Comic Fodder

The Curious Case of "Batman R.I.P."

So, seriously... what the hell?

Look, I went to college. I've read hundreds and hundreds of Batman comics. I've tried to do my part to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt as the lead up to "Batman R.I.P." has taken, literally, years. I even shrugged off the obvious pointless tie-in's from other Batbooks and didn't complain too loudly when the (inevitable) return of Ra's Al Ghul was handled with the elegance of a jackhammer.

But you know what I like in the conclusion of a story? An ending. Especially one that actually has a denouement and not just a big, goofy fireball.

A lot of people on the internet are of the opinion that Dr. Hurt is an incarnation of The Devil, which I hadn't heard until after reading Batman #681 the first time (my pal Randy had to tell me). I immediately dismissed the idea. Batman books are, even when featuring "super powered" characters still pretty street level and deal in something resembling reality. DC books don't tend to include appearances by The Fallen unless it's a Vertigo story, what have you... And, honestly, I kind of thought we'd left all that goth/Dungeons & Dragons/ faux-tough-Roman-Catholicism stuff behind us around 2000.

But once you put that seed into the story... man, if true, my disappointment in Morrison would know no bounds.

In my opinion, "Dr. Hurt is the Devil" is the sort of concrete reading I expect out of comic fans buzzing on the internet. I still don't buy it. There's no more reason to think Dr. Hurt is actually Satan (who you would think wouldn't be that worried about a little helicopter crash), than that he's actually Thomas Wayne, Hush, or just some guy named Dr. Hurt.

Then again, I've been skeptical before of fanboy theorizing which turned out to be spot on. So maybe its true, or even was supposed to be before the "One More Day" debacle in Spider-Man. But I'm not buying it until Morrison says "well, obviously, Hurt is The Devil". And then I'm going to have to do some serious mental reconciliation.

Far, far more disappointing was the refusal of Morrison to do what Johns, Rucka, Bendis and others do so well, and wrap up all the threads in the final act. After this many issues, I needed a lot more than what Morrison was willing to give. This wasn't the conclusion of a saga, it read like more like the second part of a trilogy (think Han frozen in carbonite and being carted off to Jabba while Lando and Chewie get on the case). But... Morrison isn't slated to write anymore Batman stories at the moment.

My guess is that the "death" of Batman is really Bruce Wayne overcoming the hypnotic command shouted at him by Dr. Hurt that he could no longer fight crime as Batman (note, it's an unmasked Bruce Wayne who goes at the helicopter). So expect some story in which Bruce has to overcome his brainwashing, etc...

If Morrison has a clear vision of where he wants to take the Batman books, then it would have been keen if he'd kept his momentum going instead of walking away. Sure, we're getting some interesting fill-in's with Gaiman and O'Neil, but then readers have a typical Didio-esque fill-in to look forward to, with "The Battle for The Cowl", hinting that a) there must be a Batman, and b) his proteges and admirers would actually fight over such a thing (or, that Dick Grayson would feel the need to put on another identity other than Nightwing at this point.).

There have been rumored problems between Morrison and Didio of late, which shouldn't be surprising given Didio's concrete, formulaic mode of storytelling versus Morrison's tendency to deal in a mish-mash of high concept and abstract (see: Doom Patrol). Didio seemed to want to get out ahead of Fanboy complaints before the Thanksgiving Holiday (he must have a nose for potential problems at this point), and filled in Newsarama on Wednesday.

DD: Grant has so many Batman stories to tell that we have to find an outlet for them, and I’m absolutely sure that we will find one for him.

NRAMA: That’s very committal yet non-committal.

DD: Again, I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. There are still a lot of stories that take place before that.

So Grant is maybe/ probably coming back. And, heck, we may actually start to get some answers to lingering questions.

Who is Dr. Hurt?
What was the deal with the black and red? What was I supposed to gleen from that?
With all these characters knowing that Bruce Wayne is Batman, who doesn't know his secret identity at this point?
What was the point of the faked photos? And is Mr. Morrison unaware of a product called Photoshop which the average 6th grader could use to cook up faked images?

At any rate, it would be great if Morrison didn't wander off (anyone else remember his two issue stint on Authority?) and actually wrapped this up so we weren't left with some bench-warmer to come in and clean this mess up.

Now, here's a surprise:

I'm actually feeling very positive about all of this. I do feel very invested in the current Batman titles, so Morrison and Dini's work has achieved its goal. As mentioned above, I get the feeling that Morrison is just taking a leave of absence until he comes back to Batman to finish up this particular saga. What looked like some wonky shuffling on the Super-books is now making more sense as Didio (and Johns) also came forward to announce Johns and Frank on "Superman: Secret Origins", which seems unrelated, but demonstrates that Didio isn't letting his A-Listers just wander off from the properties they're redefining. So seeing a shift in who is on which title shouldn't give anyone particular reason to get their super-undies in a bunch (ie: don't read to much in Morrison's name absent from the books for a month or so).

In many ways, an approach more akin to Gaiman's approach to Sandman might be a smart move for DC when they have Johns and Morrison on a title (especially given the success of Morrison on long stints, such as Doom Patrol, Animal Man, etc... from a narrative sense). It certainly gives these creators a world to develop, and is a good mix of long time writers on a title and the trends in plot development that DC learned in the six to twelve issue run era. Gaiman was able to spin off a series of stories that wound up hanging together, but were enjoyable reads on their own (for the most part).

Would I have liked a more solid finish to Batman: RIP? Yes. Do I think DC will leave it at that? Not really. I just hope Morrison is the one on board who wraps it up.

No matter what, Morrison seems poised to generally push the Batman books forward from a narrative standpoint rather than merely acting as a custodian on the books for a short time. A rare position for a writer at DC to find themselves in. Perhaps its tough to see changes as they're in the offing, but perhaps we'll find ourselves in something that will later become fairly important to the Batman mythos?

Or perhaps not. And that would be the greatest disappointment of all, I think.

Were it any other writer (well, there are a handful I can think of) I would not be pushing caution to the wayside, and I might be very likely to give up on a title and direction of a book at this point. However, I've not been disappointed with the Batman title to this point, and while I would have preferred to get this wrapped up with a bow, I'm going to stick with things a while longer.



So what'd you think?


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Grant Morrison is writing more Batman. He's writing #682, which comes out this week and #683. Those tie directly into Final Crisis, which he's also writing. So clearly there's more left to this story. I wouldn't be worried about him wrapping up loose ends.

-- Posted by: dopiestghost at December 1, 2008 1:48 PM

I thought the Thomas Wayne reveal was great. I thought the helicopter explosion was a let down in comparison.

I agree, Morrison has more up his sleeve.

-- Posted by: johnnyzito at December 1, 2008 2:21 PM

For the record, I don't buy that Hurt is Thomas Wayne, either. While Morrison is known to get a little wacky on us, it simply doesn't work on too many levels. That doesn't mean there isn't any truth to some part of it, but if I had a problem with hurt being The Devil, I have a real problem believing Thomas Wayne would fake his death for 30 years just to come back and harass his son.

Honestly, that seems so close to the sort of stuff that just makes me roll my eyes in comics (see: any attempt to bring Peter Parker's parents back to life) that I'd consider it a pretty goofy misstep on Morrison's part.

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 1, 2008 7:06 PM

#681 makes a lot more sense if you go back and reread #666. (Actually, it makes a lot more sense if you go back and re-read the entire Morrison run. We've seen Dr. Hurt's post-hypnotic suggestion word-for-word before, too...)

I suspect that Hurt may not be The Devil, but "the devil," in the sense that he's the physical manifestation of the thing that undermines him.

-- Posted by: Douglas at December 1, 2008 8:38 PM

Douglas, that's actually very much my interpretation/ guess.

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 1, 2008 9:07 PM

Well it really seems to me that Morrison was made to re-write the ending of RIP. The cliched ending with the helicopter blowing up was unlike Morrison.

My feelings that the real ending, probably wishful thinking on my part, was that Morrison intended to make Bruce Wayne the "Black Glove". One can only imagine the story telling possibilities of Bruce Wayne having an evil personality. That would make him legally insane and not not responsible for his actions as the "Black Glove".

Oh, thank you for pointing out that everyone and their dog knows who Batman really is under the cowl. A quick list of villains includes the Joker, Bane, Ras Al-Ghul, Talia, and the Riddler (sorta). I mean the Penguin has to be feeling left out at this point.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at December 1, 2008 9:15 PM

Perhaps one day they'll address who knows and what it means. But, yes, Bruce Wayne's dual identity is Gotham's worst-kept secret at this point.

I won't hazard a guess as to what was changed, but Didio does like getting his fingers all over a perfectly good story. So who knows?

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 2, 2008 12:38 AM

I am puzzled as to why everyone is puzzled by Batman R.I.P. This was a psychological drama rife with symbolism and subtext. People read these things too literally. The devil is not really the devil but the personification of evil. Nonetheless, there are people in the real world who do believe in a literal devil. The Catholic Church itself sanctions exorcisms. This would have been an entirely different matter had we been presented with an actual physical devil ala "One More Day."

The red and black brought up numerous times in the book is symbolic as it is in the Scarlett Letter. I won't get into the nature of the red and black symbolism Hawthorne used in that tale. There is also a novel "the Red and the Black" which has many similar themes, and is considered the first psychological novel. Morrison's influences are literary, not cinematic.

I was also impressed by the alternate identity theme running throughout the book. Everyone in this tale seemed to wear a mask of some sort. When trauma befell Bruce Wayne, he hid behind a mask and became the Batman. Morrison posed and answered an interesting question: What happens when trauma befalls the Batman? Who does he become to protect himself? He becomes the Batman of Zur En Arrh. Becoming Batman psychologically protected Bruce Wayne. Becoming the Batman of Zur En Arrh psychologically protected Batman. The Mask of Zorro epilogue was simply nothing short of brilliant.

People who didn't get Batman R.I.P. should stick with Archie comics. Apparently they want all the answers handed to them gift wrapped with a bow on top. They don't want to think about the complexities and subtext involved when a compelling tale is told. Rather than being frustrated, I was happy to be left with some complex issues to think about. That is rare these days whether we're talking books, movies, tv, or comic books.

I thought the ending was fitting and we all know Batman (Bruce Wayne) lives. Warner and DC is not going to kill the golden goose. I was more than satisfied with this book. The art could have been better but the story was brilliant and deserving of praise.

-- Posted by: Robert at December 3, 2008 10:39 PM

Hey Robert. I agree that it does seem there seemed to be a bit of a concrete read on the series. I found your comment regarding masks to be a great one. I hadn't thought too much about the angle between identity and imagery of masks, etc...

What might have hurt Morrison a bit was the serial nature of a monthly comic (which, right, no duh...). It's tough to come back to a comic in such small doses over such a long duration and keep the themes in focus.

Further, I'd argue on the red and black thing... a) comics are a visual medium. Whether Morrison's influences are literary or cinematic or comics-based, he and Daniel included the red and black in visuals that, i am sure, as a collection, will make more sense. b) Overtly stating "red and black, blah blah blah" as a clue and then not really following up...? Bad form. At least in the format of monthly comics.

I'm not saying Morrison failed, but I would pose the following (because I used to get into the same argument back in film school): If an author writes a book and nobody (and I mean nobody) can figure out what was supposed to be happening, was the author at fault or the audience?

I'm willing to hold off on a final judgment until I've read the comic again in a sit or two from Batman and Son on.

Again, it's a good read. There are some items that Morrison may have been a little self-indulgent on to the point of distraction for the reader.

Honestly, in reading the interview with Morrison in Newsarama on All-Star Superman, I felt a whole new level of appreciation for a comic I already dearly loved and had read every issue 3 times. But that's kind of the nature of a medium that can be read in monthly installments of about ten minutes each.

By the way, the comment space is free. Go ahead and discuss the red and black symbolism. It never hurts to flex the ol' gray matter a bit around here. heck, discuss the exact nature of the story.

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 3, 2008 11:56 PM

Thanks Ryan. I have read similar complaints about Morrison's run on Final Crisis being a difficult read. That book will no doubt make more sense when read as a whole as will R.I.P.

I do see where you are coming from. Maybe the symbolism is a bit too obscured and unclear in that Morrison seems to have made it a central point rather than something more peripheral, as it should have been. Morrison leads the reader to believe that the red and black has some greater significance than it apparently does. Same thing with the identity of the Black Glove. In some ways, it's almost as if he couldn't make up his mind who the Black Glove should be, because he fell in love with all the different options.

I guess I just like a challenging tale and am willing to overlook some of the literary and artistic flaws in this story. I preferred this Batman tale to the Hush storyline, though that book succeeded more on the strength of Jim Lee's art and the number of guest stars.

I'm looking forward to the two follow-up post R.I.P. issues, which may hopefully answer some lingering questions.

Thanks for the forum to allow me to rant a bit. I appreciate your open-mindedness.

-- Posted by: Robert at December 4, 2008 2:36 AM