Earlier today I put up another edition of This Week in Panels. When I was getting the one for Batman and Robin #6, I noticed something odd. A striking similarity that didn’t poke out the first time I read it. At first I was wondering if it was a coincidence, but then I looked further into it and noticed that there were even more similarities. Being that this is Grant Morrison, I knew all of these nods had to be intentional.
One of the things about Dick Grayson as Batman is that he needs his own villain. Yes, he can fight the Joker, but it wouldn’t be the same. They wouldn’t have the magic of Bruce and the Joker as rivals. On the other hand, there’s Jason Todd. Ever since he’s been brought back to life, he’s been wasted potential. Whether he’s Red Hood, Nightwing, Red Robin or Batman with guns, he’s been in one bad story after another. And while Bruce Jones’ horrible Nightwing squandered Dick vs. Jason, the potential is still there. Dick Grayson and Jason Todd are meant to be archenemies. Todd would play off Dick far better than he would Bruce.
So if Jason Todd is Dick Grayson’s Joker, then they need to cement this. Most would consider Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke to be the ultimate Batman vs. Joker story. It’s fitting that the first six issues of Batman and Robin have been something of a retelling of that very story. Let’s look at the two:
We begin with the first three issues with art done by Frank Quitely. The first link is a weak one, I admit. In Killing Joke, Alfred walks in on an unmasked Batman, who mulls over how there’s absolutely zero data out there on who the Joker is. Alfred gives him his dinner and when asked if he needs help, Bruce remarks, “No. That’s all.”
Alfred gets the same blunt reaction from Damian Wayne, though Dick is far more accepting of the service, showing the difference between Batmen. Dick is also unmasked in his Batman garb, frustrated over his inability to find any information on the villain Mister Toad.
Professor Pyg has his own gang of carnival freaks, much like Joker did during Killing Joke. It’s definitely no mere coincidence, as Pyg’s base of operations is the same abandoned circus as the one used in that story.
Pyg shows more similarities to the Joker. In his introduction scene, we see a father and daughter in an apartment. As they go to open the door, expecting someone else, they instead find Pyg and his gang of goons, reminiscent of Joker and his goons barging in on the Gordons. It’s reversed here, as Pyg assaults and physically messes up the father, and the daughter Sasha is left to see the effects and be affected mentally. Like with Joker’s plan, this is all Pyg’s way to make someone in his image. In fact, they literally say Pyg is trying to spread his “sickness”.
Pyg gets Robin as a captive and proceeds to rant and rave like a lunatic and shows him creepy imagery, again, in preparation to make another like himself. Robin, like Gordon, is rescued when Batman drives onto the scene and later breaks through the wall to get the bad guy.
That brings us to the second half of Morrison’s run so far, featuring the art of Philip Tan. The main antagonist here is Jason Todd, having returned to his Red Hood persona. Again, this parallels with Killing Joke, which showed Joker committing crimes under the same gimmick. As an aside, Red Hood’s appearance is based on Red Mask, a character from Morrison’s Animal Man. That has no bearing on anything, but it’s a neat reference.
The similarities begin with Red Hood’s first act. The only trace Batman has to go on is a calling card.
I’ll talk more about Scarlet later.
On a rooftop with Robin, Batman takes Damian’s hood and pulls it down over his face, warning him that a hood can become a blindfold. One of the reasons the Red Hood became the Joker in Killing Joke is because he couldn’t see in his helmet.
Back to Jason, his big plot has very little to do with killing Batman. He and the Joker are more out to prove a point more than anything else. He’s trying to prove the inner-workings of the average human being.
There were even suggestions after Batman and Robin #4 came out that Red Hood wasn’t Jason in this story, but Joker himself. #5 showed the truth through and unmasking and some rather interesting dialogue.
It continues. Joker’s skin and hair were messed up thanks to the original Batman. Jason’s skin and hair were messed up thanks to the current Batman. Not only that, but his hair was further altered by being thrown into a pit of chemicals.
Eduardo Flamingo shows up. If anything, he shares many basic similarities with the Joker: His frame, his head shape, his showmanship and his laughter. Other than grunts, all he communicates with is simply laughter. Scarlet carves up his face at one point and although we can’t see the aftermath, we can figure that the scar is very much like the Heath Ledger Joker smile. There’s even a silhouette shot of him laughing maniacally, which makes him look like a dead ringer for the 90’s cartoon Joker.
Batman and Robin are defeated by Red Hood. He proceeds to strip them down, tie them up and sets up a public relations deathtrap. He puts them on camera and tells the people watching to call a certain phone number if they agree with his stance on killing. If they get a million calls, the camera will show Batman and Robin in their underwear. This is interesting for two reasons. First, it’s a play on the circumstances of Jason’s death. Remember, he got killed by the fans via a hotline.
Second, there’s another Joker similarity. Joker stripped down Barbara Gordon and took pictures of her as part of his scheme. Jason has also taken off their clothes in an attempt to film them.
Speaking of Barbara, the big thing of Killing Joke was how she was shot in the spine and crippled for life. Flamingo does the same to Robin, but thanks to Talia’s resources, it won’t be as permanent.
The dénouement is what made me realize this whole thing in the first place. Batman has Jason cornered. Rather than continue the fight, he expresses that he wants to put this all behind them. He wants to help him. For a second, Jason almost considers it, but he can’t.
The world has already pushed him too far towards his destination. There is no turning back. In his defeated speech about how things are always going to be, the police arrive to take him away. Jason remarks that he’s done what Batman couldn’t do, which is defeat his archenemy by murdering Flamingo. Does he define his archenemy as Flamingo or Dick Grayson himself? That’s up to us to decide.
Now back to Scarlet. It would be easy to have her represent Barbara Gordon in all of this, considering she’s the only major female character and a young one at that. Instead, she represents Jim Gordon. To Pyg, she’s a guinea pig there to make in his image. To Jason, she’s a kindred spirit and a way to show that he’s not alone in who he is and how he came to be.
Yet, in the end, she proves them both wrong. She leaves Gotham and her fake face finally comes off. Though shaken up by the events, she’s able to live her own life as her own person. She and Jim Gordon defy their stories’ respective villains in ways the two Batmen could not.
When the Black Glove arc came out, featuring the international Batmen taking part in a murder mystery, missed 4th Letter writer Hoatzin wrote up a fantastic take on how each of those Batmen represented a different piece of the whole. In Batman and Robin, I’m starting to think that Morrison is going in the same direction, but this time for the Joker. Each villain is a piece of him.
Mr. Toad: The daredevil without any qualms of throwing caution to the wind.
Professor Pyg: The mentally-ill expert at crude science.
Flamingo: Flamboyant and cruel.
Jason Todd: Batman’s rival.
It works out well. The tragedy of Batman and the Joker is that if it wasn’t for fate’s cruel hand, these two enemies could have been good friends. With Dick and Jason, it’s possibly worse. They should have been brothers.
Thanks to David Uzumeri and DanteDyas for assistance.