The latest issue is here, and how does it fare? Artistically, pretty bad. Georges Jeanty’s interiors are very basically framed, aren’t so especially good, and damn sure don’t make up for Cameron Stewart, or even Kubert’s cover. But he at least gets the job done, so there’s something to be said for that. But yeah, it’s pretty bad. Characters seen previously in Morrison’s story-so-far don’t match with their well-depicted selves from other issues. It's competent. You can follow the story. I won't linger on it much.
Scene 1 – The Van Derm Ranch (Out West)
Straight out of “Once Upon a Time in the West”, a ruthless gang of thugs shows up out of nowhere on a ranch and kills the owner (hangs him, actually – Hang ‘Em High), kills the courageous young son who pulled a gun on them, leave the mother to cry over a dead son and husband, and kidnap the daughter.
It’s not explicitly stated until the end, but this is the Van Derm Ranch. Apparently since our last era, they’ve moved out West. The desert skies (No clue where? Oklahoma? New Mexico? No matter … it’s generic Wild West) are red and the sun going down casts long black shadows.
In Tarot terms … we get a literal “Hanged Man”. Nice symbolism with the apples falling from the tree he’s hanging from. Like red pearls falling to the ground. And these bastards even killed the dog. If you didn’t already know they’re the Van Derms, you’d realize it as soon as one of our goons finds the Bat Casket in their house. The mother screams – “Don’t tell them, Katie! No matter what happens! Don’t you tell!” (which contrasts rather eerily with Hurt fantasy Thomas Wayne’s “Now she’ll never tell” at Martha Kane’s death-scene). The Van Derm children are once more a brother and a sister – one boy and one girl seems to be a common number for their family. Anyway, one of these punks kills the little boy, and laughs about it. You know Bruce Wayne is going to fuck him up later.
Mom sits there crying with her dead son cradled. And prays for a dark angel of retribution. And she gets one. Bruce clickety-clacks up with his bat-spurs as it rains. So what’s the deal here? Apparently he spends a bit more time in this era – enough time to willingly and purposely get new clothes and assume this “Dark Rider” persona to track down things from the previous areas that he now remembers after his meeting with Blackbeard (“Remember” … Darkseid … Man of Bats … and so forth). Interesting though, because Bruce Wayne arrived all three times last time at the same time somebody prayed for someone like him. This time … he’s clearly been here for a while already. Enough time to leave Gotham and return.
Last Issue – Wayne Manor
Last issue our hoods met Jonah Hex at the old abandoned Wayne Manor and hired him to deal with their little “bat problem”. In that way, Jonah Hex really 100% compares to modern day guys like Deadshot quite nicely. He coyly showed the Dead Man’s Hand, indicating that this takes place after Wild Bill Hickok’s death, probably not too terribly long after. Here the only indication of the time we really get are a newspaper and rumors of somebody being over 150 years old … somebody who would’ve been between 40-50 in 1765 … during a particular Satanic Rite. I think that puts this in at about 1865-1870. It’s hard to say and not ultimately that important. What is important is that Alan Wayne, featured prominently here, the son of Judge Solomon Wayne, and nephew of Joshua (Who I really thought we’d meet, since he holds the casket in that one painting that I guess Bruce sets up next issue) is probably in his 20’s. And this is Bruce’s Great-Grandfather.
Bruce has apparently tracked these punks all the way there to the Van Derms, and all the way back to Gotham, and even got one of them before they got desperate and sought out Hex. The goons, by the way – Bucky, Lucky and Chuck? Classic goon names. Practically 60’s Batman.
Scene 2 – Gotham City (Straight out of Gangs of New York)
(The night that the “Boss” doesn’t want this fucking black cowboy character fucking up his occult voodoo.)
Where was I? Right … late 1800’s … hoods have just hired Jonah Hex to take out this vigilante. They’re showing him to the “Boss’s place” in Gotham. Naturally the boss works out of a saloon and gambling establishment, and naturally, the boss is Vandal god-damn Savage (He’s where I wish the art was better … but for Hex, too). Vandal Savage meet Jonah Hex.
Savage is pounding laudanum to numb the pain. Apparently he’s got stomach cancer. I’m curious then if that alludes that Blackbeard was indeed Vandal Savage. If you’ll recall … Blackbeard smoked that pipe like a chimney. Anyway, we find Western-Era Vandal Savage using a French accent and talking about Napoleon betraying him (Which would’ve been 100 years prior) and banishing him to Russia.
“Cut yourself shaving” seems like it was taken right out of the awful attempt at a Jonah Hex movie.
“I’d hate to spoil your famous AIM” – interesting that AIM is in bold font, since AIM is the name of a Classical Demon.
Eeeeesh, artwork, eeesh.
Hex’s got a good nose – he smells something funny in the next room, and immediately puts our minds into what sage would be burnt for. Burning sage is used in many ceremonial functions in many cultures, but here we’ve got two options. Either to clear the girl’s mind – something the Indian cooked up to make her pliant … or for use in brainwashing techniques, which is right up Doctor Hurt’s alley.
The Indian is not Miagani, it seems, but he seems like he’s from a local tribe who knows something about them. Probably a Delaware Indian, and apparently one of the last shamans to be able to read or speak the Miagani Language. He’s scared of the Bat-People, relays Miagani legends about turning the sky upside down (there’s that term, UPSIDE DOWN, again) and knows their “end of the world” legends. End of the world? Hex’s fee just went up.
Savage has tons of men, but Bruce faces them in the street and Waco Kid’s them all in their shooting arms with razor-sharp batarangs. Nice little Man With No Name moment. There’s a good bit of Eastwood in Batman here. He doesn’t say a word in the entire issue …
Our superstitious Indian, “Midnight Horse” (Another MIDNIGHT reference … hahaha literally we here have “Midnight in the House of Hurt”) believes it’s a spirit. All this talk about the Miagani has got him rattled. He’s more right than they know. But Savage has an inkling, since he remembers the Old World. Anyway, Savage’s motives for opening the Casket seem pretty simple. Same as his motives in Final Crisis … he’s been alive for so long, anything short of Armageddon is boring. The end of the world will be a relief. A cure to his boredom. But seconds later he seemingly contradicts that – even immortals fear extinction and the girl in there has a gift that could help prolong an immortal’s condition. (No doubt whatever the secret passed down by the Van Derms regarding that casket is … but didn’t Bruce instruct them on that secret?)
Anyway, tremendously importantly … Catherine Van Derm is being imposed upon by Doctor Thomas Wayne, rumored to be over 150 years old. Yes, Simon Hurt shows up here, seemingly. Looking for the key to eternity. He calls her a little slut, which is his usual perversion and corruption. She’s probably not a little slut. But this is champagne and orgy Thomas Wayne we’re talking about. Old Money Dark Secrets behind Puritan Roots/secret societies Thomas Wayne. Apparently the secret of immortality is in that box that only she knows how to open. So they think anyway.
We know a few things in there. Annie’s book. The notes of the Black Pirate regarding the Miagani. Probably White Fawn’s necklace is in there too, because why not?
What else is important here? Indian legends criss-crossing with Satanists. Thomas Wayne looking for the secrets of the Bat-People/Miagani. He wants to know the secret of Barbatos. What the hell are the Bells of Barbatos? I know what they are thematically. We’ve heard bells ringing in the distance and had Black Pirate and others reference doomsday and destruction and the end of time with regards to them. And assume they’re connected to Bruce’s Omega issues. But what’s actually causing people to hear bells tolling?
“Yes, the Bells of Barbatos, that’s it! And all those statues! (The Miagani statue of Man of Bats) and paintings! (The painting of Mordecai Wayne) Darius and Mad Tony, the heroes of the Revolution! (DC Fans, help me out – who the hell is Mad Tony? Anthony? Antonio? Antonin?) I stood in the circle with Jefferson when we raised batwinged Barbatos and drank the starry venom!” (Dark Knight, Dark City, and also referenced recently by Alfred when explaining Thomas Wayne. Here he is!)
“ … Gran’pa Jerome says a DARK GOD is opening his box and there’s bells … but the bells at the end summon another … from the shadows …” That’s FINAL CRISIS, isn’t it? The dark god, DARKSEID falls into a black hole (opens his box) but the bells at the end summon another (another dark god) from the shadows. That’s MANDRAKK. Right?
Or is the first dark god Mandrakk, and the bells at the end summon another … NIX UOTAN … who won’t stop until the wicked are brought to account (“The judge of all f***king evil!”)
Jerome Van Derm. It’s another Christian name. We’ve seen Nathan Van Derm and Martin Van Derm and now we have Jerome Van Derm.
“Old Gambler”, Midnight Horse calls Doctor Wayne. A Native-American associating gambling with Doctor Hurt, whose whole Black Glove is a gambling society that gambles on good vs. evil. I don’t know if it’s ironic or not. Vandal Savage clearly doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about losing Midnight Horse (“The only man alive who can translate Miagani language”). Vandal Savage’s apathy is pretty funny. He just doesn’t give a fuck anymore.
“We’ll build a New Empire in Mexico and bring down this infant America, eh?” – does that not seem like Thomas Wayne 1765’s “El Penitente Cartel”? It wouldn’t surprise me if our Satanist leech, Doctor Hurt basically just swiped Vandal Savage’s plans.
Bruce does his ghost ninja in the smoke routine, and the superstitious words of Midnight Horse fuel the terror in the latest wave of cowardly and superstitious men. Easy ass-kickings abound, and Bruce kicks Bucky off a balcony and onto a roulette wheel. Oh hey, a roulette wheel!
Clearly this is a Thomas Wayne-Hurt who hasn’t met Bruce Wayne yet and doesn’t understand the demon of the night his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand-nephew will be, but it’s clear enough after this night, our Satanic immortality seeking Devil-Wayne is going to be OBSESSED with his “nephew”. I wonder if he’ll ever realize that Bruce is Barbatos.
Vandal recognizes him. Vandal must have a long fucking memory, but then again, if he was Blackbeard in addition to Chief Savage, it might help ease his memory a bit.
Hurt mentions that opening the casket will summon “Everlasting day”. You’d think a Satanist would want everlasting night … Hex joins the party, but Batman puts him down momentarily. And we get the ONLY bit of dialogue from Bruce in the entire issue. “Htt”. Indicating a powerful throw at an unexpectedly tough foe. Or recognition? I mean, Bruce has time-traveled and met Jonah Hex before, hasn’t he?
And we learn that our Old Timey Wild West narrator is witnessing this “wagon chase” through Gotham’s streets. With flowery, educated prose he writes about how he was walking down into town across the “black river” (Gotham River) toward the monstrous, bright abnormality (Gotham City) that his father, the Judge (Solomon Wayne) commissioned Pinkney to build (Judge Solomon Wayne is notorious in Batman history as the man responsible for commissioning the Gothic Architecture that Gotham would become famous for). Or, Old Gotham City is on one of the islands, and the new island is being built in that way.
“Our line, the line of Wayne, would forever be a house unfinished.” – While Alan is apparently a quiet, forlorn young man searching for the right woman, who has resigned himself to the belief that he’ll die a bachelor without a good wife … it’s an ironic statement, since Batman as a fictional character, barring Damian, will always be a bachelor and young man. But anyway, Alan … your prayers will be answered tonight as well.
“Black wagon out of Hell” – you’ve got that right, Alan. Anything driven by Vandal Savage and Thomas Simon Wayne-Hurt can neatly be referred to as “out of Hell”.
Is this moody kid so lonely that he’s thinking of jumping off the bridge into Gotham River? I believe so. He’s suicidal. That’s why he doesn’t get out of the way of the wagon that’s about to trample him to death. But fate in the form of Bruce Wayne intervenes and doesn’t just save his Great-Grandfather from death – introduces his Great-Grandfather to his Great-Grandmother. The Wayne and Van Derm lines combine here, folks. Alan Wayne marries Catherine Van Derm. She has the secret of the Bat Casket, and he probably has the secret of the Hidden Room in the mansion.
Bruce gives her a necklace. White Fawn’s necklace. Where the HELL did he get that?
“My Momma wouldn’t ever have parted with this. Not ‘less she sent you. This is from the Olden Days.”
Oh wow. Anthro’s son, “Man”, father of Kong the Untamed (“Boy”) said that necklace would never leave their family and would be passed down their family line in direct descent, forever and ever. So our Dutch Van Derms aren’t totally Dutch? Either that or Martin Van Derm from ROBW # 2 married a Miagani girl (Annie did say that there were hidden Miagani). But Kong-Boy was blond as well. And there was talk about the Miagani returning back over the Siberian land bridge to spread the bat-message globally. In all that time, it seems at least 100% clear now that the Van Derms somehow are the descendents of Anthro/Da-Man/Kong.
The casket is opened by whistling. Bruce’s eyes go wide. Whistle-activated traps were a Miagani trick last issue … so the Van Derms indeed MUST be descended from the Miagani. That means Bruce is descended from the Miagani.
Seeing Vandal Savage pistol-whip Doctor Hurt is immensely satisfying. “He’s a fool. A fool.” Says Vandal Savage, who seems to see Bruce Wayne as the immortal Barbatos Demon, but sees Alan and Catherine as nothing but mortal bones. Vandal Savage is high as a kite, remember, but this is Morrison. High on opiates means some sort of freaky heightened sense of reality. Vandal is calling Doctor Hurt a fool because Hurt wants to summon Barbatos … but Vandal must realize that Bruce IS BARBATOS. The same Man of Bats demon fucker who aced him in Prehistoria (and possibly in the Cave as Blackbeard). His immortal insight is rewarded with a knee to the teeth.
As for Doctor Hurt. Bruce pulls him close to his face, in what looks to me like a moment of recognition, and Doctor Thomas EVIL Wayne says “… are you one, too? I’ll get you all in the end! Hex!”
Are you one what? A demon/devil? Well yeah, Thomas, yeah he is. You’re both demons. Unfortunately for Bruce, Hex is actually pretty badass, and de-horsed back down the road or not, he faces off with Bruce and shoots him in the guts, and Bruce falls into the river. Jonah Hex is in fact faster on the draw than Bruce Wayne. Which is pretty rugged, but is a little singular as a skill-set compared to the sheer versatility of Batman.
I’d be interested in reading more into how Hex factors in as a Deadshot-like character. He does feel very Batman-esque. His facial scars akin to Two-Face or other deformed freaks. The one “wide” eye does resemble Deadshot’s optic sight that he wears over his right eye.
Alan Wayne’s writings confirm he was suicidal, but hey, he got a wife out of this. And even had the insight to recognize divine design. His son Kenneth is born (apparently Catherine Van Derm dies during birth) and Bruce’s great-grandfather is the first Wayne/Van Derm combo.
Scene 3 – Back out West …
Alan writes about how Jonah Hex is probably the only one lucky in the whole affair, but Hex keeps the batarang that Bruce ganked him in the arm with and rides off into the sunset, and leaves Bonaparte’s gold behind. Hex doesn’t want hexed gold, apparently.
Scene 4 – The aftermath …
Alan Wayne doesn’t exactly confirm that he knows Thomas Wayne was a “Wayne”, but he certainly hints toward it. Knowing that the rumors peg Thomas as being 150 years old … knowing that the guy sought in blood the secret of life eternal (same as Deacon Blackfire).
We see Doctor Hurt pack his doctor’s kit and move to Liverpool on a ship called the S.S. Orion. Orion, obviously, being the name of the New God who died at the beginning of Final Crisis … the hunter … tied to Bruce’s belt clue … depicted in the painting of Darius (Which Thomas must know about) … on the roses in the mansion (Which probably isn’t built till afterward) and so forth.
Alan and Catherine seem to have constructed the secret room. And seem to have been quite well informed about both the Wayne family secret (that there’s a Satanic Church on the Estate Grounds, the Underground Railroad stuff, the cave) and the Van Derm secrets. Anyway, the secrets combine. And the Hidden Room connecting to the old Miagani cave is meant to hide the Casket. Alan proceed to design the “Garden of Death” with the bat shape, and his own huge crypt … turns the Wayne wealth into Wayne Enterprises during the Industrial Revolution, and voila … things are coming together.
Scene 5 – Gotham City, only one generation ago – the time of Bruce’s parents …
Comparing the small Bat Casket to the very same buried alive grave that Bruce crawled out of in R.I.P. is a neat exercise. Alan Wayne compared it opening to a coffin. Anyway, now, Bruce arrives in the Film Noir 30’s. Seedy Gotham. And he has a book and some papers (probably the notes). And Bruce, shot, totally gets hit by a truck and spills his notes and the book. Gotham is officially the scumhole we know and love.
I have a few. For starters … when is the Giant Bat-Beast going to get explained? Secondly … while I can speculate, how exactly is it that the Dutch Van Derms are descendents of the Bat-Tribe? Thirdly … what about Annie and her book?
But at least we have some clean-cut answers about Doctor Hurt.
I apologize. My ramblings tonight could have been a lot more concise.