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Sunday Slugfest: Batman #681

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Tony Daniel (p), Sandu Florea (i), & Guy Major (colors)
DC Comics
"Batman R.I.P." concludes here! The final, heartrending confrontation between Bruce Wayne and Jezebel Jet. The final fate of The Dark Knight, and the horrifying and shocking truth behind the Black Glove! With The Joker, the Club of Villains, Robin, Damien, plus an ending you'll never see coming--this one has it all! (Or so DC’s marketing copy claims!)

Dave Wallace:

Kurt Taylor Lane:

Thom Young:

Dave Baxter:




Dave Wallace:

“Batman: R.I.P.” has been an unconventional superhero mystery. As such, I can’t help but feel that readers expecting a conventional solution were setting themselves up for disappointment. Grant Morrison certainly doesn’t spell everything out clearly in this concluding issue, and those hoping for a reveal that instantly makes sense and explains the entire story for them will certainly find this “conclusion” to be lacking. However, I found it to be a satisfying finale for the “R.I.P.” arc that also pays off a number of elements from earlier issues of Morrison’s run on the book.

Although the conclusion to “R.I.P.” isn’t a simple and straightforward one, the issue is nevertheless surprisingly conventional for the majority of its pages. Following on from last issue’s cliffhanger, the opening of the story gets a lot of mileage out of showing just how extensively prepared Batman is for any eventuality. The sequence in which he escapes from his death-trap is an enjoyable, over-the-top, yet fairly traditional demonstration of what makes Batman such a fun superhero, and Morrison isn’t afraid to take his hero’s preparedness to faintly ridiculous levels to underline the extreme and climactic nature of his predicament.

The writer also reveals a few surprises that cast the “madness” that Bruce has displayed in previous issues in a slightly more flattering light. Whether it’s the reveal that the “Bat-Radia” is a portable radio that has been adapted to become a transmitter that activates a Bat-computer override of Arkham Asylum’s security systems, or the (slightly superfluous) implication that Bruce has created a backup personality to help him through even the most exhaustive attacks from his enemies, there’s a strong sense that Batman is holding himself together slightly better than it may have first appeared.

Morrison also takes the time to check in on other characters in the Bat-family, foreshadowing future developments at the same time that he references elements of his previous issues. The Scout taking over as Dark Ranger is not only a continuation of the “Club of Heroes” trend that also saw the original Knight replaced by his sidekick, but is also a hint that one of Batman’s own protégés could succeed him.

A later reference to wearing a character’s flesh as a disguise is not only a possible hint that greater forces are at work in this story (which I’ll discuss in a little more depth later), but also a reference to the “Club of Heroes” arc, in which the Black Glove appeared to wear John Mayhew’s face as a mask - a scene which could now be interpreted differently based on the hints that we receive about the Black Glove's identity in this issue.

The allusions to the devil and the appearance from the third replacement Batman evoke the future-set story of issue #666, which itself foreshadowed Batman’s victory this issue with its assertion that “the victory is in the preparation.”

Finally, there’s a brief but delicious appearance from Damien, who made his debut in Morrison’s first arc on the book. The enjoyable moment that Morrison provides for him here marks the first time that I’ve ever really warmed to him as a character, and makes me interested to see what role he will play in the post-“R.I.P.” landscape.

Morrison also includes some solid character moments for his secondary players--such as the Joker’s evident displeasure at being referred to as a servant (in the previous chapter), and his glee at being able to play the role of the wild card in the Black Glove’s carefully planned operation.

There are also some clever little touches such as the use of blank word balloons for the killer mime (which adds an element of humour without sacrificing the seriousness of the story itself), or the way in which one of the closing scenes ties into the very first image of the arc in a circular fashion (with Le Bossu’s statement on the penultimate page providing the impetus for the response that we saw in the very first panel of “R.I.P.”).

Whilst the majority of the issue is fairly straightforward, it’s in the final moments that things become slightly more complicated and unclear--and I imagine that it’s these pages that will cause most consternation for those fans who were expecting a clean, pat solution to “R.I.P.”

Morrison’s conclusion gives us more hints as to the identity of the Black Glove, but is ambiguous enough that it is still open to a certain amount of interpretation. Is he Thomas Wayne? Bruce discounts that possibility immediately. Is he Mangrove Pierce, star of the “Black Glove” movie? It still seems unlikely.

Personally, I’m convinced that this conclusion ties into Final Crisis more directly than readers have been led to believe, and that the power behind the Black Glove is directly related to Darkseid.

The opening scene of this issue provides a sequence that’s possibly a flashback, but could also be an hallucinatory/dream sequence. It contains strong hints that Darkseid could be the one responsible for Bruce’s recent troubles. There are references to a “dark master” and a “pure source of evil” that could be construed as relating to the Devil, but could equally refer to Darkseid. It seems especially likely given that the only other project Morrison is currently writing for DC is Final Crisis.

The aforementioned reference to Dr. Hurt wearing the skin of Mangrove Pierce fits with the way that Morrison has used the evil Gods in Final Crisis, too, as they inhabit the flesh of mortals as their avatars. It’s even possible that the ongoing black-and-red motif of “R.I.P.” could be an allusion to Darkseid’s eyes (but admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch).

However, despite my conviction that the Black Glove is connected to Darkseid, there’s still a certain amount of ambiguity in Morrison’s conclusion, leaving the door open for another character to be involved--perhaps even Bruce himself, operating on a back-up personality that’s separate from that of the “Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.”

Regardless of the specific identity of the Black Glove, his closing remarks--“I curse the cape and cowl, as you will soon! The next time you wear it will be the last!”--suggest that Batman’s final fate has yet to be revealed, and that his appearance in Final Crisis (which, Morrison has indicated, takes place after the events of “R.I.P.”) will provide the true conclusion to this story.

I’d be very irritated by this final chapter of “R.I.P.” if I wasn’t already reading Final Crisis--but, since I’ve been following that series from the start, at least I won’t have to pick up any extra titles to see how this story ends.

Incidentally, I’ve been surprised to see so many people refer to this issue as showing the possible death of Batman/Bruce Wayne. It’s pretty clear that Batman isn’t dead as a result of his fight with the Black Glove at the end of the issue, and I’m not really sure how so many critics of the issue have had trouble understanding this point.

The final “Black Casebook” entry is written by Bruce after the events of this issue have taken place, and it would be pretty difficult for any character--even Batman--to write a detailed handwritten account of his own death.

There’s a strong sense of finality to the issue’s epilogues, which show various members of the Black Glove society being taken care of one way or another, suggesting that Morrison is bringing the over-arching story that began in his first issue of Batman to a definite end here.

The final moments of the issue clarify one or two of Morrison’s smaller mysteries--such as the idea that Gotham City acted as a machine that produced Batman, and the origins of the “Zur-En-Arrh” trigger phrase. It’s implied that this phrase is derived from Thomas Wayne’s comments about putting Zorro in Arkham--but the closing image sees the phrase reversed, possibly suggesting a reversal of the phrase as “Arkham in Zorro” (an allusion to the madness that dwells in Batman).

I’ll be interested to see whether the next couple of issues shed further light on the outstanding mysteries that have been raised in Morrison’s run or whether the writer is going to leave this issue as the last word on them.

I haven’t discussed the artwork very much in this review, but that’s because I don’t have a huge amount to say about it that I haven’t said before. Tony Daniel is a very competent penciler, and one that I feel is a better fit for this storyline than many people have given him credit for.

His artwork is littered with clever subtleties that aren’t always immediately obvious. It took me a couple of reads to pick up on the similarity between the three-eyed demon consuming the world in Batman’s flashback/dream sequence and the face of the Joker, scarred by his bullet wound. There’s also a hint of a shadow on Batman’s top lip as he’s buried alive, evoking the moustache of Thomas Wayne.

However, Daniel also manages to be showy and impressive when the moment demands it, making the most of the more obvious “big” moments--such as the iconic image of Batman rising from his grave, or the excellent shot of Nightwing standing at the water’s edge with Batman’s cape billowing out behind him.

As a storyline, I’ve found “Batman R.I.P.” to be very enjoyable. This may not have been quite as satisfying or complete a conclusion as many may have liked, but that’s perhaps to be expected--and can be explained in part as one of the negative side-effects of heavy hype in the marketing of the story.

Morrison seems aware of this possible reaction, and I can’t help but wonder whether he’s seeking to defuse it with his revelation that the events of this story have made it into one of Batman’s “Black Casebooks” (a possible acknowledgement by the writer that the story is meant to be confusing to an extent, with a supernatural element that is difficult to explain logically).

Personally, as someone who has more or less enjoyed Morrison’s entire run on Batman, I found this to be a satisfying finale that paid off a lot of the setup that he has put together over the past couple of years. It’s only a little disappointing for the fact that the story isn’t as self-contained as I expected. I look forward to reading Morrison’s two “epilogue” issues and the final fate of Batman in Final Crisis, and I can only hope that we receive confirmation of the writer’s return to the Bat-universe soon.




Kurt Taylor Lane:

In my review of Detective Comics #850, I remarked that Grant Morrison’s Batman: R.I.P. series is a better read then Detective. The whole idea of Black Glove tarnishing the memory of the Wayne family was intriguing and well paced. This story has been building since Batman #667 with the International Club of Heroes ordeal. A little over a year later, it comes to a conclusion. While I have sung the praises of this well-done arc for Gotham’s champion, I wasn’t too impressed with the finale of it.

This issue opens with Batman lying in a coffin, and then quickly changes to a flashback of Bruce Wayne declaring his acknowledgement of the Black Glove since undergoing the Thögal ritual. Dealing with themes like self awareness and automatic behavior, this issue takes a deeper look into the psyche of Batman--which has been done time and time before. I can understand the need to further examine the protagonist of this book, but I have to admit I was looking forward more to the much-hyped “end of an era” for the Dark Knight.

Of all the allies that Batman had in this issue, from the International Club of Heroes to his present and former sidekicks, the most peculiar one ends up being the Joker. After previously helping them lure and entrap Batman, the Joker is quick to turn on the Black Glove Society.

In fact, by having them focus on Batman’s so-called “Bat-Radia,” the Clown Prince of Crime is responsible for taking control of Arkham Asylum away from the Black Glove. It’s not a complete surprise, however, that the Joker would oppose Dr. Hurt’s plans as he has made many claims that his life would not have a purpose or meaning without Batman in it.

After the Joker stakes his claims on the riches of the Black Glove Society, he exits in an ambulance--only to be sideswiped by Damien Wayne in the Batmobile. I didn’t quite understand this part at all, the whole sequence of events just seemed out of place and almost unnecessary.

After Batman frees himself from the grave, he takes on Jezebel Jet, whom he reveals he never trusted and had been keeping her around in order to keep close tabs on her. While making Batman completely aware of all things around him makes him a stronger character, letting him get surprised and taken advantage of once in a while makes him human. It was almost disappointing to learn that he had known about Jezebel all along, as you could have otherwise felt empathy for him having been betrayed.

After making short work of her, he focuses on a retreating Simon Hurt--who insists he’s actually Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father. I enjoyed this part of the book. I liked the psychological games Dr. Hurt has been playing with Batman, and the line of “I am the hole in things, Bruce. The Enemy. I am the piece that can never fit” was well delivered.

That being said, the final battle was pretty standard and almost a parallel of the ending in Detective Comics #850--with both villains meeting their fate in a crashing helicopter. For all the great pacing of this storyline, this ending just seemed quick and unsatisfying.

Talia unleashing her Man-Bats to take down Jezebel’s plane was an unemotional conclusion for her, seeing how her Black Glove Society seemingly murdered her one-time lover and father of her son. This scene mostly ties in with the speedy way things wrapped up in this issue.

This run of Batman had a lot of positive momentum going into it, and while this issue wasn’t completely dissatisfying, it wasn’t a good way to end a great story arc.




Thom Young:

In the past, I’ve read issues of Grant Morrison’s Batman and Final Crisis as many as three times to be certain that I’m catching everything that Morrison has loaded into an issue. As is the case with solid works of art, each successive reading or viewing should uncover more depths that weren’t evident earlier. I’ve often found this to be the case with Morrison’s work.

The result of my multiple passes through Morrison’s texts has been that I’ve often raised the bullet rating in my review with each successive reading of an issue before I type up my thoughts. Thus, an issue that I might have given three and a half bullets after the first reading may have ended up getting four bullets after the second, and perhaps even five bullets after the third reading.

I tried that approach with this most recent issue of Batman in which Morrison concludes his long running “Batman: RIP” arc. Much to my surprise, this process of re-reading an issue has again caused me to increase my initial rating.

When I first read this issue, I gave it one bullet. However, after reading it a second time, I’m willing to raise it to two bullets. In other words (and in accordance with the Comics Bulletin rating guidelines), I decided after the second reading that the book was not “so bad [that you should . . .] skip it even if you got it for free.” Instead, Batman #681 merely has “flaws in the story, script, or art that make[s] it a waste of time to read.”

I was going to read it a third time to see if it might warrant two and a half bullets, but I just could not put myself through the act of reading it again.

I suppose, though, that I will eventually re-read Morrison’s entire run on Batman--though it won’t be for a while. When that time comes, I might very well suddenly see how brilliant this final issue of the “RIP” story is--and so be forced to eat my words here and write a re-evaluation of this issue. (I doubt it, but there’s always that possibility.)

To be honest, if I had come into this issue completely cold--that is, if I had not been reading the “Batman: RIP” arc all along and was merely evaluating the quality of this concluding chapter independently from the chapters that preceded it--I would probably be willing to give this issue three bullets. Although, according to the Comics Bulletin guidelines, a three-bullet rating indicates: “If you are a collector of the character(s) or creator(s), you won't be disappointed, but you won't be racing out to buy multiple copies to share with your friends, either.”

Hmmm. Well, I am a collector of the creator. Morrison is one of my favorite writers. Additionally, I used to be a collector of the character (for 20 years spanning my childhood to young adulthood). Nevertheless, I would be disappointed.

Still, if I was judging Batman #681 as an independent issue in which I had no knowledge of the preceding chapters of the long-running story, I’d give it three bullets because it is most definitely “an average comic.” There’s nothing outrageously bad with the quality of the dialog, plot, and illustrations--but there’s nothing commendably good with it either.

However, in giving Batman #681 that hypothetical three-bullet rating, I would have assumed that certain aspects of this chapter must be references to plot points that had actually transpired in the earlier chapters (which, hypothetically, I had not read).

However, that hypothetical assumption would have been incorrect.

For instance, on pages 19-20, Morrison provides exposition that is intended to clarify who Jezebel Jet is and at what point Batman realized she wasn’t’ who she claimed to be. However, the expository information provided on these two pages doesn’t actually match up with specific plot points from the earlier issues.

On page 19, Batman narrates in his “Black Casebook” entry that he first suspected Jezebel was part of the trap immediately after she told him, “I want you to know I understand.” However, I don’t recall any change in Batman’s demeanor in any of the earlier chapters that would have clued the reader into the notion that Batman had started to be suspicious of Jezebel. In fact, the final page of the previous chapter (Batman #680) would seem to indicate that Batman was completely surprised by the revelation that Jezebel was one of the “five fingers” of the Black Glove.

Yet . . . I suppose it’s possible that I’ll see a subtle change in Batman’s earlier attitude toward Jezebel when I eventually re-read the story. (I doubt it, but there’s always that possibility.)

I’m more certain of this next bit, though.

On page 20, Batman explains to Jezebel:
Your “father,” Jacob Nkele? Not even related. He won you. He won your mother. A Black Glove wager. Twenty years ago. I know what they did to you and what they turned you both into. I know how he made her die. And how you applauded as you watched President Nkele’s enemies chop him into pieces and put you in his place. I read the letter your mother sent from her cell on death row, stained with tears. I know it’s the only thing you value, the only thing that has meaning in your life. That why I stole it from the safe in your suite at the 4 Seasons Gotham.
Batman stole a letter from the safe at the five-star hotel that Jezebel was staying at?

When was that?

Of course, most of that exposition is for the reader’s benefit--not Jezebel’s. It’s a case of bad expository dialog in which one character tells another what he or she already knows but which the reader doesn’t. Had it been natural dialog instead of forced exposition for the sake of the reader, Batman would have said something like:
I know about your adopted father and your connection to the Black Glove through him. I read the letter your mother sent from her cell on death row, stained with tears. I know it’s the only thing you value, the only thing that has meaning in your life. That why I stole it from the safe in your suite at the 4 Seasons Gotham.
Of course, that dialog wouldn’t have given the reader as much information, and it would have had readers demanding more information about Jezebel’s family.

In fact, the readers should have been shown that information in earlier chapters of the story rather than having to be told that information in this concluding chapter. Unfortunately, I never saw a scene of Batman breaking into the safe of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Gotham City. I’m certain it wasn’t in any of the issues I read--and I’ve read all of Morrison’s issues of Batman. However, I haven’t been reading any of the supposed “RIP” tie-ins that ran in the other Batman Family titles.

Perhaps Batman stole Jezebel’s letter from a hotel safe in an issue of Detective Comics or in Nightwing--or perhaps Morrison just threw this bit in at the end of his story as a way of putting a patch over the several holes that have become evident in the overall plot of “RIP.” After all, he did something similar to this with the way he hurriedly wrapped up the Agatha Christie-styled mystery for the “Club of Heroes” arc that ran in Batman #667-69.

Morrison should have developed the plot point of Jezebel’s family in an earlier chapter. At that time, we would not have needed to know the contents of the letter that Batman took from the safe--nor would we have needed the specific information about Jezebel’s family that Batman turned up in his research. All of that information could still have been revealed here in the story’s final chapter.

However, we should have seen Batman investigating these things--albeit for reasons unknown. For instance, we could have discovered that he was looking into Jezebel’s family by catching a glimpse of information about them on the screen of the Bat-Computer that Batman suddenly switched off just as Alfred or Robin entered the cave. Such a scene could have come naturally after the attack on Jezebel by the Nine-Eyed Man in Batman #675.

We should have also been shown the scene of Batman breaking and entering at the Four Seasons and taking items from the hotel safe. We wouldn’t have necessarily needed to know that they were Jezebel’s items--just the fact that Batman was stealing from a hotel safe would have been enough. It would have been odd but intriguing to see Batman taking up Catwoman’s modus operandi for some unknown reason.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of those types of scenes.

I suppose Morrison might argue that he didn’t want to tip his hand too early that Jezebel Jet wasn’t actually the love of Batman’s life. However, as I already mentioned, Batman investigating Jezebel’s family after the attempt on her life by the Nine-Eyed Man wouldn’t have necessarily meant that he was suspecting her of anything. It would have indicated that he was investigating why someone might make an attempt on her life.

The puzzle pieces of “Batman: RIP” just don’t fit together well enough to reveal the picture that Morrison is trying to convince us we should have been seeing all along.

The type of expository revelation that Morrison used here--in which pertinent information is suddenly revealed to the reader after the fact in a novel’s final chapter--is generally considered an example of bad writing. This poor craftsmanship usually occurs when a writer has a clever premise that wasn’t carefully considered--and so he writes himself into a corner and has to produce a resolution out of thin air that supposedly satisfies all of the earlier plot threads.

Of course, in most novels, the writer is able to revise the earlier chapters in the manuscript before it’s actually published--thus creating a situation in which the resolution does actually make sense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. It’s a legitimate way to compose a novel. Unfortunately, Morrison writes comic books--an industry that likes to publish so-called graphic novels after the chapters have been serialized in monthly pamphlets over a period of six months or more.

Additionally, Morrison has admitted in interviews that he takes a somewhat improvisational approach in the composition of most of his work--and improvisational art (such as jazz) operates under a slightly different set of aesthetics than does conventional art. Jazz critic Ted Gioia has addressed the problem of improvisational art in The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture:
Too often the finished product will show moments of rare beauty intermixed with technical mistakes and aimless passages. Why then are we interested in this haphazard art? What we are talking about is [. . .] an aesthetics of imperfection.
Okay, so “Batman: RIP” may be “imperfect” because Morrison is an improvisational writer and he had to wrap up the story with this issue--and so the sudden revelation of clues that only Batman knew about was all that Morrison could come up with. If that’s the case, then I can see how the “RIP” story fits into this “imperfect aesthetic” of jazz improvisation.

After all, there have been some moments of rare beauty in some of the passages that Morrison has written during this arc, and those moments are “intermixed with technical mistakes and aimless passages.” So . . . should I be so hard on this concluding chapter since it merely falls into the rubric of the improvisational aesthetic of which I am otherwise so fond--especially since, unlike a prose novel that’s published all at once, this is a comic book series in which the chapters are written and published months apart?

Yes, I should be hard on it. In fact, I might just talk myself into lowering the rating back to one bullet if I continue to think about the ways in which “Batman: RIP” fails as a work of improvisational art--for as Gioia also notes:
The improviser may be unable to look ahead at what he is going to play [write], but he can look behind at what he has just played [written]; thus each new musical phrase [each new serialized chapter] can be shaped with relation to what has gone before. He creates his form retrospectively.
The problem is that Morrison fails to properly improvise on what he wrote in the earlier chapters. Instead of spontaneously developing a solution that works with the minimal information about Jezebel that he included in earlier chapters, Morrison concocts a hackneyed exposition around which he can manufacture an ambiguous ending to his story.

He also invokes two long-standing conventions of pulp fiction in general and Batman stories in particular. Actually, it’s one convention used twice.

First, we see the Joker’s apparent death as he plunges off a bridge in an ambulance after being run off the road by Damien al-Ghul driving the Batmobile. Of course, the Joker has been plunging to his apparent death for the past 68 years--ever since Batman #1 (Spring 1940).

What’s interesting about this plot point, though, is Alfred’s relatively blasé reaction to Damien having forced an ambulance off a bridge (they didn’t know the Joker was driving it). Hey! Perhaps Alfred is really the Black Glove and is suffering a relapse of his Dissociative Identity Disorder in which his "Outsider" persona has taken up the identity of The Black Glove. . . . Oh, wait. That ship has sailed. Never mind.

The second use of this “apparent death” convention is the one everyone has been expecting since this storyline began--the apparent death of Batman! Of course, as with the Joker’s numerous “deaths” over the past seven decades, we never see the body. Additionally, some of the narrative in this issue comes from Batman’s “final” Black Casebook entry--which would be difficult for him to have written had Bruce “Batman” Wayne actually died during this case.

In fact, Morrison has gone on record in an August 26, 2008 interview with Dan Phillips of IGN as saying that “Batman: RIP” took place before Final Crisis and that the Batman appearing in Final Crisis is Batman:
IGN Comics: So the Batman we see in Final Crisis is Bruce Wayne?

Morrison: Yeah, Bruce Wayne is Batman. But not necessarily how you know him. I don't want to blow the end of RIP. [laughs]
Of course, in an earlier interview (which no longer seems to be available in its original form on the Internet), Morrison claimed that “Batman: RIP” and Final Crisis were connected. I’m still hoping this turns out to be the case--and that the Tibetan monk with the glowing red eyes is connected to Darkseid in some way. However, I have come to doubt that the New Gods of Apokolips are involved with the “RIP” story.

Regardless, the question of how “Batman: RIP” leads to Final Crisis is supposedly going to be revealed in Batman #682-83--which appear to be the final issues of Morrison’s run on the title despite his claim from three months ago that he would be back on Batman once the “Battle for the Cowl” story wrapped up:
Morrison: The two-part Final Crisis tie-in I'm doing to follow “RIP” is a kind of trek through Batman's entire history, but otherwise I'm not involved with the post-“RIP” projects. I'm very excited to see what Neil does. Then there's the "Battle for the Cowl," which I'm not writing, although I do know who wins. Then after that, I'm back on Batman, and I'm sure there will be a big announcement about what that's going to be like.

Once you see what happens to Batman in Final Crisis, you'll realize how the “Battle for the Cowl” comes about. First it’s “RIP,” and we'll see how that winds up for Batman. Then the two-parter I mentioned goes through Batman's whole career, in a big summing up of everything that also ties directly into Final Crisis. And Final Crisis is where we see the final fate of Batman. (August 26, 2008 interview with Dan Phillips of IGN)
It sounds like a mess that’s not quite coming together the way Morrison has indicated in interviews, doesn’t it?

Batman #681 may have tied up the various plot threads (albeit loosely), but this lackluster conclusion tarnishes the entire “RIP” story. In fact, this finale has revealed that “RIP” has “flaws in the story, script, or art that make[s] it a waste of time to read.”

Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of time and money reading all of it over the past several months.




Dave Baxter:

My one-bullet rating is given to Batman #681--as an entire, whopping, whole bullet, and not an absolute bullet-less zero--because there is indeed a lot that goes down in this conclusion to “Batman RIP.” The events occur rapid-fire, villains rant, secrets are revealed, the rest of the Bat universe comes into play with key roles (at last!) in this, the Dark Knight’s supposedly most dire hour--and, of course, the story ends with the ending that DC really should have kept under wraps (as in, wouldn’t this all have been a tanker-ton more effective if the damn thing wasn’t outright called “RIP”?).

Morrison went out of his way, as he often does, to pepper Batman #681 with clever and erudite musings on the very nature of The Dark Knight Detective, his mission, his motives, his modus operandi, and what these things truly must mean (underneath their surfaces) to us as a culture of readers. Morrison touches upon what Batman, Bruce Wayne, and the entire Gotham City set-up must reflect within our cultural subconscious driven by impossible heroes working within dystopian landscapes.

We’re shown the kind of man Bruce Wayne truly is, and we are shown this throughout--never a page failing to depict the contemporary hyper-real zeitgeist that allows for us to cherish ludicrous characters like The Batman. Furthermore, this depictions spotlights why we thrill and shudder at the concept of a casually immoral, wealth-fueled elitist; how fear juxtaposed with an affluent Bruce Wayne--indistinguishably as upper class as his ultimate enemies in this story--creates an even further unfeasible icon/meme that is driven by our hopes and desires to realize a wealthy elite in our own world that could damn-the-torpedoes work for the common man.

In the end, Morrison concludes with offering the cost, the sacrifice, the true-blue focused mentality of zugzwang, of a mastermind detective and unstoppable warrior coming to prove that his mind and matter can overcome what must be overcome, no matter the price--including the price of his own life.

This is the most cold, calculated, and cruel slaughtering of an icon I have ever had the displeasure of discovering. Morrison marched in, theory and worldview in hand, and mercilessly annihilated every already-established humanist quality and genuine feature of a character and his world. In doing so, Morrison has become the very thing he so vilifies in his meta-narrative epics: those who stand aloof and observe the attachments and crucibles of the human experience, be they fiction or non-such, and with ambivalent moral scalpel clinically cut and reshape an entire dimension of living breathing creations as they see fit, to help themselves propose and test a conceptual understanding of ideas that operate on levels they themselves only grasp in part, but deep within believe themselves to be the superior of.

Morrison reduces the every sincerity of Batman and his stage to thematic generalities--all so he can manage a thesis and treatise on iconic vigilante fundamentalism, how it works in our fiction, and why it has been absorbed into our lasting hopes and dreams. All this exploration took was death and a moral relativism on a scale that can only be called inhuman. There is no pretext of treating Batman or his world like characters that deserve a respect beyond the philosophical.

The character elements of Batman and Bruce Wayne, as long-surviving icons, are waxed poetic page after page--spliced between scenes of Morrison’s villains at long last offering explanation for numerous small, heretofore-unexplained, mysterious moments littered throughout the writer’s entire run. In theory then, this is an issue that should have been intelligent (and powerfully so), and a major payoff.

Instead, we are given a blunt, merciless, and thoroughly disconnected narrative that serves only as an authorial device in two ways:
  1. To at last tie together loose ends, not as a payoff, but simply as a tying-off. In moments that seem forced and rushed, and which should carry more sincere emotional exchange, we get characters that pause the entire story to explain who they are, what they’ve done, and how they’ve done it. This information is not prompted by event or dialogue, but simply given by Morrison because it was time.
  2. To kill the Batman. To bring the story where it was planned to go from the beginning, to slaughter a cared-for icon because it was apparently time to do so, without a shred of this character’s actual character on display, but merely, as an intensely poor substitute, his fictional elements and hyper-real expressions of our culture’s heroic ideals.
Worse yet is Tony Daniel’s art. Hands down I have never seen an “event” story, especially one as momentous as this, left in the hands of so incompetent an artist.

His figures are awkward, his layouts grotesque, stretched, and static--with all dynamic flair failing to achieve anything other than making it difficult to follow the flow of the story. The character designs are blasé, and the faces are hard to distinguish between each other. In the end, this book is drop dead ugly.

So this is the end of the story, and it is an end as dismally produced as the rest--but it is also the greatest offender because it doesn’t justify all that came before it, which would have been its sole saving grace had it been able to do so. There have been less intriguing, less interesting, and less daring comic storylines in the past--and even released this week--but failing to include a single shred of character, drama, flow, and (most importantly) emotional investment, Batman #681 gave us the most clinically-enacted epic tragedy ever encountered. This issue makes this entire Morrison run fall short on every level imaginable.

Pseudo-philosophical approaches should not replace all actual affecting content. The day Morrison remembers this is the day his comics might once again be better than a single bullet.

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