Friday, May 14, 2010
SHADOW ON STONE
SHADOW ON STONE
Right off the bat let’s talk about the overall coolness of this book. It’s 37 pages long. That’s 37 pages of Morrison goodness. It’s pretty much a direct sequel to Final Crisis (Which I imagine could make or break the issue for you). But Morrison needs that 37 pages. Cavemen don’t say much, and not being especially intelligent or knowledgeable about the various occult happenings occurring in the Batman books, this first issue isn’t exactly the one where we get our groundbreaking reveals. Instead it relies on savage action. It’s pretty straightforward for a Morrison comic. It tiptoes on the boundaries of some of his usual high concepts. But mostly it sticks to its guns as Bruce lands in 10,000 BC, and we realize … my god … Bruce Wayne is the inspiration for the very same Bat-Tribe and Bat-Legends that have circulated around Gotham. So what does that say about BARBATOS?
Morrison plays with language here, opting to make the Cavemen speak English and Bruce speak gibberish, thereby giving us the tale from the Caveman point-of-view. If you’re hoping for Bruce’s inner monologues, you won’t get them. That being said, if you’ve ever read any fucking Batman in your life … you should already know what Bruce Wayne is thinking. In the meantime, Grant would rather have one “mysterious stranger” be hard to understand rather than a whole cast of people we can’t understand – that would kill the momentum of the story (well, unless he added in an Eaters of the Dead style scene where Bruce sits at the campfire and learns their language – but he didn’t. There was already enough Eaters of the Dead influence here.)
Page 1: The issue starts with some of that funky language. The kind of thing that will immediately turn off stupid readers (GOOD) as Boy sees Superman’s rocket (Launched in the final moments of Final Crisis as a sort of “TIME CAPSULE”) sticking out of the dirt and asks his father and tribesmen “What’s it of?” Welcome to Caveman speech. They don’t have all the ridiculous “in-between” words found in English. This is a base language. Even more simplistic than Latin, in a way. And here we meet our cast of heroes: The DEER TRIBE. The children of ANTHRO. Some of the earliest Cro Magnon men. There’s BOY, Anthro’s grandson. There’s MAN, Anthro’s son with the necklace, there’s GIANT, a huge blonde guy. There’s SURLY, a dark-haired skeptic, and JOKER who makes much laughter. Ugg. There’s another guy as well. To those curious … Giant has blond hair and Boy has red – the red haired mutation actually did first appear about 10,000 years ago. As a gnarly Irish Ginger, I’m happy to see it here. As for “What’s it of?” clearly there asking “Who made this thing and where did it come from?” in much simpler terms. One of the earliest basis for human science and curiosity was the belief that there were FOUR ELEMENTS. Earth, wind, fire, water. It was damn near a universal concept on Earth. European tribes, African tribes, Middle-Eastern, Asiatic, North American. Earth, wind, fire and water were a concept present EVERYWHERE. (Last seen in Grant’s run when Knight and Pearly King mentioned that there were four entrances to the Lazarus Pit mine built by ancient druids – one for each compass point, North, West, East, South. Each associated with one of the four elements. This is fundamental human science and far more easily transmutable to magick purposes as well.)
Page 2: “How is it so hard to look at?” – it’s the Stone Age. These guys aren’t familiar with metallic mirror finishes. To them, that’s practically camouflage. “Da-Man”. That would be “DAD + MAN”. U.K. and Irish readers will recognize “Da” without the extra “d” on the end.
”Old Man (Anthro) said it’s holy. Things happen here that can’t happen other wheres.” – this is reference to the fact that when Anthro “came of age” in this place, METRON appeared and taught him how to make fire. Surly says “There’s holy and there’s haunted” … clearly CAVEMEN ARE A COWARDLY AND SUPERSTITIOUS LOT … anyway, after a lot of talk about how Superman’s rocket is the same color as the sky, “Blue”, they discuss that a rival Tribe boundary is nearby, it’s not safe, and they’re looking for Old Man (Anthro). It’s interesting to contrast these savages to the street thugs Batman typically beats the crap out of. Apparently humanity hasn’t changed that much in 10,000 years.
Page 3: “What made tracks like these? Shining ones?” asks Da-Man. We recognize these babies as Batman’s bootprints. Shining Ones, again, would be METRON. Da-Man sees the cave – his caveman senses are enough to realize someone is in there so he throws a rock in. Out come the bats …
Page 4: … and the Batman. Did I mention Chris Sprouse’s artwork is fantastic? Anyway, “SHADOW ON STONE” is the title. There’s a lot of stone here, and admittedly, the “Stone” in the title is probably the STONE AGE. As for “SHADOW ON STONE” … most stories would refer to being a “SPOTLIGHT ON STONE” … but through the lens of Batman? They’re actually casting a shadow on it instead. Viewing its dark side. At the same time … “SHADOW ON STONE” is somewhat indicative of a phenomenon that occurs later in the issue – a Solar Eclipse (actually it should be referred to as a Solar Occultation) wherein the Moon blocks the Sun, and the Shadow of the huge stone Moon is cast upon the Earth.
Page 5: “I warned you!” says the superstitious SURLY. “Shush” says DA-MAN, who proceeds to ask Bruce “Where’s your tribe at?” … well … the Wayne Clan are rooted in Scotland, originally … so Bruce’s tribe, is probably somewhere on Great Britain at the moment, building henges or something. But point being … Bruce can’t understand Caveman language. And they can’t understand him. So Morrison chooses to write what Bruce is saying phonetically … “Wayrameye” … “Woddizdizplaze” … Bruce is from the U.S. Northeast Coast, specifically New Jersey, regardless of his upper class accent. To a Caveman the guy probably talks 5,000 miles per hour. “Where am I?” “What is this place?” … classic amnesia questions. DA-MAN tells GIANT to tell him who they are. DA-MAN, is Bruce really that terrifying with his blue eyes? It’s funny … the guy named “GIANT” is really only a little bigger than Bruce. Homo sapiens were pretty short back then. Bruce would be huge. His pale skin a little scary. His blue eyes ridiculously uncommon (only ever having been seen in rare places in Northern Europe). This guy is creepy to swarthy cavemen.
Page 6: GIANT introduces them all. MAN, BOY, SURLY, JOKER … at hearing his name, JOKER (clearly terrified) laughs a manic little laugh. Joker even has green eyes. It’s clearly just a nod to repeating themes throughout history, but Bruce growls at his laughing. A funny little moment. Don’t take it too seriously, kids, and naysayers … quit rolling your fucking eyes.
Page 7: They call Superman’s rocket “His sky-cart” … apparently the wheel has been invented, because “cart” requires “wheel”. Bruce sees it and says “HH.” See? We don’t need Bruce’s exact words to know what he’s thinking. We all know “HH.” means “I’m getting a clue.” It’s a dead giveaway that the wheels are spinning in Bruce’s head. At which he informs them that “The old man is dead. I’m sorry.” Yes, at the end of Final Crisis, Anthro died. And they can smell Old Man, dead in the cave. So DA-MAN goes in to get his body.
Page 8 & 9: Bruce examines the rocket. He might be an amnesiac, but his head is probably filled with images of the Present Day and even some high-tech JLA style stuff, so it must seem familiar. He opens it and finds the items Superman, Supergirl, John Stewart and the rest laid in it. Superman’s cape is fine (It’s indestructible, for those who didn’t know) but the portable Bat-Signal inside? Crumbles to dust. Apparently this rocket ship took a million years to get here. Deep in the cave, DA-MAN sees the symbols that Bruce drew on the wall. It’s not just any cave, after all … it’s the Bat-Cave. But remember as well … there’s Ice Ages and earthquakes in the meantime that will change that cave and the landscape.
Page 10: So they bring out Anthro’s body – still with Metron paint on his face to counter Anti-Life. And he had WHITE FAWN (DA-MAN’s mother) necklace. White Fawn really was married to Anthro. They talk about keeping it as an honored memento and never letting it go. Batman returns to them with Superman’s cape. VANDAL SAVAGE and the BLOOD TRIBE watch from the hills.
Page 11: They bury Anthro in a stone cairn. Don’t know what to do about Bruce, who has set up Superman’s cape like a flag on a spear or stick. Apparently it stirs some kind of notion or symbol to him. They want to know why (If he’s a Shining One: GOD) he doesn’t tell them some secret or new weapon or tool. Metron, after all, taught Anthro fire. So why wouldn’t Bruce teach them something. But irony of ironies, since he exited the Bat-Cave, filled with Bats, they call him MAN OF BATS, which is naturally the same name as the tribal warrior of the 20th Century inspired by Batman – MAN-OF-BATS, the Native-American crimefighter. Of course, Bruce’s voracious fucking appetite proves to them that “at least he eats like a man”. Recall those theories about how Bruce didn’t eat anything over the course of Morrison’s run. Well now, he’s hungry. GIANT says something that’s actually pretty frigging accurate. “I say he is a man, from across the ocean, I say.” Good call, Giant. Physiologically, Bruce being of Scots descent, that’s exactly the kind of thing Bruce should appear to be. But they sense they’re being watched, and Bruce’s ninja skills kick in with an early warning. “LOKKA!” (Look out!)
Page 12: VANDAL SAVAGE attacks, looking not a day older than he did in the Anthro scenes in Final Crisis … or, frankly … during Final Crisis, since he’s immortal. He attacks. His Blood Mob has them outnumbered, big time. DA-MAN asks Bruce to save his son. Bruce hides the kid in the bushes, takes an arrow to the shoulder, and the BLOOD MOB murders the Cavemen. Shocker, Bruce saving a kid and then helping him come of age. It’s like he was destined to bring lost young men into adulthood. He’s a mentor.
Page 13: Bruce hides BOY in the bushes while Savage’s savages slaughter our Caveman friends. Chris Sprouse adds a real sense of feral brutality here. Blunt force. Blood spatter. It’s bloody and it’s violent and it’s bone-breaking.
Page 14: Giant goes down last of all, full of arrows. Vandal Savage kills him. Then Bruce makes his move, drop-kicking Vandal in the face. Moving like Batman moves … cat-like … ninja-like …
Page 15: It’s quite the action scene, actually. Bruce makes Vandal eat rock. Unfortunately for Bruce, Vandal has a LOT of tribesmen who pin him with ridiculously strong caveman hands, and Vandal picks up a rock, and in a moment that’s as much a tribute to GREG RUCKA’S Crime Bible stuff as any of Grant’s Batwoman scenes were … Vandal Savage, CAIN, the first murderer on Earth, knocks out Bruce with a rock and red rage. The rock is stained red in the firelight. And they drag everything back to camp. Vandal keeps WHITE FAWN’S necklace as a trophy. They’re probably going to cannibalize the DEER TRIBE.
Page 16 & 17: Back at the camp, which Grant initially described as “Apocalypse Now”. Skulls on sticks everywhere. Bonfires and savages eating red meat. Vandal arrives at the top of a bluff and tosses Bruce down the hill. His minions also carried Superman’s rocket all the way back. And here’s the part where Grant wrote in the giant Bat that Andy Kubert drew – it’s been skinned and perched atop the various skulls – yet another conquest of Vandal Savage. Some prehistoric DC Comics bat that would make cryptozoologists worldwide giddy, and real scientists cringe. That’s comics!
Page 18: Vandal is a notorious cannibal, so the idea is when the sun comes up, he’s going to eat Bruce Wayne for breakfast. Meanwhile, BOY, with Batman’s utility belt in tow, has snuck along behind and spies on them from the hills.
Page 19: Vandal is going to eat his brain. He grabs two women to go mate with (we see Vandal with harems a lot lately – in Final Crisis: Revelations he had the Anti-Life zombie, pre-Female Fury Catwoman and Batwoman hanging all over him). And damn he’s hairy.
Page 20: Once again, history repeats itself. Here’s Bruce with his arms and legs splayed and tied to spikes in the ground. He’s bleeding. He’s exhausted. And he’s the Batman tied up in a death-trap. Yeah, this will last. Stupid Cavemen.
Page 21: Once more, a very Apocalypse Now moment, where he’s sick from the cold and blood loss and he’s laying there hallucinating. Vandal comes off much like Marlon Brando did in Apocalypse Now, in fact, an “adopted leader” of a savage tribe using them and doing what he wants. Bruce is hallucinating under the shadow of the hide of the massive prehistoric bat. Wolves (the earliest form of domesticated dog, actually) are circling in the distance. And he hallucinates that the dead Bat comes to life with a crackle of strange symbols, almost as if the giant Bat’s spirit is awakening before his eyes. Appropriate, although he’s clearly feverish.
Page 22: And so Bruce dreams, and his first batch of memories come back to him – the basics. He sees skulls, skulls, skulls, the giant Bat. And familiar words cycle through his mind. “NIGHT (“I must be a creature of the night”). TERROR (“Must be able to strike terror into their hearts!”). SUPERSTITIOUS (“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.”). OMEN (“A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen. I shall become a bat!”). CREATURE (“I must be a creature of the night.”). BLACK (“Black, terrible.”). TERRIBLE (“Ditto.”). BAT (“A bat!”). DISGUISE (“So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts!”). MAN. BAT.” All words directly ripped from Batman’s original origin – “The Legend of the Batman and How He Came to Be.” From 1939 or whatever. It’s been shown and shown again over the years, but always tends to stay true to Bob Kane’s original version. And BOY arrives and wakes him up. Boy has painted his eyes with warpaint that’s shockingly close to a domino mask like the kind, oh, ROBIN, would wear. He’s brought Bruce’s utility belt.
Page 23: He cuts Bruce free. (Really, not much to this page. Like I said, when “EVERY PAGE” isn’t loaded with symbolism or themes, Morrison is being a lot more straightforward than is normal.)
Page 24: He gives Bruce the utility belt, and immediately Bruce’s reaction to battle his fever and infection is to down two or three penicillin. He lays back for a moment regaining his faculties. BOY wants to leave now to warn the DEER PEOPLE that Savage is coming for them. Savage snores. Bruce doesn’t give up advantages.
Page 25: Morning comes. Savage wakes up and calls on his tribesmen to come watch him kill and eat the mysterious stranger. But he’s gone. Untied. The dogs are dead. Vandal screams “SHOW YOURSELF” which is never good news.
Page 26: The Batman strikes, now wearing the Kubert-style Caveman Batman costume. Smashes Vandal’s head into the ground.
Page 27: Lurks in the mist. Vandal asks “What are you?” … Bruce pulls the classic “Batman doesn’t talk” routine and scares away Vandal’s backup with micro-flash grenades. Vandal manages to get Bruce by the throat (never let it be said Vandal isn’t a tough son of a bitch) and accuses him of being a sorcerer. Bruce pepper-sprays him.
Page 28: Then kicks him in the chest. BOY attacks using the symbol of a bat, telling the Blood Mob that the DEER PEOPLE are gone and the BAT PEOPLE are here, officially giving birth to the Bat-Tribes that will birth the Miagani Indian Tribe later.
Page 29: Savage’s spear vs. Bruce’s grapple gun. Grapple gun wins. Bruce gets him in the guts, gives him the old “GET OVER HERE” like Scorpion, then knocks Vandal out.
Page 30: Caveman Batman money shot. Batman standing over Vandal Savage’s beaten body.
Page 31: BOY warns that Vandal Savage has angered the sun, and in the sky we see an eclipse forming. Batman says “HH.” Once more, possibly piecing together clues. He gives the kid back his grandmother’s necklace and bids him to follow. We’ll recall from BATMAN VS. ROBIN that Dick Grayson found Bruce’s cloak in the BARBATOS cave on some antlers with an Eclipse drawn over top of it.
Page 32: The scared Blood Tribe comes back, not quite finished. They throw spears, loose arrows. Bruce and the kid run, and Bruce makes him jump off a cliff with a waterfall into a deep pool, even as the Solar Eclipse (Occultation) reaches its maximum. Side note: Is this waterfall the same waterfall that Bruce Wayne drives his Batmobile through to get into the Bat-Cave? Historically one of his Bat-Cave entrances has always been hidden behind a waterfall.
Page 33: BOY surfaces to go on and found the BAT TRIBE. Bruce doesn’t. An eclipse … and a dunking? Something supernatural just happened. I believe I recall from Constantine that “magical teleportation” is easier in a liquid medium. Something similar from Lovecraft’s Chthulu mythos comes to mind, that a “BIRTH of the UNHOLY” is easier under water as well. It lubricates the magical doorway opening. Like the principal that giving birth underwater makes it easier. Or does Bruce Wayne have to drown during an eclipse each time to zip or zap into the next era? (For instance, in the Puritan era will he be “Dunked” as a witch? In the Pirate era will he be tied to a heavy weight and “sunken” to Davy Jones’ Locker? In the Private Eye days will he be given cement shoes and sunk in Gotham River?)
Page 34: Vandal Savage is cast out of the Blood Mob Tribe for offering false promises and angering the sun. Then something happens. Lightning and white lights. The Blood Mob are terrified. A subtle nod that “Superheroes are gods” in this Universe, and are the “modern mythology” in ours.
Page 35: Of shining ones! GODS! Actually, it’s a time-traveling Superman, Hal Jordan, Booster Gold and Rip Hunter. Two time travelers, and DC’s two heaviest hitters – Superman with his super-senses, and Hal with his ring that could track just about anything. They know Bruce was here, but Superman can’t hear his heartbeat (which he’d recognize). He assures a skeptical Booster and Hal that Batman will survive … but reaffirms that IF BRUCE RETURNS ON HIS OWN “EVERYONE DIES!” – there’s our doomsday clock. We know this is the cast of TIME MASTERS: VANISHING POINT … a “companion” to Return of Bruce, albeit not vital to the Batman story. Is it that crossover-ish or what? Huh? Didn’t Dick say “ALERT THE JUSTICE LEAGUE” when he realized what was descending on Gotham? Satanism? Doctor Hurt? Joker’s back? Sacrifices?
Page 36: Bruce finds himself underwater. He gets pulled out, by a Puritan woman. He wonders where the BOY went. She calls him Master Demon. There’s a dead Puritan in the water with a sword.
Page 37: And some glowing green demonic kraken bursts out of the water, maybe it followed him, maybe it’s a monster summoned by a witch. He raises the sword and moves to kill it. I’d be willing to bet that Puritan guy’s clothes end up on Bruce soon. Who’s the chick? Is one of them Ebeneezer Badde? Is that Klarion’s mom? (Just throwing things out there … not much to tell about RETURN OF BRUCE # 2 yet … but it’s only two weeks away so I’ll spare the frivolous theories and be back in two weeks, SAME BAT TIME, SAME BAT CHANNEL!)