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The Devil in the Details: A History of Batman-666 (Part 1)


The recently released Super Sons #10 (January 2018, by Peter Tomasi, Jose Luis, and Scott Hanna) gave us a brief future intermezzo that showed an adult Damian Wayne, wearing a trench-coat-style Batman costume, emerging from the smoldering wreckage of the Gotham City Police Department headquarters. This Damian-as-Batman will factor into the upcoming Super Sons/Teen Titans/Superman crossover arc entitled “Super Sons of Tomorrow,” probably providing intriguing headaches for both titular stars—the adult Batman’s younger self (Robin) and Jonathan “Superboy” Kent. How those headaches specifically take shape remains to be seen. But who is this grown-up Damian Batman (aka “Batman-666” aka “Batman of Bethlehem”) and where does he come from? Let’s dig deep, shall we?

 

In July 2007, DC Comics published a single-issue story called “Batman in Bethlehem” in Batman #666 (by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang and Guy Major), debuting a dystopian future Gotham City (dystopian even by Gotham’s standards) in which Batman is dead and Bruce Wayne’s adult son Damian Wayne has replaced him as a trench coat-wearing vigilante with no qualms about using lethal force. Thus, the “666 Future” world of Batman-666 (Damian as Batman) was born. The “666” name derives from both the issue number—Batman #666—and also the heavy narrative themes of devils, Satan, the Anti-Christ, and selling one’s soul that are imbued in the issue itself. This dark future was a key part of Morrison’s long arc on Batman that ran from 2006 to 2013. Visions of this possible/inevitable Gotham dystopia cause Bruce Wayne to rethink his entire mentality and mission, switching from a street-level/local Bat-Family battle plan to an ultra-militaristic global Batman Incorporated battle campaign. Morrison would return to the 666 Future with Batman #700 (August 2010) and Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5 (January 2013), thus making his 666 Future story basically a trilogy of single issues. The 666 Future would also be re-visited a few more times, further fleshing-out its narrative, over the course of the next decade—notably by 666 co-creator Andy Kubert himself in the mostly-maligned Damian: Son of Batman (December 2013 to March 2014), which told the detailed origin story of Damian becoming Batman-666. Other writers (including David Finch, Chris Roberson and Peter Tomasi) would sprinkle-in a bit of sporadic 666 as well, adding their own little nuggets to the mythos along the way.

 

BATMAN #666—”Batman in Bethlehem”
By Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang and Guy Major (July 2007)

Batman #666 gave us our first glimpse into the life of an adult Damian as Batman. The issue immediately tells us that the former Batman was killed, after which a teenage Damian was manipulated into “making a deal with the devil”—i.e. a deal with Simon Hurt—to ensure Gotham’s protection. Damian gave up his eternal soul in exchange for the ensured survival of Gotham City. The nitty gritty details of the deal are never fully revealed, but it is implied that Damian received a “healing factor” or semi-immortality in the process. This deal, as we will see later in Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5, eventually comes back to haunt Damian. Hurt’s manipulation runs even deeper since he works for Damian’s mother Talia al Ghul, who is secretly the one responsible for Batman’s death.

After the backstory, Batman #666 cuts to the future-present. We learn that a shaved-headed Damian, already a veteran in the Bat-costume for over a decade, has long turned the entire city of Gotham into his own personal weapon via hundreds of booby traps. Furthermore, Damian has activated a brand new Brother-I satellite and now uses it as his ultimate surveillance guide. Damian’s main rogues gallery consists of a pastiche of veteran villains and wild new rogues, which he regularly puts away in a reopened super-security version of Arkham Asylum. Damian has already filled the new prison with several super-villains—including The Sphinx, who would later be retroactively added to the list via the New 52’s Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5, and Jackanapes, who would later be retconned by Kubert to be one of Joker’s original henchmen in the New 52’s Batman #23.1. No specific details are given, but Damian also became partly responsible for the death of an unknown person (likely Jim Gordon), which put him at odds with Gotham’s new Commissioner of Police, Barbara Gordon. When former Azrael (Michael Lane) returns to Gotham obsessed with destroying Batman at the behest of his master Simon Hurt, Damian is forced into action. Dressed in his old Simon Hurt “substitute Batman” outfit, the “Bat-Devil” Lane kills five of the top Gotham mob bosses, including Phosphorus Rex, Professor Pyg, Loveless, and Candyman. Lane claims to be the Anti-Christ, sent to Gotham by the devil himself. Commissioner Barbara Gordon thinks Batman is responsible for the mobster murders, but she quickly sees the light of truth. Damian defeats Nikolai, The Weasel, Jackanapes, Max Roboto, and Eduardo Flamingo, during which he is riddled with bullets and set on fire. Despite this, Damian survives, thus hinting at (basically confirming) a “healing factor” or near invulnerability obtained from his deal with Hurt. Much to the dismay of Commissioner Gordon, Damian executes Lane.

Batman #666 was published in July 2007, seemingly out of nowhere, interrupting the natural flow of Morrison’s arc (Batman #665 and Batman #667) without warning or explanation. The reader was simply dropped into the unfamiliar and chaotic territory—roughly fifteen to twenty years into the future from current storylines. Morrison would later slowly reveal—in 52 (2007), Batman #673 (2008), and Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (2010)—that the entire 666 Future was part of a fever dream/vision/nightmare that Bruce Wayne had while going through a strenuous Thogal/Tögal ritual and then, later, while going through Darkseid’s cosmic Omega Sanction time-displacement. The full scope of what the 666 Future was, in regard to its status as a nightmare experienced by Bruce, wouldn’t be known until Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 (2013), six years after the publication of Batman #666! This would lead to considerable online debate over whether or not the 666 Future was meant to be a canonical future or merely a possible future (in both the Modern Age and New 52). It’s very debatable, and—as with much of Morrison’s work—there’s no definitive answer.

 

To add to the mind-blowing nature of introducing a concept six years prior to fully-explaining its connection to everything else, by that point in summer of 2007, we had yet to meet Professor Pyg, Phosphorus Rex, Eduardo Flamingo, Jackanapes, or the Weasel. These characters wouldn’t debut chronologically (both publishing-wise AND on a narrative timeline) until later—some of them much later. Yet, here readers were seeing them for the first time thanks to a flash-forward to the future! Not only that, but Professor Pyg’s first appearance in Batman #666 showed his death! Similarly, our first introduction to Michael Lane happened in Batman #666 too, which predates his first chronological narrative debut, which wouldn’t occur until Batman #672 (February 2008). We also met Alfred the Cat II in Batman #666—well before Alfred the Cat I debuted in Batman Incorporated Vol. 1! The idea of debuting characters BEFORE THEY ACTUALLY DEBUT is a very hard concept to articulate, but if you can grasp it, it’s truly astounding and beautiful. This Morrisonian trick is one of the many awesome “writing games” or “writing methodologies” that you can only really find in serialized superhero comic storytelling.

 

BATMAN #700—”Time and the Batman”
By Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson (August 2010)

Our next glimpse into the continuing saga of Damian as Batman came with Batman #700. Max Roboto—later retconned by Andy Kubert, along with Jackanapes, to be one of Joker’s original henchmen in the New 52’s Batman #23.1—and 2-Face-2 take over Gotham’s new artificial climate control system, causing it to rain Monster Joker Venom all over the city. The majority of Gotham’s citizens are morphed into crazed Jokerized zombies. The double-faced legacy villain also kidnaps an infected infant named Terry McGinnis! Batman watches as a time-traveling Professor Carter Nichols appears from the past and, in a twisted form of suicide, murders his older self. Past-Nichols, distraught at his life of failure thanks to Simon Hurt, has time-traveled to now, killed his older self, and then sent that body back to the past so that the authorities (and Hurt) will think he is dead, thus providing him with a free and unhindered life in this future. Batman rescues tiny Terry, gives him an anti-venom, and defeats the baddies. The inclusion of Terry was Morrison’s way of canonically-connecting the 666 Future to the Batman Beyond future, which featured Terry as the new Batman. Furthermore, Batman #700‘s narrative begins in Bruce Wayne’s early days as Batman and spans hundreds of thousands of years, thus acting as Morrison’s way of also canonically-connecting the 666 Future to Morrison’s own DC One Million future, which featured the Justice Legion (including Batman) of the 853rd century. Having the narrative begin in Batman’s early days of crime-fighting, of course, was Morrison’s way of canonically-connecting the 666 Future to the primary timeline.

Amazingly, Batman-666 and 2-Face-2 were referenced by Morrison himself twelve years prior to Batman #700—in DC One Million #3 (November 1998)! In that issue, the Batman of the 853rd century tells us that 2-Face-2 was cured by Batman, who convinced him that his lucky coin had caused him to make more good choices than bad overall. So, technically, this is the first mention of Damian as Batman—and it happens EIGHT YEARS before Damian’s published debut, NINE YEARS before Damian’s published debut as Batman-666, and TWELVE YEARS before 2-Face-2’s published debut! As you can clearly see, the seeds were being sewn by Morrison for his mega arc way early on!

(I should mention a caveat: The Batman of the 853rd century mistakenly refers to Damian Wayne as the “second Batman” in his dialogue. The term “Second Batman” is a dubious reference, but due to the landscape of DC Comics at the time, who really knows what Morrison was thinking? Technically speaking, even in 1998, Batman Number One was Bruce Wayne, Batman Number Two was Jean-Paul Valley, and Batman Number Three was Dick Grayson. Damian would have technically been Batman Number Four, although Morrison was probably referring to Damian as the second permanent Batman, which actually would have made sense at the time. In any case, this is definitely supposed to be a reference to Damian as Batman in the 666 Future.) Like the writing methodology of “debuting characters before they actually debut,” another great trick Morrison often employed (and with great success) was playing the long game. First, Morrison would write-in a time-traveling character and have the character mention something vague about the future… then, A DECADE LATER, he’d write a fully-fleshed-out narrative arc based on that vague mention!

 

SUPERMAN/BATMAN #75—”Eternal”
By David Finch, Scott Williams and Peter Steigerwald (October 2010)

Our next Batman-666 sighting was in the “Eternal” portion of Superman/Batman #75. Because this short tale includes Conner Kent, it is decidedly only applicable to the Modern Age. (Conner Kent never exists as a character in the New 52.) And while “Eternal” was created by Finch, Williams and Steigerwald, it definitely took place on Morrison’s 666 Future timeline shown in Batman #666 and Batman #700. Not only that, “Eternal” was also linked to Morrison’s DC One Million arc yet again, both because “Eternal” featured DC One Million characters and because it connected with references made in the DC One Million tie-in Superman: Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000 by Mark Schultz. In Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000, it is said that Superman (Kal-El/Clark Kent) decides to leave Earth after Lois Lane’s death to travel the cosmos in solitude for over 68,000 years. Before leaving, Clark appoints Superman Secundus as the new protector of Earth. Originally, Schultz had Clark depart at the end of the 21st century, but Superman/Batman #75 clearly retconned that to occur much earlier in order for things to jibe with the 666 Future timeline. Following Clark’s departure, Damian and Conner vow to meet annually at a memorial statue of Batman and Superman to honor their mentors’ memories. “Eternal” shows Batman (Damian in his forties), who is currently training Terry McGinnis to become the new Batman for Neo-Gotham. Likewise, we see an aged Superman (Conner Kent), who would be knee-deep in training Superman Secundus. Damian also mentions a truce, referring to the fact that he and Conner are currently in the middle of a feud.

 

SUPERMAN/BATMAN #80—”World’s Finest”
By Chris Roberson and Jesús Merino (March 2011)

Superman/Batman #80, which was later re-printed in the DC One Million Omnibus, gave us a story-arc involving old-school Justice League rival Epoch (aka The Lord of Time). Having just been defeated by a young Batman (Bruce), young Superman (Clark), and even younger Robin (Dick), Epoch escapes into the time-stream and emerges in the future where he is immediately defeated by Batman-666 (Damian Wayne) and an also-time-traveling Superman Secundus. (Depending on your perspective and interpretation, this could easily be Superman Conner Kent, although the number two on his chest, along with a later nod to DC One Million in the same issue, seems to point toward this being Superman Secundus. Note that the term “second Superman” is used, which muddles things as specificity so often does in superhero comics storytelling.) Epoch retreats back into the time-stream and jumps to the 31st century, and later to the 853rd century as well. Again, like the previous Superman/Batman issue to feature the 666 Future, “World’s Finest” is applicable only to the Modern Age timeline.

And in 2011, the Flashpoint reboot occurred, ending the Modern Age and starting the New 52 era. However, the 666 Future story wasn’t done yet. Undeterred, Morrison seemingly viewed the reboot as merely another “challenge of writing mainstream superhero comics” for which to deal with creatively. And, sure enough, Morrison dealt with it quite creatively. Due to the character’s status in the company, the main parts of Batman’s past were kept intact, despite an extremely-shortened new timeline. (Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s past was similarly unaffected.) Because Batman’s history was virtually untouchable, Morrison and all the other Bat-line creators were able to continue their ongoing arcs even though the entire line had been effectually eliminated and restarted from scratch. For Morrison, he continued his ongoing Batman Incorporated arc. In clever ways, he made sure that both Batman Incorporated and the 666 Future worked in both Modern Age continuity and New 52 continuity. We’ll examine the post-Flashpoint continuation of Batman-666’s story—which picked up with Batman Incorporated Vol. 2 #5—in our next installment: The Devil is in the Details: A History of Batman-666 Part Two.

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