Thursday, August 14, 2008

Batman #679 Review

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Tony Daniel

In the latest installment of Batman R.I.P., the entire story is beginning to come together. Moreover, Morrison's entire run is beginning to tie together in a way that shows he knew exactly what he was planning right from his very first issue. We see the return of the Club of Heroes, one of Morrison's more interesting creations, and much of the mystery of the story has been revealed. Batman's insanity is explained and we learn more about the roles of Alfred and, possibly, Thomas Wayne.

Batman has, at this point, completely lost his mind. However, the explanation of this is very interesting. It isn't just that he was injected with drugs in the last issue. Rather, the trigger word Doctor Hurt implanted in his head has somehow "shut off" Bruce Wayne, and Bruce has had to escape into another personality, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. This is actually a reasonably plausible explanation, at least in comic book terms. Perhaps it is better to say that it is an intelligible explanation of what has happened to Batman. Before, we just had Batman hallucinating and acting erratically, but none of it made sense. Now it makes some sense. He has created this persona for himself in which he is all-powerful, but lacking the conscience of Bruce Wayne. Now, the Black Glove must face what is in some ways a more powerful and certainly a more dangerous version of Batman, and they almost certainly will not like it.

Some of the red herrings of previous issues have been removed. Alfred is not evil, which is something of a relief. While having Alfred revealed evil would be better than having Thomas Wayne revealed to be evil, that is not exactly a recommendation. Jezebel Jet also seems to not have been involved in the Black Glove, which avoids the cliché of having the hero fall for a duplicitous vixen. Moreover, the possibility that Doctor Hurt may be Thomas Wayne is finally made explicit for all of the readers who didn't read Detective Comics #235 in 1956. Curiously, Doctor Hurt seems to genuinely believe that he is Thomas Wayne, but Alfred does not believe it. That opens up a whole new set of possibilities: is Doctor Hurt insane? Has he had plastic surgery? Is he from Earth-3? It is certainly odd that Alfred would not recognize him if it was really him.

The story is also leading up to its final confrontation, which appears to take place at Arkham Asylum. Nightwing has been brought in for a lobotomy and presumably to serve as bait. The Joker is being brought into the picture, and since Morrison hasn't done very much with the Joker at all, this promises to be very interesting. In the brave but somewhat unsuccessful Batman #663, he gave a prose story centered on the Joker, but one didn't really get a sense form that how he would portray the character. However, the final act at Arkham needs to include the Joker if it is going to truly spell the end of Batman, and I wonder if Doctor Hurt hasn't unleashed more than he can deal with in siding with the Joker, who is not known for keeping his bargains.

There are some very clever moments in this book. The scene with the gargoyles in which they talk about the "grid" around which people grow like vines is a very interesting image, and quickly followed by another replay of Batman's origin, in which Batman is produced by the city in which he lives. The way in which we arrange our lives into patterns and the way in which those patterns shape our lives is an important part of what it is to be human, and the way in which architecture instantiates those patterns is an important insight. Morrison constantly uses architecture as metaphor, and the Batman is so tied with Gotham he is inseparable from it. A nice thing about this scene is that Morrison finds the time to be reflective in the middle of the madness of R.I.P. Every once and a while he takes a chance to step back and remind us of his themes before stepping back into the story.

Moreover, another important theme in this story is theatricality. The characters in Batman are constantly making themselves up as characters. They take the ideal of playing their role extremely literally. As a result, the characters in this story are constantly driven by the role they have chosen to play. Batman is trying to play Zorro. Charlie thinks he is Caligula. The entire story of R.I.P. is based on a Danse Macabre. Everything that the Black Glove does is done primarily for dramatic effect. Do they have any other motivation than to play their parts? How much of our own motivation is often provided by the roles we want to play? Morrison uses theatrical metaphors almost as much as Shakespeare, though with a slightly different purpose. Shakespeare is interested in how we play our roles in a divine drama. Morrison is more interested in how we create our sense of ourselves out of the roles we decide to play. Gotham City provides the ultimate backdrop for him to explore these themes.

This issue is one of the strongest of Morrison's Batman run. It shows he has truly mastered this material. Morrison is starting to bring all of his themes together toward a conclusion that, given the themes, is seeming more and more inevitable. Everyone in this story is playing some sort of character in a play. Plays have conclusions, and with this story, the final act approaches its climax.



Cristiano Silva said...

It's interesting to me that, in All Star Superman, Grant Morrison is telling us a great Superman story, related to his possible "death", the end of Superman, because in that title, Clark is dying. In Batman title, Morrison is also telling an "end of Batman" like story, tough we don't know yet if Bruce will die or become mad to the point there's no going back.

I know that Morrison is a great writer, but I don't appreciate all of his works just because it carries his name. I like All Star Superman, and for me, this Batman tale would suit better in a All Star Batman, not in the current title.

Because everybody knows, at the end, that Bruce Wayne will ever be Batman, despite of anything.

Daniel said...

I haven't been reading All-Star Batman. I really should, given that it's one of my favourite characters and one of my favourite writers.

We'll probably see Bruce replaced, but I agree that it will be a year or two at most. At the end of the day, Bruce Wayne is Batman.