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Batman and Robin #12 Review

The Batman vs. Robin arc concludes this issue with the revelation of who Oberon Sexton is.

It’s a strong conclusion while still working as a good introduction to the next step in the Batman Mythos.

First off, cool Quitely cover.

The preview for the issue shows the beginning of the book, where Dick Grayson figures out the identity of the bad guy who is controlling Damian. It’s pretty neat…

Andy Clarke’s art is not as sharp in this issue as the first two, but it’s still good. What I was REALLY amazed by was Scott Hanna’s brilliant work making the substitute pages by Dustin Nguyen fit in almost seamlessly.

Can you imagine having a handful of Dustin Nguyen pages mixed into an Andy Clarke penciled book and having it not really stand out like a sore thumb? That was someone managed in this issue, as Nguyen just did breakdowns, allowing Hanna to finish the work in such a way that it seemed pretty close, visually, to the Andy Clarke penciled pages that Hanna inked. Since Nguyen and Clarke’s styles are nothing alike, it’s a really impressive feat.

In any event – I will admit to not paying as much attention to the identity of Oberon Sexton as I should have. I now wish that I had, if only to see if I would have come to the truth of the situation before it was revealed in this issue.

You know, forget it, let’s go SPOILERS HERE, PEOPLE!!!!!

Okay, spoilers are coming! Be forewarned!

Oberon Sexton is the Joker, and so is the Domino Killer. I mostly went for spoilers because I want to hear from you smart people what the jokes are that the Joker used to do the Domino killing. By the by, it was made pretty clear back in RIP that Joker was going to get revenge on the Black Glove people that he felt mistreated him, so it was pretty clear that he was going to be related to the Domino Killer. Him being Sexton, TOO, is pretty neat. I can’t wait to go back and re-read his earlier appearances.

Morrison actually made reference to DC Universe continuity this issue!! He has Dick Grayson acknowledge that Slade Wilson played a major role in the destruction of Dick’s former town, Bludhaven. While it was nice to see Morrison make such an acknowledgment, it was a bit weird for me, because once you DO acknowledge it, why then would Dick not stop at anything to take Slade down? Seemed odd that he would be, “Oh, you’re the guy who helped to kill 100,000 people – but I got other things to deal with at the moment, so I’ll deal with you later (in other words, some OTHER writer will deal with THAT story).”

Damian breaks from his mother in a brilliant little piece of dialogue where he firmly establishes himself as a member of the Bat-family and as an enemy of the Al Ghul family. I love how Talia basically became WORSE than her father ever was in parenting – it was a cool case of the whole “I learned it from you, Dad! I learned it from watching YOU!” method of parental relationships (an alternative to the “I learned it from you” would be Sondheim’s “Be careful the things you say, children will listen.”).

I know a certain commenter who will be pleased to see Dick Grayson pretty convincingly take down Slade Wilson (through Dick’s extensive knowledge of how Slade’s enhanced senses work – a shock to Damian will hurt Damian, but it will REALLY affect Slade, since his nervous system was wired to Damian’s).

The set-up to the whole “Return of Bruce Wayne” stuff was handled nicely and oh boy, Dr. Hurt is almost back – I can’t wait to see that!

And, of course, it’ll be interesting to see Morrison explain Joker’s motivations behind becoming Oberon Sexton. Is it a bit of a “Going Sane” type of thing? Without the Dark Knight Detective around, Joker himself becomes one? Interesting.

Speaking of detectives, I like how Dick is given his props as a detective in this issue, also how Morrison seems to be laying the groundwork for how Bruce’s plans REQUIRED Dick to take over as Batman, because if not for that, no one else could figure out the clues – well played, Bruce, well played.

As I said in the beginning of the piece, this issue is also interesting because it gives us a firm conclusion while ALSO giving us a cliffhanger. That’s not an easy task to do (give a real “ending” to your story while still branching off to the next story), and Morrison has pulled it off two arcs in a row now.

Man, if it were not for those Tan issues…boy, this series would be one hell of a complete read (as is, it is still great, but when a full QUARTER of the issues so far have been sketchy, it’s a big drag).

But as for this issue (and this arc, really) – Recommended.

25 Comments

Damn…I wish I had picked up my file this week

Is there any sort of symbolism in the way the bat is turned up on his chest? There almost has to be in the way it was focused on in the 2nd frame, right?

I won’t deny that that cover isn’t dynamic, but what the heck is up with Grayson’s right leg? I’ve never heard of a double jointed knee.

Captain Flash

May 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm

That last page…. wow! Can’t think of a better last page in recent memory, and I loved how the Joker’s face was taken straight from that famous Conrad Veidt picture from “The Man Who Laughs.”

This issue had it all! Also, props to Scott Hanna. When I saw the credits I thought we were all in for some styles clashing with one another later on in the issue but it’s baaaarely noticeable. Very well done. I’m loving this book.

Out of curiosity– Damien was born in the same way as his apparent ” brother “, right? I.E. in an artificial womb ( even if the conception came from Bruce in the Son of the Demon story )? I remember seeing a panel in issue 666 of the unborn Damien in a glass contraption.

Talia’s just opened up whole new levels of wrong. You’re right that she’s surpassed her own father– the guy who, if that Batman Beyond episode is to believe, would hijack his daughter’s body for immortality.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

May 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Considering that Ra’s has hijacked his long-spurned son’s body in the current continuity, I’d say they’re about even in the wickedness stakes.

I don’t think Dick lets lade off so easily; he beats the guy in his hospital bed with his own IV drip stand, after all. It’s just that Dick Grayson characteristically puts helping Damian and finding Bruce ahead of taking Slade apart. As the first two arcs of Batman and Robin showed us, those kind of priorities are what separate Grayson from Damian (then) and Jason Todd (always).

I’ve seen some theories about the jokes the Joker’s murders represent, but nothing that’s wholly convinced me it’s what Morrison was up to. One guy at the CBR Batman forum suggests that the general being fed to an alligator refers to a dirty joke about a tough guy who puts his genitals in an alligator’s mouth, for example, but the “general/genital” pun is a little hard to dig out of the comic dialogue.

In any case, I’m more interested in any retrospectively clear hints foreshadowing the Oberon Sexton reveal; as Brian points out, the Domino Killer basically had to be the Joker. I have a few, to wit:

— B and R #1: Dick notes that dominoes are also called “bones;” Alfred contributes the game-related phrase “smacking the bones down.” Sexton’s alias is “The Gravedigger,” that is, a man who deals in putting bones down into the ground.

The domino in the preview images at the end is black and white but spattered with red. These are the Joker’s colors in Batman #663′s text story and DC Universe #09, where they show up on the cards in his Dead Man’s Hand. Additionally, it’s a joke: what’s black and white and red all over? In this case, a blood-spattered domino.

— B and R #2: The Domino Killer murders Toad in his cell; as we learn later, Pyg’s gang is in the Joker’s circus base from The Killing Joke, which seems to motivate the Joker’s murder of someone outside the Black Glove. A GCPD cop supplies the joke: Mr. Toad “croaked.” (Note that the Joker toxin-afflicted Gordon in Morrison’s first Batman issue also had the Crime Clown’s horrific sense of humor.)

— B and R #3: The domino killer leaves the antidote the Pyg’s identity-destroying gas att he circus grounds. Again, this is the Joker’s sense of territoriality. Le Bossu is also in town, and we get the scene from Batman #681 as well; maybe that’s why the Joker was also around?

— B and R #4: This issue introduces Sexton, whose alias “Gravedigger” already suggests that he’s a killer. Note that the villain is the Red Hood, a previous Joker identity now used by someone else. Dominoes and matching pairs: the Joker’s old identity and his new one in the same story. The arc title, “Revenge of the Red Hood,” refers to both Jason Todd’s vengeance on Dick Grayson and the Joker’s vengeance on the Black Glove.

Note Sexton’s backstory: “His face was scarred by criminals who killed his wife.” The Joker’s Killing Joke origin isn’t a million miles from this, and the version from the Gotham Knights comic is almost identical, since in that one the criminals from the botched Axis robbery where the Joker was scarred actually did kill his wife.

Sexton is telling a story to the children: The Riddle of the Corn Dollie. Riddles are a kind of joke, though you’d be excused for thinking of that other Batman villain in the green derby. Corn dollies are traditionally plowed into fields to ensure a good harvest; in the Golden Bough sort of symbolism Morrison often uses in Batman stories, it’s a rebirth story. The riddle’s answeris that the Joker has been reborn, reinventing himself after his “death” at the end of Batman RIP.

Numerous people on the net point out that Oberon is the king of the fairies who are tricksters, just as the joker is symbolically a trickster. A sexton maintains graveyards, among other church duties, hence the “gravedigger” nickname.

“We have a mutual interest in crime.” Yes, from opposite sides, though. Note that Sexton doesn’t respond when Dick says, “…We’d all like to see it wiped out, I;m sure.” Does Dick’s hesitation mean he already suspects the truth?

Sexton dresses in mostly black, with white cloves and red spectacles. More red, white, and black color combos. Even the next issue preview images are red, white, and black. So’ the cover logo this month, actually.

— B and R #5: Jason (Red Hood) Todd says,”The mask made her (Scarlet) crazy.) His own mask, of course helped drive the Joker crazy.

Sexton makes this connection very clear in a TV interview, saying “The Red Hood is a name used by more than one notorious Gotham criminal in the past. Is this any different?” His book is titled “Masks of Evil,” also underlining the Red Hood connection. In typical Joker fashion, Oberon’s own mask conceals considerabl;e evil. Note that Sexton is only an “amateur detective.”

— B and R #6: Jason echoes much of the Joker’s dialogue in The Killing Joke: “It’s…too late for me, Grayson. It was always too late for me, don’t you GET it?”

Interestingly, Scarlet’s final monologue seems to reverse it: she mentions her madness “peeling away” when like the Joker in Brian Bolland’s memorable image, she sees her own reflection.

Simon Hurt, El Penitente, gives apparent instructions to Oberon Sexton. Since the Joker sort of joined the Black Glove last time we saw him, and Simon Hurt ran the Black Glove’s games… Note that Hurt says “Your sins have found you out, gravedigger,” hinting that Sexton has a nasty past.

— B and R #7: More Killing Jok,e stuff…with dominoes! Batman interrogates the Pearly King of Crime in a scene echoing the interrogationt hat starts the Killing Joke, with dominoes in place of the cards from Moore’s story. Also note, “Eddie says there was a game of cards played with real people. Cole gambled and lost.
“Now it’s a game of dominoes instead of cards; and who in Batman’s rogues’ gallery plays with lives and cards?

We get our first reference to the Mexican Train of the current arc, and another dominoes-as-bones line.

— B and R #8: nothing much.

— B and R #9: The RIP version of the Joker as Robin with a bullet in his head is in one of Bat-Clone’s broken memories.

The spade in the cemetery tells us Gravedigger is back next issue.

— B and R #10: Railroad accidents charity = Mexican train?

Here’s the scene where, according to Dick, he figures out Sexton’s ID for sure. The Joker has “followed” the Domino Killer “west,” and thinks Bruce Wayne will be the next victim. The alligator used to kill General Malenkov has a domino pattern on its back.

“Why does this seem like some twisted updated game Clue?”
“The so-called evidence against the Waynes was a JOKE.”

More Sexton/Hurt phone calls. Sexton rejected Hurt’s offer, we learn; he’s still betting against the Black Glove, but now the game is dominoes, not chess as in RIP. More of the Mexican Train stuff.

“I have…exceptional hearing.” A red herring, or an explanation of how he hears Belial et al. coming.

“I’ll complete the cross of the pentitente with a bullet between his (Sexton’s) eyes.” The Joker had a bullethole in his forehead in issue #9′s Fake-Bat hallucination.

“A cemetery, a hidden ‘corpse-road’…and a lost garden of death.” The Joker’s lethal roses from #663 and RIP are also a garden of death; in the next two panels, Sexton turns up in the cemetery.

— B and R #11: Hurt says, “Let all fall down.” Again, he’s playing dominoes as his game this time, and since Sexton’s involved, we know Sexton’s playing dominoes too.

Sexton calls Hurt’s agents “pantomime poseurs,” a suitably Jokeresque reference. Damien soon works out that the accent is fake.

Sexton has a domino; he claims to ahve found it, but obviouslyhe brought it. Does the Joker remember Bruce’s secret, or did he think Bruce was part of the Black Glove and decided to kill him? Since Sexton claims Wayne was the Domino killer’s next victim, is he deliberately telegraphing his own murder plan, as the Joker did in his very first appearance in 1941?

— B and R #12: As many have noted, Hurt’s dilaogue on the train refers to the Joker, not to Batman.

As to the murder jokes? The Cardinal being killed with a dog collar seems likely to be a “dog is god spelled backwards” thing. The others, I have no clue on, though the newspaper tycoon’s heart attack with his mistress does make me think of Citizen Kane for no real reason. (Heart = Hearst?)

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

May 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm

D’oh! And someone elsewhere online points out a big one for Oberon being the Joker: Oberon’s from a Shakespeare play, a comedy…and Shakespeare’s most famous gravediggers, the ones from Hamlet, are clowns.

The Midsummer’s Night Dream references suggest that Joker’s goal is to raise Damian as a twisted tribute to Batman. (Casting Joker as Oberon, Dick as Titania, and Damian as the baby.) Or at least, that we are supposed to think of that as a possibility.

heres a link to some speculation to the jokes:

http://forums.penny-arcade.com/showthread.php?p=14771263

I don’t believe they have the cardinal and the collar joke right, thats the kind of joke you can put any team names into.

The sheik one is probably spot on.

The alligator joke….ehhhh, maybe, but it is a joke about how one person is smarter than another.

Not sure what to think about the Kane/Hearst thing.

After the last issue, I will have to do some research to see what I missed. I’m pretty sure Morrison will explain this in the next tpb collection of Batman and Robin. But I like the speculation made by
Omar Karindu and the link provided by jjc. Dunno if we’re on the right track but at least we’re making progress.

Either way, this is one of the best books DC has to offer. Makes me wish that issue 13 would come sooner.

Mr. Q

[...] Batman and Robin #12 CBR.com [...]

This is why I enjoy Morrison’s work so much. Everything is layered and usually far more than it seems. Great review, Brian, and great job piecing things together, everyone.

Naturally, Sexton’s reveal is highly reminiscent of Xorn’s reveal in Morrison’s New X-Men run, which has been on my mind quite a bit lately. The clues behind Sexton’s identity are even more ironclad than those behind Xorn’s (which Paul O’Brien did an excellent job of listing back in the day), although conversely, Morrison developed the Xorn persona a lot further.

“More red, white, and black color combos. Even the next issue preview images are red, white, and black. So’ the cover logo this month, actually.”

Indeed. Is it any coincidence that the current Batmobile and Bruce Wayne Batman’s “R.I.P.-mobile” also have a red and black color scheme? Even the World’s Greatest Detective can let a little irony slip by him (assuming it did– as The Killing Joke suggested, Wayne’s/Batman’s sense of humor isn’t always so far off from the Joker’s…).

capt usa(jim)

May 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I know the Morrison love on CBR is massive, and I have been buying this series since it’s beginning, but the last three issues have been genuinely good. Out of 12 issues so far, the first three and the last three were good, the rest has been…..well less than good to be nice.

I loved the reveal at the end. And have loved the growth of Damian, still hate the characterization of Talia which is massively inconsistent with anything we’ve seen from her in the past. But DC is by far the last company I would expect to have consistent characterization, and their willingness to let their big writers walk over characterizations is well known.

Have to say this was on my short list of best titles I read this week (behind Red Robin, Cap/Black Panther…and that is about it)

Wow, that sounds really, REALLY good. I have to give it to Morrison, this is really turning out to be a masterpiece.

All 12 issues of Batman and Robin are a great read, but Tan’s arc isn’t great to look at. (I didn’t have the storytelling problems that some people had with Tan’s page layouts, but his sketchiness and figures irked me by the last issue. Tan’s Flamingo didn’t look like Quitely’s Flamingo in basic structure and it didn’t work for me.) Morrison made each issue a pleasure to read, regardless of the art switches.

funkygreenjerusalem

May 7, 2010 at 3:07 am

In any case, I’m more interested in any retrospectively clear hints foreshadowing the Oberon Sexton reveal; as Brian points out, the Domino Killer basically had to be the Joker. I have a few, to wit:

It’s also worth noting that no one else other than Oberon Sexton ever mentions a Domino Killer.

That was a big clue for me that something was up.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

May 7, 2010 at 5:31 am

That’s true, funkygreen, and it hidden in plain sight, too!

I’m getting a little confused by Slade’s motivations. A couple of years ago, he staged an entire attack on the Titans just to ensure his kids would be accepted by them. Now he’s pissed about Rose becoming a hero? I think there a writers who are having trouble distinguishing between who the character used to be and what he’s become.

It’s becoming that unrepentant mass murder (Slade, Cheshire, Black Adam) is considered no more of a crime than a traffic violation. Does Dick really think Bruce would really want him to waste time looking for him, while such a person roams free?

I’m not convinced the Joker is the Domino Killer

It seems impossible for the Joker to plant the Domino in #5

The theory im using at the moment is that Dominoes are the calling cards of Hurt’s cronies.
And the reason Toad had a suitcase full of them is that Hurt had done some recruiting

Dick didn’t let Slade walk, he started to beat on him and had to stop as he was surrounded by a squad of well-trained elite assassins with their guns trained on him. Even Dick wouldn’t have taken those odds, especially when he needed to get Damian out of there.

“Not sure what to think about the Kane/Hearst thing.”

The story of “Rosebud” is true. I can’t say if that’s what is being referenced by Grant though.

funkygreenjerusalem

May 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I’m not convinced the Joker is the Domino Killer

Oberon Sexton, The Joker, is the only person to ever mention a Domino Killer.

The Domino Killer is killing Black Glove members.

Whomever is leaving Dominoes, does other things as well – such as leaving the antidote.

It seems impossible for the Joker to plant the Domino in #5

Thanks to Tan, I can’t even tell whose hand that is meant to be in – didn’t Jason kill that person?

I’m sure there will be an explanation – Oberon could have been about, or he’d already given him a domino etc.

The cover makes my eyes hurt. That’s not how you kick and healthy knee does not bend that way.

[...] the meantime, Batman & Robin and Streets of Gotham have focused on the team of Grayson as the caped crusader and Wayne's [...]

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