May 10th 2009

Batman: R.I.P. – Deluxe Edition

Review written by Mark Richards

Insanely clever, wildly inventive and intentionally baffling; “Batman: R.I.P” is the eagerly-awaited graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Tony S. Daniel.  Collecting issues 676-681 of DC Comics’ Batman, this story depicts the machinations of the overwhelmingly rich and powerful “Black Glove” organisation as they attempt to mentally and physically destroy Bruce Wayne, his legendary alter-ego Batman, and everything he stands for. A culmination of two years’ worth of ideas explored by Morrison during his tenure on Batman, “R.I.P.” is a deliciously confusing but imaginative story that simply demands multiple readings.  The nature of the plot mirrors Batman’s own flailing consciousness as he flits between erratic brilliance and calculated insanity.  Indeed, Morrison seems to delight in perplexing the reader almost as much as his hero; as we run smoothly between past, present and future, between reality and unreality, we too begin to lose track of what is real. There is a relentless sense of foreboding as Batman becomes increasingly isolated; frustrated that The Black Glove, led by the sadistic and egotistical Dr. Simon Hurt, remain so elusive that even his allies begin to doubt his conviction.

As his world unfurls, and his obsession with understanding the criminal mind borders on insanity, we are given an insight into Bruce Wayne’s psyche like never before. Equally unrelenting is the brutal assault on the supporting cast; physically and mentally, the remaining Bat-family are strategically taken out of the game by The Black Glove in order to leave Batman truly and utterly alone at his final stand.  Not even Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful manservant, nor his parents remain unsullied.  There are also some striking revelations; the implication of Dr. Simon Hurt’s identity is an interesting conceit, as is The Joker’s take on Batman’s obsession, but most note-worthy is “The Batman of ‘’Zur En Arrh’”.  As Bruce Wayne loses his grip on reality, the concept behind this new character is a truly remarkable notion which will instantly fortify The Dark Knight’s appeal with new and existing fans.  For this Morrison deserves much credit, and readers should enjoy figuring out the relevance of the phrase “’Zur En Arrh’” for themselves.

Credit should also go to Tony S. Daniel.  As with his work on the Spawn series, his artistic style is perfectly suited to Batman; fluidly combining the colourfully gaudy with brooding darkness.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in his realisation of “The Batman of ‘Zur En Arrh’”.  Clad in a vivid costume of tattered rags that brings to mind a fusion of Jason Todd’s Robin costume and the 80s Bat costume, we’re left in no doubt that this is an unpredictable new character with Batman’s entire prowess but few of his values.  Action is infused with an energy that makes it seem as though it wants to come crashing out of the page, while the more introverted moments are drawn with a similar grace that compliments both the dialogue and the drama.  From the subliminal colour codes, through Robin’s angst, to the stark lines of the all-new Batmobile, the emotional turmoil is brought out perfectly by Daniel’s artwork.  As this is the deluxe edition, it would be remiss of us not to mention the wonderful cover art by Alex Ross. 

Once again Ross captures the spirit of The Dark Knight with his beautifully dramatic paintings; yet again proving that just one image can speak a thousand words. 

But the final word should go to Daniel, as he consistently nails each page with just the right balance of dark and light, and renders characters that are at once striking and familiar.

The inclusion of The Joker is a wise decision.  One of comics’ greatest punch lines, he immediately informs that we are being led down a strange highway, and we are not disappointed.  From his initial conflict with Batman over a game of cards, to his concluding scenes with The Black Glove, we are treated to a darker, more dangerous character than we’ve ever seen before.  Tony Daniel’s artwork presents us with a leaner, stronger Joker; his scarred visage and now-permanent smile upping the sense of lethal intent as he allies himself with The Black Glove to inflict revenge upon Batman.  This Joker, from the scripting to the artwork, looks and feels like the genuine article; a gleeful maniac with the strength of a demon.  It’s an absolute delight to see The Joker used in such fashion, for in the wrong hands he can often become an afterthought.  The Joker also draws a stark contrast to The Black Glove; for all their perceived might and planning you’re never really left with the sense that they pose a legitimate threat to Batman.  This is pretty much the only drawback with the entire story, but an important one.  It’s hard to believe that this organisation, as dedicated as they are to corrupting virtue, could get the drop on Batman and so many of his allies at the same time.  Grant Morrison is no stranger to epic storylines, but overall you wish that he was able to flesh out his story over a few more issues and allow it to evolve naturally, especially after a two-year build-up, and sadly much is told rather than shown.  Admittedly, an avid Batman fan will have no problem with some of the more obscure references, but new readers will struggle as much of this story assumes foreknowledge of prior events (thank heavens for Wikipedia!).

That said, Batman R.I.P. is nothing if not an enticing and exciting read, which will no doubt convert more followers and encourage them to read what has gone before – never a bad thing.  Although this ultimately has less impact than other, similar, “fall-of-Batman” stories (see the excellent Knightfall and Knightsend trade paperbacks), there are true moments of adventure and Morrison and Tony Daniel capture the spirit of The Dark Knight perfectly.  They have created a beautiful piece of work with concepts and ideas that stay with you long after you’ve put it down, but we’ll definitely be picking this one up again very soon.

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