Morrison’s Batman RIP has sparked plenty of heated debate as readers seem to either love it or hate it. Personally, I have enjoyed Morrison’s strange and weird ride. However, I can understand why some readers have been disappointed with this story. I hope that Morrison can live up to all the massive hype that has surrounded Batman #681. DC has billed this issue as containing the most stunning revelation in the Batman’s 70 year history. Let’s go ahead and do this review for Batman #681.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel
Inks: Sandu Florea
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Bruce back in his Batman outfit, in a straight jacket and buried alive in a coffin. We see an entry in the black casebook stating that the thing about the Batman is that he thinks of everything.
We flashback to Bruce in Nanda Parbat having just finished undergoing the Thogal ritual. Bruce states that during the Thogal ritual that he hallucinated about past, present and future events. And that Bruce even came to an end to the future and arrived at a place that is not a place.
Bruce is sipping Chai tea with one of the monks. The monk states that the Thogal shows the initiate what the dead know. That the self is peeled back to its black radiant core. The monk asks Bruce why he would subject himself to the Thogal ritual. Bruce answers that maybe he should wait for Master Lo to return before discussing this topic.
The monk states that Master Lo is indisposed at the moment and for Bruce to allow him to answer Bruce’s questions. Bruce asks the monk if he has ever tried to do only good only to find out that things just get worse. Bruce asks if maybe unconsciously he has been his own worst enemy.
Bruce continues that he found something inside of the dark. A scar on his consciousness. As if something had been hidden there in some ultimate black cellar where his memories just run out.
Bruce says that he has read that traumatized children will often create cover personalities to protect themselves from repressed memories. Then it came to Bruce that if his mind is already under some kind of attack if it would be possible for him to create an emergency personality as a defense. A back-up human operating system.
The monk replies that Bruce is remarkable. The monk then professes to a certain sadness that Bruce’s cup of tea is poisoned and that Bruce has less than two minutes to live. The monk’s eyes turn red. The monk says that this is all compliments of his dark master.
We snap to the present with Robin brawling with Pierrot and Swagman. The villains get the upper hand on Robin. Suddenly, the Club of Heroes arrive on the scene and take down the two villains.
We flashback to Nanda Parbat where the monk says that his master has a message for Bruce. The monk says “Your fear is real. I will destroy everything you…” Suddenly, the Monk becomes paralyzed and cannot speak. Bruce states that the monk blinked and that Bruce switched tea cups with the monk. That it is a force of habit.
We cut back to the present with the members of the Black Glove assembled outside of Arkham Asylum and standing next to the shallow grave where Batman has been buried alive. Dr. Hurt states that Batman has thirty minutes of air in the coffin. That they will then dig up Batman after the thirty minutes is up. That seconds after the thirty minutes is up that Batman will experience massive brain damage due to a lack of air. They will then keep Batman alive and permanently brain damaged.
The members of the Black Glove then head back into Arkham Asylum. The Joker is there waiting for them. The Joker decides that before he leaves that he wants to place a bet on the roulette table. Dr. Hurt snaps that Joker played his part and can now leave. Dr. Hurt states that the Black Glove only has five “fingers” and that there is no room for someone like the Joker.
The Joker inquires as to the requirements to be in the Black Glove. If it is money then the Joker spits that he has flushed away more money than any of the members of the Black Glove have ever known. If it is being famous then no one is more famous than the Joker. The Joker then snaps the neck of the general. The Joker then tells Dr. Hurt that the Black Glove is now short one trigger finger.
The other members of the Black Glove are upset and exclaim that Dr. Hurt promised that they would be safe. The Joker then holds up the Bat-Radia and states that the Black Glove members have no idea what they are dealing with. Joker asks if anyone inspected this gadget. Jezebel exclaims that it is nothing more than a piece of junk that Bruce got out of some homeless man’s shopping cart.
One of the members of the Black Glove who is an electronics expert then inspects the Bat-Radia. The man hooks the Bat-Radia wires back to the power source and the gadget springs to life. The man then exclaims in horror that the Bat-Radia is not wired to receive signals. That it has been converted to send signals.
We cut to the Bat cave where the Bat-computer springs to life and receives the signal from the Bat-Radia. The Bat-computer then overrides the security system at Arkham Asylum.
We zip back over to Arkham Asylum to the operating room where Dick Grayson is being held. Le Bossu stumbles in the room fuming over how the Joker cut up his face for nothing more than a joke. Le Bossu then prepares to remove Nightwing’s frontal lobe. Nightwing suddenly wakes up and begins brawling with Le Bossu and Bossu’s gargoyle thugs.
We flashback to Nanda Parbat with Bruce telling the monk that he carries with him antidotes to all toxins that he has not built up an immunity to. Bruce adds that he can usually improvise if he is faced with something unfamiliar. Bruce pulls out a vial with an antidote in it. Bruce says that Master Lo died because Bruce did not have this with him when he found Lo.
Bruce continues that the Monk wanted to know why Bruce underwent the Thogal ritual. Bruce says it was because he wanted to taste the flavor of death. Bruce wanted to know that he had finally experienced every eventuality. Bruce states that in the cave he hunted down, killed and ate the last traces of fear and doubt in his mind.
Bruce tells the monk to tell his dark master to make his move soon, before Bruce comes looking for him. Bruce tells the monk to tell his master that he was wrong to wait until Bruce was ready. Bruce says that he looks forward to meeting the monk’s master.
We slide back to the present with Batman in the coffin. We see an entry in the black casebook with Batman stating that there is only one human body. Batman states that all it takes is time, days, months and years to memorize the finite ways to hurt and break a man. And that Bruce has prepared for all of these different ways. Bruce continues that he has escaped from every type of death trap many times over.
Bruce is able to slow down his breathing and metabolism to control panic and preserve air. Bruce says that getting out of the straightjacket and getting through the locks are easy. Bruce then says that bench pressing the coffin lid through 600 pounds of loose soil is harder. But it is far from impossible. We then see Batman breaking through the soil and climbing out of the ground.
We cut to the Joker talking with the members of the Black Glove. The Joker goes on about how every time he tries to think outside of Batman’s toy box that the Batman builds a new box around the Joker. The Joker states that he has literally been driven insane trying to get the Batman to loosen up. Until now.
The Joker tells Dr. Hurt that now it is Hurt’s turn. Joker says that the Black Glove is quivering in Arkham Asylum just where the Batman wants them. That the Black Glove is now in Batman’s box. Joker says that they can never prepare for the unexpected, the punch line, and the wildcard. Joker says that he admired Hurt’s work but that the Black Glove cannot call Joker a servant. The Joker says that he is going to leave now but that at some point he will collect his winnings from all of them in due course.
The members of the Black Glove panic and ask for Dr. Hurt to get them out of Arkham. Dr. Hurt responds that they all heard the security override locking all of the doors. That Arkham Asylum is no longer under their control.
Batman then appears in the room and says “Ready when you are.” Jezebel laughs at Batman and says that there is no court or judge that the Black Glove cannot bribe. That there is nothing that Batman can do to stop them.
Jet’s thugs then attack Batman. While Batman is taking out Jezebel’s thugs we see more of Batman’s entries in the black casebook. Batman writes that he first suspected Jet of something nefarious when she said “I want you to know I understand.” That it was about a fraction after he realized how heavily he had fallen for her. And Bruce almost instantly realized that it was the bad in Jet that he had been attracted to all along.
Batman then begins to plow his way through the gargoyle thugs. During the brawl Batman tells Jet that he knows about her father, Jacob Nikele, is not even related to her. That Jacob won Jezebel and her mother in a Black Glove wager twenty years ago. Batman says that he knows what they did to Jezebel and what they turned her into. That he knows how Jacob made Jezebel’s mother die. And how Jezebel applauded when President Nikele’s enemies chopped him up and put her in his place as the president of her country.
Batman continues that he read Jezebel’s mother’s letter than she sent from death row. Batman says that he knows that her mother’s letter is the only thing that has any value to Jezebel. And that Batman stole it from Jezebel’s hotel room and that she will now never see that letter again.
Jezebel is enraged at Batman saying that he cannot have known about all of that. Jezebel then screams that because of her that Bruce will never trust or love another woman again. Batman responds “Love? Congratulate Alfred on the acting lessons.”
Nightwing then appears on the scene and helps Batman take down the rest of the Black Glove’s thugs. Batman comments how Dick has never let him down. Batman then chases after Hurt leaving Dick to take care of the rest of the Black Glove.
We see Bruce’s entry in the black casebook stating that the truth is that he knew he was under attack and that all he could do was guess how it would play out and trust preparation to see him through it all. And to rely on his allies to keep up.
We slide over to Robin and the Club of Heroes. After the Black Glove’s attack on John Mayhew’s island that the Club of Heroes began conducting an investigation. Evidently, all the actors and the director from John Mayhew’s movie Le Gant Noir, have all been killed or gone insane. The story is that the Devil himself put a curse on the movie. The Club of Heroes then go to take out the Black Glove’s goons rampaging in the city while Robin goes to aid the Batman.
We cut to the Joker driving an ambulance through a bunch of police cars. The Batmobile then blazes down the road and runs the Joker’s ambulance off the bridge. We cut inside of the Batmobile and see Damien driving the vehicle with Alfred in the passenger seat. Damien wonders out loud if his father will let him keep the car.
We slide over to Arkham Asylum with Batman confronting Dr. Hurt. Hurt admits that the Black Glove stemmed the tide of crime in Gotham so that Batman would lose his purpose. Then they split Bruce’s mind and drugged him. Hurt says that Bruce is simply a deluded orphan who vents his rage on the poor in the alleyways. Hurt then says “Repeat after me, I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crime fighting!”
Hurt then responds that if he is not Thomas Wayne then has Batman considered the only alternative? Batman responds that Hurt is Mangrove Pierce, star of the Black Glove movie. Bruce states that Pierce was both Thomas Wayne and Bruce’s double. Bruce continues that Hurt had an affair with Pierce’s wife and then framed Pierce for the murder of Pierce’s wife.
Hurt snaps that he skinned Pierce and wore him to Mayhew’s party. Hurt continues that he is the hole in things, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning. Hurt reveals that the Black Glove has made certain documents and picture damning the Waynes and Alfred available to the media. However, they will not be released if the Batman agrees to serve the Black Glove.
Batman growls that he will never serve the Black Glove. Hurt hops aboard his helicopter and yells “Not even for them? Then I curse the cape and cowl that you will soon! The next time you wear it will be your last! Batman then lunges into the air and grabs onto Hurt’s helicopter.
We then see Bruce’s final entry in the black casebook. Bruce says that in his attempt to see clearly into the deepest dark and his attempt to go into the still eye of the storm of madness did Bruce open himself up to some pure source of evil? Bruce wonders “Did I finally reach the limits of reason. And find the Devil waiting? And was that fear in his eye?”
Hurt looks out of the window of the helicopter at Bruce and Hurt yells “No! Not like this! Rules are rules. The house always wins.” Hurt then whispers “The Black Glove always wins.” Bruce then punches his fist through the glass.
We cut to Jezebel Jet on her private jet flying back to her country. Jezebel swears that she has her country and that she will beggar her people in her effort to bury Bruce. Suddenly, Jezebel gets a phone call. Jezebel snaps into the phone “What are you talking about? Who is this?” Jezebel then looks around and says “What’s that sound?” We then see an army of Talia’s ninja Man-Bats attacking Jezebel’s jet.
We zip forward to six months later with Le Bossu looking at a newspaper headline about one of the Cardinal who was a member of the Black Glove being killed. Le Bossu is still in Gotham and bathing Gotham in blood since Batman and Robin are now dead. Le Bossu has a Gotham cop captured and tells the cop that there is no one left to save him. Suddenly, we see the Bat-signal shining into Bossu’s warehouse. Le Bossu stammers that it is impossible.
We then get an epilogue. We see Thomas and Martha Wayne along with Bruce walking out of the movie theater. Bruce wonders about what it would be like if there was a modern day Zorro riding through Gotham. Thomas Wayne replies that the sad thing is that they would probably place a man like Zorro in Arkham. We then see the word “Zur-en-arrh” backward and in red. End of issue.
The Good: Batman #681 was an interesting and unusual read. Initially, I was summarily unimpressed with this issue. Now, to be fair, I gave this issue a very quick first reading. Since I am back home in Miami for Thanksgiving, I had to run to my old comic book shop and pick up this issue. I then grabbed a Cubano sandwich and headed up to the campus of the alma mater, University of Miami, and sat outside, ate my sandwich and quickly tore through this issue.
At first blush, I thought that this issue delivered an incredibly anti-climactic ending. However, I put this issue aside for a couple of hours and then went back and read it a second and third time. After the third reading I have to say that my opinion has changed drastically. I enjoyed this issue so much more after the third reading.
Morrison delivers another well crafted read crammed full of details. Practically every line of dialogue and narration has a meaning that requires the reader to carefully navigate the story and stop to investigate the clues from each line.
Batman #681 was well plotted as Morrison finally reveals how all of his stories on Batman beginning with Morrison’s Batman story in 52 all tie together. The reader gets a clear sense of how ever since 52 that Morrison has been slowly and methodically building up to this very moment. All the previous plotlines and story arcs slide together in a pleasant fashion as everything finally makes sense to the reader. Morrison is actually rather straight forward in his explanations in this issue compared to some of his other work.
Morrison has been brewing the RIP story ever since 52. The flashback scene in this issue does a good job revealing the genesis of the RIP story. During 52 was the moment that Bruce first realized that he was under some type of attack and decided to create the Batman of Zur-en-arrh as a back-up personality in the case of an extreme emergency. The scar on Bruce’s unconscious and the black cellar where his memories run out that he discovers during the Thorgal ritual is probably the part of Bruce’s mind where Dr. Hurt planted his mental commands and post-hypnotic triggers into Bruce’s mind.
Morrison reveals the reason why Bruce wanted to undergo the Thorgal ritual during 52. Bruce wanted to savor death so that he could experience every eventuality. This fits in with Morrison’s take on Batman in that he is a man driven beyond all sanity in order to be able to handle anything that might come his way. And death was about the only last experience that Bruce had not prepared for so the Thorgal ritual was a logical final step by Bruce to experience everything that a human possibly can. Also, by having Bruce experience death during the Thorgal ritual and then eliminate all of his fear and doubt Morrison prepared the way for Bruce to “die” in this RIP story and still find a way to survive.
Morrison also folds the Club of Heroes story arc into RIP as the Club of Heroes arrive on the scene to help fight the Black Glove’s thugs that are marauding throughout the city. It was nice to see this collection of heroes who were portrayed as more jokes than true heroes during the Club of Heroes story arc be presented in a much more heroic fashion.
I continue to enjoy how Morrison writes the Joker. This is one of my favorite versions of the Joker. Morrison reveals that the Joker has been literally driven insane by Batman in the Joker’s attempt to get the Batman to loosen up. Normally, writers show how the Joker’s madness has impacted Batman’s psyche. This scene offers the reader a unique look at the psychological war between Joker and Batman from the other perspective as we see how Batman has driven Joker crazy. This scene shows that Batman is as adept at psychological wars as the Joker.
Morrison uses Joker to warn the Black Glove about exactly what mess they have gotten themselves into by directly attacking the Batman in such a fashion. Joker references how every time he tries to get Batman outside of his toy box that the Batman build another box around him alludes to the fact that the Black Glove now finds themselves in the mercy of the Batman. The Joker being wise enough to know that it is time to retreat shows that the Black Glove has lost the fight already.
This scene with the Joker offered up one of the most brilliant twists in this issue as it is revealed that Bruce rigged the Bat-Radia to send signals instead of receive them. That the Bat-Radia sends a signal to the Bat-computer to order it to take over Arkham Asylum’s security system. This was a fantastic use of a plot device in the Bat-Radia that many people were wondering what purpose it would play in this story. Morrison rarely does anything for no reason and even though I had no idea what purpose the Bat-Radia would play I knew that it had to end up being something important by the final act of this story.
Batman #681 was basically the thesis statement on Morrison’s view of Batman’s character. Morrison has always presented Batman as a force of will personified. Morrison’s Batman is always in control and plans for absolutely anything and everything. Morrison continually delivers the coolest version of Batman. Morrison understands that it is not Batman’s gadgets, weapons or his fighting prowess that makes him who he is. That it is Bruce’s brilliant mind, his unrelenting drive and his obsession with details that borders on insanity that allows him to prepare and react to virtually any possible danger or threat that makes the Batman such an unstoppable force.
In this issue, Morrison explains how Batman has studied every possible way to break and hurt a man so that he can then prepare for them. The logic that there is only one human body and that there are only a finite number of ways to hurt or break someone was well done. That despite the seemingly unbelievable aspects of Batman’s abilities that nothing is impossible with the right preparation, training and dedication.
This take on Batman’s character is clearly presented in the scene with Batman in the coffin and in the flashback scene. The way that Batman so calmly extricates himself from the shallow grave was vintage Morrison Batman. And the way that Bruce, out of a force of habit, switches the cups of tea in the flashback scene and then reveals that he carries antidotes for any toxins that he is not immune to was also typical Morrison.
The showdown between Jezebel and Bruce was wonderfully crafted. Morrison does a fine job explaining the sudden and intense romance between Bruce and Jezebel that seemed to come out of nowhere. We learn that Bruce figured out that Jezebel was a part of the Black Glove the moment she said that “I want you to know I understand.” And we learn that Bruce instantly realized also that it was the bad in Jezebel that he had been attracted to all along.
This plays with the reoccurring theme in this issue that Bruce questions if he has done more bad than good. That maybe his delving into the dark and madness has had him come close to some pure source of evil. Bruce has a dark streak and has always been presented as the other side of the same coin with villains like the Joker and Two-Face. And it is no coincidence that the only other woman Bruce has truly loved, Selina, also has plenty of bad in her.
I loved the moment where Jezebel says that because of her that Bruce will never love or trust another woman again. Bruce response that he was never in love and that it was all an act thanks to excellent acting lessons from Alfred was perfect. That is how you burn a person and Bruce certainly enjoyed delivering that harsh dig to Jezebel.
I always had a problem with the romance between Jezebel and Bruce since it seemed to come out of nowhere and moved way too fast for me. I just never bought into the fact that Bruce would fall that hard and that fast for any woman. Now, that it has been revealed that Bruce had already figured out Jezebel and was simply playing her until he could get the Black Glove to reveal themselves the sudden and intense nature of their romance makes more sense.
I enjoyed how Morrison had Batman strip Jezebel to the core by revealing all of her secrets. Jezebel and Dr. Hurt have been gloating so much about how they know everything about Bruce and that they know him better than himself. So, it was satisfying to see Bruce turn the tables on Jezebel and show that when it comes to finding out information no one is better than the world’s greatest detective.
Knowledge is power and Bruce being able to figure out all of Jezebel’s secrets allows him to hurt her in a way no one else could. Batman’s stealing the letter from Jezebel’s mother was cold and harsh and showed that Batman has no problems inflicting incredible emotional pain on his enemies.
Morrison delivered an interesting showdown between Dr. Hurt and Batman. While it might not have been as dramatic and intense as I was expecting, it was still well done. I do not believe that Dr. Hurt is Thomas Wayne. Morrison is not going to go in that direction. And Dr. Hurt is not the Black Glove. The Black Glove is not an individual. Instead, the Black Glove is an organization with each of the rich and powerful people being one of the fingers.
Now, Dr. Hurt is either simply the doctor who “became” the hole in Bruce’s memory due to the psychic implants. Or Dr. Hurt is literally the Devil. In Bruce’s final entry into the black casebook he admits that his attempt to see into the deepest dark and into the heart of the storm of madness that he discovered some pure source of evil. That he found the Devil himself.
The Devil also appears in the plotline involving the Black Glove movie made by John Mayhew. It seems that Morrison might have been inspired by David Lynch’s Inland Empire where Lynch deals with a movie where all the actors and the director were all killed and that the movie itself was said to be cursed by the Devil.
We learn that the actors and the director of Mayhew’s movie are all either dead, missing or insane. We also learn that it is said that the Devil himself cursed the movie. This points to the possibility that the Devil is indeed either Dr. Hurt or that the Black Glove works for the Devil.
In the final moment of the scene with Hurt and Bruce we see Bruce’s black glove smashing through the helicopter window just before the helicopter crashes. I have to wonder if maybe Morrison is alluding to the fact that by coming into contact with a pure source of evil that Bruce has become his own greatest enemy. That Bruce is somehow connected to the Black Glove. After all, Bruce does wonder in the flashback scene if in his attempt to do only good that he has only managed to make things worse. Bruce wonders that maybe unconsciously he has been his own worst enemy.
Now I do have a really insane idea that maybe the Devil is Darkseid. After all, Darkseid is considered to be a pure source of evil. And the monk’s eyes turn red which suggests that he is under the control of Darkseid. That would open the possibility for Dr. Hurt to be Desaad in human form.
Maybe Darkseid has targeted Batman as a serious threat in his ability to take over Earth during Final Crisis. That Bruce’s knowledge of death and pure evil from the Thogul ritual would allow him to come up with a way to defeat the Anti-life equation and Darkseid’s effort to make Earth into a new Apokolips. That would explain why Bruce said that when he saw the Devil that there was fear in his eyes. This could be a hint that Darkseid is afraid of Batman ruining his plans over in Final Crisis.
Okay, enough of my crazy speculating. Let’s talk about the most “stunning” revelation in Batman’s 70 year history. And that is that Morrison has Hurt state that Thomas and Martha Wayne were not a victim of some random street crime. That instead, that Thomas and Martha Wayne were the target of a hit. Morrison suggests that the Black Glove hired Joe Chill to kill Thomas, Martha and Bruce. And that, evidently, Joe Chill lost his nerve that night and was unable to kill Bruce.
It is likely that the Black Glove invited Thomas and Martha Wayne to join them. And it follows that when Thomas Wayne rejected their offer that the Black Glove decided to kill him, his wife and his son. Therefore, it follows that the Black Glove created the Batman. And now the Black Glove wants their creation for themselves. And that if they cannot have the Batman then they will destroy him.
Hurt makes a point of asking Bruce to swear to serve the Black Glove in return for Hurt not distributing the lies about Thomas, Martha and Alfred to the Gotham media. And once Bruce spurns Hurt’s offer, Hurt then curses Bruce’s cape and cowl and states that the last time that Bruce wears them will be his last. And of course, earlier in this scene we saw hurt trying to activate one of his last implants in Bruce’s mind by commanding Bruce to give up being Batman. Clearly, the Black Glove feels that Batman is their weapon and that if they cannot control him then they want him destroyed.
I enjoyed how Morrison had all of Batman’s allies rushing to his aide. And the best part was that Morrison had Dick being the first ally to arrive at Bruce’s side. The first Robin deserves that honor. And I liked how Batman acknowledges how Dick never lets him down. There is no doubt that Batman has plenty of faith in Tim, but Dick will always be the son that he expects the most from.
Morrison ends Batman #681 with a nice lead in to the Battle for the Cowl story arc. We see Nightwing physically removed from the rest of Bruce’s allies and holding Bruce’s cape and cowl. This was a powerful image that seems to suggest that Dick will be the winner in the Battle for the Cowl story. The six month later scene with Le Bossu also hints to the reader that whoever wins the battle for the cowl carries on the mantle of the Batman.
I loved how Talia uses her ninja Man-Bats to take out Jezebel. You just do not mess with Talia’s man!
Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea combine to deliver another gorgeous issue. Daniel’s has done an excellent job bringing Morrison’s story to life.
The Bad: Again, the same criticisms of earlier issues of RIP will apply to Batman #681 as well. If you do not enjoy Morrison’s style of writing then there is little chance that you will dig Batman #681. This is another issue full of Morrison’s typical metaphysical musings.
Many readers will also find the ending to Batman #681 to be incredibly anti-climactic and disappointing. I certainly had much higher expectations for this finale that what Morrison delivered. Instead of getting the most “shocking” reveal in 70 years on Batman the reader got the most over-hyped reveal in 70 years on Batman.
And some readers will likely feel cheated that the real conclusion to what happens to Batman will occur on Final Crisis and not RIP. Many readers will probably feel that the conclusion to Batman’s fate should have been carried out during RIP itself.
Another criticism of the ending is that Morrison employed a common and recycled ending by having the helicopter explode and no bodies being found. This is such a predictable and often used type of ending that the reader has seen so many times before. The ending to this issue simply felt a bit weak compared to the rest of RIP.