Monday, March 09, 2009

Building a Better Batreader: Grant Morrison's Second Year on Batman

It's been well over a year since I did my post on Grant Morrison's first year on Batman, which went up through the "Club of Heroes" story that introduced the Black Glove. I will be picking up from there and continuing on through the rest of Morrison's run, plus the parts of Final Crisis that apply to Batman. I won't be directly referencing anyone (at least, that's the plan), but, of course, there is much debt to Tim Callahan and his writing on the book, which, no doubt, influences the following without me meaning for it to. Also, with something as discussed online like Morrison's Batman work, it would be hard to not accidentally repeat something said elsewhere. If I repeat something, it is not intential as my approach here is to just reread the issue and do some direct textual analysis. It's possible that I read what you wrote months ago and it stuck, but it's also possible that we just came up with the same conclusions, so, please, do not get pissed off if it appears that I'm "stealing" from you since that's not the case. I was brought up a good little academic boy and know all about citing one's sources, which is why I'm purposefully ignoring the rest of the online world--and waited a few months before beginning this post. Well, with all of that said, let's get on with it:

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul (Batman #670-671, annual #26 (by Peter Milligan), Robin #168 (by Peter Milligan), Nightwing #138 (by Fabian Nicieza), Detective Comics #838-839 (by Paul Dini), #842 (by Peter Milligan)

You may notice that only one issue of Robin and Nightwing is listed. That's because I didn't buy the second issue of each title that was part of "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul," because, well, I didn't feel like it. This story also raises the question of authorship since, out of the eight issues I mention, Morrison only wrote two; Paul Dini wrote the same amount, while Peter Milligan wrote more. However, "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is a story that seemed to stem from Morrison's run with the prologue happening there and, also, building upon his introduction of Damian, Bruce Wayne's son with Talia al Ghul. As well, to ignore these issues because Morrison didn't write them would pull a small piece of his run out of the discussion--and to not include the non-Morrison issues would also make his efforts exist without context. So, for better or for worse, I'm discussing all of them (aside from those issues of Robin and Nightwing I couldn't care enough to buy).

To put it bluntly, this isn't a good story, overall. However, Morrison's influence is heavy as it continues to push one of the overarching ideas/themes of his run, fathers and sons. In fact, that's all "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is about. There is nothing else here except fathers and sons. That overwhelming singular topic is driven into the ground over and over again. There is no room for anything else.

The main thrust of the story is that Ra's al Ghul has survived his death by transferring his consciousness to another body. However, unless that body is a blood relative, his mind will reject it. Maybe. I'm not sure about that point, because his original plan was to transfer his mind to that of one of his bodyguards, but said bodyguard freaked out and poisoned himself. So, at the beginning of the story, Ra's is in a dead/dying body. There is emphasis on the new body being a blood relative, but he also, at one point, tries to use Tim Drake's body and, later, uses the body of a monk. It seems like none of the writers know exactly what the rules are, so just make up stuff as they go along.

The Batman annual by Peter Milligan acts like a prologue to the entire story, while his issue of Detective Comics is an epilogue, of sorts. The annual mostly recounts the origin of Ra's al Ghul while Batman hunts down a Lazarus Pit in Australia. Here, the idea that Ra's will take over the body of Damian, Batman's son, is introduced and not particularly well. There is a certain amount of illogic here since the White Ghost (who is later revealed to be Ra's al Ghul's son) is preparing Damian for this through Talia (who is unaware of his true goal), but, after Talia and Damian escape, Batman arrives and throws the White Ghost in the Lazarus Pit. Now, it's established that Ra's's consciousness is in the Pit and, by entering it, Damian would be taken over... so, if Ra's needs a male relative (supposedly), why doesn't he take over the White Ghost? But, that would be too soon and make the eight-part "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" unnecessary...

Even Morrison's issues lack a real reason for existence. They do introduce Tony Daniel to Batman as he is to Morrison's second year what Andy Kubert was to his first. Except less competent. Both Daniel and Kubert share an affinity for action comics (despite not necessarily depicting action well) and an utter lack of ability when it comes to facial expressions and body language. Daniel coming aboard the title gives the entire run a strange cohesion in its look. Replacing Kubert with someone better than Daniel would almost ruin it... in an odd way. The lack of skill, the lack of nuance, the lack of ability to properly depict what Morrison is going for... it seems almost crucial. I don't know why yet. Maybe I'll work this out for myself as the post progresses.

"The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is concerned with the relationship between fathers and sons. Batman has four sons, two adopted (Dick and Tim), one more symbolic (Jason) and one biological (Damian). Three of them are heavily involved here as Ra's al Ghul, Batman's "father-in-law" (not technically, but symbolically) wants to put his mind in the body of his grandson, Damian--or, failing that, another of Batman's sons, Tim. Throughout this, Batman's relationship with each of his sons (aside from his relationship with Dick really--which is a refreshing change of pace in many ways) is referenced and explored, demonstrating that Batman's primary concern is his mission. He surrounds himself with these sons that are merely a reflection of himself. He trains them to be him. His goal with them is to live on in them. Gee, does that possibly mirror Ra's al Ghul's goal? He wants to live on literally in one of Batman's sons, preferrably his own grandson. Add in Ra's's own father, the Sensai, and that, at the end of the story, Ra's takes over the body of his ignored/outcast/illiegitmate son, the White Ghost, and you can see how it's all about fathers and sons.

Which begs the question: what about Talia? She is the sole mother here, so her role is of particular interest since she is the one main character that falls outside of the father/son relationship (even Alfred is in there as Bruce's substitute father). She is the only one who actually puts the welfare of her child above everything else. She betrays Ra's to save Damian, she criticises Bruce for not putting Damian and goes against his wishes to take Damian from the final battle. Her role is to criticise the entire male perspective here, one of work and personal pursuits before family. She is not a suitable host for Ra's al Ghul's consciousness because she is a woman. In a way, the story is an argument against the classic male mindset--and written by four men.

Through fathers and sons, the concept of immortality is introduced and plays heavily in this story. As I said above, part of the father/son relationship, especially the one that Batman has with his sons, is the father trying to live on through the son. Each of Batman's sons begin as Robin, an identity shared here by both Tim and Damian. Dick has progressed beyond that and has become his own man, although one very similar to Bruce. He has adopted the same colours and does the same job--for all his talk of not being like Bruce, he is just like Bruce... and both Tim and Damian are well on their way to being like him, too.

The odd man out, in a way, is Jason. He is only referenced in passing by Ra's al Ghul in Detective Comics #838 when trying (half-heartedly) to convince Tim to join him:





While Ra's alludes to events that didn't play out exactly as he wants to suggest, he does raise the point that the father will often discard the son if the son either shows too much autonomy or doesn't live up to the father's expectations. This is a fear that Tim has regarding Bruce and Damian, which causes yet another fight between the two in Robin #168. That Damian wears a Robin costume as well (without the explicit approval of Bruce but since nothing is said, Tim has to assume there is implicit approval) is a constant reminder for Tim that, yes, there is another son--there's always another son, and he could be replaced at any time.

Is this an accurate picture of Batman, father? If you go by events, I think it is. As is demonstrated in this story, he does put the mission first, and his role as father second. Any moments of parental nicety or sweetness are fleeting, quickly overcome by demands to be tougher, stronger, smarter, and more dedicated--a better reflection of him--a means for his legacy (and, thus, himself) to live on. Not that Ra's al Ghul is any different as he continually wavers between love and affection, and distaste and shame for his daughter, Talia. There is a father's love for his daughter there--but also always the regret and shame that she isn't a son. Were she to marry, his name would be lost! And, then, there's the White Ghost (or Dusan, which is his real name and only spoken just before he gives his body to Ra's), the outcast son, never referred to by his true name, always the servant, never good enough to be the reflection of Ra's because he is an albino. Only in the end, when there are no other options, does Ra's accept him and see that he was the most loyal of his children, the one that he should have embraced and entrusted with his legacy.

Beyond that, Ra's al Ghul is obsessed with living forever literally, not merely through his progeny. Through the Lazarus Pits, he has lived for thousands of years and, here, even goes beyond traditional living to free his consciousness from his body and survive beyond death, albeit for a limited time only. So, here, he continues to live by taking over the bodies of others with the ultimate desire of taking over his grandson's body since it is a male relative and young. What's interesting is that, after he takes over the body of Dusan, Dusan's features change to look like those of Ra's. Now, this is most likely caused by Ryan Benjamin's boderline incompetent art* since the characters don't look that different to begin with (when they should), but it's an interesting idea nonetheless. (* Want a concrete example? In the previous issue, Detective Comics #838, Benjamin depicts a fight between Batman & Talia and some ninjas. Talia is hit in the lower back with... what are no doubt supposed to be throwing stars, but look more like playing cards with holes in the middle. Two pages later, after the fight is over, Batman checks on her and, somehow, her wound is on her left shoulder. That's Ryan Benjamin's art.)

The story ends with a strangely odd (and almost disturbing) scene where Alfred, Bruce, Dick and Tim fly back to Gotham, toasting "family." Bruce and his two sons who are already difficut to differentiate from him out of costume... yeesh.

The epilogue story doesn't really fit into these themes since it concerns the armour that Batman wears in "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul," which was given to him by Talia. It's a nice little story by Peter Milligan with some solid Dustin Nguyen art.

The Third Policeman (#672-675)

And we're back to the "real" Morrison run. While "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" did continue some of his ideas and themes, it seemed like a story that happened outside of Morrison's run. With these issues, we're right back into the plot of the fake Batmen and the Black Glove.

Honestly, these issues disappoint me for reasons entirely unfair and not actually related to them at all. See, I group these issues under the heading "The Third Policeman," because that's who the villain here is (well, aside from issue 675, which gets included here because it's got to go somewhere) the third policeman Batman replacement. Now, some of you may know that Flann O'Brien has a book called The Third Policeman, which a professor I had for a grad class and then, later, assisted with a class loved. So, under his recommendation (and the recommendation of a prof I had in undergrad who loved O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds), I got a hardcover collecting all of O'Brien's novels and read The Third Policeman this summer. Being me, I was hoping that it would somehow tie into these issues of Morrison's Batman, which they don't--not really. Oh, I could try and even see a way how to do so, but the connection is tenuous and would spoil the book quite a bit. If there was more there, I wouldn't care, but to do it just because I fancy the idea? That's not my style. So, these issues disappoint because I made the connection between this being the third policeman and O'Brien's novel... not really Morrison's fault or an actual problem with the issues. I bring it up only as an "amusing" anecdote. (Oh, and I highly recommend The Third Policeman.)

Each of these four issues stand alone in their own way, even the three that are connected directly. They flow into one another, but issues 672 and 674 are broken up by 673, which, while taking place as a result of what happened in the previous issue, happens in Batman's head, acting as something distinct from the narrative it is in. It's an odd structure that Morrison uses, but effective.

Batman #672 picks up, almost literally, after issues 664-665 where Batman revealed the existence of the Black Casebook and fought against te Bat-Bane police imitator. On the first page of 672, we even see one of the prostitutes from those issues as the Third Policeman storms into police HQ, demanding to speak with Commissioner Vane. Other police officers recognise who and what he is, but Commissioner Gordon doesn't. The Third Policeman speaks of returning from hell with a secret about himself and Batman. His requesting Commissioner Vane shows that this replacement Batman was to have had a similar relationship with the then police commissioner than the real Batman has with Vane's replacement. The replacement Batman deals with the replacement commissioner, in a sense, here.

Morrison cuts away from this to jump back into Bruce Wayne's relationship with Jezebel Jet, which is discussed on a View-like show called "The Scene." (The big difference, of course, is that Tony Daniel draws the four women here as insanely thin, insanely attractive and in their early 30s at the very oldest...) And who is one of the women who host the show? Vicki Vale, having shown up as a host in an issue of Wonder Woman previously. Morrison once again brings back elements of Batman's past, even in quick passing like here. Alfred is concerned with the seriousness of Bruce's relationship with Jezebel, already showing concern that foreshadows her betrayal of Bruce in "Batman R.I.P.," but Bruce shrugs it off--he's already realised that she will betray him, in a scene from #664.

During a charity basejump, the Bat-signal calls Bruce away to deal with the Third Policeman who has taken Gordon to the roof and reveals the existence of Branca and Muller, the other two policeman Batman replacements. A small continuity note: in this issue, Muller is identified as the Bat-Bane policeman, but, in #674, those names are reversed. When Batman confronts the Third Policeman, he again identifies him as one of the doppelgangers from a dream he once had, and is shot in the chest with a concusive round, which gives him a heart attack. As he blacks out, he has visions of green luminous writing that spells out "ZUR EN ARRH," and of Bat-Mite who has a weird alien thing on his back. This continues into the next issue where the entire thing takes place in Bruce's head as he lays dead.

Batman #673 is one of the most important issues of Morrison's run. It is fragmented, it jumps around, and it ties together a lot of his ideas, particularly the use of past stories previously thought of as "out of continuity" as key to understanding one of his stories. The only idea that outpaces Morrison's concern with the father/son relationship is the idea that every Batman story you've ever read happened somehow. It may not have happened exactly as originally depicted, but it happened. All of them. Every single last one. Morrison uses that idea to explore what kind of human being could have all of those experiences and not just remain sane but thrive. Morrison heavily suggests later in his run that Bruce Wayne does have a superpower: he can mentally and emotionally cope with more than any other person alive. He is so damaged, so driven, so focused, so goddamn fucked up, that he can live through anything and keep going. To simply have every Batman story ever printed count is nothing more than an interesting idea, but to use that as a jumping off point to explore what having all of those experiences would mean is what Morrison bases his run, especially this second year, around. He gave hints of this at the tail end of his first year with the Black Casebook and the Club of Heroes, but this issue is the key to the idea as Morrison purposefully references Batman #156 (which Tim Callahan explains--okay, one citation) and uses that issue from 1963 to build up the character around which his entire run revolves, the Black Glove.

"Joe Chill in Hell" ostensibly takes place while Batman is dead. The title focuses on Joe Chill, the man who killed the Waynes, but also continues the Satanic references that point to the Black Glove being the devil. Not only that, there's a subtle suggestion that, while dead, Batman gets a window into Chill in Hell--that he is being punished for his crimes and is forced to relive the period where Batman seemingly tortured him psychologically. Now, the Hell here is obviously meant to be a figurative one, but there's also a small amount of comfort here, that Chill is being punished and is in agony for crimes.

One thing that comes up in this issue (and was mentioned in previous issues possibly--I can't remember) is the Thogal ritual Bruce underwent in Nanda Parbat, which, here is mentioned to be 13 days, but, when I went back to my 52 trades, it's mentioned as being only 7 days. Later, when the rock to the cave is removed, he says it's the 30th (or 27th) 49th day... those most likely referencing the lack of time/ability to tell time during the ceremony. The 7/13 difference, though, is not quite as easily explained. Small point, though.

This issue continues the father/son commentary in a few ways. First, Batman's relationship to Joe Chill. Chill mentions here that he didn't kill Bruce along with his parents because Bruce was the same age as his son, establishing the father/son relationship between the two, which is more direct in that Chill killing Bruce's parents gave birth to Batman. Joe Chill is Batman's creator, his father. Except Batman is a son that his father is not just ashamed of, is horrified to learn that he birthed. In this issue, Batman actually leads to Chill's suicide, giving him the gun--the son kills the father, finally destroying everything the father had. And he revels in it, giggling madly over it.

During his isolation experiment to understand the Joker, Bruce gives up being Batman after hallucinating that Dick, his "son" is dead, taken as a result of Batman and Robin. While it seems like a small moment of Batman being endangered, it's really a moment of hope as Bruce breaks free from the father/son influence, recognising that pushing his son to be like him was a mistake. The son matters more than the mission for once! But, it was fake, it was not to be, because Batman is always the most important thing. BATMAN! He sees three glass cases with three Robin costumes, which reference (I believe, I could be wrong) Jason, Stephanie and Dick (although, in Dick's case, it's because he moved beyond Robin). But, at this moment, he confuses Tim and Dick, thinking that Tim was Robin during the isolation experiment instead of Dick. He has lost so many sons (and a daughter) to the identity of Robin, to the Batman... and, now, the Batman has killed him.

"When did I die?" Bruce asks this several times throughout the issue, unable to distinguish what exactly caused his death, because he's died before. He died in the isolation experiment. He died in Thogal. He died other times. He will die again. He will keep on dying. The Batman is immortal, destined to die forever. Bruce, as a boy, sees his own funeral as Clark Kent, Dick (or is that Tim?), Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan(?) carry his casket with Barbara Gordon and Alfred following. "When did I die?" Does Batman ever actually die? Or does he get brief glimpses of Hell, like he does here of Joe Chill's Hell?

Joe Chill's justification for his crimes is interesting. He blames it on class warfare. He killed a rich couple because they have more than him and that makes it okay, doesn't it? Well, does it? Bruce Wayne's wealth isn't addressed in this run really despite him living in a city of slums... I'm not sure what to make of that, honestly. There is something about millionaire playboy in a costume beating up on the poor, though.

At the end of the issue, Batman is brought back to life by the Third Policeman, which launches right into the next issue that explains how exactly Batman's replacments came about. They are his sons as well, all ready to step up and take over for the father should he die. Contenders for the cowl that no one knew existed. That these replacements were created by the police actually contradicts something Commissioner Gordon says in issue 672 to the mayor about Batman being like any outside consultant (psychic, psychologist, whatever) that the police uses. In fact, this revelation demonstrates that the relationship with Batman, while officially low profile, is, in fact, one much more deep. The police love Batman and dread the day that he's unable to do what he does. Although, this project is undertaken in secret, so its ties to the police itself are strained.

The three Batman replacements are Branca, Muller and Lane. I will use the names as identified in #672 rather than here, but that's because I like the idea of Muller being the name for the Bat-Bane policeman. They were the three policemen who survived the selection process, trained by Dr. Hurt who learned all about Batman through the isolation experiment. Branca was an expert marksman, but in their first "mission" (fighting Batman), Batman broke his hands; Muller is the one willing to be pumped full of drugs, to become a monster, now hidden from the world, fed "girls, TV, pizza and drugs." Lane, the Third Policeman who was created through the same process as Batman: tragedy. Or, as Hurt says:



So, if Branca and Muller are skill and power, Lane is drive. His family was killed by "satanists." (Another devil connection!) He is just as damaged as Batman, driven by revenge, driven to avenge the death of his family. However, he lacks the skill and power, just as Branca and Muller were also lacking. Batman himself notes this: "But there was something they lacked. / A missing edge." Batman is more than the sum of his parts and, so, dividing him in three won't equal him.

As well, there are three replacement Batmen, and he has created three possible replacements himself: Dick, Jason and Tim. Do they correspond? Obviously, then, Jason would be Muller, the monster. But, of Tim and Dick, which is skill and which is drive? Has Dick moved past his own family's death? Is he skill, while Tim is the new orphan, the new son, the one most driven to be like Batman in personality? And what of Damian? Is Damian Dr. Hurt? (Wow, that question is both awesome and horribly stupid...) What really shows here is that, if these replacement Batmen couldn't cut it, can any of Batman's sons? Can Dick or Tim replace him? Do they have the necessary requirements, that "missing edge"?

The question here, though, is who is really behind these replacements? Why have they surfaced all of a sudden? Branca showed up in the first issue of Morrison's run to shoot the Joker in the face; Muller showed up towards the end of the first year (and again here), and Lane was present in #666 where Damian has become Batman, and here. The Third Policeman asks,






And he's not wrong. Batman does die soon, albeit not at the hands of the Black Glove. Except, Batman doesn't actually concern himself with that thought exactly. He wonders about an invisible enemy that is working against him, that knows him all too well, that is able to outthink him. Before this, Morrison again reminds us that Batman is too good. He's spent his life studying and thinking of ways that others could kill him, and working his way out of it. Who could possibly outthink him? Who?

Issue 675 is a good issue, but doesn't add much beyond a sense of foreboding before "Batman R.I.P." Jezebel Jet pushes too hard to be a part of Bruce Wayne's life, culminating with her "realising" that he's Batman after they're attacked by a nine-eyed man. Meanwhile, Robin and Nightwing discuss if Batman is okay mentally. He doesn't seem fine as he seemingly grows unhinged here, the Batman persona overwhelming Bruce Wayne. It's one of the weakest issues of the run as the sole goal here is to establish mood for "Batman R.I.P." and make readers think that, maybe, Bruce Wayne is the Black Glove when, in fact, he's simply playing along with Jezebel, bringing her deeper into his game. As Nightwing says, "YOU KNOW BRUCE. HE ALWAYS KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING."

Ryan Benjamin provides the art here and it's... the less said about it the better. He makes Tony Daniel look good.

These three issues provide the basis for "Batman R.I.P." while also building on what came before (both in Morrison's run and in Batman comics in general). They also continue an element of Morrison's recent work that I haven't touched upon in this post yet: the protagonist meeting different versions of himself. In All-Star Superman Superman continually meets other versions of himself in some way, and, here, we have Batman facing off against another Batman (the third of three replacement Batmen at that!), one that represents one element of himself. The Club of Heroes, Jezebel Jet, Dr. Hurt, Batman's sons... even the Joker becomes another version of Batman here (and the Joker comes complete with a Club of Villains that are reflection of him, therefore being reflections of Batman... sort of). But, I will explain that momentarily...

Batman R.I.P. (DC Universe #0, Batman #676-681)

The centrepiece of Morrison's run, what it was all leading to... "Batman R.I.P." The controversial story isn't nearly as difficult to understand as anyone wants to think it is, mostly because, as he often does, Morrison has the Joker explain it all in the fifth part:

the real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense!


you think it all breaks down into symbolism and structures and hints and clues

no, batman, that's just wikipedia

"Batman R.I.P." makes sense in that it doesn't actually make total sense. It doesn't add up--purposefully. The Black Glove's plot to destroy Batman isn't rooted in reason and logic, because those are Batman's strengths. No, the plot is rooted in nonsense and half-truths, in bits of information that seem to be profound but really distract and confuse you. There's meaning here and a certain amount of logic, but, really, there's no way to explain it perfectly, especially because it wouldn't have come as close to working had it been logic and well reasoned. Batman has a blind spot and Morrison exploits that. And, as many have pointed out, the Wikipedia comment is clearly pointed at people like me who spend far too much time online considering what it all means. I was among those who came online right after each issue in this story, decontructing it, trying to figure things out, mostly who the Black Glove would be. And since Morrison didn't just want a plot that would confuse Batman, but readers as well, he did the last thing expected: he purposefully didn't make total sense. Now, many will say he does that all of the time, but he's a very purposeful writer with lots of subtext in his work--subtext that is intentional--so, if his fanbase know this, why not construct a plot where misinformation and illogic are key? "Now do you get it?" the Joker mocks Batman and us at the end of the fifth part. No, I don't--which is how one gets it. (I think.)

The ultimate goal of the Black Glove in "Batman R.I.P." isn't to kill Batman, but to ruin and corrupt him. The story owes a lot of Morrison's "Rock of Ages" storyline in JLA, which ran along a similar course: villain(s) the hero(es) do(es)n't see coming (supposedly) put(s) in place an intricate plan that seems assured to work, but the hero(es) was/were aware all along and counterplanned accordingly. Lex Luthor and his Injustice Gang think they're hitting the JLA by surprise, only for it to be revealed that, no, Batman knew all along and has three people playing Luthor from the inside. The fight was over before it began, really.

Here, Morrison follows a similar trajectory, eventually revealing that Batman knew about the trigger phrase "zur en arrh" and created a backup personality to take over should the trigger phrase ever be activated. While he didn't counterplan nearly as much here as he did in "Rock of Ages," that's only because he didn't know what was going to happen, just that something would. So, really, he planned for everything. That is Morrison's Batman: a man so dedicated, so devoted, so insane that he tries to prepare for everything. When he was a child, something horrible happened beyond his control and, now, he tries to control everything.

The mystery here, and it's one that still has some confused, is who is the Black Glove? Is it Simon Hurt? Thomas Wayne? Mangrove Pierce? Satan? Bruce Wayne (somehow)? Now, all of the evidence so far in the run would point to Satan since those references are abound, even going so far as to have the Third Policeman say that Dr. Hurt is the devil. That what the Black Glove wants most is to corrupt Batman, Satan would be the logical choice. But, even that doesn't really fit. The motive is so bland. Why now? Why spend all of that time and effort?

My favourite theory is one that I don't recall seeing anywhere else (in fact, it just occurred to me--and if someone else mentioned it elsewhere, again, I didn't see it and I apologise): it is Bruce Wayne, the evil, spoiled Bruce Wayne that never existed. In an effort to purify himself, to make himself better, Batman underwent numerous rituals to cleanse his mind and soul, and, maybe, the Black Glove is his tulpa. A tulpa is a "thoughtform," created by a person through mental will, sometimes it is all of the negativity or the "demons" inside a person. The devil inside made to be outside, let's say? Morrison has used the idea before, in Fantastic Four 1234 where he says that Doom is Reed's tulpa (and then discounts it as an effort by Doom to crush Reed), so it is a possibility. The Black Glove is, apparently, Bruce and Thomas's double, he himself dons a Bat-costume, albeit one worn with a tuxedo, one of wealth, he attempts to destroy the thing that destroyed him, in a sense. In the end, Batman is cast aside and Bruce Wayne attacks the Black Glove. Who else would know of "zur en arrh" besides Bruce? Who could put a scar on his consciousness? Is that where the tulpa came from back when Bruce was first training to be Batman? Over and over, Hurt says that no one knows Batman like he does...

Ultimately, who the Black Glove is doesn't matter. It will never fully satisfy anyone, least of all Batman.

The Joker is Batman's opposite number here under the idea that Morrison operates under where every Batman story (and incarnation) actually happened. Morrison's conception of Joker has always been one of an adaptable "supersane" man whose personality alters to match his environment, but Batman's personality does the same. I discussed this (and the Joker's connection to David Bowie) previously. But, basically, Batman also adapts to his times much like the Joker, both continually changing at the whims of creators. The Joker thinks that the world really only consists of him and Batman with his harsher "The Thin White Duke of Death" personality stemming from Batman shooting him in the face. Ignore that it was Branca, not Bruce Wayne, because that doesn't matter; it was Batman.

The father/son dynamic here is very interesting as almost every "son" of Batman appears. Nightwing and Robin are attacked by the Club of Villains, Tim strangely more able than Dick; but Dick at Arkham to back Batman up when he needs it (Batman says, "YOU NEVER LET ME DOWN, DID YOU?"). Both sons do their father proud, as does Damian who arrives with his mother and some ninjas in time to rescue Commissioner Gordon, and take vegeance upon Jezebel Jet. The Club of Heroes arrive as well, all being sons of Batman through inspiration. The Club of Villains are sons of the Joker through the same inspiration, but the Joker either ignores, kills or disfigures them. Batman encourages and sympathises with those he inspires, the Joker just doesn't care or loathes that anyone would try to copy him (his mockery of Batman's attempts to think like him point to this).

But, the most interesting father/son dynamic here is that between Bruce and his father. Questions as to Thomas Wayne's survival and real behaviour are raised here. Was he the good, honest doctor with the loving wife and son that everyone remembers? Or, was he a rich pervert who kept a girl loaded up on drugs for him and his buddies to gang bang only to fake his own death while trying to kill his wife and son? We're meant to disbelieve the new information on Wayne, especially because it's never really explained and doesn't match up with everything we've known so far. Why would he try to have his wife and son killed? If Alfred was part of this group, why hasn't he shown any hint of that lifestyle/behaviour since? No, it's blatantly false and meant to corrupt Bruce--or, at least, force Batman to step aside in favour of the Waynes. That further supports my idea that the Black Glove is Bruce Wayne (or an aspect of him--the inner demon), because he wants Batman ruined and hopes that preserving the Wayne legacy will cause a willing ruination. Except, what it fails to realise is that Bruce Wayne willingly gave up himself in service of Batman. He chose that life a long time ago and knows that giving it up now would be failure. Lies and slander won't truly harm his parents--right is right. To willingly corrupt himself like that would tarnish his parents' memory more than the Black Glove's lies.

The tactic of claiming to be Thomas Wayne is to throw Batman off his game. Since Batman was created to avenge his parents, to honour them--if they weren't the loving individuals he thought they were, if they were criminals and perverts, would Batman have a purpose? Would being Batman be worth it if it honours awful liars? Of course, at this point, Thomas and Martha Wayne matter little to Batman. Their deaths were so long ago and he's accomplished so much since that they matter as little to him, truly, as Frank Castle's family does to the Punisher. While those deaths may have begun the mission, the mission has taken over. All the use of Thomas Wayne exposes is that the Batman doesn't care about them, not really. Bruce Wayne does--he will always love and miss his parents, but Batman's purpose in life is not vengeance anymore, it's the mission. At first, the mission was a means for vengeance, but now the mission exists simply because the mission exists. (If I've written anything that will be argued against by... well, everyone, it's this paragraph.)

That's what the Batman of Zur En Arrh is: Batman without Bruce Wayne, pure mission, nothing else. It's the Batman without any sons. It's the Batman that lives in the moment, caring not if he will die and be forgotten, simply focused on taking down bad guys. In his mind, the Batman was inevitable, the Batman is everything. That's why he sees a grid, a design to create him: the world demands that he exists. The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne wasn't a tragedy--it was necessary. The backup personality takes Bruce Wayne and his feelings entirely out of the equation, erased previously by Dr. Hurt... but Hurt couldn't erase the Batman. He moves out of the shadows, wears bright colours, beats up villains with baseball bats, and will not stop until the mission is complete. The Batman of Zur En Arrh is what Bruce Wayne's Batman wants to be, but is afraid to be. He's afraid to give himself over so completely. In recent years, he's come closer, to the point where Bruce Wayne is becoming like Batman (remember, Bruce Wayne is "alpha male plus," NOT Batman), but Wayne still limits Batman. Wayne still wants human connections, he wants love, he wants a family, he wants to live forever, and he wants his mommy and daddy. The Batman of Zur En Arrh wants to hurt bad guys.

The use of Bat-Mite doesn't quite make sense to me. I love how Batman calls him "Might," but his actual role is unclear. He advises Batman, he says he's "the last fading echo of the voice of reason," suggesting that he's what... a little kid playing Batman? Is he the small shard of Bruce Wayne that sits on the Batman of Zur En Arrh's shoulder, keeping him in check? That little boy whose parents were taken away dressed in a Batman costume? I honestly don't know. I do agree with Geoff Klock when he says that there is a bit of conflict in Morrison's ideas as he says Bat-Mite is reason, but also hails from imagination (the 5th dimension). Those two ideas aren't as mutually exclusive as Klock suggested, but, still, rather nonsensical.

Jezebel Jet presents an interesting problem/parallel for/to Bruce Wayne. She's another of his doubles, a rich orphan who's dedicated her life to bettering the world somehow. Except, not really. She's corrupt, she's evil, she's egotistical to the point where she'll bankrupt her homeland to crush Wayne. In rereading these issues, I did wonder why she's seen as such a humanitarian in helping her African nation when she lives a rich and luxurious life. Her people live in abject poverty, but she's off in a fancy restaurant with Bruce Wayne? What the hell? She seems to care, but does nothing to back that up. Of course, her name was a clue right off that she would betray Wayne, that she always knew he was Batman, that she was always a part of the Black Glove's plan. She fits the colour scheme (black and red) despite that pattern being meaningless really. In many ways she's typical and boring. Her attempts to convince Bruce that he's the one responsible for the Black Glove and that he should give up Batman are obvious.

What really interests me is the line in the final part of "Batman R.I.P." where Batman writes in the Black Casebook,

When did I first suspect she was part of the trap?

"I want you to know I understand," she said.

I think it was then.

About a fraction of a second after I realized how heavily I'd fallen for her.

Almost instantly realizing it was the bad I'd been attracted to all along.

That final revelation, about the bad being attractive, always stood out to me. Why would Batman be attracted to Jezebel's inner "badness"? I'd argue that this backs up the idea of Hurt/the Black Glove being a thoughtform made up of Batman's inner darkness and, without it, he naturally looks to someone who will complete him. But that doesn't seem to cover it completely. Batman does have a history of being attracted to the "bad girl," of wanting to redeem them, to make them good. He tries to destroy evil with violence and love! He did see Jezebel as being very like him and, therefore, wanted to redeem her, bring her to his side. Catwoman, Talia, Jezebel... he wants to eliminate crime and will do whatever it takes to do so--even using sex and love.

But, is there more to it than that? An element of self-loathing? Of being so dedicated to good that, sometimes, he just wants to be bad? Perhaps. What makes "good" people fall for "bad" people?

"Batman R.I.P." is an examination of... what exactly? Batman confronting his own inner evil? Batman proving he is unbeatable? Batman proving that Bruce Wayne is meaningless? Grant Morrison's inability to write a conclusive and satisfying end to a mystery? The ultimate attempt to destroy Batman through unreason and illogic? Take your pick, add your own suggestion, whatever.

Originally, this issue did present a problem: Batman's Black Casebook narration. We see Batman seemingly "die," but he's narrating these events from some point in the future. Of course, we see that he survived the helicopter crash and dies in Final Crisis, giving him ample time to write this entry.

I haven't discussed Tony Daniel's art much here, because it would be redundant to continually trash him, I think. His work is barely serviceable and works, at times, to hurt the story. He doesn't quite have the skill to pull off what Morrison is going for here, which requires more nuance and subtlety. He prefers "cool" images over functional ones--which sums up his flaws here the best way I can think of.

All in all, not a satisfying climax to Morrison's run, but that seems purposeful to some extent. Sometimes, not every question is answered.

Last Rites (Final Crisis #1-2, Batman #682-683, Final Crisis #5-7)

Grant Morrison's run on Batman ends with a summary of his themes and goals. These issues do that in such a way as to provide little worth discussing except in broad strokes. In Final Crisis, Batman is captured by the Dark Gods and is hooked up in a machine that will mine his memories and experience to create a clone army in the service of Darkseid. The Dark Gods use a creature called the Lump to do this--it infiltrates Batman's memories in the form of Alfred. We're given a quick summary of Batman's life and career in Batman #682 and 683.

The father/son relationship comes up again as Dick's influence is displayed with conviction--and his influence extends beyond Batman but to Batman's world as well. Morrison specifically implies that Dick's lighthearted attitude makes the Joker more wacky and harmless. Of course, we know that it was more than that, but linking those ideas is certainly interesting. Jason's personality is more angst-ridden to go with that age, but also darkens the Joker. Whatever changes occur in Batman are mirrored in the Joker, further suggesting that they're linked more than ever previously thought.

The alternate history shown in this issue has the Waynes survive Joe Chill's mugging, and Bruce Wayne grow up a spoiled, unhappy man because of his parents. His mother fawns over him, overprotective because of the brush with death. His father is demanding and fails to see why his son is so disengaged and apathetic when he was raised to be like that, really. Bruce follows his father into medicine, but doesn't have the same passion, and is a laughing stock.

This world also adds to the Batman/Joker relationship as there is a Joker-like killer there, but, after his initial crimes, he's killed via capital punishment. In a world with no Batman, there can be no Joker.

Really, what these issues put forth is Batman's superpower: the ability to withstand so much physical and emotional trauma. As the Lump progresses through his memories, the clone army begins dying from shock, clawing at their faces, unable to process all that Batman has been through. He is uniquely suited to handle so much. Make him relive his back being broken and he survives. He turns everything to his advantage.

What allows him to do so? It's suggested here that it's Alfred, his "father." In a world without Thomas Wayne, Alfred took his place and Bruce thrived. Batman even says that Alfred should get the credit, because he kept Batman going. But, as we see here, there's also something unique about Batman and his ability to withstand anything.

In Final Crisis, he kills Darkseid (the anti-dad), and is "killed" via the Omega Sanction, only to reappear at the end of the series over the fallen Anthro. Because Batman survives everything.

These issues are interesting, but more in an "annotations" sort of way. As I said, they sum up a few of Morrison's big ideas.

And We Come to the End

That does it. I probably missed a whole lot (either purposefully or by mistake). Now, we just have to wait for Morrison's Batman and Robin title (if the rumours are true). Thanks for reading.