Batman R.I.P. is the most talked about storyline from the Caped Crusader in years, and has got the comic book world talking. Today, Oh Three drops by with his take on the controversial run from Grant Morrison. Look for Japer’s take in the next few days.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Tony Daniel
For all intents and purposes, it is written in stone that Batman will never die. On the heels of the second highest grossing film of all time, and seventy years of continuous media production, the immortality of the Batman franchise has never been stronger. That is why the hype around writer Grant Morrison’s latest story-arc, Batman R.I.P., comes as such a surprise. Is DC Comics actually going to either kill-off Batman, or his alter ego, Bruce Wayne within the ongoing storyline of the ‘DC Universe’? Readers have been privileged to witness Batman’s demise on several occasions, but all have occurred within isolated stories often called Elseworlds or a What-If (under the Marvel Comics brand). But this is different; it is to be ‘in-continuity’, featuring cover art by the premier industry painter, Alex Ross.
The tale is a complex web, taking place over six issues within the Batman title. Although there are crossover issues published within other titles, such as Detective Comics and Nightwing, the narrative is relatively self-contained within the flagship title. Morrison pits Batman against a criminal conspiracy intending on destroying the legendary hero and all he holds dear.
Morrison is best known for his mind-expanding stories that take-off at a break-neck pace. His writing can leave more questions than it answers as he moves on with the plot. His work is often cerebral and abstract, drawing heavily from alternative knowledge and cutting edge science fiction concepts. Morrison’s New X-Men, JLA, and, most recently, All-Star Superman all suited his touch, and were top-selling mainstream books under his guidance. Artist Frank Quietly added award-winning visuals to both X-Men and Superman, and the pair had an obvious chemistry that is worth reading on any occasion.
The magical chemistry between writer and artist is what is missing most in Batman R.I.P. The story is confusing to read and lacks clarity that one should expect from a premier writer in the spotlight of writing a premier character. Each issue begins with an awkwardness that beckons the question ‘did I miss the last issue?’ Although Morrison spends no time filling the reader in, which is often a criticism of writers, like X-Men legend Chris Claremont, there are leaps in time and setting without meaningful visual cues. There are scenes that start without introductions and scenes that end without a visual closing. It adds up to a read that lacks the intangible of flow.
Artist Tony Daniel tries to keep pace, but like predecessors Howard Porter (JLA), Andy Kubert (Batman and Son), and any of the guys who drew DC’s 52, he doesn’t have the magic touch to enhance the ideas presented by mastermind Grant Morrison. Daniel’s Batman is heavily inspired by legendary artist Jim Lee, which is not a bad thing in itself, except that the drawing looks like a second (or third) rate Lee rip-off. The reader’s eyes clumsily move around the page, as Daniel is unable to demonstrate which part of each image is more or less important to the story. He lacks the ability to create the necessary visual depth to his figures and settings, thus leaving each page looking flat. Applying skillful inking and colouring often compensates for an artist’s shortcomings. Unfortunately, both the inker and colourist fail to add anything to the artwork. In fact, Batman’s costume is treated with a slightly greenish colour on his cape and mask, etc. Gone is the black, grey, or dark blue that has worked so well in the past. The story also presents Batman wearing a costume created from scraps found on the street that is pink, purple and yellow. It might be the ugliest thing I have ever looked at in a comic book (note: my first superhero comic, Alpha Flight #22, featured Pink Pearl: a five-hundred pound circus-freak/political terrorist, and ‘The Batman of Zur-en-ahh’ was worse.)
By the end of the six issues, there has been no death scene for the cape crusader, no sense of loss, or tragedy of any kind. Batman is simply missing. Although the story is far from over, there is no reason to care about where it leads. It feels like a gimmick, allowing the next writer to explore a Gotham City without Bruce Wayne, which has been done many times.
The news media caught wind of Batman R.I.P. and relayed the message to readers that Batman’s death was in issue #681. Compare this to the death of Marvel character Captain America two years ago. He was shot down in cold blood, right in the pages of the book. Nineteen issues later, the title character has not returned and the book is better than ever. There is a commitment from the writer, editor, and publisher to take the book to new places, and not to have the work undone by another writer six months later.
Although Batman comics have been the setting for secrets, mysteries, and tough questions, the only crime yet to be solved is will anything meaningful come from Batman R.I.P.?