“Batman R.I.P.”, Chapter 3: Zur En Arrh (Batman #678) and Chapter 4: Miracle on Crime Alley (Batman #679)

Screw it – we’re going with a double post for the next two crazy issues of our arc, though I’m not sure if “crazy” is a strong enough word for this madness.

Compared to the end of the first of these chapters and the ensuing chaos of chapter four, however, things actually start off fairly normal…if you can call Bruce Wayne high on crystal meth and stumbling around the place with a hallucination of a man he saved as Batman in the first issue “normal”. Yeah, I shit you not. To an extent, I think it’s understandable why moves like this got hit with backlash from fans at the time and still today, but I think the ending of the issue is worth it, though that’s not to say Bruce’s wandering of the streets of Gotham with this chap is bad. In fact, there’s a few interesting little details readers might notice if they pay close enough attention to some of this Honor Jackson’s word choice. For one example, he calls Bruce “soljer” throughout this issue and if you assume that the real homeless man, probably not even named Honor Jackson, was nothing like how Bruce creates him here, then it shouldn’t be too far fetched to imagine that this character is like a part of Bruce talking to him.

Indeed, in this drugged state, he can’t really remember that he is Bruce Wayne and confuses his usual Batman persona with that of the imagined Zur En Arrh one back in The Batman of Planet X, so what immediately struck me about this Honor repeatedly referring to Bruce as some kind of soldier is that it’s a very Frank Miller-like thing to say, though usually it’s Batman saying it to Robin. It still works though and we’ll be seeing it again soon. But that’s not all. Though I had to look this up just to double check, Honor also calls Bruce a “cockroach” when he first finds him, a line which is also used in Joker’s transformation story, The Clown At Midnight. Undoubtedly, Bruce is going through a similar transformation to the Joker in this issue. Hell, the sharp-eyed reader might not only notice this word choice, but even the choice of colour used when Bruce briefly remembers his last moments in the Batcave at the end of the last chapter – it’s black and white with some use of red, just like the Joker’s daydream at the end of the first chapter; not at all what I call a coincidence.

A few other things to note: presuming that even Honor’s name is imagined, it stands to reason that this is also the remaining fragments of Bruce’s mind projecting itself, “honor” being a word I think a lot of people would associate with Batman, a vigilante who never kills and, in many stories, tries to reach an understanding with some of his enemies. Don’t also forget that he became Batman because of his parents’ murder, honoring their memory through his crusade to stop all evil. It’s therefore quite suitable that he completes his transformation in Crime Alley, that sad place where they were gunned down by Joe Chill, but I’ll get to that in a bit. One other thing I’d like to point is another interesting use of words from Honor that I only noticed on this third reading, and that’s this line: “[…] but you gotta understand somethin’ about this world…even the brightest angel can fall”. It may or may not be a coincidence that, in his final encounter with Doctor Hurt, Batman compares him with the Devil. It makes sense, I suppose. The way Morrison has depicted Hurt thus far is as Batman’s ultimate foe, so what better comparison than to the Devil and Batman himself as an avenging angel? Though I’ll talk about it in the last chapter’s post, I might as well point out that I don’t believe Hurt is dead by the end of this story, so if he does return, I’d be interested to see if this comparison between the two characters is used again, especially as Hurt says a few cryptic lines at the end of this book that I’ll also be talking about.

Speaking of Hurt, remember I vaguely mentioned a costume that suggests he’s Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father? Indeed, if you read my long post on The Black Casebook, the costume he picks from all of those in the Batcave is of course the same one we saw Thomas Wayne wear to a masquerade ball in The First Batman, the idea of that story being that Bruce, at a subconscious level, only adopted his own Batman costume after his late father who carried out heroics that one night. So I guess that’s part of Morrison’s canon too, even though it was a pretty silly little story. The point of this is again to lead fans to believe that Hurt may well be Thomas Wayne, which I’ll talk about a little more in discussing the fourth chapter. Meanwhile, this chapter actually opens with Tim Drake reading a surviving copy of The Black Casebook where, not only do we get visual references to a few old stories, including one I don’t recognise with the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, but we also get a hint towards one of the bigger themes of the book, and probably the whole arc, that being how important the various Robin’s have been, and always will be. The line is, “If it wasn’t for Robin’s humour and forthrightness, I’d be… [and then Tim’s cut off by the Club of Villains]”. Fucking insane?!?

Well, that’s certainly part of it to be sure, but as we’ll be quickly finding out, the reason for all the red colouring lately isn’t just because of the red and black symbolism so prominent in this entire run so far. Hell, as I pointed out, Joker sort of dismisses that as his own way of fucking with Batman. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not something to look out for, by which I mean it’s something Morrison himself will be using as symbolism. Most obviously, though it won’t be revealed until the fifth issue, it’s been the biggest hint that Jezebel’s a big bad…baddie. But, also, as I suggested in the prologue, whereas the Joker and similar enemies represent the impenetrable darkness that is pure evil, the Batman is good, suitably a bright red and, indeed, Robin’s outfit has quite traditionally emphasised that colour and other particularly bright ones, something which is alluded to as quite important in the next issue. It’s also why we reach the end of this fourth issue, find our hero mumbling lines from Robin Dies At Dawn to himself, whilst playing with a broken radio that he believes is the Bat-radia from the Planet X story, and this fucking happens.

“Uh-oh” indeed. It’s one of those images in this book that Tony Daniels gets right for the most part, but it’s how he opens the next issue that’s even better. And how do you open the issue following this big reveal of Batman going nuts? Well, of course, you do so by having him smash in a door with a baseball bat of all things. So, I might as well talk about this modern take on “Tlano” of the Planet X storyline as I’ve read a lot of people arguing that it’s hard to take seriously with Bruce dressed like this and whatnot. On the contrary, however, I think he’s terrifying in this state. In this issue it’s strongly implied that this is what Batman is like without Bruce Wayne as part of his personality – that’s what he tells a guy he tortures (yep) at the end, anyway. It makes sense when you take into consideration Honor’s peculiar choice of name and how that figment of his imagination vanished just before he became…this.

Anyway, the Joker reflections continue. The first words out of Batman’s mouth after knocking down the door, for example, aren’t really words at all – he hisses instead. Not only does this tie back once more to The Clown At Midnight, where the Joker’s transformation was compared to a snake shedding its skin, but in the very next issue our green haired nutter will be cutting his tongue in half with a knife. You know, in case you had any doubts about the snake thing. As of last issue’s ending too, readers will have noticed that Batman joins the Joker in being the only other character in this story arc to have specifically designed speech bubbles, his being white letters on a blue background and the Joker’s being green small letters as opposed to all capitals. Well, the gargoyles Bruce has a conversation with on pages four and five have unique speech bubbles too, as does Bat-Mite, but I don’t count those chaps since they don’t exist. And, yeah, the gargoyle thing really happens, though it’s really funny and Bruce hilariously says to Bat-Mite, “Might! Am I nuts or did these things just talk?”

That might as well be our next talking point as it’s not the only time Bat-Mite’s name is spelled like that and, although he’s obviously just a part of his fucked up head, what it suggests when paired with all the advice the little imp gives, and even the knowledge that there’s a tracking device hidden in Bruce’s teeth, is that that is the part of Bruce’s mind devoted to his unrelenting strength. In the next issue, for instance, Bat-Mite questions the new choice of outfit to which Bruce responds by explaining that the colours represent “total confidence”. Then again, in that same issue, Bat-Mite also more or less says he’s just Bruce’s imagination so maybe he’s just supposed to be all sorts of things that make Bruce tick. He’s certainly the voice of reason, if nothing else. But I’m glad he’s back for a longer length of time as it’s pretty entertaining watching our hero more or less make fun of himself, though it’s interesting to note that he’s selective in doing so. For example, Batman sees “grids” of Gotham City, which is absolutely mental, especially when Bruce mentions checkerboard patterns again – yet, although in the next issue the Joker will be dismissing all of his deep insight once again, Bat-Mite raises no objections to what he’s seeing because it’s a pattern that Bruce would believe exists…if that makes sense…

So, yeah, let’s move on before we confuse ourselves, shall we? One thing I haven’t mentioned in a while is Morrison’s unusual structure still taking place. In this issue alone we see Batman start by attacking the tailor responsible for the gargoyle lackey costumes, completely on the contrary from last issue’s ending, and once he finds out that Le Bossu hired him, we’re on a roof where Batman turns the table on some ambushers but, rather than show the whole fight, we suddenly cut to Bruce in his battered suit and tie, his new costume in a shopping trolley, taking shelter for a brief period in a cinema theatre, apparently abandoned. There’s even short flashbacks cut into this section and I suppose there’s those to talk about too. They are that, in order: the picture of a young Bruce Wayne from near the start of this book; Joe Chill shooting Martha; and, shortly before this, Bruce and his parents seeing Zorro.

The last one doesn’t have anything particularly interesting about it visually, though Morrison chooses dialogue from the film that’s quite appropriate given the circumstances, especially since Bat-Mite explains that Bruce has become Tlano before: “This will remind you that I have been here once and can return”. Incidentally, Zorro plays a larger role at the end of this story, but I’ll talk about that when we cross that particular bridge. The other two flashbacks then. Unlike the larger image of this at the start of the book, the picture of a young Bruce Wayne in the rain actually has red as its colour. Which would be nothing on its own, yet the image of Martha being shot is taken from her perspective in which Joe Chill is a pair of eyes and a thunderous gun, literally surrounded by darkness. Red and black yet again, only beautifully done in this case. Incidentally, it’s as Bat-Mite describes Bruce as the miracle of the title, the “something unforeseen” which was born when his parents were murdered in front of him, that we see these panels. Kudos to Morrison for this sequence.

But, that aside, there isn’t a lot else to say. We find Robin contacting the Club of Heroes for help; Commissioner Gordon enters Wayne Manor, which is booby trapped by El Sombrero (his colleague is introduced to us with a nice background and then instantly killed, perhaps Morrison making fun of how that happens in fiction so very often); Nightwing is about to be lobotomized in Arkham Asylum, which is seized by the villains to have Batman fight the Joker over the fate of Jezebel Jet; and we see Alfred get beaten up by Doctor Hurt, who indeed talks to him as if he really is Thomas Wayne, which Alfred completely denies. One interesting thing I didn’t notice until now, though, is that Hurt calls Alfred the “betrayer” and Bruce the “usurper”, which actually ties into the whole Hurt as the metaphorical Devil thing at the end of the book. Kind of interesting.

Although we’re told by Hurt that what happens at Arkham in the next issue will be the “final act”, that isn’t so, as we have one more issue after that, though I think I’ll separate both. Hopefully both will be up tomorrow, and perhaps even a follow up post summarising my thoughts on this particular story arc and the future of the run will follow suit. Until then.

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