Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ultimate Villain Revealed: Immortality, 19th Century Decadence
& Devil Worship in Grant Morrison's Batman

Unlike the previous Bat-post of last year, this one's for those that have done the reading on the book; you can't proceed here until you've read issue #10 Seriously. If you've not done the reading, do not proceed with this post. SPOILERS SPOILERS - SPOILERS - That said, Morrison is finally back to writing the core of the tale after a number of slippery detours to seemingly lead us off track through the course of "Batman & Robin" - only now to return to the original story with issue #10. Having read it just last night, I'm going throw a bunch of things out there that all connected after following some historic/literary threads (alongside my comics peers) online that lead to a series of epiphanous connections/parallels.
...Are you ready?

issue #666, which I think at the time we all took as a kind of a lark and him having fun with the premise of getting to write the six hundred and sixty-sixth issue, is now more than just a glimpse at a possible future, but also pivotal to the whole scheme of things to come. After taunts to the effect in the closing issue #681 of R.I.P., with issue #10 Simon Hurt/El Penitente is revealed to be Thomas Wayne after all. Just not *the* Thomas Wayne we've always known as Bruce Wayne's father. This Thomas Wayne is an 18th Century ancestor of the Wayne family (Time travel? Immortality? Deal with the Devil?) and for reasons unearthed, the 'black sheep' of the family as it's told. Who, among other things dubious, was a known and infamous Devil-worshipper. And the Bat-demon in question? This Barbatos that's mentioned in Alfred's account of Thomas Wayne's dealings was last seen in the 1765 journals of one Jacob Stockman. Named "Barbathos" in the occult ritual depicted in Peter Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City" spanning the issues #452-54, the era of it's invocation and name correspond exactly with that of the lore of this 18th Century Wayne ancestor... Who can say they saw that one coming? Nice one Grant!

Link to DC Comics: "Batman vs. Robin" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.5

Link to DC Comics: "Batman & Robin Must Die!" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.6

The clues were there all along: Some of them hidden right in plain sight (as Morrison is apt to do). The satanic Batman-replacement, Michael Lane, of issues #666, #672-74, #681 from the Gotham Police Force who had been groomed/conditioned by Simon Hurt that at the time seemed just too literal to be an objective interpretation? Well once again, he's craftfully hidden an answer right out in the open and due to the question not yet being posed to the reader, we weren't aware of it's significance in the narrative. Even with all the ominous forbearance of that character's warnings to Bruce Wayne of things to come. Yep, the Devil's in the details. ...Ha! Couldn't resist.

An then there's this!: Back in the opening salvo of  Batman R.I.P. Là-Bas or "From Below" appeared at first to just be a French phrase dropped in the middle of a sentence from Black Glove henchman Le Bossu in issue #677. It so happens to also be the name of a novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans by the title of "Là-Bas", (or "The Damned" as the book has since been titled in it's English translation). Care to speculate as to what it's about? Nothing less than Gilles de Rais and the history of Devil Worship in 15th to 19th Century France. The novel crafts a elaborate spin on the child murders/Devil worship accusations the historic personage of De Rais was condemned for at his trial. In this little bit of 19th Century Decadence, De Rais' ultimate goal was to summon the Devil, but whenever the attempt was made, his efforts produced nightmarish results. Among them, his associates and occult assistants in the invocations would later meet with grisly deaths. All of this unearthed under the aegis of the novel's fictional writer turned detective, Durtal, and his brush with occultism in then modern-day Paris.

Link to DC Comics: "The Return of Bruce Wayne" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.7

Now here's where the relevance of the Huysmans reference really strikes home: The historic figure of Gilles de Rais wasn't just another member of the bourgeoisie dabbling in the occult, he was the closest ally of Joan of Arc. One virtually considered a saint. As a pious soldier of God, de Rais was the kind of man that society at the time idealized as the purest of form. He was a paragon of goodness. Until Joan was killed, that is. After which, his spirit was corrupted by the event, his belief in his faith destroyed, he was witness to the church burning a messenger of God at the stake. He turned to Satanism (whether these particulars are historically true of not, is unknown). A complete reversal of personal beliefs, the noblest spirit of 15th Century France became a child murderer, rapist, and definitive 'Satanist' of his day. (the details of which, again being partially fabricated/elaborated in Huysmans' novel). All signs point to the influence of this piece of literature, and the likelihood which Morrison has based the underlying premise of Hurt/ Penitente/Thomas Wayne around "Là-Bas".

Back to "Batman & Robin": Heavy Catholic intonations have come to the fore in recent issues, most prominently in reference to El Penitente and the representatives we've seen from his Mexican drug cartel back in issue #4. Now in issue #10 there are a number of prominent Rosicrucian symbolic images/themes; the belt of Orion, the Rosicrucian rose, the suits of armor with the Symbol of the Rose as their crest. Ad that to the Demons mentioned in the same issue: Barbatos - is shown on the wall of the Satanic Church/Bat-Cave. Belial - is mentioned by name by Hurt/ Penitente/Thomas Wayne. The 3rd Hierarchy - is a particular group of demons, of which Belial is a member. Duke Zepar - is another one of the 3rd Hierarchy demons, apparently clad in red, just as the character is depicted in the book. Where's all of this going? The Black Glove, Simon Hurt, El Penitente, Thomas Wayne. Satan...

Link to DC Comics: "Time & The Batman" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.8

So is Thomas Wayne currently possessed by/or in the service of Satan? Or, what I'm beginning to suspect is more and more the case, is Hurt/ Penitente/Thomas Wayne looking to (attempt to) summon the Devil itself, once again into the material world? And why is this character driven so fervently to orchestrate the ruin of Bruce Wayne and the corruption/destruction of Batman? Possibly, like with Gilles de Rais' inversion to evil, it would be the ultimate statement in the service of his dark god. What is it that The Black Glove promises to it's wealthy patrons as "the ultimate work of art" in issue #677? As Hurt/Thomas Wayne states; "Nothing less than the complete and utter ruination of a noble human spirit".

And the Devil in question is who? Or what? Hurt/ Penitente/Thomas Wayne here is evidently of more than one time period, and those that he's been witness in effecting with this dark crusade have spanned centuries. Beginning as far back as the 1700's according to the Wayne family lineage. Curiously, in DC Comics Silver Age, he also shares the name with a character appearing in a issue of "World's Finest" - issue #223 - as none other than Bruce Wayne's mentally ill, institutionalized, older brother. Time travel, family myth, histories being fashioned to torment the protagonist? All of this has the distinct thematic stain of the Omega Sanction... I suspect we've not seen the last of Darkseid. Might he not be the 'Devil' here in question? No greater evil force has Bruce Wayne ever encountered and with him currently caught within the trappings of the Omega Effect, could all this Devil Worship, family history corrupting, soul destroying dark refashioning of the Batman mythology be Darkseid's doing? As Bruce is being manipulated through time and history creating new lore as he progresses? Hurt/Penitente/Thomas Wayne in the service of Darkseid? Unwitting or no? It makes a kind of definitive sense in the context of this tale being the conclusion of events begun in "Final Crisis ".

At this point in the tale all signs (appear) to point to this being Hurt/ Penitente/Thomas Wayne's whole 'Raison d'Etre': The ruination of Bruce Wayne as the ultimate realization of the "triumph of matter and duality over spirit and unity" - a profound expression of Satan's (read: Darkseid's) influence over mankind (even after his demise in Final Crisis) and the ultimate conversion of a noble human spirit into evil. Continue on Brave Reader! This Coming Summer to Fall not only sees the realization of the end of "Batman & Robin", but simultaneous with those events Morrison begins writing on the eponymous Batman title once again as "The Return of Bruce Wayne" begins serialization! Indeed! Morrison has a tale to tell and even with these major revelations 4 years into it being spun, it's far from over!