Comics Time: Batman #681

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Batman #681

Grant Morrison, writer

Tony Daniel, artist

DC Comics, November 2008

40 pages

$3.99

First things first: The Black Glove is not a person but a five-person consortium of, as Brad Majors would put it, “rich weirdos”—a general, a priest, a dude in Arab headgear, a businessman, and Jezebel Jet. Their ringleader-type person is Doctor Hurt. Doctor Hurt claims, for the second time, to be Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, and for the second time this suggestion is shot down (first it was Alfred, this time it’s Batman himself). Batman theorizes he’s Mangrove Pierce, Wayne lookalike and actor in a film called The Black Glove that was at the root of his earlier case involving John Mayhew and the Club of Heroes, but Hurt shoots that notion down in turn, instead saying, “I am the hole in things, Bruce, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning.” Batman rejects Hurt’s offer to spare the reputation of his parents and Alfred in exchange for servitude, then leaps up and crashes Hurt’s getaway copter, plummeting to his “death.”

That’s the gist, anyway. People expecting real answers about any of this are rewarded with not a whole lot more than people looking for a convincing Death of Batman are. So what do I take away from the conclusion to the big “Batman R.I.P.” arc? Well, it was a lot of fun–this is about as involved as I’ve been in a superhero storyline since I started reading the things again in 2001; moreover, this is the first single issue of a superhero series I’ve purchased since, I think, August 2004. Morrison’s Batman is about what it wants you to do–it presents itself as a dizzying series of clues and references that only the sharpest mind can unravel. What I didn’t expect was for the rug to be yanked out from underneath it all–the Joker revealing that all his red/black symbolism stuff was made up, Doctor Hurt revealing (I think!) that his origin is that he has no origin to speak of, at least as far as existing Batman lore is concerned. (This may or may not be true–he really could be Thomas Wayne, or as one friend suggested, he could be Thomas Wayne Jr. of JLA: Earth-2, aka Owl-Man. It would fit the alternate history Hurt presents in which Joe Chill kills Martha and Bruce.) But the kicker is that even with all its intricate structure and symbolism revealed to be a put-on, Batman still kicks the shit out of the Black Glove. The main narrative thread of this final issue is a Bourne-type situation where we discover Batman’s just plain too smart and strong and sharp for these clowns to possibly beat him. In fact, what looked like abject failure a few issues ago was really just a product of Batman’s sheer confidence in his own ability to have somehow prepared himself for any eventuality. That’s just how awesome he is.

For skeptics of Morrison’s pro-awesomeness philosophy of superhero comics, I’d imagine this is going to fall pretty flat, but I’m down with awesomeness from time to time, if not as much as your average Barbelith poster or comicsbloggers who use the word “pop” a lot. I’m certainly down with awesomeness from Batman, my favorite character, written by Morrison, my favorite Big Two writer. The idea that Batman created a nutso backup personality in case the shit ever really hit the fan? That’s fantastic. Can I also take this time to give a shout-out to the much-maligned Tony Daniel? I’ve been a bit baffled by the guff he’s been given, seemingly primarily by dint of not being Frank Quitely. I think his Batman has been consistently tough and badass–I like it better than Jim Lee’s similar yet much less crazy take–and he’s done some really spooky stuff with the Joker. There’s some really nice fight choreography in here too with Robin and Pierrot, too, and in general I haven’t found his fights or layouts as incomprehensible as many others have. In sum I enjoyed this storyline and even though I’m still not quite sure what happened, I’m okay with that.

UPDATE: Did you know there are two additional Grant Morrison Batman issues coming out before his hiatus from the book? I sure didn’t!

16 Responses to Comics Time: Batman #681

  1. Ben Morse says:

    The fact that Sean T. Collins is “not quite sure what happened” makes me feel immeasurably better about myself. I too enjoyed this storyline a great deal but could not shake the feeling that, as has happened before with Gran Morrison, there must have been something very cool that I just didn’t get going on in the last issue. Your review both sums up my feelings pretty sympathetically and also gives me a much better window into why I enjoyed the story without necessarily understanding it.

    One thing that bothered me initially was that a large part of the Black Glove’s undoing was trusting they had the Joker under control and assuming he would never turn on THEM. It bugged me because I feel like I’ve seen the “rich eccentrics who employ a psycho killer and expect him to be satisfied with just their money and are shocked when he starts killing them” thing before (although I’m hard-pressed to name examples outside of an episode of “Angel” right now, so I kinda suck). I felt like either the Black Glove was a super-competent group of baddies who took Batman closer to the brink than anybody OR they were rich idiots who actually thought they could control the Joker; having them be both irked me. However, when I reassessed, I realized there was a third option: at least three (if not four) fingers of the Black Glove were the rich idiots, while Dr. Hurt was the (let’s say) index finger who realized the Joker was going to kill his cohorts but didn’t give a shit. That was immensely more satisfying an explanation for me.

  2. Kiel Phegley says:

    I think the really fun thing about the story arc was Morrison’s plotting of the tale. All his jumpy dialogue, odd flashbacks and forwards and general oddness actually contributed to make what in some ways was a straightforward “the character who betrays the hero is named Jezebel” story into a much more engaging narrative rather than detract from the excitement (which is what has happened in more than a few of his stories in the past).

    I agree with Ben that viewing Dr. Hurt as someone who never trusted the Joker and brought in a group of super rich folks used to always getting away with their crazy schemes makes perfect sense. I actually had fun watching folks who thought they could outsmart Batman and just bowl over his eternal battle with Joker get screwed.

    And even though we always knew there was some kind of group AND whether or not the actual name Black Glove was the real mystery at the heart of it all, I think the main point is that we’ve all been waiting this whole storyline for the revelation of whose been pivitol in turning the screws on Bruce, and whatever they’re called, that person was Jet.

    Also, totally agree on Daniel, right down to noticing the Robin fight this issue. And I actually think there’s a strong chance that the elements of his art that have thrown people off in terms of picking his shots were very likely things Morrison asked for in the script.

  3. rab says:

    Quoting from http://comics.ign.com/articles/902/902992p6.html

    Morrison: The two-part Final Crisis tie-in I’m doing to follow RIP is a kind of trek through Batman’s entire history, but otherwise I’m not involved with the post-RIP projects. I’m very excited to see what Neil does. Then there’s the “Battle for the Cowl,” which I’m not writing, although I do know who wins. Then after that, I’m back on Batman and I’m sure there will be a big announcement about what that’s going to be like. Once you see what happens to Batman in Final Crisis, you’ll realize how the Battle for the Cowl comes about. First its RIP, and we’ll see how that winds up for Batman. Then the two-parter I mentioned goes through Batman’s whole career, in a big summing up of everything that also ties directly into Final Crisis. And Final Crisis is where we see the final fate of Batman.

    IGN Comics: So the Batman we see in Final Crisis is Bruce Wayne?

    Morrison: Yeah, Bruce Wayne is Batman. But not necessarily how you know him. I don’t want to blow the end of RIP.

  4. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Can you tell me which issue numbers make up the storyline as you read it?

  5. The Morrison RIP stuff is in Batman 676-681–you don’t need to read any of the tie-ins in the other Bat-books like Detective, Robin, Nightwing, etc.

  6. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Thank you. I’m taking an overnight trip to ABQ or Phoenix in the next couple of weeks and that will give me something to track down in the stores.

  7. shags says:

    i liked #681 up until Batman and Hurt started duking it out towards the end. that fight/helicopter “death” just felt too typical for me considering the entire rest of this storyline.

    and now that i’ve just read #682, i’m just confused all over again as to what exactly happened to Bruce and where this is all taking place in the continuity of things. i know a lot of people have stood up to say they prefer good storytelling over continuity, but if he “dies” in one issue and is now prisoner in the next…? huh? what? did i miss something?

    and speaking of the other Batman “RIP” storylines… i actually really enjoyed the Hush story in Detective. not sure how it tied into RIP, but it was good.

  8. My guess is that he was kidnapped by the New Gods shortly after the explosion–maybe they fished him out of the water. THAT’S why he’s missing and presumed dead. But I don’t remember how that squares with Final Crisis and how we saw him get captured in that series. I THINK it works…

  9. shags says:

    i’m going to have to find those first couple Final Crisis issues now.

    i just feel like there’s WAY too much “this happened before this storyline… this happens after this storyline” going across the DCU right now. it’s started to grate. especially when i see something like the Dark Reign solicitations and i see how put together Marvel is right now.

  10. shags says:

    just found Final Crisis 2, and Batman gets captured by the crazy Alpha Lantern while investigating the body of Orion. SO confused.

  11. I’m told that the two “Last Rites/Final Crisis” issues of Batman, 682 and 683, will make it clear how Batman gets from RIP to Final Crisis.

  12. shags says:

    which is EXACTLY my point when it comes to what’s going on over at DC right now. even reading the Batbooks editor listing what stories come before/after RIP is enough to make me scream.

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