2009 is coming to a close, and we’ve now seen a full year of Batman comics without Bruce Wayne. A lot has happened in his absence. Dick Grayson ascended to the role of Batman reluctantly, Damian Wayne has become the new and current Robin, and right now Batman’s “skull” has been used as a very powerful weapon that may have killed all of DC’s major heroes…
But this all started with BATMAN, R.I.P..
I’ve read the panning that this story has received by Batman fans, and truth be told, their negative sentiments against the story are -- technically -- valid. This is, after all, the first part of the gears turning for Batman’s “death” at the hands of Darkseid in FINAL CRISIS, and is largely responsible for the removal of Bruce Wayne from the DC Universe-proper. Being a lifelong Batman fan, I understand the frustration this causes when a story comes out of nowhere and practically takes Batman away from us.
But the more I’ve read R.I.P. since I’ve picked up the deluxe hardcover edition, the more I realize something: Grant Morrison did not write this story to tear down Bruce Wayne and everything that he stands for. Unlike what some believe, R.I.P. was not a tool to deconstruct Batman badly enough to remove him from the DCU, it served an entirely different purpose.
The purpose that R.I.P. served was to literally show us why Batman is practically invincible. I don’t mean in a physical sense obviously, but in a character sense, in an intellectual sense, and in a profound sense of pure will. In the first few parts of R.I.P., Batman was destroyed. When the Black Glove revealed itself and began working against The Dark Knight, the attack was utterly devastating. Batman’s home, his allies, his city, and his very mind were all left in tatters. And when the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh showed up, “traditional” Batman fans got confused and decided to end their read of the series right there.
Then, the beauty and bad-assery of Batman exploded in the final chapters. He backed up his own mind. He let an alternate personality take over in the event of his mental attack, and allowed the “true” Batman to heal. In that last issue of the story, in pure Morrisonian fashion, the stacked deck against The Guardian of Gotham was toppled irreversibly. He had put all the pieces together. He uncovered the attackers against him months before, put his knowledge to work, and proved that even against such devastation, Batman wins.
So, to be frank, I can’t understand the detractors of R.I.P. arguing that this story was not, “pure Batman.” A threat so awe-inspiringly powerful played their hand, and Batman showed yet again that he had a royal flush (pun only partially intended).
And in the end, in FINAL CRISIS, Morrison tells us that not even a God is powerful enough to end The Dark Knight.
Let that sink in for a second, because it’s vitally important. Morrison doesn’t get Batman? He went up against a god. And won. If the celestial apocalypse can’t stop Batman, a mere mortal, then what the hell can? Sure he looks dead right now, but we know he’s not. R.I.P. and the tie-in issues to FINAL CRISIS took the character we all know and love, and placed him in a crazy situation. For some, that’s the ONLY reason people dislike it. That crazy situation, in Batman comics, had also never been seen before. So you have certain fans that I’ve talked with in the comic shop panning R.I.P. for being too “crazy” to be a “real” Batman story, and those EXACT same fans harp on the other books on the shelves for not being original enough.
Doesn’t seem like much of an argument to me. This decade has given us some great Batman stories, and some terrible ones. I’ve read practically all of them. From Greg Rucka to Jeph Loeb, Judd Winick to James Robinson, from John Ostrander to Grant Morrison. From “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” to “Under the Hood,” “Hush” to “Face the Face.” There have been good and bad, and my friends, Grant Morrison’s run is not in the bad column when looking at bad Batman. My absolutely favorite Batman internal monologue from the last 10 years is in R.I.P., about “bench-pressing a pine coffin lid” and how the improbable is, “far from impossible.” Does that sentiment not reflect who and what Batman is all about? How, even with all of the restrictions that come with humanity, we are still capable of superhuman achievement?
With the “Return of Bruce Wayne” limited series on the horizon for 2010, I urge you to keep an open mind. If you have Grant Morrison’s Batman run, maybe read it again. Morrison’s work generally reads more fluidly in collected form, so it might be better than you think and remember. Yes, “Return” has a rather hokey premise. But sometimes, the hokiest of premises make for great storytelling. Batman vs. History is rather unique, as well. And even if you hate Morrison’s work on Batman, you can’t help but at least look forward to the very promise that the title makes