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To R.I.P. or Not To R.I.P., That Is The Question

  • Jan 11, 2010
Rating:
+1
Contrary to what some folks will tell you, there are plenty of differences between what draws a reader to a good Batman story (or any Batman comics, for that matter) versus some of the other costumed hero tales out there, but most fans can agree on one central premise: what keeps the reader coming back to Batman stories is the fact that, at the core, lies a character who is driven by his own private psychology -- the desire to face evil at his own peril -- over and over and over again. Batman is the real character in this world, and Bruce Wayne is the facade, and the costumed freaks he faces venture into equally treacherous territory with each subsequent outing ... but, in the end, one can't help but ask "at what cost?"

Grant Morrison has finally provided an answer to that central theme that's equally supported and plagued Batman since his inception seven decades ago, and, like any good story, it's been delivered with measured portions of greatness, silliness (these are comic books, after all), pity, and pathos in BATMAN R.I.P., the tale that many media outlets have openly advertised as the final death of Batman, aka Bruce Wayne. I'll save discussing the ending -- a troubling choice, I know, but I'm trying to respect the reader's right to privacy without spoiling anything earth-shaking -- but I will say that it wasn't quite what industry mags and professional reviewers said it would be, not far off the mark, but more than a few feet shy of a fieldgoal, too.

Confused? You should be, because this is Grant Morrison's story -- not Batman's or Bruce Wayne's -- as one writer who's had a pretty solid career delivering the kinds of characters and situations one would expect from a veteran of comic book prose. In short, Batman's crossed a few lines here: much like the events depicted in the first third of KNIGHTFALL (the last massive coordinated multi-arc event to promise 'the breaking of the Bat'), he's pushed himself to his physical and psychological limits. He's made some choices -- bringing a new love into his life and, even, the BatCave -- that are a bit out-of-character, but he's done so because of 'where' and 'who' he is in the life of Bruce Wayne as much as he is Batman. Those around him -- Alfred, Nightwing, Robin, etc. -- show open concern (if not mild contempt) for some of these choices, but they've always had to tide themselves over with knowing that Batman was going to do what Batman was going to do, despite their protestations, and get on with their lives. However, Bruce's choices do come back to haunt himself, and once's he deprived the psychological facade of 'Bruce Wayne' he can hide behind, Batman is left to roam the streets of Gotham City -- compliments of a drug-induced haze administered by the Black Glove's gang -- trying to put not so much his life back together as he does his psyche.

Now, telling this kind of story -- a mental lapse and possible recovery -- is never an easy thing to do, so hats off to Morrison for giving it the bard's attempt, but there are parts of R.I.P. that make little sense. While under the influence, did Batman actually see these things he believes he sees -- did he actually do some of these things he believes he did -- or is it all in his imagination? The reader's led to believe that one or two of the elements may not have happened the way Bruce/Batman recalls them, so what can be made of them? Did they occur as they were drawn, or are they manifestations of the hero's subconscious? There's no definitive line drawn here -- most like a deliberate device of the writer -- and, in the end, some muddying of the waters serves the story here. It's to be expected. However, I found it hard to accept Batman's broken psyche given the fact that, once the pieces start coming together, they come together relatively quickly. If that's the case, then how far did he truly fall? Wouldn't that uphill climb be a little more difficult? Also, the supporting players here (namely Nightwing and Robin) spend a panel or two talking about how exhausted Batman looks, but the man's actions don't seem quite true, if that's the case. One would expect more of a struggle through that recovery process, and, without spoiling the conclusion (and some pretty nifty character twists regarding the past of Bruce Wayne and his family), I found it hard to accept much of the events of the last third. Plus, come to postscript (a little two-part story that presents an encapsulated history of the Batman up until these events), it's hard to know if Morrison truly told a tale about R.I.P. ... or being R.I.P.P.E.D. off.

Controversy aside, R.I.P. isn't exactly a great jumping on point for new Bat-readers. There are a handful of characters and situations here given very little backstory (one of my chief complaints against graphic novel collections). As a long-time Bat-reader (cripes, is it going on 30 years already?), I can think of many other arcs I've enjoyed much more than this one, but R.I.P. does serve what it set out to do: it presents a solid mystery/adventure of everyone's favorite hero-on-the-edge choosing what he does so well -- to serve justice -- when his best interest may be to hang up that suit for good.

Of course, the Batman can never die. Even if Bruce Wayne did hang it up, someone else would rise up to wear the mantle of the Bat. Everyone knows that going in. Despite that shortcoming, R.I.P. is a solid yarn, if not a bit incomplete ... much like Batman's psyche.

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Ed ()
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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Starred Review. Batman is pushed past the edge of sanity in this spectacular story that mixes icy mind games and passionate outbursts. A club of criminal masterminds, the Black Glove, has an elaborate plot to make Bruce Wayne/Batman self-destruct by convincing him that all his friends and lovers have betrayed him and that his most trusted memories are false. As clever in their scheming as the villains are, however, they have no idea how thorough Batman has been in planning ways to protect his obsessions; consequently, the action is fractured between scenes of what is really happening, what might be happening, what probably isn't happening, etc. This premise gives scriptwriter Morrison and principal artist Daniel a chance to review key episodes and images from the Caped Crime Fighter's long career—including, of course, numerous encounters with the Joker, who's too chaotic to be happy in any organization like the Black Glove, but who struts through the action wielding sardonic humor and two straight razors. Whether Batman winds up (or ever was) totally sane is unresolved, but he's a fascinating protagonist in this sweeping, emotionally draining saga.(Feb.)
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