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Black Mass: Batman and Robin #16 [Annotations]

This week, Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin concludes with the final chapter, “Black Mass.” Since Return of Bruce Wayne #6 isn’t coming out until next week, the exact details of the end of Bruce’s journey through time and the true nature of Barbatos will have to go unanswered for now. In this issue, we get the definitive origin of Doctor Hurt, the ultimate finale to the Black Glove storyline, the true meaning of “Batman R.I.P.” and a teaser for the next era in the story of the Dark Knight, all wrapped up in gorgeous art by Cameron Stewart, Chris Burnham and Frazer Irving. Fill-in artists aren’t so bad when they’re this damn good.

The following includes a major spoiler aoPage 1: I’ll try not to totally step on Sims’s excellent notes comparing this scene with Peter Milligan’s now-seminal “Dark Knight/Dark City,”but the dialogue is taken verbatim from there. The setting: Jacob Stockman’s farm and their devil-worship basement.

Pages 2-3: The Powdered Wig Brigade is mostly just a bunch of old idiots – the only ones worth remembering are Jacob Stockman, who wrote down the original rite, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Wayne/Simon Hurt. The human sacrifice there is Dominique, later buried in the Wayne family crypt next to Thomas and Martha by Bruce all the way back in Batman #454.

Page 4: The first three panels are again just from “DK/DC,” but the fourth is where we start hitting new content. Barbatos claims in #454 that Dominique stayed behind in the cellar and starved to death; here, we see that Thomas Wayne stayed behind, too, to try to strike a deal with Barbatos.

Page 6: Here, Simon Hurt has his brush with divinity, and it is an explicit inverse of the first scene of Final Crisis #1 – “Man. I am Metron. Have no fear. This is knowledge.” versus “Omega Adapter. Dark Side. Knowledge.” Hurt seems to cargo cult it up; he hears “Omega Adeptus”, the most adept magician, and thinks Barbatos is calling him a kickass wizard. This is when he takes the name Simon, after Simon Magus, an apocryphal figure in Christian gnosticism after whom the sin of simony is named because he tried to pay for laying-on of hands from the Apostles. He also tried to bury himself for three days and come back a la Christ, but apparently just died – something that’ll come back later too.

Hurt referred to the “starry venom” back in ROBW #4 – I imagine it’s called “starry” since it comes from the stars. In case it isn’t obvious by now, this page pretty much shows that Barbatos, rather than being Bruce, was all along the Hyper-Adapter released by Darkseid’s Ancestor Box back in Batman #702. It’s the spirit that’s haunting him and hounding him through time. It’s appropriate as well that Batman is himself a sort of hyper-adapter, since his survival skill allows him to perfectly adapt to any situation. The Bat means adaptation.

Page 7: Apparently, the “starry venom” is also fresh bat blood. This provides more fuel for the adapter=bat motif, since Hurt calls Dominique “adapter incarnate” – and she’s the Human Bat. This page implies that the sacrifice to Barbatos WAS in fact completed, since Hurt says he’s going to “bathe in [her] blood.” Since it was implied he was also Jack the Ripper, it’s probably fair to say that Hurt’s kept himself alive all these years via human sacrifice to Barbatos and, unknowingly, Darkseid.

Pages 8-9: Well, there go all my theories that it was Alfred or the Joker. It was Bruce, he came in through the fireplace, and we’ll find out more in ROBW #6 next week.

Page 12: Damian straight-up saving Dick is a pretty big moment here. He also taps into his skills with a bow and arrow, which we hadn’t seen since “R.I.P.” Even though the “Must Die!” arc is ostensibly over, it seems that we’re still in R.I.P. farce mode, as we’ll continue to see.

Page 13: Dick’s statement implies that they were, in fact, just waiting for Bruce to show up and knew where he’d been.

Page 14: Confirmation on all the stuff we’d mostly already figured out – Hurt is Thomas Wayne, the accident fund was siphoning cash to Hurt, etc. One of the hilarious parts of this is the comparison to Jezebel Jet’s line in #681, where she brags about how much money the Black Glove has in comparison to the Wayne fortune, since the Black Glove’s entire operating budget has been siphoned off of the Wayne fortune for years.

Page 15: Honestly, I thought that Joker left the nuke in the Batcave, not the Bat-Bunker – at least that’s how it seemed on the last page of #14.

Page 17: Hurt’s back to his gambling schtick. I do love the way Morrison makes this all seem so… final, though.

Page 18: I have to admit, I’m kind of surprised Hurt punked Bruce with a walkie-talkie like that. Alfred’s really got it in for the guy, probably since he remembers when he was being treated in the Hidden Room.

Page 19: Here we get Hurt doing his version of Joker’s monologue from the end of #680, asking Bruce how it feels to be the Clown at Midnight, while here Hurt tries to make Bruce feel like the Devil in Hell. Similarly, Hurt echoes Joker’s comments from #681 about how he tries to put Batman in a box and Batman keeps breaking out of that box. I can’t seem to find any definitive source of “rot in purgatory” as the meaning of R.I.P., but if Hurt says it, it’s probably safe to say that’s what the arc title meant all along.

Page 20: “Napoleon of the Barnyard” has to be a double entendre to both Napoleon of France and Napoleon the pig from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Page 21: My best guess here is Pyg is apologizing to his Mommy Made of Nails for being such a creepy bastard, and trying to blame all the bad things he’s done on “what they did to [him] in hospital.” I dunno which hospital this is; it might just be wherever Hurt transformed him from Jim Rose into the creepiest new Batman villain in forever.

Page 22: “I’m not wearing protection, my darlings!” absolutely slays me.

Page 23: I almost thought that first panel was Quitely the first time I saw it, especially the way Gordon looks in the Dollotron gown.

Page 24: This echoes the final scenes of “R.I.P.”, where Hurt was standing on a rooftop lecturing Bruce about how he was Thomas Wayne, a claim that’s a complete joke by this point. Hurt’s lost all of his credibility, all of his mystique, and, consequently, all of his real power at this point.

Page 25: Homage to the underwater helicopter escape scenes in the “R.I.P.” Missing Chapter. I do love how Hurt totally loses it when he sees the domino, though.

Page 26: Morrison’s Banana Peel is the new Chekhov’s Gun – spread the word. I know a lot of people saw this coming after #15, but that doesn’t make Hurt straight-up falling on his ass like a three-year-old while running down stairs any less satisfying. The fact that Hurt gets taken out by a pratfall on his escape echoes Joker’s final moments in #681, when his getaway ambulance from Arkham gets rammed off a bridge by Damian in a speeding Batmobile. I get the point of the Raven quote now – it was peering deep into the darkness that got Bruce to do the isolation experiment which got Hurt into his life which led to this entire disaster.

Page 27: Again linking back to Simon Magus – Hurt here is buried alive, just like Damian was last issue and Bruce was back in #681. Unlike the two of them, he’s unlikely to come back up, especially since he apparently just got dosed with Joker venom. Devil is double is deuce, and Joker trumps deuce.

Page 31: Last few pages are mostly straightforward wrap-up, although Batman did pick the perfect time to deck the Joker. These final two pages serve as the setup for the next leg in Morrison’s Bat-journey. First, I’m sure I’m not the only person who expected Bruce to go “My name is Bruce Wayne and I have been Batman since I was twenty-five years old” Civil War style.The third kid in the final panel is Tim, I imagine, who’s been curiously absent from this entire arc.
Links to my other annotations:
- Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3, #4, #5; Batman #700, #701, #702; Batman and Robin #14, #15
- original Batman run and previous issues of Batman and Robin

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