Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bat-Finale II: The Next Day

So apparently, I’m a moron. I mis-read something pretty horribly in the finale to Grant Morrison’s Batman saga, something that alters my reading of the story quite a bit. My original reading still works, I think, but not in a way that makes me feel like I can claim any longer to have “nailed it” at all. Ah, hubris! Thy name is Dork!

And I mean it this time. This isn’t something as minor as mistakenly guessing that Alfred was dressing up as Batman, it’s a pretty fundamental breakdown of basic funnybook reading skills. I’m actually kind of embarrassed. But in the interest of honesty (and getting to write about Batman some more), I figured I should probably ‘fess up.

Here’s the crux of it: at the end of Return of Bruce Wayne 6, Bruce rips the Hyper-Adapter-infected future bat-suit off himself, it’s swiftly taken down by the JLA and tossed into a booby-trapped Time Sphere, which then activates and self-destructs. So far, so good. But I read the panels that followed as images of fractured time like the ones we get before and after, caused by the time-shattering effects of the Omega energy built up around Bruce in his trip through time. I thought we were getting some key images of the Hyper-Adapter’s past as it died in the destruction of the Time Sphere.

But then I made a trip to read the discussion of the issue at Rikdad’s Comic Thoughts (always a source of more sober insights than the Circus of the Glib approach we often practice here on the Dork Forty). And following a quick re-read in light of that discussion, it became apparent that those panels weren’t some crazy Morrisonian time fracture, but something much simpler: actual, linear funnybook storytelling. The Time Sphere activates, sending the Hyper-Adapter back in time, but self-destructing as it goes. The next panel shows Dick Grayson’s encounter with Barbatos in the Secret Batcave, with the added detail of the shattering “glass” of the Time Sphere as it breaks up. Then we get a page set back in caveman days, as a flash of light comes out of a cave mouth, followed by Barbatos (and, again, shards of Time Sphere “glass”) as it flies off to meet its death at the hands of Vandal Savage, as we saw back in the first issue of Return of Bruce Wayne.

And that sets up a whole different story than the one I’d been imagining.

The actual timeline (condensed for space) looks something like this, I think: In Final Crisis / Batman 702, Darkseid sends the Hyper-Adapter into the Omega Sanction Life Trap with Batman to crush his soul slowly over time. Bruce is sent back to caveman days, but the Hyper-Adapter is nowhere to be seen. Bruce then moves forward in time, gathering Omega energy as he goes. The Adapter eventually finds him, and together they jump to the end of time. Bruce sets up a complicated trap for the Adapter there, then brings it back with him to the 21st Century, where he knows the JLA can beat it like the monster it is. The Adapter is then tossed into a booby-trapped Time Sphere and sent back to caveman days itself, where (weakened by its fight with the Justice League) it’s killed by Vandal Savage in the form it’s taken on to mess with Bruce’s head: a giant bat.

From there, I think it rides with him to Pilgrim times (Bruce is wearing its skin when he time-jumps, and it’s not there when he arrives, but the Adapter is). But then it looks to me like Bruce destroys its physical form, chopping it to bits and delivering what looked to me like a pretty convincing death blow. So it spends the rest of its time in Gotham as a disembodied spirit, an unseen evil haunting Gotham, and the Waynes, over centuries. It appears to Thomas Wayne as a spirit in 1765, anyway, by which point it’s merged in the minds of the European settlers with the bat-god of the Miagani. Merged to the point that Thomas thinks it’s the bat-demon Barbatos. The Adapter “infects” Thomas with himself, and seems to come and go from Thomas’ body at will while still doing its best to keep Gotham haunted by evil.

And it’s still there when Bruce Wayne is finally born, just waiting for the night when Bruce is looking for inspiration in his crime-fighting career. Then it strikes, smashing through Bruce’s window at just the right time. And Bruce embraces it, embraces the spirit of the thing that’s haunted Gotham for centuries, because he wants to inspire fear.

Heh. The Hyper-Adapter’s gotta be high-fiving the shit out of itself at that point. After all those centuries of scheming and floating around, it’s finally got an IN! So it nestles itself in Bruce’s mind and helps power his career as Batman, gaining more and more influence over time, slowly crushing that noble soul beneath its almost-imperceptible black weight. Until, of course, Bruce has it cut out of him by the Ten-Eyed Brotherhood before undergoing the Thogal. When he got done with that ritual, Bruce said that he found a hole in his mind, and now we know what made it: the Adapter. Then Thomas Wayne / Dr. Hurt shows back up (funny timing, that) and starts laying the groundwork for the plot that culminates in RIP. That fails, and then Bats goes off to face Darkseid, and… This is where we came in.

I think that’s how it went, anyway. There’s one problem with my reading here, though: I have no idea where the Hyper Adapter originally entered the equation. As I’m reading it, Batman’s trapped the thing in a time loop, and pretty hellish one at that. I mean, look at what he’s done to it: First, it helps inspire the legend of the Man of Bats, which inspires an entire race of people to defend against the very evils the Adapter’s trying to spread. Then, everything it does leads inexorably to the birth of Bruce Wayne, and of Batman. Its haunting of the Wayne family may drive Alan Wayne to suicide, for instance, but his suicide attempt puts him in the right place at the right time to meet his future wife and ally the Wayne and Miagani bloodlines. It tries to use Hurt as a weapon against Batman, but Hurt’s machinations are really only practice for Bruce to use to defeat Darkseid’s Life Trap. And in perhaps the final irony, it provides the final inspiration for Batman himself, an inspiration that leads Bruce not only to turning all the Adapter’s work inspiring fear in Gotham to the good, but also gives him the personal myth he needs to turn Darkseid’s attack back on itself. The Adapter has become, in every way imaginable, responsible for its own defeat.

Which does jibe with my original reading of things. Barbatos was the myth of the Batman made real, and he was working for Batman from the beginning. But he wasn’t Batman’s counter-myth to Darkseid. He was Darkseid’s myth turned to Batman’s purposes (“Weapon in my hand“ indeed). And thus, I can’t say that I actually nailed it. I didn’t see the Hyper-Adapter connection, either, which is honestly a pretty big thing to miss. But, hey. It was a fun ride, at least, and I’ll take being half-right over completely wrong any day of the week.

And, hey. As long as I’m talking about the Bat-Finale again, please bear with me as I list a few of the nice touches I really liked that I didn’t get a chance to mention the first time around…

1. The dark side (pun not intended, but inherent) of The First Truth of Batman: he's never been alone, sure, but that’s not just because he had Alfred and all the various helpers and friends he's made since. He also had the Adapter with him from the moment he decided to "become a bat." Darkseid, the Adapter, the Devil, Hurt: they all represent the darkness inside Bruce Wayne, the classical evil that he turns toward the good as Batman. That’s been an essential part of his make-up from the get-go, and now he’s embraced it again. But, having attained the enlightenment promised by the Thogal, it’s not eating him alive anymore. Instead, he swallowed it whole.

2. The psychology Morrison’s been applying to Bruce all along. This is a man who finds evil attractive in some way. You can see it in his relationship with Catwoman (the longest, and most serious, romantic attachment of his life). It’s also what drew him to Jezebel, he said, and it’s the side of himself he’s been struggling with throughout Morrison’s run. The “Dark” half of the “Dark Knight” equation, now embraced and integrated into the whole. Bruce Wayne is back! And he’s bad…

3. The easy banter between Bruce and Dick in Batman and Robin 16. You’d never see Bruce joking like that with any of his other Robins. Just another example of what makes Dick so special.

4. “The new kid’s too much like me.” The Joker says this about Dick as Batman, and I can’t express enough how happy that idea makes me. I do wonder, and hope, if this means that we’ll see more Morrison Joker in Batman, Inc. Because of COURSE Joker would follow Bruce around the world now that he knows HIS Batman‘s back! (And, yeah, I know I mentioned that last time. I just thought it bore repeating.)

5. Batman takes out the Justice League like the punks they are. This isn’t the real JLA, of course. Even with his all-knowing end-of-time Bat-Suit, he’d have had more trouble taking out the real thing. But a JLA made up of three former Teen Titans, two long-forgotten footnote characters, and two cut-rate JSA legacies? Puh-lease!

6. The Kirby-esque two-page spread showing Bruce Wayne’s out-of-body experience. Kirby never really did Batman, but this spread makes me kind of wish he had.

7. A potential further bit of Darkseid plotting: Bruce says that Darkseid’s trying to reincarnate in Hurt. But he can’t. Because, as we learn in Final Crisis, to actually house Darkseid’s mighty soul without burning the body out, you have to power the possession by the corruption of a noble soul. The only reason Darkseid didn’t take Bruce as a host in the first place was that he didn’t have time. Essentially, he would have held out too long. But, once the Omega Sanction sent him back to the dawn of humanity… That’s all the time in the world for such a corruption. So was Darkseid trying to reincarnate in Hurt… Or Bruce?

8. The implication that Batman is the Hanged Man of the Tarot. I did a little more reading on that card today, and noticed that it doesn’t just indicate stagnation. It indicates dedication to a cause that the individual must work past to move onward. Which sounds a bit like Bruce letting go of Gotham to expand his approach globally in the upcoming Batman Inc.

9. Commissioner Gordon busting up into police headquarters all no-nonsense and take-charge, like… while wearing a pink dress.

10. Bruce’s interactions with Damian. He seems taken aback to see his son operating as Robin, but he also tells him that he’s proud of him for making the right choices, and doesn’t argue for a second once Damian tells him he knows how to de-fuse the Joker’s nuke. That’s all it takes to defuse the damage done by the evil Bat-Clone back in Blackest Knight, and demonstrates tremendous growth for both characters in the blink of an eye. Damian’s “you’re not a clone or some stupid robot” line earlier is pretty brilliant too…

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