Book of Doom:
Batman #681

batman 681 ripWell, I was way off. Several weeks back, I predicted that the man behind the Black Glove and the “most ignoble betrayal” to Batman was going to be Nightwing. Failing that, I thought there’d be a good chance of it being Robin. Turns out, I was wrong. The ultimate badguy behind the Black Glove is… well… uh… I don’t really know.

This week’s Book of Doom was probably the most anticipated issue of Batman in years, and the most anticipated comic for this guy since the conclusion of 52, which was about a year and a half ago. With all of that anticipation, the most important question to ask is whether or not it lived up to it. And, in my eyes, it did. It wasn’t the best story ever told, and it wasn’t the greatest betrayal of the past seventy years of Batman, but it certainly was an enjoyable issue, and I’m glad I bought it. The biggest problem for me, I guess, is that I’m still not 100% sure what the heck happened in it.

We’re led to believe that Batman was defeated by the Black Glove, but, yet, it’s also implied that the Black Glove was responsible for the creation of Batman, all those years ago. They hired Joe Chill, and they’ve taken great pleasure in watching the career of Batman throughout the years, and, now, their masterstroke to kill him finally came to fruition. I guess that’s what rich people do with all of their time and money: Orchestrate giant games to pass the time.

It’s also implied that Batman comes face-to-face with the Devil when he finally confronts Dr. Hurt (if that’s his real name). I’m not so sure about that. It ties in with Batman #666 perfectly, but, still, it just seems pretty hokey.

As a finale to a pretty entertaining story-arc, I think Batman #681 is a success. As a finale to the Batman, it seems quite incomplete, and I’m looking forward to what comes next in the way of some explanation. If this was the final issue of Batman, forever, and we were never to see or hear from him again, I’d say this is pretty damn stupid and pathetic, but I see it more as a bridge to more interesting stories, so I’m okay with it. For now.

Let’s turn things over now, to Fin Fang Doom:
I didn’t buy Batman #681. I knew I was going to hate it. Grant Morrison is like an automatic stamp of disapproval these days. I’ve tried his stuff over and over again in the hope that it would be as good as his work on New X-Men, but nothing he’s been doing the past few years comes even close. Final Crisis is just terrible (at least it was before I stopped buying it), and every time I’ve read any of his Batman run (which was mostly Book of Doom-related) I hated it.

This is what I remember about the issue from what Doom DeLuise has told me:

1) Jezebel Jet, a character introduced at the beginning of the arc, turned out to be one of the villains. Dr. Hurt, another character introduced at the beginning of the arc, turned out to be another villain.

Wow, kind of like exactly what happened in Hush. How’s that for an ultimate betrayal?

2) Hurt is apparently either an agent of the devil or Satan himself.

I repeat: ultimate betrayal. I’m fairly certain the devil isn’t a very big fan of Batman. On account of Batman being a good guy and the devil being pure evil. I’m still not convinced that Doom DeLuise isn’t just frakking around with me on this one though, because that is the absolutely stupidest idea ever.

3) Batman dies in a mysterious helicopter crash, and his body isn’t found.

That may be the least convincing death scenario in the history of comics. “Hey, you think there’s a chance Batman might still be alive?” “I don’t know…there was that helicopter that exploded that he kinda sorta might have been on, even though there’s no physical evidence that he was. I don’t see anyway Batman could have gotten out of that one.”

And Del also tells me that the Batman in the first three issues of Final Crisis is in fact Bruce Wayne. So I guess either Batman R.I.P. or Final Crisis has absolutely no lasting or noticeable impact in the DCU, depending on which one takes place first.

Now, let’s finish things off with a reaction from Jim Doom:
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to a single issue of a comic this much. I started cool on this series but became a convert about midway through, pleased by the prospect of a satisfying payoff of Morrison’s several year build-up in Batman. Much of the excitement was in trying to decipher the clues and solve the mystery, the answer to which Morrison claimed was right in front of us the whole time.

I’ve been going back and forth a little bit, but two days removed, this was a fantastic issue. It was without a doubt an in-your-face reminder of why Batman is so awesome. He’s outsmarting the bad guys. He’s beating people at their own game. He’s humiliating these supervillain wannabes, and the Joker is putting him over bigtime, letting the evil gang know just how screwed they are. For all the ambiguity of the first four chapters, much of this was straight forward and fantastic.

I’m part of the Doomkopf faction that thought either Nightwing or Robin was the Black Glove, and Morrison was either aware of those theories and exploited them or I was just reading my suspicions into every Dick and Tim move. Either way, it was an exciting read. Turns out, neither appeared to be the bad guy, though honestly, who can be sure? The only thing that was definite about either of them was that neither seemed remotely as cool as Batman. He was in control; they were playing catch-up. Batman himself acknowledges he could only rely on his allies to keep up. (And as a side-note, I would totally read a Club of Heroes comic.)

The problem with this issue is obviously its letdown ending. I’ve previously argued that a comic should be judged on its own without the hype, and for the most part, I still feel that way. The big difference here is that much of the hype came from Morrison himself. You can’t blame that on ambitious marketers when the guy who wrote the story claims Batman will be the victim of the ultimate ignoble betrayal, and then … what?

From that perspective, I can’t help but feel some disappointment. I really don’t know what happened. This issue seemed to answer a lot of this story’s criticisms (like Jezebel Jet being too obvious a villain) but it also seemed to crank up the “Huh?” factor to 11 at the end.

That said, my frustrations with this issue have faded since Wednesday afternoon, when I really didn’t know what to say. There’s a huge difference between this type of ambiguity and the first four issues of Final Crisis — I’m actually looking forward to re-reading all of the Morrison Batman run. There will be a lot written about this issue, and it will warrant the attention. There was so much going on, so much to think about, so much to pry apart. It was very much the opposite of Superman #75 in terms of how to kill a superhero.

At this point, my best guess is that Batman was the Black Glove. He opened himself up to a deeper darkness — too deep — and basically retired himself. Dick may not have been the bad guy, but I’m still hanging on to my theory that Batman will become the Spectre. That willful embrace of the deeper darkness will be what forces his soul to endure the penance of serving in that role.

A decision this big will ultimately be judged by how well it is built upon. Morrison himself has said that Final Crisis takes over from what happens in Batman RIP. I don’t really see how that can happen, unless Batman blew up in a helicopter and then went to hang out with the JLA.

And now that Battle for the Cowl has been handed over to its third writer, I can’t say I have a lot of faith in what’s coming next. I hope that Tony Daniel is a better writer than he is artist. He got better throughout this series, but it sure would’ve been nice to have someone more confident and consistent on such an important story.