The Hand That Would Kill Batman – Japer Looks at Batman: The Black Glove

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: J.H. Williams, Tony Daniel
DC Comics

Have we read this before?

Batman is in grave danger. A mysterious adversary, as brilliant as our hero and as devious as his most vile enemy has placed the Dark Knight in the most diabolical of traps. This perfect antagonist has created a spider’s web of intrigue, of machinations that are, possibly, decades-long in the making. The chess board pieces have been placed and villains, traitors, impersonators, family members and love interests all have their part to play in this, the final and real death of Batman.

Or so Grant Morrison, the writer of Batman: The Black Glove, would have you believe.

It all sounds so familiar, this story. Surely it’s been written in comic book form before and, truth be told, it has. Morrison, ever the lover of golden and silver-age comics, reaches into the past and retrieves the strangest of Batman characters, situations and continuity, mixing them together in a bizarre, twenty-first century alchemy, repositioning them for his magnum opus, the forthcoming Batman: R.I.P. storyline. The Black Glove, a collection of his recently published monthly series, Batman 667-669 and 672-675, is his prelude.

The first three parts of The Black Glove read like an Agatha Christie novel. Batman is summoned to a remote and abandoned Caribbean island for a dinner party. The other guests are all Batman-inspired heroes from around the world that, together, constitute The Club of Heroes, an old assembly, now defunct. To understand the absurdity of this grouping, one would have to read old 1960’s issues of Batman, as Morrison has. That was the tail end of the golden-age of comics, when Batman was written in a more humorous tone than he has been the past few decades. One by one, the heroes are killed in gruesome manner by the mysterious organization, The Black Glove, who are, evidently, playing a game of chance: good vs. evil. Fingers are pointed, villains are named but not seen and old secrets are revealed. It’s up to Batman to solve the mystery and saves the lives of everyone.

Morrison is at his story-telling best here, perhaps the strongest of his Batman run. In just three issues, he is able to explain the back stories of the various characters that make up the Club of Heroes and, as readers, we care for them. But there’s more here than mere characterization. There is information inherent in every flashback that sheds light on the mysterious Black Glove organization as well as playfully maddening teases of future developments that will culminate in the Batman: R.I.P. plot. The story is fast-paced; the prose is terse and brimming with clues for the inquisitive reader. Morrison has gone on record to state that the ultimate identity of the villain would be “the most shocking Batman revelation in seventy years.” Truth be told, the writer turns the reader into the detective, a slight nudge at the fourth wall, and it’s no wonder that his current run on the monthly book has garnered an exhaustive series of chat room deductions, theories and scandals. Morrison has done what ever great writer attempts to do with their stories: involve the passive reader.

The stunning art of J.H. Williams adds immeasurably to what Morrison is doing. Batman and Robin are painted with a sense of realism that contrasts the would-be heroes that emulate them. In their flashbacks, Williams goes so far as to illustrate the Club of Heroes as Lichtenstein sketches. Truly “comic book” in nature, there can, of course, be only one Batman and, by Williams’ hand, he’s both beautiful and frightening to behold.

The next four collected issues serve to further the undercurrent them of Batman’s demise by the mysterious organization. We learn more about Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Jezebel Jet, who may or may not be affiliated with the Black Glove. When Batman is drugged and tortured by a crazed police officer dressed-up as a replacement Batman, he encounters Bat-Mite, a figment of his sub-conscious, who attempts to help him through the situation. Once again, Morrison mines the characters past – even if it seems ridiculous. His motive, it seems, is to tell a grand story that has meaningful repercussions, while keeping absolutely true to everything in Batman’s nearly seventy year canon and make it relate within current continuity. A bold exercise indeed.

Tony Daniel’s art in these issues is impeccable. His lines dictate action and they echo Batman’s descent into madness. This is easily the best work of his career.

Despite the mining of old characters and storylines, Morrison’s The Black Glove is a detective story unlike any other that has been told in a Batman book. Clues abound and never has a reader been more engaged during the telling of a tale. This story has it all: history, fully-formed characters with motive, red-herrings, heroes, worthy villains, threat and an emerging raison d’etre.

Reader knows that something important in both the history and the future of Batman is afoot.

Have we read this before? Never like this, and the best part is: Morrison’s story isn’t finished yet

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