By Alexander Webb
Welcome to another installment of Flashback Friday with your comic book (and fitness!) consigliere, Alex. Today, we are following up last week’s flashback with the final story of Grant Morrison’s pre-Crisis Batman run, Batman RIP.
(Note: As this story was pre-New 52 continuity, there are no spoilers for the current incarnation of Batman. Those of you reading storylines before 2011, however, may want to shield your eyes now.)
I believe in Grant Morrison.
Some people agree with me and some do not. It comes down to a matter of preference; are you the type of person who enjoys complex or straightforward storytelling? Morrison has been known, going back to his 2000AD and Judge Dredd days, for weaving a thought-provoking, sometimes confusing yarn that ends up coming full circle. He can make readers go from scratching their heads to mouths agape with the dawn of realization in a matter of a few panels. That’s my kind of storytelling; that’s what is showcased for us here, in the final piece of pre-Crisis Batman.
Things kick off right away with a scene as iconic as they come: Batman and Joker in an Arkham cell, discussing the Black Glove. Clearly Joker is in the know about this clandestine group, but his hints are seemingly vague and meaningless; playing cards with the clue, “red and black.” Nothing registers in our hero’s mind. Not yet anyway.
Enter Jezebel Jet. When we last saw the dark-skinned redhead (clue!), she was dealing with the shock of her beloved Bruce Wayne turning out to be Batman. We now see her getting a grand tour of the Batcave, and Bruce’s extremely well-hidden second life. Not many girls get this chance, mind you. Fitting, then, that the Black Glove decides to attack Wayne Manor at that very moment.
This is where things get crazy. A drugged out Bruce Wayne is left wandering the streets with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. Kids, let this be a lesson: crystal meth, heroin and high-grade narcotics do not mix. Clearly Batman, however, can handle his drugs, as we find out he has prepared himself for just such an event. Enter the backup Batman, hidden deep within his brain: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
Does that sound like the mumblings of a madman? Good, because it is. Doctor Hurt, the mastermind behind the Black Glove, hid those words throughout the city as a trigger for Batman to lose his mind whenever the mantra was uttered. See, years ago as part of an experiment to see how deep into madness he could go and survive, Bruce took part in an isolation chamber project. Left alone in the dark for days, he traveled deep within himself, trying to identify with the Joker and his limitless insanity. Little did Bruce know that this experiment was run by none other than Doctor Hurt, setting in motion the events that have unfolded before us for the last two years from Morrison’s run.
Advanced storytelling. Setting pieces up on the chessboard that may not make sense until three moves later. That’s the kind of smart writing on display for us, and I was loving every second of it. Morrison was showing readers Batman can never be beaten, even if you get Bruce to stop being Batman. Let’s continue further down this exciting rabbit hole.
We see Batmite, the sidekick/soul of this new Batman, come into play and lead our mind-numbed hero to the lair of the Glove. Even as Jezebel, Nightwing, Robin and Alfred get systematically taken down by the Glove, Batman of Zur-En-Arrh moves swiftly to seek vengeance. He is the ideal avatar for Bruce to adopt in his disoriented state; super-strong, ruthless and angry.
The Joker has been promised by the Glove to play a part in destroying Batman, and they come to blows after Batman arrives at the newly-overtaken Arkham Asylum. This is where artist Tony Daniels art really shines. The Joker is as menacing as I’ve seen; gnarled, savage face and slicked-back green hair awash in gorgeous lines and colors. The detail in the setting, the infamously dangerous Arkham, is stunning. Savor every page, reader, because we are rapidly approaching the end of our story.
We see new Batman put his love for Jezebel Jet before all else, and it bites him hard where it hurts. Jezebel was working for the Glove the entire time, and finding out Bruce was Batman was the cornerstone in breaking him. Hurt buries a drugged Batman in a pine coffin on the outskirts of Arkham, revealing to a crowd of disgustingly rich onlookers that he will dig Batman back up just as he runs out of oxygen, leaving us with a brain-damaged, ineffective Caped Crusader. Pretty messed up.
Batman escapes, bench-pressing 600 lbs of topsoil off of him and swimming his way six arduous feet to ground level. A chase ensues across the Gotham River, as Batman sheds his mask and jumps on Hurt’s escaping helicopter, crashing it and killing (maybe) everyone inside. Bruce had to know this would not happen again, to him or anyone he loved, even if it meant sacrificing himself to ensure it. We see Nightwing standing alone, Batman cowl in hand, wondering where to go from here. Is Batman dead? If so, what now?
Read on to find out; as for this story, it definitely stands the test of time as a true Batman tale. Masterful storytelling, painstakingly beautiful artwork, and troubling events that lead to a whole new chapter in crime-fighting: Nightwing taking up the mantle of Batman.
Alex Webb is a fitness trainer by day, Batman-enthusiast by night. Ask him about fitness, comics, RPGs, and answering life’s mysteries via Twitter and Instagram @officiallywebb