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Comic Book / Batman: The Cult

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"There's something very scary going on out there."

"The Deacon broke me, Robin. He starved, drugged, and tortured me... brainwashed me. Blackfire convinced me his twisted outlook on life was right. I just wasn't strong enough to resist him."

Batman: The Cult is a 1988 four-issue mini-series written by Jim Starlin, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, colored by Bill Wray and edited by Denny O'Neil. The series tell how a man, Deacon Blackfire, has created a secret underground cult in order to take over Gotham. He also kidnaps, drugs, and converts Batman in order to use him against the very city he swore to protect.

Batman: The Cult provides examples of:

  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Batman and Robin machine-gun masses of cultists with Tranquilizer Darts.
  • Big Bad: Deacon Joseph Blackfire.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Than most Batman stories of the era.
  • Blood Bath: Blackfire claims bathing in buckets of human blood is the secret to immortality.
  • Brainwashed: Deacon Blackfire turns Batman by torturing and drugging him. It's implied this is how he got most of his followers, given how quickly the cult breaks up after he's dead, and how most former members had no idea what they'd been doing under his command.
  • Break the Badass: A wounded Bruce is captured by the titular cult led by Deacon Blackfire, who drugged and brainwashed Bruce into joining their group and it's implied that many of the other members were the same way, given they scattered once a freed and recovered Bruce and Jason defeat Blackfire and don't remember what they did.
  • Crazy Homeless People: It's not their fault, though.
  • Cult: To be expected with a name like this. Essentially, Deacon Blackfire's cult believes him to be a messiah who was sent by God in order to help them change their ways and save them from destruction. In turn, they believe they're saving Gotham by destroying it, like a modern telling of Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Dark Messiah: Deacon Blackfire leads a cult of brainwashed vagrants who believe he is the Messiah. His mission is to purge humanity of those he deems undesirable — and in his warped mind, that's just about everyone.
  • Disposable Vagrant: When it becomes apparent that the homeless of Gotham have seemingly disappeared, one cop comments that he doesn't care where they went, just that they're gone.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Blackfire tries to get Batman to kill him in front of the cult for this reason. Batman instead beats him 'till he gives up, at which point the cult rips Blackfire apart.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Deacon Blackfire looks clean and trustworthy on the outside, with a Heroic Build and Lantern Jaw of Justice combined with his natty priest's uniform, but he's nothing but pure evil.
  • Faux Affably Evil: As sadistic and cruel as Blackfire is, he's superficially charismatic enough to make his cult members think he's the Messiah.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: An indirect version, as Batman knows not risk Blackfire's totem being a legitimate mystical item and sets fire to it to keep Blackfire dead.
  • Gasoline Dousing: The aforementioned setting fire of Blackfire's totem was preceded by Bruce dosing the thing in gas.
  • Heroic BSoD: Batman has one after escaping from Blackfire's cult.
  • Horror: Part Psychological Horror, part Survival Horror. It makes Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth look like a children's movie at times.
  • How We Got Here: The first issue opens with Batman already held captive by Blackfire, with flashbacks showing how he was taken prisoner.
  • Killed Off for Real: Blackfire stayed dead after the story. The closest he ever got to coming back was as a Black Lantern. At least as far as the universe, pre-Flashpoint is concerned, as he makes his return and New 52 debut in Batman Eternal, which features this story as a distilled flashback.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: A terrific page of close-ups as Batman and Robin don their uniforms with Robin asking "we ready to boogie?"
  • Make Sure He's Dead: At the end, Batman sets fire to Blackfire's totem to destroy it and make sure that it can't be used if it's indeed mystical.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Due to the nature of the story, it's left in the air whether Blackfire has any actual power. Future appearances confirm he does.
  • Militaries Are Useless: The Gotham National Guard is sent underground to deal with Blackfire's cult but are wiped out as they were scattered in three-man details who are easily overwhelmed in the tunnels.
    • A later attempt by Delta Force to enter the now-occupied city results in them being gunned down by snipers, and any armored assault made difficult with all the entry ways into Gotham blockaded.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Blackfire is motivated by his sheer, unrelenting hatred of humanity.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: What Batman does to Blackfire during their fight. Instead of going for a KO Batman makes it hurt by targeting his nerve centers.
    Batman: I go to work on him. I've never gone at a man like this before. I'm not trying to go for the knock out or the kill. I go for the pain. I concentrate on the nerve centers. My aim is to break the man, just the way he broke me. May God forgive me. I enjoy it.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Done to Batman when he escapes into the sewer. Fortunately, Robin knows better.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Batman's defeatist attitude claiming there's no way to stop Blackfire is enough to leave both Robin and Alfred visibly disturbed.
  • Rogues Gallery Showcase: Notably absent. Outside some brief hallucinations of the Joker and Two-Face, none of Batman's Rogues Gallery make any sort of appearance, the story focusing exclusively on Deacon Blackfire and his cult.
  • Sanity Slippage: As Batman's sanity breaks down, his hallucinations become more and more deranged.
  • Shout-Out:
    • From Issue 1, the hallucination of The Joker tells Bruce "he's there to educate him, just like in Sesame Street".
    • "When Don gets older, he wants to be a famous comic book artist. Just like Jack Kirby. That's his dream."
  • Sinister Minister: Blackfire ain't exactly the holiest of holy men, considering all the torture, brainwashing, slavery, and murder he gets up to.
  • Torn Apart by the Mob: Batman defeats Deacon Blackfire by denying him the death he's asking for at Batman's hands, instead beating the crap out of him until Blackfire is begging for mercy. This turns Blackfire's followers against him, as they see that their leader is unable to ignore the pain and sacrifice as he preached, and they fall on him.
  • Tranquilizer Darts: Batman and Robin use hundreds of them during their return to Gotham. They even use them in rifles and turrets. Of course they all cause Instant Sedation.
  • The Unreveal: It's never made clear if Deacon Blackfire's just a con-man or something more. When records of a man named Blackfire show up from fifty years ago, it's hypothesized they could be for this Blackfire's father.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After the above No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, a battered Blackfire pitifully pleads for Batman to stop beating him. This display shatters the mystique Blackfire built amongst his underlings. Not much later, a furious Blackfire orders his followers to kill Batman, but they instead cut Blackfire up into pieces.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Blackfire's hair is platinum blonde.