Posted by Don MacPherson on May 14th, 2008
“Batman R.I.P. – Midnight in the House of Hurt”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Randy Gentile
Cover artists: Alex Ross/Tony Daniel
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/CAN
Like many other readers, Grant Morrison’s stint on Batman has been running hot and cold for me. His Batmen of All Nations story — “The Island of Mister Mayhew” story arc, published in this series last year — was one of the best Batman stories in recent memory, and it’s the sort of fare we all expected from Morrison from the start. But other efforts have been awkward and confusing, showing only faint glimmers of the writer’s usual genius. The first chapter of “Batman R.I.P.” falls into the latter category. It starts off strong, but later in the issue, the plot stumbles around, trying in vain to proceed while dragging the dead weight of multiple continuity references. I get the sense that Morrison is approaching things with a big-picture perspective, and how the pieces of puzzles fit together won’t be clear for some time. I’m willing to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt for now as he blends his surreal ideas with a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling.
A gaggle of colorfully clad, sadistic criminals gather under one roof, banding together as the Black Glove. Its current goal is the most ambitious and seemingly impossible criminal enterprise: the murder of Gotham City’s unstoppable protector, the Batman. The Dark Knight has heard whispers of the Black Glove and a potential plot against him, but his investigation is progressing slowly, as other duties, near-death experiences and a quickly developing romance with Jezebel Jet. Meanwhile, Robin tells Alfred about his concerns about his mentor’s mental health, but Alfred realizes the young hero is more concerned about his place in his adopted father’s life.
While he’s worked on one or two solidly selling super-hero titles for DC as of late, Tony Daniel still isn’t exactly a superstar artist. One wouldn’t expect a second-tier name such as his to accompany Grant Morrison’s in the creative credits of such a high-profile storyline as this one. Daniel’s work throughout the bulk of this issue embraces a fairly standard super-hero style. It’s competent, but it’s not exactly inventive or exciting either. His double-page splash revealing the new Batmobile fails to elicit much of a reaction, for example. Some of the problems with the visuals are awkward scene transitions. Part of the blame lies with the script, as it’s not clear and boasts what seems to an achronological approach to the plotting. But Daniel also fails to provide clear cues for shifts in time or events that aren’t “real.”
On the other hand, Daniel offers up a riveting and chilling vision of the Joker in Arkham Asylum in the issue’s final scene. The art is unmistakably different and more refined in tone. It’s dark, more detailed and better crafted overall to capture the disturbing atmosphere. Unfortunately, when and where the scene occurs isn’t entirely clear. It seems as though most of the scene unfolds inside the Joker’s head, but the segment dealing with contact with the story’s other antagonists is far too ambiguous. Another element that adds to the visual strength of the Joker scene is the font Randy Gentile employs to convey the psychotic killer’s intense, creepy voice.
Morrison scores a lot of points with his introduction of the various members of the Black Glove in the first scene. It’s an incredibly effective scene, and I love how the members all seem like traditional figures of villainy from the title character’s world while also boasting a little edge more in keeping with the writer’s twisted perspective. It’s a shame only a couple of the new baddies are named, but it’s clear Morrison will stagger their introductions as the storyline moves along.
The writer incorporates a lot of elements from his previous scripts into this climactic storyline. Jezebel Jet turns up (though she’s not identified at first, making for some confusing moments), and there’s a reference to Damien, the so-called “son of Batman.” We’re also told that the Batman died for a short time (I haven’t read that particular story, so again, I was lost), and there’s an unfortunate reference to his weird, illogical vision quest from 52. I get the impression these disparate elements will factor into this new storyline, but at the same time, I felt all those references to recent continuity cluttered up the script, especially since there’s little effort made to provide background on them.
There’s no denying that Grant Morrison has a strong love of the super-hero genre. He’s at a point in his career where he doesn’t have to write super-hero comics, but the unique elements of the genre keep bringing him back. Unfortunately, his experimentation with the genre and its strength also bring along some of the inherent weaknesses of shared-universe mythmaking. It’s easy to see that “Batman R.I.P.” has the potential to be a great and memorable storyline. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to be merely ordinary or even poor. Time, and further chapters, will tell. 6/10