“The Black Glove”, Chapter 1: The Island of Mister Mayhew (Batman #667)

Welcome to the second part of our Grant Morrison run in which I’ll be reading The Black Glove, a book I own in hardcover. It’s actually only one of three hardcover books I have in my collection of this run, the last two books also being in that format. It’s not bad, but the pages are still glued, some are creased and I did notice that a title of one of the chapters is actually cut off slightly, which I presume means that all of the pages are slightly trimmed at the edges like that. That kind of sucks because ermahgerd J.H. Williams III, but ah well.

Anyhow, I don’t actually have a lot to say about this first chapter, as intriguing as it is. As I suspected, Morrison doesn’t pick off where we finished in Batman and Son, with the third ghost of Batman that we see in Damian’s story making his appearance to Bruce. Instead we’re off to the personal island of John Mayhew, a character whom we met in The Black Casebook in a story called The Club of Heroes (World’s Finest Comics #89). We get an explanation as to how this guy bought Batman and his impersonating heroes their own clubhouse in that story – turns out he was a bit of a Jack of all trades back then, a director of films but also an aircraft designer of all things – and why it is the guy lives alone on an island, but I don’t suppose it matters very much. That’s for two reasons: 1) he appears to have been killed by the Black Glove, and 2) his island’s a trap designed by those people for an apparent recreation of Agatha Christies’s And Then There Were None.

It’s probably best I talk about those two points before moving on. First of all, though it’s not made clear, I do believe this Black Glove is indeed a group of bad guys rather than the one person. The first page opens with someone wearing black gloves, possibly belonging to the same pair of hands who was watching Bruce and Jezebel at the end of The Black Casebook (Batman #665), talking about the service that the Black Glove provides and what the subject matter of their latest “game” is: the question of whether good is stronger than evil or vice versa. The fact that there’s a Roulette wheel here – note the black and red motif making a return from The Clown at Midnight (Batman #663), representing Order and Chaos – obviously implies that there are spectators watching this game take place and making bets between Batman and co. winning, or whoever the killer is instead. It sounds like a professional set-up and the fact that those being targeted are trained fighters leads me to believe that there’s actually more than one killer at play here to take them out. In fact, if Morrison is basing this on And Then There Were None quite strongly, then chances are that at least one of the killers, or maybe the only one if this is the case, is actually one of the good guys.

Or it could be John Mayhew. Like I said, he appears to have been murdered prior to the story when someone wearing a mask of his face (a waste of moustache if I do say so) announces the game that all our heroes are involved in, but I’m just not sure it is his face, again for two reasons. First of all, in his introduction to The Black Casebook, Morrison made it very clear that he didn’t trust Mayhew when he appeared in The Club of Heroes story, and considering that one of this guy’s films is actually called The Black Glove, I’m going to go ahead and say that he’s the guy in charge of this particular game. Beats me why this is though – motives are a thing I’m having difficulty understanding in this run so far when it comes to my Bad Guy List candidates (namely the possible motives of Alfred and Jezebel, though I’m not certain what Hurt has done to Batman and why, or even what Talia’s real plan is). The second reason is that, based on this introduction of Morrison’s, it just seems highly unlikely that he’d bring this guy back, only to immediately kill him off.

But then again, this isn’t a problem he seems to face with the actual Club of Heroes themselves, all participants in this strange game. As Morrison promised, they all make a return and, as I hoped, have been developed from the long gap between readers first seeing them. Most notably, their costumes are more sophisticated and less silly, the latter being a joke a few of them make; but Morrison has also applied some changes to them as characters. As some examples: the Musketeer was put in an asylum for going nuts; Man-of-Bats has turned into an alcoholic; Wingman’s a bit of a prick these days; and the Legionary, the one killed in this issue, is overweight, despite having been the most athletic when we first saw him. Also as he said he’d do, new additions have been made to the Club in the form of a guy called Dark Ranger and a girl called Beryl, the Knight of England’s “Robin” (the old one is now the Knight, his father seeming to have passed away, which is a nice touch). But I suspect that more than a few of these characters, with the exception of whichever one of them is a bad guy (come on, there must be!), will be meeting the same fate as the Legionary, in which case they have a nasty death ahead of them. That guy got stabbed to death the same way as Caesar did which I would call pointlessly gratuitous if it weren’t for the fact that such a death goes quite a way to emphasise that there are spectators to this game.

And, although I’ll reserve my love-letter-like talk of J.H. Williams’ artwork for a separate post, it is worth mentioning that there are spectators quite cleverly hinted at within the pages themselves, something I suddenly noticed when I saw this cover to our next issue. As you can see, Batman’s pounding against some windows of the house, but note that he’s doing so against one with six panes. It’s surely not a coincidence that a lot of the pages in this first issue, and I’m sure the remainders that finish this particular arc on which Williams worked, are of the six panel variety, laid out in the exact same way as one of these windows. You could argue that it is little more than chance, but good luck: on page 17, El Gaucho is looking out one of these windows, on a page laid out in six panels to represent one, at us, the readers. We are spectators just as much as the fictional ones that we may not even meet. And, if we presume that this story is going to be strongly based on And Then There Were None, then we even share something in common with our fictional counterparts: that we both know that one of our heroes is actually a bad guy. It’s the kind of dramatic irony that I talked about in my Jeph Loeb reviews, and it makes a great deal of sense here too as something deliberate.

If we were to guess that the spectators in the story also don’t know exactly who the inside man is, then we can also speculate that that’s where the betting enters, part of it at least. And if you think about that and then the fact that this kind of stuff I’m talking about was no doubt speculated itself on various forums and podcasts and the like, then I’m sure you can see that there’s intention behind the panel composition making us additional spectators of this tale, or role players of the ficitonal ones should they remain anonymous, the latter of which would be even more awesome. We’re here to gauge our Club’s reactions, their movements; guess who’s the odd one out, and there’s perhaps no better proof of this than on page 18. We see Batman arrive, a character we know can’t be the villain alongside Robin (and very possibly the Knight and Beryl, the former who first greets Batman and the latter a child), and he imposes his power upon this page, so much so that he takes it all up. But against his dark figure we see the other heroes, their reactions to him having actually shown up. And what are they arranged in but six panels, a window through which we observe them and wonder who is the traitor.

On what I think is that rather clever note – aren’t comics cool?!? – I think we’re done here. To be honest, the rest of this particular story arc may well be a rather straightforward murder mystery, therefore not warranting a separate post for each issue. If that’s the case I may just make a large one about them all, a follow up focusing on William’s art, and then move on to Tony S. Daniel’s illustrated half of the book. Until whatever-I-do, see ya.

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