Friday, January 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: Batman: R.I.P. by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

(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.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'll look for this one. I've been interested in graphic novels of late.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Does look good. Morrison doesn't always work for me but when he's good he's cushty!

pattinase (abbott) said...

My three year old grandson told us yesterday he was getting "into" Spiderman. And so it begins.

Richard Robinson said...

I stopped readin Batman GNs (collections) about the time War Games ended, or maybe it with Hush, and it's amazing how quickly one falls completely off the map with these things. DC, like it's big rival, can't seem to be content with a pretty good storyline and let it ride, they always have to have the next huge summer (or any time) event, crossover or shocking twist. I understand the marketing aspect, but it seems to make following along a constant or naught thing.

This sounds interesting, but looks like it would require going back at least 3 or 4 collections to pick up the story line, and is this the whole Batman dies thing? Is that over, then? The Bat is Back, no fill-in?

Scott Parker said...

Charles - This one is good and prepares you for the Big Event this year.

Scott Parker said...

Paul - I'm curious about Morrison now since I've only read his Batman stories and Final Crisis.

Patti - Three years old. Wow. That's pretty early but he'll have a life-long love of this stuff.

Richard - Big Events are why I wait for the trades. Even now, there's the follow on to the current "Blackest Day" with a 2010 arc, "Brightest Day." It'll never end.

Lance Fox said...

I originally felt the way you said about needing the trades for this sort of material - that it would be maddening to read over monthlys.

But... I'm so hooked on Morrison's Batman run that I had to start doing the monthly experience (beginning with Batman & Robin, the new book he started a few months ago; the next step in the RIP story, essentially), and to be honest - its *even* better. The story comes alive more when you have time to digest each chapter. I highly recommend that experience.

Chris Well said...

In my experience, Grant Morrison at his best has this way of writing complex stories that you *almost* understand - trying to figure this stuff out is like straining to reach the top ledge, but it's always just out of reach. You never quite make it, but it's always worth the attempt.

My favorite example was his multi-mini-series project Seven Soldiers of Victory. (His run on JLA was pretty amazing, too.)

With your reviews of the Black Glove book and now this, I may have to end my moratorium on DC Comics ...

Perplexio said...

I tried to get into RIP but I really felt that there was far too much going on. That being said I like the end results-- Battle For the Cowl and the new Batman & Robin ongoing monthly (also penned by Grant Morrison).

DC has been making some interesting changes to the Batman related titles that I do enjoy-- Tim Drake becoming Red Robin, Stephanie Brown becoming Batgirl, and Bruce Wayne's own spawn, Damian, as the new Robin... all are interesting twists.

I've been reading the Blackest Night:Flash series. I'm really looking forward to issue #3... I believe they're finally going to reveal to Bart Allen/Kid Flash and Owen Mercer/Boomerang II that they're half brothers (this was something that was revealed to the readers in The Flash shortly after Geoff Johns took it over from Mark Waid). I know Brightest Day kicks off with Flash #1. I'm looking forward to that as well. I've been quite impressed with Francis Manapul's artwork in Adventure Comics 1-6 and he's done some covers for Red Robin as well.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.