Most of this issue is Batman narrating events from Final Crisis. If you have not read Final Crisis, you really have no business reading deeper into the meanings behind Grant Morrison’s Batman run, because frankly … Final Crisis features something like the sum-total of all his previous thoughts on the characters and mythologies of the DCU, and connects themes and elements from Animal Man … Doom Patrol … Batman … All-Star Superman … but ESPECIALLY his runs on JLA and Seven Soldiers.
That being said … these last two issues serve a purpose – although Final Crisis is shown here (at least, the parts Batman was involved in) … these two issues make Grant’s Batman run stand alone. Final Crisis is no longer required to understand it. Hopefully if you never read Final Crisis and you read this issue, your curiosity about New Gods and how legends like Superman and Flash and Wonder Woman deal with them will be peaked, and you will read that hyper-dense tome.
THE HALL OF JUSTICE. 27 DAYS FROM THE FINAL, EARTH-SHATTERING EVENTS OF FINAL CRISIS.
We begin with repeats of dialogue from Final Crisis, of course. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman briefing the new JLA members (Like “Jason Rusch/Gehenna Hewitt” Firestorm, Roy “Red Arrow-at-the-time” Harper, Vixen, “New, but not really” Hawkgirl. For older members like John Stewart who has Green Lantern archive access, I’m sure it’s just a redundant reminder.
But fuck that … let’s get into Batman’s head.
“You can hear glaciers melting in the Arctic Circle … you can hear radio without a receiver and listen in on the turf wars of dust mites.”
Grant Morrison’s Batman is in as much awe of Superman as Grant Morrison himself is. Who wouldn’t be?
Another two-page title spread (I like these) featuring the gun, the pearls, only now interspersed with the moment when Bruce takes the Radion Bullet and puts it in his Utility Belt with intentions of bringing it back to the Bat-Cave to analyze. It was a big point back when Final Crisis first came out … people speculating “Batman “borrowed” the God-Bullet? That’s going to pay off down the line …” and sure enough, he shoots Darkseid with it.
LATER. STILL AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE
Batman explains his theory about the bullet to The Flash (Wally West – Barry Allen comes back right about the same time Batman gets “put to sleep” in Darkseid’s nightmare machine. Meanwhile, Wally West is the Flash from Grant’s JLA run so these two chatting is old hat.)
“Essence of Bullet”.
Grant finally puts into words the sort of metatextual, tangential idea behind the bullet that he was more-than-willing to share in Internet interviews but which didn’t ever make it into the textual canon. It’s pretty appropriate that it’s Batman who now gets to commit these theories to facts.
It’s only out of sheer respect for Wally West – who lost his JLA mentor, Barry, and became the first “protégé” super-hero (Wally’s best friend, Dick Grayson is about to do the same thing … Kyle Rayner also joined that party, although without the mentor/protégé thing with Hal Jordan, and presently, Donna Troy is the JLA’s “Wonder Amazon” since Wonder Woman is in Greek God Time-Shuffle at the moment, although she only borrowed the Wonder Woman persona briefly, and she’s in the JLA as herself) that Batman refers to him by his full name – “Wallace” – and tolerates his “woahs” and “wows”. Plus, he’s about to ask the kid to read the ENTIRE internet from the night of Martian Manhunter’s death … you don’t insult a guy if you’re about to ask for that big and boring a task.
LATER, TALKING TO SUPERMAN
Bruce doesn’t remember the dialogue “exactly” as it happens. Some of the phrases are moved around (Like “That scans …”) and some cut short. But you get the gist of it, and Bruce’s memory is still pretty accurate.
“Thomas and Martha Wayne”.
LATER, STILL AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE
In Final Crisis, John Stewart, who was crucified to a shipping crate by Kraken’s energy constructs (literally, impaled on his wrists onto the wall) had the sheer will-power to rip his arm from where it was pinned and punch the shit out of Kraken’s hand. Kraken, of course, is possessed by Granny Goodness. Point being, Batman sees the imprint of Stewart’s GL power ring in her palm and says “John has a hell of a right hook, doesn’t he?” I know in GL: Rebirth, Hal Jordan cold-cocks Batman, but I seem to recall Stewart gets pissed at him and throws a punch as well. Or maybe that was a JLA story …
The JLA have Amber and Black Alerts. I wonder what some of the other Alerts are. Bruce trying to kill the nerve cluster in an alien’s arm is a nice moment of levity.
“Did the box open then?”
No, Bruce. Not yet. I will point out what I’ve already pointed out elsewhere before, though – Kraken’s constructs are those of hideous centipedes. And in Joker’s sick fantasy of murdering Robin, Nightwing and Gordon, which he saw in the ink-blot test that Le Bossu gave him … flowers in the Arkham garden had nearly identical hideous centipedes crawling out of them. Is there some sort of connection between Granny and Joker?
Batman furthers that thought by saying that her constructs felt like Joker Venom (and Scarecrow’s Fear Gas, and Doctor Hurt’s fucked up smugness). It felt like the things that have made Batman confront his worst fears … weird then that she didn’t possess a Yellow Lantern, since they’re the ones based in Fear. But “Evil” as a concept is not narrowly limited to just “Fear”, “Evil” has access to many of the Rainbow Cops from Outer Space’s emotional spectrums. Primarily the negative ones, of course. No use for Hope, Compassion or Love.
“Too late I saw the shape of the trap that had been waiting for me since the day I was born …”
Batman vomits, and the next panel is a black rectangle … the shape of a grave. Death. The trap set for him since the day he was born is Death. Batman is faced with his own Mortality – the ultimate death-trap. Time passes, people die. He won’t live forever.
COMMAND-D BUNKER, EVIL FACTORY, BLUDHAVEN
Here in the dying ruins of his protégé’s protectorate city … a dying city for a dying god of evil … Batman is out of his depth.
“There’s someone in my head”.
That’s The Lump, of course. Everything you need to know about The Lump’s visit to Bruce’s memories can be found in Batman # 682 and # 683, “Last Rites”. Between this panel and the next, The Lump takes a 25-day joyride through Batman’s life, making him relive it and sifting through memories to select ones suitable for the Clone-Batman Army to have. Things don’t work out. Batman detects him. Can smell the chemicals of the lab, even in his dream-state, uses his own memories as weapons against The Lump, and when they execute Lump for failure, Lump breaks Batman’s bonds and allows him to free himself.
It does seem clear that the green syringes they inject into Batman’s brain in that helmet probably are responsible for his memory loss, as reflected here in his logbook: “It’s getting harder to remember how it all happened. I think they’ve done something to my mind.”
“I can remember the smell of antiseptic, fear and human waste. It was as if I’d woken in a prison hell of broken glass and chemicals where the dead men in the jars all had my face.”
This echoes the memories that the Clone-Batman repeats to Damian later. “Born in a broken jar” and “glass splinters” and similar sounding phrases indicate that the Clone-Bruce experienced a twisted version of the same thing Bruce experienced, albeit from a clone’s point of view.
“I realized THEY hadn’t prepared for ANY of this.”
Batman realizes the New Gods don’t have a plan. That Darkseid’s forces are improvising. That the element of surprise will work to his advantage, even against the Ultimate Evil. It’s hard to say if Batman, like Superman, recognizes what that means – that Darkseid is dying … basically committing suicide by setting up the predestination paradox killing of Orion and letting himself sink into a black hole.
The Hole in Things seems to be “uncertainty”. It’s there in every best laid plan … if Hurt claims to BE the Hole in Things, he’s claiming to be Bruce’s doubts … or the things he can’t account for. The unexpected. (Like Metron) or the unpredictable. The thing you can’t prepare for. RANDOM CHANCE. Which would certainly explain Doctor Hurt’s obsession with GAMBLING. But how can Hurt be the HOLE IN THINGS if even his best laid plans couldn’t prepare for something else – the only true wild-card who fits the theme of “random chance” is The Joker. And Joker isn’t pure evil, he’s just Joker. Not good. Not bad. Just Death.
Like Bruce explains later … the hole in things is SHAPED like Darkseid, but it’s not Darkseid. It’s not Pure Evil. The fall of Pure Evil might have made the black-hole that is Death, but Death came for Darkseid (Paraphrase, Black Racer: “Death comes even for you, Darksed!”), the same as it will come for everyone else.
Even the GOD OF EVIL cannot account for Random Chance. Even THE DEVIL cannot account for Random Chance. Devil is double is deuce, but Joker trumps deuce.
“They ran and left my belt behind.”
Bruce prepares to face Darkseid and flashes back to that preternatural moment between he and Gordon. “Why did you have to choose an enemy that’s as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?”
“Same reason you did, Jim. I figured I could take him. Hh.”
We’re nearing the crux. In his wildest fantasies did Batman imagine that he’d get the chance thanks to his JLA club membership to actually do that? (And is it a case of “One Devil down, one to go” regarding Hurt?)
Moments being heavy with the weight of unfolding myth is a theme Grant has played with lately, especially regarding people feeling ominous dread and hearing the bells ringing (more on that momentarily).
Grant seems especially to believe that characters in fiction should KNOW when they’re making history. It’s not unheard of. In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf, for instance, but many other characters, seemed to recognize the weight of what they were doing. Only the Ultimate Evil (Sauron), the posers (Saruman) and the poor common Hobbits and non-Hero Men seemed oblivious to the machinery of fate/destiny/time. In “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf first attributes Bilbo finding the One Ring in Gollum’s cave to a spectacular coincidence … but later we realize the Ring – the artifact – was actually the thing weaving fate, and the characters destined paths were being bent inward around it.
Sorry if I leaned toward being a Lord of the Rings critique there rather than a Batman one – but the point is … the Ancestor-Box shares a LOT in common with the One Ring. (For instance, in his fever dreams, Frodo saw the Ring as a ring of fire … and it was often symbolically shown as related to the “Eye of Sauron”, a fiery red ring itself. Rings kept cropping up in the imagery, a sign that Frodo’s life (and others) were manipulated by the One Ring. Here, Batman has boxes, graves, continue to turn up symbolically in his destiny … a sign that his life is being manipulated by Ancestor-Box.
It’s an important statement about the nature of Relics in Fiction, to be honest. These Artifacts (Think about Excalibur in Grant’s “Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight” – the sword remained the same, and different Arthurs and Camelots came and went). It’s sort of a metatextual slant on the nature of the “McGuffin”, the Deus Ex Machina device. God from the Machine shortened to “God-Machine”.
Bruce believes Darkseid may once have been a Dragon. A Knight and a Dragon – indeed that moment has played out in history before (or at least, historical fiction, like Batman). The use of “Dragon” ties Darkseid both to “The Devil” of Doctor Hurt (We’ve heard “The Dragon” used to describe him, too) and also the beast the Puritans of Gotham Town called a “Dragon”, that was actually hyperfauna.
I wasn’t sure about the meaning of the flashback to Bruce at his mother and father’s graves was. We saw it during Batman R.I.P. … now that I’ve stumbled onto the box, the trap, being “Death”, and remembering Bruce’s talk in “Batman Dies At Dawn” about his existential revelation about his own mortality occurring back when he was 10, shortly after his parents’ deaths … it fits quite well. Batman, faced with his own mortality, and the chance to defeat the Ultimate Evil, comes to realize that the ultimate Death-Trap – mortality – can’t be escaped, so he pulls the ultimate bad-ass move (and then Random Chance plays its hand once more and he survives it).
“A myth where Ultimate Evil turns its gaze on humanity and humanity gazes right back and says … GOTCHA.”
Batman’s answer to Darkseid is VERY reminiscent of his answer to Doctor Hurt. “IN THE VERY CORNER OF MY MIND, DID I SEE THE DEVIL? AND WAS THAT FEAR IN HIS EYES?”
In his Thogal ritual in Nanda Parbat, Bruce supposedly came to grips with that and that’s the first place he became aware of “The Hole in Things”. The black hole in his soul. While it was said to apply to Doctor Hurt, is it possible that in his visions, he saw his own future? He saw his Final confrontation with Darkseid?
“Ancestor-Box” contains a “hyper-adapter”.
Here’s the biggest part of this issue. The introduction of Ancestor-Box. Mother-Box. Grandmother-Box. Consistently we get “family member-box” titles with different functions. And of course, “Hyper” is Morrison-speak for “Timeline”. We should be well acquainted with the concept of Hypertime now, which is finally being mapped and clarified thanks to … Bruce Wayne, Superman and Rip Hunter in “The Return of Bruce Wayne” and may play out more in Multiversity.
There’s some classic Kirby-style “doom talking” from Darkseid/Omega Sanction describing the whole thing, but really, it’s pretty simple. It’s a trap that uses your history and your timeline to build itself around you. It doesn’t even alter your history – it just connects the dots. Coincidences become conspiracies.
Interesting note: “TIME” is coming out of the Ancestor-Box as a fluid, a pliable thing. And with the “Liquid Time” is the very same Hyperfauna squid-beast we see in Return of Bruce Wayne, peeking out a tentacle.
At this point, Bruce sees his life flash before his eyes as Time bends and the coincidences and events become a conspiracy meant to trap and bring him Death. We get a picture of the lingering mysteries of the Batman and Robin/Return of Bruce mystery – the “BARBATOS/Thomas” wall in the Hidden Room. Pearls. Drops of blood. The well with the bats. And he sees his own funeral once more (He saw it last while with Bat-Mite during “Batman Dies At Dawn”. But it’s not his funeral …
“The grave. The well, the cave. The missing portrait.”
They’re all HOLES in THINGS. The first three are holes in the Earth. Underworld. Places where the Dead go. The Underworld. Places where dark things crawl … and according to most legends (especially wells), spirits lurk and fairies and things. The missing portrait? A hole in a different kind of earthly foundation – like Batman said last issue – “A worm at the roots of the family tree …” it’s a hole in his personal foundation timeline. So was Doctor Hurt always there, or is he cosmically realigned by Darkseid’s Ancestor-Box? Is Doctor Hurt’s “Devil” the Ancestor-Box having selected a proper ancestor and working through him over the years to tighten this trap around Batman?
Whatever Hurt is, he’s not Darkseid, since Batman purports that “Darkseid is gone”. But the hole is still Darkseid shaped. His personal Devil is almost certainly Ancestor-Box related. In fact, the Ancestor-Box appears to be being constructed by Bruce’s very actions throughout his sojourn through time (The Bat-Casket) and Doctor Hurt seems to be hunting for it, trying to open it, because inside is Fluid Time that really would be the key to his immortal, everlasting life if he could master it. (There’s a recurring theme of these guys who seek “Immortality” coming face-to-face with Death. And Batman, who embraces his Mortality, constantly cheats death. So who knows what Hurt would find if he actually opened it. Grayson’s “YOU’RE FINISHED” perhaps?)
Willowood Asylum is the Insane Asylum where THOMAS WAYNE, JR. – Bruce Wayne’s mother-fucking BROTHER from an Alternate-Reality was sent in the Pre-Crisis stories, and I imagine on Anti-Earth/Crime Syndicate Earth it was the other way around somehow. For the record … it’s not fucking possible that THOMAS “DOCTOR HURT” WAYNE is Bruce’s chronology-lost brother Thomas, because he’s way too old. Bruce is 35-ish. Doctor Hurt appears as old as Bruce’s father. Although with FLUID TIME from the Ancestor-Box, it’s fucked to think of the possibilities … I think this would be more a case of Grant toying or tinkering with the History there to show us a hint or a clue from another perspective. Perhaps Doctor Hurt isn’t Bruce’s Alternate-Reality-Brother, but perhaps his history has similar parallels. Who knows? That story dealt with spiritual possession of the mind, too, as it had Deadman in it.
And we flash to Superman, Tim Drake and Rip Hunter, on what looks like the JLA Watchtower, listening to Batman’s recording device. These notes he’s taken in these last two issues were recorded … and no doubt this is a small spoiler and that the JLA and Rip Hunter and Tim Drake FIND his Utility Belt and listen to these notes and that might be how they know that Bruce has been turned into a Doomsday Machine.
He sees his funeral, in a shot meant to match the shot from “Batman Dies At Dawn”. The same pall-bearers – Dick Grayson, Oliver Queen, Clark Kent, Hal Jordan. Alfred. Barbara. Sees his grave. And acknowledges that he knows they’ll search for him. He’s alive. TIME is the OMEGA SANCTION (“What can we beat but never defeat?” said the Riddler, on the subject of Time Travel …) Even if he lives through this … some day, because of the course of his actions in life … his lone gravestone will be put there, next to his parents, same as the one that’s there now marking his death prematurely.
We see the Cape & Cowl glowing with Omega Radiation (Perfectly good indicator that it’s the Doomsday Weapon). And he takes it off. If being Batman is going to lead to doomsday, he’ll be Bruce Wayne to get through this (and once through, we already know, he’ll be equal-parts Batman and Bruce Wayne from now on.)
THE BAT-CAVE, 40,000 B.C.
And in the Bat-Cave, as he loses the last bits of his memory and meets Anthro, he has the good sense as the ultimate man/detective to know he needs to leave a trail, commits that to memory – a trail of bats for his friends to find and follow in the future. Like Theseus.
For those who don’t know (And God knows, I couldn’t immediately remember), Theseus is the Greek hero who was trapped in the Labyrinth, and later founder of Athens. He left a trail in the Labyrinth behind him (Slightly Hansel and Gretel as well … hope we meet “Candyman” during Batman, Inc.) so he wouldn’t get lost … managed to slay the Minotaur, and in the center answered the Riddle of the Sphinx. This is the first major Labyrinth based reference in this Batman run, but it fits well the theme of the death-trap of Time, and certainly fits with Riddler being the one who asked the question regarding Time Travel as such a small little beat in Batman # 700, two issues ago.
It links quite well thematically with the use of Ultra-Sphinx in All-Star Superman, who asked the Man of Steel “What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable objects”, to which Superman, as ONLY Superman could, replied “They surrender”. He answers the riddle of the sphinx correctly. This gives me hope that THE RIDDLER will finally play a role in Grant’s Batman run during Batman, Incorporated – that he now having gotten himself out of this epic “Death of Batman”, Doctor Hurt and The Joker-centric run, will embrace old Eddie Nygma, because frankly, I’ve been fucking dying to see Grant do a take on the Riddler to match the imagination of Batman One Million’s “Riddle City”. Come on … Batman & Red Robin (His ultimate “Detective” protégé) have to team up to solve the ULTIMATE Riddler Popcrime Renaissance, where he uses the entire City of Gotham as his boardgame! Although it wasn’t Theseus who solved the Riddle of the Sphinx, all he did was slay the Minotaur – he was clever enough to use the string to get back out of the Labyrinth.
Hilariously enough, Theseus was regarded as the “King of Heroes”, and MARRIED HIPPOLYTA … which fits eerily well with DC’s current potential “Batman and Wonder Woman” romance.
Tony Daniel draws Anthro’s “necklace” (White Fawn’s necklace) to look much more like Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace than the artists in The Return of Bruce Wayen did.
He takes off his utility belt, takes out his recording device, shows us exactly when he recorded all this information as he lost his memory, draws the bat on the cavern wall, and steps out of the Black cave into the Red dawn/dusk.
“It never ends.”
No. But it can be changed. You don’t have to fight it alone anymore. When faced with your own mortality … more than ever you need your family and friends. Your boys – your “kid-brother” and prodigal son. Your adopted-son and protégé. Your real flesh-and-blood son, who is learning. Yes, even your former adopted son with the sadistic streak and the abandonment issues.