Alright, before I lay out some thoughts on these two stories, first thing’s first: there is no way in fuck I am even going to try to work out where this fits in terms of release dates with the issues of Final Crisis. Even though these two stories play a fairly important role during that apocalyptic event, one thing I quickly learned as I read the annotations from three different writer’s to aid me in my quest of understanding that epic tale is that there were mistakes in the artwork at the time, sometimes even with the lettering, and apparently even delays. Plus, it was unclear how important the two Superman Beyond issues were at the time, go figure. In other words: Final Crisis was a bit of a mess when it was released and I can only imagine that its delays didn’t coincide with the release of these two tales, causing god knows how much confusion. In other, other words: I think I understand where some of the hatred of that tale comes from though, as you’ll see in my review, I think there’s no reason to complain about it all when it’s so well collected in the trade paperback I read which corrects all the art and lettering mistakes and obviously makes a whole lot more sense with Superman Beyond and Submit taking place halfway through.
Still, I’m not sure why these two stories are collected here instead of in there too. Naturally, one would assume it’s because not everyone who read Final Crisis was perhaps a Batman fan and what happens to him doesn’t play that pivotal a role in terms of its own actual story, but the structure of Last Rites is told in the same non-linear fashion as Final Crisis as a whole and, in my opinion, it’d be better suited in there. For all the complaints I’ve read, R.I.P. itself isn’t that confusing a story but Final Crisis most definitely is, and this stands out, coming from the end of R.I.P., as pretty bloody mind boggling stuff. Plus, you know, you’d need to read Final Crisis to see how Batman finds himself captured anyway, so there’s that.
But, in fact, and as I’ve pointed out before, if you were just following Morrison’s long Batman run, you wouldn’t really need to bother reading Final Crisis at all. Though I could spoil it all here and now, I’ll save that for my review of Final Crisis itself. But, first, some necessary context: Final Crisis begins with the murder of a God. This is pretty big news so every DC character you can imagine – or, in my case, can’t imagine – makes an appearance, including our very own Batman, the star of this blog of mine. Sometime in the second issue, however, Batman is taken prisoner by one of the good guys possessed by a bad guy, at which point he completely disappears until the fifth issue where the people who have been trying to clone him are revealed to have failed, implying his escape. Sure enough, the cover of the next issue is his and he…well, I’ll spoil that in my Final Crisis review. These two stories are what happens during his imprisonment, though there are nods and winks to things that happened far, far before that, such is now how non-linear they are.
Indeed, like Final Crisis, I decided to get me some annotations for all of Morrison’s little callbacks. There is a lot of references that smaller fans like myself can pick up on, including some I noticed from The Black Casebook once again, but there’s a bunch of other stuff I simply would never have noticed and I’m sure a lot of other people couldn’t either. The annotations I used were Douglas Wolk’s, and I highly recommend checking them out, if only to see what you didn’t notice (though in his annotations here and for Final Crisis, and even on his Judge Dredd blog, he does a stellar job in listing the specific dates this character or that first made their appearance which is pretty neat, and you might enjoy that too). So, here’s his notes on Batman #682 and, likewise, Batman #683. When I get to it next, I’ll of course be leaving links to all the annotations I used for Final Crisis, as well as a bunch of other stuff I found incredibly helpful and interesting. Anyway, the reason I leave links to his notes is so I don’t have to write up a list of my own, seeing as I’m already at about 700 words and going nowhere with this post. Which sort of speaks for itself. Let me stress again that this is pretty confusing stuff, perhaps moreso than a lot of what happens in Final Crisis simply because it’s unclear what’s real in this story and what isn’t.
Basically, there is someone in Bruce’s mind. It takes him about 20 pages to realise this as we go through memory after memory, some distorted and some not, with random side cuts to him flinching in pain as he’s hooked up to the machine we last saw in Final Crisis, and occasional dialogue that doesn’t seem to belong to the narrator in the background, Alfred, or anyone else, presumably therefore the people trying to clone him, Darkseid’s followers, Mokarri and Simyan. Sure enough, Bruce realises that the Alfred of these memories isn’t really Alfred and is typically a hardass: “I’m coming to get you”, he says to the Lump. The Lump?!? Yes, the Lump. As is explained on the second to last page of the first issue, these two followers of Darkseid are having trouble cloning Batman, the clones created thus far being kinda crappy copies. But this Lump – who, according to Wolk, is unsurprisingly a creation of Jack Kirby’s (Final Crisis, if you’re wondering, concerns the destruction of Kirby’s Fourth World so there’s a ton of references, as you might expect) – can access Batman’s memories, and that is basically what these two stories are; the Lump’s attempts to understand what makes Batman tick or cope with his duty, which is what’s causing the clone troubles. Of course, in the next issue, Batman fights back and, although not explicitly shown, escapes for his conclusive role in Final Crisis.
It all seems straightforward when I say it like that but, for me at least, it really wasn’t on a first reading, and keep in mind that what I described above is only what’s actually happening. Everything else is an exploration of Batman’s memories, many of which are confused are disjointed from one another; and we eventually reach a point where we go back in time from the memories of Bruce as Batman that we’ve just read to an invented memory of his parent’s never dying in Crime Alley to really rattle your brain box. But I’m not complaining. Although it’s not really a “What if?” story like Damian’s future storyline from Batman and Son, it’s still really neat, especially as Morrison takes a surprisingly logical approach by pointing out that, if he never became Batman, it means no one can stop Joker from poisoning Gotham, as foreshadowed at the end of Frank Miller’s Year One. Plus, he makes Bruce a doctor like his father, have Commissioner Gordon killed at some point, Martha become overprotective, and poor Dick Grayson tortured by the Joker. Which is all very logical if no one else’s life were to change, but more than a bit grisly, which is why I’m ever so grateful that these two stories combined are actually quite hilarious too. Our brand new Doctor Wayne being tricked and robbed by Selina Kyle’s flirtatious advances is hilarious, especially when Lee Garbett, the artist, kills the scene with Bruce attempting to bury his head in his desk like the idiot he is when his father calls him as such.
But, above all, and as with the rest of this run so far – including Final Crisis, as you’ll see – this is just another really clever story from Morrison. Attentive readers might notice in the Selina Kyle scene that I described above that one of the guys actually working on stealing Batman’s memories in the real world is actually in the fake memory, signifying that Batman’s already fighting back against the Lump. Others might notice the attention paid to a certain bullet in both issues, which will make its return in Final Crisis’ sixth issue. Although most of the story is “faked”, there is also Alfred’s very real narration throughout both issues, ending mysteriously with him turning the Batcave’s lights off as he wonders where Bruce could be, foreshadowing Bruce’s “death” before you finish Final Crisis. So, for such a technically straightforward story, it packs quite a lot. Hell, I haven’t bothered to go into any of the real flashbacks. Many of them are obviously references to older stories, which is where I struggled at times, but towards the end you see flashbacks to the recent important events of Batman’s life – the Thogal ritual, Damian making his introduction, his time as the Batman of Zur en Arrh and, of course, the investigation of the God, Orion’s, death.
And, as we’ll see in Final Crisis, the bullet which killed that poor chap has a pivotal role to play yet. What happens to Batman in the final two chapters of Final Crisis is the first thing I’ll talk about in that book’s review, which I hope to post a little later. Until then, I shall leave you with this question that Mokarri says in disbelief towards the end of this crazy little story, again summarizing how ridiculously amazing Morrison’s Batman is: “What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?”