Busy week and I’ve been kind of feeling a bit bleak about blogging lately, so excuse the quiet. I think I’m going to completely geek out in my next couple of entries, so if you’re waiting for some African or academic material, keep waiting. (There are things building up in my ought-to-write category on those topics, so lightning may strike at any time.)
This entry is going to be the maximally geeky one, on Grant Morrison’s Batman run. You still have time to turn away if your eyes compulsively rolled at that prospect.
I like Grant Morrison’s work, but I am not a blind worshipper at the temple of the God of All Comics. His run on Batman has had some strong moments and some weak moments, quite aside from the uneven artwork. But all the talk on the intarwebs this week has been about the conclusion of the “RIP” storyline. A lot of readers expected big, clear revelations about the antagonist(s) who have been driving the story, and many feel that Morrison let them down. (Or, for the conspiracy-minded, it was DC editorial that changed Morrison’s original ending.)
I think people didn’t read the issue very carefully in that case, because I thought Morrison was crystal-clear about the identity of the Black Glove, the mysterious enemy that has been hounding Batman for most of Morrison’s run on the title. The problem is that too many people are obsessed with the red herring character of Dr. Simon Hurt: the debate over whether he’s really Thomas Wayne, or a minor actor, or the Devil Himself is a distraction.
There’s been speculation throughout the storyline that the villain behind the scenes is none other than Bruce Wayne himself. Batman #681 pretty much comes out and says, “Yup, that’s it”. Here’s the evidence.
First, before we get to this issue, what do we know about The Black Glove in general? Who are various members of the Club of Villains who associate with The Black Glove? What do we know about them? We know that the one characteristic they share is that they are obscenely wealthy and powerful, and that most have a fetishistic second identity or obsession of some kind. Bruce Wayne would fit in smoothly with them in that respect.
Right at the start, Morrison reminds us: “Batman thinks of everything”. This fits with what we know about Morrison’s take on Batman: that he’s the supremely skilled meta-tactician who outthinks all of his enemies. This is reinforced throughout this story in Morrison’s portrayal of the Joker: the Joker is frustrated because Batman always “builds a box” around him, reimposes order on his pure chaos. So think about it: what would Batman do if he became aware that by becoming Batman, he had opened himself up to evil and madness? That Batman himself was the “something, in the dark, inside”, the “scar on my consciousness”? “Children sometimes develop cover personalities to protect themselves”: that’s not something that Simon Hurt has done to Bruce Wayne, that is what Batman is. Batman himself is the attack on Bruce Wayne’s mind. But Batman thinks of everything: how will he defeat Batman?
Simple: he’s got to restore Bruce Wayne as the real person. Morrison, I think, is attacking the heart of the modern interpretation of the character, that Batman is the real person, Bruce Wayne the mask, that Batman lives at the edge of madness, that Batman is irreparably dark. That’s the point of exploring the crazy-ass Silver Age stories: it’s what Bruce Wayne hallucinated when in sensory deprivation to try and escape Batman.
Look at the conclusion of #681: it’s Bruce Wayne without the mask who goes after Simon Hurt. It’s Bruce Wayne writing the “final entry in the Black Casebook”, who now knows that in making Batman, he “opened up to some pure source of evil”, to the “limits of reason”. When we hear from inside the helicopter the whisper, “The Black Glove always wins”, what do we see next? The black glove on Batman’s fist smashing into the helicopter window.
There’s no mystery about why the trigger phase for Batman’s madness was a garbling of “Zorro in Arkham”: because that’s the moment where Bruce Wayne learned, seconds before his parent’s death, that the romantic figure of Zorro was also someone who would be institutionalized for madness.
So this is what “rest in peace” in the title means. Not that Bruce Wayne would die. Instead, maybe the prospect he’s on the edge of becoming a different, more serene, more at rest kind of Batman. Maybe a Batman who doesn’t have to be grim and dark all the time, but who can have wacky adventures and smile and meet imps from the Fifth Dimension. Maybe a version of the character who is really Bruce Wayne, with Batman his mask.
Or maybe Batman thinks of everything, and Bruce Wayne always loses. That will have to wait for when, or if, Morrison gets to do more on the title, or whether later writers pick up what he’s done with the character and use it to inaugurate yet another turn on the wheel, to offer us a version of Batman who isn’t just awash in blood and madness.