**Disclaimer before we go any further: I did NOT read the final two issues of this trade, as they are included in the Final Crisis omnibus that’s up next on “the shelf”. By the time this post has been published, I’ll have read them, but at the time of writing this I had not read it, so forgive any incorrect statements or guesses that may be clarified by those two issues**
I would say onto the trade at hand but…quite frankly, I have no idea where to begin. Usually I’m pretty floored by what Grant Morrison writes, the way in which he can craft such a well thought-out story. This Batman story though…it goes above and beyond anything I’ve come to expect even from him. The cohesive storytelling, the overarching mysteries, the entire air about the comic is so well done that I’m hard-pressed to know what exactly to write about it.
I knew going in that there would be plenty of references to classic Silver-Age stories. To prepare for that, Batman: The Black Casebook was released to help familiarize readers with the story. While I knew this story would be heavily influenced by those earlier issues, I never imagined that they could be so seamlessly worked into the modern story without ever feeling out of place.
I had assumed that many of these references might simply be reworked or retold in such a way as to make them feel darker or more modern, leaving nothing more than the shell of what the stories or characters once were. Instead, Morrison remains true to each and every story. Yes, he puts his own spin on them, but they always feel authentic to Batman lore, and never like they’re struggling to fit in.
Doctor Hurt dresses up in the original Batman costume worn by Thomas Wayne to a masquerade party and tries to pass himself off as Bruce’s dead father, and yet somehow this feels perfectly natural within the story. HOW??
Had Morrison simply included one or two references to older stories, I’d have been suitably impressed. The sheer number of stories he references though is astounding, especially given how seamlessly he weaves them all together. This could easily just have been a reimagining of classic Batman issues, and it would have been great. Morrison takes it to the next level though, merging these classic stories with his own incredibly mind-blowing Batman story.
While all of these classic references are popping up, we’re inundated with an earth-shattering Batman story as well. What if Bruce Wayne was really crazy? What if the Black Glove was really a product of his own warped mind? After all, who knows Batman better than him? And who could come up with such elaborate schemes besides the world’s greatest detective? Bruce struggles with this concern, just as Doctor Hurt uses his long-ago placed trigger word (Zur-En-Arrh) to confuse Bruce and make him forget who Batman really is. Of course, Bruce may have planned for this, and installed a failsafe separate personality should this ever occur:
Bonus Bat-Mite, just because.
The comic implies that Batman was intelligent enough, and planned for every possible contingency, that he would have had a plan in place should his mind ever be compromised. I personally love these details, as I’m always a fan of emphasizing the detective side of Batman. Too often writers take the easy route of just writing him off as a skilled fighter, neglecting the other aspects of his personality that truly define Batman. I love that the story plays up this side of the character, in a way that’s both entertaining and unique.
At the point I left off in this trade, Batman appears to be dead (unlikely) and the future of the dark knight is unclear. I’m literally rushing through this post right now because I’m dying to go read Final Crisis and finally find out what happens. Am I approaching it with incredibly high hopes? Yeah, probably. I can’t help it though. I’ve read so many trades leading up to this moment that I’m like a little kid on Christmas morning, just dying to find out what’s beneath the tree.
I write this post knowing full well that it’s impossible to do this trade justice after having read it only once. This story deserves multiple close examinations, but I’m simply too impatient to sit down and read it through a few more times. This is most definitely the sort of story I’d like to come back to after I’ve completed “the shelf” to reread, hopefully with an even better appreciation for the story after learning what all else is happening in the DC Universe at this time. Even after only one read-through though, I can appreciate the brilliance that lies in this comic, and look forward to revisiting it at a later date, hopefully to uncover even more secrets on a second read-through.