A Crisis Of Chronology: Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic

By | November 14th, 2010
Posted in Columns | % Comments

This week marks the final final issue of Grant Morrison’s large scale Batman Epic. This is a comic that has been in the works for quite some time. Since September of 2006, Morrison has been slowly building a large scale confrontation between the Dark Knight and one of the most powerful villains in the entirety of the DCU. While this story has been building for certainly quite a long time in his idea space, it’s only finally come to it’s close now, four years later.

With a brand new story and era on the way with Batman Inc. #1 and Batman: The Return #1 in stores this coming week, ringing the bell for this new adventure, regular ACOC star Walt and I sat down to map out the logical path any fan would need in order to understand Morrison’s Bat-epic in it’s entire broad scope.

So sit back, relax, and prepare for your journey in to the 5th world – after the cut.

Optional Beginnings

Batman is a character has existed since 1939, which for the math inclined equates to 79 years. That is a lot of history to a character, one which neither I nor anyone else would expect anyone to know all of. Obviously going into working on Batman, Morrison had his own knowledge of the character from when he was a child as well as growing up, and all of this plus his own work tied into the mythology that Morrison brought with him when he took over writing the main title.

So with that in mind, are there any particular books you could read that would tie into his story that could possibly help? Yes. For starters, DC released The Black Casebook, a collection of old Batman stories that heavily influenced Morrison’s writing in a “unified Batman history”, with these stories having pay offs specifically Batman RIP. While this certainly isn’t required knowledge, it does help some of the more esoteric references within Batman RIP. The next story you could try and find is Batman #452-454, or “Dark Knight, Dark City” – a story which might seem out of place at first, but will make perfect sense by the time you finish reading.

Following these, there are several books that Grant Morrison has written/co-written which tie into his writing. Morrison fans will often notice that all of his works tie together, albeit loosely, with little references in place for longtime fans. For his Batman, start with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, which will explain how Morrison chooses to write the Joker (especially with issue #663). Next on the list would be Grant Morrison’s JLA, which is a much looser tie-in. It features Batman’s first fight against Darkseid under Morrison’s pen as well as the first thematic placement of Superheroes being the New Gods of the 5th Dimension, which ties into Morrison’s finale. Next on the list is DC’s ongoing series 52, which follows Infinite Crisis and sees Batman expunging his demons as well as taking a sabbatical from being Batman and involving himself in isolation experiences as well as locking himself in a cave in Nanda Parabat – all of which become heavily important during RIP. The last book to look at would be Seven Soldiers of Victory, which will help with Darseid and Final Crisis, which ties heavily with Batman RIP.

Batman and Son and The Black Glove

Morrison’s first two major stories on Batman were “Batman and Son” and “The Island of Mister Mayhew.” The first introduced Damian Wayne, the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul, who started off Morrison’s run with quite a jolt. The character arrived to mixed reviews initially, but Damian has slowly grown into a beloved member of the DCU. With the second, Morrison introduced the man who would ultimately become the Big Bad of Morrison’s story: Dr. Simon Hurt. Hurt attacked Batman and the Club of Heroes on a secluded island, which allowed Morrison to begin to bring old stories to life as well as breathe more life into characters he had introduced in JLA Classified – the now ever-so-popular Knight and Squire.

Continued below

Also, within the two trades for both these books are additional stories that act as “one-shots” to a certain degree and help set up of the various players that will become important over the course of Morrison’s story. This includes Morrison’s change to the Joker, the introduction of the Three Ghosts, and Jezebel Jet – all of which would see ultimate pay-offs within Batman RIP.

At this point, you can also read The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul. Walt describes this book as optional if only because it deals more with story elements going on with other writers. Damian’s character is developed a bit more, but the book’s pay-offs are more involved with the Nightwing and Robin/Red Robin ongoings.

Batman RIP/Final Crisis/Last Rites

Batman RIP was, as told in interviews, one of Morrison’s big pitches when he came to write Batman. He took DC’s last member of the Trinity and put him in the ground in a way only Morrison would and could in an elaborate story featuring thousands of callbacks to both stories Morrison had written and issues contained within the Black Casebook. RIP would also see Morrison begin to elaborate on Batman’s mythos in it’s entirety, tying in Batman’s demise to Batman’s “creation”, which would become an extremely important theme and story element throughout the rest of Morrison’s Batman.

Intertwined with RIP was Final Crisis, DC’s big event at the time that Morrison wrote. It tied heavily together with RIP, although the two could somewhat exist without one another. However, for those following Morrison’s Batman story, it was Final Crisis that truly featured Batman’s death, whereas Batman RIP simply resolved around the death of the idea of Batman. Final Crisis’ own timeline became a bit disfigured as it came out, and for the proper reading order of the event see the final list at the bottom of the post (as explained by Morrison himself in an interview), which also feature Morrison’s last two issues of Batman.

It should be noted that, at the time that this came out, Final Crisis and RIP perplexed many fans and became a very “love it/hate it” story. Some fans thought the storytelling was far too esoteric, and others assumed that RIP was merely Morrison “pulling a Dallas” on the fan community. However, for those who were patient, the loose ends of Batman’s involvement in both stories became more clear later.

As an additional note, Final Crisis is it’s own big barrel of worms. Many people have found Final Crisis frustrating with it’s story telling, as it requires a rather heavy knowledge of the DC Universe and is not really for the average reader. We could do a whole Crisis of Chronology based around Final Crisis, to be honest.

Battle for the Cowl

Battle for the Cowl is not an event that Morrison wrote. It was instead a mini-event written by the artist of Batman RIP, Tony Daniel. In it, Daniel wrote and drew the days of Gotham post-Batman’s death before Dick Grayson would eventually take up the mantle and become the new Batman with Damian as Robin. While the story is not written by Morrison, it is important into the shift between Bruce Wayne’s Batman and Dick Grayson’s.

Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn/Revenge of the Red Hood

Following RIP, Final Crisis, and the Battle for the Cowl, Morrison returned with a brand new ongoing: Batman and Robin. In this, Morrison began telling short stories in arcs of three with different artists, the first two of which were Frank Quitely and Philip Tan. Fans of Morrison’s Batman were now more prepared, and began noticing clues right from the beginning, with the identity’s of characters such as the Domino Killer and El Penitente being large mysteries throughout the entire book. The book is also much more light hearted in tone, because with a new man under the cowl, the new Batman surely needed a different approach.

Continued below

The first arc introduced Professor Pyg, a now infamous character within the Batman mythology, who is arguably the creepiest character in the whole DCU. The second arc featured Jason Todd’s role post-BFTC, as well as began to pay off ideas from Batman #666, which featured a future Damian as Batman.

I should also note that Walt insists I mention Chris Yost’s first arc in Red Robin, “The Holy Grail,” as it ties in with the Return of Bruce Wayne and is the only other Batman story that Morrison actively acknowledges during his story.

At this point, you can also read Blackest Night. The third arc in Batman and Robin acted as a “loose tie-in” to the event (as described by Grant Morrison), and was the first sign that the body buried in Bruce Wayne’s grave was not actually Bruce Wayne.

Blackest Knight

Blackest Knight was the “loose tie-in” to DC’s big event, featuring Cameron Stewart on art and Morrison giving fans the first sign that Bruce Wayne was not in fact dead. One of the big mysteries of RIP was what exactly happened to Bruce Wayne, and Blackest Knight began to explain this, as well as dealt once again with the lurking villains El Penitente and the Domino Killer. The book tied-in thematically with Red Robin as well, finally declaring what most fans already knew: Bruce Wayne was not dead.

RIP: The Missing Chapter

While this book was published later, Walt and I agreed that it feels more at home here. The Missing Chapter of RIP is the gap between Batman RIP and Final Crisis that shows exactly how Bruce Wayne survived his helicopter crash and wound up in one of Darkseid’s torture devices. The issues also dealt with how the clone from Blackest Knight came to be, and ended right where Return of Bruce Wayne began, thus making a smooth segue into the upcoming storylines.

Batman vs. Robin/Return of Bruce Wayne

Batman vs. Robin was the third arc of Batman and Robin, featuring the return of Talia al Ghul and the beginning of the mystery of where Bruce Wayne went when Darkseid blasted him with the Omega Sanction. At this time, DC also started releasing a mini-series entitled the Return Of Bruce Wayne, which detailed the adventures of a time lost Batman. Initially, the idea was that the books would intertwine, with each issue of each book coming out one after the other, but delays prevented this from happening. However, the proper and more interesting way to read these issues would be B&R #13, ROBW #1, B&R #14, ROBW #2, B&R #15, and ROBW #3.

This is also the point where some of the larger elements of Morrison’s story come into play. We learn the identities of El Penitente, just what Oberon Sexton was up to the entire storyline, and begin to learn about the various Waynes throughout time as first seen in RIP. The entire book becomes one large scale mystery, and it’s the first time in Morrison’s Batman run that he begins giving solid answers to questions we’ve been asking.

Time and the Batmen

Batman #700 saw Morrison returning to write the main title for three issues, starting with the centennial as a one-shot. The story, able to stand on it’s own, tells a story of three different Batmen throughout time all dealing with the same mystery laid in place by the Joker. The issue mentioned the Joker being in custody at this point, thus placing it after Batman and Robin #15, and allowing some of the final pieces in Morrison’s epic chessboard to be placed. It would also bring back future Damian and pay tribute to alternate Batman storylines, including the recently launched Batman Beyond.

Batman and Robin Must Die/Return of Bruce Wayne

The final arc of Batman and Robin saw the return of our great villain from RIP: The Black Glove himself, Dr. Simon Hurt. Hurt’s origin had been wrapped in mystery throughout the entire series, and with this story Morrison finally gave us concrete answers about who he was, what his plans were, and why he was attacking the Waynes. The story is once again intertwined with Return of Bruce Wayne, which furthers the element of Simon Hurt as well as establishes exactly why Batman is so important to the DCU as a whole. In fact, after ROBW #6, it’s safe to say Batman is the single most important character in the entire DCU.

Continued below

To put it lightly, the book is incredibly dense, mythic, and interconnected. It’s actually rather easy to get lost at this point, but for those in need there are annotations online of the references in place within all of ROBW. Suffice it to say, it is one of the most intense ideas Morrison has ever played with while using a mainstream comic book character as opposed to creator owned stories.

Batman and Robin Finale/the Return

Morrison’s finale to Batman and Robin as well as the Return ended his Batman Epic and allowed for the beginning of his new story, Batman Inc. While Batman Inc. is sure to tie in with all that he has worked on throughout with the character, it’s safe to say that the story of Batman versus Simon Hurt is over with the end of B&R #16.

The Return instead sees Bruce Wayne fixing himself into the new world after the final page of B&R #16, and it allows segue into the upcoming book: Batman Incorporated, in which Bruce Wayne once again dons his famous cowl and begins to travel the world, turning Batman’s war on crime in Gotham into a global war on crime.

So, in closing, here is the final list broken down by issue:

  • (The Black Casebook)*
  • (Dark Knight, Dark City (Batman #452-454))*
  • (Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth)*
  • (Grant Morrison’s JLA)*
  • (52)*
  • (Seven Soldiers of Victory)*
  • Batman And Son (Batman #655 – 658)
  • The Clown at Midnight (Batman #663)
  • The Three Ghosts of Batman (Batman #664-665)
  • Numbers of the Beast (Batman #666)
  • The Island of Mister Mayhew (Batman #667-669)
  • (Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul (various))*
  • Space Medicine (Batman #672)
  • Joe Chill in Hell (Batman #673)
  • Batman Dies at Dawn (Batman #674)
  • The Fiend with Nine Eyes (Batman #675)
  • DC Universe (#0)
  • Batman RIP (Batman #676-681)
  • Final Crisis (#1-3)
  • Superman Beyond (#1-2)
  • Final Crisis: Submit (#1)
  • Final Crisis (#4-5)
  • Last Rites (Batman #682-683)
  • Final Crisis: Secret Files (#1)
  • Final Crisis #6-7
  • The Battle for the Cowl (#1-3)
  • Batman Reborn (Batman & Robin #1-3)/The Grail (Red Robin #1-5)
  • Revenge of the Red Hood (Batman & Robin #4-6)
  • (Blackest Night (#1-8)/Blackest Night: Batman (#1-3))*
  • Blackest Knight (Batman & Robin #7-9)
  • RIP: The Missing Chapter (Batman #701-702)
  • Batman vs. Robin (Batman & Robin #10-12)/Return of Bruce Wayne (#1-3)
  • Time and the Batmen (Batman #700)
  • Batman and Robin Must Die! (Batman & Robin #13-15)/Return of Bruce Wayne (#4-6)
  • Batman and Robin Finale (#16)
  • The Return (#1)

And in case you’re wondering what this epic look likes, it’s a little something like this:

//TAGS | A Crisis Of Chronology

Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."


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