Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trade Waiting - Batman R.I.P.

Before I get into the review, I think DC made two big mistakes when promoting Batman R.I.P., which I think lead to some of the problems that people had with the story. First, they didn't make it clear that it was the culmination of all of Morrison's work on the title to that point. R.I.P. is the third part of a story, with Batman and Son being the first and Batman: The Black Glove being the second. Of course, R.I.P. is only the halfway point of five part story with Batman and Robin making up part four and presumably the return of Bruce Wayne making up part give. Morrison never intended R.I.P. to be a stand alone story and DC failed to effectively get that point across.

Secondly, and this kind of ties into the first, there were the tie-ins. From what I've read, none of them properly fit into the story Morrison was telling and I think they also created some false expectations of what R.I.P would be.

Finally, I am going to touch on some subjects in the review that I won't go in depth on since I am planning to do a another post later about Morrison, R.I.P., Final Crisis and all that stuff. Anyway, hit the jump for my review of Batman R.I.P.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Tony Daniel and Lee Garbett
Collects Batman #676-683 and material from DC Universe 0

Batman R.I.P. is the culmination of Morrison's run on Batman to this point and, as such, deals with characters and themes that have appeared throughout Morrison's work on the title.

One of the overriding themes of Morrison's Batman, and R.I.P. in particular, is does this all make sense or is Bruce Wayne and Batman just simply insane? Morrison answers this through two key elements - the Joker and the Silver Age elements that appear in the story.

While the Silver Age elements play a part in the story, you don't actually need to know the back stories behind them since their only function is to show the absurd contradictions of Batman's history; from starting out as a gun toting vigilante to being engulfed in the Silver Age wackiness to the sociopath from The Dark Knight Returns and to becoming a paranoid schemer who doesn't trust his own friends from around the time of Infinite Crisis.

Morrison is working most of Batman's history as a comic book character into his story, not by making it all continuity, but by working parts of it into other stories that are in continuity. For example, the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh is simply the fevered hallucination from one of his many adventures instead of being a super being from another planet. It is part of the Morrison's story of just how can someone who has experienced all of the things that Bruce has, whether they be real or not, survive it all both mentally and physically.

How Bruce survives is related to another theme and plot point from Morrison's work. Batman is prepared for everything, which relates back to the Joker and his insanity. One of the things Morrison keeps mentioning is that Bruce thinks that if he digs deep enough and keeps going he can eventually figure out the Joker and finally make sense of it all. Of course, it ends in the ultimate irony that no matter how hard he tries, Bruce will never be able to figure out the Joker since it just doesn't make sense and that the only person who understands Batman is the Joker.

Morrison mentions that Bruce worries about what might happen if he keeps pushing and therefore has to be ready for anything that could happen since he has no idea what will happen when going up against someone like the Joker. Although this is done throughout Morrison's run and R.I.P., with the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh in particular, it really comes to forefront in the final issue of R.I.P. and its two epilogue issues.

Here, Batman had not only correctly guessed what the Black Glove was going to do, but he over came pure evil itself. This has always been part of Batman's character but Morrison takes it to the next level. Of course, whether or not you accept this depends on if you like Morrison's explanation, which I do. Basically, it is his drive and determination that allow him to over come anything, which is motivated by the tragedy of his childhood.

The final theme that Morrison was working on was reestablishing the equilibrium between Batman and Bruce Wayne. He has been doing this with things like Jezebel Jet, Damian Wayne and generally having Bruce do other things than be there to simply move the plot forward. Morrison tries to drive this point home with the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh, who is literally Batman without Bruce Wayne. Batman without Bruce is a sociopath who viciously assaults thugs and criminals, possibly killing some in the process. Morrison is simply trying to bring a balance back to the character and get rid of the excessiveness and the extremes of the various types of Batmen interpretations over the years.

As for the actual story of Batman R.I.P., I liked it. Morrison slowly builds the tension and drama throughout the early issues and then into the explosive finale. I like the way the story flows and it seems like Morrison went out of his way to draw out some plot points, but not so much that he had to fill the space with extra fight scenes. Side stories, like Bruce's journey with Honor Jackson, not only provide a nice counter to the more intense aspects of the story but they work as nice little scenes in their own right.

He also does a good job with the mystery aspect of the story. None of the reveals or build up seemed contrived and there was plenty of suspense to go with it all. The only problem I had with it was the whole reveal part since he can't give any clues away during the story otherwise it ruins the ending. Of course, this holds true for all stories of this type since you can't reveal the behind the scenes machinations because you would given away the ending. It may be something of a flawed way to tell a story but it does not automatically ruin the story either.

The one other thing I found off about the story was that some of the characters who show up are not really properly introduced in the story itself, like Talia and Damien, but it works fine since R.I.P. is not really a stand alone story. I also wonder about how the delays at the beginning of Morrison's run affected the story given that parts of it feel rushed.

The characters are generally solid all around, with Joker being the most noteworthy member of the cast. I like Morrison's insane-yet-sane version. He's creepy, crazy and pretty interesting in my opinion. The Batman of Zur-en-Arrh was also an amusing diversion throughout the story. I found the Club of Villains interesting as well. Le Bossu stands out in particular, mostly because he got the most face time of the group, but also because of his obsession with the Joker. Charlie Caligula's deranged rantings were also amusing before he got the crap beat out of him by Batman. As for Hurt, he worked okay as a mystery villain and his breakdown towards the end was interesting, but I didn't find his claim to be Thomas Wayne at all intriguing mostly because it obviously wasn't true. Otherwise, he was just an okay antagonist.

As for the two epilogue issues, I enjoyed them as something of a retrospective of Batman's earlier career and a summation of what makes Bruce function as Batman. These two issues are also where I got the feeling that Morrison had an extra story or two to tell before R.I.P. Dick Grayson's appearance in the two issues, while appropriate, seemed out of place. to me Its not one of those things where I can point to an exact reason why but I don't Morrison's original plans had Dick appearing as much as he did in the two issues given the fact that Tim or Jason only had sort cameos. I suspect he might have an short story arc in mind where Bruce and Dick team up and Dick's succession would have been strongly hinted at, enforcing or reinforcing Batman #666 where Damien outright states that Dick became Batman at one point.

The art of Tony Daniel is generally suitable for the book. He has the kind of grim and gritty look that works for the tone and mood for the kind of story Morrison is telling, but he also doesn't bring the level of detail needed at times. There are "off" panels at times where there are some visual discrepancies in the art. It's nothing fatal, but it does mess with the flow and appeal of the work a little. His character designs are pretty good though. Lee Garbett's work on the two epilogue issues is good as well and matches the old school material that Morrison is working with. Overall, the art is solid, but not outstanding.

Verdict - Must Read. A stunning tale that makes use of Batman's history to tell the tale of his greatest case while providing insight into what makes him function as a character.

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Matt Ampersand said...

I have to say, that cover is damn good, I'm guessing it is by Alex Ross. But what I like most is the fact that it looks like an actual book cover rather than a comic book collection cover, if it makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not quite sure what I think about RIP, especially the ending... it all seemed so anticlimactic, as did Final Crisis. I guess that's Morrison's way of storytelling, but it doesn't work for me. Which is a shame because I really enjoyed the first two issues (and the two issues preceding them). I must agree with you that a major reason why it got such a mixed response because of the way it was advertised. It was not what I expected at all, and I had a hard time understanding what was going on.
As for the two epilogue issues, I enjoyed them when they first came out but I must say I think the first issue of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? outdid them, even though they aren't directly tied to Batman's "death".

Rogue Smurf said...

I too think Dick Grayon's inclusion in R.I.P. felt a little forced. When the new Batman and Robin were first hinted at, I strongly assumed it would be Tim and Damian, since Tim and Damian have an ongoing sub-plot throughout the entirety of Morrison's run. In fact, in solicitations to R.I.P., they mentioned Tim and Damian having to put aside their differences to work together...which would have made sense considering Tim's storyline in R.I.P.

But then something happened and it all fell apart. Dick shows up only in R.I.P., and apparently he's going to take over as Batman in Morrison's grand 5-part plan? It just doesn't make sense for someone who apparently planned it all out since the very beginning. There's no build up for Dick as Batman...something was definitely missing.

Eric Rupe said...

Matt - I forgot to mention this in my review, but R.I.P. is the best looking and, put together (can't think of a better phrase) that I've seen. The first three pages are actually the story from DCU #0 and then it goes into the credits, which look awesome, and then the story. Really well done.

Anonymous - I've read some of Morrison's Vertigo/non-mainstream stuff, and right before R.I.P. as well, so guess I'm used to Morrison's more eccentric writing style so I didn't really have any problems with R.I.P. in that regard.

Rogue Smurf - I think what happened was that DC forgot then realized that they were "killing" Batman and needed to add tie-ins and make an event out of it. I'm guessing BftC and Gaiman's WHttCC were not originally part of the follow up to R.I.P.

Kevin T. said...

Nice review! If I may suggest, though, it might be hard for other people to follow it unless they already read it. I was lucky enough to have borrowed it from a friend, and to me, the "can I crack the Joker before I go insane" theme seemed secondary. It seemed more like a tribute to how brilliant a man Batman really is.

I mean, mentally forming a secondary personality for when your enemies induce you into a drugged fever? That is brilliant. Switching tea cups in the matter of the blink of an eye? Brilliant. Microsleeping in order to make the most of your time? Obsessive, but brilliant!

Also, the return of the Ninja Man-Bats was great.

Finally, I was lucky enough to read the Detective Comics R.I.P. "tie-in," Paul Dini's "Heart of Hush." While it didn't involve Batman R.I.P.-ing at all, I think it was a pretty good piece on Hush and the Cat-Bat relationship. It's not hard to play up Batman's supporting cast, because he has such an AMAZING one!

Jeremy said...

^Yeah that "Heart of Hush" story was great. We got more background and drama for the Hush character in 5 issues than the entire Loeb/Lee 12-issue "Hush" arc.

I LOVED Morrison's Batman run so far. Personally, I enjoyed the first two books a bit better(Ninja manbats! Future Damien Batman! JH Williams III on a Batman Murder Mystery!), but I thought the last one was great. Batman went up against "The Devil" AND the Joker, and survived. Batman had a SECRET SECRET identity; ya know, just in case his life was attacked from every angle and ended up a drugged out hobo on the street talking to ghosts. Batman is so awesome. Morrison's Batman and Robin is my most anticipated title this year, for sure.

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