‘Batman Incorporated’ #4: Ring Around the World [Annotations]
Our Batman Incorporated annotations are back, this time taking a look at the incredibly dense and referential fourth issue. Not only does this issue feature writer Grant Morrison's new origin of the original Golden Age Batwoman, an appearance by the new Batwoman, and stunning art from Chris Burnham with coloring from Nathan Fairbairn, but it also inspired a new crazy theory on my part. If you were entertained during Batman R.I.P. watching me proven wrong about whether Alfred was the Black Glove, then you'll want to read these annotations, since I've got a whole new drum to beat involving Joe Chill's son.IN THIS ISSUE: Doctor Dedalus, on his island in the Falklands, conducts his symphony of death. Batman and the Gaucho fight it out in the Sombrero's deathtrap they were in last issue, until Batman short-circuits the heart monitor in Gaucho's gloves, effectively faking his death, beating the deathtrap, and then, on the last page, going to beat the crap out of El Sombrero.
On a second, parallel plot, Kate Kane, the Batwoman, is lured by the criminal Johnny Valentine into Kane's Kolossal Karnival, which belonged to the first Batwoman, after he shot three marines with a bullet pattern that spelled out the Braille for the letters O, R and B. After being ambushed by an unknown woman wearing Kathy Kane's original Batwoman costume, Jacob Kane susses out the link to Oroboro and Dedalus and resolves to get her to the South Atlantic ASAP.
In the flashback sequences, we get the true origin of Kathy Kane, the first Batwoman, as she's hired by Spyral and Doctor Dedalus to infiltrate Batman's crimefighting organization, except she falls in love with him and is forced to leave him after being blackmailed by Dedalus, a former Nazi master spy who reveals he's her father.
(First, a note about last issue: I think I finally figured out Fadar, the superhero in the opening sequence with the 3D glasses, shoulderpads and penchant of accusing alpha males of being gay like him. While I thought the name might originally be a more vulgar version of "gaydar," that just didn't make any sense for Grant Morrison to write since insensitivity isn't usually his game. However, the idea that he lives off of fads - everything is so strikingly early-'80s, from the newly-out homosexuality to the red/blue 3D glasses and shoulderpads - might be an explanation for his name and gimmick.)
Page 1: Like last issue, we begin on the Falklands, which is easily recognizable by being a beach that is not covered in snow and is covered in penguins. The "terrible old man" is definitely Doctor Dedalus, who really, really loves his spider theme: "the web twitching," "reeling it in." But there are two other notable things here: First of all, he refers to the "ring around the world" (which seems reminiscent of the title of Morrison's first and only issue of WildCATS, "A Halo 'Round the World"), which is almost definitely Oroboro - which, we later discover, is a top-secret superweapon. Secondly, he comments on how the weather is under his control -- could Oroboro be a weather-manipulation device?
Johnny Valentine's a new character/thug, as far as I can tell; the issue was originally supposed to ship in February, so maybe it's a Valentine's Day nod. We see the three marines he killed later, in chalk outline form - they seemed to be killed to send a message/code, which lines up with the coincidence that Valentine raced into Kane's Kolossal Karnival, belonging to the woman who began the Legend of the Batwoman, Kathy Kane -- bringing the Batwoman story back to where it began... like an ouroboros.
With the "Wall of Death" and everything, the place almost seems reminiscent of the abandoned circus used by the Joker in The Killing Joke and revisited at the beginning of Batman and Robin, except that there are actually people here, which doesn't make it very good at being abandoned. The fact that Johnny "dropped" the ring makes it pretty clear this entire situation is a setup; she's being lured to Kane's Kolossal Karnival on purpose. And if you're wondering what the Wall of Death was in better times, you'll find out shortly.
As for Kane's Kolossal Karnival itself, it first appeared in Freedom Fighters #14 for a two-issue arc where it was invaded by aliens, co-starring both the Barbara Gordon Batgirl and the Kathy Kane Batwoman, who'd recently been reintroduced to modern continuity and out of retirement in the pages of Batman Family. She owned an unnamed carnival there; it was probably the same as Kane's Kolossal. It's unclear whether the Karnival is set up in Gotham right now; it was in Provincetown, Mass. according to Freedom Fightera #14. I'd assume it is, though.
Also, Johnny Valentine looks like a damn neanderthal or something.
Pages 2-3: Agent-33 is an agent of Spyral recruting Kathy Kane to their organization, and of course his name is Agent-33, since everything in this arc is in threes. The three letters (O,R,B) in "Oroboro"; the three missing children; the three blind assassins who 'killed' Extrano (the fake writer from last issue, not the Doctor Strange/Liberace mash-up from Millennium)... I'm surprised he isn't Agent-333, to be honest, since this arc is all threes upon threes, like a golden triangle. Indeed, Kathy Kane's presence has always implied the number three; the final panel of her first appearance, Detective #233, has Robin musing in rather large font about the possibility of a "Dynamic Trio." Also note the faded lettering and visible ben-day dots in these flashback sequences; this issue has absolutely put Nathan Fairbairn on my radar as an excellent storytelling-based colorist.
Page 4: It's later pointed out Agent-33 is actually El Gaucho; note that Doctor Dedalus is Agent Zero, null, nothing. I'm curious to know what the department Zero "rebuilt" was before it was Spyral; I can't think of any ancient DCU international intelligence agencies, to be honest with you.
We last saw Roderick and Elizabeth Kane back in Return of Bruce Wayne #5; they were convinced that Simon Hurt and Thomas Wayne were the same person, and as a result blamed Thomas for Martha's death, believing the "dead" Thomas to be an impostor. Of course, it was the live one who threatened them that was in the impostor, and Thomas was eventually exonerated; however, this was long after both of their deaths. Note, also, that by having Kate Kane marry into the family rather than be born into it, Morrison's able to make the Batman/Batwoman affair less, well, incestual, since Batman's no longer banging his cousin.
Kate's circus training -- which she uses to daredevil effect here, planning to "flirt with death until his bony heart breaks in two" -- was established in her very first appearance, Detective Comics #233, where her use of the terms "scratch-rider" and "trap-artist" give her away as a former circus performer; the terms are recognized by Dick Grayson, Robin, a former circus performer (and trapeze artist) himself. In that original book, they tell Kathy to stop doing what she's doing since it's way too dangerous. Fighting crime: totally safe for an eight-year-old male trapeze artist, WAY too dangerous for a thirty-two-year-old female trapeze artist and stunt cyclist. Oh, the '50s.
Page 5: Of course her last name is Webb, since we later find out she's the daughter of Otto Netz, or Doctor Dedalus, that he gave up for adoption. (At least her original name isn't "Lutessa.")
Her resume invites a considerable amount of analysis due to its specificity.
"Ariadne's Sewing Machine" - referencing Ariadne from the Labyrinth/Theseus/minotaur myth. As I said last week, while usually spiders and their webs are associated with Arachne, and Arachne and Ariadne are often conflated due to similar-sounding names, the fact remains that Ariadne was a weaver who gave Theseus the thread he used to navigate the labyrinth, and sewing and weaving are associated with spiders. If nothing else, Morrison certainly seems to be relating the two, and this title solidifies it.
"Mirrorrorrim" - another word-ring like "Oroboro", although structured differently since the final character of the original word is repeated rather than used as a link as in "oroboro."
"Plague Afternoon" - I'd guess this is a hint to the nature of Oroboro and what kind of weapon it is in some way. I'd think it could refer to the plague in the last arc of Batman and Robin, except that went on for way longer than an afternoon.
"Inanna Unbound" - Sumerian goddess of banging and fertility, which is part of the role she plays to ingratiate herself into the Bat-family.
An actor - I'd guess maybe Mangrove Pierce (it's early in Batman's career, so he wouldn't have disgraced himself yet).
A rock star - No clue here, honestly.
A brilliant scientist - Will Magnus, maybe? Creepy-ass Niles Caulder of the Doom Patrol? Carter Nichols seems unlikely, but who knows?
Seven years, four of them married. She dated Nathan Kane for three years prior to marriage, and her age here would be 25 + 7 = 32 (very close to thirty-three - maybe her age when she 'died'? She operated as Batwoman for about a year, right?)
In the third panel, the painting next to the television - with the mansion on the hill, and the moon in the upper-left - is evocative of the cover of Detective Comics #31 famously homaged on the cover of Batman #227.
Now, Kathy Kane's just been hired for the job of infiltrating Batman's crimefighting organization. In a meta-real-world sense, she's been brought into the book to give the title a womanly presence and make it look less homoerotic in the turbultent times after Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent. But why is Kate Kane hired now? Let's take a look at what's on the television: Lew Moxon and his gang of aerial bandits, in combat with Batman and Robin, which took place in... Detective Comics #235, two issues after Batwoman's first appearance. Which means that Morrison didn't place this detail here for any continuity reason, since he's screwing with the sequence of events to do it. There's a story reason.
Let's take a look at Lew Moxon.
Moxon was a gangster who showed up to a costume ball and forced Thomas Wayne (dressed in the Original Batman Costume later worn by Simon Hurt) to fix him up at gunpoint. Wayne performs the operation, but afterwards he overpowers Moxon's men and gets everyone arrested. When Moxon gets out ten years later, he hires Joe Chill to cap the Waynes.
In Batman #673, during a flashback sequence, Chill states that he should have shot Bruce when he killed his parents - but he didn't, because he reminded him of his own son, "the boy he lost." That's honestly a line that's been bugging me for a while, a detail that wasn't in the original Bill Finger version of the story that seemed like a deliberate inclusion. If Moxon and Chill were both associated with whatever organization Otto Netz belonged to that forced him to give up his young, and Chill had to do the same thing, it's thoroughly possible - and this is where I'm getting more than a bit speculative - that his son is the Heretic, also known as the "Fatherless," introduced in Batman: The Return. The organization Leviathan that he belongs to seems to be an entire organizion of "screw you, dad," right down to mind-controlling Omar to shoot his dad at the end of The Return. "In the name of all that is pure and true, strong and young, you can only die," he says. Could Leviathan be related to the mass of children underneath New York in Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witchboy? It seems unlikely, since that was a mindless group of orphaned children and this is a worldwide terrorist crime organization, but with Morrison you never know.
Page 6: Fresh from the end of last issue, Batman and El Gaucho are currently in an El Sombrero-built deathtrap, where they have to fight with taser fists until one stops the heart of the other and saves the life of the three blind children in the water tank.
First off, note the "DAMRUNG" camcorder - the same brand not only as the radio used by Doctor Hurt to relay Alfred's words in Batman and Robin #16 (I didn't notice this until a recent reread), but also the Human Flame's cellphone in Final Crisis #1, where it was a play on electronics manufacturer Samsung and the Gotterdammerung that was that story. Burnham's clearly taken license to use it as the name of an electronics manufacturer in the DC Universe.
Meanwhile, the Scorpion(a) delivers her sting, informing Batman that El Gaucho was the Agent-33 who delivered Kathy Kane to her "rendezvous with the reaper." That might mean the meeting shown at the beginning of this issue, or another, more fateful one yet to be shown, after Kathy quits being Batwoman.
Page 7: In Detective Comics #485, Kathy Kane was ostensibly killed in her own circus by the Sensei's men - and if you read the issue, it's for the sole purpose of pissing off Batman, so she got thrown right into a fridge. It seems that this was a faked death; perhaps afterwards, she met up with El Gaucho for a final adventure. Also note that Scorpiana's deathtrap is halfway working; Batman's at least getting pissed off enough to hit Gaucho hard enough to knock out a tooth.
Page 8: Back to the modern-day Batwoman in the Kolossal Karnival, with her father Jacob on the line - which places this out of sync with continuity since they've been out of touch since the "Elegy" arc she starred in in Detective Comics almost two years ago. Perhaps Morrison was betting that Batwoman would be out by now; who knows. The three letters left as a message by Johnny Valentine with the bullet hole configuration correspond to "O," "R" and "B" in Braille - not only the three letters of Oroboro but also, well, an orb, perhaps referring to the Earth itself, and the "ring around it" mentioned by Dedalus. Equally important is the usage of braille itself and the death of three marines, much like the three blind kids kidnapped by Scorpiana and Sombrero. That's the second group of three related to blindness, and I imagine before we're done, we'll get a hat trick.
(Indeed, the term "hat trick" referring to threes corresponds to Dr. Dedalus's gigantic hat.)
Page 9: No idea who Johnny Valentine's on the phone with - it could be Dedalus himself, or maybe Kathy Kane working for Dedalus, or maybe an unknown third party in the Spyral organization. Calling him "Johnny V" almost makes me think of Johnny Five from Short Circuit, but I really doubt that's what Morrison's going for.
The flaming eyeball on the rollercoaster ride seems like a sly nod to Mickey Eye in Morrison's other theme-park-centered work, Seaguy.
Page 10: Presumably, Kathy's "figure out how he does what he does, then do it better" technique was how she gained the attention of the rock star, scientist and actor. She's unquestionably a polymath, but I'm not sure what to think about Morrison's take on her being that she's totally awesome at everything ... and uses it to get men. It's certainly a step up from the bored heiress of the original incarnation, but a far cry from the emotional self-sufficiency of Kate.
"Winner" here -- and DCU and CBA -- are a reference to Comic Book Alliance (not us), a British comics charity that auctioned off a guest appearance in this very issue. The winner, Aldrin Stoja, got to appear here at this opening, with the marquee being a nod to the contest.
Page 11: The actual scene that he appears in is actually an extension of a very similar scene in Batwoman's first appearance in Detective #233, with a number of changes made to the scene. On this page, for instance, the person being mugged was never Aldrin Stoja (obviously), Jimmy the Jackdaw is a brand-new addition, and obviously the dialogue pointing out Aldrin's "work for charity" is a nod to the actual work for charity that got his face in the comic. Jimmy originally only had one gun; Batman just swooped down without Bataranging it. I guess Morrison decided to add the second gun for... I dunno if "verisimilitude" is the right word, but let's go with it.
Page 12: Here, we've got some more changes - in the original version, Batwoman reflected the lights with her compact mirror rather than just jumping up there and using them to blind (there's those sensory deprivations again) Jimmy. In the original version, rather than petulantly whining about how only he can wear a Batman costume (I'd like to mention I love Morrison's change), Batman states that it's actually the law of Gotham City that only he can wear a Batman costume. (Kathy's response -- "no MAN, maybe!" -- is the same.) The comments about how she stole his thunder but saved Batman's life are changed from the two passers-by to actually being spoken by Robin and Batman himself, as Morrison is trying to accentuate that Kathy's presence really unnerves Dick, and not just because icky girls with cooties are showing up to spoil their fun.
Additionally, the line about the Batman costume is spoken to her at an earlier confrontation; the panel composition in Morrison's version here is an homage to the actual cover of 'Tec #833. Additionally, the conversation between Bruce and Kathy at the party has changed - originally, Bruce was gushing over Batwoman and Kathy over Batman, while here they're more playfully at odds.
Page 13: Panel one here - where Batman is yelling at Batwoman about "Briggs" - is referring to the events of Batman #105, where Batwoman trains an amnesiac criminal to be Batman because she thinks he actually is Batman. This guy's name was Briggs, and Robin went along with it since Bruce was injured and he didn't want to give Bruce away. Bruce eventually saved the day after Briggs regained his memory by strapping his broken ankle to his thigh and wearing a prosthetic leg (seriously!), and then lies to Kathy as Bruce, saying he got the injury dancing. (Which is doubly funny considering the fact that, later in Incorporated #4, he claims to not know how to dance.) This scene, where Bruce yells at Kathy for almost blowing his secret, is interesting because A) according to the original comics, Kathy didn't know Bruce's secret, and B) this scene was previously featured in Batman #682, earlier in Morrison's run, when Bruce was getting his memories analyzed by the Lump during Final Crisis.
The rest of this page, as far as I can tell, is all-new. Dick's three-panel tirade about how the expansion of the Batfamily is making the entire enterprise less engaging pretty much echoes the thoughts of every kid going through puberty reading those stories; I always love how, when Morrison writes the Golden and Silver Ages, there's always this undercurrent of everyone knowing these bright days aren't going to last forever, and that Batman will have to return to being a dark avenger of the night again.
The last panel, well, kudos to Burnham since it's hilarious. Not sure why Robin's cape is magically back on, though. Don't forget that "the year turned" - presumably, bringing Kathy to age thirty-three. Which not only has the link in to the rule of three that's going on this arc, but also a pretty obvious Jesus metaphor. Maybe she returns after her death?
Row One: The first panel shows the full Bat-family now, including "Bat-Girl" Bette Kane, who actually is the current sidekick of the current Batwoman, although we haven't seen her in a while due to the book's hiatus. The second two are a modification of the story in Batman #153, a version also glimpsed in #682 during the Lump incident.
The original Batman #153 was a story about a group of aliens who came to Earth, teleported Bat-Girl and Robin to their home planet, and then teleported Batman and Batwoman's life forces back to their home planet accidentally while their regular bodies stayed behind. Eventually, they all teamed up, beat up the aliens and went home, but not before Batman got out of confessing his love to Kathy Kane by saying "Well, you were about to die, and I wanted your last moments to be happy ones!" That's right, kids: Bruce Wayne didn't even give her a pity screw, just a pity declaration.
In this version, as the dialogue indicates, it's actually the result of all four of them getting insanely hopped up on powerful hallucinogens, so rather than fighting for their life force, they're actually just tripping balls.
Row Two: Here we see the alien landscape, except it's way more in the vein of the creepy, otherworldly pastel version from Batman #682 than the brightly-colored sci-fi happyland of the original issue. Most interesting, though, is the dude in the El Eternauta-homaging spacesuit... wearing an Oroboro symbol on his chest. Is this something Kathy's hallucinating, due to her fear of Oroboro and her father, Dedalus? Or were the "aliens" in the original story actually Oroboro agents dispersing the gas to accelerate Bruce and Kathy's relationship? I honestly have no idea. "Dying wouldn't be so bad if I knew YOU loved me, too" is a line straight from both #153 and #682, although this issue gives the added context of her feeling guilty, like she's betraying her ex-husband, Nathan Kane.
Row Three: This is all brand new, as Kathy reports to Agent Zero, Doctor Dedalus. Here, he reveals his true identity: not only as her father, in a total Empire Strikes Back "NOOO! It can't be!" sequence, but that he was also apparently a Nazi master spy known as Otto Netz. Clearly, that fits in with the entire spiderweb motif, as well as his daughter's given name, Webb.
My absolute favorite part of this, though, is Dedalus's threat: think of how disappointed Batman's going to be when he finds out that his wife is the daughter of a master criminal! Yeah, that sure stopped him from banging Talia forty thousand times. Dedalus, you dick.
Pages 16-17: And thus, we learn how Batman learned the Tango of Death that he practiced with Scorpiana last issue, and it wasn't, as Gaucho theorized, from "secret Andean tango masters." Batman referring to his "alarming atavistic transformation" places this right after Batman #162, "The Batman Creature," which is listed on ComicBookDB as being the last Golden Age appearance of Kathy Kane. (An "atavistic transformation" pushes someone back up the evolutionary ladder; in this story, Batman became a gorilla.)
Then, Kathy breaks up with Batman, presumably so as to not break his heart later when she finds out about her ancestry. (Which, is, again, ridiculous.) So she stages it as hurtfully as possible, and then says something that changes the implication of their entire relationship - she calls him Bruce. She's figured out, presumably for a while now, who Batman was, but she didn't tell him, and she didn't tell Doctor Dedalus, either. This also finally provides the context behind Alfred's comment about Kathy breaking Bruce's heart back in #682, a scene that's recreated here and, as usual, drawn beautifully by Chris Burnham.
Page 18: And now, I think I'm done referencing old comics! I think. Kate Kane beats up the Kathy Kane pretender while her dad exposits about a bunch of stuff we already figured out - that "ORB" is Oroboro, that it has to do with a military spy project, and that it involves Kathy Kane and Doctor Dedalus, the latter of whom we see in silhouette Guess Who form on Jacob's central screen. We're then introduced to the Hood, who we'll apparently see more next issue and who was first introduced while Batman was in England recovering from his spinal injury in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #21.
Page 19: Funny that Kate talks about the Kathy-wannabe as having a filthy mouth, since she didn't curse once this issue. I guess I'll assume it took place off-panel. Does anyone have any idea why Kate recognizes her? Is she an orphaned child, and Kate saw her on the side of a milk carton? Or is she someone from the past? I'm honestly not sure. If Batman recognized her, it'd be one thing, but this is Batwoman's second appearance in Morrison's grand Bat-saga, unless the girl was an Intergang goon back in 52.
The "island in the South Atlantic" is clearly the location in the Falklands where Dedalus was imprisoned. We still don't know what Oroboro is, but it unquestionably relates to his master plan.
Page 20: We finally cut back to Batman and Gaucho, still fighting, as Sombrero declares that his deathtrap is "as big as the world" and will plunge at least, of course, three countries into war (England, Argentina and... America?). And, of course, Batman has found a way around the immediate deathtrap.
Page 21: No idea what Dedalus's "tattered Cloak of Smoke" is supposed to refer to - is that the physical cloak he's wearing, or a metaphor for a weather condition around the island? Why is he being visited by men in raincoats? Who is he expecting to be on his way, Batman? Why would he expect Batman? Granted, Batman was operating when Dedalus was locked away, since he was free to coordinate with Batwoman and the Knight was part of the team that did it. The prediction of the weather, the desire for snow, again hints at some kind of connection between Oroboro and climate control.
Presumably, the "maestro" Sombrero refers to when he's being abandoned by Scorpiana is Dedalus himself. And as for the "monster" in the maze of death? Is that Dedalus himself, or is this metaphorical minotaur Oroboro? Or is it a new horror?
Page 22: Presumably these are all answers Batman will beat out of El Sombrero this week. Until then, I'd just like to give Messrs. Morrison and Burnham credit for not only an excellent comic that took me a solid month of mulling over and research to unravel (and I doubt I caught everything), but also managing to get DC to put out a 22-page comic shortly after they supposedly shortened the page count. You crafty kids.
Links to my other annotations:
- Batman: The Return; Batman Incorporated #1, #2, #3
- Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6; Batman #700, #701, #702; Batman and Robin #14, #15, #16
- original Batman run and previous issues of Batman and Robin