“The Black Glove”, Chapters 4 & 5: Space Medicine (Batman #672) and Joe Chill In Hell (Batman #673)

Welcome back.  The four remaining issues of this book will be reviewed in two parts. There’s a lot to talk about, but we can do so with two issues grouped together per post, seeing as it isn’t just plain guesswork before Morrison gives us some answers much later – we get quite a lot here, for a change.

One thing I’ll get out of the way right now, before we start, is Tony S. Daniel, the artist behind the next three issues (I’ll talk about the other guy in the next post). To get straight to the point, I don’t like this guy very much. In fact, he’s my least favourite kind of artist. You can’t call the guy utter shit because occasionally he’s pretty good and vice versa; but it’s hard to tell which of those he is most of the time. Yes, we sadly have a rather inconsistent artist on our hands here. Well, actually, the one thing he is consistent about is his bloody terrible splash pages. I’m sorry to his fans, but the guy just fucks up every one of these because it’s in those that his on-and-off again accurate body proportion is at its absolute worst. For instance, what should be an iconic reveal of Bat Mite at the end of this first issue (yes, really) is ruined by the little guy’s massive head and shoulders standing at odds against these tiny, stubby legs. But there’s also way too much detail for that character in that shot, though to be fair, that may be the inker’s fault…but only in part. In my opinion Daniels should have based his design on the original look of the character, as childish as it is – this one looks very dark and serious, which is at odds with his cheerful personality.

Anyway, outside of splash shots, you simply find these really peculiar images or weird little things that he does. Take his line work. For some reason this guy loves using lots of cross hatching to create structure to a character’s face or muscles or what have you – but he does so terribly! Sometimes there isn’t any cross hatching – just lines in addition to the black areas that already make the shape of Batman’s cape more clear or whatever, for no damn reason at all. Like I said, there could be some fault from the inker’s here, and possibly even the colourists. In these three issues the colours are very dark but, combined with some of Daniel’s more confusing looking images,  like whatever the third panel on page 96 is supposed to be (the broken Bat Signal against the sky?), it really, really doesn’t help sell me on this chap. The best comparison I can make of him is to Jim Lee. That man takes a more realistic approach to his artwork and it’s this same approach that Daniels seems to be attempting. Unlike Lee, however, he can’t seem to get human anatomy right and his action sequences lack a real punch, real movement, and he ultimately looks like a generic copycat of Lee.

*sigh* Well, I started that short rant by suggesting he’s not bad or good, but screw it: he’s terrible and we’re stuck with him for most of R.I.P. in which I can only hope he’ll step up his game. Indeed, nothing would make me happier if he were to completely surprise me when I get to that. Hell, for all I know, these three issues were simply something he found himself suddenly confronted with out of the blue, and had to rush in order for them to reach stores. It’d be nice if it were the case but I have a feeling that he may be the kind of artist who swings from above average work to what-the-fuck-man crap quite often.

On that optimistic note, let’s actually get to reviewing the real reason that we’re here. In contrast to Daniels, Morrison does not disappoint us. He starts Space Medicine (Batman #672) as has become a standard at this point: not as you’d expect following on from last issue, in this case with the third ghost of Batman, dubbed Bat-Devil by I, breaking into Gotham City Police Department, demanding to speak to a Commissioner Vane and Batman. This Commissioner apparently once took Gordon’s position in an old, old tale, many moons ago, but I believe this is the first time the name has risen up. Either way, apparently the last time this Bat-Devil dude was in Gotham, it was this man acting as Commissioner, which could be significant, particularly as its quickly revealed that this “ghost” is also a former police officer. Suspicious, eh?

Anyway, in what’s perhaps meant to be symbolic of his role as Batman, Bruce is in a hot air balloon over Gotham – the symbolism I suggest being him watching over it, even on a date – with Jezebel when they coincidentally cross paths with the Bat Signal’s beam. Of course, as they do a bit of parachuting, Bruce makes his exit and leaves Alfred, as always, with an excuse to make. Before I move on, I would like to point out one thing Jezebel says, possibly reinforcing my theory that she’s a villain. Just like John Mayhew in our last story arc, she “wants to do everything”. And that’s literally it. I know, I know, it probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but Mayhew was also as rich as she is and seemed to have joined the Black Glove, becoming a villain out of boredom. Indeed, now that I think about it, what rich men and women do with all their money is a question that seems to be coming up fairly often now, and Jezebel suggesting that she wants to experience everything life offers is perhaps indicative of her going down the same route as Mayhew. Or maybe I’m just paranoid, so let’s move on.

Things get interesting on top of GCPD. The last time we were here bad things happened and this is the case again. Both Batman and Gordon are shot by Bat-Devil’s flame thrower-like gun. The latter will probably be alright but the former, well…yeah, maybe not. First of all, he hallucinates that Bat-Devil is the robot that “kills” Robin all the way back in Robin Dies At Dawn, which was a little out of the blue. But then we see a hand – possibly of that belonging to Dr. Hurt if we presume it’s him behind this, which is most likely the case with the tie to Robin Dies At Dawn in which it was he who had Batman take part in the experiment (incidentally, called “space medicine”) – tracing the words, you guessed it, Zur En Arrh on a computer monitor or something as Batman’s heart rate quickens. Oh, and the symbolism again isn’t lost on me when Batman thinks, “My heart”, and we then get the only good splash page from Daniels: that of a bat breaking through the window of his home like in Year One. But to wrap this short sequence of madness up, we’re presented with Bat Mite, who says, “Now you’re in trouble, Bruce”. Um, yeah, I’d have to agree on that score.

Things, needless to say, quickly get much worse for our Dark Knight in Joe Chill In Hell (Batman #673) and very, very confusing for your average reader. In fact, if I hadn’t read The Black Casebook before starting this run, I would have no idea what was going on here. Even then, though, it is a bit mental and there’s at least two things I didn’t get until a Google search gave me some answers. So here’s the thing: this whole issue is like a large dream sequence that Batman’s experiencing after last issue’s cliffhanger, one which revolves around two stories from the past that are of the utmost importance: The Origin of Batman (Batman# 47) and Robin Dies At Dawn (Batman #156). Someone following my reading of Morrison’s run from my review of The Black Casebook may notice that the former story isn’t actually included in that collection. Indeed, I had to do a Google search about what exactly was the deal with Joe Chill – who is the murderer of Bruce’s parents, by the way – in this issue, and I was pointed to that story. But by some beautiful coincidence, and which again reinforces what I already said about unfortunately having not read this as well, prior to the run, The Origin of Batman is included in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. And, having read it, one can see the role it plays here.

In that story a young Bruce Wayne is spared by Chill when the latter looks in the boy’s eyes and finds himself frightened by what he sees. Having later become Batman, Bruce goes out of his way to have Chill arrested for his parent’s murders all those years ago, to such a point that he reveals his identity to Chill. The twist is that Chill tells his cronies about this and they, realising that he “created” Batman the moment he robbed the boy’s parents of their lives, turn on him and kill him. This issue, like I said, is a dream and things are indeed a little different, as you might expect. For instance, this Batman – designed to look like Bob Kane’s version, by the way – has already been spending time stalking Chill, whose lackeys don’t actually believe him about Batman; but he hasn’t revealed his identity. And, in the end, he doesn’t by pulling off his mask either – what he does instead is bring Chill the same gun he used to kill Martha and Thomas Wayne, at which point Chill adds two and two together, and repeats the line about having “created” Batman. And then he kills himself. Yep, Batman makes a guy commit suicide. Which is interesting because this plot part of the dream is therefore kind of reminiscent of some revenge fantasy, further emphasised by this Batman’s insane laughter. But I think that’s all this part of the issue is – a twisted memory of how Chill was really confronted.

So, that was one of the two things I didn’t initially understand. The other, and which I still don’t understand, is this reference from the first page, that’s carried on throughout the issue, to a “Thogal ritual”. It’s a form of meditation and, though not the first time some meditative form has been mentioned, it is the first specific one and, as far as I know, the only one to connect elsewhere. In this case, the only thing I could find out was that the ritual itself and the strange men with swords that we see attack Batman were actually seen in a story called 52. Read this handy post if you’d like to understand a bit more because, although we’ll no doubt be seeing this again, meaning I’ll mention it at such a time, I’m now moving on to the point of the ritual being mentioned here. What happens is that you’re isolated in a cave for thirteen days “designed to simulate death and after-death […] and rebirth too”.

Enter Robin Dies At Dawn in which Batman took part in an experiment of Doctor Hurt’s in which he was put in isolation and underwent various hallucinations – the one in that story, of course, being of an alien planet on which Robin was killed, possibly Batman’s biggest fear – simply to understand “psychotic states”. Which as Tim (if this flashback is also real) points out, is actually kind of stupid, moreso now in light of Dr. Hurt being the big villain of this run. We’ll talk about Hurt a bit more in the next post, however. Just know for now that he most definitely did a few things to Batman’s head in that old story we saw him in. This chapter ends with Batman waking up from this hallucination to find his third ghost preparing to torture him.

But we’re not done yet. There’s a few more things to talk about in this issue, most of which I’ll just list as bullet points. First of all, though, I referred to Joe Chill’s story as the “plot part” of the dream that this chapter essentially is. That’s because Morrison fucks around with structure a lot in this story. Pages 118 and 119 are probably the best examples of this. On page 117 before we randomly cut from Batman stalking Chill’s men to a young Bruce dropping a rock down a well. When we turn over the page we’re still here but Bat Mite suddenly makes an appearance to talk to Bruce for three panels. But this is randomly intercut with a panel of Dr. Hurt repeating some lines from Robin Dies At Dawn, which is then followed with a shot of young Bruce actually standing alone, another of Hurt; and then we’re suddenly with Batman in the Batcave, who acts as if he’s talking to Hurt about his fear of losing Robin. Then this page, 119 if you’re following along, ends with a shot of the assassins from the 52 story attacking Bruce. It’s kind of weird and would batter your brain if you hadn’t read any of these stories prior to the run like I have. In fact, although it’s obviously fine with me, I am beginning to understand where the seething hatred some people have for this run is coming in. It’s certainly not friendly to your every-now-and-again fan, I suppose. But, then again, I don’t really think it has to be.

So, with that out the way, I’ll leave you with some bullet points – in chronological order of events, if you’re wondering – of other random thoughts I had.

  • The idea of the Thogal ritual causing “rebirth” should of course remind us of the Joker’s recent escapades in The Clown At Midnight. The only reason I bother to mention it is that I forgot to mention something about that. In the very first issue of this run I suggested that the flaming Joker card we saw when Batman was carrying his limp body was possibly meant to represent the idea of a phoenix, never dying but being reborn. Of course, this actually turned out to be the case, which is pretty cool. But perhaps it is happening, or has happened already, to Batman too. Hell, if it’s not too far-fetched, perhaps that’s what the purpose of the three ghosts are: to protect Gotham when the real Batman is dead. Could certainly make sense if my theory of them is correct. Only trouble is, of course: they’re a bit psychotic, perhaps suggesting they’ve been fiddled around with, or that, y’know, I’m completely wrong.
  • On the sixth page we find Bruce writing in his black casebook. There’s two things to note about this scene, I think. First, there’s this line about how he writes his entries: “I practice that self-conscious, hard-boiled style Alfred loves to read”. The reason I find that interesting is actually if we again go back to The Clown at Midnight. In my review of that I suggested that there might be a particular narrator of that tale, one who matches the weird style used in writing in it. Yes, reading this line, Alfred suddenly sprung to mind, only I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing if the case, especially after my noting at the end of Batman and Son how he weirdly had been looking at this mysterious casebook recently and importing its files to a portable device. Certainly suspicious. But it’s hard to tell because the other notable thing about this scene is that Alfred is apparently the one to insist that Bruce keep it up to date with entries, suggestive of good intent, I think, in the sense that he’s looking out for Bruce, making sure that if anything happens in the future, the answer lies in the book. But then again, in that Batman and Son story he also dismissed the book’s weird going-ons. It’s a tricky one, this, I tell ye.
  • Joe Chill talks about a number of interesting things in this issue, most “Aha!”-ish of which I believe was his idea of “class warfare” justifying all of his actions. This, of course, connects to the question I’ve mentioned in this post about what rich people do when they get bored. On the contrary to men like Bruce, Chill worked his way up from being poor instead, yet now it’s being taken away from him. This eventually culminates in the second interesting thing he says, and that’s him addressing one of his men who question what he’s rambling about. Note that they’re probably already unconscious from the Batman’s attack when he says this, meaning only Batman can hear him, which I think is quite significant: “You’re just a kid, Frosty…what do kids like you know?” This is quite a clever line because, really, Bruce Wayne still is the child Chill spared – what, with the dressing up as a bat, the gadgets, the childish playboy personality, etc. It’s almost like another of Morrison’s jokes about comics…
  • …and incidentally, the next time we see the “real” boy, Bruce Wayne, he says this: “Eyes. I can feel eyes watching me. Eyes with human intelligence. Always watching”. Although this is most certainly referring to his hallucinatory state, probably caused by Hurt, we readers are also here. It’s very much Morrison with his tongue in his cheek, and I’m loving such little things like it.
  • On this same page is another point of interest, this line here: “I must be around five years old when I first sense the presence of a gaping, toppling void in the centre of existence”. Well, although this might not be significant, he’s referring to the realisation that his parents, and everyone, including himself, are all going to die, and I just think that it’s a really nice line. You see, just as I’ve quoted, “void” is the word emphasised and it’s a really clever choice because he could well be referring to the emptiness of a void, in which case he’s saying that he realises, much like the Joker suggests in The Clown at Midnight, all life is pointless. Which is terribly sad, especially for a young child to have been thinking.
  • Finally, Tim, in apparent flashback, tells Batman, after he’s explained his silly reason for taking part in Hurt’s experiment, specifically in order to understand the way the Joker thinks: “if you ask me, you think way too much about the Joker!” Once again, this ties into The Clown at Midnight in my review of which I suggested the Joker was calling Batman’s inspiration from Year One – the bat crashing through the window – made up, implying he sees too much into things. And perhaps there’s a point there.

Well, that’s us. Hopefully I’ll have my review of the last two issues up as well tonight, which means I can start R.I.P. tomorrow. But perhaps not because this is a good 3000+ words and my next post could well end up as long, and I might just get too tired to continue. Until whenever then.

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