Pages 1-3: Bruce has just dragged himself home from an ass-beating in Frank Miller's Year One (Batman 404). David Uzumeri points out that Bruce cannot effectively fight crime in this form. He needs to get born again as a symbol, which of course is the bread and butter of Morrison's run. Achieving mythology, coalescing with the collective unconscious, this two-issue beat scales toward that five-word utterance first spoken in Tec 33 and later countless rehashes in which Bruce consigns his entire life to an ideal.
Page 4: Bruce was engaged to actress Julie Madison as early as Detective Comics 31. For the most part, she would get trotted out as arm candy or thrust artificially into distress only to be saved by Batman a few pages later (it was the 40s) but she did in her final appearance pitch in to beat Clayface, donning a Robin costume in her team-up with the Caped Crusader(again, the 40s).
Page 5: Alfred told a number of imaginary stories beginning in Batman 131 all speculating on the future exploits of "Bruce Wayne Jr." AKA Robin II and Dick Grayson who became the second Batman. Some believe that Alfred was the teller of the "imaginary story" in Batman 666, and connected this idea to theories implicating Alfred as the Black Glove. The title of this issue is a bit of fun at the expense of those theorists. Moreover, as I mention in the remarks for 676, Morrison penned a chapter in JLA entitled Imaginary Stories which followed Tim Drake and Bruce Jr. as the next generation's Batman and Robin.
Incidentally, "They're all imaginary stories!" is the standard pseudo-intellectual's sophistic defense for failure to adhere to internal story logic.
Page 6: Comic book writers in the 30s were known for their penchant to blur the line between good and evil. Comics were so mired in subtlety and understatement, you could scarcely tell who the bad guys were. From Tec 29:
Is it me, or do a lot of writers use the Batman comic book to couch their medical phobias? Dr. Hugo Strange, Dr. Hurt, Dr. Death, Dr. Phosphorous. Maybe it's an oedipal thing, Doctor Thomas Wayne and all that.
All off Alfred's dialogue in the second to last panel carries a double meaning.
Page 7: The first panel belongs to the little-known Detective Comics 27.
This vat, which I can't place anywhere in the Madison era, makes the second reference to chemicals, the first being Dr. Death's laboratory. You'd figure Batman hanging over an acid vat would have happened somewhere in that period, acid vats being a staple of the genre at the time, but no. The chronology's a little off though. For example, Robin should be established in the continuity before Julie leaves, so I'll chalk up the vat to generic Batman imagery.
Interestingly, Julie's reason for leaving in Detective 49 diametrically opposes the one she gives here. In that story, Bruce was too much of a shiftless popinjay for her tastes; she wished he was more busy, not less. Oh Morrison, you and your wanton retconning, don't you care one lick for history?!
Page 8: For this first panel, no one really drew those types of angles back in the Golden Age, so I have no idea to what this panel alludes. Although if you want to look into the matter yourself, I can name for you all the issues in which people have aimed guns at Batman. They are Detective 27, 28, 29, 30-850, Batman 1-683, The Brave and the Bold...
Oh and Bat-Christ is not touching that sandwich.
Page 9: One of the best and most heartily Morrison pages in the entire run. Also, more drugs!
Page 10: The fourth panel was ripped from Detective 33: Against the Dirigible of Doom.
In that story, Bruce suits up in a clansman uniform (not kidding) before filling the crew of that zeppelin with lead! Remember what I said about the moral ambiguity of the 30s? I guess anyone short of Hitler those days could be considered "the good guy"!
The letters are addressed in different handwritings. This and the meaning Julie Madison ascribed to personal letters earlier in the book lead me to conclude that the basket is overflowing with goodbye letters from all the ones that got away. A tragic unavoidability of Batman's lifestyle really and a punchy bit of compression on Morrison's end.
Page 11: Batman wallops Hugo Strange's Monster Men in Batman 1. Actually, that story picks up right after the Batman's first cross with the Joker! Unfortunately, not all foes can weather the test of time, and guys like this "Joker" become lost to all but the most devout Bat-archivists.
Pages 11-13: Scanned from Detective Comics 38 and The Untold Legend of the Batman 2 (the exact same panel appears earlier in Batman 213, but I figure Len Wein's work in that mini is more pertinent to the Morrisonverse), we have:
Note the slick red anachronism hugging the curves of the road in the first panel on page 13. That's a proto Batmobile, and its presence on-panel adds weight to Alfred's grieving over the lost "color" in their "monochrome lives."
The red-lit cockpit and wide-grinned Batman homage Jim Lee's All-Star Batman and Robin.
Page 14: Perhaps Alfred is conflating in memory his production of Hamlet (mentioned in 675) and a Joker fight he witnessed, maybe this one from Batman 2.
Or, I thought it would be cool if this actually was Alfred Beagle's Hamlet, which would explain why it was panned by critics.
This Joker-Copter, last seen in 655, appears to be an amalgam of the Joker-Mobile and the Joker's helicopter from Batman 186 or maybe a modernization of the Joker-Plane from Batman 37. I can only guess that it's Matt Murdock piloting this whirly bird because the view out of its front visor is completely obscured by that giant Joker face. Fuck function, the Joker rolls in style!
It would be far easier for Bruce to consider this panel a dream. But how can he?! For in his hand, he holds the Bat-Radia!
I'm fairly sure now, after much combing of the archives, that all the panels on this page (and the "laughing contest") are originals. I bet Morrison had quite the chuckle imagining all the diligent annotators like myself scouring their longboxes and persisting on Google with searches of "giant crown + Batman," "laughing contest + Joker," and the like, suffering to find the derelict corners of Bat lore from which these panels were pulled. Prick. :-P
Page 15: Could it be?! It is! Ace the motherfuckin Bat-Hound! Ace descended from the heavens into Batman 92 and comics would never be the same again. Amid a stretch of complete suck in Superman, James Robinson blessed readers with a Krypto issue that instantly elevated his run to Watchmen stature (okay, that's a lie). Here's a typical example of the kind of asskickery that a superdog can impress upon an issue:
The closest match I could find to this first Kathy Kane panel is from her introduction in Detective 233.
Morrison superheroes always notify reader in advance of their team-ups.
The typewriter Robin's sitting on was lifted from Batman 115.
Notice Batman can't take chemicals off his mind. This is a great feint, a mystery threaded through the Batman ages and the answer turns out to be the clues themselves (that is, chemicals). Batman fought his first battle ("first" in real world time) at Apex Chemicals in Detective 27 and I think Alan Moore named the plant at which the Joker was possibly born "Ace Chemicals" in The Killing Joke though that may have been established earlier.
Page 16: A dream Robin had in Batman 122 shook his nerves and (I assume) drove him to pursue this line of worrying.
I think Robin means the hyphenated "Bat-Girl" AKA Betty Kane who debuted in Batman 139.
Seems like the Tim Drake character could've been partly inspired by Betty Kane.
The bottom of the page, which Morrison has retconned into a drug trip gone awry, recounts some of the events and dialogue of Batman 153, which receives a bit of the recap treatment here.
Page 17: "I was a circus kid." Dick and Kathy were both circus folk.
Page 18: Morrison took the Lump from the pages of Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle 8, but not without first administering a vital sprucing-up. In Kirby's original story, the Lump could only influence thought realms. However, unlike in Morrison's revamp of the character, once one's mind was plugged into the Lump, the Lump would engage him in an ordinary fistfight, the mental winner emerging triumphant also in reality. Do you see why this is lame? So Lump, who can do anything, squares off against Mr. Miracle, who can do anything, and they both start doing anything at one another until Mr. Miracle finally beats him in a ham handed way that makes no sense given what we know about him.
You can find all the details surrounding Alfred's death and rebirth (there's rebirth again) here.
We find Bruce in reality where Final Crisis 2 left him. I will not be annotating that book as there is no deficit of Final Crisis annotations on the web and honestly my knowledge of general DC lore isn't at all up to the task.
Page 19: And "sea" for Catwoman.
The leftmost villain, the Eraser, tried to "rub out" Bruce Wayne in Batman 188, but was met with, shall I say, pointed resistance from the Dynamic Duo. Sorry, it's irrelevant but I just can't shy away from recapping this issue, in which Robin shoots off one of the most astoundingly hypocritical lines in 70 years of Batman comics.
Actually, the first printing looked like this:
Anyway, the Eraser, an old college acquaintance of Bruce's named Lenny Fiasco, soured toward crime after living his university days under a constant stream of taunts from his classmates. Over what, you ask? His foul habit of erasing mistakes, of course.
See, how could I make this shit up?
CHIP: Hey Len, misspell anything today?!
LEN: No, I --
CHIP: Boy do I got just the thing for you!
*Chip pulls out an eraser*
CHIP: Haw haw haw!!
LEN: Oh the humiliation! Mark my words, Bruce Wayne will pay!
So, in keeping with his MO as the Eraser, Len encases Bruce in solid ice (again, how could I make this up), but the Dynamic Duo manage to save the day anyway. This issue was penned, not surprisingly, in the wake of the TV show's runaway success and obviously apes the show's characteristic camp style. Morrison was undoubtedly seething over missing the Eraser boat, but included him anyway, perhaps to preface the Eraser's many metatextual usages in upcoming Morrison comics.
The Joker hired the feisty dwarf Gaggy in Batman 186 to, believe it or not, make him laugh. Laughter would gear the J-man up to plan the campy capers he would pull in the 50s and 60s. You can read a slightly modified version of the "Gaggy" comic here.The Poison Ivy knockoff mounting that stripper pole is actually Catwoman in a costume she wore, I believe, exactly one time, in Batman 197. What, you're surprised Morrison went with the obscure one?
If I had to guess based on his physique and color scheme, I would say the last guy is Blockbuster. The colorist might've mistaken his bushy eyebrows for a domino mask. Time period fits perfectly for Blockbuster too.
Page 20: Creepy, no?
The Nightwing stuff didn't quite play out like this in the 80s' comics. Dick walked out on Bruce well before adopting the Nightwing persona, and when he finally came to face him eighteen months later (comic book time) in Batman 416, they weren't on such casual terms as this panel suggests. Not a complaint really, just staking out the differences.
Page 21: The Lump manages to gurgle out a couple of words through his paralysis: "hurt" and "dream." I'm not sure exactly what these mean, but I would guess that Lump is pronouncing clues to Batman's current state; he's in a "hurt dream" or a "dream of hurt," a long nightmare.
"I made up a story once... as a way of putting things in perspective." - Could this be Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" The extent to which Morrison and Gaiman collaborated before the scripting of that issue, I don't know. Got answers, Newsarama buffs?
How exactly did the Lump give himself away? See the panel below:
Bruce trusts Dick to the point where not even Alfred can convince him that Robin broke his promise.
"I'm coming to get you." Bruce said exactly these words to Jezebel in 680 before her villainy was revealed.
Page 22: I'm surprised Morrison/Garbett didn't go with a strong resemblance between Dr. Hurt and Thomas Wayne. Anyway, Papa Wayne emphasizes the words "mental patient" and "poisoned," layering some subtext into his discourse which is superficially about the Joker attack at the end of Year One, explored more fully in Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's The Man Who Laughs.
Page 23: We're running a bit long at 2000 words already, so I'll save Mokkari and Simyan for next time.