In a drastic change of pace from what has come before, this issue basically offers a retrospective, a recap of (the first half of) the Batman’s career. Of course, Grant Morrison being who he is, it’s not as simple as that… it’s presented as a stream of consciousness, cryptic and disjointed, impressionistic. From all appearances the memories depicted are those of Bruce Wayne… but just to complicate things, the narration comes courtesy of Alfred the butler, and there’s at least one scene in which Bruce isn’t even present.
(The art, too, is different; Lee Garbett’s work is serviceable, but no better than Tony Daniel’s.)
What the issue doesn’t offer, despite the promises of publisher and editors, is any sort of narrative “bridge” whatsoever explaining how Batman got from the end of “R.I.P.” to the beginning of Grant’s other current opus, Final Crisis, with which this tale crosses over.
Instead, we get more of Morrison’s trademark obscurantism—raising questions he doesn’t intend to answer, hinting at connections with no actual deeper meaning, and filling the backstory with inscrutable references.
In this case the driving force of the story, the rationale for the recap, is multifaceted. In one sense, metatextually, it’s about fulfilling Morrison’s conceit that the entire 70-year published history of Batman, including countless Golden Age and early Silver Age stories that were long ago swept under the rug in current continuity and seem completely at odds with it thematically, can somehow be shoehorned into the life of the present-day version of the character.
In another sense, it’s that Bruce’s mind is being mined, as it were, by Simyan and Mokkari, a pair of mad scientists in the style of Mengele and the service of Darkseid, who captured him in issue #2 of Final Crisis. (This isn’t recapped anywhere in the issue, BTW, so readers who are unfortunate enough to follow only Batman and not DC’s tentpole event title are left in the dark about the who, what, where, why, and when of his captivity.) They do this via the telepathic powers of the Lump (an obscure old Mr. Miracle villain), who (we gradually discover) is inhabiting Bruce’s memories disguised as Alfred.
Grant hedges his bets as to how reliable any of the flashbacks are, however, right from the start, by depicting two contradictory variations on the seminal moment when the bat flew in Bruce’s study window and inspired him to adopt his costumed persona. What follows is thus, clearly, not 100% reliable. Still, for those concerned about continuity (a cohort in which I surely count myself), he arguably reintroduces more long-abandoned or contradictory details of the Bat-mythos in this single story than in his entire run to date. Most notably:
- Original girlfriend Julie Madison (who was elegantly re-imagined by Matt Wagner in his Monster Men and Mad Monk mini-series just last year, both of which are ignored here)
- Some of Batman’s earliest (and pulpiest) adventures from the pages of 1939’s Detective Comics, including his confrontations with “Doctor Death” and “the Dirigible of Doom”
- The prank-obsessed, non-homicidal version of the Joker, as seen in the 1950s and ’60s
- The yellow-clad, 1950s Kathy (now, apparently, Katy) Kane version of Batwoman
- Alfred’s mid-’60s death and resurrection (although not, at least explicitly, his brief career as the villainous Outsider)
In fact, a crucial moment in the plot—the turning point at which Bruce realizes his memories are being infiltrated, and Alfred isn’t really Alfred—hinges on the fact that Alfred never remembered his death and resurrection… a clue unlikely to be noticed by many readers, depending as it does on a story that’s hardly even been mentioned in print for over 30 years.
Weaving through all of this, meanwhile, is a loose thread about Gotham chemical companies, and a rather more prominent theme about deciphering the Joker’s shifts in style and personality over the years. (Indeed, if anyone knows of an actual past story in which the Joker surrendered himself after losing a “laughing contest” with Robin, please let me know what it is!—that one was lost on me.)
It’s possible, barely, to wedge all of these references into the known continuity of the post-Crisis Batman’s life. (In fact, I’ve made my level best effort to do so on my DCU history site.) However, it’s no surprise that the story has provoked some mixed reviews… not to mention confused reactions from readers, since its references even to recent events are opaque at best. (Does Final Crisis take place after the “six months later” prologue/epilogue in “R.I.P.”? No, the other way around. Are Bruce’s flashbacks taking place years ago during his isolation chamber experiment? No, they’re contemporary. Why did Bruce twig to the Lump’s deception? See above. Was Dr. Hurt an agent of Darkseid? No evidence for that. Was “R.I.P.” all a delusion? We should be so lucky…)
And it all ends a in a cliffhanger wherein the Lump (in the form of Alfred offering a story—as the character often did in the Silver Age) forces Bruce to consider a Gotham without a Batman… a distraction he will presumably overcome in the next issue, if we’re to finish reviewing his career and lead into his “final” fate (whatever it may be) in Final Crisis. (So, once again, there will probably be no concrete ending in the pages of Batman itself.)
Still, despite all its flaws (or, to be charitable, “features with selective appeal”), I have to say that I rather enjoyed the issue—certainly more than I had the preceding storyline, at least. The nostalgia it evokes for adventures gone by (even if the ones Grant embraces aren’t often the ones most readers remember) elicits an authentic emotional tone that’s been missing from most of Grant’s run, and conveys a sense of direction and purpose to the Batman’s long career that’s too often missing from other, smaller-scale stories.
Whether Morrison will have a chance to return and pick up any of the loose threads he leaves lying about here still remains to be seen, however—the next three story arcs (at least) will be by different writers, and Batman group editor Mike Marts is as yet unwilling to commit to any return date for Grant. For dedicated fans of his work, that may be a loss… but on the other hand, for those who prefer their Batman stories slightly less quixotic, it may be a relief.Tags: Batman, continuity, DC Comics, Final Crisis, Grant Morrison, super-heroes