Read in Peace: Batman R.I.P. Graphic Novel Review

scanned cover to Batman R.I.P. graphic novel

Prior to its release, there was a lot of mystery surrounding Grant Morrison‘s Batman crossover event R.I.P., partially fueled by DC in an attempt to garner sales, and partially by Morrison who as usual only gave gnomic hints about what would happen in the series. Fans were all asking, “Who will die,” and “Does R.I.P. necessarily stand for requiescat in pace?”  So when the series concluded, it left more than a few fans feeling jilted.  Not me.  I’ve heard a lot of fans went so far as to write angry letters to DC and wrote equally angry blogs, blaming Morrison for changing up one of the flagship Big Three* characters.

The funny part is, part of what annoyed fans so much is that none of the central characters died in R.I.P.  Talk about a pessimistic age we’re living in.  Batman didn’t “die” until a short time later in Morrison’s Final Crisis.  Some of the well-known characters nearly died, for instance Dick Grayson (Nightwing) was abducted and put on an operating table by evil surgeons, and in Detective Comics Catwoman had her heart actually removed from her body by Hush, but otherwise the title R.I.P. was a red herring.

My one complaint about R.I.P. is that it shouldn’t have been a crossover event, and I really don’t know why it was.  The different series don’t tie together much at all.  In Detective Comics, Bruce is saving Catwoman’s heart (literally) and in Batman he’s losing his mind.  Then there were R.I.P. stories for the other Bat family books that didn’t connect either.  On a side note, I’m pretty sure The Outsiders was the only comic to suffer fatalities in the R.I.P. event.

Years from now, when the nerdy furor over R.I.P. dies down, I really think fans will come to accept it as one of THE great Batman books, placing it alongside other classics like Batman: The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: The Killing Joke.

Batman R.I.P. was all about shaking up Bruce Wayne as a character.  Through so many past issues, Bruce has seemed like a pretty static character, hardly changing from one crime to the next, and furthermore he rarely seemed all that challenged by the crimes he’s solving.  Here, his world is turned inside out by The Black Glove, who, like himself, is a millionaire eccentric playboy, but unlike Bruce, is also maliciously insane.

As the story begins, The Black Glove has succeeded in more or less ruining the posterity of the Wayne family, doctoring up documents that suggest Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) paid the gunman to kill his wife as he faked his own death, then went a step further and told the world that Martha Wayne (Bruce’s mother) had an affair with Alfred the butler, and that Alfred is Bruce’s father.  For the entirety of the Batman comics from the 40s to the present it always seemed like Bruce’s parents were off-limits, and this is the first thing I’ve read that’s challenged that.

Since R.I.P. isn’t the story of Batman’s “death” but the story of what leads up to his “death,” Morrison goes all out in creating a “this is your life” kind of approach to the comic, including all sorts of references to stories from Batman’s past, some from as long ago as 6 decades.  For instance, it incorporates an event from long ago (I think the 50s or 60s) when Batman submitted himself to a test where they put him in isolation (the test was to see how the human mind could stand up to complete solitude, in case they sent a man into space, an idea that was also used on the Twilight Zone).  Grant Morrison reveals that one of the doctors working on that test was Dr. Hurt, i.e. The Black Glove, and that while Bruce was in stasis, Dr. Hurt tinkered with his mind, planting ideas (think Inception) that wouldn’t come to the forefront for several years.

Much of R.I.P. then deals with Bruce questioning his own sanity, in a classic case of “am I crazy or is this whole situation crazy?”  It’s the kind of story that fans of Philip K. Dick are going to like.  Then, to give it one more twist, Dr. Hurt injects Bruce with crystal meth and abandons him on the streets.  This is the only comic I’ve read where a big hero was put on actual hard drugs (I’ve read plenty involving hypnotism, mind-control, computer chip brain-implants, but never a street drug).  Also in Batman R.I.P. the Joker plays a large role, and I’d have to say he’s much scarier than usual here.

So of course this isn’t one for kids.  Mature teens and adults who are okay with their favorite superhero being chaned will like it.  It even features an appearance from Bat-mite, the weird flying half-boy half-imp in a mini Batman suit who used to be in some of the silver age Bat books (he’s essentially like Gazoo from The Flintstones).  The pencils are by Tony Daniel (who used to write and draw The Tenth).  Tony Daniel will be writing and drawing Batman after the DC relaunch.  Normally, I tell people that graphic novels aren’t worth spending $20 to $30 on, but are worth picking up from the library.  In the case of Batman R.I.P., I’d say this is a good one to buy, as the story has so many twists and intricacies that you’ll probably have to read it more than once (I’ve probably read Batman R.I.P. 5 times since I originally bought the issues when they first came out).

*Big Three is a nerdlinger term for the Big Three superheroes: Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman.

—If you’re looking for a novel to read, check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories.

See other graphic novel reviews.

If you like Batman:R.I.P. you might also like Seven Soldiers of Victory.

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