Behold the best chapter of Batman and Robin yet! Man, this part is a blast from the start all the way to the cliffhanger of a finish, so let’s just get right into it as we have quite a bit to discuss.
Following on from last post, it turns out that I was wrong about Tim Drake and the Justice League being the only ones trying to get Bruce back from the past. As we immediately see here, Alfred, Damian and Dick are on the case too, starting with their investigation of the Wayne family portraits to see if Bruce has left any clues from the past. Holy shit, has this guy left clues in his absence. Not only does Damian make the suggestion that one portrait could actually be Bruce from the past – I guess we’ll have to wait until the Return of Bruce Wayne to find out – but we see that one contains an item we later find is of some importance, another that has the belt of Orion in the night sky background – the God killed in Final Crisis is Orion, Darkseid’s son – and a missing portrait that belonged, we find out from Alfred, to an earlier Thomas Wayne.
Now things get really interesting. We’re told that this Thomas Wayne was part of a devil worshipping sect, hence his picture’s absence, that specifically summoned the bat-demon, Barbatos, whom we last saw mentioned in Time and Batman when Bruce found a secret room in his family manor. Well, Dick eventually finds this room himself and it is the same as Bruce finds it, with Barbatos written on the wall once and the name Thomas repeated over and over. In other words, Hurt has not been bullshitting at all – as fucked up as it is, he really is Thomas Wayne, though not obviously Bruce’s father like he claimed. The item in one of the portraits is a mysterious casket with the emblem of a bat on it that Dick finds in this strange room, which I would guess once belonged to Hurt seeing as he is not only aware of this room, as Bruce pointed out in Time and Batman, but sends his 99 Fiends (seriously, yeah) to retrieve it, which they do. Here’s where things get doubly interesting, however.
We don’t see Dick pick up this casket – he simply finds his way out of a long lost series of caverns, also beneath Wayne Manor that Alfred informs him of, into the Wayne family cemetery, having also found a statue of a man-bat below, likely confirming this as Thomas’ sect’s ritualistic ground; but he appears beaten up for some strange reason, his clothes in tatters and visibly exhausted. When the 99 Fiends have scampered away with the casket, Dick tells Alfred and Damian that a giant bat attacked him when he picked it up, one would assume this very same Barbatos creature. Only when they later return to the caverns, of course, there is no giant bat there, nor any sign of any such one having lived there at all. But what they do find near the carved statue of the man-bat is what would appear to be Bruce’s cape and cowl pinned to a wall, seemingly marking it as the same exact cave that Bruce found himself in in the past after being hit by the Omega Sanction.
Theory time: in Time and Batman we saw Darkseid holding something called the Hyper Adapter which appeared to speak and, upon mentioning time, was how Bruce deduced that he’d been sent back in time, history changing very closely with him, connecting the dots as to how Hurt could claim to be Thomas Wayne and the “hole that does not fit”. But what I wonder is if Bruce wasn’t the only one sent back. If the Hyper Adapter returned too, it seems possible that it is Barbatos, or if the Hyper Adapter contains the essence of Darkseid, then he is. Looking back at the object’s appearance in Time and Batman, I can’t help but read, “It learns! It knows! It bonds!” as quite significant words. Note too that a kind of octopus tentacle seems to emerge from this mysterious box last we see it, supporting its intelligence. Hopefully we’ll get some answers shortly with Hurt being here, and won’t have to wait until Bruce’s own adventures in The Return of Bruce Wayne to find out what it all means.
Whatever the case, it’s fascinating stuff, and Bruce himself is surely involved somehow. Not only do we see those clues in the portraits from him, but Alfred finds that these additional caverns beneath Wayne Manor, if connected to the great mansion, which he points out already resembles a W, actually makes the whole place form a Bat-signal. Holy shit in-bloody-deed. What this itself supports, which I’m sure we’ll see in The Return of Bruce Wayne, is the idea of Batman being more than just a crime fighter; but a symbol of good over evil too, which would of course lead us into Batman Incorporated’s apparent symbolism. The interesting thing, as fully revealed, is Hurt’s definite connection too, only it’s very much opposite to Bruce and co’s interpretation. Though he might have a W lashed onto his back for “cleansing” purposes, he worships a demonic bat creature and its very symbol, which we find on the floor in several places in and beneath Wayne Manor, as a force of evil instead. Readers of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum might even remember Amadeus trying to banish the presence of a similar creature himself, mirroring this very idea of worship. Gah, it’s all too amazing, this! Seeing as things look to be coming to a head with Hurt very soon, I presume coinciding with Bruce’s return, I hope we’ll be seeing some seriously good answers.
Before I go in-depth on another subject, I might as well get the minor stuff out of the way quickly. First, Oberon Sexton is indeed the Joker. We see Dick working alongside him briefly and Damian for a more extended period of time, but they both realise that he’s not who he says he is. It’s a little interesting that he pretends his investigation has led him to believe that Bruce Wayne is the killer of the Black Glove members – the deaths of whom are all themed around jokes, by the way – because I thought he would ignore the fact that he knows Batman’s identity, so maybe I’m wrong that it’s no biggie and Bruce may actually be exposed as Batman. Guess we’ll just have to wait it out and see. In terms of Final Crisis throwbacks, a character called Deathstroke makes an appearance as the man trying to kill Dick through Damian, and it turns out they have history. Though I had to do a Google search for what exactly their relationship is, it’s revealed in the text anyway. Maybe I missed this as I read my Final Crisis annotations but this is the man responsible for what happened to the town of Buldhaven before that story, but this I did at least remember, hence the character’s fury: Dick was born and raised there. Very appropriate to see them fight it out through Damian then, and for Dick to pay the guy an unfriendly visit whilst he was in Talia’s hospital, actually being as scary as Bruce for once. The last little thing worth mentioning is the art by Andy Clarke. When I glanced at this I thought it was far too simple for me to enjoy, but I actually really love the art here. It would appear that he’s all about the cross hatching but, unlike Tony Daniels, he doesn’t over-do it, thus making it looking rather perfect. Alas, like a few other artists thus far, this is all we’ll see of him, which is a bit of a shame.
Now then: Damian time. In my last post, I said that I had something I wanted to talk about after Batman and Robin was through, but I’m actually going to talk about it now. Early on in this chapter we see Damian being manipulated by his mother, Talia, whilst he was still recovering in his wheelchair at her fortress. Though she tries to make him believe that Dick, Alfred or Bruce will never accept him, nor even find a place for him as part of their family, he leaves refusing to be “[her] weapon against them”, and we’re even hit by the revelation that Damian has actually only known Talia for two years of his life, having first met her when he was eight. So we can assume that those first eight years were spent only training him, already making him an unusually raised boy. Either way, he quite rightly points out that, “This appeal to my emotions comes a little late”, later trying to have his mother see him as an individual who should have the right to make his own decisions. All of which is why Dick’s joke – in response to the boy’s question of whether or not he could remain Robin once his father returns – that Bruce couldn’t put up with him the way he does upsets him quite a bit, his hurt feelings actually being the trigger for which Talia can physically take control of him, which she hands over to Deathstroke, who wants the honour of killing Dick.
This is pretty sad stuff. In the book’s extras section Morrison actually says that one of Quietly’s covers of the series – the one in which the Non-Bruce is about to throw Damian off a building – was actually done with the purpose of teasing Damian’s haters, of which he indeed had quite a few, and still does for some reason. But I’d find it surprising if a lot of the people who had hated him until this series still did by this point or couldn’t, for that matter, see where this is all going. That is what I was intending to talk about after this part of the run but now seems like a good enough time. After Dick puts Deathstroke out of commission by delivering an electric shock to Damian’s body that nearly stops the former’s heart, but de-activates whatever was controlling Damian without hurting him, they both head out to confront Talia at her home base, where the machine controlling him is completely destroyed. And Damian makes his decision to be Robin in one of my favourite scenes of this entire run.
Seriously, this is pretty powerful stuff. “Can’t you just love me for who I am? Not who you want me to be?”, asks Damian of his mother, to which she, of course, responds with a flat out “no”, warning him that “from now on, you are no longer welcome here” and that he is now an “enemy of the House of al Ghul”. This, alongside one another revelation in the scene, confirms the suspicions I intended to talk about: Morrison is going to kill this kid. Sure, with a cover like that on the last volume of Batman Incorporated, it seems obvious today as I read the series, but as a reader blind to what happens in the remainder of it (all I had spoiled for me was parts of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis), I’m now more than certain that this little boy’s going to go down as a tragic figure. Which makes me terribly sad because I can’t help but feel very sorry for him, stuck between two parents who don’t give a shit about him like he is. We saw this in the last part of the series as Non-Bruce called him his “biggest mistake”. It comes out clearly amongst the rest of the gibberish that dude spoke, so I think it’s a pretty important piece of dialogue, very possibly Bruce’s own feelings about the boy, seeing as this clone did have his memories and thoughts.
Though this is awfully sad, it’s kind of clever too since both parents were brought up feeling as alone as Damian no doubt feels. One’s mother died young, and the father brought the daughter up to be a criminal mastermind without her guidance; and the other parent witnessed both of his own parents being killed in front of him at an early age, inspiring him to become a figure whose role doesn’t give him time for parenting. Even the boy’s current partner, Dick Grayson, is an orphan, but at least one who did the kind of things children should do with their parents, whilst they were alive, and at least he does have a father figure in the form of Bruce, though it can be difficult to tell if Bruce looks at himself in this same way when it comes to Dick (I think probably not). It’s poetic in a sad way that Damian should be stuck in the middle of these parents though, doomed to die because of one of them, or perhaps, and more likely, both. How his impending death was reinforced in the scene, and is perhaps early foreshadowing of a second chance if he really does die, is that Damian, surprisingly, has clones of his own. We only see one, a test tube baby with his exact same genetic DNA, but chances are there’s more, which could be an interesting little development if Morrison isn’t cruel enough to kill them too. Whatever the case, my own thoughts make me sad. Though I could be wrong, of course, I’m quite certain that I’m not, at least if I know my literature well enough.
On that sad note, we’re done here. My thoughts on the fifth part of Batman and Robin will be up tomorrow but, rather than immediately finish the series with the sixth as well, apparently I should leave that, read The Return of Bruce Wayne, and then come back to it. Sounds like an indication that Bruce will be back at the end of part five, doesn’t it? Well, we’ll see what happens, and decide where to go from there. Until then.