This issue and the previous one have to fill a number of slots: they make up “What The Butler Saw,” Grant Morrison’s installment of the “Last Rites” short tales closing out the current era of the Bat-titles; they’re Morrison’s coda to his own current run on the character, and a sequel (of sorts) to “Batman R.I.P.”; they’re a summary of the entire career history of the Batman, and an examination of his motivations along the way; and they’re a crossover with Final Crisis, detailing what happens to Batman therein and leading back into issue #6 of said Big Event.
And they work satisfyingly on every one of those levels. I’ve been critical of much of Morrison’s recent work, on Batman and elsewhere, but I very much enjoyed this story.
It’s not simple formulaic storytelling (like Denny O’Neil’s disapointing guest stint on ‘Tec #851/Batman #684), but neither is it overstuffed with underdeveloped ideas and disconnected plotlines like “R.I.P.” and Final Crisis itself. It focuses on a single, clear situation—Batman’s captivity by Darkseid’s minions—but delivers it by way of an innovative, thoughtful narrative structure. For a chance Morrison seems to have bitten off neither more nor less than he can chew, but instead a perfect mouthful.
As the story develops it alternates between Bruce’s attempts to break out of a seemingly inocuous mental dreamscape imposed on him by the villains, and single-panel flashbacks to “real” events from his costumed life. Those flashbacks simultaneously underscore the incredible stress and trauma Bruce has endured as a result of his choice to be Batman, and thus directly inform his defeat of the villains, as the clone army they’re attempting to create lacks the inner resources to process that trauma.
The flashbacks also serve as an effective recap of the Batman’s history, hitting the key moments from the last 30 years or so—which is to say (unlike the previous issue’s attempt to bring in the 1930s-’60s) a period that I and most other fans can personally remember reading. (Granted these panels might be less evocative—and indeed less clear in narrative terms—for newer readers who don’t know those stories first-hand, but in today’s publishing world at least most of them are readily available in collected form.) It’s heartening to be reassured (in contrast to current goings-on in the Superman titles) that most of what we remember reading in the post-Crisis era remains intact as part of continuity.
(In that same vein: Lee Garbett’s art is serviceable, if not quite up his ambitions. He’s clearly trying to evoke the art styles found in the stories referenced by the flashbacks, from Neal Adams to Marshall Rogers and beyond, but he’s not nearly as effective at it as was J.H. Williams III in last year’s “Club of Heroes” arc. Still, his work carries the story forward with clarity and dramatic impact.)
The story also underscores the key clue about Alfred’s history that Bruce noticed in the previous issue (for those who didn’t catch it themselves), offers an effective (if belated) bridge between the ambiguous ending of “R.I.P.” and Batman’s appearances in Final Crisis #1-2, touchingly fleshes out his relationship with Alfred… and when all is said and done provides an emotionally satisfying, respectful stopping point for this phase of Batman’s career and Bruce’s life.
What the Bat-titles will be like during (and after) the creative shakeups planned for the year ahead is far from clear. But these two issues have certainly left an impressive high-water mark for them to live up to.Tags: Batman, continuity, DC Comics, Final Crisis, Grant Morrison, super-heroes