Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 [Annotations]
And we're finally back after an extended break to annotating "Return of Bruce Wayne" with issue #5, where Bruce Wayne reappears as a hardboiled noir detective. It's worth noting that the next issue of ROBW now appears slated to come out on November 10, after numerous books ("Road Home", "Batman and Robin" #16, "Batman: The Return", "Batman Incorporated" #1) will have already come out. Whether this will be a Cap Reborn situation or not is still unclear, but I'd like to hear from y'all whether you want me to annotate the other books when they come out or wait for "ROBW" #6 so that there isn't, a, well, Hole in Things in the narrative. (Maybe it'll work better that way.)
This issue: the shocking secrets behind the death of the Waynes and the beginning of the Black Glove! Also, more of Simon Hurt being a hugely entertaining douche.
Page 1: The easy reading of Tim Drake's statement is that he's been Robin longer than anyone else, but he's been at the very least watching Batman since the night Dick's parents died. It's more than appropriate at this juncture that the damage Batman will do is a "hole in time," considering Darkseid's absence is Simon Hurt is the "Hole in Things." The Justice League on this page is early James Robinson era, since Congorilla is there and Ollie and Dinah are still together, which probably just speaks to how long this issue has taken to produce. The recording that's referenced is something we just heard in "Batman" #702, recorded right before Bruce stepped out into the world at the beginning of "Return of Bruce Wayne."
Page 2: Bruce is totally aware that he's in a noir archetype now -- and that means the dame is dangerous, reflecting Jezebel Jet from "Batman R.I.P.".
Page 4: Obviously, this is Bruce's dad's costume from the titular masquerade shortly before his death.
Page 5: The "Ms. Lamarr" here is Marsha Lamarr, one of the actresses in the "Black Glove" film directed by John Mayhew. Of course, the hole in the book is a Hole in Things.
Page 6: I love how Morrison uses the entire hospital clothes excuse to set a very, very '40s-style noir story in an era that's likely, at the very earliest, the 1970s.
Page 7: I hope Bruce enjoyed his stay at the New Yorker.
Page 9: The Joker reference is pretty cute.
Page 10: Mayor Aubrey James was mentioned in "Legends of the Dark Knight" #204. Again, Morrison throws modern anachronisms into this story to explain its specifically noir, '30s/'40s aesthetic.
Page 11: The movie "The Black Glove" was first mentioned in the arc by that name around #667. Bruce sent Alfred to see it in #677, so it was finished and released at some point. We'll see more of its filming later.
Page 12: Groves the butler must be in some way associated with Mangrove Pierce, although I'm fairly certain that was just a name Simon Hurt went by as an actor considering his dialogue and the fact that Bruce called him his double -- perhaps he was an inspiration for the name? The woman in the wheelchair is Betsy Kane, Martha's mother and Bruce's grandmother. Unless Bruce's performance in the tape recorded later is credited to Mangrove Pierce.
Page 13: I'm not quite sure what the wasps represent. Roddy here is Roderick Kane, who apparently crossed Simon Hurt and got this fate. This reveals that Martha's pearls are actually the same as White Fawn's, just refined, coming back from the beginning of time and the legend of the Bat. I also have no idea why it goes from twilight to dawn so suddenly, other than some kind of art inconsistency -- or perhaps it's the effect of the eclipse?
Roderick's "stroke" was clearly instigated by Simon Hurt. Also interesting to know that Ace Chemical originally belonged to the Kanes, although I don't know if that fits into anything else so far. This also straight-up states that Martha's pearls WERE White Fawn's necklace, or came from it. That necklace didn't just represent Martha's pearls, it WAS them.
Also, notice how now the Kanes have basically hired Bruce as a detective to investigate their daughter's death. The P.I. who mysteriously disappeared who was mentioned back in "Batman" #676 was him all along.
Page 14: I can't figure out what Roddy here is saying, but I'm fairly sure it's important. Whether Bruce's dad and the evil Thomas Wayne are the same dude is still in question, but a reference on this page gives an out for the replacement of Bruce's dad while Bruce was in boarding school.
You see, Bruce's trip to boarding school was chronicled back in the "Gothic" arc in "Legends of the Dark Knight" #6-10. While there, he was going to be the victim of a serial killer who went by the name Mr. Whisper, who was actually Manfred Wicker, a 17th century monk who made a deal with the devil and emigrated to Gotham Town in 1760, five years before the Satanic/bat-summoning pact that Thomas Wayne/Simon Hurt participated in. Maybe he just pretended to be Patrick's son Thomas to screw with the Kanes, or maybe he actually IS Patrick's kid. Silas would be Bruce's Great-Uncle Silas, which would make him Patrick (Bruce's grandfather)'s brother and Thomas's uncle, assuming Thomas is actually Patrick's kid at this point.
The thing is about "Gothic" is that on the very day Bruce got marked by Mr. Whisper, he called his dad who came and took him from the boarding school. That night, he and his wife decided to cheer Bruce up with a movie. We know what happened after that.
The contents of Betsy Kane's bowl - the patterns - seem to reflect Annie's cups and the symbols around them in the second issue of this mini, but I don't think we've seen this particular ceramic piece before.
Page 15: I like how Sook fits in Marsha's sidelong glance while Betsy begs her not to be corrupted. Whatever Simon Hurt did to Roderick, it must have been pretty terrible -- my best guess for the wasp analogy in Hurt's dick-move punishment is that Kane is supposed to be tormented by a WASP, which I guess fits with the Jewish background of the Kanes established by Greg Rucka? This is a gigantic stretch, though, but -- "these awful WASPs. They don't care, do they?"
Page 16: There's definitely something about Betsy Kane's distrust of Thomas Wayne, although whether it's Hurt-manufactured or genuine is up for debate.
Page 17: And here we've got Alan Wayne's Garden o' Death again. Everyone Lamarr's mentioning is someone we've seen before -- Jeremy Coe the Frontiersman is from "Detective Comics" #205, and apparently used to dress up as a Native American in straight-up brownface and spy on their plans to protect Gotham Town. Bruce and Dick had a Nichols-fueled time travel adventure where they helped him out. Oh, the '50s.
The Black Pirate and Bat-People we just saw two issues ago, and the Hellerites were a sect led by Josiah Heller in the 1820s that were like an Amish/Mormon mashup. He later cursed Gotham with some curse that never actually came true. This was in "Brave and the Bold" #89.
The quote, as Bruce points out, is from Poe's "The Raven." Marsha mentions the eclipse, fitting in with this book's overrunning motif (is an eclipse technically a "hole in things", since the moon creates a hole in your vision of the sun?), and we finally get to go to Willowood after it was teased in "Batman" #702.
Page 18: Willowood is, according to this CBR interview with Morrison, the military hospital in town before Arkham Asylum was reopened. We previously saw it in "World's Finest" #223, where Bruce's mentally ill, sociopathic older brother Thomas Jr. stayed before his tragic death a few issues later in #227. Simon Hurt is apparently in charge there, and here he's interviewing Carter Nichols, the creator of time hypnosis who we previously saw killing himself and vanishing into the timestream back in "Batman" #700.
Hurt's being a dick as usual and making bets with people, because he's the devil and that's his schtick. I guess Nichols has the hots for Marsha.
Page 19: I'm not sure who the dude in the wheelchair is - my best guess is that it's post-Fall Metron in his "Seven Soldiers" form, which lines up with Carter's statement that he can't speak since "the war."
Page 20: Commissioner Loeb's from "Year One"; Jessop seems to be totally new. I guess they were both fingers of the Black Glove back in the day. Marsha's story here is, of course, total BS; she knew exactly who Bruce was when she found him. Dressing in the old Batsuit as the ghost of the Tom Wayne is, by the way, how Bruce caught Lew Moxon back in "Detective" #235 for his parents' death.
Page 21: If it wasn't obvious before, this shot parallels the Jezebel Jet kiss from #676, so it's a pretty big clue that Marsha's bad news. (As if the noir archetype wasn't clue enough.) Also notice Bruce puts ON the mask to kiss her.
Page 22: Marsha plays the full part, including White Fawn's necklace.
Page 23: At this point, I think it's clear that this is an early echo of R.I.P. while "Must Die!" is its successor echo. The Casket of Immortality is, I think, the Ancestor Box itself; he's trying to co-opt Bruce's curse for himself, basically, as far as I can tell. The guy with the moustache is John Mayhew, and this entire scene was in the "Black Glove" film. Bruce described the movie as "the story of two innocent lovers corrupted and destroyed by a group of super-rich gamblers," and if that isn't Thomas and Martha Wayne I don't know what is.
Page 26: Poison lipstick: noir trope #828. I'm surprised they didn't go all out with the symbolism and have Marsha brain Bruce with a crowbar rather than a golf club.
Page 27: And here, a scene from "The Black Glove," and the creation of the forged evidence that they later filed in Bruce's name that showed up in "R.I.P.". It's likely that Groves the butler played Alfred in the pictures, since Alfred comments that the butler in the pictures looks nothing like he did at that age.
Page 28: A radio signal from the Andromeda galaxy... where Krypton blew up. The fact that Hurt's invoking the Crime Bible pretty much cements that his evil cult, Intergang and the Religion of Crime are all heavily related. The Cain they worship is Vandal Savage, who played a major role in both the first and fourth issues of this series. And the God they worship is Darkseid, so -- is Darkseid Barbatos? Are they trying to use Bruce to bore a "Hole in Things" and release Darkseid from his prison in the black hole at the center of the multiverse? And Hurt expects to be rewarded with eternal life rather than a granite fist to the dick? At this point, it's totally my best guess, and Hurt would certainly make a badass Desaad.
Page 29: Carter's time box sure does resemble a motherbox, huh? Maybe he plays the Himon role.
Page 30: Nice casket/motherbox/timebox pun, Bruce. Note how the spirit of Barbatos they summoned seems to follow Bruce through to, presumably, the End of Time, where he releases the Omega Energy, blows up Vanishing Point and then ganks Rip's time sphere back to the present. Carter eventually uses the time box technology to escape Hurt's proclamation.
Page 31: Back to the present-day, where Tim continues to coordinate the Justice League efforts while, presumably, the events of "Must Die!" are going on over in Gotham, since the eclipse is visually imminent in that first panel. The Bells of the All-Over, the Ancestor Box, start ringing as Bruce shows up in the time sphere he took in #2...
Page 32: All jacked-up as a nutty Kirby Batman with an Orion-style helmet, the ultimate Bat-God it would rumored we'd all get in "Final Crisis."