Welcome to the final chapter in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin series. It’s been a blast and this last four part story arc ends the series in true style, in more ways than one.
The first thing to talk about is probably Doctor Hurt seeing as he meets a satisfying end as a character and we, thankfully, get the answers about him we’ve all been waiting for. It seems I was on the ball with my theories about the Hyper Adapter that Darkseid held in Time and Batman, though I had my doubts by the end of issue 15. At the conclusion of that chapter he’s about to make Damian make a pact with his Barbatos demon and, for a moment, Morrison had me going. But the very next issue opens with a flashback that indeed spills the beans on this whole demon, and Batman – the real one, who I’ll talk about shortly – takes a moment to explain the plot to us, apparently understanding what happened to Hurt. So what happens in the flashback is that Hurt, who is indeed a Thomas Wayne, and his other cult members successfully summon Barbatos, or so it appears. They all flee at the sight of this giant bat, but Hurt stays behind with a woman that he apparently sacrifices after this flashback ends, only when she wakes up she finds her kidnapper talking to…well, the wall – no giant bat is actually there. Whatever it is that Hurt sees does talk, but with the same purple speech balloons that we saw the Hyper Adapter speak with in Time and Batman, and Batman later clears the air on these particular details when he outright tells Hurt that he was “contaminated by contact with a weapon from another world”.
That, sadly, is where Morrison leaves us, though hopefully The Return of Bruce Wayne will give us a few more answers, such as being more transparent on what “contaminated” means. As I suggested last time, the Hyper Adapter could perhaps contain some of Darkseid, and maybe it’s he who was infected Hurt, trying to live through him. It’d certainly be quite the master plan and would explain how Hurt has lived so long, but who knows? Incidentally, that he seemingly carries out sacrifices, perhaps what he believes has kept him alive all this time, is is kind of ironically unnecessary when you think that he may essentially be Darkseid incarnate. Speaking of irony, the way this guy met his end was bloody classic. One of the other things that ends with this part of the run – and I would point out that this part of the run is the knot tying together pieces from most of the run so far – is all the fantastic symbolism around the Joker.
For his part in Batman and Robin, he’s been hiding under the guise of this Oberon Sexton, nicknamed the Gravedigger, and Dick begins the first chapter of this conclusion by working out his latest fixation around the game of dominoes by pointing out that domino pieces are unofficially called bones and the box they come in called the boneyard, attributing this as to why he chose to kill and replace Sexton. But the one thing he can’t work out is what the Mexican Train part (this is the name given to a game played with dominoes) is about – “Who’s riding it?”, he asks. So to see Hurt, thinking he’s escaped Batman, come across a line of dominoes that he follows outside to the Joker, and then slip on a banana peel the Joker had planted is practically a good enough way to end Hurt. Here he is, the rider of the Mexcian Train, coming to end of the tracks. But it’s that the end of the tracks are a graveyard, and that the Joker buries him alive that fucking nailed it for me, making room for one of my favourite lines from the Clown Prince of Crime: “The Mexican Train ride is over and the bones are in the yard, ladies and germs! I thank you…and goodnight”.
It’s probably no surprise that this isn’t only the end of Hurt, but the Joker’s role in the run too, or so I think it should be. There is the possibility that he may come back with three more books to go, but I feel like he’s never been one of the real antagonists of the run, those roles having been reserved for Doctor Hurt and Talia al Ghul. On the contrary to all their complex schemes with long lasting effects – one having attempted to use Pyg’s mystery chemical to drive all of Gotham insane, and the other with plans of global domination in mind – the Joker’s plans throughout this series have actually been fairly simple, though layered very heavily in symbolism meant to fuck around with people. So I think now that he’s finished with the plan he started in Batman R.I.P.’s conclusion – to kill the Black Glove – there isn’t much point in bringing him up again. Even his character feels as if it’s been explored to all of its potential. There’s a great scene where Damian realises that he’s not insane, and the Joker indeed proclaims that he’s “just differently sane” as he escapes with the toxin-infected Robin in tow. And in his own last scene he’s ready to change personality again – another subject which has been explored quite extensively throughout his part of the run – into a Joker who fights crime when the real Batman appears and knocks him out. So hopefully this is the last of him, and Talia will become the bigger focus in the remainder of the run, particularly with Damian having developed so much in this series.
In this finale to Batman and Robin, this little kid was a blast. Probably one of the most iconic scenes in all of Batman is the Joker beating Jason Todd within inches of his life with a crowbar, yet I would dare to say that the scenes in which Damian instead beats the Joker up with a crowbar is even better. In fact, shortly before it happens, Dick says a really funny line when Gordon tells him that he and the Joker in an interrogation room together. Whilst Gordon mistakes his sudden alarm for Damian’s sake, Dick actually says, “It’s the Joker I’m worried about”. Oh, Damian. Though he does beat the Joker for a while, the tables are turned, but the cool thing is that Damian is technically the one to save the entire day in the end. Whilst being kept prisoner by the Joker in some funny scenes, he finds that the guy has a nuclear bomb ready to detonate if he doesn’t do as he’s told. of course, even after co-operating, the Joker’s gonna use the bomb anyway, but with Dick on the brink of death (Hurt shoots him in the back of the head, though thankfully doesn’t kill him) and Bruce trying to save Alfed, it’s up to Damian to prove himself, which he of course does. With his father back, it’ll be really interesting to see how much further Morrison can develop this little kid as a character. You know, before he kills him.
But, yeah, Bruce is back. It’s actually quite an unusual entrance he makes. As Hurt is about to make Damian complete a pact with him to apparently the mystery casket, it opens itself, only whatever Hurt was expecting to find inside – I presume we’ll find out all about this in The Return of Bruce Wayne – has been replaced by a batarang and a note that says, “Gotcha!”, which were Bruce’s last words before being shot by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction. So I guess he worked something out in the past that made it possible for him to come back. Anyway, Hurt sees this, and then turns around to find that Bruce has appeared, dressed in his usual Batman costume, in a puff of smoke and, of course, is as typically badass about it as he always will be: “Turn around, Doctor. It’s all over”. One point of interest in this scene is that Dick tells Hurt to “meet Bat-god” just as he appears, which is obviously a joke about Hurt and his obsession with Barbatos, but could be true too in a sense if Bruce really did make the symbol of Batman into a myth as I suggested. We’ll just have to wait and see.
It’s interesting that he isn’t the one who gets to deal with Hurt though, particularly as there’s two brilliant panels where he picks up a portrait of his parents that Hurt has apparently torn holes in. These are great images because, although Bruce doesn’t explain his feelings aloud and Cameron Stewart is only given one panel of Bruce looking at it (the other is from his actual perspective), the reader can imagine how angry this makes Bruce feel, the act of destroying a picture of his parents perhaps being the most offensive thing you can do to him. Of course, it also ties into the “hole in things” that Hurt represents so you wouldn’t be in the wrong for expecting Bruce to deal with Hurt himself. As I’ve explained, however, he meets a fitting end anyway and, besides, it’s how Bruce ends the Batman and Robin series that really marks his reappearance as a moment to remember.
On the third to last page, Damian asks an important question: “Now that you’re back, what happens to Batman and Robin?” Before I read what the grinning Bruce had to say in the next panel, I knew what they were, and I’m sure other readers did too: “What do you think? Batman and Robin will never die, Damian”. Though this is obviously an important idea of the run as a whole, perhaps what not everyone notices is the emphasis placed on the words, “you” and “die” as he replies to his son, and since I’m pretty damn sure Damian’s going to be killed before the run is over, I see this as both a beautiful statement about the role Batman and Robin play as a force of good over evil – particularly with what happens on the following two pages – and very sad with Damian’s impending doom hidden in the shadows, especially since Bruce seems quite pleased with how well Damian has handled being Robin in his absence. But this is a happy moment, so let’s not allow that to spoil the scene.
On the next page we see Bruce address Gotham City, Alfred, Dick, Damian and Tim all present. We now know that the fake allegations made against his parents by Hurt have been cleared up and he apologises for his recent absence before announcing the game changer. Instead of revealing himself to be Batman and those present with him as the various Robin’s, he instead announces that he has been funding Batman in his fight against crime all this time, concluding his speech, in a page beautifully illustrated by Frazer Irving, with his introduction of “Wayne Enterprise’s newest venture…”, you guessed it, Batman Incorporated. The words “Holy shit” do not do this ending justice. Wow. As I read this run, I do a lot of smiling, but that scene – with the logo and multiple skylights – earned a great, big grin. Amazing. To say I’m excited for the last three books is an understatement. Seriously, how much better can this run possibly get?!
Well, sadly, we’ll have to wait a while yet to find out. There is one more story in this last Batman and Robin trade paperback but it is indeed a prologue of sorts to Batman Incorporated itself, a one shot that I suppose will bridge the gap between the conclusion we’ve just read and the beginning of that part of the run. So, first of all, we’re going backwards to see what Bruce was getting up whilst stuck in the past in The Return of Bruce Wayne. That’s a six part story but I have no idea how many posts I’ll cover the book in, so just stay tuned. Before we finish off here, however, shout out the art for this conclusions to Batman and Robin. Most of it is brought to us by Frazer Irving, an artist whom I recognised from when I collected 2000AD (well, actually, I’m just starting a new subscription, so look out for reviews of that) and, though I had my doubts when I saw his name on the cover of a Batman book, I quickly put those feelings aside for he does an incredible job here. His Joker? Easily one of my favourite depictions of the character. Oddly, though, the fourth and last part of the series skips between artists. We see Cameron Stewart again, who does a great two page spread filled with panels of the characters fighting, but then Chris Burnham, the main artist for the last three books I believe, appears for four pages, vanishes for three from Frazer Irving, comes back for a few more, and then Irving finishes the series off. Weird, but at least it’s all top notch stuff.
So, with my poor way of talking about the art out the way, we’re done here. Tomorrow we’ll be starting The Return of Bruce Wayne for time travelling adventure madness. Until then.