Deconstructing Batman & Robin:

A Game of Villainy, Part 2

While the Black Glove doesn’t actually make an appearance until later in the series, the presence of Dr. Hurt can be felt in the very first issue as Batman throws the Joker into a dumpster and the hypnotic trigger words “Zur-En-Arrh” are written in graffiti on a nearby brick wall. Not only was this a subtle clue for readers to go back to later once it is revealed in R.I.P. that these are hypnotic trigger words, but they are the signature of Dr. Hurt; they indicate that he had a hand in whatever had occurred.

In the chapter “Three Ghosts of Batman,” Batman investigates a group of crooked cops who are hiring prostitutes to “pacify” a venom-enhanced cop who dresses as Batman and the “Zur-En-Arrh” graffiti appears again. Both the gun Batman from the first issue and the monster Batman are part of a deliberate attack on Batman’s psyche by Dr. Hurt. They are used to corrupt Batman’s colors and to twist what he represents. Not only are they physical threats, but they are damaging to his reputation and his state of mind. If Batman somehow caused all of this evil, then what does that say about him as a hero? As Bruce Wayne recovers from the beating he received at the hands of the monstrous Batman, he has a hallucination where the three Batmen are with Damian and his son says, “The Third is the worst of all” but we won’t see the third Batman interact with Bruce Wayne until later.

At the end of the conflict with the Monstrous Batman, Commissioner Gordon’s dialogue foreshadows the revelation of the ultimate evil when he says, “Why did you have to choose an enemy that’s as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?”

Black Glove

The Black Glove is finally mentioned when Batman and Robin meet with the International Club of Heroes on Mayhew’s Island. The story is a classic mystery story in the vein of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the effect is absolutely perfect for intriguing readers with the identity of the Black Glove.

On page one of the story, the black and red motif established by “the Clown at Midnight” issue returns in the form of a roulette wheel. A man hangs upside down and someone says, “The Black Glove is a seal of absolute quality and ruthlessness. The Black glove aims to deliver a deluxe service high stakes experience at the very highest levels of the international game. Our esteemed clientele see no virtue in thinking small, nor do we. This weekend the Black Glove settles the age-old questions once and for all. Which is strongest? Good? Or evil?”

It may seem like generic villain banter, but it’s incredibly important because it establishes the game motif that will carry on into Batman and Robin. The Black Glove is a gambler and is willing to bet that evil can triumph over good. He is playing a game of chance while the Joker plays chess. Therefore, the real conflict seems to stem from two different games being played; chance and strategy.

Nothing is left to chance in the Joker’s manipulations because he has all of his moves and Batman’s moves planned out. But the Black Glove sets things into motion to see how they will interact with one another. He puts a gun in the hand of a drugged out cop in a Batman suit and instructs him to shoot the Joker just so he can see what the outcome will be.

But, who exactly is the Black Glove? He seems to be Jonathan Mayhew a “mega-rich daredevil from the old school” who financed a film known as the “Black Glove” starring Mangrove Pierce and Marsha Lamarr. He is a wealthy man who seems to have done everything that money can buy (including putting together his own private super-team of International heroes) and has become a recluse on his private island. That notion is quickly destroyed when the heroes watch a video of a man wearing Mayhew’s skin as he tells them “Can the world’s greatest crimebusters solve John Mayhew’s savage murder? Or will they all die here, one by one, begging for mercy? Place your bets. The Black Glove points at you. By this time tomorrow, you will all be dead.”

After he destroys all of their transportation, the Black Glove murders the Centurion by stabbing him in the back 23 times. He leaves a scrap of paper reading “et tu, Morte?” and announces to the heroes, “Advantage: evil. Place your bets with the Black Glove.”

As the former club of heroes fights to survive, we begin to learn more about them and (more importantly) their adversaries. Names like Pierrot Punaire, Scorpiana, Spring-heeled Jack, Charlie Caligula, and El Sombrero are dropped casually into conversation, but these villains will all return to plague Batman during R.I.P. Once again, Morrison is shown to be establishing small story elements early on so that they will pay off much later. For now, the name-dropping of villains not only expands the mythology of the International Club of Heroes, but it also shows the Black Glove’s influence goes beyond simply Gotham City. Whoever the Black Glove is, he has a far-extending reach.

The real threat, however, isn’t a Club of Villains so much as it is the heroes themselves. One of them must be the killer, but their paranoia leads them to accuse each other. The Black Glove simply needed to murder one of them and place the seed of doubt in the minds of the heroes so that they will suspect one another. He is playing the odds that they will fight enough amongst themselves to prove that good can never overcome evil because good men will always be suspicious of others.

In the third installment of the Black Glove mystery, Robin, Cyril, and Red Raven have been captured by El Sombrero and put into an old-fashioned death trap and Dark Ranger is revealed to be Wingman. Apparently, Wingman had been working for the Black Glove so he killed Dark Ranger, and switched outfits with him because he was upset that Batman had ruined his chance to become a hero. Wingman might also have been the actor Mangrove Pierce who starred in “the Black Glove” movie. It is further revealed that it wasn’t El Sombrero at all, but rather, John Mayhew dressed as El Sombrero. However, John Mayhew wasn’t the Black Glove; he was simply working for the Black Glove. In the end, Mayhew is apparently killed in an explosion and the Club of Heroes escapes to fight another day.

Admittedly, it’s a rather confusing mystery with no real clear motivation for any of the villains involved, but it perfectly establishes the Black Glove as a threat to Batman. The mystery of John Mayhew and the Black Glove has many twists and turns not because it is poorly written, but because it is establishing the mystery of Dr. Hurt later. While the confusion may be frustrating now, it is essential in creating a proper mystery for the identity of Dr. Hurt, the Black Glove, and Batman’s ultimate enemy.

But the corruption of the Club of Heroes also echoes the corruption of Batman’s colors by the Three Ghosts of Batman. The Black Glove had caused the heroes to question one another and had created perverted the idea of an International Club of Heroes into a Club of Villains because the heroes couldn’t work together and the idea of Batman is twisted into something corrupt and evil as we’ll see in the coming issues.

The Third Ghost

The first appearance of the Third Ghost of Batman appears in the future as he battles Damian Wayne. It’s there that he is revealed as the Anti-Christ who has been sent by the Devil to destroy Gotham City. In that story, Damian murders the Anti-Christ and explains that he had sold his own soul to protect Gotham.

But, in the present, the Third Ghost makes his first appearance in Batman #672 and is referred to as “The Third Man” by a policeman (perhaps an allusion in name only to the classic noir film). He attacks GCPD Headquarters and confused that Commissioner Gordon is in charge instead of Commissioner Vane. Once he finally faces off against Batman, he says, “This police department . . . this city betrayed me . . . sent me to hell to learn from the Devil” – hints as to who he works for. He shoots Batman in the chest and as the Dark Knight begins to go into shock, he visualizes the words “Zur-En-Arrh” and Bat-mite as he passes out.

The next issue has Bruce hallucinating and reliving moments in his life, and Dr. Hurt is revealed for the first time. He is explaining the hallucinations that Bruce underwent during the isolation chamber, “One of man’s most primitive  fears is loneliness. When a man is isolated too long, the mind plays strange tricks. In your case, you imagined that you were indirectly guilty of Robin’s death. Your constant concern about the boy’s safety came to the surface in your hallucinations.” Perhaps this is true, or perhaps this is Dr. Hurt planting the idea in Bruce’s mind. Given the manipulations of Dr. Hurt, it could easily be asserted that everything he says is simply to toy with Bruce Wayne’s mind.

But, Batman has his own reasons for experiencing the isolation chamber. He explains to Robin that he “wanted a glimpse of how the Joker’s mind worked.” In a way, the statement is a bit of a joke because the Joker’s purpose for living is for that exact thing. The Joker tortures Batman in the hopes that the Dark Knight will see things from his perspective and Batman tortures  himself to see from the Joker’s perspective and Dr. Hurt is more than willing to give him the opportunity. If Batman’s psyche falls apart, then evil wins and if Dr. Hurt is really the Devil himself, then the corruption of Batman’s soul due to the Joker’s machinations can do nothing but benefit evil. In this way, Dr. Hurt is using the Joker for his own ends which is something that the Joker won’t like later on.

In Batman #674, the Third Ghost explains that Dr. Hurt had created the three ghosts of Batman just in case something ever happened to the Dark Knight. He chillingly says, “It will be my privilege to turn you all into fearsome creatures of the night.” Little do they know that they will become the pawns of the Devil himself designed to be activated when it is necessary to destroy Batman.

Hurt’s psychological warfare began by placing commands in Batman’s head and caused him to doubt himself which resulted in Bruce quitting as Batman. He tested the replacement Batmen against Bruce Wayne and the first two couldn’t compare, but the third Batman, Michael Washington Lane, was put through the ultimate test. His family was slaughtered by Satanists in order to put him through the same emotional trauma that Batman endured. Eventually, the experiments of Dr. Hurt were put to a halt, but the damage had already been done to Michael Lane.

The Third Ghost outright states, “Doctor Hurt was the Devil. Sometimes he visits this world to destroy the good and make slaves of men like me” and he doesn’t mean this in a figurative sense. Quite literally, he is the Devil himself and while he may have been playing a game of chance during the Black Glove storyline, in the case of the Three Ghosts of Batman, he is most definitely playing a game of chess.

Dr. Hurt’s first pawn is the First Ghost of Batman who shot the Joker in the head which triggered the Clown Prince of Crime’s transformation into the Clown at Midnight. This was his first move in the game between himself and Batman, but this also inadvertently causes the Joker to set his sights on the Devil. The First Ghost causes distrust of Batman as the rumor spreads that Batman is a murderer.

Hurt’s next pawn, the Second Ghost was meant to trigger fear in Bruce through his resemblance to Bane. This causes doubt in Batman as he remembers what it was like to be crippled.

The assault on the Club of Heroes and the distrust it causes between the heroes further shakes Batman’s nerves as he begins to realize that there is a mastermind behind all of this.

As he escapes the Third Ghost, Batman begins to wonder, “What if there were an ultimate  villain out there, unseen? An absolute mastermind, closing in for the kill? And as the Third Ghosts disappears, Batman ponders, “if the king of crime is real, is he telling  me his name?”

Of course, Dr. Hurt has revealed his real name through the Third Ghost’s dialogue, but Gordon had surmised it long ago; the Devil has come to Gotham and he is there to corrupt Batman’s soul.

Unfortunately, for Dr. Hurt, he didn’t take into account that the Joker might not be so willing to allow his nemesis to be corrupted.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cody Walker graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Education. He is the author of the pop culture website PopgunChaos.com and the co-creator of the crime comic NoirCityComicBook.com . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

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