Time and the Batman. To that end, what you thought was your life, even the people you make mad along the way, could all be one big revenge scheme set by someone in the future just to mess with you. It's an idea Geoff Johns floated by way of Barry Allen in Flash: Rebirth, and it's what Morrison suggested for Batman in The Return of Bruce Wayne, and crystallizes here.
And yet, it's hard to put my finger on just why Time and the Batman was necessary at all. If not the second of a three-part trilogy (which it might be, between Return and Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die, though it certainly doesn't advertise itself as the middle volume of such), then Time and the Batman seems an effort in over-explaining. Maybe that's necessary; maybe the market's had so much complicated Morrison material of late that a little hand-holding is in order ("Understand that much," Morrison's Batman repeats at one point, and "You're learning ... You're all learning," at another).
Or maybe this is another exercise in time being pliable -- it's hard to know what the original connection was meant to be between Morrison's Final Crisis and Batman RIP, if at all, and Time and the Batman's bridging of these two books may be as much about explanation as it is patching "the hole in things," Time and the Batman's phrase for the secrets and coincidences in life that just don't, or weren't ever meant to, fit.
The middle part of Time and the Batman presents two "missing chapters" from Batman RIP that take Batman from the end of RIP to the beginning of Final Crisis. There was much fan uproar at the time of RIP's conclusion in that it seemed to present the death of Batman, but there again was the hero whole and hearty at the beginning of Final Crisis; a throwaway line in another story confirmed that Batman did make it home alive between the books. The missing chapters build on that; yes, Batman did get home after RIP, and even went so far as to give formal thanks to his partners for their help, but all the while he avoided putting on the cape and cowl, knowing instinctively that Black Glove Simon Hurt's curse -- that the next time Batman wore his cowl would be the last -- was true. Then, Final Crisis comes, Batman is called into service, he puts on the cowl, and next thing you know, he's Darkseid-chow.
Frankly, a lot of this I got from The Return of Bruce Wayne. We already know that Simon Hurt nee Bruce's ancestor Thomas Wayne is a minion of Darkseid, so the idea that Hurt's cowl prophecy in RIP played out in Final Crisis stands to reason -- if one re-reads RIP after Return, they pretty much get it. We know that Batman's past is prologue -- that Darkseid has corrupted Batman's ancestors in the past, before Batman and Darkseid ever meet, so as to destroy Batman in the future. And we know that Superman searches for Batman in time because Batman left a recording from the Stone Age -- this also we get from Return (though I very much enjoyed the tone Morrison creates for what's potentially Batman's last letter to Superman -- friendly, needling, awe-struck). The missing chapters take us through the steps, they build Batman's sense of dread between RIP and Final Crisis, but I'm not sure they reveal much that's new.
At least one explanation I can offer is that Time and the Batman speaks to what I consider to be Morrison's modus operandi when it comes to Batman stories. As in Batman RIP, and also as in some of Morrison's JLA stories, Time and the Batman shows us that Batman was never in as much danger as we thought he was; whereas we might have thought Darkseid had the jump on Batman in Final Crisis, it turns out Batman to an extent already knew Darkseid was coming for him, and even knew the bullet to use and that he might end up lost in time. This is not, as I've mentioned before, my favorite aspect of Morrison's Batman -- should Batman always be smarter than his enemies? Sure. Do we constantly need to be reminded of it? No. -- but it's one way Time and the Batman redefines Batman's last moments in Final Crisis, if unnecessarily.
What I did like about this whole sequence was that Morrison takes the reoccurring bullets/holes/Darkseid-is-the-"hole-in-things" theme just a little farther, and suggests that Darkseid wasn't just responsible for corrupting Simon Hurt and inspiring the Barbatos cult, but also for the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The radion bullet with which Darkseid shot his son Orion, Morrison has Batman explain, is the proto-bullet, the mythical bullet, essentially every bullet that's ever been shot and the template for all bullets to follow, the bullet responsible for any number of tragic murders throughout history, and also the one that killed Thomas and Martha Wayne. And if the radion bullet is that bullet, then Darkseid himself is the wound; through a series of jumbled images, Morrison suggests that when Darkseid falls through time at the end of Final Crisis, he makes a hole through existence, a hole of tragedy and loss, including the wounds in Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Darkseid, essentially, kills Batman's parents for the purpose of creating Batman so as to torture Batman. These kinds of metaphysical knots are what Morrison has become known for lately, and I like this particular knot a lot (though readers may understandably still find it easier just to chalk the whole thing up to Joe Chill).
The question remains, however, whether Batman RIP was originally meant to tie in to Final Crisis, or if this became an item of necessity late in DC's Final Crisis plans. If the latter, it explains in part the necessity of these so-called "missing chapters," giving some cohesiveness to the RIP and Final Crisis stories that could otherwise be read on their own. With the missing chapters now in publication, a part of me wishes DC might have withheld the "Last Rites" stories, #682-683, and maybe replaced them with the still uncollected #684 and Detective #851 )even as I would have been up in arms clamoring for those issues) so as to put them here with the missing chapters. In that way, RIP wouldn't contain a whiff of Final Crisis and would truly stand as its own story, and the twain only would meet in Time and the Batman, perhaps justifying the purpose of this trade a little farther.
The first chapter of Time and the Batman, the anniversary Batman #700 issue, sat better with me. It is also removed from most of the current goings-on in Batman & Robin and such, though it does tie in to Return, spotlighting the time travel scientist Carter Nichols (and pre-Crisis figure) that Bruce Wayne meets in the past. As befits an anniversary issue, and in line with similar sentiments in RIP, Return, the "missing chapters" and so on, this is an issue about Batman and heroism; "No matter when, no matter where" the issue intones at the end, at the Bat-signal cinematically lights in front of the reader, Batman (be it Bruce, Dick Grayson, Terry McGinnis, or another) will always be there.
In an unusual but nice turn, it's Batman's example that inspires Nichols to overcome his depression after a traumatic attack by the Joker (Q: "What can you beat but never defeat?" A: Time and [or, "but also"] the Batman; that is, a hero). We don't often hear about Batman inspiring the public to better themselves, as opposed to Superman, but Batman does it twice in this book, both with Nichols and with Ellie, the girl from Batman and Son whom he inspired to give up prostitution. That "Batman will never die" has been an uplifting theme of Morrison's long Batman run, and it's summed up nicely here on the precipice between the end of the "Batman Reborn" storyline and the beginning of the Batman Inc. phase.
The final story in Time and the Batman is a satisfactory tale of three Robins -- Dick, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne -- by Fabian Nicieza; it might in another volume have rated higher, except the ending is rather predictable and the story lacks the headiness of Morrison's outings. As well, Nicieza's story references (somewhat confusingly) events taking place in his Red Robin: Hit List book, the collection of which won't be in stores until the end of June. It all ties in to the ongoing "Batman Reborn" Vicki Vale plot; this is not Nicieza's fault, but I've had the toughest time following that story between collections (She's in Batman! No wait, Streets of Gotham! No wait, Red Robin!), and so tacking Nicieza's story at the end of this volume (padding what might otherwise have been a rather short book) is just a reminder of that confusion.
I haven't read Batman & Robin: Batman Must Die yet, but I have a good sense that of this strange trilogy, Time and the Batman may be the weakest part (if brilliantly imagined and beautifully drawn by Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel, and Frank Quitely notwithstanding). If bullets shot backward in time make your head spin, I'm not sure this volume will necessarily make things clearer, but I think that's what was intended. I wasn't dazzled, but there's heady stuff here, to be sure, and for that Grant Morrison has my appreciation.
[Contains full and variant covers, pin-up section and computer-rendered tour of the Batcave. Printed on glossy paper]
New reviews and a Collected Editions special event coming next week -- don't miss it!