In a chapter titled “The Butler Did It,” Alfred narrates a Dark Knight retrospective as a bridge between the events of “RIP” and Final Crisis.
Erik David Norris:
Erik David Norris:
Not more than a week ago the Internet cracked in half. I finished the final issue of RIP, closed the cover, and saw it coming from a mile away. With Morrison closing his own casebook on his Batman epic he delivered just as many questions as answers. Who is Dr. Hurt? Is Bruce really dead? And I imagine if I really strained myself I could think of a few more ambiguities to Morrison’s final Batman arc.
So one week after “RIP” wraps up, DC releases the second-to-last Batman issue under Morrison’s pen, and I’m sure a lot of fans are going to pick this up to get solid, concrete answers to all the questions still lingering. However, one glance at the cover of this week’s Batman #682 shows that instead of getting a definitive wrap-up to “RIP” you’ll instead be getting a tie-in to Final Crisis.
But the issue also serves as a retrospective of Batman’s entire career, bringing every facet of his history--from the 50’s space adventures to the Adam West era and through the last 20 years of Batman’s super-dickery--into a single coherent continuity. Leave it to Grant Morrison to pull this off while still delivering an issue with a cohesive narrative spine.
Batman #682 also stays in line with what seems like the rest of Morrison’s quota for his run on Batman--show that the greatest badass in the entire universe is nothing more than a man. That’s exactly what “RIP” showed, and it continues here in issue #682. Without intentions of spoiling the issue, Batman looks like he can stand toe-to-toe with one hell of an epic threat.
Another way issue #682 fits thematically into Morrison’s run on the title is with the idea of replacing Batman. Whether it’s just to protect Gotham or to destroy it, Morrison has made it very obvious his twenty-five issues on Batman are about preserving his legacy, whether it be good or bad. It’s another reason why this issue, even if it isn’t a direct continuation from issue #681, is a rather enjoyable entry into Morrison’s overall picture.
The writer does a great job of picking a number of themes for an entire run and proceeds through them from every possible angle. It makes the overall picture much deeper and more rewarding when approached again for a second read-through. It’s one of the reasons I love reading Morrison’s work. It begs to be re-read for all the nuances of his overall vision, which is nothing but a good thing when you’re dropping three bucks a pop on each individual installment.
Accompanying Morrison along this trippy journey through Batman’s history is Lee Garbett on pencil duty. While I’ve grown accustomed to Tony Daniel on Batman for quite some time, Lee Garbett is a perfectly adequate replacement. What is most impressive about Garbett’s craft, for this issue specifically is that every flashback through the different eras of Batman is drawn with a varying style to compliment the era. It makes seeing those scenes channeling Adam West and Burt Ward all the more special with Bruce and Dick smiling ear to ear as they knock out criminals.
With one final issue left to cap off both this two-part story and Morrison’s entire opus, there’s still a chance every loose end will be tied up with a nice pretty bow for all the crying Internet fans. So, does it make me a Morrison sympathizer if I admit to loving this entire story even if a proper wrap-up isn’t given?
Truthfully, I kind of like the idea of everything that’s ambiguous right now staying that way and being left up to each reader’s own interpretation--a Batman story where the readers are left to solve the mystery on their own after all the evidence is gathered.
One last thing, even with all the themes of this issue stretching back to the beginning of Morrison’s tenure on Batman, the people who will benefit the most from this issue are those also reading Final Crisis. Just saying.
Grant Morrison has an interesting time with the climaxes and denouements of his epics in serial storytelling. In some ways--as he often fudges the details--he does better with stand-alone, thematically focused pieces like the story found in this issue. He puts so many parts in motion that major details slide out of focus at times. But along the way, the short stories (or prose poems) that recur in the larger narrative offer a kind of Zen completeness.
Remember the Monsieur Mallah/the Brain issue of Doom Patrol, where their forbidden love just wanted a new body to touch? Or the later horror story where Cliff confronted his own digital reality, as insects chittered? Or the sad and foolish tale of the assassin who couldn't grow a beard? I don't remember what the larger arcs of villainy were at the time, but I remember those poignant, powerful little keynotes.
Similarly, his JLA had some thunderous and raucous collusions of super-villains--including an alternate future that looked a lot like the Final Crisis. However, what I best remember is the episode where Connor Hawke defeated the Key, who'd taken over the satellite. The visit of Dream to the JLA, called in from Neil Gaiman's books by the mind-controlling Star Conqueror.
Morrison was maybe most successful at tying the small moments to the large in New X-men, where he got away with blowing up the school, killing Jean Grey, a magnificent Magneto reveal, the destruction of Genosha, giving Cyclops some steel ones, a bizarre riff on the JLA, killing Darkstar, killing Emma Frost, a silent issue, and a completely superfluous Future Past finale just to not tie anything up. I remember Morrison interviewing at the time that he left things with the potential for radical status quo changes, while also knowing everything he did could well be easily reversed. Since then, Marvel has done a mix of approaches--screwing up Xorn totally, but benefitting from the bitchy-but-heroic tone Emma Frost now gets away with, and Jean is still dead (well, maybe).
The important part is that Marvel waited until he was done to start mucking around with his ideas. So Morrison’s New X-men stands the test of time as a complete work--uneven and full of distractions as it may be. I'm not sure Batman: R.I.P. will.
Despite the fact that this arc represents the most interest I've had in Batman in decades, and probably the longest run of Batman issues ever in my comic book longboxes, it's had a lot of ideas that didn't really quite come off. Part of that problem is the art.
Andy Kubert could mostly keep up with Morrison, but the fill-in artists have not, and the Ra's al Ghul crossover was a diluted distraction. I also think any reference to Bane is always a mistake (except in Secret Six where he's funny). In trying to honor all phases of the Batman's irreconcilable and lengthy history, Morrison hasn't clarified his own version (the smartest guy in any room, and the most focused). This has been a Batman series where Bruce is constantly overwhelmed and on-the-ropes for most of the last year.
And thanks to Final Crisis, it's not going to get any better soon. To tie into the events in that title, this issue introduces a new villain (the unfortunately named and worse-looking Lump) who only complicates the insanity issue. For not only has Bruce been driven crazy, triggering an implanted alter-ego with a Bat-Radia, he's had someone else in his mind as well for who knows how long.
What we see in this issue are the struggles of a mind tearing through tissues of lies, and yet again we need a Frank Quitely or maybe even a Jerry Ordway to do it right. Lee Garbett does a passable Tony Daniel, which means his generic figures just can't cope with the weirdness Morrison needs an artist to call up. It's not unclear so much as too straightforward and plain.
To his credit, Garbett does a good version of an iconic Robin, a pretty good Batwoman, and a passable Alfred (who probably didn't do it, btw). His best panel is near the end, with a look of suspicion on Bruce's face as he figures out something about his dire predicament. We've been reading, it would seem, a personal apocalypse.
For February 4, 2009, DC Comics has scheduled for release an oversized hardback book with the grandiose title of Batman: R.I.P. The Deluxe Edition. The promotional copy for the book states: "Legendary writer Grant Morrison concocts an unthinkable plot: The death of The Dark Knight! Collecting Batman #676-683 in an oversized Deluxe Edition. . . ."
Wait a minute! We were told that Batman #681 was the concluding chapter of “RIP.” It was clearly stated on the cover of that issue. Now, however, this “Deluxe Edition” indicates that issue #683 is the actual chapter that “concludes” the “RIP” story.
If that’s the case, then my review of the previous issue, which I thought was the concluding chapter, needs to be tossed out the window. The problems I listed in that review were based on my belief that issue #681 was the true final chapter of “RIP.”
However, my interpretation of issue #682 actually puts a great deal of “RIP” into perspective. In fact, if my interpretation of this current issue is correct (and I suppose we’ll find out either next issue or with the final issue of Final Crisis), then I will be willing to re-evaluate “RIP” (favorably) in an entirely different light.
However, first a qualifier before I discuss Batman #682.
Six months ago (on June 12, 2008, to be precise) Dave Wallace and I wrote a joint Silver Soapbox column about The Black Glove after the second chapter of “RIP” came out (Batman #677, to be precise). In that column I wrote:
[In] Detective Comics #334-56, [Batman and Robin . . .] were being menaced by a mysterious mastermind known only as The Outsider who was manipulating events and crimes behind the scenes--seemingly knowing all of Batman's secrets, and staying one step ahead of the Dynamic Duo at every turn. Now, of course, we essentially have the same circumstances:Yes, my early speculation was that “the butler did it” (albeit the butler suffering a relapse of his Dissociative Identity Disorder).
A mysterious mastermind known only as The Black Glove who is manipulating events and crimes behind the scenes--seemingly knowing all of Batman's secrets, and staying one step ahead of the Dark Knight at every turn.
Thus, it seems likely to me that Alfred (or perhaps his dual personality, The Outsider/Black Glove) wrote the narrative for issue #663 [the prose story of The Joker]. It has the type of lurid prose that Alfred is drawn to in the crime fiction he reads. Additionally, the scenes that Alfred could not have known about (such as those at Arkham), he could have constructed from his own speculations after reading Batman's casebook about what transpired (particularly since Alfred has been transferring the casebooks from hardcopies to computer documents during Morrison's run on the title).
The narrator has to be either a psychotic Bruce Wayne writing in purple prose or else Alfred imitating the style of the novels he likes to read--and perhaps having returned to his split personality persona of The Outsider.
Obviously, since the narrative is done as a lurid crime novel with horrendous prose, I'm leaning towards Alfred since that is a reflection of his own tastes in novels going back almost 50 years in the Batman mythos.
I also speculated in that column from six months ago that Jezebel Jet was involved in the plot against Batman’s psyche:
I think Jezebel Jet is an evil manipulator who is helping to undermine Bruce Wayne's confidence and sanity--such as when she also tells him in this issue [#677] that she's the only one who loves him, and so she's the only one who can tell him that he's living out the fantasy life of a confused and scared boy who saw his parents murdered. She claims Alfred, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake don't love him. Instead, they're scared of him and so won't tell him what he needs to know.Yes, based on Morrison stating in an interview that “RIP” and Final Crisis were directly linked (an interview which I can no longer locate online), I speculated that Jezebel was actually from Apokolips and might be the sister of Glorious Godfrey (and thus able to manipulate the emotions of others). Then, about a month later (on July 7, 2008), I wrote:
Until this issue, I wasn't sure what to think of Jezebel. However, now I'm certain she's part of the plot to undermine Bruce Wayne's psyche through her abilities to manipulate his subconscious (if she is indeed related to Glorious Godfrey or is the "Jizebul" to Darkseid's Ba'al).
Well, one obvious possibility is that Batman was hooked up to some sort of virtual reality Matrix-type device at the Evil Factory in Final Crisis #2, and that much of Morrison's run on Batman has just been a virtual reality story the New Gods are feeding him.What a difference five months make. After reading Batman #681 as the supposed conclusion to “RIP,” I am now “really hoping” that this “virtual reality” scenario for “RIP” is what Morrison is going to reveal. In fact, my interpretation of this issue supports that scenario--and it is now the only one that makes sense and explains several things that I either wondered about or had a problem with in “RIP.”
The entire "space medicine" isolation chamber experiment could be interpreted as Batman being put in a virtual reality chamber by the "space gods"--and that he's still trapped there. However, I am really hoping that is not the scenario that Morrison is going to reveal.
Okay, spoiler warning! The rest of my “review” reveals specific details about this current issue so that I can discuss my interpretation of them. If you have not yet read the issue and don’t want to have the plot points spoiled, read no further.
What I’ve written here isn’t so much a review as it is an explication of my interpretation of this issue--and, thus, why I am giving this issue a rating of four and a half bullets.
DC’s promotional copy states that Alfred is the narrator of this issue. Additionally, the title of this chapter is “The Butler Did It,” which can literally mean the butler is narrating this retrospective of Batman’s career. However, within the context of the story, we don’t actually learn until page five that the narrator is Alfred.
By the time we get to page five, some readers may have forgotten that the narrator’s opening words on page one were:
I had the most extraordinary dream last night. You were in it.A dream? Well, I guess a virtual reality created by a machine from Apokolips could sort of be equated with a dream--but the question is: How can Alfred be narrating a virtual reality narrative that is being fed into (or drawn out of) Batman’s mind? Hmmm.
One of the things that Alfred does early on in his narrative is speculate what would have happened if something else had entered Bruce Wayne’s study on that fateful night when a bat flew in through the open window. Thus, we see panels in which Bruce Wayne is ready to depart as “Mothman” in his “Mothmobile” or as some sort of “Rattlesnake-Man” (“Viperman”?) in his “Sidewinder” (that has a “cold engine” because, I imagine, snakes are cold-blooded creatures).
Later, Alfred is extracting bullets from Bruce Wayne’s back. (Oddly, these bullets seemed to have penetrated into Batman’s body by no further than a half inch or so, and Alfred was able to extract them with a pair of tweezers.) During this form of “field medicine,” Alfred mentions a few of the other possibilities--including a “free association” conception of “The Phantom Skeleton” or “The Curtain” (if nothing had entered through the window that night and Bruce had been inspired by the billowing window curtain).
Alfred suggested that as “The Curtain,” Bruce Wayne might have been “a stage-themed avenger of evil.” (Why Bruce would want to “avenge evil” rather than “avenge the victims of evil” is probably not a clue; it’s probably just an unfortunate phrasing by either Alfred or Morrison that an editor might have wanted to query.) As Alfred suggested this “stage-themed” hero named “The Curtain,” he extracted the last of four bullets from Batman’s back--causing Bruce to wince, “Oww”--and Alfred to say, “Yes, I imagine that last one hurt quite considerably” (emphasis on “hurt”).
Was Bruce wincing at the pain caused by the removal of the bullet, or was it at the suggestion of him as a “stage-themed avenger of evil”? Did Alfred emphasize “hurt” because of the pain Batman experienced, or was it a reference to the perpetrator of the “space medicine” isolation experiments and the mastermind behind “RIP”? Hmmm.
On that same page, we are shown a scene from Batman’s early career as he enters the laboratory of Doctor Death (with the villain holding up a beaker of chemicals). Of course, “RIP” ended with Batman’s supposed “death,” and the Thögal ritual that Batman supposedly underwent in Nanda Parbat is a meditation that simulates the experiences of death and the after-death state.
Thus, the use of “Doctor Death” seems a touch symbolic. Regardless, though, I’ve always wanted to see this Golden Age villain (from Detective Comics #29 and #30 in July and August 1939) make a return to current continuity. In other words, I’m glad we get him in at least one panel.
One page later, Batman is shown suspended over a vat of chemicals--and two pages after that he realizes, “Doctor Death was supplied by Apex Chemical.”
Six pages later, Batman holds the Bat-Radia that Tlano, the Batman from Zur-En-Arrh, gave him at the end of their adventure in Batman #113. He then places it on a shelf in the Batcave as he says to Alfred, “Sometimes it seems like our entire lives these last couple of years belong in the Black Casebook.”
Note: This device is not the “transistor-radio-converted-into-a-transmitter” that factored into the “RIP” arc; this is the actual Bat-Radia from Batman #113.
On that same page on which the Bat-Radia was shown, we get an intriguing “Elseworld” version of Batman based on a notion put forth by Robin’s reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet--namely, Bruce Wayne as a bat-themed Prince Hamlet dueling with The Joker as Laertes while the Ghost of Old Hamlet looms large in the background.
What’s particularly interesting about this Hamlet scene, though, is that it continues a motif that recurred throughout “RIP”--The Joker’s dialog is all in lowercase letters (in contrast to the all-uppercase letters that are normally used in comics, and that are mostly used throughout “RIP” and this current issue).
Additionally, Joker’s dialog (as Laertes) is all in green letters.
The Joker’s dialog is all in lowercase green letters? Hmmm.
One page later, Batman speculates that all of the poisons and designer drugs that are used by his various enemies can all be traced back to Ace Chemicals--which, he tells us, bought out Apex Chemicals (the supplier behind Doctor Death).
More about chemicals? Hmmm.
One page later, Robin wonders if he would be squeezed out of crime fighting if Batman were to marry Batwoman (who appears in this issue looking like a teenage girl who stands about a foot shorter than Batman, but that might not be a clue; it might just be a decision by the illustrator to depict her that way).
Batman assures Robin that “We’d all fight crime together.” Nevertheless, Robin expresses his distrust of Batwoman and “Batgirl” (which should have probably been “Bat-Girl” since this is undoubtedly a reference to Batwoman’s niece Betty Kane rather than to Barbara Gordon).
One panel later, we get a scene from the story “Prisoner of Three Worlds” that first appeared in Batman #153. Hey! Isn’t one of the Final Crisis tie-in series titled Legion of Three Worlds? Hmmm.
Anyway, in this panel, Batwoman tells Batman (all in lowercase letters by the way, with the exception of the first-person subjective pronoun):
. . . don’t know . . . don’t know what they gave us . . . feels like I’m split in two . . . my soul dying . . . on another planet . . . oh god . . . when our souls die . . we die, too . . .What! The only time this all-lowercase letter motif has shown up before is in “RIP” for The Joker’s dialog and Bat-Mite’s dialog.
Why does it suddenly show up here for Batwoman’s dialog? Hmmm.
However, in the next panel, Batwoman’s dialog converts back to the standard all-uppercase letters.
On the next page, we see a scene from Batman #156 (“Robin Dies at Dawn”) as Batman is being escorted into the vault beneath Gotham City Police Headquarters that was built to contain Professor Hugo Strange’s “monster men.” Here, of course, Batman is preparing to undergo the “space medicine” isolation experiments in which he will also experience sensory deprivation.
Morrison drew a connection between these “space medicine” isolation experiments and the Thögal Ritual that Batman supposedly underwent in Nanda Parbat (in the weekly 52 series of a couple of years ago). Of course, the isolation experiments and the Thögal Ritual can also be viewed as analogous to being in a virtual reality chamber--such as the one that Batman was placed in by Darkseid’s minions in Final Crisis #2.
In fact, at the end of the “space medicine” sequence on the bottom of page 16, Dr. Simon Hurt introduces himself to Batman. Then, at the top of page 17 we see a creature named The Lump who is hooked up to an Apokoliptian chair (it has some Kirby-esque designs). This creature says, “hurt” (all in lowercase letters)--seemingly as a response to Dr. Simon Hurt introducing himself to Batman.
Why would The Lump respond in this way?
Let’s let Mokkari, Darkseid’s primary geneticist and head of the Evil Factory, explain (from off-panel):
The Lump! A new kind of weapon for a new age of terror! Telepathic parasitic hiding among Batman’s recollections in the form of his oldest ally. All the while triggering, sorting, filing, converting memories onto our database, along with his biological material.The Lump is a telepathic parasite that hides in Batman’s memories in the form of his oldest ally? Hmmm.
Hey! Isn’t Batman’s “oldest ally” Alfred? Hmmm.
The next panel is a scene from Detective Comics #328, the issue in which Alfred was murdered by criminals and in which Bruce Wayne then held a funeral for his beloved butler. Here we see Dick Grayson standing over Alfred’s grave and expressing a common sentiment about the death of a friend or family member, “it’s not right not alfie” (all in lowercase letters).
Wait a minute! All in lowercase letters? Hmmm.
First The Joker, then Bat-Mite, then Batwoman, and now Dick Grayson. This lowercase-letter motif for sporadic bits of dialog is spreading.
The narrator then echoes Dick Grayson’s sentiment (but in uppercase letters), “Not Alfie.”
Ah, just two issues ago in Batman #680, Bat-Mite told Batman that he (Bat-Mite) is from the Fifth Dimension, and that the Fifth Dimension is simply one’s imagination. (Or words to that effect, I don’t have my copy of the issue with me at the moment.) In my review of that issue, I speculated that Bat-Mite and The Joker might both be figments of Batman’s imagination.
Essentially, I thought that dialog in lowercase letters was a sign of Batman’s subconscious (or imagination) attempting to send help to his conscious mind. If that’s the case, then Batwoman’s earlier lowercase dialog was an attempt by Batman to tell himself that he’s dying (“on another planet” perhaps--such as Apokolips), and that his soul is being separated from his body.
Here, then, Dick Grayson’s lowercase dialog would seem to be Batman telling himself that something is “not right” and that the narrator of this story (and the person standing by his side in the very next panel on the page) is actually “not alfie.”
Of course, the lowercase dialog of The Lump doesn’t match up with this theory.
However, The Lump is an external entity hooked into Batman’s mind through the Apokoliptian virtual reality machine. He (it?) is not a figment of Batman’s imagination; he is an intrusion into Batman’s imagination.
Thus, perhaps the lowercase dialog in Batman’s imagination is an attempt to identify The Lump through the motif of lowercase dialog. However, that actually only works for readers, not for Batman--so either I’m wrong or there is a slight flaw in Morrison’s design here.
In any event, when I saw The Lump two thoughts crossed my mind.
The first was that The Lump is operating in Batman’s “dream” (or virtual reality) in a manner similar to how one of Jack Kirby’s creations for DC also operated. In the mid 1970s, Kirby created a character named The Glob in his short-lived Sandman series. Along with The Brute, The Glob operated inside people’s minds while they were dreaming. In some ways, The Lump is sort of a “grown up” version of The Glob.
The second thought I had was when I realized who The Lump actually looks like: Matt “Clayface” Hagen, the majority of whose significant comic book appearances (six issues) were published in the early 1960s. (Most readers will no doubt be more familiar with “Clayface II” from his appearances on the animated Batman shows that have ran on TV since 1992.)
The Lump looks identical to the Matt Hagen version of Clayface, and they both can take on the guise of other people--The Lump in virtual reality and Hagen, supposedly, in physical reality.
Hey, could this be an indication that those Matt Hagen stories weren’t “real,” that they were all just Black Casebook experiences that Batman imagined as part of a virtual reality? Hmmm.
Oh, and before I forget--after Alfred’s funeral in which Dick Grayson seems to be warning him that “it’s not right not alfie,” Batman wonders (with Alfred the Lump by his side), “what’s the connection between the chemicals and the crazy people?”
Again with the chemicals? Hmmm.
Hey, Matt Hagen became Clayface back in Detective Comics #298 (December 1961) by bathing in a “pool of strange chemicals” that he found in a cave. Later, in Batman #159 (November 1963), Hagen discovers a way to synthesize the liquid in the chemical pool that gave him his powers. However, the synthetic formula only empowers him for five hours.
(Meanwhile in that story from 1963, The Joker becomes upset that Clayface is attracting so much attention, and so he begins a feud with Hagen. Both begin to commit crimes by imitating the other’s modus operandi. Batman and Robin catch The Joker with the assistance of Batwoman and Bat-Girl, and Batman then impersonates The Joker to trap Clayface.) Hmmm.
The Joker then has some more lowercase dialog in green at the top of page 19. He says that Batman looks tired, and that “sometimes the fun just has to end.” Is this an attempt by Batman’s subconscious to tell him to go to sleep and just surrender to the virtual reality, or do the green letters signify something else is happening with The Joker’s dialog? Hmmm.
Then, on page 20, The Lump says (all in lowercase letters), “dream.” He makes this statement in response to Bruce Wayne referring to “this dream.” Batman seems to be realizing that he’s in a “dream” (or a virtual reality chamber manned by Mokkari and Simyan).
Alfred explains that it’s not a dream. Rather, Alfred wants Batman to focus on a story he claims he wrote shortly after he was resurrected (and cured from being The Outsider). and that he recently uncovered while converting the Black Casebooks to computer discs.
It’s a story of what the world would be like if Bruce Wayne had not become Batman, and it’s here that something gives Alfred the Lump away--as Bruce says:
Yes, and now I’m sure you’re not Alfred--you just gave yourself away. Whoever you are. Whatever this is. I’m coming to get you.What gave him away?
Well, I’m not certain, but it might be that Alfred was referring to transferring all of the Black Casebook files to computer discs. You see, this scene in Batman’s life (the closing of the Batcave and Wayne Manor as Bruce Wayne moved into the Penthouse atop the Wayne Foundation Building) occurred well before Alfred supposedly transferred the Black Casebook files to computer disc (which he was doing during the “RIP” arc).
In any event, in Alfred’s “story” about a “World Without Batman,” Thomas Wayne disarms Joe Chill while Martha Wayne comforts young Bruce in the alley--albeit all in lowercase letters, save for the first letter of each sentence fragment (Batman’s subconscious mind attempting to comfort his conscious mind and affirm that he will overcome this plot against him).
Finally, on page 22, Mokkari and Simyan stand over The Lump, whose Kirby-esque chair is hooked into the virtual reality that Batman is wired into in the background. Could chemicals be involved in keeping the virtual reality machine functioning, or in bringing forth Batman’s memories?
Could all of “RIP” have just been a virtual reality “dream”? Hmmm.
There was a time when I would have been displeased with that notion, now I welcome it. In fact, perhaps most of my speculations from five and six months back weren’t so far off after all. Time will tell I guess.
In the meantime, this issue has restored my faith in Morrison, and it makes me realize that some of the problems with the “conclusion” that was published in the previous issue can all be explained away by having it all have been a “dream.” Mokkari and Simyan are using The Lump (as a Clayface infiltrator who can take on the guise of anyone) to get information from Batman’s memories so that they can download it into the clones of Bruce Wayne that they plan to mass produce in their Evil Factory (Darkseid’s genetics lab).
Oddly (or maybe not oddly), this plot point was also used with another of Jack Kirby’s creations for DC (back in the 1970s) when Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson had clones of the Paul Kirk Manhunter running around as foot soldiers of the organization that cloned them. As with what Mokkari and Simyan have in mind here, all of the Manhunter clones had the abilities of the original.
Oh, one last thing. Dr. Hurt’s first name is “Simon”? One of Batman’s tormentors is named “Simyan”? And a character named Kraken played a role in “RIP” and was also the name of the Alpha Lantern whose body Granny Goodness inhabited in Final Crisis?
This issue of Batman is a strange beast, acting as an epilogue of sorts to the recently-concluded “R.I.P.” storyline but also functioning as a tie-in to Final Crisis.
The story takes the form of a montage of scenes from Batman’s life (some “real,” some “imaginary”), which are eventually revealed to be a product of the machine that Bruce was attached to in Final Crisis #2 by Darkseid’s minions. Morrison creates an effective dreamlike quality throughout the issue--making use of non-sequitur panel progressions and a mixture of serious and absurd moments to produce a destabilising and sometimes confusing narrative.
It’s atmospheric, and conveys the creepy unreality of Batman’s confused memories/hallucinations well. However, it doesn’t always make for the most entertaining read.
The story also ties in with one of the ongoing themes of Morrison’s run: the reconciliation of every single Batman story into one complete continuity. Scenes from his earliest stories are mixed with other moments from Batman’s long history--suggesting that every one of them could have involved the same character.
In mixing up the various iterations of the character’s history, Morrison forces us to remember that all of these stories are imaginary to an extent--the only reason that some “count” and other’s don’t is that we choose to count them as part of the character’s “official” history.
Morrison plays with some other interesting ideas here, too. There’s a return to the theory that the Joker may have an advanced multiple personality disorder that forces him to constantly reinvent himself (accounting for the wide variety of ways in which the character has been portrayed over the years).
There’s also another flashback to the isolation experiment from “Robin Dies at Dawn,” and a reinforcement of the idea that was raised in “R.I.P.”: that Batman may have certain psychological problems that are similar to those of the Joker, albeit problems that manifest themselves in a very different way.
In amongst these serious ideas, Morrison makes room for some genuinely funny moments, too. I enjoyed the way in which Batman’s “problem-solving micro-sleeps” were depicted, in a sequence of panels that demonstrated some great comic timing from both writer and artist.
There’s an odd-but-distinctive take on Hamlet, with Batman, Robin, and the Joker cast in various roles; an acknowledgement of the silliness of the old Joke-faced helicopters that the villain used to ride around in; and a fun riff on what kind of hero Bruce might have become had a different animal or concept inspired him to take up a crime-fighting identity.
Finally, there are a few subtle clues that might play into Morrison’s future work in the Bat-universe--such as the hints at a conspiracy involving a chemical company that might explain why certain types of villain are attracted to Gotham. There’s also an interesting sequence that provides the fictional history of a Gotham City that would have existed had Bruce not become Batman--a scene that plays into Morrison’s conception of Gotham City in “R.I.P.” as a machine designed to create Batman. The negative effects of Batman’s absence here make me interested to see whether things will go downhill for the city in the aftermath of the “R.I.P.” storyline.
However, despite all of these interesting elements, the book does have some flaws, too. By its very nature, the issue is disjointed and illogical, and doesn’t really tell a story so much as it creates a certain feeling in the reader (which may be either confusion or intrigue as to where the whole thing is heading, but which is unlikely to be rooted in any strong emotional connection to the characters involved).
The reasoning behind the structure of the issue only becomes clear at the issue’s end, and whilst it makes for an interesting set-up for an element of Final Crisis, it doesn’t really mean a huge amount on its own. Hopefully the next issue will help to make more sense of it.
What’s more, the story has some potentially troubling implications for the “R.I.P.” storyline. The imaginary (at least in part) nature of the story means that some of the moments that make direct reference to the events of “R.I.P.” contain a certain amount of ambiguity--which may make readers question whether “R.I.P.” is meant to have been a sequence of events that really happened to Batman or are merely a story that was played out in Bruce’s mind.
The fact that Lump’s first word is “Hurt,” and that one of the scientists attending to Bruce is called Simyan (a name with a strong similarity to “Simon”--Dr. Hurt’s first name) may lead many readers to conclude that the villain of “R.I.P.” is one who has been introduced into Bruce’s psyche via Darkseid’s machine. I’m sure a lot of people (myself included) would find that revelation to be a letdown that undermined Morrison’s previous story.
The artwork for the issue is provided by Lee Garbett, who does a perfectly serviceable job, even if there isn’t really any standout visual moment to make the issue memorable. Still, there are some high points--such as the powerful first image that we see of the “real” Bruce’s face trapped inside Darkseid’s machinery.
I imagine that the script for this issue must have been quite a demanding one to illustrate, but Garbett keeps up with it well--keeping things interesting by offering a variety of takes on the characters that seem to be inspired by different eras of the Dark Knight’s career. His Robin seems inspired by Jim Lee’s take from the All-Star title.
Additionally, there are various different takes on the Joker, and I detected nods to artists like Frank Miller and Neal Adams in Garbett’s depiction of the book’s hero.
All in all, this is a strange follow-up to “Batman R.I.P.” that throws up some potentially significant questions about that arc that might make readers question the legitimacy of everything that they’ve been reading about for the past six issues or more. However, it’s a better companion piece to Final Crisis, and one that hints at an epic psychological battle between Batman and Darkseid’s forces of evil--as well as shedding light on Darkseid’s intentions for Bruce.
Hopefully, now that the groundwork has been laid, we’ll see the battle play out a little more fully next issue.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!