“Batman R.I.P.”, Chapter 6: Hearts in Darkness (Batman #681)

This is not the end of our Grant Morrison run – far, far from it – but it is the end of the longest running story arc so far, and the first to have really shaken up the world of Batman. Although he’ll be dying in it next, Final Crisis isn’t a Batman story – it’s one of DC’s massive crossovers that they’ve had every now and then and Batman is but one character out of a long roster. But he’ll be out of the picture and for the next three books after Final Crisis it will be Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in the role of the new Batman and Robin, so this is a big finish for Bruce, being his last lengthy story arc as it is. And I often wonder before I reach these kind of conclusions, particularly when the penultimate chapter is as good as it was here, how the writer can outdo his or her own self. And, following the last chapter’s ending – unsurprising though it may have been, but definitely masterful – you might expect that this conclusive chapter opens quite poorly in comparison, but you could not be more wrong.

I’m not just talking about how Batman wakes up in a coffin wearing a straight jacket, crazy as that may be. It’s the first two lines we read as Bruce opens his eyes to find himself trapped like this: “But that’s the thing about Batman. Batman thinks of everything.” There’s supposed to be some irony to this statement. He makes his trademark-by-now “Hh” grunt / chuckle as if he can really see the joke in all this after all, especially as this dialogue and later tidbits are his own thoughts, actually last additions to his Black Casebook, as is revealed later. Hell, he even goes as far as to say that, although he knew that Jezebel was a villain and that he was walking into a trap, he “could only guess how it would play out”, trusting in his own hard work at preparing himself and in his friends “to keep up”. Yet all of that brings him to coming conscious in his own grave anyway, strapped into a straight jacket. It’s a typically funny way to open a chapter from Mr. Morrison but also isn’t completely ironic at all, actually speaking volumes of Bruce’s dedication to his role as Batman, this scene being followed by a series of flashbacks set shortly after he completed the Thogal ritual, which characters like Tim Drake have openly expressed their doubts over.

Of course, there was no need, as these few scenes just further go to show how much of a badass Batman really is. In the first we get a little bit of foreshadowing towards the end of the book with Bruce discussing what his experience was like, how he found “a hole in [his] mind” during his time in the cave, off-handedly mentioning that “traumatized children sometimes develop cover personalities to protect themselves from painful repressed memories” – which is said with the words Zur En Arrh on panel – before revealing to the man he’s talking to about his plan to create “a back up human operating system”, that of Tlano who had been running riot until the end of the last chapter. Anyway, the guy who Bruce is chatting with tells him that his drink is poisoned, only in the next scene we find that Bruce has actually exchanged their cups and is typically cool about it: “You blinked. I switched the cups. Force of habit.” But obviously Bruce wouldn’t kill someone or let anyone die in front of him like that, so he uses a chemical to keep the chap from dying whilst explaining to him just who he is, just what kind of man this guy’s “dark master” is really dealing with. As it turns out, he’s the kind of guy who’s immune to a bunch of poisons and is careful enough to carry around the antidotes to those he’s not, apparently all the bloody time. And the reason for his stay in that cave for a ridiculous length of time? Ahem: “In the cave, in Nanda Parbat, I hunted down and killed and ate the last traces of fear and doubt in my mind”.

So it should come as no surprise that, following these flashbacks, Batman makes his way out of his own coffin as if it were nothing, ready to face Hurt and the other members of the Black Glove for the big showdown. Incidentally, for a scene so amazing, the full page shot of Batman out of his grave is my favourite of Tony Daniels in this book. But pulling off something as crazy as that isn’t the only trick up Batman’s sleeve. Indeed, the Joker is smart enough to realise that Bruce’s Bat-radia is not simply a broken radio that he found during his deluded state of mind, if you can still call it that, but his ace in the hole and, sure enough, it activates itself to seal Arkham Asylum, so that his enemies are trapped with him and an alert is sent out to his allies that shit’s going down over there.

Then he appears and we get some of his inner thoughts on Jezebel as he fights her henchmen, and an exchange of some words with her. First of all, like I said, he knew Jezebel was bad almost from the get-go, though it was really on their first date together in Batman and Son when she told him, “I want you to know I understand” that he really saw through her. Looking back on it you can quite rightly see, and I pointed this out at the time, that Bruce’s remark that he “got over it” in reply to her is actually an invitation for her to pretend she wants to get closer to him, to appear difficult and reluctant to talk about as if he doesn’t suspect a thing at all. But he does because, when she said this, our dear ol’ Bruce finally realised something that fans have always speculated about him and his relationships: “[…] it was the bad I’d been attracted to all along”. Which is perhaps why he conflicts a cruel revenge on her. Having investigated her past as soon as he realised she was trouble, he finds out that there’s a letter from her mother that she treasures, and steals it: “And now you’ll never touch it again”. Naturally she reacts by pointing out that her role wasn’t only to bring him to the trap, but to make sure that he’d “never trust any woman ever again!” Sadly for her, Bruce had thought of that too, and I guess knew that his facade had to appear realistic: “Love? Congratulate Alfred on the acting lessons!” My god, this man is a genius evil mastermind – don’t say shit about his parents.

On that note, and as Nightwing intervenes, Batman hurries off after Doctor Hurt before he can escape, and Batman’s other pals are indeed heading his way, Damian with Alfred in the Batmobile, casually causing an ambulance that the Joker has used to escape from Arkham Asylum to crash into the Gotham River just because he’s Damian (it’s actually really funny because the Joker quite ironically sees that it’s black and red before it sends him flying); and Robin on his lonesome, though the Club of Heroes have made their return to help. However will this all conclude?!?

Well, it’s not quite as bombastic as you might expect. We see Doctor Hurt again try to come off as Thomas Wayne, though like Alfred, Bruce immediately denies this, as do I. But we are given more hints towards the devil perspective. Everyone who worked on the film, The Black Glove, for instance, is said to have been killed or driven insane according to El Gaucho: “The story is the devil himself put a curse on the whole thing”. So it’s a little eyebrow raising when some of Hurt’s last words to Batman are, “Then I curse the cape and cowl as you will soon!” On the other hand, with Bruce talking about a hole in his own mind, Hurt says it differently about himself, strongly suggestive of him not being Thomas Wayne, but not exactly a clue as to his true origins either: “I am the hole in things, Bruce, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning”. Seeing as both he and Bruce go down in his helicopter in a massive explosion, and we already know that Bruce survives, I presume Hurt does too, but the question will be: how? Well, although I don’t buy the literal “Hurt’s the devil” idea, I do believe there’s something supernatural about him, quite like Mr. Whisper who made a deal with the devil in Morrison’s own Batman Gothic. It would certainly make sense. In that story Gotham City is supernatural ground and earlier in this we saw Batman hallucinate grids surrounding the place, all part of his imagination of course, but also possibly suggestive of what Morrison has in mind.

Or, should I say, one of many things he has in mind. The book wraps up with some scenes foreshadowing the future of this run. Oh, and if you’re curious, I don’t think Batman’s identity having been found out by all of the Black Glove and the Joker will be important and I don’t know if it will be revealed to the public at all. The former won’t be kicking around for much longer and I doubt the latter gives a shit so, um, there. Anyway, we see a panel of Damian loitering behind Robin, soon to be replaced by him, and a full page shot of Nightwing with Batman’s washed up cowl and cape (the helicopter explodes over the river), the young man soon to step into his mentor’s shoes. Meanwhile, though she tries to escape, Jezebel Jet is kidnapped by Talia, which is probably going to end very badly for her. Finally we skip forward six months for a scene with Le Bossu, still scarred by the Joker – who is killing the members of the Black Glove one by one it seems – but very much alive. Thank god I’m reviewing this on a third reading because I’m a complete dumbass. Remember how the book opens with the iconic shot of Dick and Damian as Batman and Robin, the former shouting, “You’re wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!” Remember that? The red sky and rain in that page threw me off into believing it might have something to do with Final Crisis but it’s not – I only just realised that it’s this scene with Le Bossu that that takes place, in response to Le Bossu telling a tortured police officer that “Even Batman and Robin are dead!”

So, alas, we find ourselves having come full circle and the story could have ended here. But in what’s been for me an unsurprising yet still very amazing story, Morrison throws a sudden curve ball my way, one that really does take me by shock me. You turn the page one final time and find another flashback, the black, white and red colour scheme giving it away. It’s a familiar scene too – of Bruce and his parents leaving the Mask of Zorro at the cinema as Joe Chill watches them from the shadows. Curious, you think at a glance of this page. And then you read it.

“Why can’t I be Zorro?”, Bruce asks his parents and imagines how cool it’d be to see this hero he admires so much ride down the streets of Gotham City right then and there. Note his pose when he says the latter – it’s the exact same used when he’s making the vow to become Batman over his parent’s graves a little later. According to his father, however, someone like the Batman that he’ll become wouldn’t be accepted by the people of Gotham City. “The sad thing is they’d probably throw someone like Zorro in Arkham”. Then we those words again, used earlier in this chapter during the other flashback just as he spoke about the cover personalities of traumatized children who have a particular memory they repress, and now here to end the book on a bombshell. Zorro in Arkham. “Zurr En Arrh”.


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