Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE GARDEN OF DEATH (Spoilers)




Scene 1 – THE FLASHBACK (Maybe?)
We’re treated to a familiar view – the perversion of the Miracle on Crime Alley. The lie told to Hurt Batman. The false history. But the way we’re treated to it treats it damn near like it’s actually Doctor Hurt’s memory. In fact, the way it compares to Joker's ink blot test from R.I.P., it's almost certainly all in his head. Maybe he believes his own lies ...

We get to “see” the hypothetical story of Thomas Wayne having hired Joe Chill to kill his wife and son. It’s a wonderful job from Irving of mimicking Dave Mazzuchelli’s Year One splash … which, maybe my memory is faulty, I believe was repeated in Batman, R.I.P. by Tony Daniel. Is this supposed to be the “real way it happened”? Was Thomas Wayne a sick bastard? And look at that look in Martha’s eyes as she dies … the furs … the pearls. Memories of what Bruce said flood back to my mind from the end of R.I.P. where he spoke to that assassin masquerading as a monk – he’d read about traumatized children who create self-defense mechanisms for themselves. ZUR EN ARRH. ZUR EN ARRH. When his father abandoned him, could Bruce have been so further traumatized that his mind blocked off the whole thing and created a more idealistic story where they both died and he vowed vengeance right there on the spot?

Not fucking likely. More likely this is the story as Hurt is trying to play it. Stoking the coals of the rumors that Thomas Wayne was some sort of cad so his big plan to arrive in Gotham and pretend to be Wayne immediately draws gossip and rumor toward what he needs.

Or maybe it’s another Earth! A lateral timeline intersecting with the main DC timeline, and that’s how Hurt got here.

No, no. Let’s not over-think it. Odds are this is 18th Century Satanist twat Thomas Wayne, somehow survived through the years or maybe even time-displaced by his accidentally summoning a time-displaced Bruce instead of what he wanted to be Barbatos. Or from drinking and bathing in blood. Or maybe orgies really extend your vitality. Feels very “Eyes Wide Shut”.

The point is, the mystery of Hurt is just as mysterious.

So he killed his wife so he could have coke and sex parties with supermodels in masks? Well, at any rate … I’m sure more of his complete bullshit story will be shown to us in the next two or three issues of Batman and Robin … and I’m sure “What REALLY happened” will be reaffirmed in Return of Bruce Wayne # 5 when Bruce visits Gotham of his parents’ time.

Transition to ... “THREE DAYS FROM NOW!”
In a parallel to R.I.P. we begin with a trip to the future. Only this time, rather than a curious panel of a Batman and Robin who we might suspect is Richard and Damian screaming “YOU’RE WRONG”, we get a few panels, and keen insight into exactly how the fuck Doctor Hurt plans to access Wayne Manor so completely.

The old “Public press conference, I’m Thomas Wayne and I’m back” trick. You slick fucker.

I’m curious to see if Grant even bothers to bring Tommy “Hush” Elliot into this. I mean, how fucking complicated would that reaction be? We cut to somebody pretending to be Bruce Wayne in public, but still completely fucking baffled at this whole Thomas Wayne scandal.

Who wants to bet “Doctor Wayne” “finds” the cure for what’s ailing Gotham City?

So he’ll be getting the “keys” to Wayne Manor. And on his march to his sacrifice in the library, the altar, in front of our horse statue mantle with our Orion’s Belt roses – the very same secret passageway Dick just found that leads down the Satanist Church, we get some of our 99 Fiends again! Let’s take a crack at some names, now.

Our albino twins, of course, are BELIAL. But this guy with his infrared goggles and harlequin checkerboard pattern and flamethrower? I’ll ultimately guess is ANDRAS, who in the Lesser Key of Solomon had “owl’s head” in his description. The checkered, quilted sweater looks like the feathers on an owl’s chest, and the goggles give him an owl’s face. The woman in the leopard-print? SITRI, a demon specifically described with leopard in the description. Our fellow with the tattoos of black horses on his head would be OROBAS, who in the books is literally depicted as a man with a horse’s head. And our chap with the dog collar (seen with a Rottweiler on a leash last issue) was a hard place, but I’d say is AMON, who took the form of a Wolf, and had dogs mentioned, but a “head like a raven” which could be why he has such a silly arsed hair style. Last comes our zebra-patterned sniper. Him, I had no idea. But since he appears to carry a high-powered rifle, I thought AIM would be a pretty cute demon for him to have as namesake. Since AIM was listed as tall and distinguished and carrying a firebrand (which easily translates to a gun), he seemed a good choice. In addition, obviously last issue we got NABERIUS (The dog with the crow for a pet – we don’t see him this issue) and DUKE ZEPAR (Misnamed as “VEPAR” but clearly the “soldier” in red clothes.) Also not seen this issue is SENATOR VINE, the supposed “last survivor of the Black Glove”. VINE is another demon of classical demonology. And last issue, there is one silhouette in the distance that isn’t as plain and nondescript as the others. A man with a jacket and possibly a sword. I’d wager that’s CAIM, who was said to wear elegant clothes and carry a razor sharp sword.

Anyway, much of what may come to pass here (or quite possibly “WILL” come to pass) is hinted at (we’ll get to it later) and the possible fate of Dick Grayson that played out in Batman # 666 seems all too close now … how will the Caped Crusader get out of this? Can he beat destiny?! Apparently he can … if he’s better than Bruce Wayne. (But didn’t Bruce in Infinite Crisis pretty much say that Dick Grayson was a better man than he?)

And naturally, lines like “You dare imagine yourself superior to a Wayne?” just scream us in the direction of our long-lost Satanic 17th Century Thomas Wayne black sheep. Too bad Grayson, like us knows that sacrificing him, or killing him, or doing whatever, and summoning “Barbatos” is actually summoning an ass-kicking of New God time-displaced Bruce Wayne OWNS history proportions.

Of course, the Wayne superiority complex strikes me as strange, if this guy is supposed to be possessed by some sort of Devil. It all works out thematically, but it’s still strange for a Devil.

Our shot of Grayson getting executed gangland style in front of the fireplace where Thomas and Martha Wayne’s portrait hangs, by a man claiming to be Thomas Wayne, but really some sort of Devil or usurper or evil fuck … actually has shades of Bruce’s death scene in Final Crisis. And this isn’t what we saw in # 666 anyway … so destiny has already changed. But we’ll see. For all we know, it’s a tranquilizer, or Alfred loaded the gun with blanks, or Joker sabotaged the whole fucking thing (A lack of Joker is a sure sign Joker’s more involved than we think, right?) or who knows what. After all, the panel only shows the split-second of Dick appearing to be shot in the head. But where’s the blood? Is that brain-splintering pain on his face? It rather looks like the pain from the sound of a gun going off to me … that wince from the BANG and the expected death.

Last bit on this particular opening: Heard some complaints about Frazer Irving’s artwork during the preview (agree, those pages were a little more hit and miss. Sometimes Joker was a little too plain, but it got better). Have to say … he nails it this issue. This is top stuff.

Will Grayson be the better man than Bruce? Will it matter, since five minutes later they’ll accidentally summon Bruce and bring Hell down on themselves?

Scene 2 – Gotham Grand Hotel, 3 days earlier … and immediately after the end of B&R#12.
(For those wondering, I imagine that scene in Command-D “Evil Factory” in Bludhaven in Return of Bruce # 3 took place immediately after Grayson said “Alert the Justice League” and before they show up here. As for the “Present Day” portion of Batman # 700 – “Bat-Night” on Crime Alley? That would’ve been between Blackest Knight and Batman vs. Robin.

Irving’s Joker is pure Conrad Veidt. Looking at Joker we can determine a few things. This is the same Clown at Midnight face. The scar is visible on his forehead. The grin is permanent (although with time it appears the gashes at the corners of his mouth have healed up a little bit, he still can’t stop grinning). And he’s keeping the slicked hair with the one or two dangling strands in the front. Very nice. Love the way Irving does his eyebrows. Pure wolf-like cunning, those.

So it’s “Going Sane” … just not so absurd. Joker didn’t really “Go sane” when Batman was gone. He just went “less crazy”. Without Bruce Wayne Batman he lost his professional sense of commitment to his act and decided to try something new. Oh, sure, it still involved a bit of murder, a bit of humor, but the style-shift was dramatic.

“Disguise is also one of my many accomplishments, after all.” – It certainly is, Joker. It needs to be used more. I always loved that bit way back in the 40’s where he dressed like a beat cop, but you could see his ridiculous grin under the fake mustache.

Dick lays out the whole domino angle for all of you who haven’t figured it out with a dozen issues to work with, validating our insane online lines of speculation.

He poisoned Mr. Toad. How’d he do that and why didn’t we realize it before? Well, since the Joker reveal last month, some people have figured out the pacing, and I’ve been informed that I’m an idiot. I’d figured that the “deal gone bad” in the first page of Batman and Robin # 1 that Toad was fleeing from involved Oberon Sexton. What I didn’t realize was that Joker had paid for a sample of the “Super Drug” then sold Toad out to the cops. Why did Joker buy the “Super Drug”? So he could create an antidote and leave it for the Dark Knight to find at the Carnival Grounds. Later we’ll learn that the “antidote” might be more important than we thought. It may be the catalyst for the actual “sickness” scheme. But if Joker has tampered with it … and Joker represents Death … we might be talking about fucking Doctor Hurt’s plan up by killing everyone in Gotham City. Keep your eye on the Joker.

That panel of all black with only Dick’s eye behind the white lens of the bat-cowl on a black plane is fantastic stuff.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I had you figured out when I was twelve.” – Attaboy, Grayson. This is the kind of line that makes me with Bruce would never come back.

Damian voices the question on plenty of fans’ minds, if message boards are to be trusted as accurate gauges for broader fan viewpoints – wouldn’t Sexton have been a real writer to be published and noted? Sure was. Cue a spot on bit of timing for a cameo from England’s Knight. The man had killed his own wife. Joker apparently realized it right away, buried him with her (possibly alive) and then usurped his identity.

What was the first “domino of death” that started the chain reaction? How far back are we talking here? Was it killing the Russian General? Or does it go further? What about killing Jason Todd?

Gordon barges in and immediately addresses one of my own queries – how fucked is it that Gordon was all buddy-buddy with Oberon Sexton at a party? Pretty fucked, thinks Gordon. And just to cap it off … Damian calls Joker on his bullshit and thinks he’s always been totally sane. Personally … I agree with Damian. Never mind the fact we’ve “visited” Joker’s mind with Martian Manhunter or Atom or whoever and it’s been a crazy ride. Nevermind that cosmic godly types like Phantom Stranger have used Joker’s madness to battle chaos demons. I’m perfectly sane, and the only thing that stops me from acting like the Joker is that there isn’t a stage to act out the routine on, or a system designed where I can just go to Arkham Asylum every other week by claiming insanity. And frankly, I’m too lazy to be that dedicated to an act – the greatest acting gig ever – making the whole world think you’re insane when you aren’t.

I’m sure Grant will probably give us a clearer look, since Joker IS the “Death” mentioned in The Garden of Death, The Triumph of Death, and The Knight, Death and The Devil.

“Looks like EVERYONE dies in the crossfire. Unless … unless you’re as good as he was.” – Joker repeats the idea Doctor Hurt mentioned before. They think Grayson will need to surpass Bruce to save the place this time. But the everyone dies thing seems to speak to my theory that Joker sabotaged Hurt’s drug as well.

Scene 3 – The Bat-Bunker
This is a nice scene, our obligatory “briefing” scene, and also the calm before the storm. Dick takes Gordon to the Bat-Bunker to show him his theories about what’s going down. Gordon has his suspicions about Bruce Wayne. However, they’re not the usual suspicions. And if anything, these days, Gordon’s suspicions that Wayne might be Batman are probably fading, since Wayne (Hush) is seen places while Batman is elsewhere, (If Batman is dead, he can’t be Wayne, who is alive) and seeing the Bat-Bunker he may believe this is the legendary headquarters of Batman.

“Everything the Joker says is a lie or a trick or a clue.” – Way to narrow it down, Grant. Let’s all just go back throughout your entire run and try to determine which lines are lies, which are tricks, and which are clues.

Gordon confirms the fact that he certainly knows it’s a new Batman. However, it’s been a few months. Half a year even. Maybe more. This isn’t another Jean-Paul Valley incident, so we’re past that suspicion now. Does he suspect it’s the former Nightwing? Possibly.

“I still haven’t made all the connections.” – That’s fine, Grayson. Neither have we.

“In three days time, Gotham experiences a total solar eclipse”. Ah, here it fucking goes. Doctor Hurt’s speech (three days later) sort of hinted at it, and here’s the rub. So Bruce is on his way back. We know how that works. Each era in Return, he’s been “summoned” by somebody, only to vanish again during a solar eclipse, and appear … well, probably three days prior to a solar eclipse. I wonder if this means each issue of Return of Bruce takes place over three days. Actually, that’s very possible.

Caveman Era: 1st night does cave drawings. 2nd attack on caveman camp. 3rd Dons bat costume.
Puritan Era: 1st night Annie’s hideout. 2nd back to health, thinks he’s Mordecai. 3rd fights dragon.
Pirate Era: 1st night cave adventure with Blackbeard. 2nd hangs out with Miagani. 3rd vanishes.

It’s possible. I’ll admit, The Puritan issue seemed more like a week had gone by, and the Pirate issue seemed like he was only there 24 hours.

“… but if it helps to know, most of my cops prefer you to him.” – Too funny. Dick was a cop, he would have a good rapport with cops (We saw him asking Bailey how his boy, Max “soon to be Robot” Bailey was doing). Having been a cop, this makes sense. Plus, he’s Dick Grayson. Everyone loves Dick Grayson. He’s way less scary.

“Which brings us right back to Pyg, Santo, Flamingo, and the 99 Fiends” – Well … not that I wouldn’t have gotten to it later … but Professor Pyg is back by the end of this issue. So who wants to bet that Eduardo Flamingo resurfaces as part of Doctor Hurt’s forces soon as well?

Dick has a map of Gotham up on his display. Has anyone tried the old classic detective method of taking that map, and marking the locations where various Domino Crimes or Black Glove related incidents have happened to see what they get? Probably not … since locations like The Killing Joke carnival grounds I don’t believe have ever been placed on that map.

“We can’t afford to take our eye off the Joker. He hasn’t played his hand yet.” – Right … again, I suspect the attempted murder of 9 million people, seems his style, but then again, Joker has been sabotaging the Black Glove’s efforts and killing the fuck out of them. Damian wants answers the direct way (Something that never worked for Bruce – trying to beat information out of him) and Dick is trying to play the game out and win it. The question really does come down to “Can they trust Joker this time, or can’t they? Or can they to a degree then he turns?” Grayson doesn’t know, and neither do we. I sort of want to trust him.

Scene 4 – Gotham Central
Lieutenant Bilbao’s a new cop, I don’t believe we’ve ever seen before. The obsessive name-tracer in me would like to point out that the name stems from the city in Spain, and the name’s origins potentially mean “Two River Banks” or something to do with two rivers, presumably referring to the two rivers of that region. What does that have to do with Grant’s intricate plot? Jack shit. Did you know the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain was designed by Frank Gehry? His name sound a Hell of a lot like Gary Frank, who draws Superman to look just like Christopher Reeve and will be drawing Batman: Earth One. Also featuring The Riddler. To my knowledge his work has never been confused with the work of Frank Quitely, whose name isn’t even really Frank Quitely.

This scene is a beautiful thing. How exactly does one break it down? Why does Damian feel the need to bludgeon Joker with a crowbar? Is it out of some sense of “Revenge of Robin”? Does he purely not like the Joker for killing one of the people to wear the Robin uniform? Is it for Jason Todd, who Damian met, and isn’t fond of at all? Doubt it. I’m quite certain it’s his sadistic little sense of irony and justice. Damian’s a very “Laws of Solomon” kind of kid. Eye for an eye and crowbar for a crowbar.

It’s a little late to be talking about this, but Joker has clearly healed a little bit from his accident a while back. His voice is back to normal – his mouth not as sore or shredded, so his voice actually comes out normally. His cheeks where he kept ripping the stitches during Clown at Midnight and R.I.P. have healed to a degree – although he’s still trapped in the permanent grin. His scar isn’t going anywhere, it seems. But he’s at least one degree closer to classic Joker. And we get the skinny on his injury, which we already kind of knew about but now know in pretty frank detail what happened. Bullet through bottom of jaw (ouch … flashbacks of when I accidentally impaled my jaw with a rock), messed up his tongue, and went through the roof of his mouth and nose/sinuses. So he’s had a little bit of remodeling on his nose, particularly the interior. Yeah, that’ll mess you up pretty bad. A manually cleft palette would hurt.

Is Joker really crying here? What about actually mourning the fact that he was a normal little kid once? Complete bullshit? Grayson says everything is a lie, trick or clue. But come on … he probably was a little whiz kid once … seems logical. Probably didn’t intend to grow up and become a super-criminal when he was a lad. Probably wanted to be an astronaut or pirate.

Damian continues to voice his “Joker is totally sane” theory. I can’t wait to see more if it, frankly. Love hearing a bit more of Grant’s thoughts on Joker. Is he mad? Are we all mad and Joker’s sane? Where’s the line and who’s on what side of it?

And Christ, yeah, Damian really comes into his own as Mini-Bruce here, and Joker notices it, too. And that last panel of Joker before the beating is fantastic. Take note that Joker’s fingernails are now painted ALL BLACK instead of alternate red and black like his dead man’s hand configuration. Joker as Death, Joker mourns Death. This panel reminds me of Alex Ross’s Joker covers.

And there’s our reverse Jason Todd moment. Of course, we’ve already seen Jason Todd beat down the Joker with a crowbar. And if Joker can survive it from Todd, who has to be like three times stronger than Damian and possibly a little more bloodthirsty, I don’t think Damian’s going to kill him either. Still … always a riot to see the Robin beats Joker with a crowbar reversal of fortunes thing after all this time. And doesn’t Damian just look like a natural …

Damian points out some of Joker’s inconsistencies. Paraphrasing here: “If everything is a joke and nothing matters (IE: human lives, law & order) than I wonder if you feel the same about the brilliant mind you’re always showing off”. Yes, Joker … if we’re all worthless … how is it you’re so vain? How is it YOU have worth?

“You sound just like … like him …” – Has Joker found a new playdate in Damian? Seems like he might have. The fact that this scene also mirrors the scene in The Dark Knight where a similar interrogation-via-beating plays out and Joker wins it and sets up his arch-enemy yin/yang status with Batman seems to build on that.

Cops reaction to Damian beating Joker half to death with a crowbar is priceless. And it’s kind of sad, seeing Joker beaten with a look in his eyes I don’t think we’ve ever seen, but with that stupid grin plastered on his face. This is a new one. Joker as a tragic character rather than a comic one … or it would be sad, if this wasn’t Joker and we didn’t expect him to reveal something fucking awful next issue.

Scene 5 – Don’t check your map of Gotham City or this probably won’t make any damn sense … they’re flying from whatever “EXIT” from the Bat-Bunker Dick took to lead suspicion away from Wayne Tower so Gordon wouldn’t identify … but it’s probably not TOO far from Wayne Tower … preferably in a straight line to Gotham Central … except I don’t think Blackgate Penitentiary is anywhere in that straight line …
EDIT: Sorry, I'm a moron sometimes and at this point close reading wasn't happening. The Batmobile crashed in an alley (hence the dumpster and garbage cans) in Downtown Gotham ... NOT Blackgate, which if my memory would've served me better, I'd remember was on an island.

I didn’t see this coming. Not exactly. But it’s pretty awesome and just amps me for the next issue. How the fuck long is the wait? That’s rubbish. But at least we get to learn some of the in-between off-panels stuff between R.I.P. and Final Crisis in the meantime, and get to see Cowboy Bruce. Fuck, though … that’s side-tracking us. The dominoes are falling and we need to be here, not off on a damned detour in the past! Will Grayson survive? (HE HAS TO, RIGHT?!) Will Damian defect (NO WAY, RIGHT?!) Will Bruce kick everyone’s ass? (PROBABLY)

Anyway, the 99 Fiends (Hey, 99 upside down is 66. And apart from Route 66, at one point a veritable Highway to Hell, 66 is just one 6 away from being 666! Maybe 999 Fiends were just too damned many.) are on the move again, shooting the awesome flying Batmobile out of the sky, right into the alleys where a fucking army of Dollotrons (Have the entire prison population been converted into fucking Dollotrons?!) swarms around Batman and Gordon.

And the demons reach Professor Pyg, handing him a new mask for this masquerade ball that is the downfall of Gotham, and set him free. Pyg’s back! Escaping Blackgate? Isn't Jason Todd in there, too?!

As for the triptych … looks like Gotham City’s populous is about to have a freakout of epic proportions when that drug goes off. Looks like Gordon will be in the clutches of Professor Pyg (rather mirrors Grayson being in the clutches of Le Bossu and Scorpiana, actually) and a repeat of the shot of Grayson apparently being shot in the back of the head … surrounded by white light. What could that mean?

Fucking Christ. Until next week … my brain is fried from the amount of holy fuck in this one. If this is Batman R.I.P. as farce than the Joker is playing us all for the fucking fool.

6 comments:

  1. I would mention that there were flowers next two gravestones and that Bruce's head was bloodied, just like Martha's, and he said, "My wife, my son." It would appear that this DOESN'T fit with Hurt's account of the past from R.I.P., as Bruce died as well, and Thomas survived publicly, attending the funeral. This appears rather than what Hurt told Bruce had happened, what Hurt said the original plan was.

    Great insights as always. Can't wait for next month's issue.

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  2. One interesting thing I noticed was that when Damian's cape is covering the crowbar, it's draped over the Robin symbol on his costume, blocking it from view. Could be a sign of our little Damian trying to ignore his heroic oath.

    Thought you of all people might appreciate that detail. :P

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  3. Great Write up, but just to add to the 99 upside down is 66, but there are 66 books in the King James version of the bible. So 99 is also representing a upside down bible.

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  5. 99 being the upside down Bible is great. Not that a "Fiend" is an upside down "book" in any way, but that's a cute thing to think of.

    I wondered why Grant settled for "99 Fiends" when clearly, the various books on Demonology only ever list 72 Demons by name. Granted, 99 is a cool comic book number.

    I thought maybe if you were to take all the other "Agents of Doctor Hurt" and add them up, perhaps you'd find the rest of the villains Batman has faced in Grant's run so far equals about 27. (Oh hey ... 72 + 27 ... a little numerical flip-dee-flip).
    So, if you take the 72 Demons, and add the rest of Doctor Hurt's agents ... sure enough ... 99.
    1. Jezebel Jet (Black Glove)
    2. Sheik Al-Khidr (Black Glove)
    3. Sir Anthony (Black Glove)
    4. General Malenkov (Black Glove)
    5. Cardinal Maggi (Black Glove)
    6. Senator Vine (If he's not one of the "Demons")
    7. Pierrot Lunaire (Club of Villains)
    8. Le Bossu (Club of Villains)
    9. King Kraken (Club of Villains)
    10. Charlie Caligula (Club of Villains)
    11. Scorpiana (Club of Villains)
    12. El Sombrero (Club of Villains)
    13. Swagman (Club of Villains)
    14. John Mayhew (Black Glove)
    15. Wingman(Black Glove)
    16. First Batman Muller (Three Ghosts)
    17. Second Batman Branca (Three Ghosts)
    18. Third Batman Lane (Three Ghosts)
    19. Mister Toad (Circus of Strange)
    20. Phosphorus Rex (Circus of Strange)
    21. Siam (Circus of Strange)
    22. Siam (Circus of Strange)
    23. Siam (Circus of Strange)
    24. Big Top (Circus of Strange)
    25. Professor Pyg (Circus of Strange)
    26. Gabriel Santo (Penitente Cartel)
    27. Eduardo Flamingo (Penitente Cartel)

    Christ ... Hurt's organization consists of 99 Fiends.

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  6. Right ... take off Senator Vine ... add Nine-Eyed Man. Knew I was missing something.

    Vine then does belong with the 72 Demons.

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