Sunday, December 7, 2008

Batman RIP: The Devil Is In The Details - Part III

What Is UP With The "Zurr-En-Arrh" Nonsense?

One of Grant Morrison's objectives in his run on Batman was to treat the character as though everything that has come before actually happened to Bruce Wayne.

Morrison was interested in the mental state of a man who had lived through so many adventures and gone through so many seemingly irreconcilable mental states. I mean, seriously - how could the campy Batman of the 60s and the ultra serious and aggressive Batman since Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns really be the same guy?

The answer from Morrison is that Batman has purposefully ran himself through the ringer in order to prepare for absolutely every contingency. It takes a "groovy" Batman to work through the Flower Power generation, so he does that. And it takes an edgier Batman to make it through contemporary America. Batman's not really crazy. He's just covering ALL of his bases.

This journey through Batman's history is where we get Zurr-En-Arrh, a concept first introduced in Batman # 133 back in 1958. The Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh reached out into space and dragged our resident Batman to his strange planet for assistance with some alien invaders.

He wore a costume very similar to the one we see in Batman: RIP and actually had the powers of Superman. After the adventure was over, Z.E.R Batman gave the Earth version his radia as a keepsake, and that device also ends up playing a prominent role in Batman # 681.

I think it's actually refreshing that we have a writer who is looking to preserve history rather than slash, burn, and slap a new #1 on the next cover. I'm guessing it's been a real treat for Old School Bat-files, of which I am not. I read Dark Knight returns like everyone else, and I peek my head into the Bat Cave every now and again for some of the big events: Knighfall, Hush, and Now R.I.P.

My lengthy point here is that I'm not completely qualified to comment on Zurr-En-Arrh and all of it's intricacies, because it wasn't planted there for me. I don't know my history. But I can say a few things about what I saw in Batman # 681 and make some educated guesses. I think it's best to begin at the end, strangely enough. Morrison closes out R.I.P. with what appears to be the origins of Zurr-En-Arrh:

Pretty easy to see why this might be something iconic pressed into young Bruce Wayne's psyche. "Zorro in Arkham" is essentially the last thing he hears with innocent ears, the final bell before his entire world is shattered and he is born anew on his path to The Bat. Zorro in Arkahm. Zurr-En-Arrh.

A few complications arise (at least for me) with this birthing. What bothers me is that both Batman and The Black Glove sort of claim to "own" it. Batman claims to have constructed the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh as a psychological failsafe. When something breaks him down, he's built this backup personality to rise above it.

And that makes a certain amount of sense. Young Bruce Wayne is thinking about masked crime fighters as he leaves a cinematic showing of "Mask of Zorro". His mother then counters his romantic notions with the harsher reality - they'd put Zorro in a straitjacket. And that's what the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh is: a masked crime fighter brought to madness. It all fits.

But then we also have the Black Glove who really sends Batman spiralling down the dark path when he has agent Jezebel Jet whisper the implanted phrase "Zurr-En-Arrh" into Wayne's ear. And that suggests that Zurr-En-Arrh was a tool The Black Glove came up with to send Batman over the top, not a failsafe that Batman created to protect himself.

Could they be both?

I have a theory about that, and it involves the Black Glove as Satan schtick. I believe that The Devil has been interested in Bruce Wayne from the beginning, and I believe that he takes "possession" of people in order to manifest his earthly plans.

It would help explain a scene I didn't particularly care for just before the helicopter crashes, when the Prince of Darkness begins screaming like a little girl:

This is how the "Great Adversary" faces his death? Could a simple explosion even do anything permanent to such a being? It seemed odd to me. Naysayers on the Devil theory may take it as evidence that The Black Glove obviously wasn't Satan, and you're welcome to do that.

But if such a being were a possessor of souls and not the people themselves, I think the scene still fits. When it becomes apparent that the battle is going badly, The Devil simply exits stage left and leaves the real Dr. Hurt (or whoever he is) to take the explosion. That sounds like something the Prince of Darkness would do, yes?

But how does that help us with Zurr-En-Arrh? Well, in that final scene of R.I.P. we see what appears to be Joe Chill behind the Wayne's getting ready to do his inevitable evil.

But what if it was actually The Devil using Joe Chill as a pawn? It wouldn't take much of a push, would it?

Now Satan is there to also hear Martha Wayne's proclamation that they would put "Zorro in Arkham" and at a distance where it might be muddled into "Zurr-En-Arrh". The Black Glove did tell Batman that he was "there from the beginning". Maybe this is what he was speaking of.

Conclusive proof? Nah. Does it make for a more entertaining read? I think so. I think it's cool to think that The Devil has taken an interest in Batman as a remarkable specimen of the human race since he was a child. And I think that Grant Morrison has been inviting us to think that way.

The "possessing Devil" theory allows us a semi-rational explanation for the way that Zurr-En-Arrh gets used by both sides of the equation, and it can explain why Dr. Hurt was acting like such a little bitch before he got blown up. It also makes for a more epic and compelling story, in my opinion. The stakes are higher, Batman is testing his mettle against the highest powers and winning. Good stuff.

Up next: I Conclude With More Good Stuff About RIP!

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