Just when Grant Morrison's story seems like it's going fairly straightforward, he throws us a curveball.
In the next two issues, the reader is forced to understand what's happening by making his or her own conclusions based on a combination of what's happened beforehand and the characters' comments. The result is similar to experiencing a vague sense of clarity, much like the withdrawal from the crystal meth and heroin imposed upon Bruce Wayne.
BATMAN No. 678 ("Batman: R.I.P" pt. 3): Honestly, I enjoyed the first page or two with whom I presumed — and had confirmed — was Tim Drake reading Batman's casebook. Morrison's insinuation is Batman and Robin's adventures from the 1950s and 60s were an illusion.
Gotta say having the street bum Honor Jackson first offended by Bruce lying on his "personal stuff" and then taking him under his wing is a nice touch, giving some sort of grounding to what's happened between the last issue and this one. I first started off thinking, "Huh?," until I read the flashback scene in which Doctor Hurt injects Bruce with crystal meth and street heroin. Realizing Honor wasn't there when he shows Bruce the Gotham skyline was a surprise, but it goes to show Bruce's state of mind.
How did Nightwing end up being in a straight-jacket at Arkham Asylum? Now Bruce is in a rainbow Batman costume calling himself "the Batman of Zur-En-Aarh" armed with a AM/FM receiver he's coined "the Bat Radia"? And now Bat-Mite shows up?
BATMAN No. 679 ("Batman: R.I.P" pt. 4): This cover is one of the greatest Batman covers ever — what movement! What intensity on the Dark Knight's face!
Inside is another story. Only Morrison could have Bat-Mite be the voice of sanity and explain what it's taken three issues for me to confirm: "Batman prepares for everything. Batman even prepared for psychological attack with a backup identity, remember?" No, but I did kinda see it coming. (Click here for my thoughts on the previous "R.I.P" installments.)
Having the building gargoyles talk to Batman is waaaay out there — but I kinda liked it. Did you notice the irony of Batman equipping himself with a baseball bat? And, the last page of issue 678 said there would be "Boy Wonder vs. Son of Batman," but there's nothing about that here.
BATMAN No. 680 ("Batman: R.I.P" pt. 5): Being an avid David Bowie fan, I'm sure I don't like The Joker being called "The Thin White Duke of Death," this issue's title. I'm not sure why Tony Daniel had to drew him without his shirt and I'm not even sure whether I like The Joker's disfigured face. It makes him a bit too macabre and sinister looking.
Alex Ross and Daniel must have had to do this cover months before Morrison wrote this issue since there's no evidence of Robin fighting alongside Batman. Did you catch the Batphone Easter egg?
Another nice moment on the next page is Commissioner Gordon first calling Damian (wearing a Robin Hood-like costume) Robin, but then saying, "Do I know you?" It shows Gordon pays attention more than people think; I wonder how he'll handle Talia telling him Damian is Batman's son. (Go here for my in-depth review of the "Batman and Son" storyline for Batman-on-film.com.)
There's really not a lot going on this issue, except for The Joker's usual barely coherent circular logic. I almost bought that Jezebel Jet is the damsel in distress who doesn't want to die — almost — but her evil sneer on the last page saying "Batman's finally giving in" gives her away that she's tied to Black Glove.
BATMAN No. 681 ("Batman: R.I.P" conclusion): A double-sized issue — it takes me back to my youth.
Flashbacks can be confusing, but the one of Bruce really works; most importantly, it explains a lot of what Morrison has insinuated (and I predicted). The Dark Ranger — who the...?! Oh, the Club of Heroes! Goofy costumes or not, Daniel's splash page looks great. He's had quite a few with some good visual punch in this story arc. He's not my favorite Batman artist, but he's growing on me. Sandu Florea — whoever that is — does a great job of punching up Daniel's pencils, especially on the rising from the grave page. What an image!
On the other hand, doesn't Jezebel's first appearance in this issue not look like she has before? That puts a damper on the spectacular shot — on the same page, I might add — of Batman saying, "Ready when you are."
Batman (acknowledging Nightwing): "Nicely timed. You never let me down, do you?" That's the best line of this series!
How exactly did Damian get access to the Batmobile? Talia — "the daughter of the world's greatest criminal mastermind and the mother of Batman's son" — says "we'll take care of retribution." Yikes!! I expect Morrison to address that in future issues.
That's a moody image of Nightwing holding Batman's cape and cowl, but how about some emotion? And how did he get there? — Nightwing was in Arkham Asylum last I saw. The ninja bats come after Jezebel — a nice bit of closure and irony, Morrison, from her first appearance in BATMAN (No. 656). I have no doubt there'll be more of Talia's retribution. Nice epilogue.
Final thoughts: Overall, a bit uneven, but readable if you pay close attention. I would recommend reading Morrison's other Batman stories before reading "R.I.P." This should be done in as close to one sitting as possible. As Morrison tends to do, there's a lot of room for setting up other stories. Grade: B-