“Batman R.I.P.”, Prologue (DC Universe #0) and Chapter 1: Midnight In The House of Hurt (Batman #676)

Welp, for a while there I thought I was never going to be writing this. “Soon” was when I said I’d be writing up this review but I see now that that was close enough to a month ago and, believe me, that list of games I’ve been playing has expanded quite significantly. Those will still be reviewed but probably no longer between posts of this Grant Morrison series, the exceptions perhaps being Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games which would be fairly suitable. Yeah, I sort of decided that I’d just focus on this long run for now, particularly since that, though I’m only reviewing this first part just now and will probably be writing about following issues alone too, I have already read Batman R.I.P. twice now and let me tell you: it is fucking amazing. So for god’s sake, let’s get into the thick of things.

So you probably noticed in the title that there’s a prologue to this particular story arc. It’s quite interesting for something that’s only three pages long but I guess it wasn’t Morrison’s plan at the time to create it. Indeed, I would assume it’s DC’s way of trying to get people to pick up the first issue of DC Universe, the sneaky buggers. But, hey, being only three pages, it’s a perfectly skippable story, though I am glad that it is included here as it’s a great introduction to what is one hell of a Batman story. In my February post I did say that I’d been in the process of actually writing this review but only got as far as spelling out my thoughts on this prologue. To be honest, though, I went a bit over the top in detail for three pages and it’s all fairly obvious. Hell, Joker’s choice of cards spelling out “haha”, which I thought was clever of me to notice on my first reading, is pointed out by Bruce in the second issue, and I don’t know why I bothered to point out the red and black colouring or Batman standing on checkerboard like tiles when the guy points all this out by repeating some of Joker’s lines from The Clown at Midnight: “Red and black. Life and death. The joke and the punchline.”

But I suppose there is two things worth pointing out that I’m sure some people might’ve missed on a first reading. First of all, the Joker only spells out “haha” and does a looping motion to the side of his head after pointing at Batman when the latter repeatedly asks, “What are you trying to tell me?” Well, he’s basically trying to say he’s crazy, and a later confrontation between the two in the book confirms a theory I had in The Clown at Midnight, which was that the Joker wants Batman to see that there is no point to his chaos and no point to him – he’s not set up a colour motive to get him thinking or, if he has, it’s only to fuck around with him. So there’s that.

The other thing, though you can’t exactly miss it, is the last two panels. The Joker reveals his signature card to complete the Dead Man’s Hand and in the last panel we zoom in so close to this card that it’s almost completely obscured by a small drop of blood. Whereas you might be led to believe, going from the title, that this spells bad news for Batman, it isn’t actually the case and I thought as much when I saw it. You see, it’s the Joker whose colour motive is black in this scene because, well, he’s the chaos; the evil that comes out at night whom Batman must face. Black might not be the perfect colour choice for all of the villains he must face but it’s very suitable here since we saw how unimaginable the Joker is in The Clown at Midnight; how unreal and undefinable, someone who defies understanding, like Chigurh of No Country of Old Men you may recall me saying, a fact that Batman is none too happy about, as we’ll discuss later. It’s Batman who stands underneath a red light. Though I’ll save it for the appropriate moment, this is a colour vitally important to Batman, and plays its role when he goes…well, you’ll see. Anyway, the blood obscuring the Joker card? Bad for the Joker and those of his ilk – not Batman.

That’s those three pages then. Incidentally, we actually reach the contents page after this prologue and not the other way about, which is another little interesting change. Before we reach the first real chapter we’re even greeted by one unusual image that we don’t see in the comic itself until quite later on. It’s a picture of a young Bruce Wayne crying in the rain, but with his arms outstretched as if he’s done something amazing (or perhaps just to mirror J.H. William’s cover of the book that’s on the opposite page where he makes a similar pose as Batman), quite reminiscent of Andy Dufresne’s escape from Shawshank State Prison in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s of course the young child by his parents graves, distraught but vowing to avenge their deaths, though he probably doesn’t realise yet that Batman is what he’ll become. There are also the words, “What we are about to do will be a work of art” above this image, words spoken by Doctor Hurt in the second issue, and I’ll talk about their significance to the story, perhaps Morrison’s entire run, then.

But let’s finally move on to the first chapter of R.I.P. now. It’s a pretty interesting start, so curious in fact that I looked up a few things after reading it. The very first page, for instance, is technically the present day of the story, this whole R.I.P. having taken place six months earlier, as is revealed on the second page. But you really need to see this first page to understand why it’s such an attention-grabbing start so, um, here ya go. Clearly that Robin is not Tim Drake and Batman’s face is completely obscured, making it unclear if it’s Bruce. It’s not, of course – this scene is from Dick Grayson’s tenure as the caped crusader which we won’t be seeing until we’ve read Final Crisis and Time and the Batman, and it is he who is shouting, “You’re wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!” It’s a bloody amazing line and I’m sure will prove significant when we catch up to this scene somewhere in the Batman and Robin series. The image itself is perfect, I might add – Tony S. Daniel is the artist behind this R.I.P. arc and, though I’ll be giving some more in-depth thoughts on his art overall at the end of the book, I will be pointing out the images he just nails of which there is quite a few in this book. Incidentally, I love the lettering used for this statement Grayson makes – it lends a certain emphasis to the words, again suggesting how significant they are to Morrison’s whole run. Oh, and notice the red skies. Though I can’t quite explain that phenomenon yet (I suspect it has something to do with Final Crisis which has a completely red front cover), it again recalls Batman’s colour, which is pretty interesting to note.

Immediately after this great little start we flashback as I say, and quite surprisingly find ourselves introduced to the complete cast of the Club of Villains, who were only mentioned in ye olde Batman stories but never, I believe, actually seen. You can probably guess who’s the nemesis of our Club of Heroes (or those that remain, I should say) from looking at them, but you learn their names as the story goes on. More surprising is that Doctor Hurt’s here too, representing the Black Glove organization that we don’t actually meet for a little while. No more secrets about who the main bad guy is then either. Straight after this we join Batman and Robin in pursuit of some crappy criminal who they capture with ease but…with their new Batmobile! Yep, it’s quickly revealed too and, though not as cool as I expected it to look, it’s still fairly well designed with red interior lighting and headlights, one might notice, once more recalling how important this will turn out to be. Next we catch up with Bruce spending some time with Jezebel, who last we met realised that Bruce was Batman, and Tim being all doubtful about how sane he is, and also whether or not Damian really is his son.

And to round things off, we do some catching up with the Joker over at Arkham Asylum in a sequence that ends in a very confusing manner. Basically the majority of his scene is a daydream he’s having when being asked what he sees when he looks at a Rorschach blot test. Though he quite humorously repeats, “Another pretty flower” in response to this, his mind is actually drifting off to a fantasy where the world dies laughing from his toxins, and he personally gets to kill Robin, Nightwing and Commissioner Gordon. But, quite confusingly, though we’ve caught up to reality by the last page’s close up of him, he’s still covered in blood from the fantasy. Somewhere on the internet this is explained as a colouring error and it’s a bit of a shame, but ah well. We learn that one of the villains, Le Bossu, has been in contact with the Joker and, sure enough, he’ll be causing his usual chaos quite soon, though you may be surprised by his latest transformation since we last saw him.

All in all, it’s a bit of a strange start but, believe me, it’s nothing compared to what’s coming. The next issue ends on quite the cliffhanger and the issue after that ends on an even bigger one, and after that…well, nothing is normal. But it’s amazing, or at least I think so, though I’ll talk about the arc overall when we reach its conclusion. Hopefully I’ll keep these posts coming as, although only six issues in length, there’s a lot to talk about, particularly since our reading chronology is going to get a little mixed up again because of two stories at the end of the book. Anyway, until next time.

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