The Batman & Oracle team-up is good. They're both entirely competent, Bruce figuring out how to battle crime in cyberspace and maintain order in a highly action-packed board meeting while Oracle just runs around like she owns the place. But I feel like the disconnect in the artwork (Not to mention the fact that Barbara's avatar looks nothing like the sleek design David Finch speculated back in Batman: The Return. I rather wish Finch, or someone better still (Burnham!) had drawn this chapter. Some "computer world effects" could have been added later and with more discretion.) anyway, disconnect in the artwork all but kills any cool emotional beats from the characters ... the "locked room mystery"/"corporate board meeting" elements of the guest characters, and the classical beats we usually get from Bruce and Barbara - Batman's grim expressions in his eyes, his knowing glares, furrowed brows, a smirk here, a stern face there. And Barbara's quirks as well - grins when she kicks ass, particularly since she gets to simulate riding and running and being out of the chair in this environment. In fact, as such a staple of Barbara Gordon iconography, I almost wish this issue had been drawn by Marcos Martin of Batgirl: Year One fame.
For haptics, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haptic_technology
Despite that, though ... on to the meat. For starters, there's our cast of "suspects" in this almost parlour game scenario ... this almost R.I.P. fashioned "murder mystery" without a murder. Some twisted "Game of Clue" as Grayson referred to Joker's antics. And here we have the usual suspects, although in place of Miss Scarlet, Col. Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock and Prof. Plum we have Mz. Bourgeois, Mr. Zamaroff, Mr. Tanaka, Mr. Chun Wei, Mr. Velocet, and Dr. Solomon.
Nothing particularly noteworthy about their names - Morrison chose names that suited rich capitalists. "Bourgeois" being an old French land-owning name (Possibly influenced by its common etymology with "Burgess", as in "Burgess Meredith".). Solomon a traditional Biblical name fit for a doctor. Chun Wei rooted in some very, very old Chinese nomadic tribes. And so forth. One may link Mr. Ari Zamaroff's mention of the Russian neighborhood he grew up in (which was apparently a war zone) with the hellish places Leviathan is breeding in.
Nothing particularly surprising about a Japanese electronics guy being the one responsible for the evil video-game inspired assault either, although we'll get to more about Mr. Tanaka later, right from the get-go one sees he's a bit of a pastiche of a lot of Morrison's Japanese interests - name probably taken from Tiger Tanaka of James Bond fame, useful as it's common as Smith or Johnson is here. Video-game expert. Electronics mogul. That sort of thing. He'd have been an ideal Black Glove member, but again, more on that later. Suffice it to say Leviathan is certainly sharing certain themes with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Tanaka ends up being something of a cliche, but he's a well-rounded cliche at least.
The Worm Captain is another story. The tech-savvy will clarify that a Worm
in computer parlance is a self-propagating (breeding) piece of malicious software (malware). So the Worm Captain operates just like Leviathan. It's almost assured that it's something they released. The symbolism works beautifully, as "worm" equates to "Leviathan", "Serpent", "Oroboros", "Dragon", "Snake". A new kind of Devil. As for "Captain", it indicates that this is the leader, or best (worst) Worm. The word Captain also stems from Latinate "Caput", which means "Head", which ties nicely to the hydra-like idea of cutting off a worm's head, only for it to grow back, or grow back twice, or cutting the head off a snake. Anyway, the Worm Captain operates in digital space almost exactly how Leviathan is operating in the real world. The methods are the same as those mentioned by Doctor Dedalus. Infiltrate. The Worm. Is everywhere. The Worm. Owns everyone. The Worm. Is everything.
A zombie virus label indicates that the Worm Captain doesn't just self-propagate, it creates zombies (it gets into other computers, and then uses them like carriers (called "Zombies" by tecnos) to spread itself further). This would be how Tanaka has accessed/hijacked the computer systems of all the people in that virtual board meeting, and can access and fuck around with their financial data/fortunes. If their avatars get killed, their computer operating systems become zombies, and basically Tanaka is the necromancer. Interestingly, this ties quite nicely to Morrison's common voodoo theme as utilized by The Joker in his Gravedigger guise, where Shakespeare meets Baron Samedi. (See also: Inc. # 6 where Tim faces off with his grudge-foe, the voodoo shaman Obeah Man.)
The mutation engine is more commonly known as a polymorphic engine. "Mutation engine" certainly sounds cooler in a comic book, and not that many people know what polymorphic means, so it makes sense to have Oracle describe it as polymorphic, then use "mutation", since we all understand that word.
A mutation engine is most commonly used in a virus. It transforms a program, typically a benign program - anything in Internet 3.0 ... the blimp for instance - into basically a copy of itself with the same function, only completely rewritten so that the malware virus has a built-in hiding spot inside preexisting programs. Tanaka must thereby log on, carrying the Worm Captain malware with himself as the Trojan Horse, whereupon it mutates something else in Internet 3.0 to conceal itself within and can be used for whatever he wants to use it for (for instance turning himself into a boss battle.) Barbara must be using one hell of a Search & Destroy program.
Tanaka eventually basically repeats the same words of Leviathan, and particularly Sam Black Elk the Red Rippa last issue when he claims "Wherever the standard of the Bat rises! It will be torn down!"
Judgment in Hell City 666.
Not-so-subtle reference to Batman # 666 and Batman # 700, the dystopian future Hell occupied by Batman (Damian Wayne) and sure as shit ... Barbara Gordon is in charge there too, as Commissioner of the GCPD.
Note that in Batman # 666 Damian actually has to deal with "Judgment in Hell City 666", and in Batman # 700 Damian has to deal with a mutating digital Joker virus (in addition to a real one - Jokerized Monster Men) that got into Gotham's computerized weather control grid. Then, One Million issues in the future, Batman One Million and Robin the Toy Wonder have to face off against an evolution of the same digital Joker virus. Real life and digital life become more and more interrelated in each progressive future. In fact, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker also features Joker taking control of Tim Drake's body via a digital device - the same digital Joker virus, mutated to actually affect "human operating systems"?
Ghost in the Box. This is a fun one, as it's literally Morrison combining the phrase Ghost in the Machine with Jack-in-the-Box. And it's a pretty sensible way to describe Tanaka's malware program. Fun story about Jack-in-the-Boxes - they have clowns or jesters inside, drawing an immediate connection to the digital Joker virus. But "Jack", besides being analogous to the Joker we know, and his further analogues, was also a fill-in for "Devil" (In France, it's called a "Boxed Devil" based on an old wive's tale. And hey ... didn't Bruce Wayne trap the Devil (Darkseid) in his own ancestor box? And didn't The Joker trap the OTHER Devil (Doctor Hurt) in a pine box?)
(Additionally, I'm quite reminded of Futurama, where Bender the Robot dreams of ones and zeroes ... and has superstitious nightmares where he "thought he saw a two". Devil is double is deuce, after all.)
Or maybe Damian's 666 future is just him playing as an avatar in some freaky simulation. Barbara mentions "seven years ago" and one half expects that time-period to have some importance. It could (and I'll do the math later) wind up being around the same time Doctor Dedalus is imprisoned during the DCU Falklands War, very early in Batman's career, or while Kathy Kane is operating as Batwoman. In fact, the way Zamaroff mentions that the entire evil simulation reminds him of some Eighties cheap game almost guarantees that it happened during the Dedalus Mission by Percival Sheldrake and the Victory Vs.
Grinder of Souls (IE: Soul Grinder) and Angel are two extremely powerful units in your various RPGs and MMORPGs, Soul Grinder in particular being relatable to WarHammer 40,000. Apparently Judgment in Hell City 666 creature Tanaka used some of the classic staples.
"Ultimate price" proves to be quite literal, as Tanaka literally intends to steal all of their billions and finance terrorism with it. Slight Casino Royale vibe there (high stakes game, terrorists get the money, Tanaka is a bit Le Chifre.)
Digital Justice is in blatant reference to the previous CGI graphics 1990 Batman: Digital Justice mini-series that this entire issue homages. And unsurprisingly at this point, that also featured a sentient Joker virus. Barbara's ex-librarian comment references her history as a character, but especially memorable because of its use in Batman '66, where Babs the Librarian was made common knowledge.
"Mazes. Webs. Nets," is an easy transition to Kathy Webb and Otto Netz.
And of course, the biggest, most obvious revelation is that the nation of Mtamba, where Jezebel Jet hails from, is the birthplace of Leviathan, instantly connecting Leviathan to Jet, who was a member of the Black Glove. Rest assured Batwing will be on the front lines of any operations there, thus connecting him into the whole Jezebel Jet storyline. One wonders if the Ten-Eyed Men of the Ghost Quarter might factor in as well.
But the key thing to take note of I believe, is the over-arcing similarity between how Tanaka attempts to "judge" all the investors in this digital board meeting parlour game, in much the same way the Black Glove operated. Hell/Satan/Devil imagery. "Your sins have found you out" dialogue. His talk about being a "billionaire" and taking real risks. He sounds just like John Mayhew (Gaucho mentioned Mayhew again as well, comparing Wayne to him, but here we see Wayne once more stacked against a guy like Mayhew, a bad billionaire, and Bruce succeeds and the other investors are bettered by his leadership, instead of corrupted.) or other former Black Glove members. Like some weird Black Glove Parody in cyber-space. Anyway, here we have another "Black Glove" connection to Leviathan, perhaps the strongest yet since Club of Villains members Scorpiana and Sombrero fall more into the hired gun category.
With Doctor Hurt gone, these agents are moving on to the next Devil in line. Tanaka's ties to Jet, and Jet's ties to Leviathan aren't exactly concrete. We're not sure exactly what capacity, but we're sure there is a connection. Well ... unless Talia al Ghul has seized Jet's assets and joined Leviathan just to fuck with Bruce.
Anyway, see you next time for Leviathan Strikes, where Stephanie Brown infiltrates the School of Night, Finishing School for EVIL.
And if anyone can translate the funky numeric speak that Belle Bourgeois says when she's transformed into a dog, I'd love to know what it means (if anything).