Batman Saga 2: Back from the Dead

We’re  gonna get all serious up in here for Christmas, by talking about the next installment of the Batman epic: Batman RIP.

We talked some about it last week, but simply because this story is the one that had been building — except, as you might expect, it’s not that simple. The last portion of RIP interleaves with Final Crisis (next week!), so this portion of the Bat-Saga meshes together carefully, and we’ll have to make sense of all that.

First, what happens? Like Final Crisis, RIP can be a little confusing (especially if you read it without reading the previous volumes, like I did the first time. Oh boy, that was weird. I still loved it, but damn). Basically, Batman is trying to track down the Black Glove as they move into Gotham. They loose the Joker, take over Arkham Asylum, and trigger latent triggers buried in Batman’s subconscious. You see, before the events of this story, Batman underwent a military experiment in sensory deprivation, to try to explore the human mind — naturally, he wanted to figure out the Joker. The doctor was a man named Hurt, who also, we learn, was later behind the three strange Batmen from last volume. Hurt implanted triggers in Batman’s mind to break him at just the right moment, because he is the head of the Black Glove. Batman’s new girlfriend is a member, naturally, and fakes being kidnapped after uttering the trigger-phrase. Then they shoot Batman up with a bunch of heroin and other shit and throw him into the homeless neighborhoods to rot until he loses his mind. Bruce ends up questing across town with a homeless guy he gave a hundred bucks to last volume — except that guy’s dead. He got a bunch of money yesterday, another homeless guy tells Bruce, and OD’d on the shit he bought.

Well, fuck.

Naturally Batman goes in after the Black Glove. Turns out, he constructed a backup personality, having detected something wrong in his subconsciousness, and it triggers out on the street. He makes a costume that looks like Robin’s, but brighter, and tells a guy calling himself Caligula that “this is what happens when you take Bruce out of the equation.”

Pontifus made a good point last week when he said Black Glove appeared to be about what sort of Batman there is — a prophetic statement, even, given that as the Bat-Saga continues more and more iterations of Batman will come to the fore, getting their own moments to shine. And already the story has showcased the Batmen of different eras, showing the run from the 40s to the 70s as a few years in Bruce’s life, with Robin appearing, changing everyone (including the Joker, explaining why he was so corny and safe in the 60s), and leaving again.

What sort of Batman does Batman need to be? What kind can be he? He can be every kind, of course. He’s studied martial arts but also philosophy and meditation. This volume refers several times to his Thogal ritual, in which the subject imitates the condition of death to anticipate it and come to terms with life. Bruce spent a long fucking time in there (full disclosure: I’ve performed the Thogal ritual, and nearly made it three hours. Bruce spends weeks in there). If he needs to be a psychotic slab of meat, he’ll do that (Frank Miller). If he needs to be James Bond in a costume, he’ll do that (Denny O’Neil). And if he needs to come back from the dead (twice!) he’ll do that too (Grant Morrison). Truly, our savior is here on this, the day of Christmas, to rescue us from the forces of darkness.

I’m not joking here. Superman’s been Christ before, and often (Morrison again; Zack Snyder, just recently), but in this story we see the variability of the human frame strung up on the cross — or, actually, buried under several hundred pounds of dirt. The Black Glove knock him out and he escapes, the Joker being the only person present to believe he’ll be able to do it.

And that brings me to the center of the piece, the key that unlocks the entire story thus far. It’s something the Joker says. Referring back to the red and black motif from earlier comics, Joker says he just got that from the tiles in his room in Arkham, which are red and black checkerboard.

Apophenia is the condition of hearing, seeing, or otherwise receiving messages or meanings from random circumstances, like hearing a voice in a brook or seeing a person in a shadow of a coat rack. The lecture Joker gives the Black Glove elite, after killing one of them, is just that: Batman makes sense of the world. Batman makes sense of the world, whether it is there or not. The Joker doesn’t have any symbolism in mind, any sensible reason for what he does. Either he is accidentally drawing on subconscious imagery and Jungian archetypes or, as he tries to imply here, he truly is random and Batman creates sense around him, traps him again and again in meaning.

Given Morrison’s other work it is safe to say that this image of Batman is new, and possibly Morrison’s real addition to the Batman mythos: Batman as wizard. Batman uses an obsessive knowledge of symbols and words to make things mean something when they have no inherent meaning. The Joker, earlier in RIP, plays the Dead Man’s Hand during a game of solitaire, as a joke. He replaces the last card with a Joker, of course, as a signature. But Batman, later, in the cave, tells Jezebel Jet that the eighth letter of the alphabet is an H, and so the cards spell H. A. H. A. “And that’s not going into the numerological symbols…” Batman is the world’s greatest detective not only because he makes sense of things, but because he insists there is a sense there, and behaves as though it is there, whether he knows it or not. Batman dies, at least three times in this story, in order to learn something that isn’t really there: the sense behind the Joker’s madness. But like all myth figures, he brings back from those encounters with death a wisdom no one else can match. Gifts for the rest of us, if we will take them.

The story ends with Batman beating the Black Glove, naturally, though Jet escapes and Hurt either escapes or perishes. Talia Al’Ghul kills Jet with her Man-Bats. Hurt tells Batman he is Thomas Wayne, and the star of the Black Glove film, and “the hole in things,” prefiguring the rest of the saga, in which Bruce examines the hole in all things, from his own psyche to the world and the multiverse (Darkseid’s fall and the bullet that kills Orion are both metaphysical holes drilling through multiple worlds as the bullets that drilled Bruce’s parents go through his psyche to this day). The final bit shows Bruce escaping from The Lump, one of the many Jack Kirby characters that appear in Final Crisis. And we’ll get to that next time. Have a great Christmas, if that’s your thing! If not, celebrate the return of our savior Bruce Wayne, hallowed be his cape.

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