Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Psychiatric Assessment

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 28th, 2008

Batman #681
“Batman R.I.P., the Conclusion: Hearts in Darkness”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artists: Alex Ross (standard cover) & Tony Daniel (variant)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/CAN

Superman’s often been described as a great big Boy Scout, but it seems that writer Grant Morrison might disagree, giving the Dark Knight that particular distinction among super-hero icons. After all, the Scout motto is “be prepared,” and that’s what this story is all about. In fact, Morrison suggests that’s what the title character is all about, and it works pretty well. As I suspected, Morrison’s confusing story arc (and his lengthy run on the title) all comes together in the final chapter. Still, while the surreal storyline makes much more sense in the end, this isn’t as strong and innovative a climactic chapter as I’d expected from a writer of Morrison’s caliber. It’s definitely entertaining, but it’s also somewhat conventional. I’m also at a loss as to why this storyline is serving as a new launching pad for the Batman family of titles, as there are elements in the plot that will clearly be ignored when it comes to DC continuity, but it nevertheless seems to strive to define the future direction of these characters in the DC Universe.

The Black Glove, a malevolent gathering of wealthy, bored and power-hungry personalities from across the globe, have come to Gotham to witness the final humiliation of the Batman. Using various villainous agents, including a woman who posed as the love of Bruce Wayne’s life, the Black Glove, led by Doctor Hurt, have broken the Batman down, shattered his psyche. Now they set out to break his body and his brain, burying him beneath the earth. But one of Hurt’s supposed pawns, the Joker, knows their opponent much better than the Glove does, and the deranged clown predicts a much different conclusion to the scheme.

I have to give Tony Daniel credit for one major element in this book, and that’s his success in bringing Grant Morrison’s vision of the Joker to life. The creepy intensity he brings to the character makes for some great scenes. Unfortunately, the artwork otherwise comes off as fairly generic. The action in this issue unfolds clearly enough, but for such a pivotal chapter in the Batman saga, there are few visuals that really make the reader pause to take them in. I did enjoy the use of only one color (red) and greytones for the flashback sequences. Not only did that approach set those scenes apart clearly, but it also added more tension to the mix. Daniel’s art is at its strongest in the flashback as well. His linework seems more focused and purposeful there while the sketchiness is shedded. Furthermore, Jared Fletcher’s distinct green Joker font also enhanced the strong presence of the character.

Like may other comics from DC and Marvel as of late, this one boasts a $3.99 US cover price. I spoke with the clerk at my local comic shop about it, and we both felt it was something of a money grab for a standard-sized super-hero comic. At least, I thought it was a standard comic; it felt as such in my hand when I picked it up. But a page count shows there are actually 32 pages of story and art to be found in this issue, about 50 per cent more than the usual issue. So it’s nice to see that the extra buck actually went to added value.

The final scene, in which the title character’s fate is left up in the air, is hardly the sort of cliffhanger I expected from such an unconventional storyline. A helicopter explosion/crash? Really? It’s a rather cliched ending, especially given what led up to it. The other heroes’ confrontation with the various tangential villains seemed rather ordinary as well.

Ultimately, Morrison’s interpretation of the Batman as someone so obsessed about his mission that he’s prepared for every eventuality — even losing his mind — works surprisingly well. Basically, this is a dramatic extension of a ridiculous concept. We’re talking about a character that’s been depicted as carrying Bat-Shark Repellant, as being ready for the most outrageous, unlikely scenarios. In the past, that’s been fodder for efforts to satirize the character. Morrison’s characterization here is the same, but his goal is different. And I have to admit, he achieves that goal. 7/10

13 Responses to “Psychiatric Assessment”

  1. C. Towns Says:

    i honestly believe, when it comes to Tony Daniel, the colorists and inkers that he works with don’t do him justice. when i see black and white, uninked pages, they are gorgeous. but seeing the pages in the comic later on, it doesn’t have the impact.

  2. Tokyopop82 Says:

    Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre.

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Tokyopop85 wrote:
    Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre.

    What? The storyline, or my review?

  4. anthony r. Says:

    this isn’t the end of morrison’s run, he has or at least had more planned, so it’s still an ongoing story he’s working on. I think that’s why it doesn’t seem exactly like an ending, it really isn’t supposed to.

  5. Dwight Williams Says:

    “Has”, I believe, remains the operative word here. Morrison’s not done yet.

  6. mugsgame Says:

    It very well may be that I’m a little slow, but Morrison’s stories recently seem to a little skeletal, like he’s just writng an outline.

    I wish he could have taken a little more time to make us care about the villains or Jezebel. It went quick and didn’t resonate with me.

    It also seemed like Robin was the big hero here, Nightwing got taken off panel and Batman was out of his mind the entire story, but Robin was the most effective.

    I like Daniel’s art. He might not be the best storyteller, but it looked great.

  7. The Mighty Rob! Says:

    With the success of Ed Brubaker behind Captain America, the way he’s constructed and built a story to build up and place James (Bucky) Barnes into the mantle of one of Marvel’s defining icons it’s no surprise that DC have tried the same type of story and with one of it’s biggest (if not biggest, right now) character.

    However, I felt the death of Captain America just had more impact than the so-called “death” of Batman. The conclusion of “Batman R.I.P.” left me feeling rather flat, I think the whole story has been missing drama and left me a little confused at times. I am looking forward as to the direction they go on from this though….although I still think Dick Grayson is a dead cert for the cowl. I only hope that the stories lead up to the new Batman are of the same quality that Brubaker’s been churning out for Captain America.

  8. C. Towns Says:

    eh… i hope not. i don’t really like Brubaker. i prefer my superhero stories a little more fantastical. occasionally the more realistic and down-to-earth stuff i find enjoyable but i haven’t really liked Brubaker outside Gotham Central.

  9. Nelly_In_SJ Says:

    I just don’t get it. Almost all of Morrison’s run left me cold, or rather disappointed (save for the JH Williams issues, which everyone else liked as well). From the inception, Morrison’s run seemed superficial and not at all a compliment to his All Star Superman run which began a little bit before his Batman run. The main difference being, Morrison didn’t make me care about any of the characters. The Jet relationship I knew would go nowhere good, Damian was not a character I wanted to read more about, and I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to figure out what “Zur-En-Arr” was on my own. I’m grateful for Wikipedia for clearing that up for me.

    I’ve read a number of reviews about this issue/Morrison’s run just to see if I was alone in my assessment and also to see what it was that I was not getting. Ironically, I’m a big, big fan of what’s going on over in Final Crisis: crazy ideas, danger, and a narrative that I feel I’m on board with. Well, that’s my two cents not that anyone really asked for it. The big rumor is that Dick will be the new Batman and Damian will be taking over for Robin… great. Why not just give us an unlikable Batman as well and give the cowl to Jason Todd? Looking forward to enjoying Batman again some day…

  10. Murray Clack Says:

    I always find Morrison’s writing hit or miss. I LOVED his New X-Men work (until he obviously got bored with it) and his mini-series We3 (Grant, WTF? That should have been an ongoing series). But his work on Batman and Final Crisis are both confusing and boring. I’ve been a longtime Batman fan (I have over 500 of the 681 issues so far) but unless this title gets better, I will be dropping it soon.

  11. Don MacPherson Says:

    Murray wrote (re: We3):
    Grant, WTF? That should have been an ongoing series

    I disagree. I loved that three-issue limited series as well, but part of its strength was the tragic ending (which precluded an ongoing).

  12. Glen Newman Says:

    Glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks The Black Glove is a group rather than an individual. I think the whole arc would have been better served with an artist of the calibur of say JH Williams III though, especially seeing as he drew the best arc of Morrison’s run so far. As for Morrison’s run in total I can’t say it was a success but it was definitely interesting.

    Probably will pick up this “Battle for the Cowl” mini that’s coming but have my doubts that it’ll be nothing more than a generic action book seeing as Morrison’s not involved.

  13. Steely Dan Says:

    I have dutifully made an attempt to read a broad sampling of Grant Morrison’s work for almost 20 years now (Arkham Asylum, Animal Man, Mystery Play, All-Star Superman, Final Crisis) and frankly I just don’t get it, nor do I get the constant acclaim that he continues to receive (All-Star Superman in particular: I’ve tried reading that four times now and it still comes across as a third-rate pastiche of the Weisinger era. All of the pathos that has been ascribed to it is completely absent in my readings, and what emotionality is present just seems trite to me.). And I say this as someone who likes the works of Chris Ware, Seth, Darwyn Cooke, Steve Rude, Alan Moore, P. Craig Russell, Walt Simonson, Eddie Campbell, and (early) Frank Miller. My tastes are catholic (small “c”), broad, and wide-ranging. I like high art and low art. But everything that Morrison has done has left me cold and baffled. I’ve liked none of it.

    Morrison is held up as one of the pre-eminent talents in the medium today getting regular coverage in the popular press, and yet I can’t imagine ever being able to recommend anything that he’s written to my non-comix reading friends. His work is impenetrable. Even when I read critical analysis of his work by critics who are favorably pre-disposed to him in which they will flat-out explain what it is that I seem to be missing, I STILL don’t get what the big deal is, as the points that he’s credited with making seem so utterly pointless.

    Am I the only one who feels this way?