Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Batman R.I.P.- wow. That happened. I really couldn’t believe it when I heard they were killing Bruce Wayne off. Actually, I kind of can’t believe it hasn’t been more hyped. Okay, granted, superheroes dying off and being brought back is somewhat standard fare these days. But when Superman died- I mean, I was a kid, so maybe my memory is a little off, but I could have sworn that storyline was hyped for months in advance. Or even Captain America dying- there was frickin’ press coverage, for crying out loud. I just haven’t flipped on the news or heard N.P.R. cover anything about this yet. I mean, okay, I’m a graduate student and I live under a rock. So maybe I’m just out of touch. But you’d think this would be a bigger deal- like every where you look, there’d be t-shirts, posters, fans talking about it… I’m a big fan of the final act- er, acts, plural- of Bruce Wayne’s life. So I’m not dissing Grant Morrison’s work here. I’m not saying the storyline, itself, is anything missable- just maybe that the fans are missing it. Although, a quick perusal of Amazon shows the collected edition of the story is already ranked as the second bestselling graphic novel on the site- impressive in such a short period of time. Still, the not-quite-integrated split between Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis has probably taken this story out of the spotlight a little bit. That is to say- Bruce Wayne sort of had “two deaths.” So summing up the cause of his death into a sound bite for television, or even in small talk, is not easily done. I kind of understand why this happened the way it did- and frankly, I approve. I think I alluded to the idea of “two continuities” within the Batman franchise in another column. They overlap a little- but ultimately, it comes down to this: there are people who love the Christopher-Nolan-style crime-drama Batman comic book, in all of its gritty realism and without all that fantasy superhero nonsense. At the same time, there are people who love Justice League and like to see Batman interact with all of the other spandex and cape wearing super-heroes in the DCU. So the question, inevitably, was- where is the right “level” of continuity to tell a story that will please everyone? Batman is a pivotal part of the superhero community in one- should Superman and Wonder Woman be key players in the story? On the other hand, Batman as a story works best when the characters are all distinctly human. So, in the end, the writers settled on a compromise- oh, stop reading now if you don’t want to spoil this story for yourself. The finale of R.I.P. involves a somewhat maddened Batman smashing the windshield of a mid-air helicopter, which subsequently plunges into one of Gotham’s harbors. The only remaining scrap of the Batman Dick Grayson and others find at the crash site? The “cowl” that will feature prominently in this summer’s Big-Bat-Person-Royal-Rumble. So for the hardcore, realistic Batman fans? That’s it- that’s the death. Ambiguous, I grant you- maybe Wayne survived, somehow. What with the whole “Batman of Zur-En-Aarh” thing, or whatever, his consciousness could be so fractured he might not even realize who he IS. Or maybe he decides, intentionally, to go into hiding- because his enemies finally got way too close and dug their teeth in. Or maybe that’s it- he goes down in flames, chasing a criminal mastermind even into death itself. Catching the bad guy is more important than his life, especially one as bad as Hurt. Now, of course, if you want to get technical (and inevitably, with comic book fans, someone out there will)- that isn’t his death. Wayne gets dug out of the bay and tortured, nearly to death, by none other than a reincarnated Darkseid and all of his creepy, loyal followers. I’m a big fan of Final Crisis and I have a feeling that people are going to look back and see more in it than just a sorry excuse to compete with Marvel’s Secret invasion. I love the SCOPE of this crisis: the other crises play around with the nature of reality, parallel earths, the fate of the universe- and there’s some of that tucked in here. Well, okay, a lot. But for the most part, F.C. is about Earth. The story sometimes skips weeks, or even a month, from issue to issue- and slowly, inexorably, you watch all of those sometimes squeaky-clean DC heroes fight a losing, pitched battle to save the human race from brutal alien invaders. WORSE, one by one, citizens of the DCU and super-heroes alike are subjected to the Anti-Life Equation (I really LOVE that it’s an ACTUAL equation, spoken aloud- like, when X is self-esteem and Y is hopelessness, and X equals Y, etc.) and turned into mindless slaves for the Dark Lord of Apocalypse. Little pockets of human resistance cells try to squeak out life and coordinate their efforts to fight the oppressors- but one by one, slowly and surely, they’re killed off or ‘converted.” I’d like to kind of think of Final Crisis as something akin to Batman R.I.P.- maybe it’s “The DCU R.I.P.” If Darkseid was really going to invade and conquer earth, which he is often threatening to do, THIS is what it would look like- how the DC universe and all of its protectors might finally meet their end. A lot of things get turned inside out during this crisis- enemies become friends, and vice versa. And in a far more science-fiction-epic fashion, Bruce Wayne meets his end, too. But in this case, it’s in the form of choosing to shoot Darkseid with a Super-powered bullet, knowing full well that such an action is suicidal and will expose him to god-like attacks he cannot possibly survive. A nice touch, with the gun, if you stop and think about it- it’s sort of “full circle” with the Batman mythology. A gun took away Bruce Wayne’s life- but now, he uses it to vanquish the most horrible monster to walk the face of the earth. Wayne never breaks and resorts to killing another human being- but in this one moment, with all of the human race on the line, he makes the excruciating choice of exterminating his opponent with the same weapon that killed his family. Kind of martyr-esque, not just on the suicidal-level, but on the “re-experiencing the initial pain that formed you” level. Of course, there’s an “out” for Wayne here too. I won’t ruin it for you, if you haven’t read the last few panels of Final Crisis. But needless to say, it probably won’t be the end of the Caped Crusader. Speaking of which- beyond the two stories I’m talking about here, I’m already a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? I like to think of Gaiman as telling the rough equivalent of “superhero-fairy-tales” when he writes for DC and Marvel, so don’t expect the series to fit very, very clearly into the current continuity of Batman comics. So far, the story involves numerous characters- such as Selina Kyle and Alfred, to kick off the first issue, attending Bruce Wayne’s funeral and explaining his “death.” Simply put- neither of the stories told so far match the “deaths” I’ve explained above. But in a way, all of the stories the characters tell about Batman are “true” to some extent. It isn’t the details- it’s the theme, the mood, the relationship between the story’s teller and Wayne himself that really rings clear. But on another level, it’s some interesting recreations of who Batman is or could have been. Hard to follow? Probobly- unless you’ve read the comic. So try that, and hopefully this last bit will be a little clearer.