BATMAN #700 - Can we crack the case?

Well can we?

Like a lot of silver-age detective-themed comics it’s up to us to put together the clues and figure out what exactly happened. Some people would say that most Morrison comics work like this anyway! Nevertheless, this comic is presented as a 'locked room murder mystery' so I thought I'd see if we can crack it without resorting to the annotations websites.

When we read these 'Can you solve it mysteries' in old comics, they are sometimes quite easy, but there are mysteries here that would stump intelligent grown fanboys!

Best not to read this thread if you haven't read the comic yet. I'm not even sure if Morrison is playing fair here and giving us enough info to fill in all the blanks. After 3 readthroughs and some customary Morrisonian head-scratching here's what I've got so far: (You may want to read yourown copy again before jumping into my theories below)


I presume Batman Dick has basically got the solution. He says that the 80 year old dead Professor Carter they found was suicide by time-travel somehow. We see in Batman Damian's story that the corpse is from 20 years in the future. Well and good, but I'm very unsure about the details beyond that. 

The key phrase is where the young Prof Carter, looking 15 years younger than we saw him in the first adventure, says to Damian: 'The Joker took my dignity and he took away my future -- I'm only taking them back.' What does he mean by this? All I see in the comic is the Joker whacking Carter around the head with a rubber chicken!

It seems Carter's adventure probably begins in that very last panel of the first section where he is sitting in the ruins of his lab and starting to study or manipulate his 'baffling box' as the Riddler called it earlier. This box seems to be a different contraption to the 'Maybe Machine', which worked by a hypnotic helmet device. The Baffling Box must be a different kind of time-travelling device and can be seen in young Carter’s hand when he shows up in Batman Damien’s time. The hypno-helmet canonly be used to bring back information from the past – the combination of the Cat Sarcophagus for instance, or Alexander the Great’s brim size.  It’s counter-intuitive to think that a hypno-helmet would allow you to stop a bullet in the past, but Batman’s life seems to be in genuine danger when he is in Egypt, so perhaps he is physically in the past.  Still he wouldn’t be able to bring anything physically back from the past with it.  The baffling box seems to allow Carter to carry things from era to era, like the portable laser.   

Somehow Carter began his time-travelling as a young man, but as the middle-aged character in the first section he seemed to be shocked that things were starting to play out a certain way. Batman Bruce sees him shaking, and he does seem to be in a state of shock.

The Joker's diary seems to be a wild card in all this. The Joker seems to pick it up between panels in the 60s bit. Notice it is very frayed and tatty. It is from the future. The Joker is reading about things he hasn't done yet. The laughing fish from the 70s and the funfair death parks of Killing Joke. How did it get to the 60s? Did Carter bring it back? Or the Joker himself? From a comment by young Carter later, it seems that middle-aged Carter in the 60's then sets about destroying his life's work and the possibility of time-travel. Perhaps whatever was involved with the Joker getting his hands on his own Diary was too much for Carter.  

A final thing I'm fairly sure of is that Batman's conviction that nothing can change the past - otherwise they wouldn't be having the conversation - is shared by the writer. I think Morrison has written this story, as in most of his time-travel stories, with the restriction that it’s impossible to change history.  If you go back into the past, then you have always been part of what happened back then.  We are seeing this being played out in Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne, where clues from Bruce’s journey through the past have always been sitting around, just unnoticed by our heroes until now.


Beyond these things, I need some help. 

How does the young Carter get involved, and how did the Joker take away his life and his dignity?  These are the big elements of th emystery that I can't figure a solution to.

How are his actions in this comic restoring those? 

If Carter did all this as a young man who seems to know all the details, why is it such a shock to him in Batman Bruce’s adventure?

Where is the real Joker when his diary is being sold in Batman Dick’s time (our present continuity.) 

How does the diary get from the 60s to the present and from there to Damian’s future world?  (Of course at some time we could be seeing the diary just after Joker has finished it, when it is ‘new’.)

My big problem is with the scenes of the 80 year old Carter in Damien’s time.  He sems to be dead from a laser, with his shirt open and a hole in his chest from the outset.  Then he starts talking and moving around as the scene continues.  I hope this isn’t some snaff-up between the script and the art. 


One other point about the mystery:

We don’t know if the Joker actually wrote the diary.  Batman (or someone) scoffs at the idea of the Joker keeping a diary, but haven’t we just learned from B & R that Joker has been side-lining as a best-selling novelist for years? 


I don’t think any elements of the mystery continue beyond Damien’s time (Batman Beyond Damien’s time rather, hee hee!). 


There is a lot else to talk about this comic in its relationship to Silver and Bronze Age comics and future iterations of our hero, not to mention its place in Morrison’s current run, but I thought we could have a go at the mystery first.


[This thread is part of the Batman section of our Morrison Reading Project.]

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  • Can I crack the case? I didn't even understand the story!

    Plus, even though I'm a long-time reader of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct police procedural novels and other mysteries, I'm no good at these let-the-reader-solve-the-crime stories.
  • Ah, well. I'm still determinedly avoiding looking up the annotations until a few folk here have a go.

    There's always the possibility that the semi-solution I've worked out above is as much as it's possible to get from the story. In which case, this is a bizarre way to write comics, I'll freely admit.

    There was a lot to enjoy beyond the time-travel mystery though. Seeing the 60's Adam West Batman segued into DC's current continuity, the return to Crime Alley on the anniversary, all the future Batmen up to DC 1,000,000, although I didn't recognise them all.

    I'm not sure how 'up' you are on recent developments, but the 3rd Batman is Dick's sidekick (and Bruce's son by Talia) Damien grown up, 20 years in the future. He has strayed considerably from what Bruce tried to be. Batman #666 was the only other comic so far set in his future.

    If Damien is set 20 years in the future, was that Bruce maybe 40 years in the future coaching the Batman Beyond McGennis fellow?

    As usual, Morrison was trying to do various (probably too many?) different things between the covers of one comic. It was 3 adventures set in 3 different eras, it was a sketchy glimpse of Professor Carter's time-travel adventure/suicide by time-travel, it was a celebration of the post-COIE Batman legacy, and finally it was furthering some of the plotlines of Morrison's current run. The Joker has been pretty central and we may not have seen the last of his diary. We see that the Joker and the Batman have gone through different personas before now, which is a central idea of Morrison's run. Readers who haven't read a Batman comic for a while get to see the Dick/Damian Dynamic Duo in action.

    The other thinhg he is doing is a little 'tidying up' of a continuity issue. The central conceit of Morrison's run has been that practically every adventure that Batman has been in has happened to this one guy. Certainly he's lived through each 'era' that we've seen since 1939. Professor Carter's time-travel by hypnotism was a big component of the 50's Batman's adventures, but this answers the question - why didn't Batman avail of this time-travel technology in the later eras? (Because Carter destroyed all his work and became a recluse after this episode with the Joker, it seems)

    Thanks for bumping this, in any case!
  • You're welcome. I'll read it again and take another stab at it ... I do remember Professor Carter Nichols and did appreciate seeing him again.
  • My big problem is with the scenes of the 80 year old Carter in Damien’s time. He sems to be dead from a laser, with his shirt open and a hole in his chest from the outset. Then he starts talking and moving around as the scene continues. I hope this isn’t some snaff-up between the script and the art.

    The crew at Comics Alliance seem to think this was an art error. Which is frustrating as hell, because if we can't trust that, what else can't we trust? (For instance, is the Joker's diary having actual print on it in the Bruce-era storyline a mistake, or a clue?)
  • Yeah, an issue like this needs total clarity. What doesn't help is that Morrison can be late with his ambitious scripts. Quitely isn't the fastest draw in the west (of Caledonia) but does Morrison bear a little of the responsibility for Quitely's portion being only 3/4 finished?

    If we can't trust what's on the page, then it renders moot any attempt to work it out from the 'clues'.

    But I'm still putting off going to the annotations pages for a few days yet. You know what Damien would say about rushing off to look at the answers to the mystery before trying to work it out yourself?


    Anyway, if only insane people could read the diary (what a mad notion) do you think Bruce was able to read it? I'd say yes. He has been practicing being insane for a long time, in order to understand the Joker. Fake it til you make it...
  • I read #700 for the first (and so far only) time last night. After only one reading I can’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on (went on, will go on) behind the scenes, but I spotted this discussion last week and thought I’d be lazy and let you folks solve it for me! I don’t have any proposed solutions (at this time) but I do have a couple of comments to make. First of all, I can see why the whole “time travel via hypnosis” idea appeals to Morrison. I used to think the whole concept was too far-fetched to be anything other than silly, but the more I read about theoretical physics the more “possible” it seems.

    Second, aspects of this story remind me very much of the America vs. the Justice Society mini-series of the ‘80s.

    Third, isn’t “the Joker’s joke book” a trope from earlier in Grant Morrison’s run?
  • I've begun to look at annotation sites, and it seems that my partial solution in my first post is just about as much as can be figured out.

    I did wonder earlier where the present-day Carter was in all this. As Comics Alliance point out, by faking his death with the corpse of his older self, he is now off the radar between now and his death in Damien's future, which takes him out of the history books/records and allows him to have his own life. That still doesn't explain why he was so shaken up at the end of the first segment, or why he had to involve his much younger self to 'do the heavy lifting'.

    I have a feeling that some of this at least will be dealt with in future issues, which is a bit of a cheat for a 'can you solve it?' mystery.

    Can you expand on why modern physics might allow for time-travel by hypnosis? In layman's terms , rather than 756 lines of complex equations. :-)

    I've just wiki'd America vs. the Justice Society. It looks like fun. I wonder did it read as well as it sounds? I think its a real pity they didn't keep Earth Two. At least there, time and growth and history were all factors in the ongoing narrative, which we don't have in the current DCU.

    I'm pretty sure the Joker's joke book/diary hasn't been seen before in Morrison's current run. I'd be surprised if it hadn't ever appeared in 70+ years of Batman stories though...

    The only oher diary I can think of that has been mentioned in Morrison's run so far was Batman's. Someone says the Joker doesn't keep a diary, and we have found out in Morrison's run that neither does Batman. Instead Alfred writes it for him in that terse, hard-boiled Miller-esque style we've been lapping up for the past 25 years. So who wrote the Joker's diary might be another mystery here.
  • Can you expand on why modern physics might allow for time-travel by hypnosis?

    Me? No, all I meant was that whenever I read even a layman’s article about physics it sounds as much like fantasy to me as time travel via hypnosis!

    I've just wiki'd America vs. the Justice Society. It looks like fun. I wonder did it read as well as it sounds?

    It did for me. It’s nothing less than the history of the JSA revealed within the framework of a trial. The more one knows about the JSA the more one is likely to get out of it, OTOH, I knew less then than I do know and it inspired me to read more. The series was copiously annotated, but via the use of endnotes rather than footnotes. I’ve always favored the use of endnotes, but the current trend is to shy away from annotation altogether. :(
  • Re: Batman #700
    The phrase "willfully unreadable" springs to mind.
  • Mickey McLaurin said:
    Re: Batman #700
    The phrase "willfully unreadable" springs to mind.

    So, DC put out a comic that no-one was able to read?

    What's the world coming to?
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