Thursday, January 8, 2009

Batman R.I.P.

Now, I'm not normally a fan of Batman or Superman, so it feels weird to realize how often I've written about them. But, well, there's been interesting stuff going on with them of late, between Grant Morrison and... uh... actually, really just Grant Morrison.

Still, many readers expressed confusion at the recent Batman R.I.P., its tie-ins, Final Crisis, etc... and I have tried to answer those questions when they have come up. However, while I do enjoy organizing things, this project was too large for me to start, and I (to be honest) didn't care nearly enough.

However, the magic of the Internet is the knowledge that, someone, somewhere, DOES enjoy this sort of thing, and is incapable of admitting that a project might be too large. Even more magical? Sometimes that person offers said project in an intelligent, well thought-out sort of way.

Prepare for some magic, then, from poster Pinderpanda (man, that sucked the dignity right out of the room, huh?).

Batman RIP to Battle for the Cowl
- A Reader's Guide.

Contains spoilers galore.

Updated 08/01/2009

What's Happening?

What's going on in the Bat-books?

A number of Batman-related titles have been cancelled (Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey) and a number are going on hiatus (Batman, Detective) before relaunching in some form. This may, or may not, involve the replacement of Bruce Wayne as Batman.

Charitably this this happening because when "one writer is doing such a big thing, then it has to impact other books [...] because this story is too big to ignore" (Fabian Nicieza, IGN, December 2008 ).

Uncharitably this is happening because "the sales on the Batman titles went through the roof with the first issue of RIP. So quite clearly DC took one look at that and said let's put some branding on the other Bat titles" (Morrison, IGN, May 2008 ).

Either way, what we're left with is a curious maze of personal writer-led stories and mandated editor-led 'events'. This is your map.

What is Batman RIP?

In the pages of Batman, 'RIP' is a six issue arc which runs from #676 to #681.It concludes a "25-chapter novel" (Morrison, Newsarama, Feb 2008 ) which has run intermittently in the title since #655.

The title was also used as branding for issues of Detective Comics (#846-850), Nightwing (#147-150), Robin (#175-176), and Batman and the Outsiders (#11-13). These stories have at best a thematic or tangential connection to the main arc. They do not interact with it "in any crucial way" (Dini, CBR, June 2008 ) and were written with no input from the main arc's writer (Morrison, IGN, May 2008 ).

The main storyline involves the attempted ruination of Bruce Wayne's soul by a source of pure evil from beyond the limits of reason, and the subsequent kicking of said evil's ass by the Undamned Batman.

What is Last Rites?

'Last Rites' was a bit of masthead branding applied to issues of Batman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Robin and Batman and the Outsiders published following the conclusion of 'RIP'.

The 'Last Rites' storyline published in Batman ('The Butler Did It/What the Butler Saw') is set during Final Crisis and clarifies Batman's involvement in that series and its relation to RIP.

The 'Last Rites' storylines published in the other titles show various Gotham residents adapting to life without Batman.

What is Final Crisis?

A seven-issue miniseries, plus tie-ins, offered as DC's major event for 2008.

It variously attempts to be, or has been marketed as being...

...a sequel to Jack Kirby's Fourth World, OMAC and Kamadi material.

...the conclusion of the plot threads Grant Morrison has been running through all his DCU work since Animal Man.

...the third part of a 'Crisis' trilogy that began with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis.

...the 'Third Act' of Didio-era DC which has run through Graduation Day, Identity Crisis, and everything since.

How successful it is in being any of those things is a matter of much debate. As is the level to which the project is interested in being anything other than the first two things. As is the level of comprehensibility the series attains given these various demands.

In Batman terms the series is important since it features "the final fate of Batman" (Morrison, IGN, August 2008 ); A mischievous and ironic phrase since the death of Barry Allen (returned to life by Final Crisis) occurred in an issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths bearing the cover blurb "the final fate of the Flash."

What is Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

A two issue story by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert that will run in Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853.

In both its title and its publication method, it parallels the Alan Moore/Curt Swan story "Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" which ran in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 and which gave the Earth-1 Superman a 'final story' with which to cap off the continuity erased by Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Gaiman has said of the story, " I think the most important thing Sandman did, and it did create some important things, was that it was the first mainstream comic ever to finish a story. And I think that cannot be underestimated. The idea before that had always been that if you were writing a monthly comic, let's say Superman or whatever, you couldn't finish it. You weren't ever allowed to do the last one, to have the story mean anything. You had to turn back to the soap opera. [...] One of the things that attracted me to [Whatever Happened...] was when they asked if I would be interested in writing the last Batman story, so that's what I'm doing. The last Batman story." (Ain't It Cool, December 2008 ).

It is solicited as a "captivating and mysterious tale the likes of which Batman and friends have never experienced before. Delving into the realms of life, death and the afterlife."

What is Battle for the Cowl?

A three-issue miniseries which will be published during the March to May hiatus taken by Batman and Detective.

The story will deal with the matter of Batman's succesion. "The cape and cowl [is] the focus of the story. Should it be retired or should someone take the mantle? Will it make a difference either way? Batman was much more than just a costume, you know; putting it on doesn’t make you Batman." (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008 )

It will be suported by a number of tie-in one-shots and miniseries. Those so far announced include Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? (dealing with Spoiler, Vicki Vale, Harvey Bullock and Leslie Thompkins), Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive!, Oracle and Azrael: Death's Dark Knight.

The core series is to be written by RIP's penciller Tony Daniel, who boldly invited himself to do so...

"I was casually talking to [editor] Mike Marts about the story and my thoughts on how great it could be. I consider myself a storyteller, so in my mind I guess the wheels of the story were naturally spinning. And in this case, you couldn’t shut me up.

I mentioned how this could be something really great and not just a stop gap before Grant’s or my return to the title. [...]

So after spilling my guts for about 10 minutes about the ideas that were pouring out of my head, I jokingly told Mike that I would gladly accept the invitation to write Battle for the Cowl. Only he hadn’t done that and we both laughed. But I emailed him later after thinking about it more and it was too late. I was ramped up on my second cup of Starbucks and there was no turning back. I asked him to consider it." (Daniel, Newsarama, December 2008 )

How do these stories fit together?

This is at times a little unclear.

Many of the peripheral stories involve the Gotham cast reacting to Batman's disappearance, but the problem is that Batman disappears three times during the main storyline. Once during RIP, where he becomes a homeless drug addict for an issue, once following RIP's conclusion, in which he briefly vanishes in a helicopter crash, and once following whatver happens in Final Crisis.

The helicopter crash is the most puzzling of these, as it seems to serve no narative purpose and makes RIP look as if it has a weaker conclusion than it does.

Dan Didio explains that he mandated this extra bonus disapearance "Because we live in the world of collected editions, we needed a conclusion in the Batman series, so that we could collect it properly within Batman, without having to bring in segments of Final Crisis to complete the story" (Didio, Newsarama, December 2008 )

This logic is undermined somewhat by the fact that the collected edition of Batman RIP is including the two Final Crisis tie-in issues which follow it, so those reading it in trade will be confronted by segments of the larger story and will find the helicopter crash as much of a perplexing non-event as did those who followed the monthlies.

Thanks to this editorial masterstroke, we've got a stack of RIP tie-ins and Last Rites comics set "after Bruce's disapperance" and two disappearances this could possibly refer to - the helicopter crash or the events of Final Crisis.

I would argue that the balance of evidence seems to suggest that the "OMG! Batman's gone forever!" stories we've seen so far do not occur after his "final fate" in Final Crisis but rather while he was temporarily missing following the helicopter crash; Last Rites does not appear to be set in a post-Final Crisis world and there are references to the disapearance in clearly pre-Final Crisis books (such as Supergirl #34).

The broad sequence of events would then seem to be...

Batman RIP
(In which Batman defeats a 'source of pure evil' but has a curse placed upon him - his next case shall be his last! He then disappears in a helicopter crash.)

Various RIP tie-ins and Last Rites books
(In which everyone goes mental about Bruce being gone forever. Except in Tomasi's excellent Nightwing, where they sit around eating popcorn and waiting for him to return)

The flashback sequence shown in Batman #683
(In which Bruce returns from the helicopter crash as if it were no big deal. He is then dragged immediately into the events of Final Crisis #1)

Final Crisis #1-4
(In which Batman falls into Darkseid's clutches)

Batman #682-3
(In which Batman escapes Darkseid's clutches)

Final Crisis #5-7
(In which we learn the "final fate of Batman" )

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Battle for the Cowl

A more detailed, issue-by-issue, chronology is offered in the next section.

How do I read it?

How do I read any superhero comics set in a seventy-year-old continuity?

You've two options.

The first is to accept that every story, no matter how self-contained and no matter how good or bad a jumping-on point, has a "Previously..."

We're all of us finding our seats after the movie's started and spilling our popcorn on those around us. Don't stress about this. Just find somewhere, anywhere, that looks like an interesting place to start and jump in.

Be prepared to ask questions. Be prepared to look things up. Be prepared to ignore everyone who says you have to have read "X" before you can read "Y". Be prepared to be confused, and to work through that confusion if you find anything that fires your imagination enough to make that feel like work worth doing.

The other option is to start in 1939 with Detective Comics #27 and plough on through from there.

How do I read Batman RIP?

The six issues of Grant Morrison's Batman RIP printed in Batman #676-681 (and collected in the Batman RIP hardcover) comprise the final chapter of a longer storyline.

Morrison says that, "This is the first story I had planned when Peter Tomasi, the editor at the time, asked me to do Batman [...] the very first story title I noted down was “Batman RIP”. [...] So it came from there…and out of that notion came the idea for the big overarching story I’ve been telling since I first came on the book. Everything…the “Zur-En-Arrh” graffiti, the Joker prose story, the Club of Heroes…every detail that’s been in the book for the last couple of years is significant" (Newsarama, Feburary 2008 )

The complete story is collected across the Batman and Son, The Black Glove and Batman RIP trades.

Morrison also lays groundwork for the storyline in issues #30 and #47 of the 2006-7 weekly series 52. The relevant events from that story are well sumarised in the main Batman title but can be found in the third and fourth trade collection of 52.

The story also relies very heavily on events from two Silver Age stories; The Superman of Planet-X from Batman #113 and Robin Dies at Dawn from Batman #153. Although the relevant events from these stories are eventually recapped in the storyline, this doesn't happen until a point where many readers will have become exasperated. DC have yet to make these stories available to readers, but will remedy this in the Black Casebook trade available from June 2009.

A reader wanting the 'complete RIP experience' could then find it by reading...

The Black Casebook trade.
Weeks 30 and 47 from the third and fourth 52 trade.
The Batman and Son trade.
The Black Glove trade.
The Batman RIP trade.

Since it contains no major Status-Q changes, WHY should I read Batman RIP?

You might enjoy it. Then again, you might really not. The storyline has been fairly polarising and divisive among the readership.

As a rough guide I'd suggest that you'll probably enjoy Batman RIP...

...if you're frustrated with LOST for giving out too many answers.
...if your favoutite TS Eliot poems don't involve cats.
...if your personal 'top ten' films include The Fisher King, Jacobs Ladder, Angel Heart, The Name of the Rose or anything by David Lynch.

Matt Fraction best explains the run's appeal...

"It's a pretty spectacular example of [...] using Batman as frame of reference for Batman. The gag is that everything that's happened in the Batman comic actually happened to Batman, right? And what would that do to a human mind? From the bleak noir stuff to the bam-sock-pow stuff and everything in between. [Morrison]'s using the whole history of the character to comment on the character as the character endures it. And to comment on the comics mainstream, and on heroes, and all that great stuff. I mean, the first fight scene takes place in an art gallery during a Pop Art retrospective where these faux-Lichtenstein paintings of comics are commenting on the comic we're reading as we're reading it, for god's sake. And as the run went on, Morrison really used the entirety of the character's history as a frame of reference and context to comment on the character. Batman-as-Batman-as-Pop-Culture-in-toto. It's a mess, and a glorious one at that, and his reach might have exceeded his grasp for a couple reasons not exactly germane to this discussion, but it's been a pretty amazing piece, all the same. It's the Cremaster of superhero comics." (Fraction, The Comics Reporter, January 2009)

How do I read the Batman RIP tie-ins?

Dini's 'Heart of Hush' storyline in Detective # 846-850 is set shortly before Morrison's RIP issues and has no connection to them except the the idea that Hush is making his move now in order to destroy Batman before someone else beats him to it.

Robin #846-850 is set during the events of RIP, seemingly inbetween Batman #678 and Batman #679.

Batman and the Outsiders #11-13 and Nightwing #147-50 are set following RIP's conclusion.

Since they've no impact on the main plot, WHY should I read the Batman RIP tie-ins?

If you're following the characters in those particular books, or if you're looking for a Paul Dini story about Hush and a Peter Tomasi story about Two-Face.

There's no other strong reason, although events from 'Heart of Hush' may eventually prove important in Battle for the Cowl.

How do I read Final Crisis?

Final Crisis consists of a seven-issue miniseries, four accompanying miniseries (Revelations, Rogues' Revenge, Legion of Three Worlds, Superman Beyond) five accompanying one-shots (Requiem, Rage of the Red Lanterns, Resist, Submit, Secret Files) and two tie-in issues (Batman #682-3).

It was preceeded by a weekly series called Countdown to Final Crisis, published against Grant Morrison's wishes and in contradiction to his storyline (Morrison, Newsarama, June 2008 ). Considered alongside its own spin-offs, but not counting tie-ins in the monthlies, Countdown to Final Crisis comprises at least 102 issues, none of which make any fucking sense. It is best ignored.

Someone approaching Final Crisis to see Batman's story play out can happily confine themselves to Batman #682-3 and the seven-issue core Final Crisis mini.

Final Crisis is however, as discussed in 'What is Final Crisis?' above, the conclusion to a great many long-running stories. Readers may find their experience of its accessibility varies.

For example, when confronted with Turpin, a tough cop with prior history with superheroes, some readers will say "Hey! This is Dan Turpin from New Gods #5." They will get on fine.

Some readers will say, "I don't know who this guy is. But it says here that his name's Turpin, and that he's a tough cop with prior history with superheroes. That's probably enough to be going on with." They too will get on fine.

Some readers will say, "I don't know who this guy is! How am I expected to follow all this continuity?" They will get hopelessly confused.

You probably already know what sort of a reader you are.

Someone looking to read everything that feeds into this story would be faced with reading the complete DCU work of Jack Kirby and Grant Morrison, the complete Wildstorm work of Warren Ellis, Wanted, Sin City, Secret Invasion, every prior Crisis crossover and every DCU book published for the last four years.

Someone looking for a more manageble project of preparatory reading might just want to check out the four Jack Kirby's Fouth World Omnibus volumes and Grant Morrison's JLA and Seven Soldiers runs.

What's the chronology of all this?

What follows is an attempt to place the books considered by this article into an issue-by-issue chronology. Bare in mind that a chronology is not the same as an 'ideal reading order' or a list of 'essential reading' and also that in many places this is based on my own textual sleuthing and subjective judgement, rather than on anything official.

Detective Comics #846-50 (Heart of Hush)

Batman #676-8 (RIP parts 1-3)

Robin #175-6

Batman #679-81 (RIP parts 4-6)

Batman and the Outsiders #11-12 (Outsiders No More).

Nightwing #147-151 (The Great Leap)

Robin #177-182 (Search for a Hero)

Detective Comics #851 & Batman #684 ('The Last Days of Gotham')
Happens concurently with 'Search for a Hero'.

Batman and the Outsiders #13

Bruce returns from the heli-crash, as flashbacked to in Batman #863 .

Final Crisis #1-2

Final Crisis: Requiem
(Concurrent with FC#2. I've just included this because of the awesome scene of Bruce with the Oreo.)

Final Crisis #3-4

Batman #682-3 (The Butler Did It/What the Bulter Saw)

Final Crisis #5-7

Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader?

Battle for the Cowl.

Battle for the Cowl Questions

Is Azrael really coming back?

Published alongside Battle for the Cowl will be Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, a three part mini-series.

The Azrael it features will neither be Jean-Paul Valley nor directly connected to the Order of St. Dumas. This character will have been appointed by a seedier splinter group called 'The Order of Purity' and will wear the Suit of Sorrows introduced in the Resurrection of R'as al Ghul crossover.

According to Fabian Nicieza "He's known and not really known, but it's a character that spins out of his introduction to the Bat-books in a very interesting way." (IGN, December 2008 )

The description of him in the solicts ("He was a husband and a father. A brother and a friend. A cop and a dark knight. But he had all that taken away." ), the darkly religious tone of the character and comments about him having been "manipulated and abused by many other outside forces" (Nicieza, Newsarama, January 2009) has caused some to speculate that he's the Third Man, the satanic replacement Batman created by Doctor Hurt.

"It could seem to suggest that, couldn't it?" says Nicieza (Newsarama, January 2009).


Thanks Pinderpanda! May your name live on in infamy!

1 comment:

Mart said...

Hi, this is the first time I've come across your blog (brilliant title!) and I'm impressed. Great job explaining and commentating.

I think I'd rather see a Battle for the Cow . . .