Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Batman RIP

One of the most hyped, cheered, jeered, and purchased comic stories of 2008 was Grant Morrison's climactic six-story arc in Batman titled "Batman, R.I.P.". Because the title made direct reference to the flagship character's death, it at once caused an uproar when the name of the arc was made public months before it began to be printed. Some fans were critical because they didn't want to see Bruce Wayne die. Others were upset because they were sure he wouldn't. Still others felt that it was destined to be a duplicate of Knightfall, or, on another level, of the yearlong absence Bruce Wayne had just undergone during the year of "52".

The story also produced a lot of confusion on some fundamental levels. For one thing, the RIP logo was placed on four other titles and pitched as a crossover, but for the most part, those titles had almost nothing to do with the main plot. For those fans who assumed, understandably, that the other titles were essential to the story, the reading order was unclear, because they were not linked chronologically, in terms of the publication dates, with the six RIP issues in Batman or with one another. Another form of crossover confusion involved Final Crisis, which takes place chronologically after RIP, but was published at more or less the same time, debuting when RIP had hardly begun. Meanwhile, there truly was essential reading for RIP in the form of the preceding 19 issues of Morrison's run on Batman. These issues had fundamental clues to what was going on in RIP, ranging from the very basic to the very subtle. It can truly be said that you would miss things in Batman #681 (the last issue of RIP) if you were not familiar with Batman #655. It would have been more accurate to label every single issue in Morrison's run "RIP" instead of putting that label on issues of Detective and Nightwing that came out in 2008.

RIP was heavily marketed as a mystery, with Morrison using conventions, interviews, and his own site to exhort readers to figure out the identity of the villain of RIP. Ultimately, this left confusion as well, with many readers reaching the end of RIP with earnest uncertainty over who the villain had been. Moreover, I think every reader had to be uncertain, when RIP ended, what exactly the status was of Batman's health and fitness, with some key details available only as the two-part Last Rites (Batman #682 and #683) and Final Crisis were concluded.

And having noted all of that confusion, I haven't even addressed the psychedelic swirl of events inside the story itself, which further confused some readers and left others disdainful of the kind of menace Batman was facing (more like a bad acid trip than like the fare of costumed villains he'd fought over the years). And to top it off, a key coloring error added blood to a scene where there shouldn't have been blood!

Ultimately, I think RIP was brilliant in flashes, and that the final two issues (Batman #680 and #681) contained some of the best Batman scenes ever penned. I would argue that the sheer length of the extended story enriches the medium. Just the idea that anomalies published in July 2006 were actually clues that would not be explained until November 2008 calls upon readers to look at future stories with a heightened level of observation. (Coincidentally, this is the exact duration of the 1960s Batman mystery concerning a villain called The Outsider, but that plot was totally absent from most stories printed in that time, instead resurfacing occasionally in issues of Detective.)

I think that RIP (that is, Morrison's entire run in Batman) was a tremendously rich work that rewards great scrutiny, and I will devote several upcoming posts to exploring it thoroughly.


  1. Hey Rikdad...

    Your posts on the DCU message board regarding RIP were great.

    I loved this Batman run...and I enjoyed the speculation and uncertainty of how it ended. Was Hurt the devil? Maybe. Probably. Doesn't matter...because the point was to show that Batman could take on the devil and still win.

    When he returns from the past, he'll also have proved that he can fight the master of all evil and still take the win.

    Jay-Me-Dee AKA Retconned

  2. I second the comment about your posts, you've demonstrated to have a wealth of Batman knowledge when a bunch of others have demonstrated that they are just willing to throw theories out there with nothing to back them up.

  3. I always enjoy your posts on the DCMB and I'm glad you've taken the time to start a blog.

    I got the new issue of Wizard in the mail today which contains an 8 page interview with Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel re: Batman RIP. There were a few things mentioned that I think maybe even you missed. However what you have been saying all along is now in writing by the author no less "People don't want to accept a supernatural explanation. But yes: This is the story of how Batman cheats the Devil" - Grant Morrison

    Great work Rik. You made the RIP story much more enjoyable for me.

  4. For a long time I didn't want to accept that Hurt was the devil. I thought it would be too supernatural...but it all fit SO well in the last issue that I felt silly for resisting the idea. Especially the dialogue with the Joker...In a way it was also a story about how the Joker cheated the Devil too.

    In the end, the only thing that should be able to kill Batman is the Joker and vice-versa, but they never will because they are Yin and Yang.