Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Ah, Morrison.

I won't delve too far into personal opinion other then to say I liked this issue, and think Tan's art looks better with this coloring and at least fits the kind of "90's revival, Watchmen/Sin City wannabe" vibe that The Red Hood and Scarlet seem to go for (but that being said I miss the holy hell out of Frank Quitely). What's important is that it's appropriate.

As the opening issue of the arc, "Red Right Hand" hasn't had a chance to delve into Morrison's deep, eclectic notions yet. He's wiped the slate clean and moved on to the next one, which I'm sure will accumulate baggage much the same as the Circus of Strange arc did and eventually add an over-arcing connector to the whole of Morrison's run.

Lightning Bug is clearly an homage to classic Bat-rogues like Firefly (Garfield Lynns, one of Dick Grayson's biggest pests in the entire city thanks to his actions in Dini's "Streets of Gotham"), and the original arsonist, Firebug (Originally Joe Rigger, who had his equipment sold to suburbanite Harlan Combs back in Gotham Central - highly recommended reading).

Anyway, while he's in that vein, Lightning Bug serves as canon fodder for the Red Hood here. No shocker there, it's in the preview. But he's a decidedly neon themed villain in the grimy neon glowing 60's homage Gotham that Morrison is intent on giving us.

What it comes down to is a man in a garish costume, extorting protection money from nightclubs. So when Batman shows up, he runs ... right into the twin pistols and slashing blades of the Red Hood and Scarlet.

This seems like the place to gush about Red Hood's overall design and aesthetic. Granted, I prefer seeing Quitely draw it (even if it was just in a few panels and the cover), but the costume stands up to multiple artists drawing it.

We get some of Morrison's philosophy about the internet and modern communication - Scarlet uses a BlackBerry to take a picture of the dying Lightning Bug, and Tweets vengeance cliches next to it. They're spreading the word - viral like (remember that, it comes up later.

Red Hood tosses the dead criminal out the window, with a red calling card - a move that's not unlike his original inspiration for becoming the Red Hood anyway, the Joker - the 1st Red Hood, who now leaves his Joker calling card. Clearly, apart from a classic cliche, this is a way to get under the skin of "Batman".

"Vengeance arms against his red right hand."

Red right hand's origins stem from Milton's Paradise Lost. It ultimately stems from the notion of having "blood on your hand" (used for literary figures as a supernatural way of saying such). It is traditionally used as a warning sign that "wrath and judgment are coming" - the perfect murdering vigilante quote. It's roots in Paradise Lost peg it as meaning "God's right hand" - vengeance, not all that different from The Spectre, in that regard. But it also could represent the Antichrist, Satan, the Devil - meaning "the hand of the Devil". Ultimately, since we know Doctor Hurt will come back in this series and that Morrison has absolutely loaded his Batman with themes of Bruce Wayne = Messiah versus The Devil, the notion of Jason on some balancing act between divine retribution and working for the Devil is a strong one. It's also used to indicate that a character is "supernatural" while hiding his identity, and his alliance - that is to say, we're supposed to be unsure if it's really Jason or not, and if so or not, who is he working for? Good or Evil?

Ironically, Jason Todd's resurrection IS in fact supernatural. While he technically never died, his revival was from one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits. So he was ... in a way ... resurrected by demons.

Now, here's the really fucked up part. "Red Hand Day" is an international holiday on February 12, which is intended to draw attention to the plight of CHILDREN FORCED TO FIGHT IN WARS AS SOLDIERS.

"He was a good SOLDIER" reads the glass shrine to dead Jason Todd.

For more, go here:

Okay, anyway.

More of the Wayne Tower, as Dick Grayson is throwing a bit of a high society fund-raising event the way Bruce would have. We get the classic "Where's Bruce?" from Lucius Fox, which is reference to Tommy Elliot running around looking like Bruce Wayne, but ultimately works without that, too - Bruce Wayne is supposedly "off doing god knows what". And women are all over "Richie Grayson".

Gordon introduces Dick to the "man of the hour", a mister Oberon Sexton, also known as the Gravedigger. I've no idea what the "riddle of the corn dollie" is. Research hasn't helped. Gordon introduces Dick as Bruce Wayne's ward, and an ex-policeman. He seems rather proud that playboy Bruce's protege ended up doing Gotham proud.

Not much to go by for Gravedigger - he seems like a vigilante, and a "candidate" for being Red Hood. But probably just a red herring. Still, we'll explore his name:

Oberon, apart from being the fairy king in A Midsummer Night's Dream and elf-king in Rennaissance literature, is also Uranus IV - that is, Uranus's fourth moon (most of which are named after Shakespearean characters, and most of the features on Oberon are named after Shakespearean themes as well.) It's not that surprising to see it on an English vigilante, indeed it seems very Batman 1960 - we've got a British "Shakespeare themed vigilante". Of interest though, is also that Oberon played a small role in Faust (a tale of selling a soul to the Devil).

A Sexton is a person who maintains a Church, rings the bells, and manages the Graveyard. It's a fairly common surname, and one that's entirely too appropriate for Morrison to use on a guy dubbed "Gravedigger" in a story loaded with themes of Bat-Christ versus the Devil. A Sexton is also a piece of artillery - also appropriate in this case, since this particular Gravedigger is "at war with crime", not unlike Batman ...

That's all we can get from his name. Other then that? He's scarred so he wears a full mask concealing his identity. He could be anybody. He wears a top hat ... and all black ... looks more then a little like DC villain turned neutral "The Shade". And he's wearing red sunglasses, so either he's seeing red (pissed), or seeing through rose colored glasses.

The turn came this issue when we get a glimpse of the "Hood Cave", that is, wherever the Red Hood has shacked up - loaded with weapons, a "Red Hood skull-cycle", punching bag, microscope - the usual crime-fighting equipment.

He's practicing a speech for a press-release, probably something that'll be released online in a viral campaign. (Interesting side-note: The Dark Knight film, admittedly one of Morrison's favorites of all time, used TONS of especially cunning viral marketing, all seemingly perpetrated by The Joker himself - so by going viral we've got another Joker reference).

Anyway, we get an actual "big brotherly" moment from Red Hood and Scarlet, where she's staring at herself in a mirror and he doesn't care about her "defects" due to the Dollotron mask, he points her at how it's cool and edgy without being a wannabe. Kind of backwards. He puts her goggles back on her (we see they've got hi-tech targeting gear in them, standard Bat-visor capabilities). And Red Hood basically admits that his whole campaign is about one crazy in a mask getting revenge on another.

Cut to Batman and Robin on a stakeout. They're they're all night, blending with the scenery as the hours tick by. Dick is teaching Damian about using the time to "stalk the city like a predator", the old Bruce Wayne classic technique. But in a quick bit of light-heartedness, Dick busts Damian's chops about his hood, telling him the fighter rule that a hood can become a blindfold - whereas Damian barks back that he can fight blind style.

Later it begins to rain and they joke about it being a nice night, sarcastically. Then they prepare to move in on the gang meeting that's taking place in the high-rise.

Cut to the gang meeting - it's a real classic style "bunch of criminals meeting", similar to the big Crime Boss meet in The Dark Knight, the gangster meeting in the '89 Batman film, and feels at home with the '60's Batman style, too.

Some guy in a suit with a purple, papal, almost Ku Klux Klan style hood called "Santo" (Saint, for those who couldn't figure it out) is talking to the gathered hoods when Penguin arrives. He talks about his boss - a mysterious figure called "El Penitente" has called an assassin called Flamingo to come deal with killer Batman (or Red Hood, or whoever it is killing criminals).

We get some very 60's, but very fun bird-related trash-talks from Penguin about there only being room for one fowl-themed felon in Gotham. Santo, and El Penitente have a large organization that deals quickly with vigilantes. Note - "El Pentitente" obviously means "The Penitent", penitent means "feeling sorrow for your sins" and attempting to repent and make up for your mistakes. More religious symbolism.

The Flamingo (referred to as "eater of faces") is flying in on a pink Leer Jet. Very subtle. Penguin refers to Santo, his organization, and all the gangsters in the room as "new boys" and iterates that he represents organized crime in Gotham, by way of Black Mask - thereby tying this issue into the other Bat-titles more then anything else Morrison has done.

Interestingly, Santo mentions that his boss, El Penitente believes the new model of crime is "Viral" and gives a speech about it very similar to that of Red Hood's speech about crime-fighting. With a name like "Penitent" it's possible this guy is working for Red Hood (who is trying to make up for past sins) and doesn't even know it. Either that or the criminals and Red Hood are kind of following the same model.

Anyway, at that point, Red Hood enters and kills everybody except Penguin, who begs for help. He then records Batman helping Penguin on his cellphone as evidence that Batman is "helping criminals" and Dick mutters "Jason?"

It'll be interesting to see if he's identified Jason right off the bat, if it's all a red herring, or if Morrison has more tricks up his sleeve.

Friday, September 4, 2009


The title of the issue is "Mommy Made of Nails".

And in Professor Pyg's lair, sure enough, he's got a freakish frame of a "woman" made out of sticks with dozens of nails sticking out, and a doll face for a head that demands perfection out of him. Major Mommy issues.

Pyg is exhibiting some textbook Alfred Hitchcock presents: "Psycho" Norman Bates motivation here, albeit using a corrupted version of Pygmalion who was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had made. Ironically, in Pyg's case, the doll he had made ended up taking on the persona of his mother in an atypical schizophrenic association. There's possible Oedipus Rex connotations there as well.

His attempts to make the entire rest of Gotham City "sick" is first of all a great joke at the expense of Swine Flu, and secondly, probably an attempt to make everybody else sick so that he won't be sick in his "mother's" eyes - he'll just be normal, like everyone else.

He's operating out of Joker's old Funland Theme Park from The Killing Joke, which may connect him with Joker (he's also using toxic chemicals) but more likely he just set up shop in Joker's abandoned haunt. Still, this is the second time Morrison has gone back to that Theme Park, the first being in the all-prose issue, The Clown at Midnight, where Gordon mentioned that he hated the two midget henchmen Joker had sent Harley to kill, Solomon and Sheba, because they were the ones who had tortured him in The Killing Joke.

Interestingly enough, the Dollotrons aren't unprecedented either. There was a TV series that was loosely based on the idea of Pygmalion called My Living Doll and starring none other than Catwoman herself, Julie Newmar, as the titular robot who was an attempt at making a "perfect human". There was also that JLU episode with Galatea - the Power Girl-esque clone of Supergirl.

One major Pygmalion-influenced work was My Fair Lady, and frankly, I was surprised when Professor Pyg didn't utter a "Daaaamn ... daaaaamn ... damn ... damn ... I've grown accustomed to her face."

There's also Agalmatophilia to consider, which is a paraphilia concerned with the sexual attraction to a statue, doll, mannequin or other similar figurative object.Agalmatophilia may also encompass Pygmalionism (from the myth of Pygmalion) which describes a state of love for an object of one's own creation.

Lastly, his freakish monologue. I can't claim to understand all of it, but first, I took "Look who came back from Dreamland." to be a subtle Neil Gaiman reference. Especially since the first thing to follow was mention of Mormo, a chaos god who Gaiman has apparently used in Stardust (Which I have yet to read or see).

At any rate, he seems to be talking about his mother. On Monday she's Mormo, a chaos goddess which starts with "M". On Tuesday she's Tiamat, a chaos dragon which starts with "T". Tohu va bohu, apart from being from the Hebrew bible and therefore sharing common roots with Tiamat, is also a French idiom for "confusion".

Wednesday she's the Gorgon Queen. The Gorgon Queen was Medusa (As indicated by the forked tongue snakes as hair reference). Sigmund Freud had some interesting things to say about Medusa, as the legendarily man-hating Medusa was the basis for his Das Medusenhaupt - which presented Medusa as a symbol of male castration or sexual repression after childhood discovery of maternal sexuality. Again, major Mommy issues, although I don't really care to speculate whether Pyg's mother was a whore or just hated men but sexually abused her own child for some reason.

His referencing growing upside down in a world where a hug is a crucifixion could be talking about his mother's judgmental nature, which he's now projecting on this freakish statue-icon. But outside of that context, it's Morrison referencing himself - namely, later on Damian remembers this, and in Batman # 666, Damian crucifies Pyg upside down.

Pyg's next mention about "this little gent could make a well-spoken lady out of a monkey or a flower girl out of a snail" is a line directly from My Fair Lady.

As for his disco striptease ... I don't know. Most of it seems genuine (and effed up). He's asking a hypothetical about "one tiny little flaw" to Robin, makes some mentions of medicine and anti-psychotics which are probably totally genuine.

So it seems like, Pyg has given up his medication so that he can pursue his art - a common theme in storytelling (and real life, but for quick example, see Will Magnus of Metal Men fame) ... only his art in My Fair Lady or Pygmalion or She's All That style is taking nobodies and making them into perfection, but his corrupted version of that is making them into dolls.

It's as if he's seen way too many movies with similar motifs on TV and without his anti-psychotics, he's mixed them all together in his head.

Batman's later explaining what Pyg has done, and that he's invented an addictive, identity destroying drug in the form of a virus. It seems likely that he may have somewhere along the lines been influenced by his own drug, and that the "something happens" between him being a circus boss with mommy issues to being a sicko like Pyg involved him being dosed with his own identity-destroyer and then associating with TV.

Later, Pyg talks about "what happened to me has happened to Gotham". Well, Pyg has lost his identity. His talk about looking away from mirrors for just a moment, looking back and finding that sickness has crept in is almost a literal way of looking at Gotham ... which when Batman died lost its identity. But in the context of this 3-issue arc, thanks to Dick and Damian, Gotham is getting its identity back.

The domino is part of the greater, over-arcing plot - in an interview, Morrison had mentioned a "Domino Killer" being the greater mystery. Pyg seems to have some idea about it, specifically mentioning dominoes.

Le Bossu is actually probably unconnected, and is rather a throwback to R.I.P. "You're wrong, Batman and Robin will never die!", the flash-forward that first revealed a new Batman and Robin. He simply ensures continuity, and also refreshes the notion that many of the Club of Villains and Doctor Hurt are still out there. Then again ... it's Morrison, so everything is probably connected.

All of the final stuff - Sasha going nuts, Alfred being spied on by probably Jason Todd as he arranges portraits of all the other Robins, and Red Hood showing up are basically just leading directly into the next arc. I'm hyper-excited to see Morrison tackle Jason Todd. So far, I am crazy about the costume and like the "scourge of the underworld" arrogance.