Saturday, May 23, 2009

These Are the Secrets of Death We Teach: Vengeance, Mortality
& the Multiverse in Grant Morrison's Batman

Serialized beginning in 2006, this three-volume-and-counting story in which Grant Morrison (best known as the author of the groundbreaking, outre', “Invisibles” & "Doom Patrol" titles in the 80's & 90's) reinvents Batman for the 21st Century. Morrison has assembled his tale as a ‘psychedelic noir’ drawing on the entirety of the written history of the character, as though it were the chronicle of the extraordinary (and bizarre!) life of one man:

Link to DC Comics: "Batman & Son" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.1

Link to DC Comics: "Batman: The Black Glove" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.2

Link to DC Comics: "Batman R.I.P." - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.3

SPOILERS - SPOILERS - That said, and warning given, volume one begins with three errant cops masquerading as Batman 'haunting' Bruce Wayne as his potential replacements, coinciding with these events the epiphany of Bruce Wayne's son, Damian, is revealed by/with the daughter of his arch-nemesis Ras Al-Ghul of the League of Assassins. All of this spun as a James Bond-esque world-trotting adventure. Volume two entangles the Caped Crusaderin a series of ominous mysteries as the ultimate villain The Black Glove, who orchestrated both the recruitment of the Batman 'replacements' from within Gotham Police Department as well as a scheme from decades past. In which the they employed one Dr. Simon Hurt in a series of sensory deprivation experiments that Wayne underwent in the 1960's. Unbeknownst to Wayne, now years later, these were designed to implant the subconscious seeds of the Black Glove's plan to exploit the deepest secrets of his personal history, make him doubt his mission, question his sanity and ultimately in volume three… bring about his demise.

We also find in volume three, that possibly in anticipation of the Black Glove's threat, Wayne has sensed that his own mortality is in question and begun a deeper psychological/spiritual pursuit of his understanding of "Death, After-death and Reincarnation" through the 49 day meditation ritual of Thogal, in the isolated Tibetan monastery known as Nanda Parbat. What we the reader don't see forthcoming at this point in the tale, is that this threat to his existence doesn't come in the form of mortal men, or even the material plane, but instead the New God of anti-life, submission, dominance and despair by the name of Darkseid. Batman's confrontation with this cosmic force is told in Morrison's simultaneously released, time traveling, theoretical cosmology spanning, DC Universe-encompassing meta-narrative title, "Final Crisis":

Link to DC Comics: "Final Crisis" - Deluxe Edition

Link to DC Comics: "Jack Kirby's 4th World Omnibus - Vol.1"

Link to DC Comics: "Jack Kirby's 4th World Omnibus - Vol.2"

Link to DC Comics: "Jack Kirby's 4th World Omnibus - Vol.3"

Link to DC Comics: "Jack Kirby's 4th World Omnibus - Vol.4"

Catch all of that? As if all of that wasn't enough densely layered detective mystery, crime thriller, existential horror and consciousness riddling cosmic space-epic for 24 issues of a monthly comic, there's also Morrison's penchant for random surrealism, oblique, strictly visual references and seeming (at the time) confounding non-sequitur. Which more often than not, are later revealed to be foreshadowing of the larger overarching narrative concerns of mortality, consciousness, memory and identity. So now we're up to speed?? And just in time!

Link to DC Comics: "Batman & Robin" - Grant Morrison's Batman Vol.4

This coming June sees the beginnings of volume four, serialized as the new ongoing monthly "Batman & Robin". Right-off continuing the various threads of the previous books, retroactively giving perspective not only to the Black Glove and Damian Wayne stories, but through "Final Crisis" also entwining the mythos of Batman into the legendary creations of Jack Kirby's "4th World" hierarchy of comic deities and cosmic folklore. What has become of Bruce Wayne? In his awareness of mortality has he prepared himself for disembodiment ...and eventual reincarnation? Possibly to return as a different man altogether? Leading finally, to that ultimate of questions; what becomes of the mind after the death of the body? As the delirium induced hallucination(?) of 5th Dimensional entity Bat-Mite informs Bruce Wayne midway into issue #674 of the second volume: "These are the secrets of death we teach. We came all the way from Space B at the Fivefold Expansion of Zrfff to prepare your Passage." ...But considering the extra-dimensional nature of his guide, passage to where? And when? And what? Indeed! Mysteries abound!

Link to Publishers Weekly Grant Morrison "Batman R.I.P." launch interview

Link to Village Voice "Batman R.I.P" article

Link to Newsarama Grant Morrison "Batman & Robin" launch interview

Link to IGN's Grant Morrison "Batman & Robin" interview