In my previous post I discussed Grant Morrison's opening round of his run on DC's Batman. While I did enjoy Batman & Son, I felt that overall it was a bit uneven and lacked any satisfying closure as a collected trade. It became apparent while reading it that it is clearly not meant to stand alone as an individual work, but should rather be viewed within the entirety of Morrison's work with the character and mythos as he develops the overarching story revolving around a new enemy, the Black Glove. The two books following, The Black Glove and R.I.P., are truly the indispensable volumes of Morrison's run and are best read as a single entry. While note flawless, they are a more cohesive entry than Batman & Son proved to be. In that opening chapter, Morrison began establishing what his taken on Batman would be, laying the ground work for future stories, but the work suffered a bit as he was more focused on reaching the end-point to his magnum opus but was required to seed ideas and develop other stories before he could tell the tale he was really interested in. With all the heavy-lifting out of the way and his concepts solidly introduced, Morrison was free now to expound upon them and push forward.
The Black Glove and R.I.P.
Now we're getting somewhere. This is the meat of the story, the central content of the plot that Batman & Son began hinting at. And damn, does Grant Morrison do a fantastic job of plumbing it for all it's worth.
The Black Glove kicks off to a fantastic start with "The Island of Mister Mayhew," a three-part locked-door murder mystery. A one-time movie producer turned financier of costumed heroes, Mayhew has invited a group of C-list vigilantes, many of whom have modeled themselves after Batman, to his island retreat. It quickly becomes apparent that Mayhew is missing, a revelation that is followed up with the discovery of booby-traps and a series of grisly murders. After their means of transportation off the island are destroyed, Mayhew's guests are left trapped, paranoid that the killer must be someone amongst them.
This is but the opening gambit of the Black Glove's assault against Batman, as he toys with him and probes for weaknesses, establishing in games-man-like fashion that he is a viable threat to the Dark Knight.
Morrison pens the mystery with honest suspense, slowly peeling back the layers as the story builds to a solid conclusion, while also providing a terrific introduction to a newcomer in Batman's rogues gallery. Equally enjoyable is the art from J.H. Williams, who crafts interesting visuals employing a technique where he builds his panels around the motif of the Black Glove or the bat-symbol.
After making it off Mayhew's island, Batman once again tangles with corruption in the Gotham Police Department after another Batman (the Third Man) appears and takes Commissioner Gordon hostage. The two Batmen tussle, but Wayne ends up having cardiac arrest after being shot in the chest with an explosive bullet and becomes the captive of the Third Man. While being tortured both physically and psychologically, Batman learns this is all part of the Black Glove's far-reaching plan, taking us directly into the R.I.P. storyline. Drawing on decades of Batman lore, particularly stories told in the 1960s, such as Batman undergoing an isolation experiment for NASA, Morrison crafts a psychological examination of the Dark Knight that is equally compelling as the murder mysteries he developed in "The Clown at Midnight" and the Mayhew story-arc.
After the Black Glove's gang invades the Batcave and triggers a subconscious command, Batman is drugged and left to awaken alone in an alley with no recollection of who he is. Broken, Bruce Wayne begins to craft a new costume while a secondary personality, Zur-En-Arrh, takes hold and tracks down the Black Glove for a final confrontation.
Although compelling, the biggest flaw that ultimately overshadows R.I.P. is that although Batman is threatened it never feels like he is truly in danger. Throughout Morrison's story, readers are reminded at regular intervals of Batman's maxim that preparation is the key to victory. He has trained to be the best at everything--physically and mentally. He has trained all his life, dreaming up and overcoming thousands of scenarios that may be used against him, making himself immune to a wide variety of poisons, learning how to escape handcuffs, and ultimately, training against psychological attacks.
While the Black Glove is formidable, there is never any question that Batman will succeed. His victory, although hard-earned, is always certain. It would have been far more interesting to see Batman lose against the Black Glove, as he did back during Knightfall when he was confronted and then crippled by Bane. It would have been more interesting to see him fail, confront the reasons for why he lost, and then learn to overcome his deficits in order to earn a victory against such a formidable opponent. As it stands, Morrison writes Batman into a familiar problem inherent in the superhero genre, where the hero is so indomitable that no threat can be perceived as serious enough, as those threats are in and of themselves a mere artifice levied against the readers rather than the characters.
A second, minor quibble I had came with the inclusion of the last two issues of Morrison's run on Batman. At the close of the R.I.P. storyline, Batman and the Black Glove were trapped on an exploding helicopter. We are left with the conclusion that neither were found, and Dick Grayson is left holding the cape and cowl of Batman. Because of Morrison's ultimate plans for Batman in Final Crisis, we know he is not dead. The last two chapters of the R.I.P. trade show that he had somehow made it back to the Batcave before being abducted by Darkseid's minions and once again came under psychological attack in an attempt to tie together the two storylines. Ultimately, it just feels like too much. We've already been down this road of villains toying with the Dark Knight's brain and memories--quite literally just a few pages back. While it's a thematic continuation and well-told from the standpoint of individual story-telling, it once again illustrates how even Batman can overcome the seemingly impossible. The problem is that after successfully overcoming the Black Glove, it feels like being hit over the head with a hammer, as if Morrison hadn't already quite capably proven his point in showing us Batman's mastery of all things.
I can't help but wonder if there were other avenues he could have taken in an effort to connect the stories between R.I.P. and Final Crisis, or if the trade collections would have been better served to have these two last chapters of Bruce Wayne as Batman compiled with the Final Crisis series. Personally, I would have preferred R.I.P. to end as it did during its monthly publication run, with Dick Grayson holding the mantle of the bat, clearly inheriting his place as the new Batman, and leading directly into Morrison's new Batman & Robin series. As it stands, there is no explanation as to how Bruce survived the exploding helicopter and made his way back home. Without some connective story-telling tissue, it just feels disjointed. We know he survived, but it's never quite clear how, and that's just messy.
While Morrison has not penned the ultimate Batman tale for the ages, he does serve the title capably and provides a lot of interesting stories and detours that help enhance the mythology of the Bat. The artwork from the contributing artists is strong throughout the run, and Morrison particularly impressed me with his handling of the Joker. Despite a few reservations, Morrison's initial run is still recommended reading with the acknowledgment that he really is just getting started. After these three trades, there are several collections of Batman & Robin to follow-up on, along with a couple of books dealing with the return of Bruce Wayne, leading into Batman, Inc.
Throughout his run on Batman, he handled the characters well and managed to produce truly compelling segments, which offers plenty of hope for his future plans. No longer having to focus on Final Crisis and having told the R.I.P. arc, Morrison is free to lead the Batman mythos forward free of distraction.