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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