Last week we talked about Arkham Asylum as a prologue of sorts to the epic Batman vision quest. Here is the real beginning: Batman and Son and The Black Glove.
Batman and Son centers on the introduction of Damian Wayne, Bruce’s child he had with Talia Al’Ghul one night in the desert. It was formerly a kind of Elseworlds story, but here it is brought into the main DC continuity — though pretty quickly we learn Talia has a fleet of genetically identical babies in suspended animation, which, in this story, she harvests for parts to repair Damian. Also, the babies are all floating, in vitro, looking like fetuses without a womb, highlighting Talia’s role as the traditional evil mother figure.
The plot features an army of ninja-Man-Bats, a new lady in Bruce Wayne’s life, and copies of Batman running around. The copies are an ex-cop who shoots the Joker after being beaten nearly to death by the Clown Prince of Crime and a venom- and monter-serum pumped crazy who’s locked up in an old gym, pumping iron, raping prostitutes, murdering them, and eating pizza. It turns out the cops have been covering for these two, though other than that they were once cops you don’t find out this volume. They’re Batman’s primary problem in these issues. They trigger memories in Batman, memories of visions of three Batmen he assumed were basically the ghosts of Christmas past, haunting him with visions of what might have been.
The fun part is that they are those things, naturally. The third he does not meet in this volume, but the next. He’s a mad fire-bug who made a deal with “the devil” to get his power and training.
This is important for one of the fascinating, strange flash-forwards in which Damian is Batman, Bruce is dead, and a wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon is commissioner of police. Damian kills regularly and Barbara wants him brought in. In one of these issues Damian fights the third guy, the devilish firebug dude.
In The Black Glove we see a reprise of an old idea I’m sure a lot of the “gritty” comic book fans wish hadn’t appeared: the Batmen from around the world. An actual idea from the 60s or 70s, the International Club of Heroes involves a lot of “Batman of X” type heroes, including Man-of-Bats (Native American), El Gaucho (South American), and Dark Ranger (Australian). They’re invited out to the private island of a guy who tried to get them to form a super-team, who is out to kill them to get at Batman, who wouldn’t join the club, thus ending it before it started. He is a puppet, though, of the group he contacted to help set it up: the Black Glove, a sinister organization apparently devoted to proving that evil is better than good.
This is a really weird, but effective set-up — a SPECTRE that admits it doesn’t care about money (they’re all already rich) or power (see: rich), but instead in controlling others in more and more horrible ways, because they can.
This is a nice book to read in the wake of the “affluenza” that’s apparently spreading (a political joke here? Jeez, what have I become? Well, it’s actually also true, it’s an interesting book to read in this political moment).
Black Glove ends with Bruce’s new girlfriend realizing he’s Batman, by the way. There are a lot of other great single moments in these two books, like Batman doing math at the ninja-Man-Bats (calculating trajectory while punching dudes in mid-air, that is) and Bruce having a secret signal watch with a Batman emblem inside it, where no one but him would ever see it (something I referenced long ago).
Children and parents keep coming up in these two books, setting up the big, freaky pay-off of RIP (more later, obviously). There’s Damian, of course, but also frequent flashbacks to the modern-day Knight appearing at the International Club of Heroes with his dad, the Knight of that day. Robin, Squire (Knight’s young sidekick), and Man-of-Bats’ son Little Raven (or Raven Red, as he tries to get everyone to call him) feature heavily in the Black Glove story as well, while Damian is conspicuously absent (being rebuilt by Talia after an incident with a bomb). That is after his nearly-last words were about wishing his parents could be together and he didn’t have to choose.
Parents are a big deal in the Batman narrative, and these two volumes deal with that theme a lot, in a variety of ways, from actual parenthood to mentoring and counseling. Tim gets mad because Damian’s around, Bruce thinks about his parents a lot as he deals with Alfred, who sits in the limo and reads Artemis Fowl.
These volumes aren’t just lead-ins to RIP, but they are that as well, and it’s hard, actually, to say a lot about them without also talking about RIP. But I’m on a schedule now, baby, and we can’t stop for anything!
But before I let you go to your shivering in the cold (ah, winter), let’s talk about that Joker issue. You probably know which one. Titled “The Clown at Midnight,” it’s a weird fucking issue comprised of CG-rendered images and text, not actually a comic book but a text-and-illustration sort of thing. It’s creepy-looking, and its plot is that the Joker is reinventing himself yet again (see last week’s post) and decides he needs to kill all his old minions. Harley helps, but doesn’t realize this includes her. The Joker nearly gets out of Arkham, and a red-and-black theme enters the narrative, the Joker claiming it’s “the joke and the punchline.” He promises to spare Harley’s life if she lets him disfigure her face, which she nearly does. It sounds like a good story, right? And this time around I liked it, but a lot of people don’t and even I had some doubts my first time through. It’s just pretty odd, but it works, in its own weird way. It makes one stop and slow down, in the issue entirely about the Joker’s psyche. It’s in a bad imitation of hardboiled narrative verse, which doesn’t help, but other than that it sets up the Joker’s next iteration in a self-conscious way (rather than the typical one of “this writer will write him in this way”). Like Arkham Asylum, it tries to build the changes into the narrative itself.