Bruce Wayne Is the Black Glove

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.

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5 Responses to Bruce Wayne Is the Black Glove

  1. Carl says:

    OK, might as well say this thought. I love your blog because no matter what you talk about it turns out to be interesting. I’ve not been following the world of Batman nor do I much care, but I like to learn new things and I really like to see a nice analysis being turned clearly and elegantly. Plus, you stimulate a diverse and vibrant commentariat, even or especially at our most irritating. For those of us a little off the beaten track and not well-funded for conventional professional socialization, this is one good way to stay tuned in and intellectually alive. So thanks for this post and all the other ones, and good luck with the bleaks.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Thanks for that! I appreciate it.

  3. G. Weaire says:

    I also have not read the comic in question. But I did watch The Dark Knight on DVD last night. And I do enjoy the geekier posts, too.

    So here goes: the Batman you talk about, where Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne the mask, has become the dominant way in which the character is seen by the broad popular audience: it’s implicitly the view of Burton’s Batman films and explicitly the view of the Nolan ones.* (The Schumacher films, of course, were not troubled by niceties like identity.) It’s a pregnant theme which appears to touch a contemporary cultural nerve.

    That might make it difficult to revert to the older model of a well-adjusted Bruce Wayne who poses as Batman (even if that would be richer within the comics themselves – because there dressing up as a bat and beating criminals up is completely normal behavior*).

    Similarly, part of why Superman Returns didn’t work was that an audience whose perception of Lex Luthor was formed by Lois and Clark and Smallville wasn’t receptive to the 70’s comedy scientist-criminal.

    *Nolan recently commented somewhere that it was important for his take on Batman that there were no other superheroes in this world, not even in fiction.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    That’s an interesting comment by Nolan, given that the other iconic thing that’s happen to Batman’s origin from Frank Miller on is the detail that Bruce Wayne had just seen the film Zorro when his parents were gunned down. Even without the glutting of his world’s history with superheroes, that made his invention of Batman have a pedigree of some kind. But Nolan’s Batman absolutely doesn’t seem to live in a world that has had any kind of pulp literature at all, no hint or trace of it.

  5. G. Weaire says:

    If I’m remembering correctly (which I may very well not be) Nolan mentioned that this was why he dropped the Zorro element from the film. In fact, there are no references to popular culture at all in the films – it’s a ballerina, not a Paris Hilton type, that Bruce takes to dinner.

    For Batman to have no referents whatsoever (which is what Nolan seems to want), one has to imagine a US with no history of masked vigilantism at all, no Ku Klux Klan or anything like that, which would be used as points of comparison in the absence of fictional masked heroes.

    But I think there’s something to it. It may be the only way to do “protagonist chooses to be a superhero” and still produce an effective story. The conventional superhero film (Spider-Man, Iron Man) turns on the decision to use the hero’s abilities in socially beneficial ways, and takes it for granted that the way to do that is to become a superhero.

    But if you want to make the film about the decision to be a superhero as such, then you would otherwise need to confront the basic silliness that modelling oneself on fictional superheroes would entail in our world. Hiro in Heroes can only be played for laughs.

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