When Words Collide

Wed, November 12th, 2008 at 2:28pm PST | Updated: November 12th, 2008 at 6:31pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

WHO IS THE BLACK GLOVE?

Batman Dies in Nanda Parbat

Grant Morrison's run on "Batman" began over two years ago, but, chronologically, the first part of what has led into "Batman R.I.P" began in November of 2006, in the pages of the "52" weekly, in a story which illustrated what happened to Batman during his year away from crimefighting. Although "52" #30 hasn't been collected in any of the Morrison "Batman" hardcovers, the Batman, Nightwing, and Robin sequences in that issue formed a prelude to everything Morrison has done with the characters since, and though Morrison is just one of four credited writers on "52," his fingerprints are all over issue #30, "Dark Knight Down."

The opening scene of that issue, as narrated by Dick Grayson, recaps the psychological downfall of Batman, from the early optimism of the first Batman/Robin team through the tragic Jason Todd years, culminating in the events of "Infinite Crisis." "In the end," says Grayson, "he just lost it."

As Batman wanders the Earth, "recreating the journey that turned Bruce Wayne into Batman," Nightwing and Robin discuss the implications: "He wants us to be the new Batman and Robin, right?" says Tim Drake. "It's obvious. I don't know why nobody's saying it."

Two years later, as "Batman R.I.P." comes to a close (in "Batman" #681, scheduled to hit shelves by the end of the month), we are on the verge of that very "obvious" prospect. A new Batman and Robin team, with Dick Grayson possibly behind the cowl -- a new Batman for a new generation. Tim Drake's fate is less apparent, as a new potential Robin has entered the Bat-mythos in the form of Batman's son, Damian. And while all indications point to a Dick Grayson/Damian as Batman/Robin team, it's all still speculation at this point, as DC as is scheduled to run a "Battle for the Cowl" arc in the post-"R.I.P." aftermath, a move which seems to offer multiple possibilities for the future of the Batman character.

But as "Batman R.I.P." nears its conclusion, we do know one thing: the Black Glove will finally be revealed. And Morrison's first major story arc -- the one that began all the way back in "52" #30 -- will finally come to an end.

And in this last week of anticipation, we can still play the game that has thrilled and/or annoyed "Batman" readers for over a year: Who is the Black Glove?

THE SUSPECTS

Tim Drake, Robin

Some internet guessers have jumped aboard the Robin-as-Black-Glove bandwagon lately, speculating that the dominant red-and-black motif points to Tim Drake's costume. And, of course, Robin does wear -- wait for it -- a black glove! Two of them, in fact.

But is there anything beyond the costume colors that would point to Tim Drake as the man behind the mysterious organization bent on destroying Batman? Not so much.

Sure, there might be a few reasons to suspect Robin, slightly. He's jealous of Damian's presence in Batman's life, and he questions Alfred about the proof of Damian's paternity. Drake was beaten up and tossed off a Batcave platform in his first confrontation with Damian, remember, so there's more than a little hostility there. And Robin has been on the outskirts of Batman's adventures lately, popping into the Batcave now and again to comment on the action, but rarely participating. He has been more prominent in the "R.I.P" issues, on the run from the Club of Villains -- the very bad guys who presumably work for the Black Glove, whomever that may be -- but perhaps Robin has staged his fights with the Club. Perhaps they don't even know who their sinister overlord truly is.

And he did steal that copy of the Black Casebook -- one volume of Batman's journal of the weird and strange experiences he had fighting the supernatural and the inexplicable (a.k.a. Morrison's clever way of reintroducing the wonky 1950s Batman adventures back into continuity) -- so that might cast a bit of suspicion on Robin. But not really. The evidence against Robin is purely circumstantial, and though he may have a motive -- jealousy -- Morrison hasn't shown Tim Drake to be capable of the sadism necessary to be the Black Glove. Tim Drake might be important to the conclusion of "Batman R.I.P.," but he probably isn't going to be revealed as the big baddie.

Totally unscientific odds of Robin turning out to be the Black Glove: 100 to 1.

Red and Black Mysteries
Ra's al Ghul

The ol' Demon's Head would seem like a likely suspect. A noted evil mastermind with a worldwide criminal organization under his thumb, Ra's al Ghul fits most of the criteria needed to be the Black Glove, and he was just resurrected in the poorly-executed and underwhelming "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" crossover. Morrison wrote two of those crossover issues, and why else would he bring the character back if not to set him up as a possible Black Glove candidate?

Plus, Ra's al Ghul is the father of Talia, and the grandfather of Damian, and even though al Ghul himself hasn't been all that visible throughout Morrison's "Batman" run, his family has, with Talia and Damian showing up in nearly half the issues. Perhaps that's Ra's al Ghul's way of maintaining contact with Batman as he torments him through Black Glovian machinations. He is certainly manipulative and sadistic enough to want to break Batman down -- and if past behavior predicts future behavior, al Ghul may be doing all of this to make Batman even stronger. To make him an even more suitable mate for his daughter, and a better father for his grandson. And Morrison has professed a love for the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams Ra's al Ghul stories.

The problem with this theory is that Ra's al Ghul wasn't resurrected until well into Morrison's "Batman" run, and the resurrection story began after the initial "Black Glove" arc, anyway. Plus, Morrison has barely dealt with Ra's al Ghul at all, other then those two perfunctory crossover issues, and I can't bring myself to believe that the feeble "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" crossover matters in the larger scheme of things. And would Morrison really have a devious criminal mastermind with influence around the world like the Black Glove revealed to be a guy we already know is a criminal mastermind with influence around the world? I think not.

Totally unscientific odds of Ra's al Ghul turning out to be the Black Glove: 50 to 1.

Jezebel Jet

At the end of "Batman" #680, as the mentally unstable purple, yellow, and red Batman bursts into the chamber with his handheld "Bat-Radia," the Joker yells "Now do you get it?" as Jezebel Jet slips into a pair of black gloves! Jet, who has been the love interest since Morrison's first story arc on this series, has ultimately been revealed to be an agent of the Black Glove, destroying Batman by toying with his heart. But is she the actual Black Glove, or merely a low-level operative?

The red and black motif has been the dominant one since "Batman" #663, the infamous prose issue. And "Jezebel," which implies "temptress," could represent the color red, while "Jet" connotes black. And Jezebel Jet is, of course, a dark-skinned woman with red hair. It doesn't take middle-of-the-night dream detecting to see that Jezebel Jet is a literal and metaphorical link to the Black Glove organization. Many readers, myself included, thought her an unlikely suspect simply because it would have been so obvious. Here she is, a newly introduced character, with little background established. A cipher who almost immediately became a central part of Bruce Wayne's life and learned his identity in a matter of month? It would have been easy to assume that she was a wolf in the bat-house. Yet, it seemed like a non-mystery because it was too likely, too simple. But she turned out to be a baddie after all. Probably not the actual Black Glove, though.

Totally unscientific odds of Jezebel Jet turning out to be the Black Glove: 30 to 1.

Batman vs the Club of Villains
Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn only appeared in a single issue of Morrison's "Batman" run, and as a minor DC character, how is she even in the running? Well, her appearance in "Batman" #663 turned out to be pretty central to Morrison's overall storyline, and you can't ignore the red and black pattern of her costume.

"Batman dead at midnight on the steps of Arkham Asylum," Harley reminds the Joker in issue #663, "right?" At the time, we thought she was talking about the plan within that particular issue, but, in retrospect, she seems to be talking about the events that lead to the ending of "Batman R.I.P.," where Batman -- a broken-down version of the once indomitable hero -- crashes into a cell at Arkham to rescue Jezebel Jet. Except the room is covered in red and black tiles, and black and red flowers (the flowers so prominently described as lethal in "Batman" #663) unleash their deadly gas, and Jezebel Jet may very well turn out to be Harley Quinn in disguise.

It all seems to point that way.

If Jezebel Jet is not Harley Quinn in disguise, then where has Harley been in the past year of Batman stories? Sure, she shot the Joker at the end of issue #663, and that might have symbolized a break in their relationship, but this is the Joker and Harley Quinn we're talking about; a little bullet wouldn't tear them apart.

Certainly the Joker plays a central role in this Black Glove mystery, and where the Joker is, Harley Quinn is sure to follow, and yet she hasn't appeared -- in costume, at least, for almost two years. Is she the Black Glove? Not likely, but she does love the red and the black.

Totally unscientific odds of Harley Quinn turning out to be the Black Glove: 29.5 to 1.

Thomas Wayne, Jr.

Not the father of Bruce Wayne, but the long-forgotten older brother! Is it possible that the elder Wayne brother -- a character who has appeared only a few times in the past 69 years of Batman stories -- could be the mysterious Black Glove?

As 1974's "World's Finest" #223 revealed, the secret brother of Bruce Wayne was brain-damaged as a child and institutionalized. As the shame of the Wayne family, Thomas, Jr. spent his life locked away, until eventually growing up to become the "Boomerang Killer" and then seeming to die in an attempt to save Batman's life.

Since Morrison considers every Batman story to be part of a single character's life, this Thomas Wayne, Jr. story, as obscure as it is, cannot be ignored. And just as Morrison's Batman uses even his own dreams as part of his detective work, I can't neglect to mention that I first suspected Thomas Wayne, Jr. in a dream of my own, before I ever even went back and read "World's Finest" #223. What could be more Morrisonian than sending clues via the subconscious dream state!

But while Thomas Wayne, Jr. makes an interesting suspect, and is suitably bizarre (and may, indeed, by a leap in logic, have become the Dr. Hurt who seems to direct the activities of the Club of Villains), the idea that this character is a suspect simply because I had a dream about it is patently ridiculous. It just means I read way too many comics before bedtime. But you never know…

Totally unscientific odds of Thomas Wayne, Jr. turning out to be the Black Glove: 20 to 1.

A Clue from 1963
Thomas Wayne

His death at the hands of Joe Chill doesn't exclude Bruce Wayne's father from suspicion -- not in a Morrison comic. Not in any comic, really, when death is just the state of being before the inevitable resurrection.

Morrison has certainly laced "Batman R.I.P." issues with clues that implicate Thomas Wayne. New "facts" have come to light showing that he may have faked his own death, and if his long-forgotten eldest son isn't Dr. Hurt, then perhaps it's Thomas, Sr. himself donning his old Bat-costume in the bowels of the Batcave. Alfred may deny that Dr. Hurt is Thomas Wayne, but Dr. Hurt seems willing to play the part. There's something connecting John Mayhew (the benefactor of the Club of Heroes, as seen in "The Black Glove" arc), Alfred Pennyworth, and Thomas and Martha Wayne. Morrison has established that something fishy is going on there, and he's even implied that Thomas may not be Bruce Wayne's father after all.

All of these hints and implications haven't confirmed Thomas Wayne as the Black Glove, but if this is a guy who locked his young brain-damaged son in an institution, then maybe he's capable of the kind of sadism needed to break Batman down from within. I have a feeling that Thomas Wayne might end up being revealed to be less saintly then we've previously seen, but I doubt he's actually still alive, and I therefore doubt that he's actually the Black Glove. But there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions about lil' Brucie's daddy.

Totally unscientific odds of Thomas Wayne turning out to be the Black Glove: 15 to 1.

Bruce Wayne

As I mentioned in my opening, "52" #30 was the beginning of Morrison's "Batman." Sure, a few issues of "Batman and Son" had come out by then, but Morrison's Batman was shaped by his experiences at Nanda Parbat. As Bruce Wayne says in that issue, "I asked them to cut out all the dark, fearful, paranoid urges I've allowed to corrupt my life…and they did. It's over. Batman is gone."

If Batman is gone, how does Bruce Wayne explain his nightly ritual of dressing up in a bat costume and going out to prowl the streets? Morrison doesn't directly resolve the apparent contradiction, because clearly Batman is not gone, but he does give Robin and Alfred a chance to talk about how Batman's Nanda Parbat experiences would have affected him. And the fractured psyche of Bruce Wayne hasn't been helped by his recent manipulation at the hands of the Black Glove. But what if Bruce Wayne is the Black Glove?

Could Bruce Wayne, in an attempt to rid himself of the Batman side of his life, have caused all of these problems for himself? Morrison seems interested in exploring the fragmented nature of Batman's mind, having him adopt the Zur-En-Arrh costume as a pre-programmed defense mechanism, and using Bat-Mite as a kind of psychic "help menu." Perhaps the Black Glove is a manifestation of the part of Bruce Wayne that wants the eliminate Batman. After all, the Nanda Parbat experience didn't hold, since Batman still exists, contrary to Wayne's declaration in "52" #30.

The Black Glove seems to have a deep knowledge of Bruce Wayne's life, and who has a deeper knowledge than Bruce Wayne himself?

Totally unscientific odds of Bruce Wayne turning out to be the Black Glove: 10 to 1.

Alfred's Days of Evil
Alfred Pennyworth

Who has a deeper knowledge of Bruce Wayne than Bruce Wayne himself? Alfred, possibly.

Alfred Pennyworth, the ever-faithful butler and father figure, might be the Black Glove, and here's why: he already did many of the things the Black Glove does in Morrison's run. As the weirdo known as "The Outsider," Alfred, thought dead, worked with a variety of low-level costumed minions to manipulate Batman, beginning in 1965's "Detective Comics" #334. It was Alfred's death and subsequent pseudo-scientifico-magical resurrection that caused his insane need to torment and destroy Batman, and when he was returned to normal in "Detective Comics" #356, he lost all memories of his criminal career.

But, still. Once you get a taste for the crazed, manipulative, super-secret criminal mastermind life, can you ever really forget it?

And as Morrison has repeatedly demonstrated throughout his run, Alfred is an experienced actor and a devoted fan of crime fiction. He also has a mysterious connection with John Mayhew and the Wayne family (beyond simply being a butler). He might be Bruce Wayne's father.

All of these things make him a suspicious character, and might implicate him as the Black Glove. Would he stage his own beating at the hands of the Club of Villains just to make his giant role-playing scenario seem more believable? Maybe. Although we don't know why.

Totally unscientific odds of Alfred Pennyworth turning out to be the Black Glove: 5 to 1.

The Devil himself, Satan

Depending on who you talk to, the theory that the Devil is behind the entire Black Glove operation is either completely obvious or totally ridiculous. Some readers seem unable to even consider the notion that Morrison would reveal Satan as the ultimate manipulator, while other readers seem ready to admit, "yup, it's the Devil, trying to win Bruce Wayne's soul."

Morrison has certainly laced his "Batman" run with clues to Satan's influence. The red and black might represent Robin or Harley Quinn's costumes, but those colors are most traditionally associated with the Devil himself. Every traditional depiction of the Devil is red and black, and what better to connote death and hellfire, darkness and sin?

Then there's the text itself, specifically "Batman" #666 (fittingly so, of course), which tells the story of the future Batman, Damian, and his confrontation with the third insane replacement Batmen. "I know the Devil exists, or at least something exists which might as well be the Devil. I've met him," says the now adult Damian. "But I wonder if his royal highness, the Anti-Christ [in reference to the third Batman's belief that he is the Anti-Christ incarnate], knows anything about the bargain I made at the crossroads on the night the Batman died." Perhaps Damian alludes to the events that will occur in the finale of "Batman R.I.P."?

And after defeating the false Anti-Christ at the end of issue #666, Damian says, "I guess the old dragon [in reference to Satan] forgot to mention the bargain he made with me when I was fourteen--Gotham's survival…in return for my soul!" This may be a purely metaphorical statement on Damian's part, of we can take it literally, and think that Satan appears in Gotham at the end of "Batman R.I.P." revealed as the ultimate sinister mastermind behind the ultimate plot to destroy Batman. Why would the Devil bother to do such a thing? Maybe he's annoyed at the treatment of Mr. Whisper way back in 1990's "Batman: Gothic," when Morrison first established the existence of the Devil in his Batman mythos.

Totally unscientific odds of the Devil turning out to be the Black Glove: 3 to 1.

The Picasso of Crime
The Joker

Without a doubt, the Joker has been central to Morrison's "Batman" and to the Black Glove storyline, since the very beginning. The first splash page of Morrison's first "Batman" issue shows the Joker saying, "I killed Batman," and everything has unraveled from there.

And as the centrality of "Batman" #663 ("The Clown at Midnight") becomes more and more apparent, the Joker seems like a leading suspect as the true identity of the Black Glove. The problem with this theory is that the Joker embraces chaos and discord, so any attempt to fit the pieces of the puzzle together will inevitably fail. The Joker is a bundle of contradictions, and those contradictions don't mesh together smoothly, and even if it seems likely that the Joker is the mastermind behind this whole "Batman R.I.P." scenario, how can we ever really tell what the Joker is thinking? He might be the Black Glove and not even know it himself, since he constantly reinvents himself from story to story.

But if we look at the patterns objectively, contrary to what the Joker himself would say, we can see evidence pointing to the Joker. Even if we just look at "Batman" #663 and #680, we can see a lot of clues that the Joker may be more than just a high-level operative of the Black Glove. But let me provide a bit of context first.

In 1963's "Batman" #152, Batman infiltrates a secret society of criminals called "The False Face Society." The members of this group look very similar to the Club of Villains, with each member adopting some kind of iconic, stereotypical costume (like a deep-sea diver, a knight, etc.). The leader of the society is unmasked, and guess who he turns out to be! The Joker, of course. So there's a precedent for the Joker as the mastermind behind a mysterious group, certainly.

And then going back to "Batman" #663, we see the Joker described as "the PICASSO of crime! The Great Modernist in a postmodern tradition!" What could be more cubist than the multi-faceted plans of the leader of the Black Glove? As an artistic production, this whole Black Glove scheme is a masterpiece of disillusionment and fragmentation, and what could be more Modern than that?

Issue #680 makes the Joker seem like an operative of the Black Glove, as kind of a rogue, high-level agent, but perhaps that's all part of the Joker's plan. For as much as he loves chaos, and as much as he tells Batman that it doesn't break down into "symbolism and structures and hints and clues," the Joker certainly goes out of his way to establish a pretty clear pattern of blacks and reds. And he tells Batman exactly what's going on, albeit in a kind of warped Joker logic: "It's all a big joke," he says, "a dead man's hand and I hold the winning card." That's an allusion to the scene from "DC Universe" #0, where the Joker showed the aces and eights and the final card was revealed to be the joker itself. Of course, in the context of "Batman" #680, the final card is the true nature of Jezebel Jet, the trap which has caught the Batman. So if the Joker isn't the man behind the curtain, he's certainly doing a good job pretending to be.

Totally unscientific odds of the Joker turning out to be the Black Glove: 2 to 1.

One of these suspects must surely be the Black Glove, and we'll know for certain in a couple of weeks, when "Batman" #681 hits the stands.

Which theory do you think makes the most sense?

Make your own case for the identity of the Black Glove at the "When Words Collide" Forum.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of the in-this-month's-Diamond-Previews' "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

TAGS:  batman, rip, grant morrison, black glove

When Words Collide Home | When Words Collide Archives

 
When Words Collide

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.