Current Reviews


Batman #668

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007
By: Thom Young

“Now We Are Dead!”
Part Two of “The Island of Mister Mayhew”

Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrator: J.H. Williams III

Publisher: DC Comics

In my review of Batman #667, I said that I only had two small complaints with that issue, and this current issue has addressed both of them.

I mentioned that I was disappointed that we didn’t learn why the Knight hadn’t return Batman’s phone call back in issue #655. More precisely, it was why the Earl of Wordenshire hadn’t returned Bruce Wayne’s call—which is an important distinction.

On page 13 of this latest issue, Batman says, “Maybe the Knight blamed Mayhew for his father’s loss of confidence and subsequent death, or for his own clinical depression” (panel two).

Later, the Squire tells Robin, “Poor Cyril [the Knight] went a bit mental after his dad got done in—trashed the entire Wordenshire family fortune and wound up in the gutter” (page 18, panel three).

Clinical depression would certainly explain the Earl of Wordenshire’s failure to return Bruce Wayne’s call—especially since it was a call from a philandering American playboy and not from The Batman (I don’t believe the Knight knows Batman’s true identity).

In issue #655, when Wayne said to Alfred, “I don’t suppose the Earl of Wordenshire returned my call?” it was with an understanding of what clinically depressed people are often like—particularly if they aren’t actively treating their depression in some way.

Okay, that mystery’s solved, but the bigger mystery of who’s murdering members of the Club of Heroes remains.

The Knight’s depression might make him a prime suspect since it is rooted in a scene he witnessed eight years earlier (shown in flashback) when his father, the original Knight, angrily confronted Mayhew and the Legionary. However, in this issue, the current Knight (Cyril) claims he was forced to swallow a bomb (off panel), so that would seem to eliminate him as a suspect.

Of course, the question then becomes: How was one man able to force the so-called “Batman of England” to swallow a bomb against his will? Could the Knight have killed Mayhew and the Legionary to avenge his father from eight years earlier, and then tried to take his own life while also trying to make it look like another murder?

We’ll find out next issue whether Chief Man-of-Bats is successful in getting the Knight to vomit up the bomb before it detonates. In the meantime, there is the second small complaint that I mentioned in my review of the previous issue.

I said then that Morrison probably didn’t devote enough of the story to identifying the “Batmen of All Nations” for new readers. In fact, that was precisely the criticism I saw in another review and in at least one message board post about the previous issue.

However, some of this issue seems as if Morrison purposefully addressed the complaints that he knew the previous issue was going to raise—even though this issue was not only written months ago, but would have been sent to the printer before readers could have commented on last issue.

For instance, in one message board complaint, a reader asked, “are we really supposed to believe Batman hangs out with these guys?” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Robin essentially asks Batman the same question in the current issue.

On page eight, Batman says to Robin, “When we arrived, I told you I wanted to know what eccentric men who have everything do when they get bored” (panel one).

Robin responds, “So you didn’t mean those guys? The League of Losers? The Batmen Impersonators of All Nations?” (panel two).

Batman then chides Robin for his view, “you’re being unfair. El Gaucho’s a well-respected crimefighter in Argentina. Even the Legionary was great once . . . He lost his edge, took bribes, and let his city fall in the hands of a madman . . .” (page eight, panel four to page nine, panel one).

Commercially thinking, some criticism might be directed at Morrison for not including this type of information in the previous issue to ward off complaints and to ensure that some readers wouldn’t drop the story and not return for this issue.

However, aesthetically speaking, it would be difficult to argue that Morrison made the wrong decisions in how he chose to organize his story.

Finally, based on who appears to have been killed in this issue, it would seem the idea I previously floated was incorrect. In the review of last issue, I speculated on the identity of the murderer—based on his geographical point of origin and the connection it may have with Pieter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death (which is seen again in this issue).

However, two things make me remain confident in my earlier opinion of who’s behind the murders. First, the plot of Morrison’s “isolated island murder mystery” parallels the plot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None—a novel in which one of the “victims” actually faked his own murder with the help of an accomplice.

After faking his death, the killer could move freely about the island to murder the other victims (including his accomplice) without having to account for his whereabouts at the time of subsequent murders.

Warning: Spoilers Below this Point

My following assumptions are not the spoilers (since they are only my conjectures). Rather, the spoilers are what I have to reveal in order to explain my assumptions.

I believe that the scenario from Christie’s novel is playing out in Morrison’s tale—that the man whose face is burned beyond recognition on page 21 is not actually Wingman. The killer (the real Wingman) had to burn the man’s face since Batman would have recognized that it wasn’t Wingman’s face.

I believe the dead man is actually The Ranger (or Dark Ranger) who earlier left with Red Raven to “secure the house.” Later, Robin and Squire apparently find Red Raven in a secret room where Squire says, “. . . Raven? What did they do to—” and where Robin says, “Something doesn’t feel right . . .” (page 18, panel five).

It certainly seems to me that Red Raven is Wingman’s accomplice (following Christie’s novel), and that they killed Dark Ranger and placed him in Wingman’s costume before burning his face. Then, after helping to fake Wingman’s death, Red Raven is captured and killed. However, unlike in Christie’s novel, two of the characters (Robin and Squire) come upon the killing of the accomplice when they discover the secret room.

We’ll find out next issue whether I’m right. Regardless, this is the best murder mystery involving the Dark-Night Detective that I’ve ever read in my approximately 30 years of reading Batman stories (with due acknowledgment to Agatha Christie’s novel, of course).

I also think this story figures into Morrison’s larger plans and that Wingman will turn out to be the demonic Batman of the future who was killed at the end of issue #666.

Morrison’s run on Batman is taking its place with the classic Batman stories of the past. I’m confident that I’ll still be talking about these stories decades from now, and that they’ll be placed on the same pedestal as the 1970s stories of Steve Englehart and Denny O’Neil.

Additionally, with Tony Daniel set to come on the title as the regular illustrator with issue #670, I believe Morrison may have finally found his own Marshall Rogers and Neal Adams. Time will tell.

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