Deconstructing “Batman R.I.P.”

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding Grant Morrison’s Batman run. To detractors, it’s just unreadable. This often goes along with ugly comments about Morrison in general: that he’s admitted to being inspired by drugs and that he’s just off his rocker — or that his old work is great but that his newer stuff doesn’t stack up. But to supporters, Morrison’s Batman is an instant classic — something shockingly good.

From Batman #676

I have to admit that I used to be in the first camp. Not that I’m down on Morrison generally, but that his recent work hasn’t always stacked up for me. I loved his ZenithArkham AsylumAnimal ManDoom Patrol, and JLAThe Invisibles was somewhat hit-or-miss, but was world-shattering stuff when it hit — and remains a crucial series in comics history. I even dig Sebastian O and the like.

But New X-Men was a mixed bag: “E is for Extinction” and “Riot at Xavier’s” is fantastic stuff. Morrison infused the X-Men with more new ideas than any writer before him: the vague idea that Professor X was corrupting the X-Men, however undevelopped, was wonderful. Morrison showed the contradictions of Xavier’s mission, this far into it, better than anyone. But the shifting artists and the presence of the other X-books kept things down for me, distracting from what could have been a near-perfect run.

And Seven Soldiers mostly left me cold: I admired the sweep and ambition. God, did I admire that. But the actual stories… some were good, but others were pretty bland — good ideas that didn’t move me.

Now, everyone loves All Star Superman. Myself included. And everyone’s reluctantly disinterested in Final Crisis. Myself included.

It’s Batman that they’re split on.

I confess, I used to just “not get” Morrison’s Batman. Oh, the first storyline — “Batman and Son” — was approachable enough. It was a James Bond story, high on action. The ties to the Batman mythos were known to me and not hard to decipher.

I even “got” Morrison’s text story, “The Clown at Midnight.” Yeah, you had to know Arkham Asylum and Morrison’s ideas about the Joker. The story didn’t thrill me, but I saw what he was doing and liked it.

But reading Morrison’s run sequentially, I was often just lost. Who was this guy attacking police headquarters who people were calling “the Third Man?” He traps Batman, but you don’t really know what’s going on. Then a month passes, or two if you miss an issue, and you forget most of the details. So the next issue just seems all the more confusing.

I loved the J. H. Williams-illustrated story, with the various Batman-inspired heroes getting bumped off on an island from an old Batman story. Sure, it was more clever than dramatic: I’m a big fan of J. H. Williams, going back to his days on Chase, but his art doesn’t typically carry melodrama well. And the Black Glove was a pretty ambiguous villain.

“The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” was as straightforward as the title. It was an above-average Batman crossover, but not by much. I dug Damien, Batman’s son, but the story felt very conventional — and it didn’t help that Morrison only wrote a few of the issues.

So in sum, I was confused heading into “Batman R.I.P.” I’d heard the buzz and seen the ads. I didn’t care too much — DC alienated a lot of readers with its buzz over the past year, particularly with the nearly unmitigated disaster that was Countdown. So another “this changes everything” story couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Still, I picked up the issues. The prologue and first installment weren’t all that exciting. For one thing, the minor villains attacking Batman feel out-of-place for such a major storyline. I mean, you don’t have to fully endorse the excesses of “Hush” to think, instinctively, that someone other than villains no one knows or cares about should star in the story that’s supposed to take Bruce Wayne, once and for all, out of the cape and cowl. The secret villain behind everything — the Black Glove himself — could be anyone and these second-stringers would still feel odd.

That’s not to say that there was nothing good in these issues. Batman #675, the prologue issue, had Bruce Wayne’s current girlfriend, Jezebel Jet, figure out his identity. It wasn’t unprecedented, but it was well-executed — including Bruce freaking out and acting like Batman, pushing her away. She might still be largely undevelopped as a character, but I get the feeling that she’s there, in part, as a commentary on all of Batman’s past girlfriends — Morrison’s way of saying that there’s another possibility for that particular type.

Then came the second installment: Batman #677. It changed everything. I defy you to rea