Tom Waters's Reviews > Batman R.I.P.

Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison
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Oct 23, 10

Read in February, 2009

It’s safe to say that there’s a fine line between genius and madness and in Grant Morrison’s case, there is no line separating the two whatsoever. My buddy Ian told me that he read an interview about Morrison where he was quoted as saying that aliens gave him his plotlines for the next ten years while he was tripping his face off on mushrooms while vacationing on a tropical island somewhere. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that story, but it would certainly make a lot of sense. After reading Batman R.I.P. (DC, $24.99), nothing would surprise me. I’ll go one step further and say that if it takes mushrooms to write as often as he does, I’d almost be willing to come out of 17 year retirement and start shoveling bags of them into my mouth.
Everyone told me that the story was awful. Everyone was wrong. The R.I.P. storyline is another great example of how trade reprints tell a more cohesive story than single issues. If I’d read this arc in the monthlies, I’m positive that I’d have no idea what the hell was going on. In addition, R.I.P. isn’t your casual reader’s Batman. It’s Dark Knight 404. The tale is complex, engrossing, deep and clearly insane at times in a good way. The story is almost designed to spark psychosis, unease and a feeling of insanity in the reader and Morrison respects us enough not to spoon-feed decades of history into our mouths like so much bland baby mush. He assumes that we’ve read as much Batman as he has and in my case, he’s right. Over the course of the book, multiple stories and entire eras are referenced through quick snapshots with little to no explanation before bolting onward with one of the most bat-shit crazy character arcs I’ve read in some time.
Batman is overworked, overstressed, oversexed and on the brink of schizophrenia looking for any clue, connection or trace of the Black Glove’s involvement in a vast conspiracy to destroy his life from the very foundations. In the wake of the deplorable Resurrection Of Rha’s Al Ghul plot line (don’t bother if you haven’t read it), the Detective has forged a deep relationship with Jezebelle Jet. With the people closest to him questioning his sanity and his around the clock work ethic, Batman (driven to desperation) seeks the Joker’s advice by requesting a divination. Robin, Alfred, Night Wing and Commissioner Gordon wonder if he’s on the brink of complete collapse when his supposed delusions come true and the Black Glove strikes with calculated timing and hits him where he lives. A code word triggers a deeply suggested alternate personality that removes the Bruce Wayne personality completely from the Batman equation and he literally loses his mind. It’s like the old adage: You’re not paranoid if everybody’s looking at you.
Not only is R.I.P. more master thesis in everything Batman than any storyline I’ve read since Arkham Asylum, but having a former history with mind-altering drugs or insanity is practically a required prerequisite for the reader. I can see how most people would misinterpret or become angry with the story. I found it incredible. After kidnapping Jet, strapping Night Wing down to a gurney and prepping him for a lobotomy, we find out hero wandering the streets with no memory of his former life pumped full of crystal meth and analyzing his supposed homelessness with the observational skills that have served him so well over the years. Against all hope, this drug-addled hobo defaults to a scarier, crazier version of the Batman where his moral compass (Bruce Wayne) never existed and goes after the people responsible with a relentless enthusiasm. The beauty of this story is that Morrison actually pulls off a Bat Mite cameo by turning him into Batman’s delusionary sidekick. In the context of the story, it’s pretty goddamned believable.
By the halfway mark, R.I.P. had me addicted. There’s a point of no return in the book where you’re not sure who’s crazier, Batman or the Joker. We discover that the Black Glove has plotted Batman’s downfall for a number of years to prepare for an annual bet that dates back to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and that they’ve contracted the Joker to complete the task under the assumption that he’d abide by anyone’s wishes but his own. The Black Glove is foolish in this assumption, and Morrison gives us one of the scariest and cunning versions of the Joker’s that I’ve seen since Killing Joke.
Like much of Alan Moore’s work in comics, Morrison addresses continuity issues by presenting a believable theory about the Joker’s diagnosis: he recreates his personality from the ground up every time he walks out of Arkham Asylum. Occassionally, he’s a colorful crime boss with bad props. Many times he’s a deceptively intelligent mass murderer who’s methods and motives are apparent only to him. Morrison also theorizes that the human spirit is steadfast enough to persevere even under impossible odds and rigorous depravation by relying on a backup identity, like a computer’s hard drive. This is a high concept epic that dabbles with multiple themes and draws on centuries of mythology and mysticism.
There were a few cases in the book where my concentration was off and I didn’t grasp what was going on completely. Much like Morrison’s ground-breaking Arkham Asylum, the story is designed to be analyzed through multiple re-reads. If Arkham is any indicator, I’ll gain a deeper appreciation of the book over time and take a different interpretation or discovery away from it every time I come back to it. R.I.P. is the farthest thing from light reading for Batman novices. It’s also much better than the heresay and conjecture of fellow comic fans. I would only recommend this book to those who have one entire box (or more) of Batman comics. It’s an amazing tale that proves Grant Morrison’s talent as a comic writer as well as his obvious insanity, which has paid off financially and creatively. You don’t have to have multiple diagnoses or a bag of psilocybin mushrooms on standby when you read R.I.P., but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
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