I've tended to drag on a bit and lose my point of view in these annotation/opinion pieces, so I'll try to be more to the point and efficient with this one, for my own sake as much as for readers who don't feel like reading an essay that doesn't have some clear goals and points to make.
Prologue: Clearly a continuation of the epilogue from last issue, we have Dick retrieving Bruce's corpse. I'll try to clarify some popular questions here: 1. Why is Bruce still wearing his Bat-costume? Easy - to Dick Grayson, it's evidence. That being said, Black Hand DID remove the skull from that corpse, did he not? Yes, so they must have recollected the whole thing. Other than that? Lots of questions about the timeline. When does this happen in regards to Blackest Night? In regards to Red Hood? Morrison seems content not to worry about it, but I will.
Timeline: Robin is fine in Blackest Night: Batman, but in Red Hood he's shot in the spine by Flamingo. And his spine is still fucked here. Therefore, logic dictates that Morrison's "Day after Blackest Night" comment is more like "The week after Blackest Night". It goes Blackest Night then Revenge of the Red Hood then Blackest Knight. Got that? Let's not worry about how Tony Daniel's book ties in since Robin is fine in Batman: Life After Death, Black Mask is still in charge, but Penguin is rebelling, yet in Revenge of the Red Hood Penguin works for Black Mask. I take it Tony's arc is either after all of this a few weeks, or else Penguin's rebellion is going to fail. We'll see. Let's just throw some events up.
1. Batman R.I.P.
2. Final Crisis
3. Last Rites
4. Battle for the Cowl
5. Batman Reborn
6. Blackest Night: Batman
7. Revenge of the Red Hood
8. Blackest Knight
Dig? It's not hard to realize that frankly there's only a few months between Final Crisis and Blackest Night. Body in the vault is considered "evidence". Good? Works for me.
London: Batman & Squire.
This stuff is rife with references for London and British readers to recognize, but a lot of it is pretty widely known landmarks, and an avid James Bond or Guy Ritchie film fan will know most of it. The ferris wheel is "The Wheel" on the River Thames. Big tourist attraction. It often rains in the U.K. and we see TONS of umbrellas this issue. Makes you wonder why Penguin doesn't migrate to England, he'd do well there.
Old King Coal is our first British villain. More on his family later. Squire's "Charging Steed" motorcycle (Knightcycle?) is a modern update, but the idea of a motorcycle stylized to be a horse dates back to the very first appearance of Knight & Squire - "The Batman and Robin of England", featuring Cyril and his dear dad. Other annotations will walk you through every sight and sound in West London depicted here. Suffice it to say, Batman races up the River Thames into West London (W1) to get to the Underground Station. I remember that long bridge from 007: The World is Not Enough ...
Dick Grayson's acrobatics make moving across a lot of urban space quite a breeze for him. Once more we see he's a more nimble Batman than Bruce. The hood King Coal's planning on bombing the London Underground with goes by Smooth Eddie English, A.K.A. The Pearly Prince, complete with cockney accent. More on the Pearly Court in a bit.
The Tower of London ...
Others have pointed out that the name of "England's Arkham", Basement 101 is likely a reference to George Orwell's 1984. Which in fact, could also be a nod to "V For Vendetta". Knowing Grant's habit of giving a nod, good or bad, to what Alan Moore has done before, it wouldn't surprise me, since Moore's "V" clearly owes a bit to 1984 itself!
I was content with the hilarity of an actual secret super-dungeon in the "tourist" dungeons of the Tower of London, and an actual role for the comic Justice League Europe character Beefeater, cameoing here and originally modeled after John Cleese. Others have noted, Beefeater was last seen as a pall bearer at Booster Gold's fake funeral in 52, of which Morrison was a co-writer. I wonder how long he's been thinking "When I take Batman to England, I'm using that guy!" As for the absurdly funny names of the British rogues gallery? More on that later! I'll note that the weird Metalek alien purports to be from "Galaxy X", and "X" is a recurring thing this issue, with Bruce's body being designated "Shipment X", and indeed, a bit of an "X Marks the Spot" plot.
The scene with Dick and Pearly mirrors a zillion scenes like this with Batman going into Arkham. The Dominoes certainly indicate that Pearly as 'king of crime' in London might be in on the Domino Killer. The fish-tank with electric eels and love of games puts him again as something of a Joker equivalent (albeit more gang-oriented). No doubt he's a guy who suspends heroes over fish-tanks with sharks or eels or whatever and plays the whole gimmick routine. His bit of self-aggrandizing about his "descent from King Arthur" is about as common and bullshit in England as Americans claiming to be descended from a Cherokee Princess, but there is something to it, it seems, as he uses the Dominoes as a hint for Batman - a map of the layout of the mines. Of course, his son "won control" over that Mine, so he's willing to let Batman go clean up his enemy, King Coal's hostile takeover of it.
Knight & Squire Villains:
The primary gang conflict in DCU England seems to be between South (Londoners) and North (Country), although there's clearly rogues from all over the U.K. that no doubt as the ones in Gotham, do hired-gun work, like the Welsh "Dai Laffyn" - possibly a wildcard Joker type. Big Don Drummond was created by James Robinson in Superman recently (battling two new British heroes - Beaumont (Rich) and Sunny Jim (Poor). The others are all made up based on common British street sights. I won't go too far into it.
Old King Coal's Court
Coal is a Northern "country" criminal in England. As quickly touched upon by Knight & Squire, his henchmen are all high on magic mushrooms, and are fanatics. As we quickly learn, they're superstitious members of the Religion of Crime and so the Lazarus Pit holds "religious significance" to them. But like most of the Crime Bible thumpers we've seen Batwoman & Montoya face in Rucka's stuff - they've misinterpreted the prophecies once more to think Batwoman is the key. Other than that? The "Ghost Miners" henchmen are straight out of Scooby Doo. And hey! Remember in the 60's when Scooby Doo met Batman and Robin? Side note - coal-mining has long, long, long been a stape of the British countryside, U.K. energy source and labor disputes between lower and upper class, labor and government. A perfect choice for a gimmick villain. Pearly King mentions Old King Coal's "Donna" - that's his girlfriend or wife. Apparently she's bad news. Who the hell knows who she'll end up being, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a villainess involved in the Religion of Crime. Maybe another Rucka character cameoing - Whisper A'Daire has been missing quite a while. Lastly here, others have noted that the "Last Lazarus Pit" possibly being the "Fountain of King Arthur" seems to be a reference to Morrison's SEVEN SOLDIERS, specifically I'd imagine Shining Knight (An Arthurian Knight). Won't surprise me. I'm expecting an Arthurian chapter in Return of Bruce Wayne, to be honest.
Pearly King (Our titular character) seems to be the kingpin of the British villains. His and his son's gimmick is silly button suits, which is a reference to the "Pearlies" - akin to Salvation Army Santa Clauses really - they walk London's streets keeping people informed about charity and wearing outlandish garb covered with buttons. Apparently in the DCU, a criminal syndicate uses the whole good-will organization as cover. At any rate, Pearly and his son Eddie have East End Cockney accents, and represent the old-school "cops & robbers" hood style of crime. And yes, they feel like they were plucked right out of a Guy Ritchie flick (Snatch, Lock Stock, Rock n Rolla) and given DCU gimmicks. Pearly King himself? Apart from being old-school, he's got some heft to his appearance. He's seen using DOMINOES, and other classic games - darts, dice, cards - all things that are massive trademarks of Joker (who also goes by "something Prince of Crime") and were recently used by the Black Glove. In it for the crime life, he apparently sees the likes of Old King Coal as fanatics, zealots, superstitious backstabbers. And it's literally a case of Old-School Underground vs. Crime Bible. We've seen that battle in Gotham recently as well - Intergang (Crime Bible) moved in on Gotham's Underground (Penguin, also the Falcone family is back now) and they set up covens which Batwoman has been hunting.
Could Pearly King be in on the Black Glove? A new member? Better still - could he know Joker somehow? Might Joker have apprenticed under him once? That's pure speculation. But more recently could they have met? If Joker is the Domino Killer, traveling and killing the Black Glove rich people ... might he have used his "Brit counterpart" for information? And even inspiration? If my theory about Oberon Sexton being Joker holds true, there could be a connection. But I'll shelf the speculation for now. Pearly also shows a pretty keen eye - Dick comes across as "younger than he expected Batman to be".
League of Assassins ...
All that fun romp through England aside, there's Batman story to be told here. First off, as Morrison promised in his IGN interview, we see Damian get a new spine to replace the one Eduardo Flamingo shot to hell. It's funny that he's floating in a pool of healing medicine, as the Lazarus Pit is one "Baptism in a Fountain of Life", Talia's "Damian Spa" is another (Mom even compares the kid to Alexander the Great, who himself purportedly swam in a healing fountain), Bruce's dip in the Nanda Parbat Fountain is another ... and so we see a recurring theme here. I'm not sure where it's going, but it's good to note it. Meanwhile, Alfred's charm steals the show here, as Talia plans something nefarious (Which I'm sure we'll catch up with in Batman vs. Robin). Alfred seems quite sure the body is that of Bruce. I wonder if he knows what Dick is doing. Aside from that this is the first issue where League of Assassins ... Crime Bible ... and Black Glove are all sort of referenced in the same context. The League has skirmished with the Cult of CCrime (See: Kyle Abbott, Whisper A'Daire, 52, Rucka) and the League has skirmished with the Black Glove (See: Morrison - R.I.P., a little bit of Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul). But this is the first time ALL THREE of them are converging.
Rendle Colliery, English Countryside ...
As cool as it is to see the old 70's bit where Batman leaves the city for an isolated location in the countryside, there's of course more to Morrison's site. Old pre-Christian ley lines ... druidic mysticism ... the longest night of the year ... this stuff is gold as far as where an Arthurian Lazarus pit would be, and where the Religion of Crime would be looking. And Beryl gives the location an appropriately goofy X-Files meets Scooby Doo backstory with a scary "Margaret Thatcher" (See: V For Vendetta) tale to go with it. And of course, they go into "detective mode" and notice footprints that carried something heavy, which we'll get to.
Dick Grayson's frame-of-mind:
Obviously, apart from the coincidence of these two warring Crime Factions in England unearthing the "Last Lazarus Pit" being really good timing for Dick to attempt to revive Bruce, there's the matter of Dick's mind-set. Just a year ago during Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, Dick spent an entire issue lecturing Tim Drake about the VERY SAME THING. Bringing people back is wrong. It's not natural. They hugged. Now Dick plans on using the Lazarus Pit (the wrong way to get Bruce back) while Tim is out there as Red Robin, ALSO tied up with the League of Assassins, attempting to get Bruce back the right way.
There's enough explanation between this issue, last issue, and the Nightwing appearances in 52 and Last Rites.
First - there's Jason Todd last issue. Jason WAS SUCCESSFULLY REVIVED by a Lazarus Pit. And Jason, the Bad-Robin, last issue, really gut-punched Good-Robin Dick with guilt when he said Dick was failing Bruce by not trying a Lazarus Pit. Don't think Dick cares about Jason's opinion - WRONG. He let Gordon arrest the Red Hood without revealing Jason's real name. He lost his temper when Jason said that and tried to fight his way through arresting cops to punch Jason.
Second - there's Dick's history with Bruce. As he mentions this issue - they are brothers. Bruce is his big brother. The best big brother he could ever have asked for. When they were younger - Bruce early 20's, Dick 10-16, they saw the most absurd, insane, goofy 1950's and 60's stuff imaginable. Got through it all. Robin always saved Batman and Batman always saved Robin. He's only Batman because he's continuing Bruce's work, and he'd gladly go back to being Nightwing (Well, somebody else if General Zod's son wants to keep it) if Bruce somehow came back.
Third - Blackest Night just happened like a week ago, DC-time. Massive zombie resurrection. And obviously by its end, odds are pretty good some divine happy resurrections happen, too. There's not much context for this part yet, but it has to factor into Dick's mind. Zombies. Ghosts. White Light of Creation. And here's a Lazarus Pit, unearthed a week later.
Obviously we know that Batwoman - a bit of an expert in all things Crime Bible Prophecy - is right and this isn't going to work out very well. But Dick is at least totally within character. He's willing to give it a try.
So ... Batman and Squire come across King Coal's mooks and trash them, find a coffin, trade information that sounds similar to things we've heard in the Crime Bible past, and sure enough, Batwoman is trapped in a casket they were planning to sacrifice to the Lazarus Pit. It's a very old-school way of bringing in a character - a rough entrance into the scene from Stage Left. But it was at least telegraphed a bit when we started putting two-and-two together about Coal's men being superstitious fanatics ... carrying something heavy ... twice-named-daughter ... ah! Kate Kane! She's not exactly on her A-Game at first, having to blow her way out of the casket with something that goes boom and possibly concussing herself, so Dick welcomes her to the party and catches her up. He's the New Batman. He's going to attempt to bring Old Batman back. He trusts her so she's welcome to join him, Cyril and Beryl. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! WELCOME BACK BRUCE!
Beyond that? The abandoned mine cliche is great, and the glow-in-the-dark Ghost Miners from Scooby Doo are wonderful. There's a huge art mix-up when Batman and Batwoman's dialogue is switched and it threw me and everyone else at first, but once you get beyond that this is a top notch issue and Cameron Stewart is more than welcome.
There's plenty to speculate, but for now it's pretty straight-forward, so that's it (which I'm sure is already more than enough). Can't wait till Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Batman vs. Robin 1-3, Batman and Robin Must Die 1-3, The Return of Bruce Wayne 1-6, a little more Rucka with your Morrison, and the rest.