“The Dark Knight Must Die!” (Part Three of “The Island of Mister Mayhew”)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrator: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: DC Comics
Despite the fact that I was half correct in my speculation regarding the identity of the killer on John Mayhew’s island, this issue also left me half confused—not necessarily with what happened but with Morrison’s failure to provide a satisfactory explanation.
Based on the use in the first two issues of the painting The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (which appears again in this issue) as well as the plot of Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None (which inspired the plot of Morrison’s story), I correctly deduced that Wingman (the “Northern European” Batman) was involved in the murders and that he had an accomplice. However, I was incorrect in “deducing” the identity of his accomplice.
Actually, I stand by my deduction that his accomplice should have been Red Raven (or Raven Red, or whatever the sidekick of Chief Man-of-Bats is called). In the previous issue, Dark Ranger (the Australian Batman) left with Raven to “secure the house.” I suggested that Dark Ranger was overpowered off panel, and that he was then dressed as Wingman, and burned beyond physical recognition. I further deduced that Raven’s role was (or should have been) to lead Dark Ranger into the trap.
Instead, it seems that Wingman and his “real accomplices” overpowered both Dark Ranger and Raven—imprisoning Raven in a torture device so Robin and Squire could find him, and killing Dark Ranger, dressing him as Wingman, and burning his face beyond physical recognition.
Additionally, it turns out that one of Wingman’s accomplices is actually John Mayhew—who was supposedly killed before the opening chapter of this three-issue arc, and whose body had seemingly been skinned and worn as a “costume” by the killer (either Wingman or Mayhew or the third conspirator in the mystery) in the first issue.
The trouble is, that none of these plot details are made clear in this issue. We can figure out that Dark Ranger was killed to fake Wingman’s death, but there is no actual confirmation within the text—but that’s the least of the problems.
Primarily, there is no explanation for why Mayhew’s “pelt” appeared to have been worn by the killer in the first issue. Perhaps it was the pelt of John Mayhew’s twin brother. (Of course, if Morrison had suddenly introduced the concept of a twin brother in this final chapter, he would have been guilty of a grand contrivance to resolve the plot at the end of his story—a “deus ex pellis,” as it were.)
Instead, we get no explanation at all. Mayhew suddenly appears halfway through the issue, inexplicably dressed in a Mexican-styled wrestling mask, as “El Sombrero”—which, of course, means his villainous name is “The Hat” when translated into English (and that is what Mayhew’s ancestry is—English, not hats).
The Batmen of All Nations were created in the 1950s, that goofy era of Batman’s history that is probably too late to be part of the Golden Age but also too early to be part of the Silver Age (especially for Batman, whose Silver Age didn’t officially begin until Detective Comics #327, cover dated May 1964).
Still, despite the International characters coming from Batman’s “Goofy Age,” the stories of that era had mysteries that were explained in relation to clues that were contained in the stories. Regardless how hackneyed and contrived the explanations might actually be, at least Batman would explain to Robin or Commissioner Gordon what led him to his deductions. However, we don’t get that type of explanation from Morrison even though his story is a partial homage to those earlier ones.
To tell the truth, I actually expected Morrison to not reveal the killer at all in this final chapter. Christie’s And Then There Were None lives up to its title since there really are “none” left alive at the end of it. All ten characters on the island were killed, and the police were baffled since there was no way for an eleventh character to have left the island.
Of course, I knew that Morrison couldn’t follow Christie in this manner since it would have meant killing Batman and Robin. However, it would have been something for this arc to have ended with Batman and Robin flying away from the island after all of their fellow International Batmen had been killed—at least apparently.
The Caped Crusaders’ conversation on the flight away from the island would have mirrored the epilog of Christie’s novel in which a Scotland Yard police inspector and police commissioner discuss the murders on the island and are unable to figure out who killed the ten guests.
The solution in Christie’s novel finally arrives in a letter from Judge Wargrave, who faked his own death at first so that he could kill the rest of guests. The letter explains that he then planned to commit suicide in a manner consistent with how he had faked his death earlier. Of course, Christie’s contrivance would not have worked in Morrison’s story since Batman and Robin would need to remain alive.
Thus, instead of an “unsolved mystery” that Batman would have to ponder after leaving the island, we get a resolution from “the World’s Greatest Detective” who figured out that Wingman had killed Dark Ranger and then switched identities with him. There is also some sort of confusing explanation about the original Knight attacking Mayhew because he learned that Mayhew had killed his own wife for having an affair. However, that subplot from eight years earlier doesn’t really fit well into the current murder plot, and the connection is not fully developed.
However, despite these “explanations” by Batman, he never explains what exactly happened off panel or how he came to his deductions. Thus, this issue was a most unsatisfying conclusion to an arc that I thought was going to be one of the best Batman stories of all time.
Still, despite it’s flaws, this issue is better than most of the superhero comics that either DC or Marvel (or anyone) is currently publishing. In the end, I wish Morrison had taken another issue to tell the story so he could have slowed the pace down enough to include explanations and/or show us what otherwise happened “off panel.”
In writing classes, students are usually told to “show, not tell” what happens in a story. In this case, Morrison ended his arc by ultimately doing neither, and I expect better than that from him.
What saved the issue for me was the great work of Williams as the illustrator and the fact that the third villain of the arc, the Black Glove, is still at large and his identity still remains a mystery. I still suspect that this character will turn out to be connected to the so-called “Satanic Batman” from issue #666—leaving me with hope that all of the parts will eventually become clear once we see Morrison’s larger tapestry.
What did you think of this book?
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