Art By: Tony Daniel
Cover By: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $24.99 (Deluxe Edition)
If there’s one thing you’ll never be able to fault Grant Morrison for it is having small ideas. From Animal Man to JLA to Doom Patrol to New X-Men, he has brought a freshness and a revitalizing eye to even the most worn of books. Every time you want to ask “what could he possibly bring to or do new with that book?” he answers the challenge. This includes Batman, a character he’s no stranger to (see Batman: Arkham Asylum or Batman Incorporated).
Batman R.I.P. was a sprawling epic storyline which set the internet ablaze with speculation. We had the mysterious Black Glove, especially the identity of Dr. Hurt, as they sought to systematically destroy everything Batman stood for. They wanted to take him apart at a fundamental level and reduce him to nothing.
“The superior man thinks of evil that will come and guards against it.” –The Book of Changes
Batman thinks of everything. That’s pretty much the conceit of Batman. What makes him great is that he’s human, he’s a master detective, and he’s the ultimate chess player. Being fully human, he has pushed both his body and his mind to their furthest capabilities. It’s what he demands of himself in order to pursue his mission. But all of that devotion comes at a cost.
“I found something in the dark, inside. A shape … a scar on my consciousness. As if something had been hidden there.” –Bruce Wayne
There has always been something not quite right about Batman, or more properly stated, something has always been fundamentally wrong/broken with Bruce Wayne. In the face of tragedy, not many people decide to devote themselves to mastering all forms of martial arts, discipling under the world’s greatest detectives, and then dressing up as a bat. His singular focus very much sees its reflection in both Harvey Dent (Two-Face) and the Joker for a very real reason: he’s only on this side of the edge of sanity. But he knows who he is and what his mission is. In Batman R.I.P. he has to withstand an assault on his very identity.
“Have you ever tried to do only good and found things just get worse? Could I have been, even unconsciously, my own worst enemy?” –Bruce Wayne
Like many of us, Bruce Wayne lives within a series of walls. He has endured the thogal, a meditative ritual that simulates death, in order to experience every eventuality and to kill all traces of fear and doubt. In other words, to create another wall. Our walls can take a variety of forms. We construct a life where we re-define what love is to match how we are treated that ultimately end up with us going into ourselves. Exalting our intellect, control emotions, living in/retreating to our imaginations, whatever it takes to cut ourselves off from having to deal with others (and the potential pain they bring). Living with the fear that if we expose ourselves, show people who we really are, they will no longer like or outright abandon us. We grow pretty comfortable being safe and unknown. Batman gave his wall—his innermost defense, his ultimate self-protection—a name: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
And his wall is always there waiting to swallow him up should he lower his guard. Inadvertantly, he has opened himself up to spiritual attack, a pure source of evil, as he has reached the limits of reason and found the devil waiting.
All walls impact the relationships around. The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. Batman has systematically driven away all of the closest people to him, not allowing them into his heart to love them well. (And this doesn’t even count the Joker, who claims to have “been driven literally insane trying to get him to loosen up”).
One of Bruce Wayne’s greatest fear is the image of those he loves most and hold closest betraying him. The greatest hurt is relational hurt. So much so that it’s this very vulnerability his enemies seek to exploit, as Jezebel Jet tries to arrange things so that “you’ll never love anyone! You’ll never trust any woman ever again.”
“No one knows that my ugliness is all inside…mine is the twisted soul of a monster, maitre. In order to give expression to the honest beast within, I am compelled to an elaborate process of disguise. Inside, I am broken, perverse, grotesque and violent.” –Le Bossu, the image of self-loathing of Dr. Guy Dax
What Le Bossu/Dr. Guy Dax doesn’t realize is that walls are about control. Faith and control don’t exist well together. Control asks “what do I need to do to make this situation work?” Faith asks “God, what you going to do make this work and how do I get involved with that?” We don’t see ourselves as God sees us, but rather, we come to believe a lie about ourselves. That we’re worthless, broken, and twisted in our soul; Villains in God’s story rather than created in His image. We leave out the fact that brokenness can be redeemed. When loved well, we’re taught about God.
“Your sins have been found out.” –Dr Hurt
In a lot of ways, the journey of Batman is the journey of woundedness, as he keeps trying to do things his way, finding a measure of healing in dealing with his own pain by helping others. The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted. Real love risks and offers redemption. Real love can’t operate from a place of fear. Real love can’t operate from behind walls. And loving people well is the point of why we’re here.
Batman R.I.P., read as a whole in a single volume, is a harrowing tale of madness. Dark, complex and engrossing, it winds and unfolds in unexpected ways designed to keep the reader guessing. Whenever a story actually gets to explore the question who is crazier: The Batman or The Joker, you know you are in for a royal ride. It’s not an easy read and doesn’t have the easy payoff one may want from comics, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s the kind of book that can only gain appreciation over time.