"Batman R.I.P. (Part One): Midnight in the House of Hurt"
Kevin Powers: 2.5 Bullets
Caryn A. Tate: 3.5 Bullets
Dave Wallace: 4 Bullets
Thom Young: 3.5 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 2.5 Bullets
There was a story-arc about 10 or 15 years ago entitled "Knightfall." In that story arc, Batman's crusade was exhausting him as he was being stalked by a muscle bound, venom-enhanced villain named Bane. Of course, Bane ended up breaking Batman's back. Jean-Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael, took the bat-mantle while Bruce Wayne recovered from his injuries. Eventually, Bruce came back and reassumed his role as Batman. However, shortly thereafter Bruce went on sabbatical yet again in the storyline "Prodigal." This time, Dick Grayson became Batman for a time. It was a nice gimmick, but Dick Grayson has his own adult identity as Nightwing, and said he "never wanted to be Batman again." I also remember that one rumor floating around this website, and many others, regarding the status quo of the DC Universe following Final Crisis. There was the rumor that all the major heroes would be killed and reborn as the New New Gods and their sidekicks would gravitate to the iconic identities. While that idea seems great on paper, it could only work if DC did what Marvel does for Tom DeFalco with the M2 Universe. I guess what I am trying to say is that while I am generally looking forward to Final Crisis, I am wary of what will come after it. Also, looking at DC's continuity lately, it feels as though everything is going in one hundred different directions with no way of really bringing them together. Case in point: "Batman R.I.P." Given the history with "Knightfall" and "Prodigal," there is no need to either "kill" Batman as we know him, or give the Batman costume to Dick Grayson again. It would also be illogical to give the batsuit to Tim Drake because his series actually does pretty well and he's still only around 17. Grant Morrison's run on Batman has been very hit or miss with me, and I've actually been fairly disappointed thus far and, truth be told, the last thing I really want to see is Bruce Wayne die or the status quo of Batman being changed yet again.
I don't see the logic behind "R.I.P." In 52 Bruce had a spiritual awakening, reaffirming his commitment to his crusade and returning to Gotham a "new man." Then it's learned that Batman may have a son with Talia al Ghul. That would eventually lead to the return of Ra's al Ghul, which is fine. But, through it all, the one character I have the biggest problem with, in terms of her involvement with Bruce, is Jezebel Jet. Clearly, there is more to Jezebel Jet than is on the surface, but Bruce has had a bevy of women over the years, and I find it hard to swallow that he'd let this one get so close. To me, Bruce Wayne will only ever have loved two women: Selina Kyle and Vicki Vale. I mean, he broke up with Vicki because he wouldn't tell her he was Batman. There's also that small detail of Vesper Fairchild. Bruce was going to marry her until she was murdered. Yet, magically Jezebel Jet comes along, and Bruce's life changes drastically? I don't buy it. Granted, I have a theory that Jezebel Jet is just part of this Black Glove. There's also the possibility--which is suggested--that Jezebel has ties to Talia. I also have a theory that in some twisted Grant Morrison way Jezebel Jet may actually be Talia. That's the thing with Morrison, you never know what to expect. Even at Bruce's parents grave later in this issue, where I strongly feel Bruce would NEVER take any woman, she asks him what he will do when his mission is "over." Well, isn't that where some of Batman's appeal comes from? That his mission is never over?
Hal Jordan allowed Bruce to put on the Green Lantern ring and confront his parents and move on with his life. Bruce took the ring off and said he didn't want to. That was a defining moment for Batman. He turns down the greatest power in the universe which could have given him closure so that he could continue his crusade. Therefore, I'm pretty sure that Jezebel Jet isn't as powerful as the Green Lantern ring. There's a theory that "love and happiness" will be what "kills" Batman. Well, if that were the case, I think he would have gone the way of the dodo a long time ago. Bruce has been engaged once or twice, he could have hung up the cowl with Selina, and they could have had a normal life. But no, Bruce Wayne will forever be Batman, and there is no one or nothing that can ever really change that. One of my biggest problems with this arc, therefore, is Jezebel Jet, even though I do understand that in the end she will only be a plot device.
I did enjoy some aspects of this issue. Coming off of the fantastic scene between the Joker and Batman in DC Universe Zero, Morrison writes the Joker as downright frightening in this issue. I'm glad the Joker will have a role in this arc, regardless of whether or not he's the biggest villain at this summer's box office. While Morrison's current version of the Joker plays off of the dreadful prose issue he did last year, it's still damned good. Yes, the ending was wildly bizarre and "dreamlike," it was chilling and well crafted, even making me wonder if it is possible that the Joker is actually the ring leader of the Black Glove.
I also really enjoyed the early dialogue between Batman and Robin. I really believe that if Grant Morrison put his "high concept" stories aside for a moment and sat down to write a series simply titled "Batman and Robin," readers might be treated to one of the best takes on the dynamic duo in a long time. It doesn't have to have a complicated plot, just focus on dialogue and Bruce and Tim fighting together. Morrison really does a great job with the Bruce/Tim relationship and when all of this is done, I'd really love to see a simple "Batman and Robin" series by Morrison focusing on the relationship in and out of costume. While Dick Grayson once brought a level of humor into Bruce's life as Robin, Tim brings Bruce "down to earth." I think Morrison realizes this, and the dialogue he writes for these two when they are in action seems to support that idea. I also like the way Morrison writes Tim in regards to Bruce. He doesn't know if Damian is really Bruce's son, and I'm sure this will come into play later.
However, there was quite a bit I didn't like about this issue beyond Jezebel Jet. For one thing, I felt like the story was kind of all over the place. It felt a little bit rushed. "Here's the Black Glove, here's Batman out taking down a thug, here's Bruce and his girlfriend, here's the Joker in a 'dream.'" I felt almost as if the structure of the story was barely being held up, and I'm beginning to wonder if there will be anything to explain motivations or the way things are or if it will take a backseat to get the general premise behind the story out there. To be honest, I couldn't care less about the Black Glove. Sure, it plays back to that "Club of Heroes" storyline, but I have no idea who those characters are nor how they came together, and I'll have a hard time believing in them if that isn't covered.
With that in mind, another big problem I had with this issue was the massive amount of "cop outs" available should Grant Morrison pull a "New X-Men." When Magneto infiltrated the X-Men, ripped the Brooklyn Bridge apart, tore up Manhattan and killed Jean Grey, all while high on Mutant Growth Hormone, I believed I witnessed one of the most insane villain moments ever. That was until it was later revealed that Scarlet Witch altered reality, then that was further doctored to reveal that "Magneto" actually was some crazy mutant named Xorn whom he was posing as. So here, the story could run its course, as it probably will, but if it doesn't go as planned, there are some ways out: (1) Jezebel dies and Bruce is reinvigorated with guilt and despair, falling back into his darker personality; (2) Bruce learns Jezebel is actually part of the Black Glove, which she most likely is, and grows distant from women, becoming darker again. (3) The Joker gets out of Arkham and offs the Black Glove for trying to kill Batman, something he wants to do. (4) The whole "Zrr En Arrh" could simply just be an alternate reality. (5) The Bat-Mite could be altering reality a little bit or Bruce could be having a "What If" dream. Are they all fairly simple and trite ways out? Of course they are, but they wouldn't be the worst things we've ever seen in comics. After all Spider-Man made a deal with the devil.
And what of that first page of this issue, "Batman and Robin will live forever"? There's a theory out there, especially given the nature of future solicitations, which say Bruce will suffer amnesia and have to rebuild himself as Batman. Personally, I'm not sure if readers really need another Batman story like "Knightquest" where Bruce Wayne rediscovers that he is truly Batman and that Bruce Wayne is the mask. Any Batman reader knows this. Do we really need to be beaten with it again? Anyways, the theory is that Tim will become Batman, or Bat-boy for that matter, and Damian will become Robin while they search for Bruce. I'm not sure Morrison will put Dick back in the costume because that's been done and Dick hasn't really been featured by Morrison at all. However, Talia and Dick have an interesting relationship over in Nightwing. But perhaps it is Tim who will die as Batman. That seems highly unlikely as Tim is a fan-favorite and has a very good title of his own. And do we really need Damian to become Robin? In other words, do we really need another Robin? It's bad enough that Jason Todd is running around as Red Robin, and I really don't feel there is a need for another Robin.
Tony Daniel's artwork is fantastic. If I do become disillusioned by the direction of this story-arc in terms of the status quo of Batman, at least there will be Tony Daniel's art. It looks great, is very clear and refined, and really does do a great job capturing the tone of the story and really brings Morrison's words to life. Whether I like or dislike a Grant Morrison story, he's always teamed with brilliant artists, and I always wish I could see a script so I can see just how well an artist brings Morrison's words to life. Tony Daniel is no different. I love the two-page spread of the Batmobile. I love the madness he draws in the Joker's eyes. Tony Daniel definitely brings life to this story, and I am certainly looking forward to the artwork.
Overall, I'm wary of how things are going to go. Of course, it's difficult to assume where a story is going to go, and I will reserve final judgment regarding my feelings on this arc for its conclusion. I can't say I liked or disliked "R.I.P." yet because it's only the first issue, but overall, I'm not the biggest fan of this first issue. There are aspects I love and aspects I don't love, but the questions, rumors, theories, and possibilities that present themselves make me wonder about the reasoning for this story-arc. And I just don't buy the Jezebel Jet love story aspect. Of course, a Grant Morrison-penned Batman "event" during the same summer that Batman may be the biggest monster at the box office will not hurt business, but I'm not sure if the new readers drawn into the comics by The Dark Knight will really be able to grasp what's going on. And please do not tell me, "no one picks up comics because of the movies." I work at a comic book store; we are sold out of everything Iron Man.
It will be interesting, at the very least, to see what Morrison does with this story. However, because I love Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Tim Drake, I can't help but scratch my head and be a little wary of what will come of everything.
Caryn A. Tate: 3.5 Bullets
True to form, Mr. Morrison delivers another provocative, well told, and extremely odd Batman tale in issue #676.
This issue deals with several important concepts in recent events in Batman, including: a concerned Tim discussing Bruce's mental state and Damian al Ghul with Alfred; Bruce and Jezebel's relationship; and, of course, the new Batmobile that a lot of us have seen on the net over the past few weeks.
While no conclusions to any of these aspects have been drawn, a deeper probing has been needed for a while. In that respect, this first installment of "Batman: R.I.P." was satisfying. Other rewarding facets are, as I mentioned above, what I've come to expect from Mr. Morrison: fantastic character development, witty and often comical dialogue, and story expansion.
Normally, I adore the trademark kookiness of Mr. Morrison's trademark style--and I still enjoy it here, but only to a degree. I have a feeling that if I re-read this issue in trade format, it will flow much better. I am under the impression that there is so much story to be told here. The difficulty of having it all flow and fit within 22-page pieces at a time is most of the problem. However, after reading this issue, some of the stranger aspects of the story only served to cloud other more lucid pieces.
My favorite part of the entire issue was when Batman and Robin are in the new Batmobile and roll up on a homeless man in an alley. When Batman rolls his window down, the man says, "You have a very kind face." Batman smiles slightly and Robin says, "When was the last time you heard that?" Batman responds, "There's a couple hundred dollars in the dash."
Now that's the Batman I know and love.
Tony Daniel continues to amaze me by his constant improvement at his craft. I remember his pencils from the days of Teen Titans, and while I enjoyed them then, I have grown to love his artwork now. The colors are also nicely matched to the style of both Mr. Daniels' pencils and the book.
This is definitely a good end result and worth the cover price. Just not the best work I've seen from this creative team.
Dave Wallace: 4 Bullets
This issue of Batman finally kicks off the "Batman R.I.P." storyline that DC have been heavily promoting for some time now. Unlike many of the "event" comics that Marvel and DC have created over the last few years, "Batman R.I.P." feels like a natural culmination of Grant Morrison's run on the book rather than a forced "epic" or crossover, and this issue ties together many long-running elements of his tenure into a framework that looks like it'll provide a good foundation for such a climactic story.
The opening scene feels like the start of a gothic horror movie (even down to the layout of the credits), with cinematic visuals from penciller Tony Daniel in a carefully-paced sequence of panels that lead up to the introduction of the "Black Glove"--the name that has been given to the master manipulator whom Batman believes has been secretly coordinating events in his life over recent months. Morrison adds to the intrigue here, apparently revealing the Black Glove to be a society of villains rather than a single entity. I didn't recognise all of the faces in the group, but it seems that Dr. Hurt (who was behind the isolation experiment from "Robin Dies at Dawn," which has been heavily referenced over the last couple of issues) and El Sombrero (a villain mentioned in the "International Club of Heroes" story from a couple of arcs ago) are both members--adding weight to the idea that this story is going to tie together Morrison's entire run on Batman up to this point.
From there, Morrison shifts his focus back to Batman himself, showing us a chase scene of a D-list villain that doesn't feel particularly significant in the overall scheme of things (yet?), before treating us to an interesting and telling conversation between Alfred and Robin. The issue then finishes with an ambiguous scene that sees the return of Morrison's twisted and unique interpretation of the Joker, who seems likely to play a major role in the storyline.
Even if the book still isn't giving too much away regarding the overall direction of "Batman R.I.P.," Morrison manages to include plenty of nods to those fans who are trying to piece together the writer's big puzzle as they go along. The conversation between Robin and Alfred makes explicit reference to several elements of current Bat-continuity that promise to be important in this story arc, as well as suggesting that Alfred's complete trust in Bruce's abilities may prevent him from recognising out-of-character behaviour that could be symptomatic of another nervous breakdown. There's also the continuing symbolism of the red-haired (scarlet?) Jezebel, who seems keen to distract Batman from his work. Morrison is obviously enjoying playing guessing games with his readers, even going so far as to include the line "Leave 'em crazy clues they'll never work out!" as a further tease, and one that suggests that he might have thrown in several red herrings along the way.
The writer includes other telling lines of dialogue that may give us insight into his creative process, too: when Batman describes his new Batmobile, he tells Robin that "It's not how I saw it when I first had the idea," a line that I can't help but feel must be making reference to Morrison's improvisational writing approach. It makes me wonder whether Morrison's plan for "Batman R.I.P." may have evolved somewhat since his original conception. He also has Alfred say of Batman, "I watch him go through cycles," reflecting the idea that Morrison is following in the footsteps of those writers who have gone before him--even reusing several of their ideas and concepts--and implying that superhero comics are by nature endless, cyclical and repetitive. However, whether Morrison plans to use "Batman R.I.P." to attempt to break that cycle or to simply perpetuate it remains to be seen--and he doesn't seem to be giving anything away on that front yet.
Tony Daniel provides highly polished artwork that gives Morrison's story an atmospheric moodiness throughout. From the foreboding first page (that could mean all sorts of things, depending on how you interpret it) and the creepy opening scene to the more dynamic sequences, Daniel's work brings his writer's script to life with a real energy. I was particularly impressed by the double-page shot of the new Batmobile, the design of which seems to reflect Morrison's own approach to the Batman mythos in its incorporation of design elements of the various Batmobiles from many different eras and continuities. Colourist Guy Major also seems to be well attuned to the themes of Morrison's story, with the starkly effective final pages continuing the red-and-black theme that was established in Morrison's earlier "Clown at Midnight" prose issue.
This first issue of "Batman R.I.P." doesn't provide a big bang opening that will grab readers from the off, and I'm sure that those of us who have been reading Morrison's Batman since the beginning will appreciate it more than those readers who have jumped on board due to the hype that this storyline has received. Still, I'm sure that everyone who picks up this book will be able to appreciate the quality of the artwork and the palpable atmosphere of impending doom that the issue manages to create. Hopefully, that will be enough to convince even casual readers to stick around for the next issue to see where Morrison is going with this story.
Thom Young: 3.5 Bullets
This issue is being billed as part one of Morrison's "Batman R.I.P." storyline--planned for six issues in Batman but now also crossing over into the other Batman Family titles (though the primary story is still supposed to be contained in Batman).
As a "first issue" of a new story arc, it mostly works despite the presence of scenes that are more accessible if you've read Morrison' entire run on the title. Those scenes include:
- Batman taking off his cowl and cape (and shirt, of course) when he greets Jezebel Jet in his bedroom at Wayne Manor (she figured out Bruce Wayne's secret last issue in a plot development that seemed to come along way too quickly considering how little time Morrison had actually devoted to the Bruce and Jezebel relationship),
- A reference to Batman having "died for four minutes" at the end of issue #673 (and the beginning of #674, when he was revived and tortured by the third imposter Batman),
- The debut of the new Batmobile that had been promised since Morrison's first issue, but which was very anticlimactic here with even Batman admitting, "It's not how I saw it when I first had the idea" (perhaps the change of illustrators from Andy Kubert to Tony Daniel had something to do with Batman's vision not being realized),
- References to the Thögal meditation ritual that he underwent in a cave in Nanda Parbat during 52 (written by Morrison) and to the isolation experiments he underwent in the name of "space medicine" in Batman #156 (written by Bill Finger in 1963),
- A reference to whether Damian al Ghul actually does or doesn't share any DNA with Bruce (which goes back to Morrison's first issue on the title), and
- A reference to the master criminal known as "the Black Glove" whom Batman has become fixated on since being revived after his four minutes of death (a fixation that we have been told about in both this and the previous issue but which we have not actually been shown).
However, at its core, this issue really isn't an "introduction" to the new arc. It's simply another chapter in the episodic novel that is Morrison's entire run on the series (minus the two issues that were given over to the "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" event that ran through the various Batman Family titles).
As the latest chapter in that episodic novel, this issue is unremarkable--which is not to say it's bad. Not every chapter of a novel needs to be remarkable. Stories have rhythms, and there must be downbeats to counterpoint the upbeats. Nevertheless, this chapter isn't without its intrigue. It contains an all-too-convenient lead for Batman to follow as Jezebel shows him an invitation they received to the Black Glove Society.
It also contains a fairly decent chase scene in which Batman and Robin take their new Batmobile out on test drive and end up running down a goofball in a Lincoln (wearing a homemade "Green Vulture" costume) who seems to be trying to kidnap a wealthy couple and their young son--an apparent allusion to Bruce Wayne's own traumatic childhood, but with an obviously different outcome.
And let's not forget that this issue also has a shirtless Batman kissing Jezebel Jet in his bedroom.
The image would seem to be a visual allusion to the scene that Neal Adams drew at the end of Batman #244 in 1972 in which a shirtless Batman passionately kissed Talia al Ghul after defeating her father in combat. Unfortunately, the illustration in this current issue by Tony Daniel doesn't have the same raw sexual energy of Adams's drawing from 36 years ago--partly because there is no sense of energy such as there is in Adams's drawing in which Batman pulls Talia to him in a quick sweeping motion.
With that kiss--Batman shirtless in his bedroom with the sheets draping down to the floor and Jezebel's hair flowing behind her--Daniel had an opportunity to make this otherwise-quiet issue as memorable as any issue starring the Dark Knight. It could have been as memorable a kiss as the one Adams drew of Batman and Talia, but Daniel struck out.
Similarly, the two-page spread of the new Batmobile was another opportunity to dazzle the reader.
However, Batman's new car appears to be simply an altered version of Acura's Advanced Sports Car Concept--albeit with bat-insignia hubcaps and a bat-head hood ornament.
Granted, the Acura concept car is very cool (or is that "boss"), if you go in for that sort of thing, but it's hardly what I (or Batman) was expecting the new Batmobile to look like when Morrison first referenced that the car was in production (under a tarp) almost two years ago in Batman #655.
Fortunately, Daniel did a better job with his opening splash page of Batman and Robin staring down from an urban rooftop into the streets below (not a homerun for Daniel, but at least a base hit). That opening image is a variation on the pin-up poster image that goes back at least as far as Carmine Infantino's famous pin-up shot from the 1960s. I would imagine that there's probably a similar pin-up poster (of both Batman and Robin) by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson from a 1940s issue.
Countless Batman illustrators have given us variations of this image over the years--including Marshall Rogers, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, et cetera. In fact, the only major Batman illustrator I can think of who I don't believe gave us a version of this iconic image is Neal Adams.
Daniel does a good job with his version of this iconic scene. Unfortunately, though, most of the detail is lost in the heavily inked "shadows" of his illustration. Additionally, the overall mood of the image is greatly reduced by the bright, bold yellow and red lettering inside a large word balloon at the top of the page--declaring: "You're wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!"
Hey hey, my my. Batman and Robin will never die! There's more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey hey, my my. The King is gone, but he's not forgotten. Is this the story of a Johnny Rotten?
But I digress. There were actually three scenes that I liked a great deal in this issue. The first is the introduction of Le Bossu to the Black Glove Society (or Club of Villains, or whatever they're called).
"Le Bossu" means "the hunchback" in French, and the character who is known here as Monsieur Le Bossu (Mister The Hunchback) is indeed a hunchback who seems to have stepped straight out of the 18th century into a meeting of the villainous club being led by Dr. Simon Hurt (whom Morrison has retroactively identified as the lead researcher from the 1963 space medicine isolation experiments).
During his run on X-Men, Morrison introduced a character named Fantomex whom he essentially lifted from a series of French crime novels that began publication in 1911. In that case, the original French character was a pulp villain named Fantomas. In this case, Le Bossu was the first French roman de cape et d’épée (novel of cape and sword) that was serialized in 1858 (though set in 1699).
Morrison's Le Bossu may or may not be the same character as the protagonist of the French swashbuckling novel (though clothing and carriages in the scene in which he is introduced have a 17th century look to them). In the French novel, the hunchback is merely a disguise assumed by Henri Lagardère, a chevalier (or knight) who disguises himself as le Bossu in order to infiltrate the villain's court.
Now, if you're jumping to the conclusion that Morrison's Le Bossu is actually Batman (the Dark Knight) in disguise in order to infiltrate Black Glove's court, don't be so sure. The scene in this issue is a flashback that took place "Six Months Earlier"--before Batman was even supposed to know of the Black Glove (unless, of course, Bruce "Batman" Wayne is suffering from multiple personality disorder and is also the Black Glove as well as Le Bossu—-unbeknownst to his other personalities).
The issue ends with another of my three favorite scenes as Le Bossu helps break the Joker out of Arkham Asylum (or at least the voice of Le Bossu extends an invitation to the Joker while he is breaking himself out of Arkham). The Joker's madness, and the parallels to the events in Batman #663 (the prose issue in which Morrison redefined the Joker) are both well written and well drawn.
These two scenes with Le Bossu show great promise--the allusion to 19th-century French swashbucklers (set in the 18th century) and the Joker being invited to join Black Glove's Club of Villains. They are clearly setting up what should be a great story that will unfold in the issues to come.
The third scene in this issue that I enjoyed a great deal was the conversation between Alfred and Robin as they descended the stairs into the cave after leaving Bruce and Jezebel alone in the master bedroom.
In this scene, Robin questions Batman's mental stability after having undergone a near-death experience with his "four minutes of death," the Thögal meditation ritual in Nanda Parbat (which is itself a near-death experience of a sort), and the "space medicine isolation experiments" that resulted in Batman having hallucinations.
In response to Robin's concerns, Alfred explains, "Master Bruce has a very clear idea of human perfection towards which he constantly strives, you understand." In listing these steps towards perfection, Alfred mentions "the logical and deductive skills of master philosophers [. . . and] the understanding, discrimination, and moral clarity of ultimate Zen adepts."
However, no one truly attains "perfection," and Batman's constant striving towards an unattainable goal is likely to have repercussions on his mental state despite his training (and so Robin's concerns are justified). I'll have more on the possible mental breakdown of Bruce Wayne and the possible identity of the Black Glove in an upcoming Silver Soapbox column--and, no, I'm not claiming that Bruce Wayne is the Black Glove (though he might be).
Anyway, there are times throughout this extended novel when Morrison's pacing has stumbled--such as wrapping up the Club of Heroes murder mystery (in issue #669) without Batman explaining the logic behind his conclusions as well as the decision to skip over the gossip-column intrigue of Bruce Wayne ending up in a downtown Gotham City dumpster due to a parachuting accident (at the end of issue #664).
However, in both of those cases, I believe the deadline pressures of having particular issues published in conjunction with "big events" caused Morrison to rush the pace of his own story--"The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" in the former instance, and the upcoming Final Crisis event in the latter instance.
Thus, there have been a few flaws throughout the series (and this issue isn't perfect either). Nevertheless, Morrison's ongoing novel (as well as this issue) provides enough intrigue to justify everyone continuing to read the story as it unfolds. It's the best Batman story in the regular ongoing monthly titles in twenty years, and I'm very thankful for that.
What did you think of this book?
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