Deconstructing Batman & Robin:

A Game of Villainy, Part 3

The most controversial storyline in Morrison’s Batman run, R.I.P. is the psychological destruction of the Dark Knight. Cryptic, bizarre, and at times genuinely frightening, R.I.P. was the much-awaited confrontation between Batman and Dr. Hurt – the mysterious villain who had remained in the shadows up until this point. Symbolism is packed into every panel as the red and black motif explodes into a full frenzy to reflect Batman’s fractured psyche.

But, of course, this isn’t just about Batman; it also establishes the conflict between the Joker and Dr. Hurt that will haunt the pages of Batman & Robin.

Technically, the story begins with DC Universe #0 with a short, three-page scene between the Batman and the Joker. On the first page, the two are juxtaposed to heighten their opposition to one another. Batman is bathed in red light and looking rather grim. The Joker sits in darkness, playing cards in hand and that eerie smile on his face.

Batman says, “Red and black. Life and death. The joke and the punch line.” More importantly, Batman means to say, “rebirth” because the events with Dr. Hurt will set him on the path toward his death in Final Crisis and lead to his eventual rebirth into the Bat-god.

As the Joker deals a dead man’s hand of aces and eights, Batman says, “Someone’s hunting me. I can feel it. Someone who thinks they can do your job better than you.” And ultimately, this is where the central conflict between the Joker and Dr. Hurt lies. The Joker fancies himself an expert on ruining Batman, but Dr. Hurt believes that the Joker is a fool. Hurt believes he can be better than the Joker and this doesn’t sit right with the Clown Prince of Pain.

The Joker responds, “Some very, very bad people have decided to Hurt you. Hurt you so bad you’ll never recover.” The deliberate use of the word “hurt” is the Joker’s way of working in a pun about Dr. Hurt in his conversation with Batman. Not a great joke, but don’t tell him that.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally given the attention to detail that Morrison has given to connecting his Batman run to past stories), the scene is reminiscent of the opening scene to Batman: The Killing Joke, where Batman tries to compromise with the Joker and reason with him. This time, however, instead of rationalizing with the Joker and getting him to call a truce, Batman seems to be coming to him for advice. Both scenes seem uncharacteristic of Batman, but they enhance their symbiotic relationship. They are connected intrinsically to one another and by the end of R.I.P., we’ll see exactly how far their symbiosis goes.

Batman #676

Issue #676 is the official beginning to R.I.P. and the first page features Batman and Robin bathed in black and red with lightning striking behind them as Batman declares, “Batman and Robin will never die!” We won’t know that this is Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne until the end of the third issue of Batman and Robin, but their victim is foreshadowed on the next page with the appearance of Le Bossu.

The hunchbacked criminal explains to Dr. Hurt that he had to kill a man and Hurt’s first line exemplifies the Black Glove’s power and influence, “The dead man’s medical files are already being edited to include a documented history of paranoid schizophrenia, M’sieur Le Bossu. A suicide note he left for his disabled wife is being composed and will be secreted upon his person … eyewitnesses will be bribed or killed, the widow ruined. We are the operators at the highest level.”

Where the Joker wishes to be infamous, Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove wish to remain anonymous. To use Dungeons and Dragons terminology, Dr. Hurt is lawful evil in that he operates under very strict rules and always seems to have the situation under control. The Joker, however, is chaotic evil because he kills indiscriminately and sometimes without provocation. What makes the Joker so dangerous is that he sometimes acts within an orderly manner. The “Clown at Midnight” story is a perfect example of the Joker using order to enact his chaos. One could argue that this frame of mind, this enlightened balance of order and chaos, is exactly why the Joker can gain the advantage over Dr. Hurt.

After the introduction of the Black Glove, the scene shifts to a black car racing through the Gotham streets. The driver (a deranged, red-haired man) struggles with a green bird mask and screams, “Leave ‘em crazy clues they’ll never work out! Get me some hot psycho groupies with bells in their hair! Bodycount! Bodycount!” As strange as this dialogue is, it eerily echoes the Joker in some ways. The Joker leaves obscure clues for Batman to figure out; Harley Quinn could be considered a “hot psycho groupie” with bells in her hair; and the Joker is awfully proud of how many people he has killed.

Batman and Robin arrive on the scene in a brand new Batmobile that sports red headlights and red-tinted windows. After Tim compliments Bruce on the new car, Bruce replies, “I don’t know … it’s not how I saw it when I first had the idea.” Morrison’s first issue on Batman was titled, “Building a better Batmobile” and the intention was rebuilding Batman into a new and better franchise. Bruce’s comments on the Batmobile could reflect upon Morrison’s own evolution of the series itself (the writer mentions in an interview with Newsarama that the story had evolved quite a bit from his original intentions) or it could simply be a reflection of how much Dr. Hurt’s psychological warfare has affected Wayne’s psyche.

Bruce and Tim return home and Alfred remarks that “every Tom, Dick, or Harry with a make-up box and rampant Tourette’s fancies himself the next Joker.” The Joker invocation is blatant, but it is also meant to subtly contrast the Joker and Dr. Hurt. Some of Batman’s villains are exactly as Alfred described, but Dr. Hurt is the furthest thing from it.

Jezebel Jet makes an appearance and she continues the red and black motif not only with her appearance, but also with her name. “Jet” is an obvious reference to something being “jet black” and “Jezebel” being slang for a “painted woman” or a prostitute. And with the name Jezebel deriving from the Biblical character who caused many Jewish priests to be slaughtered, it should come as no surprise that she would betray Bruce Wayne to the devil. Her invitation to the Black Glove’s “Danse Macabre” is further telegraphing that she will betray Batman.

It’s the end of the issue, however, that really ties the red and black motif all together. As the Joker goes through a Rorschach test, he envisions himself killing Robin, Nightwing, and Commissioner Gordon and his vision is colored in black, white, and red. Notice that Batman is no where to be found in the hallucination because the Joker doesn’t want his death – he wants Batman to break. More importantly, it’s this scene that explains the significance of the black and red.

The Joker sees his world in black and red, and through the use of black and red imagery, Dr. Hurt is transforming Batman’s mind so he can break the hero and transform his mind into a psychotic mess much like the Joker.

Batman #677

A roulette wheel is the transition image that shifts the narrative to the Black Glove in this issue. Dr. Hurt’s identity as the devil comes through when he says, “What we are about to do will be a work of art. Nothing less than the complete and utter ruination of a noble human spirit” which sets the stage for Dr. Hurt’s plans  which slowly unfold throughout this issue as Batman is stabbed by one of Le Bossu’s gargoyles with a poison-tipped knife. Bruce’s blood runs down his arm and onto his glove which mirrors the poster for the “Black Glove” film starring Mangrove Pierce. The poison, along with the red and black imagery, and Jezebel Jet placing the seed of doubt in Bruce’s mind all work together to cause Bruce to feel alienated, isolated, and alone.

One short, two-page scene between Jim Gordon and the Mayor of Gotham highlights how far Dr. Hurt will go to not just ruin Batman, but also Bruce Wayne as it is revealed that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) has been alive and well all of these years. So, not only has Hurt orchestrated an all-out attack on the reputation of Batman through the use of the Three Ghosts, but he has also ruined the name of Wayne by claiming to be Bruce’s dead father.

The idea of claiming an identity not his own is an interesting premise and one that will be explored in more depth later once more is revealed about Hurt.

The issue ends with the trigger words of “Zur-en-arrh” causing Bruce to go into shock. After all this time, Batman has finally been broken.

Batman #678

This issue chronicles Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Bruce is kicked awake by a blind, homeless man named “Honor Jackson” who calls Bruce a “cockroach”.

Sharp-eyed readers would recognize Honor Jackson as the homeless man that Batman almost runs over in his black and red Batmobile in issue #676. Here, Bruce’s transient identity is connected with the Joker’s from “the Clown at Midnight” in Batman #663 as both are called “cockroaches.” Of course, the image of a cockroach once again is inherently connected to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the transformation of Gregor Samsa.

As Bruce tries to piece his memory back together in order to remember how he came to be in a dirty alley, his flashback is depicted in black, white, and red – the vision of the Joker. It isn’t any wonder that Bruce is going insane; the flashback reveals that he had been injected with “weapons grade crystal meth” and “street heroin.” Fortunately for Bruce, one-eyed Honor Jackson is there to help Bruce on what Jackson refers to as an “odyssey.”

Near the end of the issue, we learn that Honor Jackson had died the night previous after he spent all of his money on drugs (money that Batman had given him for almost running him over with his Batmobile). Therefore, the interactions between Bruce and Jackson hold a special significance as Jackson is part of Bruce’s fragile psyche.

First, the name “Honor Jackson” itself is a clue and a connection to the Joker. Most regard the Joker’s real name to be “Jack” and if Bruce Wayne is going through a similar cycle of mental repair that the Joker went through, then one could surmise that his personality is the “son” of this mental preparation. Also, since Bruce Wayne is building a personality that won’t be based upon murder, then it stands to reason that it would be based upon “honor.”

Honor and Bruce travel through Gotham and end up in Giordano Park where Jackson explains to Bruce, “you gotta understand somethin’ about this world … even the brightest angel can fall.” If Honor Jackson is part of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, then Bruce has already worked out that Dr. Hurt is the devil, and Jackson’s advice is a way for Bruce to piece together that Hurt is Lucifer.

Jackson then gives Bruce the Bat-radia which just so happens to be wrapped in a red and black checkered handkerchief. The park is named after Dick Giordano who is responsible for some of the most iconic images of the Joker ever to be produced. Of course, Bruce Wayne would have no knowledge of this, but this is a clue from Morrison to his readers about the process our hero is going through.

Finally, Bruce ends up in Crime Alley where he was first born as Batman and where he is reborn into the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

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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 and the co-creator of the crime comic . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

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Also by Cody Walker:

New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison\'s Batman


Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide

editor, contributor

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