(My latest entry to Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)
How does one sum up, in words, a comic story arc that blows the top of your head off and creates lots of new wrinkles on your gray matter? Needless to say, it's difficult. But, then, "Batman, R.I.P." (RIP) is no ordinary comic book. It’s penned by Grant Morrison, something of an avant-guard writer. More and more, the word "visionary" is linked with Morrison's writing and I'm beginning to think that's just code for mind-blowing. You read some of his work and you be the judge.
The trade paperback version of RIP collects Batman #676-683 but adds (I think as I've not read the actual monthly titles) a prelude. Batman and Joker, in Arkham Asylum, with Joker laying out cards. It's a clue yet I didn't see it.
The main story picks up following the events of The Black Glove arc (my review). The new group of baddies, The Black Glove, is led by a man named Doctor Hurt. He's out to get Batman where other bad guys have yet to penetrate: his mind. And he has the weapons to do it. You see, Batman can't find anyone who (a) knows about the mysterious Black Glove criminal organization or (b) believes him when he says it exists. They all point to an old film noir with the same name. Even Bruce Wayne's new flame, Jezebel Jet, doesn't believe him and she knows the truth about Wayne's alter ego. Without warning, Bruce lurches into some sort of coma while puzzling over the evidence. Members of the Black Glove (which look like cast-offs from "Who Wants to Be in Batman's Rogue's Gallery") invade the Batcave and take out Alfred while Robin escapes.
Oh, and that's just by the second issue. Things really get weird from here on out. Bat-Mite even shows up and his presence is explained as well. One of the parts of the story is Batman's black casebook. It includes all wild and far-out cases of Batman's career. In reality, Morrison has taken some of the weird elements from the 1950s Batman stories and ret-conned them back into the mainstream Batman story line. Thus, from a 1950s story of Batman in a multi-colored costume--The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh (don't ask)--comes a modern-day coping mechanism Bruce uses to battle Doctor Hurt. It's a brilliant stroke of imagination on Morrison's part. The narrative of RIP shows why Batman is, arguably, the most compelling superhero on the market. Batman is always called the hero with no superpowers. He has one: his mind. It's on a level like no other hero and it's in the mind where much of this story takes place. The epilogue of RIP, a two-issue story that peruses much of Bat-History, ties in directly with the larger story that was then being published by DC Comics, "Final Crisis" (currently reading it now).
The biggest complaint I have about Morrison's style is the quick cuts without any warning. You get a two-page spread of one storyline and then the next page is something different. It's difficult to build up steam and get all the facts correct. I can't imagine reading this over a series of months. You really do need the compressed nature of a trade.
A companion to this story is a trade paperback entitled "The Black Casebook." Here DC reprints the original 1950s stories that inspired Morrison. He gives an introduction to each story and explains why it helped him create RIP.
Tony Daniel is the artist for RIP and his work is spectacularly detailed. Looking over the book again, there are visual clues that foreshadow the ending twists. His version of the Joker is scary: a tall, thin, and gaunt, usually only sporting his trademark purple pin-striped pants and suspenders, his skeletal body weirdly strong. But it's Joker's eyes that haunt your dreams.
By the end of this story, coupled with the big event in "Final Crisis," you have another, giant mystery. I really can't name it here for it gives away the ending of RIP. Rest assured, however: the events of the DC Universe in 2010 will provide you the answer.
Batman, R.I.P. is a phantasmagorical romp in the grandest sense and is essential reading for any fan of The Dark Knight.