Well, here we go again. This issue is a little lighter on the "Who's who of British street weirdness" and a little more relevant to things like ... Final Crisis ... Blackest Night ... that sort of stuff. And ultimately, the point of the issue is like the title says: Batman beating up Batman.
But man, oh man, there's some stuff I didn't see coming.
London ... earlier (pre-last issue):
I'll just point out here that every time I see fans whine about something Morrison left out or breezed past, they go crazy about it in forums. But then next issue, inevitably, he deals with it. And everybody always forgets this about him.
Fans griped that Batwoman "came out of nowhere" last issue. I thought she was telegraphed. Hints about Coal's crew being fanatics. Slowly we realize that means they're Crime Bible thumpers. Somebody was carried in a box into the Lazarus Mine. Wham, here's Batwoman in a pine coffin. But for anybody who that didn't track well with - here's your explanation. She was tracking Coal's people because she's a Crime Bible expert. Coal's henchmen are either Scooby Doo "G-G-G-Ghost Miners" or ninja Chimney Sweeps with knockout gas soot brooms.
Crime Bible news: Mannheim (I believe is dead as of 52) is considered to be a Martyr."Hail the Rock and the Rage" is standard prayers for these guys - not just the "Order of the Stone". Which is good, because The Spectre killed every single member of the Order of the Stone during Final Crisis' "Hell Month". (Except Vandal Savage, last seen hanging with Ra's al Ghul, and soon to be seen by Bruce Wayne as a young neanderthal). In case anyone wondered ... it's pretty clear that Morrison loves what Greg Rucka has been doing.
So anyway ... we see Eddie English get loaded onto the Burning Black Heart train with TNT on his chest. And Batwoman is kidnapped. Curiosity - is English his actual last name? Is Pearly King's last name English as well? Anyway ... King Coal is a Crime Bible guy, but his "prayers" echo The Devil (Doctor Hurt) who assault Bruce Wayne, Bruce's acknowledgment that upon meditating he felt a "Hole in the center of existence" and the fact that some of that came from Darkseid. The intersection of Bruce's meditations and battles with his personal Devil, the Crime Bible which worships Judeo-Christian Evil but has plenty of Jack Kirby New God chapters and speaks of the "Apokolips" and Darkseid vs. Batman in Final Crisis? I haven't put my finger on the keystone to the whole set of how it connects yet, but some ideas are forming that hopefully get easier to clarify soon. Anyway ... this ends with a nice, quick Jacob Kane cameo. Colonel Kane (Dad) is Batwoman's "behind-the-scenes" man. Apparently by the time this issue happens, they've gotten over their drama about Alice. By the way, if you aren't reading Rucka & J.H. Williams/Jock Batwoman? What the hell are you thinking? It's literally just as good as what Morrison is doing ... go ... get it. I'll wait.
Remble Colliery, English countryside (Near Newcastle):
Batwoman kind of sums up one of my thoughts - the Crime Bible "worships Gods of Evil". I suppose that means they're an "all-inclusive religions". They worship Satan, they worship Lucifer, they worship Pluto/Hades, they worship the New Gods of Apokolips, they worship all evil gods. Therefore ... the "connection" between those things might just well be that these cult crime villains are the ones making connections via prophecies and other things. In fact, one would theorize that the Third Batman from "Batman in Bethlehem" (#666) and the "new Gotham villains" depicted there are carrying out the evolution of the Crime Bible, and that by the time Damian grows up, the Crime Bible is HUGE in the DCU.
So ... insane Lazarus Bruce Wayne clone is the "Black Messiah" of the Crime Bible? I wonder how long he'll stick around for ... but some fans have theorized that Darkseid is in there. Dick says "there's no God of Evil in there, just Batman". And Darkseid says "he has use for a dead clone body of Bruce Wayne". Could this be Darkseid's last ditch attempt? After all ... he mentioned that he chose Dan Turpin because Batman would have been too hard to control. This feels sort of like "post-Return of the Jedi" when the Emperor didn't actually die, he hurled his soul into a clone body.
Final Crisis news: This flashback clearly takes place AFTER Batman has escaped but BEFORE Superman picks up the body. It's obviously BEFORE Batman shows himself, shoots Darkseid and gets Omega Sanctioned, because Darkseid mentioned "I wondered when you'd show yourself", meaning Bruce has been sneaking around the Bludhaven bunker. Plus, here Darkseid isn't bleeding or dying.
The fight. Man, much of this issue is the brawl. Batman (Dick), Knight, Squire and Batwoman can't even take on a full-powered, Lazarus-bathed super-soldier clone of Bruce Wayne. Four TOP level ass-kickers like that can't handle this guy. I'm not saying Bruce wouldn't win against the four of them (with or without Lazarus Pit) but this clone (which needs a name) is a wrecking machine. Even Dick's cool "Electric Bat-Knucks" didn't help much. Meanwhile, Cameron Stewart draws a really good looking Kung-Fu battle.
More of Old King Coal. Even his black car has a burning coal chunk logo. Others have pointed out the "Black vs. White" theme of the English gangsters. Black Newcastle vs. White London. Black Coal vs. White Pearl. Working class (Chimney Sweeps, too) vs. Street Royalty. OF COURSE King Coal is smoking a cigar. The guy has to be smoking. Burning. Smoldering.
Batwoman tazes Clone-Bat in the FACE! And it doesn't work! That Fountain of Youth crap must be good stuff. Meanwhile ... the mine has been caved in. The "Caved in mine" is an absolutely classic Pulp Fiction trope. And Clone-Bat escapes ... because he apparently has enough Bruce Wayne escape artist skill to be the one who gets away.
Gotham City (Wayne Foundation Bat-Bunker):
Alfred's home. A nice bit of "Comic book time" because he was on some high-tech exotic location last issue during the Lazarus Pit events, and now he's already back in Gotham.
Back at the Coalmine ...
Bat-Clone (What the HELL are we going to call him? Dark Messiah? Bat-Beast?) takes one of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Gyro-Bats for a spin back to London. What's his motivation other than being an insane Bruce Wayne clone? But anyway, Batwoman is severely fucked up. Broken legs. Dying. WHAT?! Rucka gave the okay for this?! (Yes, yes ... fear not, Batwoman fans ... there is a Lazarus Pit five feet away and a Prophecy involved. She'll be fine next issue.)
Back in London ...
We get another cameo from John Cleese inspired "Beefeater" as Bat-Beast steals the Bat-Plane that Dick left in London ... because he looks like Batman, sounds like Batman, and knows what Batman knows.
Back in Gotham ...
More Damian. He's got a new spine, he's a 10 year old hellion so being wheelchair confined doesn't seem like much fun. And this time instead of Batwoman, it's Alfred's turn to shut up internet fans who complained that Dick Grayson is acting out of character, as Morrison sums it up thusly for those who literally said there was no proof other than our (us being readers who pay attention) "interpretation of what Dick is thinking". And thus: "I fear Master Richard has taken the taunts of the Red Hood to heart and done something rather rash." I love how often I'm proven right (Sorry, had to gloat here ... I'm done.)
Look ... Dick Grayson is not Bruce Wayne. Dick has feelings. Jason Todd was his successor, a little bit of a trainee, and Jason didn't last long. But they were both Robin. When Jason returned? After he tried to torment Bruce a bit, he moved on to Dick. Clearly there was a grudge. But CLEARLY Dick actually cares what Jason thinks and says. And now ... now they're rivals. Jason is the closest thing Dick has to an arch-nemesis. The ex-Robins. The good son vs. the bad son. (Granted, I think they're as much "little brothers" to Bruce as they are "sons" but that's a WHOLE other argument, not that relevant here. I've said it before ... Bruce was their surrogate, and was whatever they needed him to be. Brother. Father figure.)
Plus Jason's statement had the added insult to injury of the fact that Jason himself was resurrected via Lazarus Pit. And he's ... not really much less insane than he was before. Dick talked Tim out of using the Lazarus Pit on his lost ones. But throw a Jason into the mix? Feelings get mixed.
Lastly ... Alfred called Jason "Red Hood". Not Master Jason. Not Mister Todd. RED HOOD. That right there is tacit acknowledgment that Jason is no longer part of the Bat-Family. He WAS the Black Sheep. Now he's not welcome. He's a villain. He might not be a Gotham Rogue, but he's a villain. Perhaps the most tragic villain of all.
A nice moment of "full circle" appreciation. Dick first met Kate Kane as Batwoman during 52 - the Christmas issue. He gave her a Batarang as a Christmas present, because he's Dick Grayson - "Nice guy extraordinaire, lover of red-heads, welcome aboard." So now she finally realizes (She's not officially Bat-Family) Oh ... you're that guy who gave me the Batarang. Nightwing became Batman, that's who it is. It's a nice moment. He came to her rescue with Montoya as well.
Then she DIES. What the fuck?!
But like I said ... there's a Pit nearby ... a Prophecy in the air ... she'll be fine.
But then there's this: Knight and Squire dig through and find Batman. Quote Dick Grayson: "She's dead. Batwoman died in my arms." Which TOTALLY hearkens back to the Silver Age story where Kathy Kane died in Bruce Wayne's arms. I don't think she really died in that story ... it was a hallucination or something brought on by aliens. I think it was featured in The Black Casebook collection, actually, and that's where I read it.
King Coal calls his "old lady" or whatever (Nothing actually said they were a couple). I'm still trying to figure who she might be. My guesses are: Whisper A'Daire. (Because she's Crime Bible and Abbot is a supporting character in Rucka's Batwoman stuff, but his former Cobra partner Whisper is missing) or possibly Talia. Talia was part of Libra's high command in Final Crisis. Libra preached out of the Crime Bible as Darkseid's prophet. It's POSSIBLE Talia converted to Crime Bible religion during Final Crisis. She did seem to be "planning something" last issue. It's hard to say, though. Morrison has finally gotten around to picking up on threads from Final Crisis but Talia has been a recurring character in his run with her own agendas and plots. Whether they connect are just speculation.
Back in Gotham ...
Last, but not least ... I didn't expect Bat-Beast to fly back to Wayne Tower in Gotham, attack Alfred and see Damian (and possibly throw the kid wheelchair and all off the top of the building next issue). Can not fucking wait to see where this goes from here ...
Batwoman has got to be revived to counter the prophecy. Dick Grayson has had a rude awakening and will have an even ruder one once they kill this Bat-Beast clone and he realizes ... wait a fucking second ... if the Blackest Night body we buried isn't Bruce, where the fuck is Bruce? Tim Drake was fucking right?! Knight and Squire ... well, they're along for the ride, aren't they? Good friends to Batman (Bruce or Dick). Awful nice of them to help out with this case.
Damian vs. a clone of his father? How the hell is that going to go? Damian was included in some of the newer, less fun memories that Bruce used to destroy the clone minds (basically the whole second issue of Last Rites). How's that going to work?
And, going way further (and less likely, but hey ...) if Darkseid is somehow in there, or affecting the Bat-Beast/Dark Messiah clone ... and Damian is the grandson of "The Demon" ... has some sort of connection to The Devil (As seen in Batman # 666) and is the closest living thing to Bruce Wayne on the Earth right now? Will Dark Messiah/Darkseid actually give us a hint about the nature of Doctor Hurt A.K.A. The Devil? (Coming soon in the very next story arc.)
I doubt Morrison will highlight much of that. He likes to keep things close to the vest and seed out the hints and tidbits over time. But I do think there's a very, very high chance that we get A HINT about Doctor Hurt next issue.