The Great Morrison Bat Study #7: RIP

Batman 679

It would be impossible to talk about “Batman: RIP” without mentioning the controversy surrounding it. For many long-time Batman readers, “RIP” formed a line in the sand. The common conception holds that it’s Grant Morrison‘s trademark weirdness pushed to the limit and applied to the Dark Knight, and readers either loved it or hated it. I owned a comic book store at the time “RIP” was released and I cannot tell you all the complaints I got once the last issue hit the stands. Probably the words most often spat at me were “confusing” and “anti-climactic.”

At the time, as much as I enjoyed “RIP,” I kind of agreed. But now, honestly, I don’t see it. I think “The Third Man” is a far more confusing arc than “RIP,” which has a pretty clear trajectory throughout. If you pay attention, basically everything that happens to Bruce is spelled out for you. How can anyone be confused by the story behind the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, for instance? The story makes it totally obvious. I mean, it’s explicitly stated in the dialog like three times. There’s no trickery there.

Here’s where I sympathize with those haters, though. “RIP” was marketed incredibly poorly. First of all, in this story Batman doesn’t die. To pretend otherwise in marketing is a shady way to boost sales. It’s hard to fault a commercial enteprise for doing that, but “RIP” depends so much on everything Morrison established in the first two and a half years of his writing that anyone coming to it fresh would be totally confused. Beyond that, DC promoted “RIP” as a crossover with all the other Batman titles. That’s just a bald-faced lie; none of the other comics shed an ounce of light on the events here. Detective Comics, for instance, contained a story about Hush! Anyone trying to fit Hush into Morrison’s scheme would be terribly disappointed. The fault in that lies solely with DC Comics, which took a masterful suspense story by a great writer and tried to make it a company-wide crossover. That has failure written all over it, and by the time Batman actually died in Final Crisis #6 people felt cheated.

(By the way, I do realize that Morrison himself named the story “RIP,” and that typically signifies death. However, in many interviews at the time Morrison emphasized that “RIP” can mean lots of things, and it didn’t help that his employers were shouting from the rooftops “NO IT MEANS HE’S DYING!”)

Now, that said: what does “RIP” actually accomplish? As I mentioned, it basically functions as the climax to Morrison’s first two and a half years on Batman. At the time, it wasn’t certain he’d be going on to write more stories featuring the Caped Crusader; this might’ve been the end. As such, it has to wrap up many of the plot threads introduced in “Batman & Son,” “The Club of Heroes” and more. And actually, it does that quite well. In fact, one can notice the way that many of Morrison’s threads run together to a cacophonous crescendo at the end of this arc. The Club of Heroes and Damian return simultaneously, the Joker shows us the true extend of his latest apotheosis, the Black Casebook gets its final entry… it’s a tidy little package, well-constructed to pay off what Morrison had worked hard to establish.

And yet the most frustrating loose end is left dangling right in front of our face. At the finale of “RIP,” the true identity of Batman’s ultimate nemesis, Dr. Hurt, is left more obscured than it had been initially. The last few pages of this arc see a number of possibilities for Hurt’s person furiously thrown about: he’s Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s dad. He’s actor Mangrove Pierce. He’s actually the Devil. Possibly he’s Bruce himself. Two years later, we all know better, but it was incredibly frustrating to get to the end of “RIP” and not know Hurt’s identity. It would’ve been interesting to leave the question open indefinitely, I suppose, but I’m glad Morrison got to revisit this and deepen the story after he wrapped Final Crisis. In fact, the history of Dr. Simon Hurt will be one of my primary interests in this column going forward.

For now, though, I have a cornucopia of notes on “RIP.” Because of their length, this time they’re divided by chapter/issue number. (also, the chapter titles are really cool)

DC Universe 0:
-In this three-page prequel, Batman visits Joker in his prison cell to investigate the meaning of the red and black pattern.
-Joker tells Batman he’s being hunted “because they think you deserve it.”

Batman #676: Midnight in the House of Hurt
-The Club of Villains, theorized in the “Club of Heroes” arc, is revealed.
-Debut of a new Batmobile. Not the first in Morrison’s run. Tim mentioned Bruce working on this back in “Batman & Son.”
-Alfred says of Bruce’s personality “I watch him go through cycles.” This is not unlike Joker’s behavior, and really hammers home the point that Bruce and Joker are quite similar in Morrison’s view.
-Alfred again with some wisdom: “Thogul is a complete rehearsal, while living, of the experience of death.” We will be told this several times in “RIP,” and it’s crucial.
-And again for the butler, on Bruce’s mind: “We must never underestimate its strength and resilience.” All the things we need to know about Bruce overcoming his ordeal in “RIP” are found in these opening pages, courtesy of the person who seems never to be wrong in Morrison’s work.
-Tim calls Damian the “Son of Satan.” It’s funny, but also topical, given all the devil imagery in Morrison’s story. Is Hurt the Devil, or is Batman?
-Joker’s fantasy at the end of this issue starts an interesting trend: basically all the cutaway scenes are presented in red and black only. Hmmm.
-Also interesting about Joker’s fantasy: he imagines himself killing Gordon and two Robins, but not Batman. As Batman & Robin later shows us, Joker cannot function without Batman.
-The Black Glove and all his associates consider Joker “the master” and look up to him.

Batman #677: Batman in the Underworld
-Gordon reminds us of the in-comic movie The Black Glove by John Mayhew. According to Gordon, it’s a movie about lovers corrupted by super-rich gamblers.
-Already Bruce suspects associates of his parents are involved in the plot against him.
-Speaking of gambling, the familiar red and black pattern is displayed not only on playing cards but on the roulette wheel. Gambling seems to be all about red and black.
-Dr. Hurt claims that no one knows Batman better than him.
-Batman says of Hurt he “seems to have appeared out of nowhere.”  Meta-commentary?
-Bruce to Jezebel: “It was like meeting you was always meant to happen.” Right he is!
-Hurt has doctored a photo which casts a negative light on John Mayhew, Mangrove Pierce, Marsha Lamarr (the actress whom Pierce was said to kill), Thomas and Martha Wayne, and Alfred. The tarnishing of the Wayne family name begins here.
-The things Jezebel says to Bruce in the Batcave to get him to question his mission are perfectly constructed to achieve maximum self-doubt. Can this be anything but Darkseid’s anti-life equation (last seen in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle) put to use?
-Check out this art by Tony Daniel: he draws the bats behind Jezebel in the Batcave to form devil horns and a tail. Clever!

-Jezebel interestingly posits that the Black Glove, Batman’s ultimate enemy, is Bruce himself. This is a suggestion that won’t go away for a long time, and indeed one I took to myself.
-Again the monster from “Robin Dies at Dawn” appears in a hallucination as Bruce is subjected to psychological attack, but this time it looks more devilish.
-Bruce’s response to Hurt’s trigger-word attack is “I’m not ready.” This seems to confirm his later assertion that he knew an attack like that was coming, he just wasn’t sure when.

Batman #678: Zur En Arrh
-The first page shows us a montage of crazy silver age Black Casebook stories, including “The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh” and “Batman vs. the Rainbow Creature.”
-In Batman’s Black Casebook narration he mentions that Robin grounds him in reality. This is quite important to all of Morrison’s run.
-This issue focuses on a drugged-up, psychologically distressed Bruce Wayne being led around Gotham City by a homeless guy named Honor Jackson. Just what Honor’s deal is isn’t immediately apparent, but I’ve got a couple (not mutually exclusive) ideas.

1. It sure seems like Honor has struck up some kind of deal with Bat-Mite, who brought
him back to life after he ODed to help Bruce out. A dealer tells Bruce Honor died a day
ago, at any rate, and when we first meet Honor he’s saying something to the air about
how things work on “the planet of little bat fairies, but we got rules on Earth.” Rules
about life and death perhaps?

2. Remember that in Grant Morrison’s Mister Miracle series the surviving New Gods took the
bodies of indigents. Could Honor be connected to this in some way?

-Even drugged out of his mind, Bruce can still fight. That’s all instincts, baby. He still has his sharp intellect, too, just no memories or specific knowledge.
-Some of Honor’s dialog seems thematically appropriate: “Even the brightest angel can fall” and “Imagine I could know I’d saved one life–that would mean I was worth somethin’ after all, right?” My guess is that Honor achieves redemption through his deal with Bat-Mite.
-Honor leads Bruce to Crime Alley, another key spot in the creation of Batman. There, Batman makes a new costume for himself out of the rags in Honor’s shopping cart.

Batman #679: Miracle on Crime Alley
-Bat-Mite STILL has that crazy evil-looking thing hanging over his shoulder. WHAT IS THAT?!
-Here Batman imagines a conversations with some gargoyles about Gotham City’s “grids.” They’re like “a machine designed to make Batman,” he says. Is there anything to this? Might this be Darkseid’s machinations in play? Has Gotham really been set up to produce Batman?
-Curiously, Bat-Mite acts as the voice of reason to the partially-insane Bruce. He also helpfully explains the significance of the “Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh” story, as well as the function of the hypnotic trigger word and its relationship to the army isolation experiment in “Robin Dies at Dawn.” “Batman thinks of everything. Batman even prepared for a psychological attack with a back-up identity, remember? He made a secret self to save him. The Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh.” Thanks for helping, Bat-Mite!
-The Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh has set up home base in the theater he and his parents attended the night of their murder. Are you guys seeing how important Batman’s creation is to this story yet?
-Hurt now wants us to think he’s Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s dad.
-It’s suggested that the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh is what happens when you take Bruce Wayne out of Batman.
-Hurt makes use of Joker’s black and red poison roses as a weapon here.

Batman #680: The Thin White Duke of Death
-The gambling connection to the Black Glove organization from “Club of Heroes” returns here. They meet “once a year, going way back, to gamble on life and death.”
-Joker’s nonchalant/murderous reaction to the Club of Villain’s worship of him is beautiful.
-I love the scene where Bat-Mite abandons Batman at the entrance to Arkham. “Reason won’t fit through this door, he says.” When Batman asks him if he’s merely part of Bruce’s imagination or actually an imp from the 5th dimension, Bat-Mite responds: “Imagination is the 5th dimension.”
-One of the gamblers at Hurt’s party strangely accuses that the weirdly-costumed Batman is “one of [Hurt's] beloved actors.” The connection to the Black Glove movie strengthens.
-Hurt embraces Joker as an equal. Mistake!
-Commissioner Gordon walks through the hall of Wayne family portraits, which we know become quite important during Batman & Robin.
-Damian returns to action here.
-Joker interestingly notes that the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh is “dressed like a clown.”
-More good Joker dialog: “The real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, this all makes sense!” Is he right, though? Doesn’t it all make sense? Is Morrison maybe talking to the readers again?
-Joker directly references his yin/yang relationship with Batman here, and again the misconception that Batman shot him becomes important. “You shot me in the face!” Batman’s response: “Batman doesn’t use a gun.” Not quite, though…
-Interestingly, Joker is drawn with a forked tongue here, like the devil.
-More from Joker, on how he feels: “There’s only ever one joke, and it’s always on you.”
-Hurt stops Joker from completely enacting his revenge. Another big mistake.
-The end of this issue, in which red and black roses fall on a captured Jezebel while Bruce watches in agony, is tough to decipher. I think the “big reveal” is that Jezebel’s actually part of the trap against Bruce. That much is clear, but is there something more I’m missing?

Batman #681: Hearts in Darkness
-Two quotes open this issue: “That’s the thing about Batman – Batman thinks of everything” (Bat-Mite) and “The superior man thinks of evil that will come and guards against it” (Book of Changes – The I-Ching).
-Finally readers get closure on the Thogul experience, told in flashback.
-Bruce here starts to wonder if he himself is his ultimate enemy. Again, I found and still find this quite an attractive idea.
-Bruce tells us he already knew of the trigger word planted inside him, or, perhaps, of Darkseid’s curse upon him. “Beyond the visions [of Thogul], I found something in the dark inside. A shape of something I can’t even say or describe. A scar on my consciousness.”
-More from Bruce, to explain what happened: “Traumatized children sometimes develop cover personalities to protect themselves from painful repressed memories.” This is both a key to the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, and really to Batman himself in general.
-Bruce’s Thogul contact references a “dark leader.” Does he mean Hurt, or Darkseid? In addition, if Thogul is indeed connected to Bruce’s experience with the 10-Eyed Men in the desert (that we saw in 52), I was right in thinking that those guys were up to something when they told Bruce they’d cured him of his demons.
-The Club of Heroes makes their triumphant return here. Somehow, Dark Ranger is still alive, although it was heavily implied that he was burned to death by the villainous Wingman in the “Club of Heroes” arc. This is very odd, and seemingly intentional, since the Club of Villains calls attention to this. Is this Morrison casually flaunting themes of mistaken identity and/or rebirth?
-Batman is buried alive here. Man, graveyards come up a lot in Morrison’s story.
-Very interesting: Joker refers to the Black Glove organization as the “Dead Man’s Hand.” (and comically, he jokes about being one of their fingers)
-Joker enters the gambling fray and bets on Batman’s triumph over Hurt. He then menacingly states that he’ll be back to collect his winnings.
-Batman states he underwent Thogul to experience the eventuality of death. “Batman thinks of everything.”
-A new and interesting use of the black and red motif: Joker connects it to the crowbar he used to murder Jason Todd.
-Weirdly, Jezebel mocks Bruce’s relative poorness compared to the Black Glove’s power. Has anyone made fun of being Bruce for not being rich enough before?
-Bruce says he knew Jezebel was trouble right away, as soon as she said “I want you to know I understand.” Of course. Batman is always ready.
-Bruce to Dick: “Nightwing… you never let me down, do you?” Nope!
-El Gaucho interestingly posits that the “devil himself” cursed the Black Glove movie. More of this Hurt = Devil notion.
-I love that Joker’s defeat in this arc comes at the hands of Damian, and on accident.
-Hurt tells Batman the Black Glove is even responsible for cutting crime in Gotham, leading Batman to feel useless as he does in “Batman & Son.” He also put up all that ugly Zur-En-Arrh graffiti in the city.
-Hurt again quotes the “put away my costume” line from “Robin Dies at Dawn” that has become so important.
-Hurt refers to himself as “the hole in things,” a phrase used both by Bruce (in “The Third Man”) and Darkseid (in Final Crisis).
-Hurt even tempts Batman ala the devil in this final scene, offering him peace if Batman will serve his corrupt agenda.
-Hurt’s getaway pilot is the Third Man. I guarantee we haven’t seen the last of him.
-Hurt menacingly promises to Bruce that “the next time you wear the cape and cowl will be your last.”
-In the end, Bruce settles on defining Hurt as a “pure source of evil.”
-Talia takes retribution on the Black Glove members she and her ninja Man-Bats can hunt down. Nice!
-This issue ends with a Batman death fake-out. I noted all the way back in my “Batman & Son” column that there was no way this was really the death of Bruce; all he did was disappear into a river! Little did I know that was about to come soon anyway (kind of) thanks to Final Crisis.
-The last page of this issue is a flashback to the literal moment of creation for Batman. Of course as with the other flashbacks in “RIP” it’s colored only in black and red. People much smarter than me have deduced that “Zur-En-Arrh” (the last panel of “RIP”) is a contracted form of the words “Zorro in Arkham,” the last thing we see Bruce’s dad says to him before they’re accosted by Joe Chill (as in: “They’d probably put Zorro in Arkham”). That’s a brilliant deduction and it says a lot not only about “RIP” but about the character of Batman in general–the last thing his dad ever said to him was that a masked vigilante would be thrown in the madhouse. Hm.

And OH MY GOD we’re done with “RIP!” We’re basically at the halfway point of Morrison’s epic now. Next time we’ll take it easy with #666 and a few more Black Casebook tales that I didn’t cover this time around for reasons of length. See you soon!

More GMBS here:
GMBS #9
GMBS #8
GMBS #7
GMBS #6
GMBS #5
GMBS #4
GMBS #3
GMBS #2
GMBS #1
GMBS #0

tags: batman, gmbs, grant morrison

  • http://twitter.com/Doubting_Tom Tom

    Some thoughts:n-”I’m not ready” is probably the most loaded statement coming from Morrison’s Batman, whose superpower is “prepared for everything.” I think that’s the clearest, starkest indication of Hurt’s ‘victory’ over Batman. n-The idea that Gotham is set up to produce Batman seems to tie into what we see in “Batman and Robin” and “Return of Bruce Wayne,” where even the design of Wayne Manor is set up to give clues to Dick and Damien. Given how much Bruce mucks about in the past with setting up those clues, it’s possible that he’s an active agent in causing Gotham to be a Batman-producing device. Heck, by the time of “Batman and Robin,” Gotham has produced two Batmen (five if you count the three ‘ghosts’, six if you count Hurt, seven if you count Thomas Wayne in the older story, eight if you count the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, etc.), and by the time “Batman, Inc.” rolls around, that becomes Batman’s primary goal. n-Connecting the crowbar to the red-and-black motif gives an interesting gravitas to some of the stuff with Jason Todd later on–the “Red Hood” contrasted with Batman’s black cowl, his talk of how Batman dyed his red hair black, etc. n-Batman being buried alive is interesting given Hurt’s ultimate end. nnExcellent stuff, as usual. I’m looking forward to the next post!

  • Rebel Rikki

    Tom, wow! Great insight, man. I agree with everything you said. Thanks for making those connections; that is quite helpful! I’ll be giving you some credit in the text as the series continues, don’t you worry. :)

  • Anonymous

    Tom, wow! Great insight, man. I agree with everything you said. Thanks for making those connections; that is quite helpful! I’ll be giving you some credit in the text as the series continues, don’t you worry. :)

  • Scott Lerer

    Great article. I’m going to cite it for my upcoming RIP review I will do on my Youtube channel

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