(OR: THE DICKIE GRAYSON AND JACKIE JOKES-A-LOT IMPROV VARIETY HOUR)
Joker in his funerary persona is now in the “underground railroad” (both literal and figurative) connecting Alan Wayne’s crypt with the Hidden Room beneath the Manor’s library. The lych-way. The corpse road. And like a New Orleans-style funeral, he’s dancing. Interestingly, it appears to be a Tango.
R.I.P. as farce: Where in R.I.P., Joker was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies of a Danse Macabre (Dance of Death), here, Joker was NOT invited, so he’s crashing the party, and he’s making it literal, dancing with the dead, in this case one of Bruce’s female ancestors – like many have mentioned, probably Catherine Van Derm. While he’s outgrown his former very brief “Ringleader from Hell” persona, the top hat also adds a bit of “Ringleader” vibe befitting a Master of Ceremonies at some sort of Masquerade. The similarities to the black/top hat fashion that Doctor Hurt donned as he set sail for Liverpool on S.S. Orion and probably became Jack the Ripper can’t be overlooked.
Note that the Tango was invented in Argentina – Batman’s next stop in Batman, Incorporated where El Gaucho operates. I’ll stop these lines of thinking before I delve into something like Gandy Dancers, laying railroad tracks, being a primary influence on American Blues, and the short leap from there to Joker’s present New Orleans voodoo jazz man wardrobe and doctrine. Or the odd Irish behavior of getting drunk and grabbing a corpse at a wake and dancing with it.
The top hat works on a multitude of levels, actually. More than anything Joker resembles an Undertaker. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone in similar garb standing on a storefront in a Wild West town (or in 1800’s Gotham) as a steely-eyed bad-ass cowboy like Batman walked down the street. Especially in a Western, an Undertaker was tasked with collecting the myriad of dead bodies left behind by a bounty hunter or gunslinger. The whole schtick adheres to Joker’s black and red theme, but is probably influenced 100% by the plot of R.I.P., which involved Batman in a “funeral parlor” style setting at Arkham, buried alive in a casket with a headstone. It’s pretty much “Black Glove, R.I.P.” at this point.
The word Undertaker could be interpreted as a man who prepares the dead for the Afterlife, or “Takes the Dead to the Underworld”, or more literally who “undertakes” something, an ironic combination of the two highly different dictionary definitions found in the combined root words, since Joker has “undertaken” this mission of revenge. A cursory Wikipedia disambiguation revealed that Prince created but never released an album called “The Undertaker”, which gave me a coincidental chuckle, since we’ve already seen one MASSIVE Prince homage in Batman and Robin in the form of everything about Flamingo. I’ve covered the Hamlet references on a few occasions. (Gravediggers as clowns).
One wonders if Joker’s getaway vehicle will be as obvious as a Hearse.
“Born from a coffin” is one of those lines that would’ve had the “Damian is Bruce reincarnated and he’ll grow up somehow from Damian” theorists a few years back. Interestingly enough, when viewed through the “Ancestor-Box”, it does become immediately important to realize that Damian Wayne’s existence from Mike Barr’s Batman: Son of the Demon is another element of Batman’s past that was “brought back” from oblivion by Darkseid’s device to be used as a weapon against Bruce Wayne. The very same continuity-altering things that gave rise to Hurt also may very well have nudged “Son of the Demon” back into continuity, retroactively.
“The first and BEST BOY WONDER’s in the hands of the most evil man on Earth!”
This is a telling line from Joker. I’ve postulated that the reason Joker killed Jason Todd was that he was boring. No fun to play with. NOT DICK GRAYSON. His playmate was gone – the two of them spent many a night playing games and cracking jokes and “routines” with Batman as the straight man. His feelings about Tim Drake are something I’d be curious to find out. Tim met Joker in his New Homicidal phase and has known him almost exclusively in that capacity and comes at Joker the same way Batman would, so it might be boring to reiterate it.
Alfred seems completely and utterly prepared for Hurt. He even had time for a cup of tea. Clearly, that’s an indicator of his faith in their success – the plan (mentioned quickly and quietly last issue) must be a good one. If Morrison is going to stick to his themes from throughout, I have ZERO DOUBT that “the plan” involves taking “Acting” and “Theater” to all new levels to defeat Hurt. In fact, I believe Grayson’s later line of “We’ll improvise” is literally referring to acting. Take into consideration Batman # 682, where Grayson imagined Bruce Wayne as Hamlet fighting Joker as Laertes (“Doth his blade envenom” is definitely a Joker move, since Joker consistently poisons everything. Gold dominoes. Fingernails. Rose petals. Joker IS poison – he’s the skull and crossbones on the poison bottle.)
Hurt has used Bruce Wayne’s own theatricality against him. In fact, he incorporates theatrical elements into his Occult rituals. But I don’t think he’s prepared for the onslaught of a Dick Grayson / Joker improv-comedy duo with Damian as the Straight Man and Alfred coordinating the gags. Morrison’s Alfred is like a stage director – damn near like his own actor, Michael Caine in Nolan’s The Prestige – and his Joker probably went to theater/drama school. (Seriously – the Red Hood? Dini’s “Stage Magician” arc? Stand-up comedy? That guy is ENSCONCED in drama school).
“Lovely covered in dirt, yes.” Astute readers guessed that Pyg was the lawyer, and I guess that kills the silly “Hurt’s lawyer is an Asian stereotype” argument. I’m never entirely sure what he’s talking about, but the first thing I thought of was Truffles, or other fungi that a pig might be employed to sniff around for and dig up. Appropriate in the context of gravedigging, and it establishes the comparison between Pyg and Joker – Pyg is a wannabe, and I expect to see a confrontation between the two next issue, where Joker scares the fucking pants off of Lazlo Valentin.
The significance of the zoomed in “Triumph of Death” stands out as weird placed where it is, but later we see that the painting – the very same painting we saw in Mayhew’s study on the island – is being hung up over where the portrait of Thomas and Martha hangs.
“DAY 3” is interesting placement. This scene takes place at night, and “DAY 3” means that the moment when Hurt steps through the gate onto the Wayne Estate is MIDNIGHT. Truly is just became MIDNIGHT IN THE HOUSE OF HURT.
To me, this seems to confirm that Doctor Hurt was ON THE ISLAND calling the shots during the Club of Heroes arc. I’d wondered before … if he was broadcasting from a remote location or not … if that really was Mangrove Pierce strung up and carved. Seems that way.
The scenes of street violence and pandemonium are interesting. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the second panel after the “QUARANTINE CONTINUES” headline and TV screens. We haven’t actually seen TV news report snippets since the Red Hood arc. And so wondering what the Hell was happening in that red-tinted image, I realized that it’s a truck smashing through a window-front at a dry cleaner or department store. People sent flying. Racks knocked over. For some reason, the clothes on racks, red tint and heavy duty truck reminded me instantly of Jason Todd (his red truck had a “dressing room” area – we’ve been seeing a LOT of dressing rooms lately, last issue in the Park Row Theater the most recent). It’s such a random pandemonium element, this frame, followed by yet another frame showing yet another smaller part character we haven’t seen in a while coping with the craziness (Lone-Eye Lincoln) that I can’t help but wonder at it. I’ve been waiting to be unsurprised by a Jason Todd appearance since Blackgate was attacked. Perhaps this is a lightning-quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it acknowledgment of his escape.
“I’m not a pawn”, says Damian. He thinks it’s chess as well … just like Hurt. Of course, Damian is a lot like Bruce. Poor Bruce, right now the person claiming to be his father, and the person claiming to be his son are both bastard demon types. Joker immediately makes a “shrimp” joke by switching “pawn” with “prawn”. He’s been calling Damian “baby” the whole while. But if Damian the straight man thinks it’s chess as well … then odds are good that Doctor Hurt, too, is going to be a straight man in some kind of gag. And immediately Joker cements that notion with his absurd logic for getting to “The Fall” joke involving the banana peel – equating himself to “Big Mike” (The Archangel Michael).
Ironically, this instantly draws my attention back to Jason Todd AGAIN. (The importance of that storyline shouldn’t be overlooked, and I’m currently postulating and forming arguments for a short essay on Morrison’s Jason Todd, the “Red State Robin”, Republican, Political, Right Wing and 2nd Amendment (vs. the “Blue” Dick Grayson).
Joker comparing himself to Michael and positioning the banana peel to “cast down” or make “fall” the guy claiming to be the “Devil” might be backward-logic, but it’s the same sort of “vengeful hand of god” notion Jason is employing in his black and white viewpoint. And Jason succeeds in “casting” Flamingo into a literal “Pit” of a rock quarry … so it’s interesting to see Joker … the namesake of the Red Hood … affecting similar fates on a devilish, demonic character.
Of course, where Jason casts down a demon with a passing resemblance to Joker (Flamingo), Joker will be casting down a demon with a passing resemblance to Jason or Batman (Hurt). After all, “Red Hood” was originally as basic a theatrical guise as the Thomas Wayne “Original Batman” guise – nothing more than a tuxedo with a cape and an added mask.
“Pawn to tree! Your move!”
“They have Doctor Ha-Ha” and “Doctor Johnny B. Damned”. All the top names.” – Pyg seems to be referencing Joker (Ha-Ha) and Hurt (Johnny B. Damned, a nice switch on Johnny B. GOOD. Johnny B. BADDE would’ve probably been too on the nose for Morrison.)
What stopped Gordon’s cravings? I’ll kindly refer you back to the fact that it was JOKER who seems to have left the antidote for Pyg’s plague, not Pyg himself. And I think Grayson knows it, even though he said something that seemed contradictory to Gordon back in # 13.
“The snail is the Devil!”
Pyg comes about this line in a way more upside down and backwards even than Joker’s logic, at least verbally, but a snail is of course a sort of a worm-like creature with two horns (“A worm gnawing at the foundations”) that wears a hollow, empty shell. Add the idea of “shell” or “husk” wearing with the Devil = Duality concept we’ve explored elsewhere and the notion that something is “wearing Thomas Wayne” like a shell resurfaces. This would make absolutely good sense if the Hyper-Adapter Darkseid released and Bruce battled as “Dragon” is the demon/devil living inside Doctor Hurt’s brain. He may not be alone in there. And if he is a man who has lived too long, it would be due to the Time/Space Demon Darkseid sent after Bruce Wayne’s past. And the Hyper-Adapter itself is semi-worm-like. Perhaps after Bruce Wayne wounded it in the Bat-Cave, it laid dormant there for 50 or 60 years until the young “Thomas Wayne” of the 1700’s explored the cave and was “entered” by the adaptive entity. We’ll find out.
“They’re all crawling from the box now!” cries Pyg, the second crazy bastard to refer to Damian as having come from a coffin/box and possibly reinforcing the thought that Damian, too, is result of this horrific process happening to Bruce Wayne.
“Piggie’s got work in town!”
It’s fascinating that they never named all the 99 Fiends, because we never get a clear enough sense of any of them following the 3rd Hierarchy hit-team back in Batman vs. Robin. This shirtless guy with the Rottweiler was around back then, but the guy with the pitch-fork is new. And they get even more insane as Damian begins maiming them (I think it’s fair to say that the Nine-Eyed Man from “Fiend With Nine Eyes” was one of them, as the title of that issue explicitly calls him a “FIEND” and it would make sense, him having been one of Hurt’s operatives).
The fiend who is a Catholic nun with two swords is absurd. The huge guy who finally knocks out Damian feels Blockbuster-esque.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll improvise.”
Whose line is it, anyway? Doctor Hurt has a grand villainous speech to give (like the one Pyg attempted, poorly last issue – “We meet again, Batman …”). Once again, our former Willowood Asylum Doctor (and probably Patient) intends to give Dick Grayson brain damage. He shatters the horse head over the mantle (Representing Dick as a “Knight” – One in Joker’s hands at the moment, and let’s remember, Knights make lateral, unexpected moves across the board and there are two Knights to a side.)
“Our handsome young acrobat will become a human vegetable. Unable to move or feed or change himself.”
This immediately recalls to me Joker’s line to Damian last issue. “You sound just like … like HIM …” with a “HIM” who was never referenced. Damian was spouting off lines about how he was going to give Joker brain damage, and talking about how “chaos” is not being able to feed yourself or change your own diapers. We took it for granted that Joker meant Damian sounds just like Bruce Wayne, because Bruce is notable for these kinds of bad-ass speeches. But Bruce doesn’t often threaten brain damage … whereas Hurt threatens it every five minutes.
I’m of a mind now, that Joker was telling Damian that he sounds just like Doctor Hurt. Another example: during R.I.P., Hurt didn’t quite understand Joker is a true wild card. He called him “servant”, and was utterly appalled when (unsurprisingly for us, at least), Joker turned on him and started murdering Black Glove types. Damian similarly doesn’t believe Joker is not evil at all, and actually 100% non-affiliated with good or evil when he harms (or doesn’t) people. Damian doesn’t think Joker is uncontrollable and also underestimates him.
This fits well enough with my previously mentioned element of Batman’s “ancestor” (claiming to be his father) being a Devil, and his “son” (claiming to be – seems very likely) son being something of a Devil himself. I mean, it’s no coincidence that Grant named the kid DAMIAN and immediately drew comparisons to THE OMEN, a movie about a kid who is the spawn of Satan.
“Thomas and Martha. They took me in. They showed me kindness … Now I’ve taken his face. He’ll be remembered as a criminal, she a drug fiend. Their son mentally ill.”
What’s motivating Hurt’s complete character assassination (and yet, at the same time, jealous wishful vicarious living) of Thomas Wayne? Is it the name? Does he resent his name being stolen? Is it the reputation achieved through doing GOOD? Thomas Wayne is practically SAINTED in Gotham City. No, it seems to be something personal that actually happened. Plenty of talk on the boards, fair bet that Thomas and Martha, like the rest of the Waynes, knew about the “dirty little secret” of Bad Tommy the 200 year old uncle (Who may or may not be possessed by a Time Squid, or a Darkseid) and tried to actually get him help. Psychological help. Forged his name as being their son. Once again, I’m sure we’ll find out.
The offer to Damian. The deal with the Devil. The stuff we’ve had teased for a while.
Then the whistle – early. How could Dick know the Miagani whistle code? How could Damian? The Batarang with the note that says GOTCHA! Not much else in the box … who could know?
The ruse. “Devil” meet “Bat-God”. Grayson is okay? How the fuck is that possible? Okay, so he’s acting … he improvised … but how did he not just get shot in the back of the head with a .32 meant to fracture his skull in twelve hours?
An icy voice. Probably not Bruce Wayne’s. I’ve got a few composed charts illustrating why I think the man in the Batman costume is Joker. Did Alfred prepare the cave and mansion for Joker’s access to a Bat-Costume?
Moreover … how is that what’s in the Bat-Casket? It’s logical to assume either Bruce Wayne’s return is secretly happening off panel, or that Grayson/Damian/Alfred/Joker pulled some CRAZY “Sleight of Hand” – something that could easily be in a few of their repertoires. I don’t think Dick could have “switched it for a fake box” before, because as soon as he discovered it, it was stolen by the 99 Fiends.
I’ve got a theory or two, as I often do.
Joker, as “Oberon Sexton” was already poking around the Wayne Family Graveyard. His nickname was “Gravedigger”. He seems to know his way around quite well. I theorize that Joker switched out the Bat-Casket. In fact, if you think about it – he’s been out “globetrotting”, traveling the world, in much the same way Red Robin has. Joker is an unbelievable thinker, and pattern-maker, and can doubtless see patterns faster than anybody. It’s possible he traveled the world first and figured out the secrets Bruce Wayne left behind before anybody else … traversed the Hidden Room and the Miagani shrine. Figured it all out and had access to Bruce’s notes or who knows what. Even that he might’ve planted the Batarang in the now empty box so he could track Doctor Hurt.
Or it could be way fucking simpler. It could just be a quick bit of Batman-comic staple “Alfred pretends to be Batman” to distract the enemy. Or even simpler … “BRUCE IS BACK”. Fucked if I know which it’ll be, or even if it is Joker, if it’ll be as insanely complex as I’m making it out to be, right now, at this minute, off the top of my head.
It just makes sense to me that Joker of all people figured out the Return of Bruce Wayne secrets first. He’s well-versed in Demonology and Summoning (See: The Major Arcana), conspiracy theories (See: Well … he makes his own, you know!) and as we’ve seen as he pretends to be “Oberon Sexton”, the Master Criminal is ironically, when in a role-reversal situation, a Master Detective as well.