In the wake of the Lazarus Pit failure to revive Bruce Wayne, Dick and Damian start looking for clues closer to home. Could Wayne Manor itself hold all the answers they need? Meanwhile, Oberon Sexton flees from the assassins that Dr. Hurt has sent after him, and he ends up on "a hidden 'corpse-road'" in the Wayne Family Cemetary.
After discovering that the corpse they resurrected in the last story arc was not who they thought it was, Dick, Damian, and Alfred have come to believe what Tim Drake has said all along—Bruce Wayne is alive . . . somewhere. As a follow up to that plot point, this issue shows Alfred giving the boys a tour of some of the deeper, history-rich areas of Wayne Manor.
Of course, Dick used all his resources to figure out what could have happened when Bruce was hit by the Omega Beams—he asked the Justice League, who told him that Bruce could be lost in the past. Damian then notes that some of the Wayne family portraits could actually be paintings of Bruce. The idea that Bruce has set up clues in the past is an idea that has been floating around since the final page of Final Crisis.
It seems that Grant Morrison really did have a much larger plan for everything he did with Batman--both on the main title and in Final Crisis. Hopefully, Batman and Robin will see the payoff for all that planning.
Damian has really been the character to watch throughout this series, in this issue you really get to see him be the kid that he is. For all the toughness that he shows, he’s still just a kid who wants to belong somewhere. The entire time that he and Dick are looking for clues in the paintings, Damian is constantly looking for validation that his father is actually alive and that they will find him.
An even better moment is when Damian begins asking Dick what will become of their Batman and Robin team when Bruce returns. This question was interesting, because it shows that he really does enjoy being a superhero even though he’s constantly making fun of the superhero-way of doing things.
This aspect of Damian is reinforced further in a flashback scene in which he is arguing with his mother, Talia, about him returning to her. He even goes as far as to defend Dick when Talia claims that Grayson is not fit to wear Bruce’s mantle. Unfortunately, in the succeeding scene, we see that when Talia had her son’s spine reconstructed it may have come with a price.
Andy Clarke’s art is very much a welcomed fit for this series. He seems to be trying to evoke a feeling of Frank Quitely, especially with his depiction of Batman. I also really liked his depiction of Damian. One thing I noticed with Clarke’s Damian is that while he appears very stern and aggravated as himself, he seems to soften when he is in his Robin costume--a visual dichotomy that works well with what Damian is going through in this issue. He shows that he’s finally become more comfortable being Robin than he is when he's being himself.
Finally, the cover of this issue is tagged with the line “The Return of Bruce Wayne Begins Here!” This issue marks the first time that anyone outside of Red Robin is seriously considering that Bruce is stuck in time, and that they should all be looking for clues of his life in the past. With the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne, it’s great to see how these characters are handling the idea that Bruce isn’t dead.
Damian is the real character to watch throughout the next couple of issues. This is definitely an issue to pick up if you’ve been following anything concerning Batman in the past year. It was a great read and wonderful story.
Andy Clarke isn't the most exciting illustrator to unfold this mystery, but he is precise, and his storytelling is clear. I can't imagine Grant Morrison's scripts are simple to follow, but Clarke works hard in laying down the details we need to follow from the script. It seems that if Bruce Wayne was stranded in the past (as the Justice League apparently now believe), he may have been setting up clues down through the centuries to lead to his present-day life.
Morrison's script plays very fast and loose with conventional logic, as we're not really sure if Bruce has become immortal or if he's time traveling towards the present--or if he was or was not several of his own ancestors. Furthermore, if the Manor he grew up in is so full of carefully encoded clues, it follows that any number of the great detectives who have passed through its walls would have encountered them long ago--though I suppose time travel paradoxes can be used to explain some of that, as maybe they've only "always already" been there since the Omega Beam event in Final Crisis--if that makes sense.
Distractingly, as Damian and Dick pursue this line of thinking (and the subtle clues apparently don't emerge into the light of inquiry until the mind is so primed), their dialogue makes you think they're expositing about things they and any ward or child of Bruce's would have learned long ago. However, those sorts of disbelief suspensions are the kind required of Morrison's fast and loose (but not unlearnéd) approach to a character with so many decades of history--all of them fair game for his writer-ly archeology.
By sifting through the past so fully, Morrison necessarily picks and chooses what he needs, and he comes up with a frothy mixture that (at least in this series) is more light-hearted and action-packed than I remember Batman being in years.
What has happened so far, just in this title?
We've fought the vile Pyg, a different sort of version of the Joker's obsessions with identity and domination; then the Red Hood, in a demented crusade by one of his victims; then a colorful assassin rode in from a Purple Rain casting call; and then a vacation in merry old England, which involved a colorful underworld of British foes and some Grand Guignol deaths, resurrections, and sacrifices.
Damian continues to be developed by his creator, which means Talia resurfaces as well. One feeling I'm left with at the end of this issue is a longing for the Neal Adams Talia of the old days. Clarke doesn't quite capture her hottie/fatale sexiness in Adams' indelible way, and Morrison is writing her as a slightly saner Jezebel Jet than the morally ambiguous lover she once was.
In her current form, Talia has become a criminal empire manipulator who is not above using her son as a programmed weapon in order to further her own ends. She did come to Bruce for help at first, but now she's fed up with his replacements--and though she has healed her son, it seems she's given Damian a little more than his spine back. Her comment that he might one day rate Teen Titans status along his current path is very damning, but also revealing of her own hierarchy when it comes to the "crimefighters." A moral battle is being fought for Damian's soul, whether he knows it or not.
My favorite arc of Morrison's Batman run was the Black Glove story, so I'm all about further detective work with colorful allies, and I have a feeling Damian may surprise us yet.
As with the initial installment of each of the first three arcs of Batman and Robin, the first issue of “Batman vs. Robin” is an excellent opening chapter that sets up plenty of interesting concepts for this fourth arc to explore. It also throws out plenty of hints about the book’s many mysterious subplots whilst adding depth and texture to the overarching story that Grant Morrison has been telling ever since he took over the batbooks.
Some of the main points of interest here are those that deal with the imminent “Return of Bruce Wayne” storyline. Many readers will have already seen Andy Kubert’s covers for the upcoming miniseries that picks up Bruce’s story from the end of Final Crisis, and I’m sure that plenty of readers will have read interviews with Morrison that describe the kind of concepts he’ll be exploring in that series. As such, it’s satisfying to see that the titular heroes of Batman and Robin waste no time in discovering the likely whereabouts/whenabouts of Bruce Wayne for themselves in this issue rather than spending an entire arc stretching out “mysteries” that have already been spoiled by advance solicitations.
There’s a pleasing pulp-y quality to Dick and Damian’s adventure through Wayne Manor in this latest issue as they discover (with the help of Alfred) clues in paintings and carvings that lead them to believe that Bruce has been leaving a trail for them to follow as he travels through time. It’s like The Da Vinci Code for superheroes while also recalling the ridiculously obscure clues that Adam West’s Batman would piece together in his battles with the Riddler in the old 1960s Batman TV series.
Morrison definitely seems to be having fun with the idea that Bruce has left coded messages for Dick to follow in the present day, and it’s nice to see him show the current Batman and Robin engaging in some proper detective work--an element that has been largely absent from his Batman run so far. And for those readers who think that Morrison is making all of this up as he goes along, go back to “Batman R.I.P." and you’ll see exactly the same portrait of “Mordecai Wayne” that is featured in this issue, which suggests that Morrison has had this story planned out for quite some time.
I also can’t help but wonder whether Dick’s insistence on seeing hidden meaning in virtually everything that he examines in Wayne Manor is Morrison’s way of gently poking fun at those readers who comb through his issues in minute detail, attributing significance to every word or image.
Even if it is possible that not everything in the issue is as significant as it seems, there are plenty of intriguing hints for those readers who have been following Morrison’s Batman closely from the start, with a real sense that things are starting to build towards a climax for his entire run thus far. Readers who were disappointed with “Batman RIP” will probably be heartened to learn that the final issue of that storyline was by no means Morrison’s final word on the mystery of Dr. Hurt, as this issue sees some strong suggestions that Hurt’s apparently demonic nature and claim of being Thomas Wayne will both be explored in one of the issues of The Return of Bruce Wayne.
The book also establishes quite a few links between Batman and Robin’s “Domino Killer” and the Black Glove organisation, as Oberon Sexton suggests to Dick that the members of the secret society of evil that we saw in the “RIP” arc are all being killed off by the same man.
Now, those of us who read "RIP" already know that Talia and her Man-Bats were responsible for the death of Jezebel Jet, and that the Joker killed General Malenkov. Thus, it seems rather unlikely that these killings are being orchestrated by the same person in the manner that Sexton suggests. However, his contrary theory only adds more intrigue to the character of Sexton who, at this point, seems likely to be either an already returned Bruce Wayne in disguise or a brand new personality for Morrison’s chameleonic Joker. Either way, I can’t wait to see how his character arc plays out.
Damian Wayne also receives more attention than usual in this issue, with Morrison’s flashback to a recent conversation between he and Talia both adding depth to his characterisation and setting up a compelling twist that comes towards the end of this chapter. It’s also interesting to see that Damian’s reaction to the potential return of Bruce isn’t entirely positive, as it would mean a disruption of the current status quo (no small irony, given the mixed reaction of many readers to Morrison’s decision to shake up the batbooks by "killing" Bruce in the first place).
Damian’s apparent enthusiasm for his current role as Dick’s sidekick not only underlines how far he’s developed as a character, but it also makes his forced betrayal of the current Batman even more dramatic. It’ll be interesting to see whether Damian will eventually retaliate against his own mother over her manipulation of him.
There are so many other interesting tidbits in this issue that it’s difficult to find time to address them all, but I’m sure that they all have important roles to play in Morrison’s grand plan. For example, is the dodgy Wayne Enterprises fund discovered by Damian going to turn out to be a slush fund for Bruce’s Bat-activities, a source of income for Dr. Hurt, or a genuine link to Thomas Wayne’s philanthropic activities (of which we learn more in this issue)?
Finally, I should mention Andy Clarke’s artwork. Judging by this debut issue, Clarke is going to be a good fit for Morrison’s Batman. Not only does he capture the bold, vivid feel that has been conveyed so well by Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart in previous arcs, but he also seems to be paying close attention to the details of Morrison’s script.
Plenty of the writer’s hints and clues as to where the story is headed are conveyed purely through the artwork here, with visual symbolism that forces readers to pay as much attention to the illustrations as they do to the characters’ dialogue. From what I can make out, there aren’t any of the kinds of misunderstandings that have marred previous issues of Morrison’s Batman run, and that’s especially reassuring given that so many significant elements of the writer’s bat-saga are finally being drawn together.
As Dave noted, there are many "interesting tidbits" in this issue, and it certainly seems to be setting up a lot of fascinating possibilities. I really enjoyed this issue, and I am mostly pleased with Andy Clarke's work as the illustrator. I enjoyed his work on R.E.B.E.L.S. back when I was reading that series, and the same clean lines and attention to detail that he displayed there is evident here as well. However, there are a five panels or sequences that didn't quite work for me:
- On page six, Clarke draws a full-page illustration of an aerial view of the exterior of Wayne Manor. It's a picture in which Alfred is greeting Batman and Robin at the main entrance. Overall, it's a good depiction of Wayne Manor, though it lacks texture. I prefer the detailed architecture that Marshall Rogers used to include, or that David Finch now displays in his recently released cover to the upcoming Batman #700.
However, it isn't the lack of texture that bothered me about this page; it's the white splotches that run across the left side of the image. Each time I read this issue (and I read it four times), I tried to figure out what those white splotches are.
In my first reading, I thought they were snowflakes, but they aren't "flakes"; they are splotches of various sizes and shapes, and they mostly appear on the left and lower side of the image--decreasing in frequency as they move toward the center of the page. If they're supposed to be snowflakes, then they are very uneven in distribution, size, and shape.
Thus, I ruled out snow.
In my second reading, I thought they might be fragments of something that had shattered and that was raining down on the driveway of Wayne Manor--such as globe of a lamppost. However, there's a lamppost positioned beneath the white splotches and there is no indication of something shattering above the splotches.
Thus, I ruled out fragments of a shattered object.
In my third reading, I thought they might represent some sort of optical or mental effect--such as the image on this page coalescing from someone's memory (or something of that nature). I considered that they might be a transitional device from the previous page segueing into this one. However, the previous page is a double-page advertisement for a video game called "Dante's Inferno Go to Hell."
Okay, so perhaps it's a segue from the page before the ad.
No. That page ends with Batman swinging down from the balcony of Oberon Sexton's hotel room.
Thus, I ruled out optical, mental, or segue effect.
During my fourth reading, I considered the possibility that they are the result of a printing error. However, they don't look like printing anomalies. In other words, I have no idea what those white splotches are, and it's bugging the shit out of m!
- On pages eight and nine, there is a top panel that runs across the double spread. It depicts (from left to right) Robin, Alfred, and Batman inspecting the portraits of the Wayne Patriarchs that are hanging in the entrance hall to the manor--beginning with Mordecai Wayne on the far left (circa 1650 CE, I'm guessing) and ending with Bruce's father Thomas Wayne on the far right (circa approximately 25 years before "now").
There is nothing wrong with any of the portraits. In fact, as Dave noted in his review, Clarke does an excellent job of recreating these portraits from the way they have been previously depicted by other illustrators during Morrison's run on the Batman franchise. However, while I was looking down the line of portraits during my initial reading of the issue I thought, Damian sure has grown.
(Seriously, that's what I actually thought--as if I was an uncle who hadn't seen his nephew for two years.)
On reflection, though, I realized that Clarke simply drew Damian too tall. If you follow the sight line and compare Robin on the far left to the figures of Alfred and Batman in the center (and adjust for the slight downward angle of the image from right to left), Robin is nearly as tall as Alfred (about two or three inches shorter), and he is about six or seven inches shorter than Dick "Batman" Grayson--who looks to stand about 6' 2" (despite the height listed for him in the DC Database on the Internet).
Thus, Damian appears to be about 5' 7" tall in Clarke's illustration on pages 8 and 9 (though he seems shorter than that when he's in the Wayne Enterprises boardroom pages two and three).
For the most part, the illustrators working with Morrison have drawn Damian about a foot shorter than Dick Grayson--or about 5' 2". Indeed, that is about the height that Frank Quitely made Robin on the cover of this issue, and it would be about the right height for a boy of 10 or 11 years (or about Damian's age).
Clarke's Robin looks more like Tim Wayne (nee Drake) than he does Damian Wayne.
- On page 11, Batman and Robin inspect a second portrait of Darius Wayne (the first was on page eight). The painting is hanging on the landing of the staircase that leads up from the main hall. It's a portrait of Darius Wayne on horseback (circa 1778). In the background, eight ships are burning in Gotham Bay (presumably British ships during the Revolutionary War).
Batman also informs us that the painting depicts "The constellation of Orion over the bay." However, try as I might, I cannot see that constellation in that painting.
Granted, there are three stars in a tight line, reminiscent of Orion's Belt, but the angle of the line to the horizon is wrong. Furthermore, those three stars are in the upper right corner of the painting rather than prominently displayed in the center of the painting above Darius Wayne--as they would seem likely to be positioned if this painting were a clue from Bruce Wayne from more than 200 years ago.
Even if those three stars in the corner of the painting are supposed to be Zeta Orionis, Epsilon Orionis, and Delta Orionis (and even if we then rotate the star field to the way Orion's Belt would actually appear in the sky), the rest of the stars in the painting don't match up correctly to depict the constellation.
In some cases, stars in the constellation are missing; in other cases, stars that might be part of the constellation are spread too far apart. However, if Dick Grayson can see Orion in that painting, then more power to him.
- On page 14, the top panel takes up more than half the page and it is similar to the illustration that appeared on page six. In this case, instead of an aerial view of the exterior of Wayne Manor, we have an "aerial" view of Bruce Wayne's library.
It's the first time I recall seeing the eight-storied library shelves of Wayne Manor, and it is an impressive depiction. However, as with the view of Wayne Manor on page six, there is no texture here.
It would seem that architectural rendering is not one of Clarke's strong points.
Nevertheless, I was impressed that Clarke included the horse-head bust on the fireplace mantel beneath the large portrait of Bruce Wayne's parents. That horse-head sculpture first appeared in the Wayne library (albeit in Bruce's downtown penthouse home) in the mid 1970s, and only a few illustrators over the years have added that detail in their work.
Marshall Rogers was the first to include it after that horse-head bust originally appeared in a previous Batman story drawn by another artist (I've forgotten who) before Rogers's initial run on Detective Comics. I'm glad to see Clarke include it here.
- On page 16, Clarke depicts the flashback confrontation between the wheelchair-bound Damian and Talia--who, as Shawn indicated, does not look like the young, vibrant Talia that Neal Adams first drew almost 40 years ago. Clarke's Talia looks like a woman in her mid-40s, which means his Bruce would have to look like he's in his mid-50s.
Talia should look like she's in her late 20s--after having given birth to Damian when she was in her late teens. She should still be young and sexy, as Shawn suggested.
However, it isn't the age of Talia that bothered me (or at least it wasn't the only thing that bothered me about this page, I should say).
There are five vertical panels on page 16. The first is a long shot with Damian on the left and Talia on the right. The second moves us towards the characters a little closer as Talia moves closer toward her son--but still with Damian on the left and Talia on the right.
However, as we move in even closer, the third panel suddenly and inexplicably reverses the angle by 180 degrees.
There is no reason for the reverse-angle view. It's true that Talia has the first lines in the panel, so her word balloon would needsto appear on the left (and that is probably why Clarke broke with his progression and suddenly switched angles by 180 degrees.
However, there was no reason that Damian's lines needed to be in this third panel rather than in the fourth. Thus, the viewpoint of the first two panels could have been maintained--with the "dynamism" of the shot coming exclusively from the zooming in on the figures rather than on the reverse angle trick.
As we move in for the ultimate close up on the page, the fourth panel then reverses the angle again to take us back to the same perspective we had in the first two panels. Then we back out in the final panel to a wider perspective--again while maintaining the same viewing angle that we had in panels one, two, and four.
That third panel bothered me during my first reading, and it kept bothering me with each subsequent reading.
As for the writing, most of the story is Morrison's typical excellent work--but there were a few things there that bothered me as well.
The first is Damian's addressing of the board of directors of Wayne Enterprises. I expected him to drop some sort of amazing bombshell about a problem with the company that he was able to discern due to his early school in preparation for managing his grandfather's vast criminal and terrorism organization. Instead, we have Damian telling the board that he discovered that the company has been depositing large amounts of money into the Thomas Wayne Fund for Victims of Railroad Accidents.
That discovery hardly seems so earth-shattering that only Damian was "mean enough to try" to uncover the fact that Wayne Enterprises contributes large sums of money to that fund. In fact, Lucius Fox seemed to already know about the fund--as did the rest of the board--so it would seem the "surprise" is in just how much money is being deposited for the benefit of the victims of railroad accidents (which we're not told).
Wouldn't anyone from accounting already know about it? Is the fund really supposed to be so clandestine that no one in the company knew how much money was going into it? It seems unlikely.
Of course, as Dave mentioned, this fund will probably turn out to have some significance later in this story--or in a future arc. Of particular interest is which of the two Thomas Waynes is this fund named after. Is it named for Bruce's father or for the earlier Thomas Wayne who lived in the mid to late 18th century?
Oh, speaking of the earlier Thomas Wayne (and getting off my list of complaints for a moment), his portrait has been removed from Wayne Manor because, as Alfred tells Damian, "Thomas led a rather distinguished sect of devil worshippers."
Like Dave, I immediately thought of Dr. Hurt from the "RIP" arc and the implication that he is actually Satan. Perhaps when Dr. Hurt claimed to be "Thomas Wayne" he wasn't actually referring to Bruce's father (but merely played it out as if he was referring to Bruce's father). Perhaps Dr. Hurt/Satan is connected to the first Thomas Wayne rather than to the second.
There is one other thing that I liked about that line of portraits of the Wayne Patriarchs--the painting before the portrait of Bruce's father is of Bruce's uncle, Silas Wayne, who was first introduced into the mythos in 1958 in Batman #120. I just love when the actual history of the mythos is used in this way.
Okay, back to my complaints.
I was bothered by how quickly Dick Grayson leapt to conclusions about clues that are void of any sort of logic behind them. The portrait of Joshua Wayne was painted with Joshua gazing up the staircase toward the landing, so Batman and Robin ascend the stairs to the landing (that part is okay).
Then, when they reach the landing they see that Joshua was looking up at the portrait of his immediate predecessor as the family Patriarch, Darius Wayne, who is riding a horse near Gotham Bay with (supposedly) the constellation of Orion above him. Okay, I don't see the constellation in the painting, but let's pretend it was prominently positioned in the portrait and that Dick believes it has some significance.
Batman and Robin then move into the library--perhaps because that's the direction Darius was heading on his horse in the painting--and Dick immediately heads to the fireplace where he finds three sculpted roses on the emblem panel beneath the mantel. He refers to this emblem as "the hunter." However, I have no idea why he calls it "the hunter," and I am unable to find anyplace on the Internet that refers to fireplace emblems as "hunters."
There is, though, a Hunter Company that produces fireplace emblem panels--but that's certainly not the same thing as referring to the emblem as a "hunter."
Of course, since he refers to the emblem as a hunter (for whatever reason), Dick immediately thinks of Orion the Hunter (and, thus, the constellation that he saw in the portrait on the staircase landing). He then depresses the three roses on the fireplace emblem in the order of magnitude of the three stars in Orion's Belt.
I guess the left-most rose represents Zeta Orionis and the right-most rose represents Delta Orionis--since that's the order in which the stars are lined up in Orion's Belt. However, it's a very large leap in logic that took Dick Grayson to this point--along with the fact that he knows, or mistakenly believes, that emblem panels on fireplaces are called "hunters."
Regardless, the idea of depressing the three roses in the order of magnitude of the three stars in Orion's Belt is problematic.
First, why depress them in the order of magnitude? What clue led to Grayson's conclusive leap about magnitude? Second, two of the stars in Orion's Belt have the same apparent magnitude (1.70), so Dick actually wants to depress them in the order of absolute magnitude.
The illogical conclusions about these clues bothered me until I edited Dave's review.
I like Dave's idea that Morrison is alluding to "the ridiculously obscure clues that Adam West’s Batman would piece together" in the 1960s television series. On that level, I enjoyed these leaps of logic. However, I would hope that Dave's other consideration is incorrect:
I also can’t help but wonder whether Dick’s insistence on seeing hidden meaning in virtually everything that he examines in Wayne Manor is Morrison’s way of gently poking fun at those readers who comb through his issues in minute detail, attributing significance to every word or image.Because, you know, I resemble that remark.
Anyway, those are my complaints. Now here's what I was particularly interested in: Upon my first, second, and third readings I was becoming convinced that my earlier theory about the identity of Oberon Sexton was going to prove to be correct (from the joint review that Dave and I did of issue #5 on October 19 of last year):
What interests me with Oberon Sexton, though, is that another job performed by a sexton is that of bell ringer in a church (the same church in which the sexton also digs graves in the churchyard). The original Knight and Squire (the English Batman and Robin who first appeared in Batman #62 in 1950 in "The Batman of England") were signaled into action through the ringing of the Wordenshire church bell--all of which makes me wonder if "Oberon Sexton" is related to the Knight and Squire. Perhaps Oberon "The Gravedigger" Sexton is actually Percival Sheldrake--the original Knight and the father of the current Knight, Cyril Sheldrake.See what I mean about me resembling the type of reader Dave was referring to?
In Morrison's JLA #26 (1999), the original Knight was reportedly killed by Springheeled Jack--though I don't know that we ever saw the body. It would be an interesting twist for Morrison to reintroduce in his run one of the original "replacement Batmen" since one of the main motifs in his three-year run on Batman has been the notion of "replacement Batmen."
I felt my suspicion of Sexton as Sheldrake was being confirmed when Dick Grayson said, "there's something . . . familiar about Oberon Sexton."
Yeah! Such as he's Percival Sheldrake, whom Dick Grayson hasn't spoken to in decades!
However, upon my fourth reading I noticed that immediately after Damian suggests that Bruce Wayne might already be in the present, though unrecognizable because something "changed him" (bottom of page 11), the next scene is of Oberon Sexton in his hotel room--possibly giving us a clue that Sexton is a "changed" Bruce Wayne.
Nevertheless, I'm still hoping my theory of Sexton being Percival Sheldrake turns out to be correct--partly because I would like to see the original Knight return to the mythos just before the original Dark Knight returns to his own time, and partly because I hope that the rescuing of Bruce Wayne from the past involves Dick Grayson, Tim Drake Wayne, and Damian Wayne paying a visit to Prof. Carter Nichols.
Time will tell (pun intended).
What did you think of this book?
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