Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Triumph of Death.

Batman and Robin Must Die!

The Triumph of Death is a famous painting. It was last seen during the “Club of Heroes” arc, in the room John Mayhew recorded his message to the Club of Heroes in. However, in this context, since Joker is “Death”, we’re talking about the triumph of Joker. First, over Robin. But hopefully over Doctor Hurt as well, in the near future. Joker seems to have his shit together.

In fact, ironically, Joker is the star of the issue – although Batman and Robin factor strongly.

Scene 1: Wayne Manor. Alfred walks the grounds and does a few things – it seems like a moment of introspection and calm before the storm, but trust to Morrison – this is way more important than it looks.

Alfred does “something” involving the entrance to the Hidden Room and the Horse Head bust under the portrait of Thomas & Martha on the mantle with the three Orion-like roses. Then he goes to Bruce’s study and changes the hands on the clock back to where they’re supposed to be. (It comes up later, when in very brief, you could miss it, passing, Alfred explains he “did what Dick requested” and made alterations to the Mansion and Bat-Cave.

“… n I sez wot wot duz it take 2 stop the gunshots n city’s bug blak voice reply … the sacrifice of a sun! Unny lass wurds?”

This phrase comes to the foreground now. Let me translate it out of retarded clone-Batman speech. “And I said, ‘What?’ ‘What does it take to stop the gunshots?’ and the city’s big Black voice replied ‘The sacrifice of a sun!’”

There are three things floating around here. One – the sacrifice of Dick Grayson. Indeed, Doctor Hurt seems to be planning on sacrificing Grayson in the Library at Wayne Manor, which could be according to misinterpretation of whatever the fuck magick rites are to be performed. As a Satan worshiper, he's got a problem - his whole view of this demon/magick thing is skewed through Christianity. Or even Old Testament. Is he thinking "firstborn son"?

Two – the sacrifice of Damian Wayne. The clone-Batman certainly seemed to think that was the way to go.

Three – “sun” is deliberately misspelled here. After all, what is an “Eclipse” but a “sacrifice of the sun”? I believe this is the most likely, although I’m willing to think that certain characters like Doctor Hurt are operating under the wrong assumption. The City’s Big Black Voice? What did Gordon just say to Dick? “Those are some big black boots you’re filling”. Bruce Wayne IS the city’s Big Black Voice – and the message about the “sacrifice of the son/sun” is probably his own influence. Misdirection. A false prophecy. Something set up specifically to dupe Doctor Hurt into attempting to execute Grayson during an Eclipse – because THEN based on what we and Bruce have witnessed, that if someone calls for a “dark savior” during a moment of great crisis (like the one about to befall Dick), Batman will appear having used the Eclipse as a doorway into quantum leap.

I believe this “sacrifice of the son” is meant to line things up for Bruce’s return. He would be the type of guy to figure out exactly how Darkseid’s Ancestor-Box was messing with him and decipher exactly how to use the fucking thing to end up exactly where he needs to be. More on that later, as Return of Bruce Wayne finishes up.

Point being – Alfred has prepared the Mansion and Cave for something “special” … Grayson might’ve messed up, but he seems prepared for Hurt’s plan (and one step ahead, thanks to knowing Bruce better, and knowing the “truths” behind the Relic Cowl in the Cave and having time-traveling friends) and Hurt’s arrogance will be his downfall.


Gotham City Police Headquarters:
The oft-seen scene depicts Damian Wayne “interrogating” Joker with a crowbar. My slightly logical guess was right, and the nailpolish is toxic, not Joker’s blood (although that would’ve been neato and I still wouldn’t accept a blood transfusion from the guy). Joker does appear to be telling the truth … and it’s still a funny inversion of the interrogation scene from “The Dark Knight”.

“A Robin who lets me manipulate him into a locked room situation? A Robin who even brings HIS OWN CROWBAR to the party?”

Joker is referencing previous Robins. Tim Drake was never really dumb enough to make a mistake like this with Joker, although “Slayride” provided his closest call. Dick Grayson was a different story since they were playmates. Joker is primarily and directly referencing Jason Todd. And I suspect it isn’t the last time this issue, either, although I can’t say for sure.


“Mommy Made of Nails”

For more on Lazlo Valentin’s entirely probably Medusa Complex, in addition to his pygmalionism and obsession with TV and television type beauty and creating perfect Dollotrons and complete clusterfuck of a freakshow composition, see my “Mommy Made of Nails” analysis. Unsurprisingly, the most fucked of Batman and Robin’s foes is addicted to pain.

So we have Pyg talking about his Mother again. (Did you know, on Monday’s she’s Mormo, Formless Chaos (Much like a disembodied spirit or demon …) and on Tuesdays it’s Tiamat this and Tiamat that (the Mesopotamian dragon slain by the Sumerian god of war, Marduk, progenitor of the Semitic name MORDECAI …) and Wednesday she’s the Gorgon Queen with snakes for hair (Vaguely reminiscent of the HYPER-ADAPTER)

Does it feel to anyone else that while hanging upside being crucified during his “self pain inflictions”, Professor Pyg has watched “The Return of Bruce Wayne” on TV? “The box, the despair pit!” could be Television … or it could be the Ancestor-Box.

At any rate, today “Mother” seems to be the Mother Goat! The Horned Goddess, with aspects of a triple goddess (Virgin, Mother and Crone). She is the “Great Mother” of Wicca, although typically in Wicca, it’s the Horned God and the Mother Goddess, but other pagan cultures featured horned goddesses, and frankly, the symbol of the horn is hermaphroditic.

And specifically, the Egyptians had a horned goddess – ISIS. (Good band, too). She’s the goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility. But I’m not sure she fits the bill as “Mother Goat”. Goats are constant symbols in the kind of Satanic Devil Worship Cults that these guys are into.

“I knew this prize would be mine in the end.”

So says Doctor Hurt. Key phrase in this sentence? “THE END”. Your end, although you may not know it yet.

“But even I can’t open it without destroying the contents, and that’s MY BIG PROBLEM …”

So says Doctor Hurt. Key phrase in this one? The whole thing – if the demon living inside Thomas Wayne of 1765 … if “Hurt” … is the Hyper-Adapter Demon personally sicced on Batman’s life by the God of all Evil Darkseid, then HE IS THE CONTENTS. If he opens the box, he destroys himself (and yet … the inside of the box might grant the immortality he seeks).

There’s still plenty more mystery here, though, and until Return of Bruce # 5 and # 6 come out, it’s up for conjecture (although I’m sure concepts are starting to congeal in our brains at this point).

“And the rats! What they did to me, to them! The rats in Rockville!”

You know, I’ve got to admit, sometimes I just have no fucking clue what Professor Pyg is talking about. Later talk makes me think that the “rats” are “the bats” – that is, Batman and Robin. Winged rats … Rockville (apart from some unimportant city in Maryland) is probably Pyg’s cute little name for a cave. The Bat-Cave, even. No question about Pyg … he’s MAD … as opposed to DIFFERENTLY SANE.

“Lazlo was a species of circus performer …”

Doctor Hurt clearly delineates, to our dear, DOOMED, Senator Vine, the difference between a freak show like Professor Pyg … and a circus acrobat like Dick Grayson. Or a clown like Joker, I guess. The whole thing really is a circus at this point. But it’s also Halloween. See! The pumpkin! The orange coloring! The fact that Doctor Hurt once more dons Thomas Wayne’s “masquerade” costume! The fact that the whole thing comes to an end this October! If it’s not literally Halloween, the symbolism, and the relevance of it compared to say … Wiccan Horned Gods/Goddesses … masquerades … bats … lunar phenomena … HARVESTING SOULS … demons escaping from Hell … are pretty well noted, as our its Ancient Origins, and ties to Neolithic cultures who we now know from Return of Bruce Wayne that Batman has affected in the past.

Still … Doctor Hurt’s current predilection for shooting holes in large fruits is kind of funny, considering it seems to be practice for Dick Grayson’s skull … and the whole “Pyg puking in a pumpkin” thing is really fucking strange.

Traditionally, Jack O’Lanterns were left lit on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits (much like a “one-night” version of a Gargoyle, which got great play back in Batman, R.I.P.)

And then there’s the legend of “Stingy Jack”, a drunkard who used a cross to trap The Devil. Which actually sounds vaguely like what could’ve happened to 1765 Thomas Wayne. This story seems ESPECIALLY relevant because “Stingy Jack” tricks the Devil into sparing his soul for 10 years, then when 10 years comes, he does it again. And again. And Jack lives an uncontrollable, corrupt lifestyle and dies, and can’t go to Heaven OR Hell, and is cursed to be a Jack O’Lantern (some sort of spirit with a lantern).

And although we already have Hurt’s implied relation to Jack the Ripper (one and the same) and the possibility that he’s also the same person as “Springheeled Jack” … linking those legends with that of Stingy Jack paints a strange, fascinating character. Perhaps of a man who tried to summon Barbatos … wound up summoning the Hyper-Adapter and being possessed … and “using it” just as much as “it was using him” and sort of being cursed because of it, and corrupt. And probably schizophrenic.

Or Grant just likes pumpkins.

A pretty straightforward scene, as the Dollotrons converge on Gordon and Batman, and Batman is down for the count. The Batmobile is ominously counting down a self-destruct that Batman can’t prevent. But there is some interesting stuff.

First, when Gordon is finally taken down … the shot of his glasses in mid-air, from his POV, slightly blurry and scary as Dollotron feet come down on him … is uncannily similar to the shot of Gordon’s glasses in mid-air looking up at Joker’s helicopter-attack from “Building a Better Batmobile”, back during Batman & Son. Some luck the “Better Batmobile” turned out to have. Side note … it was some of the 99 Fiends who shot down the Batmobile, but we see NONE of them this issue. It’s only Day 2, though. There’s time.

It gets straightforward now, as Dick, in a repeat of his moment from Batman # 700, breaks out his Kali Sticks and kicks the shit out of an entire crowd of Dollotrons. But they still take Gordon, and he can’t stop the destruct sequence, so, both unfortunately and beneficially … the Batmobile explodes and kills a huge chunk of the Dollotrons. Accidents happen, but Dick’ll be blaming himself for that one … mindless zombie henchmen or not.

Day two begins with Professor Pyg inspired and ready to go on stage.

Pyg’s performance is at NONE OTHER than the Movie Theater where Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha, took him to see The Mask of Zorro when he was a boy. R.I.P. was at Arkham Asylum. “Must Die” is at the Park Row Theater. (Seriously … Jason Todd is from this neighborhood, too … I STILL can’t believe he hasn’t shown up in this arc yet!)

Pyg’s vanity is classic villain stuff, Doctor Hurt seems fairly petty here. For the guy pulling the strings, running the whole “El Penitente” operation out of Mexico … formerly leading the Black Glove, whose last surviving member is here on-site, and about to take down Batman … he’s awfully petty and dickish. Granted, he seemed plenty petty and dickish in all his previous appearances, too. It just strikes me as an act, and this stuff with Pyg is like … “The Sub-Plot” compared to his actual goals involving Wayne Manor and Batman. (The row of blown away watermelons comes in later and indicates why Hurt’s pistol was smoking when he popped in the door. Perfectly depraved behavior …)

In a strange twist, Grayson has been unconscious all night, taking him “off the board” long enough for plot points to move into place without his being there. He did fight a small army of people and escape an exploding car … but here we get the core of the issue. Dick attempts to contact the missing Robin, talks to Joker … realizes the Joker’s clues weren’t for him, they were to use him to get to Damian (maybe Joker plans on sacrificing Damian to summon Bruce? Eh … I doubt it’d be that boring …) and so Dick grabs a vehicle and heads for Crime Alley. In this case … a cool new Bat-Copter in the “Better Batmobile” style!

But now Joker is in rare form!

“They’re throwing a party for Gordon on Crime Alley and they didn’t invite us! So I’ve arranged to handle the catering. You can bring the fireworks.”

Best line of the issue, I think. And better still when you see it in action and laugh at Joker’s classic routines. Poison popcorn … a domino for a deserving douchebag. But before all that … it looks like Gordon is screwed. Strapped to a gurney on a stage in front of the worst bastards of Gotham. And Pyg is supposed to do something horrific to him. But with the Black Glove, things are never what they seem. This isn’t torture on television … that isn’t the “show” … the show is for Batman to lure him in … and the real show is to show the people of Gotham Gordon betraying Batman for a drug. The topsy-turvy world is here!

“The new capital city of crime!”

A neatly framed sequence by Irving … and is that Mayor Krol out there in the smoky, veiled crowd? Looks sort of like him … and the Mayor is supposed to be “in-house”, so to speak.

“The rats ate the young of the goat.”

Once again, Pyg, I’ve no fucking idea what you’re saying. But I’ll take a best-guess, I guess. Since I equated “rats” to “Batman” or “Batmen” before … and the Goat to the Devil that the Satanists worship … we’ll say that the “Young of the Goat” are DEMONS … and that BATS destroyed DEMONS. Yeah, that works in the context …

And so once again … Vine gets his comeuppance, and Grant uses the fall of the final Black Glove finger to frame the next action sequence with creepy laughter. And Irving depicts some of the sickest Joker-toxin rictus grins since Doug Mahnke’s “The Man Who Laughs”. And we learn why Professor Pyg is fat in the here-and-now and thinner in the 666 Future (He has a weight problem). And Grayson arrives at Park Row and blows a hole in the movie theater that is such a central location in the “Legend of Batman”, leaps in … once more “makes the role of Batman his own” by mixing his Nightwing fighting style with the Batman costume, breaking out the Kali Sticks and beating the fuck out of everyone in the place. This is the place where Batman was Born, and Hurt is trying to defile it (succeeding, too, it seems … duplicitious bastard). But here we get more of “R.I.P. as farce” … as the “damsel in distress” this time is Gordon, and once again … the damsel “betrays” the hero (this time because the Pyg drug is frying his brain and he can’t help it).

And as Pyg tries yet again to drop some classic super-villain cliché lines, Dick Grayson just kicks him in the face.

The issue ends with Doctor Hurt challenging the Joker. “Your knights have fallen and the board is mine!” brings the references back to Chess … like the grid. But dear Doctor Hurt, you fool, is that even the game that Joker is playing? It’s Joker vs. Hurt in the finale!

So back to Joker … where he’s hold up in a standard Joker enclave (with running lights … possibly the back of a truck), in his voodoo loa black “Joker in mourning” clothes and his Baron Samedi top-hat and his red shades. Black and red, black and red. Rose-colored glasses.

“It’s all getting way too serious for me! So who do I know that’s good with serious …?”

This is a telling line. Obviously, the first thought is Bruce Wayne. The line brings to mind “WHY SO SERIOUS?”, the question posited to Batman by Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Which brings me back to the notion of “sacrificing Damian” to bring back Bruce somehow. But Joker asks it and is looking at Damian, who he has drawn a smily clown face onto, and has tied up. (Something that looks REALLY FUCKING BAD, but we know that skilled people have tied Damian before and he has slipped the knots like a master. It’s one of his top skills. Jason Todd, a former Robin, with Big Black Bat Boy Scout Training, couldn’t even keep Damian tied up. That kid’ll get loose. Hell, he’s pretty much got to if he’s going to witness Grayson getting shot in the head …)

But I’ve been sort of strongly pulling for Jason Todd to pop in, last-minute in this Batman and Robin Must Die arc. After all … Blackgate was assaulted (and Jason was presumably locked up there). Joker’s direct mention of the Robin/Joker/Crowbar relationship. Jason is FROM Crime Alley. And this showdown is beginning at Crime Alley. And who does Joker know that’s good with “serious”? Why … Jason Todd takes himself way too fucking seriously … he’s a KILLER vigilante … and we still also have yet to really get the full scoop on just how “Oberon Sexton” (Joker) tipped off the Red Hood to the location of the secret meet-and-greet held by Gabriel Santo for the Gotham Gangsters.

This issue has a lot more red and black imagery – but it’s fascinating to see that scenes were people are affected en masse by the Joker’s toxin are GREEN. The Dead Man’s Hand with a Twist. And the final triptych verifies the roles that are already pretty damned obvious from the title of “The Knight, Death and the Devil”. Batman. Joker. Hurt.

Pieces keep falling into place … but there’s so much more yet to be answered.

My final word on this issue? Well, it fits the mold of Morrison’s “Batman and Robin” run. Every single three-issue arc, the middle chapter has been “more action” and “less exposition”, and this, even with a good bit of revelation about some things, fits that mold. That being said … it’s still probably the best of the bunch. I can’t wait (actually I can, and must) for the ending. Because Grayson has come into his own more than ever … and I can’t wait to get Incorporated.