Welcome back to our second, and final, installment of “The Secrets of Grant Morrison’s Batman.” In Part 1 of our Morrison Batman analysis we talked about “the hole in things” that has plagued Batman’s life and mind since the birth of the Batman mythos. For round two we plan to cover the important themes running through Morrison’s Batman work post R.I.P., while also finally defining what exactly is the true hole in things.
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Defining The HoleImmediately following the events of Batman R.I.P. are the events of Final Crisis. While this DC Universe event series is not considered a Batman-centric story, per se, the events that transpire are instrumental in setting the stage for the next phase of Morrison’s Batman epic. Thematically--and most definitely purposefully--Final Crisis plays right into the idea of “the hole in things.” In fact, the plot of Final Crisis takes that concept quite literally with Darkseid ’s fall from a war in heaven creating a black hole singularity in the center of existence which is tearing down the walls of reality. It’s the ultimate hole for our heroes to fall into. Or as Batman puts it in the lost chapter of R.I.P. (Batman #702), “The hole in things is Darkseid-shaped.”
Now if Darkseid’s fall in Final Crisis is considered the ultimate unexplainable hole in things, where does that leave Doctor Hurt -- the self-proclaimed definition of unexplainable? Well, by the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne we finally learn the truth behind Doctor Hurt’s mysterious prolonged existence: Dr. Hurt is Darkseid. Or more specifically, Dr. Hurt is a flesh and blood vessel for Darkseid to reincarnate into. Therefore, technically, Doctor Hurt is still the epicenter hole in things, as he describes himself.
But the hole in things expands outward beyond just an evil god who has fallen from heaven, a conclusion Batman reaches as he makes his escape from Darkseid’s Command D bunker with a god-killing Radion bullet in hand. As Batman says, “The hole is everywhere. It was there in every best laid plan.” There is always something that can’t be accounted for, no matter how well thought out the plan is. And after his climactic confrontation with the god of all evil, the latest hole Bruce Wayne falls into and has to work his way out from is how he plans to escape the Omega Sanction, “the death that is life.”
So with Bruce Wayne temporarily out of the picture, the torch is passed to a new Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s original ward and first Robin, Dick Grayson; an era that acts as a palette cleanser and fresh start, as well as shows us the true gravity of Batman’s legacy. This new era was officially ushered in on the final page of Final Crisis #7, where we see Bruce Wayne still alive -- already hard at work on a plan home -- complimented by the quote, “ But the fire burns forever,” perfectly summing up the fact that...
Batman & Robin Will Never Die!The first major theme of Morrison’s Batman run post R.I.P. and Final Crisis is “rebirth.” The most obvious example of this is the new man behind the cape & cowl, Dick Grayson. This is a Batman we’ve never seen before, one that doesn’t sulk in the shadows and actually fights crime with a smile. There is also a new Robin in town, Bruce Wayne’s biological son, Damian. This new dynamic duo is far removed from what we’ve been accustomed to in the past. Instead of Batman being the overly serious and brooding ringmaster of the partnership, it is instead Robin carrying a grave demeanor into every scenario, while Dick Grayson’s Batman remains the more lighthearted, optimistic of the two.
But Batman & Robin aren’t the only characters with fresh beginnings. The Joker is also reborn in the pages of Batman & Robin. Ever since Grant Morrison wrote Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth, he’s portrayed the Joker as a man with a severe case of multiple personality disorder, constantly shedding personas as if they were snakeskin. His latest identity is the British crime writer, Oberon Sexton. For most, the mystery of Sexton’s identity stayed hidden until his reveal at the end of Batman & Robin #12. However, the clues were laid out from the very beginning that Sexton was indeed the Clown Prince of Crime.
For starters, the red and black visual motif of Sexton’s clothing echoes back to the Joker’s red and black gag he played on Batman’s mind up through R.I.P.. Furthermore, we have a killer murdering the remaining members of The Black Glove and leaving behind dominoes as his calling card. We knew the Joker was pissed, to say the least, about his involvement as a pawn in Hurt’s game to kill Batman. So why not return the favor, turning Hurt’s own men into the pieces of a new game designed and moderated by the Joker? Dominoes are also known as “bones” is some circles, and Oberton Sexton is called “The Gravedigger.” It seems so obvious now. What’s that saying about hindsight...
Finally, not only are Batman, Robin and the Joker reborn in the pages of Batman & Robin, but Morrison’s latest bat-series also sees a tonal rebirth. It’s a fresh beginning that’s not plagued by years of Batman continuity. Batman & Robin is a series with a much lighter and easygoing quality -- perfectly fitting the new Caped Crusader. Batman & Robin is a series that exists to prove Batman and Robin will never die. The legend lives eternal.
The LegacyThis leads us right into the most important theme of Morrison’s Batman post R.I.P. and Final Crisis: legacy. Morrison has always loved writing Batman as the ultimate human-being. The Omega Man. But here Morrison takes that concept one step further. Batman is more than man, he’s now officially a god on the same level as Superman, Wonder Woman and even Darkseid. When talking about characters like Superman -- characters who can fly, bend steel with a single flick of the wrist and hop over buildings in a single bound -- Batman describes them as myth. Specifically, Batman says “everything they touch turns to myth.” But what Batman doesn’t comprehend just yet is that he, a mere mortal, has accomplished the same feat.
Because of Bruce’s travels through time, the legacy of Batman now dates back further than when a little boy’s parents where shot dead in front of him. Bruce Wayne’s legacy of fighting injustice can now be tracked back centuries within the mythology of the DC Universe -- starting with a young cave-boy who was inspired by the heroism of a mysterious stranger leading to the formation of the Miagani tribe of “bat-people.” Morrison has not only moved Batman’s legacy forward in the present with Dick and Damian during Bruce Wayne’s absence, but he’s simultaneously created a bat-mythology stretching back to the dawn of man which stems from the worship of Bruce Wayne in the past. If that isn’t god status, I don’t know what is. When it comes to Batman, everything he touches turns to myth, understand that much.
The First TruthMuch like the end of R.I.P., this latest phase of Morrison’s Batman epic--spanning Final Crisis, Batman & Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne--ends with the turning on the head of well-established cannon. Morrison leaves us with the first truth of Batman. We’ve always considered Batman to be a loner superhero. However, that is not the case. From the very first moment when he rang that service bell and Alfred came to stitch him up, Bruce Wayne has always had assistance. There has always been someone backing him up, whether it’s Alfred, Dick, Barbara, Tim, Superman, or the rest of the Justice League. Batman would not be Batman without his friends and family. This hearkens back to Batman #683 when Alfred recounts what Bruce told him to say in case someone ever asked for Batman’s obituary. “If anyone ever asks for an obituary, tell them Batman’s big secret was the classic whodunnit? Only it’s not about who killed Batman but who kept him alive all these years .”
Bruce Wayne’s epiphany at the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne leads us right into the next phase of Morrison’s continual Batman work: Batman, Incorporated. And with Batman’s war on crime going global it’s a sure bet that Batman’s legacy is in safe hands, that the fire will indeed burn forever...