My Favorite Monster: Barbatos, The Beast That Built Gotham [Fantasy Week]
This week is Fantasy Week at ComicsAlliance, celebrating the best in magical fiction and imaginary worlds, and we’ve invited our writers to mark the occasion by celebrating a hallmark of the genre; the legendary creatures and outcast freaks we call “monsters.” This is My Favorite Monster.
When it came time to choose my favorite monster, it could only be Barbatos, the ancient bat demon summoned by Thomas Jefferson, which later turned out to an Apokoliptian monster that Darkseid sent to hunt Batman through history. It’s a whole thing, but it ultimately ends up being completely crucial to the creation of Batman and the evolution of Gotham as we know it.
Barbatos was first introduced by Peter Milligan, Kieron Dwyer, Dennis Janke and Adrienne Roy’s “Dark Knight, Dark City,” which took place in Batman #452-454. In 1764, Jacob Stockman, Thomas Jefferson and a group of other notable figures of the time came together to indulge in the summoning of the demon known as Barbathos (as it is spelled in this story). Jefferson himself supplied a young woman to be sacrificed, and had her drugged to be compliant with the ritual --- but realizing that the sacrifice was actual murder rather than a symbolic gesture, the founding father and future president got cold feet and attempted to flee.
He threw open the doors, and the group was confronted by a large winged creature that seemed to attack. Convinced they had summoned Barbathos and were unable to tame it without the sacrifice, the men fled in terror and sealed the barn shut behind them, with their sacrifice trapped inside with the demon.
Centuries later, The Riddler discovered the journals of Stockman and became convinced that Barbatos was still in that barn, waiting to be tamed. He led Batman through a series of puzzles in order to prepare him for sacrifice in the demon’s name, but with The Dark Knight at his mercy the demon revealed it manipulated The Riddler to get an audience with Batman.
After The Riddler fled the scene, Barbathos explained it had been trapped in that cellar for years, and as Gotham grew, so did Barbathos’ influence over the city, to the point they were intrinsically linked. Barbathos claimed that in a sense it was Gotham, and it orchestrated events to create a disciple to free him. It orchestrated the murder of the Waynes in order to create Batman.
Years later, Batman was seemingly killed by Darkseid’s Omega Effect in Grant Morrison, JG Jones and Doug Mahnke’s Final Crisis, but in actuality, Batman was shunted back in time to the earliest days of man. As Batman continued to jump through time, accruing Omega Energy in the pages of The Return of Bruce Wayne, he was hunted by a creature unleashed by Darkseid known as The Hyper-Adapter, which first showed itself in the 17th century as a kraken-like squid monster.
By the time Batman arrived back in his home timeline, he had been fully infested by the Hyper-Adapter, and as such was able to adapt to everything the Justice League threw at him. Ultimately, with the help of his friends, Batman was able to free himself from the Hyper-Adapter, which was trapped in his cloak. As Superman forced it into a time sphere, it adapted into the form of a giant bat demon that was sent back in time to prehistoric Gotham City.
It is later revealed that after Stockman and company fled the barn, Thomas Wayne of 1764 offered himself up to Barbatos, which was in fact the Hyper-Adapter. Feasting on the flesh of the giant bat, Thomas Wayne became Doctor Simon Hurt, the Adapter incarnate. Completing the ritual left abandoned by his compatriots, Hurt lived well into the 21st century, where he reappeared as a major threat to the Batman family.
While a lot of that is admittedly confusing, Barbatos is awesome because 1) It’s a giant bat demon and 2) It gives Batman a history, legacy and cosmic importance that makes the character that bit more fascinating. There’s a moment in Grant Morrison’s Batman, before he reintroduces the concept of Barbatos, where Batman looks at Gotham with fresh eyes and sees it for what it truly is, a machine with one purpose: to build Batman.
Barbatos made Batman, but it was only because Batman was created that Barbatos was in the position to make Batman in the first place. When you look at the big picture of Morrison’s Batman and how it builds on the foundation of everything that came before it, it’s a truly beautiful accomplishment, and the kind of achievement few creators manage to pull off in superhero comics.