Aquaman kicked ass this week as well. But where are we?
Wayne Family Cemetery
Page 1: Primarily this picks up where the cliffhanger left off. Robin (Damian) has just attacked Batman (Dick) and Batman would very much like to know why. “You almost killed me,” Dick says, and indeed we see that his bat-emblem has crumpled – apparently after being shot point-blank in the chest by Jason Todd, the Red Hood, about seven issues ago, he added some extra chest protection, in the form of a thin layer of extra breakaway padding shaped like the classic Batman logo.
Keep your eyes on Oberon Sexton. In fact … I can wait. Go back and re-read EVERY SINGLE instance of Oberon Sexton appearing. Enjoy yourself as you realize I’m a genius! (Well, maybe not a genius … but if you want … please, go and read my article “Joker III: I can do this, too!” or whatever the hell I named that particular Blog Entry. Where I list all the references to The Killing Joke and make my arguments for why Oberon Sexton simply must be The Joker in disguise.
Slade goes for the old “shovel takes out groin” cliché. Apt to use it on Dick Grayson, who is a well-known romancer of super-heroines.
Quick jump over to Talia’s base-of-operations, where Slade’s loving it …
Page 2: Deathstroke doesn’t even want to kill Dick Grayson so much as cripple him. The last few issues I’ve been voicing my curiosity at why Grant Morrison used Deathstroke the Terminator instead of say … SHRIKE … or even Jason Todd, given his ties to Talia. This issue very poignantly tells us that Slade, like Talia, “had his kid get turned into a good guy by Dick Grayson”. Damian trained with Dick and became Robin. Rose trained with Dick and became, well, Ravager. But she’s a Teen Titan now. So these two “evil parents” have that in common. And we all slap our foreheads and say “Guh … of bloody course.” I’ve been eager to get to that point since I read the preview.
Page 3: And here’s our “title page”. We’re at the fullest extent of the “Batman vs. Robin” aspect of it. The Mexican Train is coming to Gotham. Andy Clarke knocks this page out of the park, actually. Not all his frames this issue are “pure genius”, but they all definitely suffice (a handful are a little stiff and lacking in the best possible “camera placement”. But some of the ones he really put some effort into really more than make up for it.)
Oh, P.S. … Dustin Nguyen, Paul Dini’s usual collaborator, did some art here, too. See if you can spot it.
Page 4: The “juice” is turned up on this electronic kid-puppet machine so when Dick gives a classic high kick to Damian’s guts, Slade feels it hardcore. He’s about to be the victim of their own over-enthusiastic willingness to try this crazy super sci-fi technology out for evil purposes. And worse still … he told Batman who he was through Damian’s mouth and now Dick is ready to hand out some serious fucking ass-kicking.
Page 5: Talia’s scientists seem awfully concerned for the kid all the time. Could it be they’re more proud of “their baby” than she, the DNA donor is? Probably. But what wrongfully used sci-fi technology would be complete without its scientists yelling “it’s too dangerous!”
Slade complains about Damian’s muscles jamming up from the kick from Grayson. Slade being a super-soldier isn’t used to the normal reactions people have to tremendous pain. He also pushes kids waaaaaaaay harder than he should, and is notorious for it. In fact …
A perfect member of the “Dick Grayson” Rogues Gallery. If Dick is the “sidekick who is groomed to be the perfect super-hero, then Deathstroke is the opposite of that – the wicked mentor, who wants to pervert sidekicks or junior heroes to evil purposes. Which is why that storyline in the Teen Titans Go! Cartoon where he wanted Dick to be his assassin apprentice worked so well.
Damian’s line … “Graaa … Slade … wearing me like a glove.” Apt considering the circumstances. But let’s not forget the context here. They’re surrounded by “Fiends” who are henchmen of Doctor Hurt, the Black Glove, and “Demonic Possession” is almost definitely involved. So Slade becomes a Demon, possessing Damian’s body. And Talia is a Demon as well – Talia al Ghul, Daughter of the Demon. Who is in fact possessing the albino body of his son, the White Ghost, these days. The al Ghul family do some Demonic Possession via science. The other side? Via black magic, of course! So Batman has two “Demonic” organizations out to get him, one that uses cutting edge science and the other that uses the occult.
Oberon Sexton … “Unnnh. Batman … Robin … we have company …” – Grant’s still playing coy with the dialogue. Really, if anything, the fact that Joker isn’t so bat-shit crazy that he can actually do things like … invent a fake ID … sit down long enough to write a book … and stick with a fake accent and really work the whole “master of disguise” angle is pretty impressive. But we should know by know how dedicated he is to his routines.
Page 6: Help me identify these new members of the “99 Fiends”. Fat guy with bull on his trench coat. Girl with flamethrower and leopard print. Alfred’s comment about the water cannon – the water cannon in the new Batmobile was used in … let me think … Paul Dini’s first few issues of Streets of Gotham to battle Firefly … I think? Or was it Judd Winnick’s arc? At any rate … it has a water cannon.
Page 7: Grant, never one to not use something cool that he introduced, gives us the awesome return of the electrified bat knuckle dusters. Originally intended for use in “electro-shocking” the zombie Bruce Wayne in case it was crazy from Lazarus treatment … here they are again … for what? Why … Dick Grayson proves that he is in fact the master, when he pins Damian to a tree and gives him 5,000 volts to the heart like a defibrillator machine. And Slade, who’s an old bastard with heightened senses and nerves … has a heart murmur!
Page 8: I like Andy Clarke’s artwork fine, by the way (Although his Talia is a little on the scary Botox-faced whore side) … but this is actually the first page in three issues where Slade Wilson has looked like Slade Wilson and not a little on the frumpy, terrible art side. Anyway, like the scientist conveniently says, “Mr. Wilson’s enhanced senses are making him vulnerable!” and Dick Grayson pulled a … well, a “Bat-God Moment” and gave Slade Wilson a shot to the heart from 5,000 miles away.
So, the whole strange “Talia uses Deathstroke to mind-control Damian in “another form of Demonic Possession” angle” over … Grayson gets back to business. The cemetery is crawling with Doctor Hurt’s minions. Oberon Sexton is there and he’s the freaking Joker in disguise still. (Hence Dick’s “What the HELL are YOU doing here?” line … which doesn’t quite get answered this issue, but let’s face it, Joker’s technically “known” Bruce was Batman since during R.I.P., when Bruce ripped his mask off. Joker simply didn’t give a fuck. But not giving a fuck doesn’t mean he won’t get involved here, it just means he’s not the type of guy to go blabbing that information to every Two-Face, Deathstroke and Penguin he sees. In fact, he’s been far too busy anyway, getting in touch with rare contacts around the globe (All speculative) like Pearly King Charlie English and Pearly Prince “Smooth” Eddie English in the U.K., and others elsewhere, to track and kill Black Glove members. Not to mention the whole “Invent fake ID, go on book tour, adhere to the fake accent, stay in hotels, think up jokes, and do detective work” angle.
Page 9: So our new “Fiends” have arrived, and they’ve picked up the Casket (The Joshua Wayne casket Dick found in the Cave) and they escape with it. Whatever is in it is terribly, epically important, and I’m sure we’ll find out in two weeks, or in Return of Bruce Wayne. But meanwhile, back to identifying these new “Demons” in Hurt’s employ.
Fat guy. Trench coat. Bull motif. Cargo pants.
Pyromaniac girl. Flamethrower. Polk adot shirt.
Pyromaniac guy. Flamethrower. Hideous checkered sweater.
“Leader” type. Black trench. Spiky Mohawk. Tattoo of a … griffin? … on his head.
Damian says “I’m all right … but there’s something funny about him” regarding Sexton. Hilarious bit of foreshadowing. It was that moment that I knew my assumption about Sexton was correct. Awesome. Anyway, Sexton says “No hospital (They’d make him take off his disguise) … my hotel … please … we must talk … I fear this is only the beginning.” – This is JOKER saying this. So either it’s that bad, or he wants to talk to the “new” Batman on his own terms. Obviously staying in the Gotham Grand Hotel is what a touring comedian would do (Can’t believe I didn’t see the significance of the Hotel for an “in-town act”) … but Joker really wants to talk to Dick Grayson. We don’t get the scoop, on account of the Joker reveal is the cliffhanger. Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, I guess, to learn what Joker wants to talk to Dick Grayson about.
Oh yeah, and back at Talia’s HQ, Deathstroke is having a seizure. Nice, Dick.
Page 10: Side note to the annotating here … but this is the first awkward transition this issue and not the last. Usually I chuckle when Morrison quickly leaps to the next scene and assumes you can figure out the rest, but this time it wasn’t as slick. I’m not sure why, but I think it might be Clarke’s stiff art style. Whatever the case, the transition seemed more abrupt than usual, the usual being something I love, and this particular one feeling awkward.
“This” is what happened to Dick Grayson in that Barbatos cavern under the cemetery. He was attacked by a giant bat. Surrounded by smokes and hocus pocus. Obviously the occult, devil worship, crazy dark arts are factoring in here. He’s seeing patterns. We’re getting patterns in the form of the Return issues, their eras, and all the “Bat” related mythos surrounding Gotham. At any rate, their recovery seems to be in the Bat-Cave. Not Dick’s Bat-Bunker, but the genuine Bat-Cave, since this whole night has taken place at Wayne Manor already anyway. No sense driving all the way into town to mend Dick’s busted ribs. And Damian wants to talk to his mother.
Page 11: They go over what concrete evidence they actually found, if any. Here we get some more factoids about Wayne Manor. It was designed by a man named Nathan Van Derm (Oh, we’ll be meeting him, no frigging doubt.) for Darius Wayne in 1795. That sits right – one of Morrison’s original sources, a map of Wayne Manor from post-Infinite Crisis, states that the Manor was built in 1795 (another contradicts it, but he picked the one that worked better for him). Darius Wayne is of course, the Revolutionary War Hero. Thomas Wayne, the devil worshiping bastard who is pretty much Doctor Hurt/Barbatos/El Penitente … well, we know from Batman: The Cult and Batman: Dark Kngiht, Dark City that those devil worshipers were back in 1760. A full 35 years before Darius Wayne had the mansion built on the grounds that he probably inherited from his devil-worshiping Uncle Thomas. Since the Revolutionary War itself was in 1776, a good 11 years after the devil worship, there’s plenty of time to work with. Also, take note – the Black Pirate, who Batman will be teaming up with in his Pirate-themed third issue of Return of Bruce Wayne – was operating during the Revolutionary War period. That being said … Blackbeard, also rumored to be in that issue … was long dead by then, having operated in the Golden Age of Piracy – the late 1600’s. So maybe we’ll see Blackbeard’s Ghost?
Anyway, Wayne Manor is shaped like a stylized W. With the lych-way (the corpse road, a nicer word for it) to ALAN WAYNE’s crypt (who is Alan Wayne? Another question … gah), anyway, the designs for the crypt added onto the Manor overview shows a Bat-Signal. And Dick voices the opinion that the casket that was stolen by the Black Glove’s people is the key to this whole thing.
Another cool moment. They get ready to go visit Talia. Very matter-of-factly. Alfred, who had been blindfolded the whole way, left a tracker at the place so they could get there if need be. Dick has him refuel the Bat-Rocket, last seen in Batman & Son. And they go! As if it’s just a quick trip to the corner store.
Page 12: A very nonchalant page. Panel to panel it just skips to the new Batmobile (which can apparently piggyback on the Bat-Rocket, we never even see it) outside Talia’s Man-Bat Ninja fortress. Walking down the halls using the electrified dusters on ninjas. And they just march in.
Page 13: And Dick smashes the machine that enables them to control Damian. Lectures Talia. Talia barks back about how Dick is using mind-control, too. Dick lectures her back about Bruce’s wishes and qualities. She offers him the chance to go. He won’t go without Damian. Damian wants to talk to his mother alone for a minute. So Batman very nonchalantly again, passes the time by visiting the medical wing and beating Deathstroke out of his hospital bed. Mentions Deathstroke’s connection to the destruction of Bludhaven (Dick’s old haunts) during Infinite Crisis, tells Slade this small beatdown is just the prelude to the next time they meet.
Page 14: The Mom and Son talk. Damian is going to continue being Robin. Talia practically disowns him. She shows him that she’s got another clone, Damian II, all ready to go, a fetus in a tank that’ll be 10 years younger than him. Reveals some tiny tidbits about the process that hint at Damian’s true lineage.
Page 15: Talia’s motivations made a little clearer. And she really doesn’t take Dick seriously. He’s nothing but a “circus boy” to her.
Page 16 & 17: Finally, more Andy Clarke architecture. Here he excels in ways the other B&R artists haven’t. A great, but short two-page spread where we see an elevated train (Very “Batman: Year One” looking) pull into town. At the train station awaits a bunch of Gotham Gangsters, all wearing Domino Masks, awaiting whoever is on the train. They talk about how Red Hood (Jason) killed the gangsters (Morrison finally names the rest of them, although we saw the names in Batman Reborn Hardcover as well – Bullet-Nose, Aitch-Eyes, High-Rise Romero and Gentleman-G.) Anyway, they talk about how vigilantes in Gotham are hard as hell, but that “Penitente” has it all worked out. We get the usual “in forty-eight hours, Gotham will be on its knees” claptrap.
Cut quick to the 99 Fiends walking into town, bringing the casket they stole from Grayson along, asking the same questions, about Batman. The Mexican Train is in this case an actual train, rolling in from Mexico, carrying Doctor Hurt and Senator Vine, the last member of the Black Glove (I thought the Glove was all dead … but then again, Doctor Hurt has TWO hands.) and anyway, Vine (Bat-scholars, help me out, is Vine preexisting?) mentions that somebody is coming for the Glove members. They hint at Joker.
Page 18: Back in the chamber with the Barbatos statue, there’s no giant bat that Dick thought he fought. They’re assuming it was a hallucination (again, possibly black magic – but then again, there’s that giant bat from Return of Bruce # 1 to think about …) at any rate, there’s no bat shit on the floor, no smell, but there is Batman’s (Bruce’s) cape and cowl hanging from antlers with a sun overtop of it and some sort of well.
Page 19: “Alert the Justice League”. That pretty well sets up “Rip Hunter: Time Master” by Dan Jurgens, I doubt Morrison will give it more than a word after that. “Thomas Wayne, Barbatos, devil worship and the underground railroad. Everything’s connected and it’s all coming to a head. It’s one big pattern.” – Sure is, Dick. We’ve done enough theorizing and it’s been spread over enough months that I don’t feel like getting deep into theories just this moment. I’m ready to just read along now and find out. Dick has his theory about Sexton, too. Dick figured it out. Did you? (I did!)
Page 20: Joker’s not that fond of all the “police protection”. He asks if “Wayne” had anything to say. Does he know Tommy Elliot is pretending to be Bruce? Does he know Darkseid zapped Bruce? Does he figure Bruce’s “crazy act” lately is because of his own nerve toxin? Joker jokes about how Damian asked if he was Bruce Wayne – basically stating that Damian is nowhere near the level of detective that Dick, Jason or Tim are.
Page 21: Dick says he misses some obvious clues. For instance, the deaths have in common something, and he doesn’t mean the Black Glove, or the Dominoes. He means the oil sheikh choking on peanuts in the restroom. The murders themselves. Are jokes!
Page 22: The Joker! Ta-da!
Not much more to say. Tons more questions, all which’ll be answered in the coming weeks. New issues every week for multiple weeks. Lots and lots of resolutions coming. Roller coaster rides.
But I will say, it’s wickedly appropriate that somebody pointed out the jokes seem to be based around “dirty jokes” (Sheikh’s peanuts in the bathroom” … “shakes penis in the bathroom”. “Russian Generals in an alligator’s mouth”. Putting genitals in an alligator’s mouth.” Etc …) and that’s exactly how Joker would see the Black Glove – lude, corrupt, rich, perverts and scandalous types. They’re one big dirty joke. And so he’s killing them using dirty jokes.
So where does that leave us?
With questions. What's in the casket? Another Damian baby? How's Bruce getting back? What's Thomas's deal? Is Barbatos a real frigging demon?
Oh yeah, and El Penitente's entire organization is converging on Gotham, all the gangsters who want to survive are allying themselves with him, and Joker's on ... the good guys' team?!