ACHTUNG! SPOILERS & PLOT DETAILS WILL BE DISCUSSED UNREPENTANTLY. Proceed at your own risk, fanboy.
So we’ve finally come to the end of the BATMAN R.I.P. storyline, and a lot of us are still scratching our heads. Well, it’s not really the end– we’ve got what’s being promoted as Batman’s entire history covered by Grant Morrison in two issues. And to do that they’ll have to be the shortest or longest two issues in all comic book history. I mean, it’s either, “Bang. I must become a bat! Yr the devil! BOOM! R.I.P.” Or it’s going to be longer than 52.
Anyhow, I’m a big Grant Morrison fan and was laying off judgment on this arc till it had concluded, but after reading back through it all, I’m not exactly sure what this story was doing and why. While its seeds were planted early into his Morrison’s run on Batman (the “ZUR EN ARRH” graffitti appears in #558, the first issue of his run), and it all seems obvious now– out of all the separate arcs he’s written so far, the R.I.P. storyline itself has been the least satisfying. And while a large part of that may be Morrison drawing on some seriously esoteric aspects of Batman continuity, I think a large part of the blame is on penciller Tony Daniel’s incoherent layouts.
Just about any artist is going to look bad after following the phenomenally talented JH Williams the III (and what may be my favorite Batman story arc of all time on “The Black Glove,”) but Daniels’ storytelling has actually gotten worse over the course of his run on the title. During the altogether crappy crossover, “The Resurrection of Ras Al Ghul,” Daniels’ panels are pretty well-paced and the action is clear, even if I don’t particularly like his character renderings. And in issues #672-674 dealing with Dr. Hurt’s three replacement Batmen, the art remains coherent with some splash pages I daresay I liked! (With the notable exception of the whole fake-arm escape thing in #674, which was real awkward and maybe impossible for anyone to draw, but awkward nonetheless.) In #675, a new inker excentuated the worst parts of Daniel’s pencils and beginning with #676 the official start of the “Batman R.I.P.” storyline, the art literally begins to lose the plot.
Morrison like many writers, sometimes gives pencillers lay-outs to work from and may be responsible for the pace of action in the storyline– but it’s hard for me to believe after seeing what Williams and Andy Kubert did with the scripts given to them that we couldn’t have gotten something a whole lot better and readable out of the whole storyline. Again it’s rough to compare Daniels to veterans like Williams or Kubert, but even if I dislike Daniels art, my criticism isn’t with the way he draws a single face or figure as much as it is with the way he’s laid it all out. To be fair, Kubert isn’t really a favorite of mine in any fashion, but I’ll be damned if the man doesn’t know how to lay out a page.
Also, now that we’ve seen Batman go down with the devil in a helicopter crash, it really seems like Paul Dini’s craptacular “Heart of Hush” storyline really was a “fuck you” to Morrison’s Batman RIP storyline like I thought it might be. Other than being a lot crappier to read (but easier on the eyes thanks to Dustin Nguyen), Dini’s storyline has a lot of parallels to R.I.P., most notably the “mysterious villain from the past utilizes other villains to wear Batman down” aspect, and the ambiguous death in a helicopter crash at the end of both. Of course, by all rights Hush should’ve just died in the crash (largely because he’s a worthless and empty character), but he survives and the mediocre status quo is maintained, nothing meaningful happens. Is this a meta-commentary on what’s going on with BATMAN R.I.P. or just a crappy shadow of another storyline? Probably the latter, but perhaps one can leave Dini some benefit of the doubt, deserved or undeserved being in the eye of the beholder.
One of the problems with the last couple issues of BATMAN R.I.P. was all the exposition and motivations we were given so flatly: Jezebel Jet’s secret origin via the Black Glove(!) and all that. Classic “telling” versus “showing.” Not that we really needed to hear every single individual’s backstory coming into this, but we got so many flashes of different characters, it would’ve been nice if more of them, especially Dr. Hurt himself, made a bigger impression as personalities. But even after all the noise and action has subsided, Morrison still managed to write some of my favorite Batman storylines and moments during his run. The demonic son, the Club of Heroes, and the ninja Man-Bats were all fantastic. Right now I’m just unclear as to why Bruce Wayne is gone, and while I’m not necessarily against a successor– I’m looking for a better storytelling reason for him to have died.
With Morrison’s Final Crisis giving us the true death of the Jack Kirby’s New Gods and Fourth World, there have been rumors of a “Fifth World” pantheon where all the A-list DC heroes are going to ascend to. Having fought the Devil, is Batman going to become a God? Maybe, but with all the mandated rewrites that are apparently effecting the ending of Final Crisis and vis-a-vis the entire DC publishing schedule, all bets are presently off. And it’s not just Bruce Wayne’s future that’s unclear, the coming “Battle for the Cowl” storyline wherein all the Bat-heir-apparents (Nightwing, Robin, Damian, maybe Batgirl and whiny shoulda-stayed-dead-douche Jason Todd?) fight to be the goddamn Batman has been passing through writer’s hands like a potato hot with herpes. This all bodes ill for however it’s all going to shake out for Batman in the DCU at large, and along with the rewrites afflicting the end of Morrison’s magnum opus, it only makes the general prognosis for everything DC seem all the more dismal.