Thursday, January 8, 2009

Batman 676

Unbelievably, I've managed to chug through 2/3 of this run to arrive at RIP. Though I set up connectivity to later issues in the early annotations, I always giggled to myself whenever I did this because I imagined that I would surrender at some point or simply sputter out with no further ideas to fuel the posts. Yet, here we are, 20 posts strong and this one's the longest yet. Please, hold your groans until I leave the room.

Before I launch into mad, only-tangentially-related conjecture - well not conjecture, my theory will culminate in fact! - let's dip our toes into 676. Morrison submits an oddly decompressed comic (think Geoff Johns, not Brian Bendis) this month, like he's breathing a long sigh before he takes the big plunge into RIP. Only about two thirds of the comic is actually broken into panels, with two bookend splash pages and two two-page spreads filling out the remaining third. The latter of the two-page spreads is insanely indulgent to the point that even in my first reading, before I knew squat about Morrison, I still had to put the book down and wonder why anyone would squander two pages like that. I suppose now that Morrison was trying to spotlight the neglected "Batmobile as a metaphor for Bruce Wayne" theme established in the first issue, but even with this in mind, the spread reeks of a desperation play.

Tony Daniel pencils some pretty pictures for us this month, including very believable facial expressions for a family kidnapped by an idiot and a suitably horrific rendering of a newscaster tearing apart his own mouth. When given substantial lead time (Ryan Benjamin penciled the previous issue) Daniel can really strut his artistic stuff and exhibit a real talent that gets buried in his rush work (see Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul). It's almost a shame I have to ream the art in the annotations for bungling the story at one point, as this could've been a real banner issue for Daniel without the gaffs on the last couple of pages.

Anyway, here's the mad, only-tangentially-related conjecturing I mentioned before:

During the course of reading this issue, I formulated a theory which, after scanning the run, I'm now 99% certain will pan out. I predict (with 99% certainty) that Tim Drake will succeed Batman following Battle for the Cowl, provided Morrison dictates the final outcome of that project. "But it's so obviously Nightwing! Didn't you see him clutching the cowl in 681 and staring at it contemplatively? Didn't you see him standing in the shadow of the bat in that Detective cover? IT'S ALL SYMBOLLIC!" Yeah well, I have trouble believing that DC would bother hyping up the mystery aspect of Battle for the Cowl with its conclusion already carved in stone. Before I begin detailing my theory, the reader should know that I'm taking a weakest to strongest approach. So if you don't find my initial points particularly persuasive, read on. They get better.

To start, I'm going to assume that Morrison writes well enough that no character other than Nightwing or Robin will replace Batman, since his run spotlights none of the other candidates. Yes, I understand Morrison isn't writing Battle for the Cowl, but I presume his run exerts major influence on its story because Batman has been the flagship since Morrison came aboard. So for all of those out there crying, "It's Jason Todd because he wears black and red!" or "It's Harvey Dent because in a story Morrison never read Harvey Dent protected Gotham City!" you're wrong and you've mistaken Morrison with a Bendis-level hack.

With that in mind, note that Tim receives a lot more facetime than Dick in Morrison's run. Tim deals with Damian. Tim battles Bane-Bats. Tim endures the trials on Mayhew's Island. Tim "saves the city" from the Club of Villains in 681, while Dick froths at the mouth waiting for his lobotomy. Overall, Morrison has established a stronger presence for Tim and, in my view, writes him as a better superhero, one more deserving of the Bat mantle.

What's more, the theme of father and son umbrellas Morrison's Batman run. Note, for example, the arrival of Damian or Dr. Hurt's many allusions to Thomas Wayne or Cyril Sheldrake inheriting his father's calling as the Knight. While one might argue that both Dick and Tim serve as surrogate sons to Bruce Wayne, in reality, the age gap between Dick and Bruce isn't all that wide and Dick doesn't interact with Bruce the way a son does with his father. On the other hand, Bruce possesses legal guardianship of Tim, who is an appropriate age to be his son and pretty much considers himself as such. Note that he calls Damian his brother in this very comic.

In addition, Tim Drake's Robin pulls some very distinct Batman-isms over the course of these issues. For instance, Robin admits to a complete dearth of personal life in 667: "My choices? A weekend nursing my should and dodging Alfred... or a trip to a private island to hang out with a bunch of C-list crime fighters... I'm totally sad either way, Bruce." Interestingly, he says this as Bruce ventures away from that lifestyle, visiting old friends (The Club) and building a serious relationship with Jezebel. Later in that arc, Tim spots an out-of-place light source which leads him to a secret passage, a very subtle clue similar to the chicken grease clue Batman sussed out earlier in the issue.

I admit, the previous two examples only illustrate Tim's growth into a more dedicated crime fighter, more like Batman, but the next two examples speak volumes to how much Tim is actually becoming Batman. In Batman 655, Bruce Wayne keeps forgetting to drop the Batman growl in his voice when chatting with his socialite friends. In tandem with this, we see Robin forget to remove his domino mask before cycling out to town in his civies. Fortunately, Alfred stops him before he leaves, but it's a very Batman-esque blunder that betrays a difficulty in separating himself from his superhero persona. Morrison also seeds a strong clue in a seemingly throwaway scene in 675. In that scene, Tim out-Batmans Dick by predicting the precise amount of time it will take for "Ray-Gun Rider" to fly overhead; he calls it at exactly 2.75 seconds (Dick guesses 3 seconds). This sort of obsession with exact detail, to have the timing down to the correct hundredth of a second, echoes Batman speech to the treacherous monk in Nanda Parbat as well as his Black Casebook captions before he rises from the grave in 681. Note also that 675 is the ONLY time we see Robin and Nightwing together in all of Morrison's run so Dick never evens the score with him.

Let's journey outside the text for a second now. The strength of the Dick Grayson/Nightwing character carries two books: Nightwing and Titans. The strength of the Tim Drake/Robin character also carries two books: Robin and Teen Titans. Currently, the Dick Grayson books outsell their analogous Tim Drake books with Nightwing leading Robin by a substantial margin. People will read Batman no matter what, especially with a new creative direction. Just like the wild success of Brand New Day, intrigue always beats outrage, as does collectors' completionism. So it makes a lot more sense from a sales standpoint to resume Dick Grayson as Nightwing, relaunch with a new #1 to thrust its already-high sales further out into the stratosphere, and just ditch the Robin book altogether or perhaps restart it with Damian in the title role *shudder*.

This brings me to another point. It's fairly obvious from Tony Daniel's drawing of "Batman and Robin will never die!" that Damian takes on the Robin mantle. If Nightwing replaces Batman, why would he recruit Damian, someone he's never met, as his Robin when he could just as easily have, well, ROBIN as his Robin? It would make no sense. Also, I really doubt DC will go with two Robins, so the writers must adopt one of three alternatives.
  1. Bump off Tim Drake - No.
  2. Retire Tim Drake - Hasn't been set up at all, plus Tim is awfully young to retire.
  3. Transform Tim Drake into a new Nightwing - Feasible, however it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, which I hope DC would recognize before proceeding in this direction. Having Robin become Nightwing again not only rehashes an old storyline, it also contrives a very mechanical shifting, everyone pushed up one slot in the hierarchy, an RPG style level-up for the whole party, not exactly germane to organic storytelling.
Diving back into the text and the very thing that inspired me to write this piece, look at the first page, generally an important part in any literary work, of RIP: "You're wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!" and ask yourself "Who believes this?" Not Dick Grayson. Nightwing does not take stock in the idea of Batman and Robin's iconic power; he quit, afterall. In fact, Dick Grayson's character development for the last 25 years has been a concentrated effort to propel him out of the aforementioned shadow of the bat.

But Tim became Robin exactly because he believed in the Dynamic Duo. In Tim Drake's eyes, Batman needs Robin and Batman and Robin must "never die."

As these excerpts from Tim Drake's introduction in A Lonely of Dying imply, Tim views the myth of Batman and Robin as a force for good that must continue to be upheld.

Now if the above didn't sell you on my theory, then how about this? In a future scenario penned by the God of All Comics himself in JLA #8, Tim Drake takes over for Batman with Bruce Wayne's son as his sidekick! Enlarge the picture to read that lower left caption box.

Still not convinced yet? Of course not. That story's 10 years old. Let's go a little more contemporary, like Batman 681. This one is the smoking gun that case-closes this mystery as far as I'm concerned. On page 7 of that issue, the late Dark Ranger's sidekick the Scout dons the costume of his fallen mentor and zaps the Swagman. Obviously, this foreshadows a whole student-becoming-the-master type deal to occur with Batman. Fine, this could implicate either Robin or Nightwing. But notice, on the very next page, Robin's face appears reflected in the glass of the new Dark Ranger's helmet, symbolically linking the two, singling out Tim as the cowl's inheritor. Sure, later on in the issue we get a pinup of Nightwing brooding over the cowl, but this is Morrison we're talking about. With him, the safe money's on subtlety.

Page 1: This page fills in the missing second-to-last page of 681. Coolest picture eva until you realize that's Damian in the Robin gear. The PMS sky indicates that the DCU has entered full Crisis mode.

Pages 2-3: "Six months earlier" informs us that Final Crisis follows RIP. Morrison unchains his inner Victor Hugo with the stagecoach and the whole gothic France look for the introduction of Le Bossu (literally: "The Hunchback").

Pages 4-5: Dr. Hurt we know from before. The Club of Villains from left to right:

King Kraken,
after the sea monster of Norwegian legend, hides his disfigured face in the helmet he once wore as a deep sea diver. Presumably, whatever disfigured his face also warped his mind, turning him into a pirate and arch foe of Wingman's. Batman reports in 669 that Kraken kills with a high powered electric rifle, though he never carries one in RIP.

Charlie Caligula,
after the psychotic Roman emperor, suffers from some form of dementia and patterns his crimes around a Roman Empire theme. In 679, Batman calls him out as a poser, a wannabe psycho-savant gimmick villain, essentially an impostor Joker to his impostor Batman nemesis the Legionary. Other than exercising some control over the powerful King Kraken, Charlie seems to have no special abilities.

El Sombrero, after the Spanish for "the hat," an item he paradoxically does not wear, hires himself out to build elaborate death traps (which he claims border on art) for less creative villains. Note that this is the first time we see the real El Sombrero. In the Club of Heroes arc, Sombrero's nemesis El Gaucho ("the cowboy") mistakes John Mayhew's mockup of Sombrero's costume for the real deal.

Pierrot Lunaire, after the French for "moonstruck mime" and perhaps the melodrama of the same name, has mastered some mime form of martial arts which appears to enable him to leverage his body on thin air. The painted tear dotting his eye continues the French tradition of "
Pierrots" as sad clowns pining for love, not to mention the Morrisonian tradition of nice touches over the heads of fans. The Musketeer claims Pierrot as one of his rogues in 668.

Scorpiana, after nothing (the Spanish for "scorpion" is "escopriĆ³n"), deploys blue scorpions to assist in the assassinations which are her trade. Morrison fleshes her out the least of the Club members (he even gives her a shitty name and costume) making her a token female in the group, which is unfortunate. In the past, Scorpiana, like El Sombrero, has clashed with El Gaucho.

The Swagman, after the protagonist of the Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda, pilots a badass looking motorcycle and totes a big 'ol six-shooter that he brandishes while singing the song of his namesake. The Club of Villains' Swagman battled the late Dark Ranger in their native Australia.

EDIT 1: This is wrong, but I leave it as a testament to the kind of tenuous theorizing Grant Morrison comics inspire.
His helmet, I believe, is modeled after the billycan pot with which Waltzing Matilda's swagman boils his tea water.

EDIT 2: This is right. Commenter Eddie points out that the Swagman's look is based off the armor of Australian bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly, whom you can read about here.

EDIT 3: Omar Karindu, the smartest writer in comics not to have his own comics blog (which, by the way, makes him REALLY the smartest) observes that each member of the Club of Villains synthesizes different gimmick elements from other Batman villains ("cosplay mashups," as he puts it). Charlie Caligula combines the Greco/Roman theme of Maxie Zeus with the clown theme of the Joker. Pierrot Lunaire has the appearance of the Joker, but his personality gimmick comes from literature, like the Mad Hatter. Scorpiana, I thought, could be a mashup of Catwoman's animal theme and fighting ability with Poison Ivy's penchant for poisoning her foes.

Page 6: The Green Vulture belts out his best karaoke of an Arkham regular. With so many Bat-clones running amok in these issues, it shouldn't surprise anyone that a few Joker clones would get loose. Like Charlie Caligula, the Green Vulture comes across more as an attention whore than a mad genius.

Pages 8-10: The tints of Bruce's obsession color the new Batmobile. It suggests that the fingers of the Black Glove are swirling around in Bruce's mind, creeping through his thoughts. As he says, "It's not how I saw it when I first had the idea." Right, last time we saw the Batmobile (I mistakenly wrote it off as a coloring gaff), it was under construction and the fender was blue. Now that the Black Glove is getting to Bruce, the Batmobile has a new coat of paint more to the tastes of Dr. Hurt and his evil organization.

Page 11: Batman rescues Honor Jackson who repays the favor by becoming Bruce's
magical negro spirit guide to heroin and the hood in Batman 678.

Page 13: Cleanly-shaven-love-god! "Miss St. Cloud" refers to Silver St. Cloud who figured out Batman's identity in the Englehart/Rogers run, mostly because Batman sucked at hiding it from her. "Miss Bordeaux" refers to Sasha Bordeaux, a court-imposed bodyguard for Bruce Wayne, who grew increasingly frustrated by Wayne's constant disappearances. After a while, Bruce realized the jig was up and led Sasha into the cave for some Bat training, which I imagine went over well on her job application for Checkmate. She appears to have kamekaze'd in the pages of Final Crisis: Resist in a last ditch effort to activate the OMACs against the zombies of Darkseid.

Page 16: Jezebel's is angling here with her question here which, keeping her true motives in mind, essentially asks "What would get you to quit being Batman?" Naturally, Bruce won't grace the question with an answer.

Page 20: These Rorschach ink blot tests that recur in comics - going back to Watchmen and maybe (?) earlier - always remind me why I like the comic book format better than plain old prose (blasphemy!). You simply cannot convey this scene well with words, it's impossible. You'd get bogged down describing the blot, its resemblance to the pool of blood in the Joker's fantasy, its resemblance to a bat, and even in the deftest hands the scene would come across clumsily.

Unfortunately, I now have to embarrass myself by pointing out that although a visual medium is necessary to execute this scene well, it is apparently not sufficient, as some pretty significant mistranslations from Morrison to Daniel to Guy Major confuse this episode's intent. For example, why is Commissioner Gordon so young in the Joker's fantasy? I understand that it's a fantasy and the Joker can imagine Gordon however he wants, but why hallucinate Nightwing and Robin from the present and Commissioner Gordon from the past? Also, in the third panel from the bottom left, which appears to occur in normal reality given the blood-free walls and the ink card, the Joker is still brandishing his razor blade. Now I know the bulbs of the Arkham staff don't shine brightest, but do they really allow their mental patients, their murderous mental patients, to walk around sporting lethal weapons? Finally, on the last page, the blood spattered all over the Joker's person does not belong there. Morrison admits as much
here, where he apologizes to the fans who spent time speculating on a coloring gaff that should never have seen print.

Page 22: The Joker isn't necessarily patronizing Doctor Bossu when he says "Another pretty flower." Remember that some pretty flowers were responsible for a lot of carnage in the Joker's last appearance, the same type of carnage tormenting millions in his fantasy.


  1. I find myself agreeing about Tim being the new Batman. Dick factors into these things ... but it's always as Batman's partner, and Bruce's BROTHER, rather than son and heir. He tried being the "prodigal" once in "Prodigal" and it wasn't for him.

    I find it 100% likely that Dick will be starring in the impending "Red Robin", thereby fulfilling the prophecy set for him by Alex Ross's Kingdom Come. Jason Todd never belonged in that costume in the first place ... but Dick can carry it big time.

  2. The Swagman's helmet is not connected to Waltzing Matilda: it's copied from the real-life Australian bushranger (outlaw), Ned Kelly.

  3. There's a second joke going on in the Club of Villains, in that some of them seem to be cosplay mashups of Bat-villains. Charlie Caligula, for instance, is trying for the Joker but his name strongly resembles that of lesser Maxie Zeus. And Pierrot Lunaire's using a mad literary character's shtick likewise resembles the Mad Hatter as much as anything.

    Basically, like the Club of Heroes members in the absence of Batman, the Club of Villains in the absence of the Joker can't even imitate the right bad guys.

  4. Jonesy and Eddie: Will set the Ned Kelly thing straight soon. Feel like a total dope for missing it; I really need to strengthen my knowledge of ACTUAL history. At this point, I could probably tell you more about the Marvel and DC U than I could about the reality U, sad as that sounds. In reality, we're fighting a war somewhere right? Is it Latveria? Is that even a real country?

    Crazy Name: Never caught that, but when I stick in the Ned Kelly stuff, I'll append your argument. It definitely could have been intentional on Morrison's part, in addition to the ones you've mentioned, King Kraken playing a sort of surrogate Killer Croc and Scorpiana hybridizing Catwoman (animal theme, apparent agility) and Poison Ivy (scorpion = poison).

  5. Screw it, I've created a BloggerID to avoid futurew "crazyname" incidents.

    Yeah, I had a list of possible mashups, but I figured posting the whole damn thing would be even more obnoxious than posting what I already have.