Welcome to Part 1 of PoP! Sidekick Kelly Harrass’ in depth look back at Grant Morrison’s run on Batman.
When I was growing up, I never read much DC Comics. I was a Marvel guy through and through, actually getting into indie comics before DC. I never had any interest in DC until I heard that they were killing Batman and that Grant Morrison was replacing him with Dick Grayson. I had liked what Morrison did with his run on New X-Men, so I decided to pick up Batman and Robin issue one.
I absolutely loved it. After that, I picked up the issues of Battle for the Cowl, the start of Judd Winick’s run on Batman, and Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Those were all good enough (looking back, the only one that really holds up is the Gaiman story), but they weren’t as exciting as what Morrison was doing. The initial arc had a feeling of an acid-tinged version of the 60’s TV series and the stellar art of Frank Quitely brought the whole package together.
When it was released, I picked up the deluxe hardcover of Batman: RIP. This story had received so much hate, I had to read it for myself. RIP sold me on Morrison. The story was small and personal and psychological and somehow an epic at the same time.
Now that Morrison’s run is all said and done, we can look at it as one complex seven-year-long story. It wasn’t your usual superhero comic in that Morrison offered a story that required the reader to pay attention. Saying that it’s a dense read is an understatement. Through these pieces I’d like to offer you two things; a readers guide to the run and my overall thoughts on it. This is seven years of comics that we’re talking about here so I’ve got a lot to say.
The Reading Order
So you want to read the whole run, but what order does it all go in? Because it bridges several series and one large event, this is actually a tricky question to answer. When I went through my major reread of the run I took a look at several lists I found online and cobbled this together:
DC Universe 0: only the story titled Let There Be Lightning (Not necessary to read, but it was included in the Batman: RIP hardcover and acts as a bit of a prelude to the story)
Final Crisis 1-3
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 1-2
Final Crisis: Submit
Final Crisis 4
Final Crisis 5-7
Batman and Robin 1-9
Batman and Robin 10-12
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 1-3
Batman and Robin 13-15
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne issues 4-6 (an alternate reading order of B&R #13, B:TROBW #4, B&R #14, B:TROBW #5, B&R #15, and B:TROBW #6 also works)
Batman and Robin 16
Batman: The Return
Batman Incorporated 1-8
Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes
Batman Incorporated (new 52) 1-13
Morrison’s run follows a clear three act structure. The first act sets the table for Morrison’s story and ends on the “death” of Bruce Wayne. Act Two follows Dick Grayson’s time as Batman and Bruce’s return. Act three deals with Batman Incorporated and ties up the Damian Wayne and Talia al Ghul stories.
Batman: The Black Casebook (the stories from the 50’s and 60’s that inspired RIP)
Batman 452-454: Dark Knight, Dark City (This story, written by Peter Milligan, ties in with Batman and Robin issue 16. The opening scene features a ceremony to summon the demon bat god, Barbatos, which Morrison altered to include Simon Hurt. Sadly this story has never been collected in a trade, so you’ll need to hunt down the single issues if you don’t already have them. They’re pretty easy to find on eBay if you can’t get them at your local comic shop.)
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 6-10: Gothic (This is a Batman story that Morrison wrote in 1990. While the story doesn’t have ties to Morrison’s current run, it shares many themes. DC collected this story in a trade in the past year or two.)
None of these comics need to be read to understand the story Morrison was telling. I just read them alongside the run and they provided some cool background. With that out of the way, time to get into some analysis of the run!
The Ultimate Survivor
In his run, Grant Morrison took the opportunity to make several big statements about Batman. Through the first two acts, Morrison said that Bruce Wayne is the ultimate survivor and that only he could be Batman.
Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m wrong because Bruce wasn’t Batman for almost all of Act Two. Dick Grayson took up the mantel of Batman, but he wasn’t the Batman we all knew, he was a different Batman. He had a different approach than Bruce had. To sum it up simply, Dick is a Batman that cracks a smile every now and then. Of course, there are a couple more Batmen that show up in the run, but we’ll get to them later.
Only Bruce Wayne could take all of his experiences and still be a functioning human. Morrison writes Bruce as a man who started being Batman when he was twenty years old. Now he finds himself a man fifteen years or so older, who has seen and experienced more in that time that most people would in fifteen lifetimes. We saw in the Final Crisis tie-in issues of Batman that when Darkseid’s scientists tried to put Bruce’s memories into the bodies they cloned from his DNA, things did not end well. As the memories flooded their empty minds, the clones began to scream and tear out their own eyes. They couldn’t take all of the mental and physical trauma that Bruce had been through in his life.
This wasn’t the first attempt at replicating Batman. We saw earlier in the run that Gotham was preparing for the day when Batman died and transformed three GCPD officers into potential Batman replacements; the Three Ghosts of Batman. All were failures. We saw the first of the three in the opening pages of Morrison’s run when he shoots the Joker in the head. The second Batman was pumped full of Venom and Hugo Strange’s monster serum, turning him into a crazed, super strong killer. The final Batman had the right amount of personal tragedy going into the experiments, having his family killed in front of him. Instead of becoming Batman, he ended up becoming something closer to the Punisher. These perverted versions of Batman were hand-selected by main bad guy for the first two acts and embodiment of evil, Simon Hurt, so they probably weren’t the candidates most likely to turn into a force of good. Even so, every time we see someone else try to be Batman, they’re never the Batman that Bruce is.
Morrison puts Bruce through the ringer, throwing everything at him. In the first act, the Black Glove chipped away at Bruce’s sanity and his personal life until they eventually drove him completely mad. Even when his mind is compromised, Bruce is still the type of person to have a backup plan. He built himself a secondary consciousness in the form of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman that is all Batman and isn’t held back by the humanity of Bruce Wayne. He was still able to come out on top in that story; overcoming the odds that were literally stacked against him (the Black Glove was betting on whether Batman would survive their encounter). They buried Batman alive and even though he’s tired, dehydrated, and almost defeated, he manages to escape. He’s always prepared.
“I’ve escaped from every conceivable deathtrap. Ten times. A dozen times. I can slow my breathing and metabolism to control panic and conserve air. Straightjacket’s kindergarten. Locks too. Benchpressing a pine coffin lid through 600 pounds of loose soil that’s filling your mouth, crushing your lungs flat, and shredding your dehydrated muscles. That’s harder. But far from impossible.”- Batman, Batman issue 681.
No matter what deathtrap you put Bruce into, he will find a way out. Even when Darkseid shot him with the Omega Sanction and sent him through time, Bruce still found his way back home. He may not have been quite sure of who he was, but he still acted as Batman would, eventually fighting his way back through time and finding a way around the trap set by Darkseid that would activate upon Bruce’s return.
Darkseid never intended to kill Bruce, he wanted him to return to the 21st century where the Omega Energy that Bruce was carrying would cause the end of days. Bruce returns with a plan. A Hyper Adapter (that robot/squid looking thing) sent by Darkseid to oversee his plan was defeated by The Justice League. They then stop Bruce’s heart to induce death so that the Omega Energy leaves his body. The energy is then put into the Hyper Adapter, which shoots it back through time. Bruce managed to save the day and save his own life. Bruce Wayne is and always will be the most resilient man in DC Comics.
Who is Simon Hurt?
This was the main mystery of the first two acts of Morrison’s run. Who exactly is Simon Hurt? There were many theories surrounding the character.
Simon Hurt IS NOT Thomas Wayne
Hurt claimed that he was Thomas Wayne, but that was ultimately proven false. Hurt is a master of disguise and has impersonated many people over the years. Pretending to be Thomas Wayne was all about getting revenge on Batman for beating the Black Glove. Hurt knew enough about the Wayne family history that he was able to slip into the role of Thomas Wayne and trick all of Gotham into believing it.
This was my belief for a while. He is an embodiment of evil, but he is not the devil himself. The “Hurt as the devil” theory also comes from Batman issue 666. This issue is the first trip we take to Morrison’s dystopian future for Batman where Bruce is dead and his son Damian has replaced him. Damian calls Hurt the devil on more than one occasion. It’s unclear as to whether Damian really believes that Hurt is the devil or if he is just a metaphorical devil. Morrison had used the devil story element in the past in his story, Gothic, in which Batman fights an ageless and unkillable man named Mr. Whisper who sold his soul to the devil in return for 300 years of life. One more devilish moment from Hurt comes in the final moments of Batman RIP. He offers a deal to Bruce; join him or Hurt will destroy the Wayne legacy. Bruce obviously declines, which is why we see Hurt return as Thomas Wayne in Batman and Robin.
Simon Hurt IS Thomas Wayne
I know I just said that Hurt isn’t Thomas Wayne. He’s a different Thomas Wayne from the 18th century. Hurt was a worshiper of the bat demon god Barbatos (who actually does not exist and was inspired by Bruce’s time hanging out with cavemen in The Return of Bruce Wayne issue 1). Because of his use of black magic, Thomas was seen as the black sheep of the Wayne family. In the final issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne, Bruce makes his return and stops the Hyper Adapter from completing its mission for Darkseid. The Adapter takes on some aspects of Batman, transforming itself into a giant bat. Simon Hurt takes part in a ceremony to summon Barbatos (this ceremony is seen in the story Dark Knight, Dark City which happens in Batman issues 452-454. Hurt is not named in the scene because he wasn’t created yet). The Adapter appears in front of Hurt and siphons its energies into him. These energies give Hurt apparent immortality.
Simon Hurt IS Thomas Wayne Jr.
Hurt lingered around for years until he was taken in by Batman’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. They said he was their son, Thomas Wayne Jr., and checked him into Willowood Asylum. At some point Hurt escaped from this facility and then took the name Dr. Simon Hurt. As many of you current Batman fans know, this has now been retconned by Scott Snyder in his Court of Owls storyline.
Simon Hurt IS a Former Military Doctor
Hurt’s “first” appearance is in the story Robin Dies at Dawn in Batman issue 156. Batman took part in military experiments on the effects of isolation on the human mind. Morrison turned the unnamed doctor in the story into Hurt.
Simon Hurt is a lot of things and he’s also not a lot of things. He’s the opposite of Batman. He’s a criminal mastermind. He is the hole in things. He is the piece that can never fit.
Now that you have the reading order and know a bit more about Simon Hurt and this characterization of Bruce Wayne, be on the lookout for part two of my retrospective of Grant Morrison’s Batman in which I look at Batman: RIP, Final Crisis, and Morrison’s use of the Joker.
Filed Under: Retrospectives