Shiny Shelf

Batman #681: RIP Conclusion

By Mark Clapham on 30 November 2008

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Grant Morrison’s ‘Batman RIP’ story concluded this week, with a minor flurry of slow-news-day coverage in the mainstream media and a generally baffled response from online fanboys.

The latter is slightly exasperating, but in many ways understandable. What the fans want is something simple and incredibly linear, fat iconic moments dressed up in sexed-up artwork. They want Batman on the slab with tearful Robins gathered around, or a funeral where Bruce Wayne is disguised as the vicar and then twats the Joker with an empty coffin, all as a double page spread by Jim Lee. They want, in short, something by Geoff Johns or Jeph Loeb, simplistic fanboy button-pushing with sign-posted ‘meanings’.

What they got with ‘RIP’ is instead opaque, dosed with symbolism and complexity about death, mortality, fear and evil. It’s a story about Batman being so mad he’s sane, or so sane he’s mad, or a bit of both. The villain could be unknowable, spectral evil, the literal devil; a terrible example of goodness and faith corrupted, exposing Batman’s mission as based on decay and untruth; or a manifestation of the bad parts of Bruce Wayne’s psyche, purged via mystic ritual and given flesh to chase him down. It’s a brilliant exploration of the simple power of the Batman character as unstoppable human engine of justice, a man who both spiritually and literally faces down his worst fears and punches them hard in the face.
There is no shortage of ‘wow’ moments, and no-one could accuse Tony Daniel’s art of lo-fi indie understatement – the action set pieces are as cinematic as anything in mainstream comics.

What you don’t get is the meaning of anything painstakingly explained: Morrison’s storytelling is now pared down to a ridiculous extent –scenes rarely wind-down or start-up, instead jumping in mid-conversation, mid-fight, getting straight to the point without bothering with anything inbetween. Time periods intersect and narration overlaps. The effect can be a bit baffling, with uncertainty over where we are and how things fit together, but it’s worth the work – this is as brilliant a Batman story as you’ll ever read. It’s understandable that fans used to a far simpler, more straightforward style of writing would be put-off: years of straightforward Bat-action haven’t exactly primed readers for anything this multi-layered.

The ending, once the big action finale is over and done, is exceptionally snappy. Remember how Morrison’s first issue of ‘The Resurrection of Rha’s Al Ghul’ skipped straight over the actual resurrection, because Morrison just wasn’t interested in the crude plot mechanics of how what happened with whom? Well, he’s playing the same game here, skipping forward in time and highlighting the important story beats as he sees them. The last few pages of this issue don’t really require a ‘Battle for the Cowl’, but they leave space for DC to eke one out while allowing Morrison to pick up his story threads sometime next year when such matters have been settled.

I’m fairly certain Morrison will return, regardless of his absence from the next few months of solicitations. While there’s many a slip and so forth, I’d sooner believe that Bruce Wayne was gone forever than that Morrison didn’t intend to return – the ending of ‘RIP’ may make a number of big statements about Batman and Bruce Wayne, but it also leaves threads and possibilities hanging which I can’t believe Morrison is just tossing away for other writers to deal with. I suspect he’s cannily giving DC space to do the more straightforward and commercial crossover events he can’t be bothered with himself, but which the market will lap up.

Personally, I’m at best semi-interested in these interim stories, and am eager to see Morrison pick up the story threads. My suspicion is that Bruce Wayne has disappeared following his own Reichenbach Falls for similar reasons to Holmes, dismantling the Black Glove from the inside (adopting the guise of Doctor Hurt). If so, how far into this new role will he have sunk by the time he re-emerges? Will he need saving for himself, or come back in the prescribed Arthurian manner when Gotham is at a historic low, to save the city once again?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.

Batman RIP – long live the Batman.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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