Batman #682

Well, ok, first off: if you're looking forward to this thing as a means of explaining some of the lingering mysteries (not that there particularly are any, when you look at it) of the just-finished R.I.P., you're gonna be pretty steamed, even though writer Grant Morrison brushes aside the maybe-lingering 'gosh, is Bruce still Batman?!' non-question with the narrative equivalent of "for heaven's sake, of course he is. Sheesh!"

Not that it's a permanent resolution, mind you - can't have that when there's a Battle for the Cowl coming up (after two months of crossovers and Neil Gaiman's Alan Moorey thing). But, I guess we couldn't totally set things up in R.I.P. itself since, hey, Final Crisis is still going on, and that has to mean stuff to the DCU, so what we've got here is part one of two for an all-in-one-month Morrison megastory coda/Event tie-in.

And it's a very straight-on thing, so far, probably the simplest Batman story Morrison has written in his entire tenure. As you surely know from the unforgettable events of Final Crisis #2, Batman has been hooked up to an evil machine operated by horrible villains acting in bad faith. Everybody is aware that Batman is the most awesome man alive, so Darkseid's crew is out to dive into his mind and pinpoint what exactly is so goddamned great, for the purposes of bottling the lightning and creating an unstoppable Legion of Awesome for ill purposes. "That will be his legacy," scowls one of 'em, since the Dark Side way isn't just to defeat superheroes, but ruin them, leaving them shitty and unredeemable. Since Dr. Hurt had more or less the same idea running across the rest of Morrison's run, some continuity of theme remains.

So Batman gets his memories scanned, with his captors teasing out treasured info via a telepathic parasite in the guise of Alfred, although it could be a few words from the real deal are leaking out; you'll note there's no mention whatsoever of Alfred's "last hours," as featured in the solicitation, which gets me wondering if something got switched up late in the game. Still, there might not have been a lot to switch, since nearly the entire issue is a hop-skip tour of Morrison's all-inclusive Bat-history, complete with peeks into what could've been if something else flew in the window on that dark night, and notable scenes from ye olde issues rendered in modern style by Lee Garbett (pencils), Trevor Scott (inks) and Guy Major (colors).

They do a decent, clear job; not the most vivid or detailed or memorable visuals around, but they have some fun with the peppy years of Bat-mania, and I liked that the Final Crisis bits are noticeably grittier than anything else. Oh, and:

That's a nice piece of eye direction there, following the dead bat straight down to its burning future, with Alfred providing a date-breaking excuse to the left (the future having been established) while Bruce's mind continues to blaze with his great idea in panel #3. That's not only clever, but it's a specific type of clever this series has been missing for a while.

The rest of it's pretty much... what it is. The Life and Times of Batman. Morrison puts together some cute interactions between Batman and his young Robin; their gentle, daddy-and-son interactions stand in obvious contrast to a certain out-of-continuity take on the early partnership that tends to get prominent attention whenever it shows up, although Morrison is working from established writ anyway as part of his concept.

He also whips up some as-simple-as-possible restatements of his 'big' themes, flashing over to the Joker's history to establish his madness (and his status as Batman's evil alternate) through his willingness to throw prior personalities away and embrace the chaos of a personality revamp, and touching on Batman's desire to cope with his past. The motif of failed romance (see also: Talia, Jezebel Jet) is brought to the foreground to sharpen the latter point.

It's all cute enough, kind of a sweet tribute, with more than a drop of self-congratulation in the writer's callbacks to the Bat-arcana vital to his megaplot. I suspect if you liked Morrison's work on the series more than I did (and I really enjoyed some of it myself; man, #666 is even better after R.I.P.) you'll get more out of it. It'll be a ball to annotate. And hell, if you get misty over the nigh-ineffable glory of the Batman story, you'll possibly dig it even more.

But this was no All Star Superman for me, where I became convinced of the hero's awesomeness by the end of its cruise through the mythos - this is more 21st century superhero stuff, telling me and telling me and telling me, with lots of banking on my presumed pre-loaded affection, and little else of interest to show for it all. Maybe there's a real corker of an ending in store for two weeks and six days from now -- Morrison's pulled crazier stunts -- but I'm not banking on a conversion.