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Do not go gentle Dark Knight

‘What we are about to do will be a work of art,’ says Dr Simon Hurt, the leader of the criminal organisation, the Black Glove, before he sets out to destroy Batman forever. Grant Morrison chooses to begin Batman R.I.P with the same prophetic words.

books Updated: Mar 01, 2009 00:16 IST
Kshitij Prabhat Bal

Batman R.I.P.
Grant Morrison and Tony S Daniel
DC comics Rs 1,130 l pp 208

‘What we are about to do will be a work of art,’ says Dr Simon Hurt, the leader of the criminal organisation, the Black Glove, before he sets out to destroy Batman forever. Grant Morrison chooses to begin Batman R.I.P with the same prophetic words.

The next panel shows a falling Batman, followed by one showing both Robin and Batman screaming through shades of red, “You’re wrong. Batman and Robin will never die.” Batman R.I.P. begins with the premise that the superhero shall die in the end. But like with any superhero, with this one, the saga seems to find itself at a juncture similar to that of other costumed gods — Superman, Green Arrow, Robin and Captain America. The question is: can superheroes really die?

In 1992, when Doomsday found his way to Metropolis, both he and Superman were killed in the end. At the time, The Death Of Superman was well received. But hang on. The next few issues introduced four new Supermen: a cyborg, an alien, a boy and Steel. With The Return of Superman, however, Clark Kent was revealed to be alive and returned to the centrestage.
Similarly, when DC held a telephonic poll to hand the fate of Jason Todd and his Robin character to the readers, they voted for his death. He was to die at the hands of the Joker in A Death In The Family. Todd’s vacuum was filled in soon by Tim Drake who became the new Robin. Later in Hush, Jim Lee’s groundbreaking story in the Batman saga, Jason too was resurrected and was to don a new identity of the Red Hood.

Now DC’s Multiverse of 52 universes stands at a point of no return, where “things will never be the same”. And at the head of this revolution is Grant Morrison, with Batman R.I.P., Last Rites and his epic Final Crisis. It’s not like Batman has not come close to dying before. But in most cases, the Dark Knight has always come out on top. With Final Crisis, his saga will finally come to a definitive end.

The hardcover edition of Batman R.I.P, written tautly by Morrison, drawn intricately by Tony Daniels and painted equally lushly by Guy Major, is a last raw look at Bruce Wayne, Batman and his ultimate nemesis, the Joker.

What stands out is not just the graphic savagery or the vulnerability of the story, but the alter ego, the Batman of Zur-en-arrh, that Batman is forced to create and live as, in order to defeat the psychological and physical attack on him by the Black Glove — Zur-en-arrh, being a place that Bruce once visited in a hallucinatory flashback, and that Batman, a back-up identity he created if the one as Bruce Wayne was ever discovered.

The Batman of Zur-en-arrh, is a single-minded half-crazed warrior — a world apart from the caped crusader of Gotham.

Dressed much like Robin, he is brought into conflict with an equally crazed Joker, at Arkham Asylum in what Morrison calls, “a Danse Macabre”.

The book ends on a strange note, leaving a large number of possibilities. Among them is a new Batman, who is not Bruce Wayne. As of now, DC Comics has discontinued the Batman comics starting this month. Instead, two titles shall decide the Dark Knight’s future — the Battle For The Cowl to be written and drawn by Tony Daniels, and What happened to the Caped Crusader? to be written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Andy Kubert.

Most readers expect a revival of Batman, even if Wayne’s character steps away from the action. However, it might well be the end of one of the best loved superheroes ever. Or, could it simply be a publicity stunt to attract readers? Only time can tell.

My guess is that Nightwing — who holds Batman’s cape and stands on the rocks, staring out at the sea in one of the final panels in the book — will become the next Batman. It would be just, if Dick Grayson, the original Robin and Nightwing, were to become the new Batman and inheritor of Bruce’s legacy.