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Breaking Down the Secrets of Grant Morrison's Batman, Part 1

Delving into the thematics of Grant Morrison’s run on ‘Batman.’

This has been a long time coming. For the past four years we’ve watched Grant Morrison deconstruct Bruce Wayne, only to build him back up again--stronger and more determined than ever. And now that the entire saga of Batman versus the ultimate evil mastermind has wrapped--spanning over 50+ issues in Batman, Final Crisis, Batman & Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne--it’s now time to revisit the entire epic run and see how all the pieces came together.

This is Part 1 of our comprehensive analysis of Grant Morrison’s Batman run, covering Batman #655-658, 663-681 and DC Universe #0. For the trade readers out there: Batman & Son, Batman: The Black Glove, and Batman RIP.  Spoilers ahead!  
== TEASER == It’s not easy trying to analyze the work of comicdom’s mad genius. Coming up with a through-line to sum up Grant Morrison’s entire run on Batman has been a difficult challenge, but after racking my brain for what seems like days, I think I’ve got it: Morrison’s work on Batman has been an exercise by the writer to create a proactive reading experience for comic fans that mirrors Bruce Wayne’s quest to fill in the puzzle pieces and give explanation to the unexplainable. 

The Hole in Things 

It’s a phrase we see muttered numerous times throughout Morrison’s tenure on Batman. It’s everything that can’t fit. Everything that has no destined place in order or structure. The unexplainable. It’s also a phrase that sums up the reading experience of Morrison’s Batman, which at times can seem confusing, scattershot and without direction. But that’s exactly what Morrison wants you to think, that he has no grasp of his own story, that even he can’t handle the nature of spiraling events. Morrison’s approach to writing Batman--by making sense of so many loose threads in the character’s history and pulling them together into one cohesive narrative--mirrors Bruce Wayne’s drive to find reason and explanation for the contents of his “Black Casebook.” Therefore, in a creepy meta way--as only Grant Morrison can pull off--the writer has directly connected himself with our hero, Bruce Wayne. Both Morrison and Bruce Wayne share the same goal: give rhyme and reason where there otherwise is none.

This is why I believe so many people were confused or put off by Morrison’s approach to writing Batman, as the story jumped from Gotham, to London, to a tropical island, and finally back to Gotham for RIP. Morrison never stayed in one place for very long, and seeing the pieces start to fit together took a level of dedication to Morrison’s writing that not every reader can commit to. But Morrison was setting the stage. He was creating the holes for readers to fall into. Throwing so much at Batman meant there was a level of confusion being built that would be hard for readers to decipher what was actually significant and what was merely red herring. Therefore, Morrison could drop hints right under our noses without us ever picking up on them. Classic sleight of hand.

For example, look at the first few pages of Morrison’s first issue on Batman-- issue #655. Morrison wants your attention drawn to the fact that Commissioner Gordon was poisoned and the Joker was shot in the face. We’ve been trained as comic readers to take what’s at face value as significant. But look at the graffiti on the walls during this opening sequence--Zur-En-Arrh. It’s the hypnotic trigger phase programmed into Bruce’s mind during the isolation experiments, supervised by Dr. Hurt years ago. Dr. Hurt even draws reference to this write-off artistic detail during the final confrontation of Batman #681.

These types of winks and nods are littered throughout Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. The clues were always there from the very beginning. It’s just a matter of picking up on them and filling in the holes, because Morrison is not the type of writer to spoon feed his audience. In fact, the original mission statement of this article was to point out every breadcrumb Morrison left for us to pick up and chew on. Honestly, that would have been a disservice to the writer’s story. But believe me, you are rewarded for reading through the entirety of Morrison’s Batman work multiple times.

Now before moving on, I wanted to bring back up red herrings, specifically their importance to Morrison’s Batman. So let us look no further than the biggest red herring of Morrison’s run: the red and black Harlequin checkerboard pattern-- symbolizing life and death, the joke and the punchline. This was Morrison’s ultimate gag on his audience. For readers following Morrison’s Batman on a monthly basis, they were lead to believe the red and black pattern played a significant role in the writer’s overall story. However, as we found out in RIP, the red and black checkerboard pattern was nothing more than a symbolic device used by the Joker to get inside Batman’s head and make him chase his own tail. In the context of the story, it was a wild goose chase concocted by the Joker to drive Batman mad by playing off his incessant need to give meaning where there otherwise isn’t. The same can be said for the readers of the comic, desperately searching the internet for hypotheses and plausible explanations behind the pattern, month after month. Morrison preyed on his audience’s need for explanation--in order to close the gap and fill the hole--and we played along like mice in a maze.

Probably the biggest anomaly of Morrison’s over-aching Batman story is Doctor Hurt. Having read the entirety of Morrison’s work on Batman--through even Batman & Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne--we now know who/what Doctor Hurt is. But for years we were kept in the dark. Many, including myself, speculated that Hurt was indeed the Devil, fitting in line with the whole “hole in things, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning” angle to the mystery character. The clues were even peppered throughout Morrison’s run that supported the theory, with many characters saying they sold their soul to Hurt or that he was the Devil, outright. But even if Hurt turned out to be something else--yet similar--the point of the character was to give living embodiment to the idea of “this hole.” Because when push comes to shove, there had to be a physical manifestation of the unexplainable for Batman to best and punch in the face. I mean, this is a superhero story after all.

The final major idea Morrison leaves us to chew on--playing off the running “hole in things” theme--is the true meaning behind the phrase “Zur-En-Arrh.” We know “Zur-En-Arrh” is the hypnotic trigger phrase programmed into Bruce’s mind by Dr. Hurt (as discussed previously), as well as the basis for Bruce’s “backup harddrive” persona created in case of psychological attack (read Batman RIP). But the true genesis of the phrase is far more interesting; a concept Morrison masterfully introduces to add a new unexpected layer to Batman’s origin, while also kick-starting the idea of a void, a hole in things that has picked at the back of Batman’s psyche since the very beginning.

Bruce never got an explanation for what his father meant by that.

Zorro in Arkham. Zur-En-Arrh.

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Posted by AndyPhifer

Wonderful article. Looking back, this run has been so amazing.
Posted by DapperMan

holy crap last bit blew my whole idea of RIP  

Posted by danhimself

I've reread Morrison's run twice but never the completed run...I did it back when R.I.P. ended and again during Batman and Robin...this article just made me want to start over again...thanks...can't wait till part 2

Posted by heroclick6

Morrison is a genius. I can't wait to see how Batman Inc. will fall into place with his epic story lines.

Posted by cbishop

Very nice read, Erik.  I look forward to reading the next installments to this.

Posted by Silkcuts

great article. I was too lazy to reread everything to start my own think like this.  You saved me a lot of time.

Posted by MuadDiab

Nice. more interested in the next though. Can't wait, hurry

Posted by Duo_forbidden

Awesome article. Grant Morrison's run on Batman these few years have been great.

Posted by -Eclipse-

I read RIP and a lot of Batman and Robin, but this sort of thing really doesn't cater to me at all, lol 
Still, your analysis gives me a better undestanding (STILL can't understand that Honor Jackson guy in RIP, guiding Bruce even though he was dead. WTF?) 
Anyway, I salute you sir, for reading through the greatest mind f*** in comics and actually understanding it. How much of this insanity occurs in Batman and Son, btw? I'm interested in getting it because I like Damian.

Posted by Silver Knight75
and they said I was nuts
Posted by batman_is_god
Agreed, except for Honor Jackson I already grasped all this. 
Still, a good artivle for those in the dark.
Posted by longbowhunter

Even though Morrison's run was confusing I kept on buying it. I guess this was the reason why. Time to go back through some long boxes.

Posted by Theodore

I need to go back and give this a reread now that it's "finished" so to speak.

Posted by OrionStarlancer

Do you feel that Final Crisis helped tie this all together, or was it also just part of the confusion? Both RIP and Final Crisis are linked pretty strongly; is Final Crisis closing the hole or are we to just fall into it . . .  or is it another gag?

Posted by chowy

Good article, but it could be useful to see step by step all of the secrets and clues Morrison has created throughout  his run. Even if we read the whole story, we probably missed some (or many) important details

Posted by Decept-O

I think you hit on the main clue and did a good job of not spoiling too many of the other ones.  Nicely written article breaking down bits of the arc(s).  For those of us who haven't been able to get all the books yet, this does help.  
Posted by thatlad

Good article but like all things discussing Morrison's work, it's not detailed enough to do justice, that's the thing though I don't think anyone can do it justice except Morrison!

Posted by JackBauer

I think i may re-read everything again!

Posted by Crimson Eagle

Excellent Deduction Watson.
Posted by iLLituracy

Most of this stuff is pretty apparent if you pay close enough attention.

Posted by The_Warlord

I applaud you Erik Norris

Posted by nutzac4888

Wish I would have gotten into this run a long time ago and not just towards the end of it....I feel like I'm missing such big pieces of the story and am kicking myself in the ass now

Posted by The Mighty Monarch

I never understood that little flashback tidbit. WOW. AWESOME.

Posted by spider-man 2996

Wow Morrison is a very clever man,Great article also
Posted by The Poet


Posted by Baron_Emo

Excellent! Thank you very much for this. I have tried to re-read what I had, but I don't have all of GM's run. This is very enlightening!

Posted by skaarason

im saying it again , i hope gm never leaves batman !!!!

Posted by Icarusflies

Okay, I admit, I'm really impressed.

Posted by Sydpart2

You forgot to mention how far back some of his stuff goes. Hurt has his origin in Dark Knight Dark City

Posted by ChrisTobin

A couple weeks ago I did a complete re-read of (what I believed to be) Morrison's works relevant to this saga. I didn't even catch that Bruce was trailing a red and black pattern. The "Zorro in Arkham" thing blew my mind. LOL, I thought I had a pretty good grasp when I completed my second reading. Looks like I may have to do a 3rd reading.
When you get to B&R I hope you touch on the domino thing. I think Joker was leaving them at his crimes, but I have no idea why Toad had a suitcase full in volume 1.
Also, was resurrection of Rhas at all relevant? I skipped it on my second reading.

Posted by Karkarov

The Zur En Arrh thing is a coincidence, Morrison didn't even make the costume or come up with the idea / words.  He just borrowed it among other things for his story.
It is nice to think there is a connection, but I feel like people are over thinking it.  Besides Arkham is a prison and the law in the movie Zorro well... they weren't exactly his chums.  If anything I find it kind of stupefying that Bruce doesn't get it as a kid.  He certainly would have made the connection as an adult.

Posted by The Sadhu

Damn good article!
Posted by Gambit1024

That last part is some M. Knight Shaymalan stuff right there. 

Posted by ateygheyev

I'm really glad for this article.  The best part of this run were the characters although some I feel we never get the chance to fully enjoy.  But as for simply with holding info or showing events out of order, that didn't do it for me.  I applaud that he got a way with it. 

Posted by silverrex3

i still dont understand the Zorro in arkham significance.  another thing i never figured out is when was bruce captured and thrown in doomsdays memory torture chamber before final crisis.  Like when did bruce end and the clone's story begin.

Posted by Dr. Maxwell
@silverrex3:  Batman #156, although Hurt is just an unnamed scientist, the Batclone story started at the end of Final Crisis #7 and in Batman and Robin. Zur En Arrh (Zorro in Arkham) was a trigger phrase to prevent Bruce from becoming totally helpless in the event of being Mindwiped or driven insane. It brought out the Batman of Zur En Arrh personality that Bruce invented
@Robo_Gorilla: No not really I think of it more as a Paul Dini thing,
Posted by silverrex3
@Dr. Maxwell: thanks, i get all that but.... whats the significance of bruce's father saying zorro in arkham, is it something to keep bruce thinking? 
Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Very well put article, my friend! Luckily this is giving me the inspiration to finally pull out all Grant Morrison-Batman literature that I have collected for the last 4 something odd years and reread the whole narrative.  Perhaps then I may actually make sense of it all over again with a re-reading of the literature.
That being said, one statement you made stood out to me the most, and that was where you said Morrison "was creating the holes for readers to fall into." I must say that I was one such reader when I was first reading through the Morrison run, and on into the current events I think I STILL have more questions than answers. But with what you have written I think I can engage it from an angle to actually make sense of things now.  Great job!
Posted by The Stegman

THANK YOU!!! finally some understanding of Morrison's writing, i may get hate for this, but i'm going to be honest i really dislike how Grant writes, it's TOO confusing, i know he does'nt want to spoon feed us, but don't use a knife either! you can tell a story without making the audience go "huh??" i mean seriously just because its overly intricate and complex doesn't necessarily make it good Morrison, i can say i'm NOT a fan of his, which is a shame cause i love Batman so much

Posted by MisterMollusk

Aaaaaugh, I want to read this so badly. Must buy the trades first....

Posted by the_fallen11

this article was A-MAZE-ING!

Posted by J1ml33

well done Erik you have solved one piece of the puzzled now lets see how you do for round two ,...
over all you really out did yourself you should be very very proud ..( I am now planing on buying trades starting with batman and son and the rest for Christmas ...over All you have my support .
and thanks for shedding a little bit more light on the more layered puzzle pieces littered through out his 50 + run ...
great work .

Posted by weapon154

HOLY SH&*T(%&^%^&U)IGUILIBIUIIOP WHAT THE FU&(&*(&*)&)!!!! How could i have missed that????

Posted by Mbecks14

I wish there was a way they could collect Morrisson's entire batman run in one big book so i could read it all the way through. 
MIND BLOWN   Zur-En-Arrh.

Posted by GraveSp

I remember rereading Batman and Son after reading RIP 2 times and seeing the Zur En Arrh graffiti.  I think it was at that moment that I completely trusted Grant Morrison, even when Batman started going back in time I knew that there was some overarching plan.  

Posted by Eyz

I need to re-read Morrisson's whole run again!
Fantastic article, love the insight into some detials some of us may have missed here and there!

Posted by TheMess1428

Bravo! Well done!

Posted by ComiCCloseup

nice work man, I look forward to part 2
Posted by omar_el

Dude woowwzzz awesomeeee Mind officially blown, brinas everywhere, can't wait for your part 2!
Posted by RapidEyeMovement

That "Zorro in Arkham" thing made my mouth fall open in astonishment. Bravo!
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