Alternate Cover: In defence of Batman RIP

James considers the death of Batman, and thinks that Grant Morrison has had a raw deal...

The world’s media has truly been ablaze following developments in comics this week. Batman, you may be aware, has finally bitten the big one, plunging to his death on a flaming helicopter piloted by a man who may or may not be the devil – or Batman’s father – in the explosive climax of Scottish writer Grant Morrison’s run on the series to date.

Of course, in comics, death is rarely permanent. Intellectual property is, simply put, better off in the land of the living, and though death and extended absences might make for good buzz and sales spikes, as sure as night follows day, you can be sure that Bruce Wayne isn’t going to stay dead long.

Now, comics readers often have to face accusations of being immature, and it’s true that those fans with the loudest voices seem to have the least to say, but even accounting for those stereotypes, the reaction to Morrison’s “death of Batman” issue has been staggeringly difficult to watch. Accusations fly, calling Morrison a hack who can’t write an effective ending. An unimaginative death, it’s been called. Complaints have been filed on messageboards across the Internet that this off-panel death is simply not final or believable enough.

The staggering reality, far from Morrison being a bad writer, is that many people criticising this series are BAD READERS. It’s right there, in the issue – the proof that Batman, far from dying, actually survived the crash. Sure, several members of his supporting cast believe that he died – after all, they watched him go down in a manner from which they thought no-one could survive. We readers, however, have something they don’t – a look at what Batman did after he survived the crash.

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The clue is right there in the issue. Can’t find it? Why not go and read it now? Actually read and digest the story, rather than concentrating purely on the images and dialogue. In a post-Watchmen industry, readers should be able to deal with narrative tricks, and yet thousands seem to have missed the logical leap entirely.

Found it yet?

If not, here’s a hint for you: Consider who’s actually narrating the comic, in what medium, and in what tense. The narrative captions, as drawn and explicitly described in the text, are Bruce Wayne’s account of the issue’s events. The captions are presented as written in the Black Casebook, a journal he keeps of his hard-to-explain crime-fighting escapades. That means he survived the crash – at least, long enough to go home and write it all up. Certainly, it seems that “Batman” died in the crash, and everyone in the cast is being allowed to believe Bruce is dead too, but readers should know – if they’ve read the issue properly – that Bruce Wayne is still alive and biding his time.

Certainly, not everything about the issue is perfect, but suggestions that the contents prove that Morrison is a bad writer are simply nonsense. You might not enjoy his work, but in terms of story, structure, dialogue and visuals, he knows how to put a comic together. If you don’t like it, fair enough – but don’t blame it on his technical ability. And if you were one of the legion of fans upset by your own poor interpretation of Batman: RIP, then maybe you should consider reading something a little less challenging next time. Clearly, if a writer can pack in this much effort and ability, and receive a tidal wave of scorn in return, then you only have yourself to blame next time you read a truly insultingly bad comic. Apparently, that’s what you want.

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.