Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wizard #211 Platinum - Batman, RIP Director's Cut

I finally got my hands on this -- Wizard's distribution could stand some improvement, and the use of the same number for multiple issues is an interesting use of numerals.

While it's a fun piece with an A+ layout using the original story art, much of the material has appeared earlier on an almost phrase-by-phrase basis. For example, Morrison calls Batman "this perfect emblem of American physicality" and the Joker a "European sort of Berlin-era David Bowie-type". Almost a year ago, in an IGN interview, he talked about the Joker having "that sort of Euro kind of creepiness, that kind of heroine addict, David Bowie in Berlin seventies vibe". More or less the same words reshuffled. The contrast with Batman being "American" came up in last August's San Diego Comic Con, if I recall correctly. A lot of the commentary in the new Wizard piece was like that -- old news, but aggregated conveniently and attractively.

I'd also like to point out that there are three voices in the Wizard piece -- Morrison and Daniel, but also the supporting text written by Wizard staff (Kiel Phegley, Steve Sunu, and Tony Teofilo), and some of the quotations I have seen attributed to the piece, as though it were the pure voice of authority, come from those blocks of text. Just to point out the possible drift between Morrison and that rewording of his ideas, one of those blocks of text says that the final plunge [of the helicopter] was into "the ocean" whereas Morrison's own words placed the crash in "Gotham River" (Batman #683). So the quotations that are not directly attributed to Morrison and Daniel are not necessarily authoritative.

That said, there are lots of nice tidbits throughout the article. (Tony Daniel hates drawing Bat-Mite -- who knew?) The most attention goes to what seems to be a Frost/Nixon moment where Morrison says that he should not give the answer to the identity of the villain, but immediately does so:

Morrison: The minute I say who he is... it will stop people talking.

OK, so since Morrison wants to keep people talking, he won't say who it is?

Morrison: I was trying to do a definitive Batman story. Batman's stories tend to pit Batman against a diabolical mastermind. I thought, "Who's the ultimate diabolical mastermind?" This is a story about Batman's Black Casebook which is all the mysterious cases, the ones that are supernatural or bizarre. So for me, this is the ultimate supernatural Batman story.

Essentially every bit of that was already stated by Morrison before RIP ended, and was in fact excellent evidence that the villain was The Devil. At this point in the interview, Morrison is fighting with the instinct he gave in the first sentence. He doesn't want to tell. But he does want to tell. Were the interviewers shining a bright spotlight in his face? Probably not. But they did their job -- he reached his breaking point. He had to tell.

Morrison: There are clues, there are places in fact, where they actually state who he's up against in this story. But people don't want to accept the supernatural explanation. But yes: This is the story of how Batman cheats The Devil.

Obviously, Morrison was following the fan response to the story ("people don't want to accept the supernatural explanation"). The publication of #681 led some fans to impassioned exclamations that the story did not reveal the villain. But as Morrison points out, aside from the clues, there are places where they actually state who he's up against (the Joker and Lane each stating it directly). Somewhat like the Vatican admitting that Galileo was right many centuries after his death, the author's direct admission of the villain's identity finally came five months after the last issue.

That was so clearly spoken by the story that it took torturous logic to deny it even before this. But a parallel and interesting bit of explanation came from Morrison on the subject of the Joker's "apophenia" speech. In #680, the Joker said that none of his clues meant anything, which stirred up some fan reaction that all of the mystery-solving had been for nought. But Morrison corrects that perception, too:

Morrison: The Joker lies constantly. [...] The Joker's there to say that nothing makes sense, when every single element in this book makes sense -- and the Joker knows that. There's a double meaning there. It's a truth, but at the same time the Joker's lying to you. If you go over the entire story, you'll realize it was planned and plotted to the last second.

I think Morrison's having it both ways here, because the Joker's color-coded clues did mean nothing in the context of RIP. (It meant something very specific in Batman #663. In fact, the Joker didn't start the claim that red and black meant anything in RIP; Batman dropped that assertion in the Joker's lap in DC Universe #0). And though the Joker lies "constantly", he was one of the ones who told us that Hurt was The Devil. And clearly not every single element in the book makes sense; Morrison himself says "I hate things with answers" later in the interview!

But in a nutshell, the identity of the villain, and the Black Glove's plan, are spelled out in detail if you take the whole run and piece them together. But red and black had no meaning that has yet shown up, and the relationship between the Waynes and the Black Glove was hinted at but not defined, and may be the subject of future stories.

I would certainly enjoy interviewing Grant Morrison on the subject of Batman, RIP, and try to get at the relationship between the Mayhew plot and the Black Glove's attack on Batman. I think that in the process of creating the tale of "the ultimate diabolical mastermind", Morrison defined a new rule book for villains, one that I'll consider in more depth in future posts. While comic books are not usually how-to manuals, it seems safe to conclude that if you tried to get an enemy the way Doctor Hurt tried to get Batman, you'd probably succeed. By pitting Batman against this plan, Morrison raised the bar for villains and heroes alike.


  1. I liked the article. The thought process behind writing a scene a particular way or drawing a scene a particular way interests me. I really wish graphic novels (especially the hardcover versions) would include more of this type of information.

  2. is there any way/place to get access to all the commentary short of buying the issue? thanks

    appreciated the article!