Annotations: ‘Batman and Robin’ #14 [Spoilers]
"Batman and Robin" #14 hits this week, with part two of "Batman and Robin Must Die!": "The Triumph of Death." Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frazer Irving, this issue gives us the second act of the second showdown between the Bat-clan and Simon Hurt, with the Joker acting as a force of chaos all around. Also like last issue, it's titled after a famous gothic painting, this time Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Triumph of Death."
Page 1: Modified from the original unlettered preview so that the time Alfred inputs on the clock to open it, 10:47, is accurate to the time of Bruce's parents' death. The first panel is the now-familiar entrance to the secret passage in Wayne Manor; Thomas and Martha over a horsehead (symbolizing Orion's Horsehead Nebula), that standing over the three roses ("sub rosa", if you will) acting as "Orion's belt." The idea that 10:47 is the secret Batcave access code is old hat, but I can't find any references as to where it's from (if any other Batmanologists would like to contribute that secret to this academic journal of Batmanology, participate in the complicated peer-review scholarly system known as "Commenting" below). Alfred is presumably in the process of "preparing" the mansion and cave as Dick requests later, which I assume is a gigantic trap for the Joker, the Black Glove, or both.
Page 2: Robin continues his demolition of the Joker with the iconic crowbar -- the same kind of weapon Joker once used to kill Jason Todd, a former Robin.
Page 3: Joker's face is covered in blood, so that's probably why he can't see. Either that or he was continuing to goad Damian, so he could scratch him with his fingernails and poison him with his nail polish.
Page 6: Yay, more insane Pyg babble to decode! The clear thing to remember here is that the goat symbolizes the Devil symbolizes Simon Hurt. The "multitudes of the Mother Goat" are likely the Dollotrons, or the rioting Gotham population. "Goat's in his Gotham, God's in his Heaven" basically translates to "The Devil's in his Hell." And the Pyg is in his sty. He's also upside down, which not only echoes the 'inverted' nature of everything in this arc, but also his eventual demise in an inverted crucifixion in "Batman" #666.
We also see the ancestor-box from "Return of Bruce Wayne," which Hurt had acquired at the end of the last arc. The fact that Hurt knows about the box's traps is further evidence that he's the devil-worshipping Thomas Wayne.
Page 7: The rats in Rockville are Batman and Robin, as we'll see later. This page also shows that Simon Hurt here is the architect of Professor Pyg's insanity. Hurt, it seems, is practicing his impromptu headshots on a row of pumpkins for dramatic effect, but "it's all theater, Senator." This entire sequence is also reminiscent of the Joker's preparation for his role in "R.I.P.", a role that Pyg is reprising here.
Page 9: The fourth panel here is incredibly evocative of the very first page of "Batman" #655, providing a view of a neon-lit, insanity-filtered Gotham through Commissioner Gordon's glasses - although inverted, since the original view was of Gordon falling, and now it's FROM Gordon's perspective as he's falling.
Page 11: I'm not sure why the self-destruct abort sequence is faulty - the "kzzzzkt" implies it's damage from the rocket hit, or it could be that Dick's voice is screwed up from the fight.
Page 12: I guess we can assume Gordon and Dick get picked up by Hurt'n'Palz between Day 1 and Day 2, as we pick up here with Pyg apparently done with his ritualistic masochism (I wonder - do all of El Penitente's goons have to do a sort of "penitence" or self-flagellation?). Pyg's clearly hopped up on tons of chemicals, including botox, wine, a cocktail of pills and...
Page 13: Some good ol' fashioned angel dust. Pyg refers to botox as a germ, which is interesting -- like Morrison's implying it's a viral infection of celebrity. We also see a row of watermelons that Hurt's been practicing on, it seems, all for the final joy of getting to embed a bunch of bullets into Dick Grayson's skull. Pyg's "co-star", of course, is Commissioner Gordon, which makes me wonder -- why did Pyg and his crew grab Gordon...
Page 14: ...yet Dick wakes up in Wayne Tower with Alfred? How did that work out? Did they just both show up at the scene and agree to take their respective peeps? Who got there first? Did Alfred leave Gordon? Did Pyg leave Dick? Why would either party do that? Or had the Dollotrons just taken Gordon out of range of the blast before the Batmobile went off? There's a lot of questions as to what happened in that gigantic "DAY 2" banner.
Either way, here we have the inverse of the scene where Bruce woke up in the recently-released "Batman" #701. There, Bruce woke up from a long, sedated sleep after achieving a great victory; here, Dick's not only lost, he totally misread the entire situation and now Gotham's turned into a non-stop G20 riot. And in Dick's defense, thinking that the Joker is after Batman is not exactly unprecedented logic.
Also in an inverse of R.I.P.: Back then, Hurt scoured all of Gotham trying to find Tim Drake for the Joker to complete his red/black duality theme. Here, Joker takes Robin basically without any effort whatsoever due to Damian's pure, unbridled hubris.
Page 15: And this is how we see the real scope of this story: while R.I.P. was Hurt versus Bruce, with the Joker as a pawn that broke free, this is Joker versus Hurt, with Batman and Robin as pawns that will break free from the game. Instead of the final stage being Arkham Asylum (almost a kind of endpoint for Batman), this time it's Crime Alley (his origin); Joker's "catering" is the popcorn that later infects everyone with the Joker Virus, and I assume he's just asking Dick to bring some good old-fashioned ultraviolence and explosions to the affair.
Page 16: Poor Commissioner Gordon. All he ever does it get kidnapped and used to try to prove a point. Unless he built a gigantic stage and screen right on Crime Alley, I'm willing to bet he's decided to hijack the theater that played "Mark of Zorro" that Bruce's parents died outside of, which is an awesome dick move. I love how this arc is basically Joker and Hurt tag-teaming to take as gigantic craps as possible all over everything important to the Batman mythos. This entire arc is like that scene from Burton's "Batman" where the Joker vandalizes the art gallery, except this time the work of art is Batman itself.
Page 17: "The rats ate the young of the goat." I'm guessing this is almost a prophecy here, that Batman and Robin will beat the devil's children. (Bats are flying rats, after all.) Pyg, it seems, is indeed the chemical maestro behind the new flu-crack overtaking Gotham. Hurt's claim that Gotham is the new capital city of crime, by the way, is very similar to Mannheim's claim back in "52." It seems more and implied that there's a connection between Hurt and the Religion of Crime now, especially since "the hole in things is Darkseid-shaped", Hurt is the "hole in things", and the Religion of Crime worships Darkseid.
Page 18: Ain't a movie without no popcorn; unfortunately, this popcorn turns tragedies into comedies. This also definitively proves that Joker is the one leaving the dominos on all the dead Black Glove operatives, since one's found in the popcorn right before Senator Vine loses his mind.
Page 20: And now we've got the realization of Joker's dream from "Batman" #676: an airborne Joker-virus that's killing everyone around, in combination with Hurt and Pyg's flu-crack. You also get Hurt doing the whole "offering the baggie to the druggie" thing that Lone-Eye Lincoln did to Bruce back in #678.
Page 23: And now we see just how powerful the flu-crack is: enough to make Gordon brain Dick with a gas canister. The ongoing boardgames metaphor for everything continues, with Hurt (very cognizant that Joker's probably bugged the place) calling up chess by telling Joker that "his Knights have fallen and the board is his."
Page 24: Joker, of course, disagrees, and he's got his secret weapon: Damian Wayne. He's also back in his creepy voodoo loa/British author outfit, has taken up residence in the Batcave and is hangin' out with a gigantic nuclear bomb and a sweet coffin, presumably so he can homage Batman's burial in "R.I.P.", perhaps by sending Hurt six feet under. The question is, though, how much of what's here is Joker's, and how much is Dick and Alfred's plan, considering they "prepared" the mansion and the cave for all of this.