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‘Dark Knight, Dark City’ Returns in ‘Batman and Robin’ #16 [Preview]

Today at The Source, DC put up a five-page preview of Batman and Robin #16, and as you might expect, the ComicsAlliance staff is pumped. This is, after all, the finale of Grant Morrison’s run on the title before he kicks off Batman, Inc later this month, and with the awesome last page of Batman and Robin #15 leading into it, it looks like fans of the Caped Crusader are in for some good times.

But the interesting thing about this particular preview is how much of it we’ve seen before, way back in 1990′s “Dark Knight, Dark City,” a three-part story in Batman #452 – 454 by Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer. If you’ve been reading David Uzumeri’s annotations, you’re probably already aware that “Dark City” is one of the building blocks Morrison’s been using for his run, but in the pages by Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart, we’re seeing it all explicitly laid out on the table. Check out the pages, along with panel comparisons and commentary after the jump!

For those of you who haven’t read “Dark Knight, Dark City,” which is probably quite a few of you since I don’t think it’s ever been reprinted, the first three pages are lifted directly from Milligan’s original script. Specifically, the dialogue comes from this scene in Batman #452, in which the ritual goes horribly wrong:

In case you can’t make out the cursive lettering that was so popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the plot of “Dark City” involves a group of noblemen in colonial Gotham who summon a demon named Barbatos — and the Riddler’s subsequent attempt to do the same. The “Jacob” referred to is Jacob Stockman, the narrator of the story and the guy who wrote down all the rituals so that enterprising super-villains could find them 250 years later. The “Thomas” he’s talking to in Morrison’s pages is Thomas Jefferson, with whom I’m sure at least a few readers are passingly familiar.

Of course, according to Morrison, there was another Thomas involved in the rite as well: The original Thomas Wayne, the black sheep of Batman’s family.

Before we get to him, though, another important element of the scene: the human sacrifice, Dominique:

In the original rite, she held the ceremonial title of “the Human Bat,” which leads me to believe that Morrison has recontextualized her as one of the Miagani (the “Bat-People” who were native to Gotham City before it was colonized), which would strengthen Bruce Wayne’s connection to the ritual. In the original story, it’s implied that Barbatos, who had essentially possessed the entire city over the centuries since the ritual, had influenced events to create a new “human bat” to finish the ritual, but Morrison has twisted that around a little, creating a loop where Barbatos not only molds Batman, but where Batman travels back to mold the Miagani into “bat-people” himself.

But the interesting thing is that, as Morrison shows, she’s not the only one left in the underground temple.

Both Stockman’s diary and Bruce’s conversation with Barbatos in “Dark City” cite the fact that the cultists were too frightened by the appearance of a giant bat to go through with the sacrifice as the reason Barbatos — who was summoned to Gotham City but not allowed to fully manifest himself — was allowed to persist as an unseen presence shaping the city. Instead, she was abandoned, buried alive and left to die of starvation:

In Morrison’s version, however, not all of the cultists leave: Thomas Wayne stays to confront Barbatos, and unless he’s going to spend the next few pages talking to a mundane — if giant — bat, it looks like he’s going to strike up a deal.

We know Dominique dies in Stockman’s “temple” because Batman and the Riddler later discover her bones…

…but what if her death didn’t go down the way we thought? What if the last cultist did manage to complete the sacrifice, bringing Barbatos into the world? It would certainly explain why Thomas Wayne / Mangrove Pierce / Dr. Hurt / Thomas Wayne again appears to be immortal.

If you’ve been enjoying Morrison’s run so far, it’s well worth it to go back and give “Dark Knight, Dark City” a read, especially as it’s one of Peter Milligan at the top of his game doing what’s easily one of the best Batman stories of the ’90s. And if the connections to Morrison don’t convince you, then maybe the fact that it features Batman fighting zombies will do the job:

It might not have much to do with Batman and Robin #16, but I love that Batman’s reaction to being swarmed by the living dead is pure eye-rolling annoyance. “This is just great. Corpses!”

That guy has seen it all, folks.

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