Those of you who’ve known me since I first got into comics know that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Grant Morrison’s writing, and by that I mean I hated it initially for killing of Batman and being as cohesive and understandable as a faded clothing receipt written in Sanskrit, but then loved the crap out of it when I actually read the story from start to finish and found it to be deep, provocative and out-of-the-ordinary. So the hate now occupies a significantly smaller portion than the love, which if it was on a pie chart might look something like this. Just imagine the “na na na” is the love bit.
I was hoping to be reviewing the remainder of Flashpoint by now but, to be perfectly honest, the Wonder Woman story is moving far too slowly for me to be invested at the moment, and since University is limiting my comic book reading time I’d much rather read something enjoyable, like the amazingnesses that are The Sandman and The Walking Dead, both of which I’ll retro-review once I’ve read a bit more of them.
I’ve been wanting to solidly review all of Morrison’s Batman run for a good while now, but I decided to take a leaf out of George Lucas’s book and start in the middle. The year is 2008; Final Crisis looms on the horizon, and before it becomes plagued by last-minute artist changes and deadline pushbacks we’re told by Chaos Magician Morrison that he plans to kill Batman in the eponymously-named title as well as within the pages of what is purported to be the last Crisis ever. This news makes international headlines, and anticipation for the story’s conclusion is high.
2008 was also the year I first got into comic books, having seen the apex of filmmaking that is The Dark Knight and being entranced by Batman’s hitherto-unknown-to-me awesomeness. Since this was back in the days where I didn’t have a weekly-paying job I did tend to…ahem…appropriate comics through slightly electronic means, but in my defense I did end up buying almost all of those comics in real form a couple of years later when I started working at my current job. I read a ton of the old stuff – Hush, Under the Hood, Gotham Underground, The Killing Joke, etc – and also touched on Morrison’s run as well, seeing as he was the current writer at the time.
I had three issues of RIP when I got into comics, and to say they made no sense to me was an understatement. I vaguely recall Messenger-ing a friend and vitriolically tearing apart Morrison’s writing and incomprehensibility for a good while (if you, my Messenger friend, are reading this, then I apologise for talking your ear off like that. Especially since you didn’t like comic books at the time). Comparing it to other stories I’d read – predominantly Hush – I found it to be an incredibly shittastic story. Having said that, I was eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the arc to witness how exactly they were going to kill Batman. Just ask any of the friends I went onto Schoolies with – although you probably can’t, because I killed them all – and they’d tell you that the first chance I got when the final issue came out I raided an internet cafe in Port Macquarie and downloaded that shit faster than a starving wolf eating a child.
So I’m four paragraphs in now and I’ve not really talked about the book proper, so let’s dive in; for the last few in-universe months, Batman has been plagued by attacks coming from an ominously named person/organisation/firefighter’s charity called The Black Glove. The story opens with members of the Glove gathering together – presumably for some kind of firefighter’s ball – and promising to kill ol’ Bats in the most horrifically gory and psychologically tortuous way possible. The main guy in charge, one Doctor Simon Hurt, seems to look a little familiar, but that’ll be addressed later on.
Meanwhile Bats is busy test-driving a new Batmobile and getting some after-mission fun times with Jezebel Jet (is the name not a clue?) who has had his true identity revealed to her in one of the rare cases of Bruce opening up to another human being. Seriously, Peter Parker could take lessons here.
It doesn’t take long from there for the Black Glove to start their assault, rendering Bruce unconscious through some post-hynoptic suggestions involving something called Zur-En-Arrh, kidnapping Alfred and siccing a platoon of ridiculously-clad villains against Robin, Nightwing and anyone even remotely connected to the whole Batman operation.
Then Bruce gets shot up on military-grade heroin, meets a negro ghost, is aided by a tiny alien named Bat-Mite that only he can see, puts on a multicoloured Bat-outfit that makes him look like a Mard Gras rapist with a baseball bat, gets buried alive, knifes out one of his own teeth and jumps face-first into a helicopter.
It’s much better than it sounds. I promise.
The story here, for lack of a better term, is fuck-crazy. Events move on at a breakneck pace once the Glove make their move, and all the layers and multiple-meanings of dialogue and imagery in the story are hard to follow at first but gradually build towards a spectacular climax, and a subsequent re-read shows a shitload of foreshadowing throughout almost every page. If you’ve not read the preceding volumes – Batman & Son and Batman: The Black Glove – then it won’t make as much sense, especially during the middle portion where Bruce goes – pardon the pun – absolutely Bat-shit crazy as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Hell, even if you have read them they probably won’t make a lot of sense on first readthrough.
The artwork here is outstanding; if there’s one thing Tony Daniel can do, it’s draw. If there’s one thing he can’t do, it’s write – see Life After Death or Eye Of The Beholder – so it’s good to see him only doing the former here. Daniel executes a masterstroke with the art, giving deep texturing and layers to every piece of visual text here, no matter how ancillary. The slightly trippy sequences with Batman in the purple getup are also illustrated surprisingly well, and to me they added a sinister quality to the bright colours usually associated with Golden and Silver Age comics that I thought were meant to be slightly burlesqued here.
The dialogue does get let down a little, but not because it’s overwrought – except for an opening scene between Tim and Alfred where he works out Damian is Bruce’s son – but because it’s not necessarily informative. While I’m one of the first advocates for works like Christopher Nolan’s, where not everything is spelled out for the audience in exposition-heavy dialogue, there is a limit in my mind as to how much you can skimp on explaining stuff just enough for the audience to work it out on their own. It doesn’t get in the way for me too much now, but for a first-time reader – especially if they haven’t read the other books in the series – it’ll just leave them scratching their head and more likely to go off and read something less engaging, like Cry for Justice or anything written by Christie Golden.
As for the death itself, I’m glad they didn’t go with what happens at the end of RIP as the big twist ending, since it was a scenario Bats has probably been part of a few times, and if that was the way he was to go out then it would’ve sucked. The actual death in Final Crisis had much more of a punch to me, so if you do plan on reading Morrison’s Batman run then make sure you pick up Final Crisis as well, or just read the relevant few pages right there in the bookstore. Or wait for my review of it one day, because I could write entire goddamn essays on Final Crisis.
I’ll say this again when I review them, but go check out Son and Black Glove before you dive into RIP. If you’re so determined to go into this one regardless, be advised it assumes you’re already onboard and there’s not much in the way of explanation. But if the upside of that is getting to see Batman dress up in red and purple to go beat up thugs with a Red Sox bat without any appropriate context, then I think that’s awesome enough to get by on its own.