Saturday, July 17, 2010

"How Could It Be Over" - Batman #701

At first, it's difficult to understand why this issue exists. Sub-titled as "R.I.P. The Missing Chapter", it implies that parts of that story, somehow were lost in the fray, misplaced in the mad-rush of deadlines and story meetings. Pages needed to be off at the printers, you see, and they just didn't have time. Now, here it is. Brought into existence. Your questions finally answered, right? You had questions, didn't you? Surely. If only it were that simple.

Let's begin. Everyone who read "Final Crisis" or is currently reading any of writer Grant Morrison's Bat-Universe books now, surely already knew that Bruce Wayne survived the helicopter crash at the end of "R.I.P." The only mystery here would be to explain how, and really, the answer to that is already inherent in the story: he survives, because he is Batman. The opening sequence of issue #701 serves to explain no survival technique, only to show Bruce swimming away from the devastated wreckage of the copter, narrating to us, through his journal, that he survived because it's what he does. The sequence is exquisite and possibly the strongest work done by artist Tony Daniel on the Batman title. The pacing and flow of panels is strong, and the final moments of Bruce hauling himself up onto a dock and sitting there unmasked as fires rage and police helicopters swarm in the distance is a rare beautiful moment of stillness for a character so often depicted as full of unbridled rage. While nothing new is offered here in terms of story, it's a sparkling character moment, a chance to see the man in the moments after the case is solved and the last punches have been thrown. This is Batman after the credits roll and we all go home.

Perhaps you'd been wondering how "R.I.P." bridged to "Final Crisis", the book in which Batman stares down an angry dying God and plants a toxic bullet in him before being tasered by magical eye-beams that shoot him off into the time-stream. (Yeah, it's awesome.) Issue #701 gives us the moment when Superman comes calling on Bruce to join with the Justice League on a planetary emergency, that being the murder of the God Orion. But, really this plays itself out in "Last Rites" the two-issue arc that was released immediately following "R.I.P.". Some of the conversation between Bruce and Alfred is even repeated verbatim. We already knew that the Justice League called their number one detective in. Why must this scene be played out again, and now under the guise of a 'missing' chapter? Again, it's not that simple.

It would seem that these scenes are now playing out from a more personal perspective, not just as plot points to be moved about to further the story. In "Last Rites", Bruce simply tells Alfred that the JLA called. It's a straightforward and simple explanation that pulls him into the storm of "Final Crisis". Here, we see Bruce witness the Red Skies event that accompanied the death of Orion. As he gazes into the sky with Alfred he comments, "How soon before we hear from someone who can fly?" In his journal narration, he refers to his colleagues, these people who can fly, as "super-people". There is a tell in his comments and his use of language that speaks to the disconnect he feels between himself and these super-powered beings. "...sometimes they forget I'm flesh and blood.", he writes in the aftermath of a case that tested that very theory. After everything he has endured and survived, how can he be anything other than "super" himself? How can he not be seen by Superman and Wonder Woman as anything other than their equal? In this moment, he is so beaten he almost wants them to treat him as just a man in a cape and mask. It's shockingly touching.

Bruce does not call in sick, of course. Batman takes no sick days nor personal time, and when Superman calls because a God has been murdered, his body dumped on Earth, Batman suits up, climbs in the Bat-Plane and heads off to the clubhouse meeting of the JLA. He proceeds, as he sees it, to his inevitable fall. As he does so, he asks himself one simple question, "How could it be over?" Like a child being pulled away from an amusement park after a very long day of thrills, he asks as though surprised at where the time went. How did 70 years pass so quickly? How can it all be over now? There is a scene in "R.I.P." where Jezebel Jet lectures Bruce about his life, calls him out on his paranoia, stating that his exploits as Batman are the cries for help of a stunted adolescent still coping with the violent death of his parents. Essentially, she says what many have thought through the years, that he is an overgrown lost-boy, dressed up in costumes, parading around in tricked-out cars and planes, loaded down with toys of every imaginable stripe. He is still a little kid playing at being a ninja in the backyard, except he has made those adventures real. And now, while dressed as a bat sitting in a plane shaped like a bat, flying off on what may be his last adventure, he laments the possibility of the end of his days as Batman.

Of course, we know it's not his last days as Batman, merely the odd beginning of yet another bizarre and mind-bending adventure. Bruce Wayne is always Batman, and will always be Batman. It's as simple as that.

Batman #701 written by Grant Morrison, with art by Tony Daniel, was released on 14 July, 2010, by DC Comics.

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