keeping with the revelation of this issue’s denouement consciously donned the pixie boots in order to save Batman from himself. In fact he’s the ultimate symbol of the life equation that will ultimately save our hero. Morrison is charging up Tim and his relationship with Bruce with a whole truckload of meaning and significance, displaying massive sensitivity for the character’s role in bat-history and an ability to utilise same for core thematic, narrative and dramatic purposes. Bad at relationships?
Also it’s a really neat trick having Red Robin, the only non-powered super in the room, being the only person who can stop Batman in his tracks and that it makes sense.
Tim may be, like many uber-fanboys (and he is Batman’s biggest fan), a virgin, but he’s still got it where it counts.
(Although I do like to think that true batfans are sexier than that.)
Illogical Volume: There’s a quote that Mark Waid attributes to Morrison in the in the 52 trades, which says something to the effect that superheroes should be written as characters in motion, so, yes – that!
This is a great scene for all the reasons Amy has already outlined, but to be honest I’m mostly just glad that Tim takes his hood off for his big chat with his hero. Bruce managed to rock the earless hood back in issue #3, but on Tim it just looks like a strained prophylactic.
‘Bruce, the omega effect took your memory. But you’re Bruce Wayne and you wear a disguise to frighten bad people, okay? You’re Bruce Wayne.’
Amy: The word ‘disguise’ is key to this base level description of what Batman should be about. The grim avenger stuff is just tacked on to that. Bruce is lost inside the Bat at the moment. He has to return. His costume needs to be precisely that, not something – in this case literally – rigged up to and overloading his nervous system. Not something that is killing him.
Illogical Volume: Mmmm. Again, the importance of the way words are framed becomes obvious here. Bruce is trapped within the Bat, and as such his words don’t come from him, they come from… well, everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Amy: Oh YES.
‘Did the fury that hounds you take its scent from this cape and cowl?’
Amy: And cleverly enough Bruce discarded the thing at the dawn of time. Instinct or conscious decision? You decide.
‘Did Darkseid release something… from any kind of box?’
Amy: Diana, with her origins in greek myth, would be all too familiar with the kind of nastiness that crawls from evil boxes. Pandora, anyone? Morrison knows how to play Wonderwoman, he should shut up about not getting her.
Further evidence on the next page
Zom: By filtering the events of Return of Bruce Wayne through the lens of Wonder Woman’s dialogue we can see not just routes into a Morrisonian portrayal of Wonder Woman, but ways for the universe/story to lose its bat-centricity. In these panels I can feel the different ur-myths of the DCU grinding up against each other as for a brief few moments the story is hijacked by Diana, and refocused as her own, and we feel its pull and power. In these frames Morrison elegantly sidesteps complaints of parochialism by reintroducing the demented grandeur of the DCU. Also, whether he knew he was doing it or not, with this dialogue Morrison opens the door a crack for this issue’s big message – that Batman gets by with a little help from his friends – in part because they have universes of their own to bring to bear when the going gets tough.
Amy: part of me’s really feeling the need for nu-Batman Inc. Bruce to get sexy time again, and have a healthy relationship. Now that could manifest as the odd, err… *power-fuck* with a buddy, but it would be even better if it was taken further and we saw actual bat-romance blossom. He’s got all that post-barbelithian energy going on and he needs somewhere to put it. And if Morrison decides to go in the hairy chested love god direction – he has to really – then, seeing as this is the superhero Batman we’re gonna be dealing with, I’m opting for a super over a mortal. Catwoman seems like a good option, but I can’t help toying with the idea… What about Wonderwoman? It would be the ultimate, international, jet-setting romance (you can just see Bruce emerging from the sea all Bond like and striding up the shore of Paradise Island to claim his amazonian lady love – it may be a bit reactionary, but it’s perfect), and, well, haven’t we danced around the Bruce/Diana thing for long enough now. Somebody needs to play it out.
PANELS 1, 2 & 3
Amy: Again with the healing power of S&M! Actually, given that Morrison is an S&Mer it seems ridiculously weird that he doesn’t feel equipped to write Diana’s book.
And here the curse is exposed, ranting and raving, as it always does, in Bruce’s inner ear. Demanding he not reach out. That he stays lonely. Stays dead.
Illogical Volume: And only through the power of S&M is Bruce able to speak as himself again. Warms the cockles, don’t it?
‘Gods and new gods like Darkseid are self-aware ideas. They use concept-weapons, anti-life equations, hunter-killer metaphors.’
Amy: Here Wonderwoman expands upon our understanding of New God technology, extending it beyond equations to concepts and metaphors. The gods are closer to pure text, that’s why they deal in these things, the stuff plots and ideas are made of, and this is why they can hijack narrative in the way that we’ve seen in Final Crisis and, more recently, Batman. It’s also why so much of this stuff makes very little sense until it’s approached on a meta level, because it’s the text itself that weaponises.
Zom: Strong truth!
Amy: And, as in Flex Mentallo before it, here the world shatters into the panels constructing it. You can feel Bruce, the singularity at the heart of it all, struggle to force it to make sense, to tame the seething story as it unmoors itself and drifts voidwards.
‘Now Darkseid’s vengeance is due.’
I’m toying with the idea that Batman’s whole life up until this point has been Darkseid’s vengeance in action. The revenge driven vigilante nothing more than a man piloted by a dark god’s whim, which led him here, to this final showdown where he can end the world for everyone. This is a nifty way of arguing that Bruce Wayne himself has always been pure, always been a superhero, and that in the end he WILL triumph over his demon.
‘But right now, in an age of superheroes… you’re just another monster for my friends to practice on.’
Amy: As I argued in my Caped Crusader vs Dark Knight post, and as Grant argued before me, in the comics of Superman and the rest, dark gods and hyper-adapters are just a dime a dozen. Here Bruce forcibly allows for the intrusion of their texts upon his in order for him to take out the bad guy. This is a genuinely lateral move on Grant’s part, because one of the main features of a Batman story is that he finds a way to surmount impossible odds without help. This story insists that there must be exceptions to this rule, that the shared universe itself is in the end the ultimate trump card.
Also, Hal Jordan is a dick. Superman definitely agrees.
Illogical Volume: He does, and I do too. I’m going to take the fact that Jordan does fuck all of use in this story as deft characterisation, rather than a lack of space/imagination on the part of the creative team. “So Hal, what did you do with that ring on your finger? You know, the one that can do pretty much anything you want it to do.” “Whatever douche! I think I fired some energy beams, maybe shot out a couple of fists, but what’s it to you?” Face it: the man’s about as much use as a ham chisel!
Zom: I’m thinking there’s some entertaining work to be done explaining why someone as ostensibly unimaginative as Hal Jordan should be the greatest Green Lantern that ever lived. It makes no sense, but I’m keen to see someone make sense of it.
‘Am I glad to see you, Bruce. We’ll soon have you out of this.’
Amy: The JLA are on the floor, the hyper-adapter’s thoroughly icking everyone out and Bruce Wayne is struggling with the urge to implode and take out reality itself a la Xorn in New X Men, but Superman’s still swooping in with the boy scoutisms. And it’s not funny or silly. Once this guy appears on the scene, you know no problem’s too big and everything will be alright. He’s exactly what this situation needs.
Amy: Gross. The way the wiring’s like veins wrenched out of Bruce’s body. You know there were some pretty precise instructions to the artist in the panel description here.
Illogical Volume: Definitely. In my imaginary art-jam remix of this comic, this bit is drawn by Chris Weston, who’d really get the ickyness of it all across to you.
Imagine pulling dirty wires out of your soul… yeuch!
Illogical Volume: Oh, hey, turns out Hal Jordan fired off some chains to bind the hyper-adapter too. Well done big man, but I’m pretty sure Superman and Wonder Woman had it covered…
Amy: If this was a film that thing would totally turn into a bat, and so it does. But cool drama aside, this makes perfect sense in that the hyper adapter, having bonded with Bruce’s nervous system, now configures itself into the monstrous shape that’s haunted his dreams since he fell into that well.
Amy: Coming into contact with the relic catapulted the unsuspecting Dick Grayson into the mythic sphere, where he touched on what it is to be Bruce Wayne, the ur-Batman, forever battling against the flapping, squealing dark.
Illogical Volume: The narration shifts back to Black Casebook mode here to tie in with the narration in the RIP “missing” chapters. They won’t stay in this mode for long, but you need Batman for this bit – this shit’s just too big for Bruce to deal with on his own.
Amy: And here, on the most FUCKYEAH! page of the entire issue, the hyper-adapter literally converts to pure legend, blasting out into prehistory, shattered window and all, ready to claim the spear of Vandal Savage, the first Caveman, in its black, black heart.
This is the primordial myth of Batman. Man against the Unknown.
Waaay back when at the beginning of Grant’s ROBW run, the Deer People set forth the themes that’ve been pursued across Grant’s entire run, in particular the relationship between Myth and Man. It seemed then that they were mistaken in confusing Bruce Wayne with one of the shining ones, but now we know they were not. Batman, and what he represents, is forever.
Amy: Most of this page’s scattered panels have been leeched of all significance, story and meaning as Bruce Wayne collapses into himself, taking time with him, but of those that remain….
‘This is not fair! You throw the Joker at him, fine! Killer Croc! Bane! Empty Handed!’
Amy: But there’s nothing anyone can do for Bruce here. Not unless he allows them to. That’s the point.
‘Darkseid trying to incarnate… In Hurt… In the Doctor….’
Amy: Proving I was right in my largely wrong post about the relationship between Bruce and Barbatos. Of course Hurt doesn’t experience himself as Darkseid, but he’s still germinating.
It’s funny how, back in ye olde days of RIP of yore, I was one of the Darkseid-is-Hurt scoffers and how it now seems to make perfect sense. It shows how far the story’s come, how Grant just needed to get it to the place where it could work. It’s been a slow and steady build, not jarring at all.
‘He struck down Darkseid. Such Hubris on the part of mortals has always had a price. Batman must DIE!’
Amy: Wonderwoman is a useful device, one that Grant’s run could’ve done with more of, in that she provides him with a plausible voice through which he can articulate the mythic logics at work.
PAGES 26 & 27
I only wish I had access to Grant’s panel descriptions, because it’s difficult to know what exactly he’s getting at here with the weird layouts. Can make some educated guesses though.
This is such an iconic image though. Pure Kirby. Bruce struggling across the wastelands of the underworld. Is this New Genesis after the war. Wherever it is, it looks like it’s collpasing into itself in a recursive loop.
Amy: I can only interpret this as Bruce Wayne in the sideways world between panels, outside of time. I think that’s right. But the Ten Eyed Men come out from the shadows, from the inbetween angles, flanking him on all sides, the door, the gate of swords through which he must pass to arrive at the grey and cracked tombstone, the devil, waiting for him at the core, the ultimate wound, ‘The emptiness shaped like a GOD’ (now we know who Old King Cole was referring to in Blackest Knight). I’ve talked about the ritual magic Bruce undergoes in 52 as recently as my last post, and I’m so pleased to see it paying off here.
‘We will wound you forever and if you’re strong enough you will survive the wound.’
The wounding is, and I know I’ve said this before as well, a resensitizing, a ripping out of Bruce’s pain, exposing it, bringing it out into the open so he can destroy it. He was always going to have to undergo this ordeal. This is the detail of the ritual. And I just think it’s so wonderful that the deep magic, the magic of the Ten Eyed Men, is beyond the power of gods, that in the end even they are functionaries of the healing spell’s process.
And through all of it Bruce Wayne does now flinch. He does not shudder.
Surviving is what he does.
Zom: For anyone that doubted, here’s proof positive that the ritual magic that started in 52 is very much present here at the end of all things, and very much part of this story.
Amy: Finally, I’ve noticed some commentators are confused about Darkseid’s appearance here, and, yeah, it is confusing. David Uzumeri – at least I think it was David – points out that there’s a direct reference to Ozymandias here, which is something I didn’t pick up on initially, but definitely works thematically. Aside from theme and drama, there are other ways to justify the Dark God’s presence, largely to do with the atemporal nature of much of the action, occuring as so much of it does in mythic time beyond time/the realm of the gods. Not to mention the fact that a god defined by absence (he describes himself as ‘the void’) is very difficult to kill. Where the gap appears Darkseid rushes to fill it.
Lastly, a more simple, sci-fi explanation: the hyper-adapter was Darkseid’s ultimate escape plan, seeding Hurt with his essence.
Amy: Well, I say ‘panel’, but that’s only because here in the realm of pure imagination, ideaspace, everything connects to everything else with the speed of a thought balloon, and this is where Batman finds his ultimate ally, the ultimate ally of all mankind, creator (IT SEEMS FUCKYEAH!) of the 5th world, he who came before the New God’s: Metron.
He asks the question.
PAGEs 28 & 29
Amy: And so the ‘graveyard’ reverts back to that black study (we never left really), Darkseid shrinking back into the creature perched on the sculpture. And it’s back to the man and the bat, the monster that is the hole where Mother and Father used to be. But rather than lose himself to it, Bruce Wayne grabs it by the reigns and rides that motherfucker.
With a little help from his friends.
And this isn’t a dark moment, with the sound of that bell everything is filled with light. This is beautiful. It’s the first time since ASS 10 that Morrison’s made me teary. What a brilliant writer, to hone in on something so obvious, so simple, something that was obviously there when you saw it, but something you’d always missed. Batman is a superhero and as such is part of a community. He was never alone, he always had his friends around him, but he couldn’t see it, and it brought him so much pain.
The point is though, he always made that decision, he summoned Alfred right back there at the beginning. From the moment we saw them facing off in that study the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Bruce Wayne would save himself.
Surviving is what he does.
It’s telling that all the iconography of Batman up until this point has had negative connotations, and that most of us wouldn’t've recognised the bell when it first appeared on the page 1. The bell is the ray of light in the Batman mythos, the bit that makes him not only a superhero but possible in the first place. Was it in the original comics, or was it Frank Miller’s invention? If it was Frank Miller’s invention then its doubly ironic that the creator (inadvertently) responsible for grim-bats should’ve also originated the ultimate symbol of hope at the bottom of his pandoric box.
Let’s not forget that Batman is the superhero most commonly associated with the taking of partners.
The guy’s always deep down understood the value of connection, whatever his more misanthropic fanbase think.
Zom: The final result of the ritual, the thing that really counts, is a gift of knowledge. While I’m no occultist I like that it’s in keeping with real world occult traditions, as a consequence it has a gravitas that a less subtle approach would lack. I also like the way that Bruce’s/our revelation (and come on, how many writers offer revelations anything like as interesting? This baby will permanently effect how I view the character) acts as an answer to the problems faced by the Bruce Wayne of 52. What better way to heal the isolated, paranoid character he’d become than to reintroduce the light of friendship and a world shared? I doubt Grant intended this solution from the beginning, but it’s a great way of putting the sick Batman of the OMAC era to bed once and for all. Or at least until David Finch gets a crack.
The centering of the bell is also a cut and dried example of deconstructive criticism in action. Refocus the story around an element which has been sidelined, give that the centre ground, and suddenly the story starts to mean different things. It’s been done with feminist histories and black histories and now St Moz is improving our world by doing it with Batman. I’m not sure whether that makes me feel good or very weird.
Illogical Volume: Fucking hell guys! I feel like a bit of a spoff popping in to mention it here, but notice the captions again – they’ve shifted back to the Bruce Wayne narration so that he can go through his origin story yet again, this time with the clear understanding that even from the beginning, to become Batman was to ask for help. And not in the “he dressed up like a Bat as a bizarre cry for help” way either – as Amy and Zom have so eloquently acknowledge, this is so much more beautiful and elegant than that!
Amy: Hmmmm. This is the big booboo of the whole run, isn’t it? The stuff with the box. It smacks of Grant getting confused with what it was he wanted to do. One minute it’s the repository for information about Bruce’s time travels, the next it’s a hoax, a ruse to draw Hurt in and locate him with a bat-tracer, and it’s never made entirely clear how or why he becomes convinced of its importance. It’s a pretty big plot hole, frankly, and one the massively crap editors at DC should’ve spotted.
And, Grant, I don’t want to hear any rubbish in interviews about how the blanks around the box should be up to the reader to fill. No they shouldn’t.
Heyho, unless its explicitly dealt with in Batman The Return, which I doubt, we’ll just have to agree to ignore it. Which isn’t so hard, of course, when everything else has been so cool.
Including this scene. It’s very portentous and cool.
Shame the miagani haven’t shown up since, though. Although I’m holding out for Man of Bats and Raven Red being part of the tribe. That seems pretty likely at this point.
Illogical Volume: Yeah, the “gotcha” bit at the end of Batman & Robin #15 was such a great “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” moment, so it’s a shame to get here and find that yes, I do, if only a little.
Zom: Twas a dud note, sure enough
PAGEs 31 & 32
‘The first truth of Batman. The Saving grace. I was never alone.’
Illogical Volume: And just in time for the issue’s climax, here comes one last flourish of narration, cementing the new reading of the character that Morrison’s been working towards all along in a few black lines on a well-worn notebook.
Amy: This is where Bruce turns Evil’s challenge ‘upside down’, by inverting his personal anti-life equation. From always having been alone – a fallacy – to never having been so, and of course the black vomiting…..
As Doctor Hurt comes in to land. And who cares how Bruce showed up out of the fireplace a few minutes later? He’s the goddamn Batman. He does that shit all the time.
Zom: The curse machine is dead, the hole in things filled by the understanding that batman is not alone. Batman is all-better-batmobiled. Roll on multiple Batmen and a light show made from bat-signal beams, which are, when you think about it, if you’re feeling playful, pretty much the opposite of holes.
Amy: So that brings to an end one of the mightiest bat-sagas of all time, a book so full of quotable lines and perfectly resonant moments it makes everything else on the stands look like total poo. I’ve detected a hint of the apologist in many reviewers’ response to ROBW 6, from people who should know better in my opinion. I want to state categorically that the mindless ones unreservedly DO NOT apologise for comics as imaginative and interesting as this. We DO NOT care if Dark Reaper 87 understands this comic. Fuck Dark Reaper. Most superhero comics are written for him, so it’s only right that at least one comic should be written for us. I have absolutely no time for the argument that this issue is too confusing. In fact it makes me seethe. The idea that writers should restrain themselves, that the only way to truth, heck, the only way to entertainment, is through linear plotting and straightforward story logic is, frankly, anti-art, and an insistence on these things tells me far more about the person complaining than it does about the artwork itself. I’m not saying Morrison doesn’t have his problems, but in my view these are far outweighed by the power of his imagination and his ability to reproduce its contents in a way that is consistently deep, resonant and kick ass to boot, and this in a batman book.
I’m not apologising here, I’m getting narky.
I remember ages ago, some blogger – one I do respect, only I can’t remember who it was, probably Jog – describing the purest Grant Morrison comic as a series of ideas strung together only by thematic resonance, or something like that. Well, I say NO. The purest Grant Morrison comic isn’t quite that dead. The purest Grant Morrison comic is basically a poem. And with this, Batman 702 and Final Rites, that’s pretty much what we’ve got. Superhero tone poems of the highest order, with a musicality untouched anywhere.
So, so good.
Still wish Irving, Stewart or Quitely had drawn this one though.
Oh, and that Bat-mite had made an appearance. Afterall…..
UPDATE: I assume you’ve all read Dave Uzumeri’s and Rikdad’s annotations, and if you haven’t you should, but you might not have read Andrew Hickey’s thoughts. Like us Andrew is keen to unpack some of the story logic at work, but he has put a great deal more effort into looking at the themes and motivations behind Morrison’s bat-run than the rest of us, and as a result produced something richer than anything else I’ve read. Go read.