After last week's trip to the past in Return of Bruce Wayne #5, we're back to the present and Batman and Robin #15, the last part of the "Batman and Robin Must Die!" arc by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving. Like the other two parts, it's named after a piece of gothic art: "Knight, Death and the Devil." The Joker is Death, Batman is the Knight and Doctor Hurt is definitely the Devil. This is certainly straightforward in comparison to the reference-laden Return #5, but that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say.

Previously: Commissioner Gordon is jacked up on viral crack, Dick Grayson has been kidnapped by Doctor Hurt and the Joker is about to unleash Damian Wayne, the new Robin, like a rabid dog on the entire group. Annotations below.Page 1: "Have you ever danced with death in the pale moonlight?" Love and death in one image.

Page 2: I'm guessing Joker dug up the coffin of a "Robin Graves," stuck Damian in it, and then just started dancing with the skeleton that was inside. Which is pretty great.

Update: I've been corrected repeatedly on this - the skeleton is probably Catherine Wayne, Alan's wife, and his "Robin Graves" joke is just him making a crack about robbing graves. 'Cause he's the Gravedigger. I missed the obvious one here.

Page 3: I'm willing to bet that the double entendre going on here with "birth out of a box" is totally intentional on Morrison's part, so here's your vagina joke in a Batman comic for the year. Joker also proves that, when done correctly, you don't need no steenkin' recap pages. Again inverting Batman R.I.P., here we have Joker burying Damian instead of Hurt burying Bruce.

Page 5: Everyone was right: Hurt's lawyer back in #13 was, in fact, Professor Pyg. Well-called, commenters, and I'll have another round of applause for you later. Note the time is still 10:47 - either the clock has been stopped, or we've been checking in at Wayne Manor at exactly 10:47 p.m. each day of the riots.

Page 6: Yet another Batman R.I.P. inversion -- instead of Gordon showing up at Wayne Manor and Hurt pretending to be Alfred letting him in, Alfred actually lets Hurt in, but under false pretenses. Note that Hurt calls Alfred by his last name, Pennyworth, the same way Damian does. Alfred almost definitely recognizes who Hurt is, and this page definitely implies an existing relationship between the two, one we'll get to later. The painting in the final panel is "The Triumph of Death," after which the last part of this arc was named.

Page 7: "Panic in the streets of Gotham..." I do like how Lone Eye Lincoln is looking out for the innocents in this entire mess, probably inspired by Dick Grayson treating him pretty okay back in #700. I mean, Lone-Eye is down for dealin' and pimpin', but this entire breakdown of the social order thing? Probably not so much his deal. Hurt's still pretending to be Dr. Thomas Wayne -- a masquerade that's fairly ancient, judging by the fact that he was pretending to be Thomas to Betsy Kane back in Return of Bruce Wayne #5. He then proceeds, in Simon Hurt fashion, to try to make a deal with the entire city of Gotham.

Page 8: And the chess/dominoes metaphors continue. Joker's story about "Big Mike" is almost definitely the Archangel Michael, and talking about Lucifer's fall as the "primal gag" ties in nicely with the red/black motif and also the Fall of Darkseid. And as for Michael, if he had any kind of analogue here -- the Right Hand of the Bat-God -- it's Robin, or Damian himself. And as an archangel, Joker wants him to Fall.

Page 9: Of course, Joker's drugged Damian too, just like Hurt drugged Bruce. Note Joker leaves the banana peel on the grounds -- I'll be surprised if that doesn't come up later.

Page 11: What the hell is Pyg drinking, straight vodka? Gordon, as you can probably tell, has already been fitted with his Dollotron wig, which is why he has jheri curls.

Page 12: Some emotional response Gordon had overrode the drug-induced craving. Pyg continues his habit of anthropomorphizing the animal kingdom into representations of theology. I'm not sure what equating the snail with the devil could particularly mean here -- Hurt's being too slow?

Page 15: We return to the very beginning of #13 now, possibly even the same exact art.

Page 16: Round of applause, commenters! You figured out Hurt's bullet trick. The shooting the watermelons in fact WAS practicing for his non-lethal shot, so he could place Damian in a position where he'd be willing to serve Hurt.

Page 17: Of course Damian and Dick figured out who Hurt was before Morrison let it on to us; they had all of the resources of Wayne Manor at their disposal, while we just had a bunch of comics.

Page 18: This is basically the exact same offer Hurt made to Bruce at the end of R.I.P., and Bruce told him to "go to Hell." Maybe more notable, though, is the second panel -- where Hurt gives away that he knew Thomas and Martha, and they even tried to help him. At this point, I think I can trace it: Thomas Wayne from 1765 IS Thomas Wayne Jr. IS Simon Hurt. To get him properly committed, Thomas and Martha probably had to claim that Hurt was their son. Hurt really is just as brain damaged and sociopathic as they said Thomas Jr. was; his reaction to basically the only two people who showed him kindness is to kick their portrait in and take a steaming piss all over their legacy and the memory of their son. He's replacing their portrait with the Triumph of Death.

Page 19: I don't recognize the tracer in the box, but the meaning of what's going on here is clear as three different storylines all come together. The box opens with the whistle, as we saw in Return #4. Also, of course it's empty, since Bruce took the book out in #4. But where did the tracer and note come from? Did Bruce come back later and put them there, or did Alfred know to? And who whistled?

Update: If Bruce left the note, remember that "Gotcha." was also the last thing he said to Darkseid before getting Omega Beamed into the past.

Page 20: I think the technical term here is "money shot." This is the most satisfying Batman/Robin double-punch yet. Note the eclipse outside.

Page 21: The clock still says 10:47. I'm still unsure whether that means the clock was set there permanently, or it's just been exactly 24 hours since Wayne arrived at the manor at 10:47. Also, absolutely none of this is a surprise to Dick, and he'd asked Alfred to "prepare" the mansion and cave. He couldn't be referring to the box with the note and tracer -- Hurt took that at the end of #12, so Dick didn't have time to screw with it. So it's something else, something to do with the clock, at that, since we saw Alfred "preparing" it at the beginning of last issue. I almost have to wonder if...

Page 22: ...this isn't actually Bruce here. Alfred has a longstanding habit of impersonating Bruce before, and the jagged word balloons certainly imply that whoever's in that outfit is affecting a voice. Additionally, I can't imagine Dick and Damian would be able to predict his return down to the second, especially considering Tim was taken totally by surprise by his return back at the end of Return #5. On the other hand, perhaps this arc takes place after Bruce's proper return, since he broke the eclipse cycle with Carter Nichols' time machine, and he's been chilling in the Batcave waiting to make his dramatic entrance and spook the hell out of Doctor Hurt. The shipping schedule for the next few weeks probably won't make things much clearer until we're well into the Incorporated era.

Update: if it IS Bruce, then his wording - "It's ALL OVER" - is very reminiscent of the name of the apocalypse Bruce supposedly causes in ROBW, the "All-Over." Maybe the All-Over was just for Hurt and not the rest?

Links to my other annotations:

-Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3, #4, #5; Batman #700, #701, #702; Batman and Robin #14

-original Batman run and previous issues of Batman and Robin

Preview of Batman and Robin #15:

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