“Batman and Robin”, Part 2: Revenge of the Red Hood (Batman and Robin #4 – 6)

Well, it would appear I can type fast enough after all. Let’s get this first trade paperback out of the way, shall we?

The second part of our Batman and Robin series is a bit…strange. As I suggested in my last post, having Red Hood / Jason Todd team up with Sasha, the girl Damian failed to rescue, gives Morrison the opportunity to explore their opposite dynamic as Batman and Robin-like figures, and he does, and it is pretty good for the little it lasts. The two of course take the more violent approach of dealing with criminals but it’s kind of interesting to see Jason try to advertise them, talking of marketing strategies and brands; how he and Scarlet (what he’s named Sasha) will render Batman and Robin “obselete”, comparing them to the Ipod beating down the Walkman. Indeed, like most of this story arc, this kind of stuff in the background to the main story is actually a lot more fascinating and readers can pick up on a lot of hidden details, such as Jason actually foreshadowing Batman Incorporated by suggesting that “that’s all Batman is now – a brand, a logo”.

The actual story we’re faced with just doesn’t really lead anywhere is the problem. To be fair, this is maybe Morrison’s very point by having Jason as the main antagonist of the piece. Having captured Batman and Robin at one point, he ties the two up and makes a video message public, urging people to call in to see the two unmasked, yet all they do is react with disbelief as if he’s the biggest idiot in the world, Damian easily slipping out of his knots that Jason couldn’t even tie right. If there is anything interesting to be said about where the story leads, it’s probably how Jason sets things up for the next story arc, by yelling at Dick that he can use one of Damian’s mother’s Lazarus Pits to bring Bruce back to life. Somehow I had not thought of that, getting all theoretical about the time travelling part, so there’s a curious idea. Yet, as some of the preview images suggest, this may not be a good thing after all… It looks like it’ll be the subject of the next story arc so we at least don’t have long to find out what kind of hell Dick’s going to unleash by trying to bring Bruce back.

So, anyway, if you can’t tell, I don’t really have a lot to say about this particular part of the story. It was nice to see the Penguin make an appearance, and Flamingo too. The former looks great as Philip Tan depicts him, surprisingly bird-like in appearance, though in a less exaggerated fashion than how Tim Sale drew him in his Batman books. Not sure how others draw him but all I’ve ever seen of him in comics, besides in Sale’s cartoon-like artwork, has been as the top hat wearing boss with a Cockney accent, so this was cool. But the Flamingo was terribly disappointing, at least as Tan draws him. The cover before the last issue is from Frank Quietly and, as you can see, he looks bloody awesome. As Morrison points out in the extras section of this first book, a bright pink cover like that is practically unheard of for a comic about a guy like Batman, but I really love it. Unfortunately, Tan’s depiction of the character, like much else, is very dark, so much so that the pink hardly ever shows. Quite a shame, I’ve got to say, but at least he makes him appear very creepy, what, with all the grinning as he’s shot and all. Yeeeeah, although I thought Professor Pyg was pretty bad last time, this is a lobotomised guy who eats faces. Seriously. Killed his family and everything, and now feels nothing. And he dresses like that!

Oh, and he shoots Damian five fucking times. It would’ve been something I was concerned about if it weren’t for the kid being all casual about it. Like I would’ve reacted to seeing someone so young (Damian is ten, by the way – not sure if that’s ever been pointed out before but dear god) being shot a bunch of times, Dick’s all, “Don’t move! How much pain are you in?”, clearly concerned. But Damian don’t give a shit: “Pain? I’m paralysed below the waist. I can’t feel anything.” Well then. Though we don’t see her, Talia arrives with Damian-specific paramedics, I think he both surviving and getting special treatment reinforcing my suggestion that however this Batman V.S. Robin story arc begins, it’ll be because Talia has some way of controlling her son. By the end of this part of the run, I’m going to have a lot more to say about Damian, including one theory I’m quite ashamed to be thinking.

The last few things of interest to this chapter in the wacky adventures of Batman and Robin is the return of one familar face and my theory about a new one. To tackle the former first, Hurt is back. Though we don’t see his face, a man with a W whipped into his back is shown contacting a character called Oberon Sexton, the Gravedigger, at the end of the story, and we see that he’s wearing same mask over his eyes from Thomas Wayne’s old masked ball costume. That and one of the preview images by Quietly before the extras section explicitly shows him, dangling keys to the Wayne manor. Either way: I did not expect this so soon, thinking we would only see him again roughly as Bruce returns, if even then and not actually before during his whole time travelling adventures. Who he’s contacting at the end is a new character that Dick’s introduced to at a fundraiser, apparently a writer of mystery novels from England, and part-time detective.

Now, although I haven’t got an explanation for the novel writing and apparent fame, unless this person really existed and was killed, I do know this: this guy is actually the Joker in disguise. The costume, entirely black with red shades, is your first clue but the bigger one is a reference made to Shakespeare in the extras section of the book under this character’s short profile. To be honest, I should have recognised it from the get-go but the character’s name is taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the King of the Fairies, another clue. Fairy King? Faking? Yeah, and furthermore, Gravediggers were a group of characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I believe making jokes about death, or probably confusing riddles in Shakespeare’s case, so it’s hardly a coincidence that when we first meet Oberon, he’s entertaining some guests at the fundraiser with a riddle of his own. Oh, but the Gravediggers are also referred to as Clowns instead in some texts, or in my case, both (Gravediggers in the script, and Clowns in one of the annotations). There’s even a newspaper in Oberon’s hotel room that we saw in Le Bossu’s last appearance back in Batman R.I.P., that one reporting the cardinal’s murder, which I suggested meant the Joker was being true to his word, coming after the Black Glove members. What more do you need? It all couldn’t be more appropriate since part of Morrison’s Joker is his outlook upon life as being utterly meaningless, nothing more than a great, big joke. So, yeah, Morrison’s a genius. Hell, there’s probably additional clues I’m missing – maybe the presence of Red Hood is even supposed to be one seeing as we saw the implication that the circus in the last story arc was the same Gordon was tormented in in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.

But that about wraps us up. One last thought before we go though. There’s a fixation in this part of the run so far on masks, which I finally noticed when we’re shown that Oberon’s book is called Masks of Evil. Quite appropriate given that he’s the Joker and Morrison’s interpretation of the character is of someone constantly changing their personality, but that’s besides the point actually. What I finally noticed, you see, was a trend. Not only do Batman and Robin wear masks, but so did Professor Pyg, who even plastered identical ones on to his Dollotrons to give them no sense of identity. Indeed, I think the inside of the masks themselves were laced with a chemical that made them lose that very thing, his plan in the first story arc actually having been to cause all of Gotham to lose themselves. Yet the theme continued in this half of the book with Jason’s obsession of using his identity as Red Hood as a brand against crime, which meant also making Sasha adopt the name Scarlet for her part in his plan, a personal subject we see her explore, eventually peeling away her fake face (safely it would seem, unlike the other Dollotrons) as she leaves Gotham City and her identity as Scarlet behind. Of course, when it comes to our dynamic duo themselves, we’re seeing Dick struggle in taking up the mantle of Batman and Damian…well, if I’m right about Talia having a means to control him, I think what must happen is for him to make a choice between his mother’s ideals and his father’s. Sadly our last book in this run’s cover gives it away that he’s still Robin by the end of Batman Incorporated but, either way, I hope to talk about Damian a lot more as this part of the run goes on. This really is his time to shine but, as I’ll probably talk about afterwards, I have a particular theory about him that I think could be quite sad.

Until next time.

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