Or – “We Interrupt My Lateness To Bring You Something…Â Completely Different.”
A recent pre-podcast discussion, rambling in nature (like the podcast itself, really) led me to reveal to Stephen that I had read this issue of Batman in my ongoing attempt to jump aboard ongoing titles for comprehension and review purposes, and I opined something to the effect that I was not going to review this issue because of it’s obvious strengths.Â I was stunned to hear (as I always am) that my opinion was not universal, and that Stephen himself did NOT see the awesome in this issue of Batman.Â Thus it came to pass that I, the soothsayer of something or other, must now tell you about goings on in “Batman RIP.”Â Fasten your seatbelts, faithful spoilerites, ’cause it’s going to be a thrillride…
Previously, on Batman: Many years ago, in a dirty back alley behind a theatre, Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered over a cheap strand of pearls, and their son Bruce traumatized for life and galvanized into spending his life destroying the kind of crimes that cost him his childhood.Â Problem is, the whole thing seems to have been a lie.Â When a villain known only as “The Black Glove” sets the International Club of Heroes (all inspired by Batman) against themselves in an attempt to get them to off the big Bat goes afoul, the Black Glove gets personal.Â Bruce Wayne thinks the Glove is out to strike at him through his new main squeeze, Jezebel Jet, while Commissioner Gordon tries to keep the Gotham press from getting wind of a story that implies that Thomas Wayne was not only a drug addict, a philanderer, and an all-around sumbiotch, but that he faked his own death in a plot to rid himself of his albatross of a wife and son.Â Batman is overwhelmed emotionally, and then drugged into a stupor, then forced to deal with the revelation that one of the villains of the piece may actually BE his long-lost father, who believes that ALFRED is actually Bruce’s real father!Â It’s enough to make even the Bat snap, and he wanders into the Gotham night.Â But the Batman plans for every contingency, and even managed to create a backup personality in his mind, ‘The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh’ and return to action, albeit in a less-than-ideal state.Â Thomas Wayne (if that IS his real name) has taken up residence in Arkham, captured Jezebel, and freed the inmates, including a certain white skinned psycho-nutjob who wants Batman all to himself.Â The question is, is there really any Batman left?
The first impression I have of this issue is how ugly the cover is.Â DC has a tendency to trot out Alex Ross and his faithful photo-realism any time there’s an event comic, and this cover features an unpleasant blue-green tint to simulate darkness and, as always, the model that Alex uses for Batman has a wider jaw than he does forehead, leading to a stangely shaped Bat-head.Â Tony Daniel’s interiors, thankfully, are somewhat more to my liking as we see Thomas, as Doctor Hurt, welcoming his unseen guests to an evening of revelry.Â “We gamble on games of life and death.Â All the ingredients are here for a spectacular evening…Â Is ANYONE willing to be on the triumph of good over evil?”Â Elsewhere in Arkham, a neurosurgeon named Guy Dax monologues to a seemingly-brain damaged Joker about his own evil urges, about the horrible things he wants to do, and how the JOker is the inspiration for it all.Â He dresses in his own villain costume, monologueing endlessly about the beauty of evil blah blah blah fishcakes, and ends with “Choose your partners, m’sieur!Â The dance of death begins.”Â The Joker summarizes the entire interaction hilariously…Â “yawn…”
Outside the asylum, in the night, Batman arives… but things aren’t always what they seem.Â He wears a costume of red and yellow, stitched together from rags, and pretty much out of his gourd.Â Bat-Mite (!) appears over his shoulder, warning him of making a target of himself, and Batman grunts, “The colors demonstrate total confidence.Â Robin dressed this way for years and survived.”Â He leaps into action, and El Sombrero (one of Black Glove’s club of villains) orders his men to prepare, just as The Joker arrives.Â “What is is about the sombrero?Â Some things are just naturally funny,” mumbles Joker, a pretty fresh bullet wound still showing in his head.Â Batman and Bat-Mite discuss strategy, and Batman agrees with his conscience that he needs to move quickly and get inside, the better to find out who the Black Glove is.Â He cuts through the guards like a sharp thing through a squishy thing, and prepares to enter.Â “I’m sorry, Batman,” says the Mite.Â “I don’t think I can help anymore…Â I’m the last fading echo of the voice of reason, Batman.Â And reason won’t fit through this door.”Â Batman asks if Bat-Mite is for real, or just a figment of his imagination, and Bat-Mite leaves him with a single word of warning.Â “Beware!”
The assembled Club of villains watches as the colorful figure arrives, and the begin protesting that this isn’t Batman at all (protests that I’m sure some fans are echoing, word for word.)Â “Batman is cool!Â Batman wea’rs Black!Â That’s not Batman!”Â It’s a weirdly meta statement in the middle of the plot, and I find myself liking it immediately.Â Joker suddenly bursts into the room, shambling and covered in blood, and the villains gape at the face of real evil.Â Dr. Wayne, however, bids him a hearty welcome.Â Across town at Wayne Manor, Commissioner Gordon tries to make his way inside, only to find himself facing a series of death traps, and succeeding.Â But a booby-trapped telephone proves his undoing, as he trips a sensor that would lead to his death, only to catch a last minute save from Damian, Son of the Bat!Â Stephen pointed out to me the awkwardness of this whole sequence, and while I agree with him, I still attribute it all to failings of the art, as there’s no clear understanding of why the whole manor didn’t blow up until Talia Al Ghul appears, with henchman Ubu at her side, and offers to assist the Commissioner.Â “Mother,” whines Damian, “I want a Batmobile.”Â HA!
At the asylum, Batman continues advancing, only to be confronted with the voice of his most dangerous foe.Â “Some very rich people went to a lot of trouble to throw you a farewell party.Â And you turn up dressed like a clown…”Â Batman screams that Joker gave the whole thing away months ago, when he hinted to Batman about a “dead man’s hand” and for a couple of pages, two loonies scream unending vagaries at one another.Â Batman realizes that his beloved Jezebel is still in danger and leaps down a stairwell directly into danger.Â Joker confronts him, and I have to say that this is one of the most imbalanced and dangerous Jokers I’ve read in years.Â “You and I, ” he babbles to Bats, “We had a special arrangement.Â A yin/yang thing.Â Holmes and Moriarty, Tweety and Sylvester, hats and gloves, but you… you shot me in the face!”
He did?Â Wow, I’m sorry I missed that.Â Joker slices his tongue in two with a straight razor (a shot that might have been more horrible if Tony Daniel has a more realistic art style) and chides the Batman that he cannot understand the whole Joker experience with a couple days of drug binging.Â Batman attacks, but is confronted by the screaming, begging image of Jezebel.Â Her cries for help breaks him out of his Zur-En-Arrh fantasies, and he breaks through the safety glass to get to his girl, as Joker continues his monologue.Â “You really want to know how it feels to be the clown at midnight?Â Where there’s only ever one joke, and it’s always on you?” he asks, as Batman breaks in and seemingly fails to save Jezebel from certain death.Â Batman collapses on the floor, laughing, and I can’t be sure what’s happening for a minute, as Jezebel stands, smiles… and PULLS ON A LONG BLACK GLOVE.Â “NOW DO YOU GET IT?” screams the Joker as we fade to black…
It’s a powerful ending for me, and works on a number of levels, as it seems that the Batman’s life has been systematically picked apart by the woman he loves.Â Joker is particularly effective in this issue, with his lowercase word balloons and lack of basic punctuation giving us the impression that he’s really, truly, crazy as a football bat.
The downsides?Â There’s too many villains here for any of them to really get their due, and it definitely has the feel of a story full of overkill, with fillip upon fillip upon twist upon something or other to try and top the last.Â This has been written, obviously, as a turning point, a story that will (at least for a while) give us a character other than the “give him half an hour to prepare and he’ll pull a deus ex machina out of his ass to defeat Darkseid” Batman that I’ve come to dislike in recent years.Â I find that a good thing.Â I can also see how Bat-fans wouldn’t.
A few years ago, Grant Morrison did a somewhat controversial run on X-Men for Marvel, which hardcore fans like my friend Tom Grice (gone, but not forgotten, and still WRONG, sir! WRONG!) hated a lot.Â I maintain the same thing about this story that I do about that one:Â It’s good comics.Â But it wasn’t, for most readers, good X-MEN comics, and this probably isn’t a great Batman comic if you’ve loved recent Batman comics, like Stephen.Â But when I look at what this issue DOES have: A strong hero, reduced to nothing, who still finds hidden resources.Â A shocking (to me) reveal.Â A clear sense of danger and forboding.Â A well-written scary Joker.Â Bat-Mite.Â References to continuity that even *I* had forgotten.Â And don’t forget the Thomas Wayne revelations which, if true, change the VERY NATURE of the Batman and will force him to re-examine what he does from top to bottom, which should make for some interesting stories.
Visually, Tony Daniel isn’t the best storyteller around, but he gets the job done, and while the coloring is somewhat muddy in the middle, the high contrast red and black ending of the book and the Batman’s-eye-view as he collapses are very well done.Â It’s a strong issue, and I wasn’t lost by it, even having only a vague idea of what went on before.Â Batman #680 ranks a very impressive probably-Stephen-infuriating 4 out of 5 stars, because it made me care about a character I’m not emotionally invested in anymore, and made me remember what’s really fun about comics…