And so we come to it. The final chapter in the very much ... well ... the big "team-up", that's treated like a big "team-up" by a slightly wryly self-aware Dick Grayson.
Four heroes. A cooped up Robin back home. A monster Bruce Wayne clone Black Knight. This one plays it straight. It follows standard Morrison storytelling logic - starting the story with mysteries in both the plot and the format/execution, and giving all the explanations at the end.
Coalmine I ...
Seen in previews, but we get an instance of Dick Grayson admitting to administering the overdose that killed Batwoman (the dying Batwoman, whose injuries would have killed her anyway). Still, as sticklers will point out ... "ZOMG, Batman killed someone!". For the record, this is Dick Grayson, who has killed before (Joker, but he resuscitated him) and we've never once heard his thoughts on mercy killings/euthanasia. Apparently he's for it, at least when pushy red-headed Bat-females tell him what to do.
Nice bit of chat between Batman and his mate, the Knight, talking about back when they were Robin and Squire, respectively. Cyril was terrified of Dick - Dick, the Boy Wonder ... not for nothing, but looking back at stories like Dark Victory, and Frank Miller's out-of-continuity All-Star Batman and Robin? Yeah ... I can see it. That kid was a little firecracker. A ten/eleven year old who could hold his own against Batman, and better still ... push Batman a bit. "This rough and raucous little Demon Boy, always somersaulting around and cracking weird jokes in some barely decipherable accent." Cyril says. The accent has got to be a bit of Dick's early circus slang, mixed with a bit of his being a U.S. Northeasterner, where accents are usually different from neighborhood to neighborhood, but they're always talking at light-speed. It could be a new experience for a cultured, refined, snobby aristocratic boy from England. There's a nice bit of friendly rivalry between these two.
"Earl of Chav", Beryl remarks they've taken to calling Knight. Chav is a slang term in England for somebody working class who goes out of their way to wear a tasteless outfit to stand out in a crowd. We have them here in the States too, but we call them "Long Islanders". They're typically Italian, but by no means limited to just the "Guidos" you see on MTV. In fact, it's quite a contagious, infection of poor taste, zero fashion sense and douche attitudes. But I digress!
Whatever your thoughts on Morrison's storyline, I really like HOW he depicted a clone. It has the knowledge and know-how built-in, but just can't quite live up to the potential. Like Dick said, "like a good song in the hands of a really bad singer". No actual life experience. No muscle memory.
Wayne Tower I ...
The Black Knight finally speaks more than just grunts ... and Morrison basically writes the book here - "Dumb Monsters for Dummies". Kudos to Cam Stewart, who, if you follow through the whole issue, you see chips away at Black Knight's skin in every panel, we watch the guy deteriorate.
Alfred, in a cool move locks Black Knight's cape in the elevator, going up, and Damian chastises Dick Grayson's bad move and turns an IR computer mouse into a projectile weapon at the same time. From a wheelchair and neck-brace. How can you not like the kid? (Also ... issue title "BROKEN" and Damian pure shades of "Post-Knightfall" Bruce - Nice.)
Damian proceeds to use his wheelchair as a weapon, and we get the first of the potential bombshells of this issue, hinted when Batman tastes his own "blud" and refers to it as "tainted, sour blud." Meanwhile, Damian escapes down to the Bat-Bunker garage where we see Dick's flying Batmobile ... Damian's "Akira" bike ... Bruce's last Batmobile ... and the Bat-Quad from the first arc.
We get a glimpse of Black Knight's memories as he likens his mental capacity to shattering glass. His memories are a mash-up of Bruce's worst tormenting inner thoughts, and also the memory of being within the clone tank and watching the other clones die.
But it's still a clone of Bruce Wayne, with some of his memories, and god damn if some of his talk doesn't reference that. "Sumthing siriously wrung with mi brane. I can smell it, old chum, ruh-rotting btween mi ears." He's still got some of that detective know-how. He realizes he's brain-damaged. But then, he says some startling things about Damian, which I'll translate into "Not Brain-Damaged" - just remember that memories of Damian came in the second issue of Last Rites, where Batman started accelerating his "negative memories" to fuck up the clones. Presumably, this means Damian Wayne was considered by Bruce Wayne to be a negative memory.
"I'm your father, Damian. Those tests proved what I feared most of all. You are here to replace me. They sent you to taint the bloodline, for all time. Damian, Demon's Head. In the end it was you. You were my biggest mistake."
Well now, Bruce-Clone. And yes, you're thoughts were brought on by the clashing and smashing of Bruce's worst memories ... but if there's a chance that the real Bruce Wayne felt that way? That's why he kept the truth about Damian so close to the chest? Really now, wouldn't the unprotected sex with Talia be the biggest mistake?
Of course Damian is meant to be some kind of usurper. Ra's al Ghul knew about him, and Ra's was dead. He was enhanced genetically. Apparently it didn't adhere 100% to Son of the Demon and he wasn't put up for adoption. But what makes the clone artificial and Damian natural? What separates them? (Talia's DNA, technically, but still - both were grown in vats.)
At any rate ... a giant leap towards Batman # 666. Damian the usurper ... who'll "rebel".
Coalmine II ...
Batwoman takes a dip in the Lazarus Pit that isn't really a Lazarus Pit, it's really spill from King Arthur's fountain of healing. Knight remarks that the Mine had four exits - one for each of the elements, which is just some old druidic standard practice - nothing especially relevant. Earth, Wind, Fire, Water. At any rate, stuff the Crime Bible types would find interesting.
Batwoman LIVES! And all she has to say about the experience? "That was intense". Jesus, Grant. And the followup for the curious Knight, "It was like a rollercoaster in the dark." And then, true to team-up standards, Colonel Jacob Kane returns, he tracked them down finally - missed all the freaky-deaky shit, and Knight and Squire are jealous that Batwoman has access to "military gear" and mention calling some of "ol' Dad's" friends in the Ministry of Defense.
Wayne Tower II
Singed, burning, degrading Bat-Clone picks up Damian and carries him to the roof of Wayne Tower to throw him off. Says a few more scary "Could be Bruce Wayne thoughts" thoughts.
"Mission comes first, Alfred. Out of my way. 'And I said: What does it take to stop the gunshots?' and the City's big black voice replied: 'The sacrifice of a son'."
(Likelihood this line will come back into play when Bruce gets back? COUNT ON IT.)
So Black Knight throws Damian off the roof, only to be caught mid-swing by Dick with a quippy "With me, it's all in the timing". Classic Dick Grayson. How'd they get back so quick? Colonel Kane has access, that's how. Orbital flight. Cross the Atlantic in half an hour. Dick clearly thinks it was cool ... and goes on to further claim "... and I'm in the middle of a serious team-up." This is the stuff Dick lives for.
Batwoman drops in and starts beating on Black Knight and we get another funny bit of dialogue. "Augghh! Kathy! How could she do this to me?" A nice bit of Bruce Wayne's memories of earlier in "his" career, around Year Five, when Batwoman joined the fun for a year or so.
(Strange coincidental thought process alert: Did you know Kathy Kane's exploits as Batwoman would've been right around the same time our modern "Kate Kane" was attending West Point?)
So Batman and Batwoman take down the Black Knight. With a long fight, and then a "double punch". And after claiming "I'm what you will be." he dies. And Damian immediately goes into "Who are you people and what are you doing here?" mode, keeping his and Alfred's cover and attempting to throw Batwoman off of suspicions that Bruce Wayne's penthouse might have anything to do with Batman.
So as he sends Batwoman on her way, our ever-optimistic Master Grayson hits on her. Smooth move, Grayson. Morrison having some of the first "fun" with the concept of a "millionaire playboy" hitting on Batwoman and getting nowhere. But also, a bit of continuation of Dick & Kate's working relationship, which began back in 52 with a nice Christmas moment and was referenced last issue.
Back in England, Knight and Squire (with help from Batwoman's dad and his military hardware) have tracked down Old King Coal's lair and beat up all his chimney sweep henchmen. They knock him out with the patented Batman and Robin double-punch, then set him up in a cell across from his mortal enemy, Pearly King Charlie English. Shades of Long Halloween! Julian Day (Calendar Man) and Alberto Falcone (Holiday). In Gotham it was the freaks vs. the old-school, and in London it's old-school street vs. crime bible north.
Epilogue II ...
Dick talks to Alfred and Damian about what he attempted to do, and firmly assuages everybody's concerns that he was acting out of character. This was BATMAN he was trying to bring back. Damian is understandably pissed that Grayson doesn't plan as well as Bruce. Alfred directly references The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul where Nightwing told Tim that the Lazarus Pits shouldn't be used.
Dick takes his cloak off and once more looks at Batman's cowl that he retrieved after R.I.P. - the cowl that drew him in after Final Crisis more and more as Nightwing ended and the battle for the cowl began, and admits that it looks like Tim Drake was right all along. Crow will be eaten. The hunt for Bruce Wayne begins.
This was possibly the most substantial, forward-moving, not-as-many symbols or themes chapter Morrison has written in a while. Threads were tied up. Promises have been made for the next arc. The flow was a little more standard.
I suspect in Batman vs. Robin, Dick and Damian will attempt to find clues about Bruce Wayne within Wayne Manor itself, and El Penitente (Hurt), Gravedigger, and Talia will all make moves.
But for now ... we're left with an issue that actually ties up more threads than it leaves. Something satisfying. I'm as curious about what happens next as ever, I'd love to see more of the British characters, learn about Old King Coal's wife and if she's ever going to be shown or if she's an Unseen Character ... but frankly, the Batman # 666 and Batman & Son loose threads are more pressing, and have waited a long time to be caught up on.
Not that much to analyze ... I still squeezed quite a bit of thought out of it.