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Batman 681 - They should have called it R.I.P.-less

by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

I wrote this a few days ago, but saw that Ryan had posted a really good comment on it (they won’t call us names for referring to links on our own website, will they?). So I decided to hold off and let Ryan’s comments sink in a little bit. I am a little tired of people trying to insist that this stuff is cool but confusing. Let’s set the record straight: not every single idea from your favorite creator is gold, and confusing most definitely is NOT cool. I've read Alan Moore, and sometimes I've had to re-read him to understand the point, but it was always fun. This was not properly conveyed, and trying to force it to make sense was not fun.

The conclusion of the R.I.P. storyline starts poorly and ends poorly, and is accompanied by a ton of misinformation on the web. I can’t remember the last time I saw such shoddy reporting by disinterested pablum. I’ve read everything from “Batman is dead,” to “Batman killed by his OWN dad!” on the Drudgereport. It is very hard to find a mainstream website (read: a non-comics website) that actually got the story details straight. Even one website that got most of the story right mentioned Captain America’s death, and claimed Steve Rogers had not returned yet, even though he IS back already in Avengers/Invaders in present day, which shows you how little research anyone does these days into a field where he has no expertise or even common experience. Just letting a local fanboy proof his article could have corrected that error in two seconds, even if it would have ruined the writer’s point. In another example, this guy doesn’t know that the Flash is back already, too.

The bottom line is that DC did NOT kill Bruce Wayne. After hyping big changes and clamoring about how epic this would be, it turned out to be a big dud, with Bruce simply disappearing. Words fail me as to how unsatisfied I am with this ending. What follows is everything that added up to ruin what I found to be a so-so story to begin with.

The first page is six panels. The first four panels are nothing. Darkness. Black. Then we get two panels of Batman opening his eyes in the dark. It was a waste of time, and I most certainly did not get my money’s worth for that page of art.

Here’s the big plan by the master villain; we’re going to break Batman by burying him alive. But first we’re going to waste your time for six pages of ret-con flashbacks and Morrison not being able to leave the “League of Batmen” concept alone for more than a couple of issues. The flashbacks play a slightly less funny version of the poisoned cup exchange in the Princess Bride. We then fade to Joker acting a little unlike he usually does. The Joker kills one of the bored rich and everyone just stands there and lets him do it. Villain: “Welcome Joker, come in! Oh, but you can’t join us after all, we’re full! Wait, you just killed one of us… come in!” Inconsistent and sloppy.

Speaking of inconsistency, does anyone find it weird that Batman has been running around trying to save Ms. Jet, and in the final issue, we learn that Batman always knew she was part of the trap? And when we weren’t looking, before he broke down mentally, he had already stolen something valuable from her? I got news for you, if I already knew somebody’s kidnapping was part of a trap… I wouldn’t go rescue her!!!! Not to mention the mockery Detective has made of this relatively new fling with Jet, with Batman professing his love for a different bad girl, Catwoman. The “love” for Jet never felt real in the first place, we never cared for her, and we knew how the Bat felt about the Cat. How did anyone think we would ever believe the constantly whiny “Bruce, you won’t let me in, boo hoo!” woman was a worthy complement to the dark knight? I’ve broken up with girlfriends who were less complaining than that (but that probably says more about me than anything else, so let’s move on…).

I’m sorry, I have to go back to the death trap part of this again. The villain is convinced that Batman will end up brain damaged from a lack of oxygen. The dude didn’t even take away the Bat’s utility belt!!!! Then we find a radio that can send signals that override all of Arkham Asylum’s security. How convenient. Batman emerges from the grave, with only a little dirt on him, no tears in his costume. Here is where the artwork tends to let the reader down. Now, I really like Tony Daniel’s art, but what was called for here is a depiction of someone dirty and grimy busting up after having sand down his mouth, and what we get is a pretty boy with little smudges of dirt on his indestructible costume; the art does not fit the actual scene.

The poor choice of displaying Batman continues as Nightwing enters the picture, telling Batman, “…you look wasted.” It is the worst possible thing, to have someone like Grant Morrison, who has tried so very hard in both this and in Final Crisis to avoid giving us much in the way of exposition, to be forced to explain to the reader that Batman is supposed to look wasted. See, he actually looks as good as ever, and even the stubble that used to be on his face in the last few issues has already disappeared. I guess he must have pulled his Bat-shaver out of his utility belt while he was bored slipping out of the straitjacket in the coffin… Daniel makes everything too pretty, not at all in keeping with the setting and the grit that should have been depicted; someone should have either talked to him about it or used a different artist. I may like his stuff, but there is such a thing as the wrong person for a particular job.

The Joker gets knocked over a bridge by Damian in passing, and he disappears. He’ll turn up later, in this title or another, so I hope they didn’t think that was clever. Then we have the showdown, with a man who has tired a couple of improbable times to pose as Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father. Nobody with a brain ever thought this could be true for even half a second. The story-telling was so poor in setting up this idea in the first place, and the big bad mastermind himself basically admitted his ruse to Alfred two seconds after trying to do the imposter routine. Due in part to poor artwork, this guy looks about as old as Bruce himself, so how were we ever to believe he could possibly be a father to a guy who looks about the same age?

So what was Morrison's plan? I'll tell you: he wanted to graft his own mark on the Bat. He has tried to ret-con a villain who was "there from the beginning," and who was one of the most dangerous ever. Who touches Bruce's origin (via his parents). Who is so patient and wise, he tried to kill Batman once in the beginning... and then waited. And that is where everything started to fall apart. The truth is that ret-cons are hard. Changing the past is one thing, re-imagining a character is another. The only good way to do retroactive continuity in a comic is to have all the facts be consistent with established history, to be a good story in its own right, and to add something meaningful to the already-full layers of character. In the end, he failed on at least two of the three counts. This was an ego trip for a favored writer, and Didio let him run with it, just as he has let run so many other poor ideas.

If anyone tells me again Morrison is citing literary sources instead of cinematic, I’ll have a list of movies for you to watch. Set aside Princess Bride for a minute, check out Heavy Metal: “Hanging is too good for him! Burning is too good for him! He should be torn into little pieces and buried alive!” No, that’s not familiar at all now, is it? How about later, when nothing works: “Bruce…I’m your father!” Now, where could that have come from? Here’s the recap of the master plot:

Villain: I will do worse than kill him! Bury him, dig him up damaged, hurt him some more!

Batman: I’m free. And clean-shaven. Loser.

Villain: Um… I’m your father?

Batman: No you’re not.

Villain: Okay. Um… I’m Hannibal Lecter, wearing another man’s face to a party!

Batman: No you’re not.

Viallin: Okay. Um… I’m an abstract concept? Who will Photoshop your parents into embarrassing positions!

Batman: Oh, go die in a helicopter already, just like the last bad guy I faced in a tie-in that didn’t really relate at all.

The ending is the worst of all. They smash up a helicopter, which is disgustingly-similar to the way that Hush met his (temporary) end over in Detective. After all of the mental trickery, the alleged attempt to break Batman down, the best the creative team could come up with to end Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman was a helicopter crash. Steve Rogers gets a sniper shot, Superman gets doomsday… Batman gets to crash a helicopter in the harbor. Words cannot describe how lame this is.

DC has made a mistake. After presenting a year's absence of Bruce Wayne as Batman in 52 to prove how he was missed, and then spending all of this time building up his key importance as one of the Big Three in the big-selling Trinity series, emphasizing how much he is needed... they send him away. For a year or a little more. Inconsistent and sloppy.

You want to discuss the heavy philosophy behind all of this? My pleasure. They tried to make us believe they would change things. They called the story "Rest In Peace." They pretended the Bat would die. I leave you with the villain's words, because the villain here is Grant Morrison talking to the reader: "Would I bring you all this way and not deliver the killing blow?"

You know the answer.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

so harsh but so true

-- Posted by: Nick Marino at December 4, 2008 9:21 AM

I will contend to my dying day that this is not how Morrison intended for the final issue of RIP to play out. I think your references to lines pulled directly out of movies actually strengthens my resolve. I believe that he was forced to re-write the ending by the powers that be at DC. Since he was going against what he wanted he decided to mail it in while planting clues to the fans that this isn't what he intended. I have a strong feeling the unpublished conclusion to RIP is much better than the dreck we got.

Please don't think I'm a Morrison apologist as he has as many hits as he does misses but something just doesn't seem right to me on this last issue.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at December 4, 2008 3:31 PM