[Another thread in our Morrison Reading Project.]
Part One - The Hole in Things.
I had wondered before this came out whether these two issues filled a genuine gap in Morrison's epic Bat-narrative - one that Morrison couldn't fill in until most of Batman & Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne had run their course. Or was it mandated by editorial and the fans who couldn't cope with the narrative jump between RIP and Final Crisis. Judging by the first of these two issues it’s the latter.
Previously we were able to work out that Batman survived the helicopter crash at the end of RIP and later got the call from the JLA that a New God had been murdered, drawing Batman into the events of Final Crisis. This issue shows us these things happening without really adding anything new.
How Batman escaped from the crash would always boil down to "because he's Batman!" Morrison has been foregrounding this aspect of Batman’s character in his run and he rubs it in further by having Bruce himself say in the very first lines of the book: “Surviving is easy. Surviving is what I do. Ever since that first night when Joe Chill turned his gun on Dad and Mom.”
So is this issue a waste of time? Far from it. The gap between RIP and FC is perhaps the most notorious of the kind of narrative shortcuts with which Grant was frustrating the hapless linear thinkers of 2007. It was really emblematic of his writing then. This issue probably was editorially driven, but it feels like something of a rapprochement with more traditionally-minded Batfans. Pointedly so perhaps.
Bruce's explanation of how he survived comes in the form of the kind of first-person journal that was used repeatedly in post-Miller Bat-stories, but was the butt of a joke of Morrison’s early in his run. But this access to Batman’s inner monologue is not necessarily a bad thing. After the alienation of the RIP storyline, the distancing techniques of FC, and Bruce's long absence from the ongoing DCU, the time spent here with Bruce's innermost thoughts is a welcome reminder of why we all love the big guy in the first place.
This is a very warm comic. Bruce arrives home after a hell of “a night on the town”, glad to be alive and with the rising sun shining on him like a blessing. I don’t often get to identify with Batman, but it made me think of similar glad early morning homecomings back in my own wild years. The style of the journal entries isn't tough and hard-boiled, but instead show a very human and vulnerable side to Bruce. We see him meeting a young girl he had earlier rescued from the streets, and realise that it's compassion that drives Batman as much as anything. When he gets the call from Superman, he rather disarmingly admits his own vulnerability, at least to himself: “Super-people. I’ve worked so hard to earn their respect, they sometimes forget I’m flesh and blood.”
This is a Batman we aren't used to seeing, and seems a far cry from the Batman of JLA. It's also a kind of Winicky Batman comic. It's all about the pleasure of spending time with this much loved icon of our childhood, rather than watching him jumping from one tight spot to the next. It's a strange issue in that regard; a change of gears from Morrison's usual treatment of these heroes. Although it's like Morrison is making time while waiting for the slowcoaches to catch up, it's time well spent. Bruce's musings provide a Coles Notes version of what happened up to Final Crisis. In particular they stress how formidable an opponent Dr Hurt is. We know that Hurt was right when he said that the next time Bruce puts on the mask will be his last, but Bruce doesn't, and that's where the pathos of this issue lies.
The time-lag between when this happened in DCU time and this being published thus does work in its favour. We know that what Bruce thinks of as the end of his torment is only really the beginning, and we feel for what he’s about to go through.
The pathos of Bruce’s brief respite serves for the drama of most of the issue, but the last few pages do convey the idea of a trap closing around our unwitting hero. The ending is one of the most satisfying last pages I’ve read in a while, as Bruce examines Orion’s murder scene and realises big things are happening:
“Think fast, Batman!”