* Prices may differ from that shown
After the dust had (sort of) settled following the (apparent) death of Batman in the epic Batman RIP/Final Crisis tale, Gotham was returning to some sort of normality (i.e. a crime-ridden cess pit of a city). The first Robin Dick Grayson had taken over as Batman, third Robin Tim Drake had moved onto become another costumed crime fighter Red Robin, and Damien, Bruce Wayne's son by Talia Al Ghul (himself destined to be a future Batman) has succeeded as the new Robin.
If all of that meant nothing to you, then Time and the Batman is not the book for you. If you've not read any Batman stuff for a while, then you will essentially be coming in towards the end of a very long story arc and nothing contained within it will make any sense whatsoever. Better go back and read Black Glove, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader and Batman RIP before you even attempt this. Without all that background information, you won't have a clue what is going on and will find this volume totally impenetrable.
In truth, even if you're bang up to date with the Batman Universe, the tales in this volume can be rather confusing. Whilst they are all in some way linked to the Batman RIP tale, it's not always clear exactly how or where they fit into the overall chronology. Since the tale has been split across several different books, published a number of years apart, it can sometimes be rather tricky to work out how the bit you are currently reading relates to the bits you have read previously.
Add in the fact that Morrison (a huge fan of mind-bending time travel/multiple universe concepts) introduces a number of heady, complex subjects that are difficult to get your head around (a "God bullet" that is somehow representative of every bullet that has ever been fired) and a whole host of episodes set in different (but vaguely related) time periods and it's not always easy to keep track of what's going on. Morrison never makes things easy for the reader and is not one for simple stories. In one sense that's good - he's treating the reader with respect and assuming that they are intelligent; on the other hand, though, he does seem to forget that whilst he might eat, live and breathe this storyline and this universe, others of us have this thing called "real life" that gets in the way of spending every waking moment trying to fit all the pieces together.
With those caveats out of the way, let's go into a bit more detail about what this volume actually does cover. The first story is set across three different time periods, with three different people acting as Batman - Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne. All are investigating the same mystery spread across three different time zones, but otherwise it's pretty inconsequential stuff. To be honest, it smacked of the sort of silly little tale that Batman used to regularly undertake in the 60s (a time travel/sci-fi tale, albeit a darker one) and I didn't really feel it added much, if anything to the Batman RIP story arc or the wider legend more generally.
On the plus side, it does feature some nice artwork (except for some pretty horrible stuff towards the end where the style suddenly changes completely) and some good cameos from established villains like Two Face, the Joker and Catwoman.
The next story (Batman: RIP - the missing chapters) is easily the best tale in the book. It answers some of the core questions that remained unanswered from the Batman RIP/Final Crisis books (exactly how did Bruce Wayne apparently die in a helicopter crash on Earth, whilst also being killed by Darkseid on Apokolyps?). Yet, whilst it provides some answers, you also need to keep your wits about you to try and keep up with the story at times and work out what is happening and how it links in with the wider story arc.
The final tale (The Great Escape) is another rather inconsequential piece. As with the first story, it actually feels as though it belongs to a much earlier period in the Batman's history, when stories tended to be a lot simpler. It never really captures any sense of excitement or tension and whilst the ending highlights Batman's humanity alongside his determination to rid Gotham of crime, it doesn't really add anything that we have not seen before.
Artwork is a real mixed bag throughout the volume and is sometimes variable even within the same story. As already noted, the first tale has some really strong artwork that changes as the story moves through different time periods, so that it captures as sense of progression. The ball is dropped towards the end, though, when a sudden shift in graphical style (following a change in artist) ends the book on a horribly garish note.
Artwork in the Batman RIP: The Missing Chapters is also very strong. Dark and striking, with strong use of bold lines, it really gives the impression that these panels are depicting something very significant (which they are). Layout is simple and straightforward and lettering is bold and easy to read. Arguably, despite being so dark, this tale contains the most striking artwork and certainly the style that most closely fits with my own personal image of The Bat.
Sadly, after raising the standards, the ball is dropped again with the final tale. The artwork is not bad exactly, it's just... odd. In some ways it works very well. The simple, clean style accentuates the characters and makes them the most important thing in every frame (as, arguably, they should be). At the same time, however, the faces of the characters look rather strange and can appear almost mannequin like in their expressions. I honestly couldn't decide whether I liked it or not, and I suspect it's a style that's going to divide people.
To be honest, this collection gets its three stars solely on the basis of The Missing Chapters story. The others are really little more than filler to pad out the volume to an appropriate length so they can charge £10 for it. For fans who've already invested a lot (in terms of both time and money) in the RIP story arc, it's worth buying this collection to own the complete tale. For everyone else, there are probably better, more accessible Batman stories out there.
Time and the Batman
Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, Tony Daniel
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012