Batman: R.I.P.-off

OK, let’s be real, here: we all know DC is not going to let Grant Morrison ‘kill’ Bruce Wayne in any way that can’t be reversed or retconned—what will probably end up happening is that Wayne will be incapacitated or otherwise out of action (and out of the bat-suit) for some time, probably until the next Batman movie starts to ramp up for release. This will lead to someone else taking over the mantle of the bat, as happened after the Knightfall storyline. My uneducated guess is that we’ll see Tim Drake take over the cape and cowl (Dick Grayson has been there and done that, and has never been entirely comfortable with being Batman’s successor—and let’s face it: Tim’s been pining for his turn at the wheel of the Batmobile since his introduction in A Lonely Place of Dying, despite his assertions to the contrary), and Bruce Wayne’s son with Talia, Damien, will become the replacement Robin. Given the fact that all Bat-related books are due for a relaunching, and that there’s an upcoming story arc titled “The Battle for the Cowl”, it’s clear that Big Changes Are Afoot in the batcave.

Again, to be clear: Bruce Wayne taking a dirt nap is not one of those changes. Anyone thinking otherwise is either a) a naive eight-year-old, b) a member of the mainstream media looking for a sensational hook on a slow news day, c) was not around when Superman bought the farm and was subsequently resurrected, or d) all of the above.

However, as with the aforementioned Superman story, the fun isn’t in the ‘what’, it’s in the ‘how’, and sadly, the conclusion to the Batman R.I.P. storyline fails miserably in this regard. For starters, after a story arc that has had Morrison going to pains to portray Bruce Wayne as a certifiable psychopath (including an almost-charming allusion to an old Bat-story with the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh device), the start of the issue finds him very much put together, and Prepared For Everything, up to and including shaking off the effects of the poison he was subjected to at the end of last issue, escaping out of a straitjacket (“[the] straitjacket’s kindergarten”, he says, and this part I believe—he is Batman, after all), breaking out of a coffin, and clawing his way out from under “600 pounds of loose soil” to escape having been buried alive by the Black Glove.

To be honest, it’s pushing the bounds of plausibility. While I generally subscribe to the “Bruce Wayne is bat-shit crazy” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) interpretation of the Batman character, and I can see how Wayne’s particular brand of crazy would have him staying up all day going through scenarios and planning for them all, so that he can escape any and all deathtraps at night, if you push this too far it tends to run up against the other thing I love about the Batman: that he’s just a man—an incredibly well-trained, disciplined, resourceful, and intelligent man to be sure, but just a man, with the same limitations as anyone else.

So anyway, moving on: Batman crawls out of his grave, we flip through some pages of not-bad-cause-he’s-gotten-better-over-the-years-but-not-great-by-any-means Tony Daniel art where Batman kicks some ass; Robin is holding down Gotham with a little help from Morrison’s shout out to the Batmen of all nations; Nigthwing snaps out of the effects of his crazy-juice at Arkham just in time to avoid being lobotomized, and proceeds to kick some ass there; Damien’s in the Batmobile with Alfred, being a brat (“Just be grateful I didn’t leave you to burn back in the Batcave, Pennyworth”—ugh. We had our fill of bat-brats a long time ago, and we voted him off the island. And before you say anything: Jason Todd shoulda stayed dead), and we finally come to the Big Reveal! We find out who the Black Glove is, and he’s none other than—wait for it—Doctor Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father.

What? Really? Come on.

I mean, Morrison promised that this story would change Batman forever, and leave him in a “state worse than death”, but this seems a little hard to swallow. A betrayal by one of his sidekicks—say, Robin or Nightwing, if they thought Batman was getting out of hand—I could understand, maybe even accept, but this? To be fair, it’s never clear whether the Glove was speaking literally or figuratively when he pulls his “I am your father” card on ol’ Bats (and yes, he literally says “I’m your father, Bruce”. What, doesn’t DC have an accidental cliché police patrolling their editorial department?), but in any case, it’s a little too much to buy. So after the Big Reveal, we move on to the Classic Ambiguous Death Scene, in which the Black Glove and an un-masked Bruce Wayne are in a helicopter which explodes and crashes into Gotham Harbor. Cut to Robin running towards the water, with Jim Gordon asking “What happened here?” in the background, and a full-page pin-up shot of Nightwing holding Batman’s previously discarded cape and cowl, and I’m left waiting for the obligatory “We dredged the whole harbor, Jim, but couldn’t find any bodies” line (which thankfully, never comes).

In all, a hard-to-follow, poorly-paced, disjointed end to what could have been an interesting deconstruction of one of the most compelling characters in comics. And who knows, maybe the meat of the story comes now, after Bruce Wayne is presumed dead, his replacement(s?) swing into action, and the stage is set for the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne as Batman. After all, Morrison is writing a two-part epilogue to Batman R.I.P., and there’s the aforementioned “Battle for the Cowl”. I’m willing to keep an open mind, but the conclusion to Batman R.I.P. was by far not Grant Morrison’s best hour.

In the meantime, what I am looking forward to is Neil Gaiman’s upcoming two-part story in Batman (#s 686-687), titled “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”, a clear homage to Alan Moore’s classic 1986 Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow“, which was a so-called ‘imaginary story’ that outlined the eventual fate of Superman in a distant future, right before DC rebooted the entire franchise via John Byrne’s now-seminal The Man of Steel miniseries.

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