Friday, March 2, 2012

GN Review -- Batman: R.I.P. Deluxe Edition / Grant Morrison, Sandu Florea, Lee Garbett, & Trevor Scott

As I put down my borrowed copy of Batman: R.I.P. and try to shake the cobwebs from my head, I can't help but wonder whether Grant Morrison really is as crazy as he seems, or if he's just super smart and more than a tad pretentious.  This was quite possibly one of the more confusing Batman stories I've ever read, and I say this after having had time to read it, put it away for a while, digest it, and come back and look at it with a more deliberate eye.

What we essentially have with this story is a secret, high-power crime society, led by a Doctor Simon Hurt, who decide to use their resources and abilities to take Batman apart in every way imaginable.  Bruce, meanwhile has started dating a model named Jezebel Jet, who he lets in on his secret identity with surprising speed.  The recent traumas of being Batman, along with Jezebel's suggestion that he plays at being a hero as a way of coping with his parents' death, causes more stress for him, and when he hears the phrase Zur-En-Arrh, it triggers a mental incapacitation and causes him to faint.  Hurt and his minions surround the cave, beat up Alfred, and basically do what they can to destroy Batman's lair and resources.  Bruce wakes up, drugged, with no memory of who he is, when a homeless man takes him on an "odyssey" across the city to deal with his withdrawal symptoms.  When he gets to a point that he knows he'll be okay, Bruce realizes that the homeless man who helped him is gone, and learns that he'd been dead for several days, causing him grief and throwing his sense of reality into question.

Soon after, he basically loses it and creates a Batman costume from purple, yellow and red rags he found in the garbage and fighting crime as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.  He sees a small, impish companion called Bat-mite (spelled "might" in this instance), who gives him advice as he fights his way in chaotic fashion back to the Black Glove, the group that had caused Bruce's problems in the first place.  Eventually coming through it and getting back in control of Batman, Bruce Wayne realizes the Black Glove's role in everything and fights back.  He gets buried by the Black Glove, escapes, and goes after Doctor Hurt after he inadvertently summons Batman's allies by poking and probing at the "bat-radia" Bruce's homeless friend had given him.  Chasing Hurt onto an escape copter, Batman causes it to crash, where the story abruptly ends, briefly suggesting that he perished along with Hurt.

Of course, he doesn't die--that honor is reserved for Final Crisis--and we see an epilogue that acts as both a bridge to that story and a summation of Batman's long career and the major events in it.

Again, I'm forced to ask myself what the hell I just read, even after having more or less summarized it.  I'm perfectly willing to admit that perhaps Morrison is just a brilliant writer whose mind functions on far more levels than I can possibly grasp, but the overall feeling of this story was such a sense of disjointment and confusion that I had a really hard time enjoying it.

Never mind that you have to suspend the obvious disbelief of Bruce dating someone like Jezebel Jet, who seems to appear out of nowhere, and letting her into his secret circle so very quickly.  Never mind that you almost have to do some background research on Bat-mite and the whole Zur-En-Arrh phrase / story / character in order to understand what they are and what they mean for this story.  And never mind that we have yet another Bat-villain whose knowledge of Batman and his secret identity is the key part of his intended plan to pick the Dark Knight apart and destroy him so totally.  All of these things, be they far-fetched, troublesome, or just plain annoying, are plausible enough plot points in a world where a man dressed as a bat can hang with modern-day gods in tights.

Accepting it all at once, in one sitting, is asking a bit much, I think.  Setting this up as some grand finale to the Bat's existence--or even Bruce Wayne's particular existence as the Bat--and then suddenly handing it off to Final Crisis feels a little cheap.  And the obvious red herring of Jezebel Jet as a member of the Black Glove was so predictable as to feel insulting.

I know Grant Morrison is an extremely popular writer, and I've been enchanted by a few of his storylines.  But it's hard for me to shake the feeling that he's spending too much time making this whole story complex and hard to follow for it to be enjoyable.

I will grant this (pun partially intended): the Zur-En-Arrh angle was interesting.  In the final analysis, it's what you get of Batman when you completely take Bruce Wayne out of the equation.  It shows that Batman is truly prepared for any eventuality, and I do admire that kind of forward thinking on Morrison's part.  Even Bat-Mite was interesting in that he represented a part of Bruce's mind (logic and reason).  It was an interesting psychological study of that aspect of the character.

The art is good, and the characters are well represented, be they real or otherwise within the context of the story.  That's saying quite a bit, as there are a considerable number of characters, with a considerable number of costumes, and originating from various periods in Batman history.  Despite feeling like a jumble, the visual depictions are actually handled very nicely, and help tell a story that's fairly dark but has grandiose aspirations.

Overall, I'd have to say I'm a little disappointed in this story.  It's complex to the point of distraction, some of the plot elements are just cringe-worthy, and there's simply too much going on that the reader is simply expected to take on faith, when they reasonably shouldn't have to.  Moving a story too fast or in a confusing fashion is a good way to alienate your readers, and I feel like this story for the most part does that.  There are a few interesting and even brilliant bits, but overall, I'm still left wondering if Morrison is brilliant or crazy.  Recommended, with some reservations.

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