“Batman R.I.P.”, Chapter 5: The Thin White Duke of Death (Batman #680)

Hello again, and welcome to our penultimate chapter of Batman R.I.P.

This one’s a doozy, although not a lot actually happens. Let’s get the less important stuff out of the way before we talk about Batman’s involvement in this chapter. First of all, we follow Gordon at the booby trapped Wayne Manor where – what’s this? – a wild Damian and Talia appear. Yeah, it’s a bit of a sudden appearance, I suppose only there because Damian will be the new Robin quite shortly. Meanwhile, we finally meet the members of the Black Glove who, perhaps surprisingly, and disappointing to some who were probably making wild theories at the time, simply turn out to be a bunch of rich folk, the likes of which are generals, cardinals and a Sheik, and they’re all here to bet, just as we saw in The Island of Mister Mayhew. Indeed, the Roulette wheel makes its appearance too, you know, for the sake of the whole red and black imagery. It’s all a game to Mr. Morrison and actually quite a simple one, as our unexciting introduction to the mysterious Black Glove is perhaps supposed to demonstrate.

But I really love this straightforward reveal, especially since it’s quite subtly foreshadowed as early as the first book, by Jezebel Jet of all people, a woman who, of course, is also revealed to be a member. There’s a reason she was repeating those lines about the rich after all – who’d have guessed? Honestly, I truly do wonder if anyone didn’t see that coming from the moment we began to see her and Bruce dating. Apparently Morrison wondered this too because he has the Joker say things like, “love really is blind”, and “jet-black irony” before the surprise itself, kind of like he’s knocking his fist against your head to see if there’s a functioning brain inside. Speaking of the Joker, we see him randomly kill El Sombrero (he looks pretty dead anyway, but for some reason I noticed that there’s a panel in which the cardinal pours wine over his body, which seemed kinda weird) and some henchmen, as well as attack Le Bossu, who rushes off to lobotomise Nightwing. But his scene where he transforms from the doctor of his profession to the monster within, Le Bossu, in front of the Joker is quite interesting because one might again wonder if the same isn’t true of Bruce Wayne and Batman.

So, Batman’s half of the chapter. Sadly we bid adieu to both the crazy costume and Bat-Mite. The latter’s quite a funny departure, however, and one that could have proved troubling because he flat out tells Batman that he’s “the last fading echo of the voice of reason”. Which, on the contrary to what I said last time about Batman calling the little imp “Might”, um, might mean that he doesn’t represent strength at all but the kind of deluded state that Batman might collapse into without Bruce. Or not. But it is interesting to note that, as Batman begins to return to normal at at the end of the chapter and Jezebel cries his real name (a point I’ll get back to), we see a shot of him with his cowl up where he says, “No. Not Bruce. I’m Batman”, then another with cowl down where he says, “I’m the Batman of Zur En Arrh”, only his lettering at this point has just turned back to normal too. So that’s kind of the opposite to his state with the imaginary Bat-Mite but still pretty interesting. Or not, again. Though I will say that it’s probably not coincidence that Batman asks Bat-Mite, “What’s next, soldier?”, just like Frank Miller’s Batman to Robin, and Bat-Mite then tells him that he must leave, Bruce returning at this point.

But, anyway, we get our fight with the Joker, though it ends quite simply too, which is actually quite suitable. You see, Batman yells a bunch of shit as he charges the Joker, all to do with the Dead Man’s Hand he dealt back in the prologue to this story – “Diamonds, clubs, rich people!” referring to the Black Glove, “Hearts and spades, love and death” referring to Jezebel being kidnapped and possibly killed, and then some other stuff about Harley’s pattern in The Clown At Midnight and how it all connects to the colours red and black. The funny part is that, even though he says all this, he also adds, “But that’s not it, is it?” to which the Joker replies, “That wouldn’t be the real joke, would it?” and then tells him that “the real joke [is his] bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense!” Which is true because, as the reader, we know that the Joker hasn’t set all of this colour scheming up – the only reason he’s here, in fact, is to watch Batman fall, and because the Black Glove promised him Robin. It’s hard to say if the Black Glove themselves have been setting this up instead, but I’d doubt their deep involvement too, though Batman probably wouldn’t.

It exists for us, though, and Morrison shoves it in our faces to wrap up this chapter, so much so in fact that Batman breaks glass to get to Jezebel, only at which point the Joker begins repeatedly asking, “Now do you get it?” For those not in the meta-textual know-how, rectangular shaped objects such as the glass wall behind which Jezebel sits are often used in comics as a visual way of showing that, even within the imaginary world on the pages we’re reading, it’s all still two dimensional. So Batman does some fourth wall breaking of sorts, which gives Mr. Morrison – ahem, the Joker, I mean – the floor on which to start shouting, “Now do you get it?” as we see Jezebel Jet casually slip out of the straight jacket she’s in and pull on a black glove to complete her dress attire – and if I’ve never pointed it out before, for some reason, she’s a black woman with red hair by the way – just as Batman goes unconsciousness.

For the record, with such an epic conclusion to this chapter, on my initial reading I immediately had to read the last issue straight after. Spoilers: it’s also amazing. Really, if you think Morrison can’t do better than he does here, think again. See you then, and in the follow up post afterwards about this story as a whole.

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