The final chapter of the controversial Batman RIP storyline hits comic stores this Wednesday - And if rumors are to believed, the biggest controversy may have been saved for last. But before we find out once and for all who's trying to make Bruce Wayne rest in peace, let's make like the world's greatest detective and look at what we've learned so far, and try and work out why everything may not be as it seems. Spoilers - or, at least, rumors and speculation that have as much chance of being right as being entirely wrong - await.For those who haven't been following the storyline, this is what you've missed: Bruce Wayne's girlfriend, the wonderfully-named Angelina Jolie stand-in Jezebel Jet, works out that he is, in fact Batman. At the same time as telling him that such behavior isn't healthy, she also reveals that she has been contacted by a group calling itself "The Black Glove" - a group that has also been making various moves against Batman over the past few months. We learn that the Black Glove is headed by a man called Simon Hurt, and that their goal is the complete and utter destruction of Batman... which they apparently succeed in, by kidnapping Bruce Wayne and, in a plot development that skirts the "awesome/insane" border multiple times, drive him insane by getting him addicted to "weapons-grade heroin."
Only problem is that Batman was already insane, and had planned for something like this to happen. Batman's sanity is not in doubt in this storyline; we are told, multiple times, that Batman is clearly insane and unhealthy, and that's brought home when the broken Batman is replaced by an all-new personality that Batman himself had created as a hypnotic failsafe in case of emergency: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. This personality, which is the personification of the unstoppable Batman of myth, returns to confront not only the Black Glove, but also the Joker (released from Arkham Asylum by the Glove). As the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh realizes that he can't win, and becomes plain old Bruce Wayne again - before blacking out - we're left with a revelation and a possible clue as to who's behind it all: Jezebel Jet, it's revealed, is apparently part of the Black Glove. Except... that's a little too easy, according to a rumor that's going around the internets. That rumor says that, although Jet is part of the bad guys, she's not the bad guy - because that's Robin, the Boy Wonder. No, really. As ridiculous as it sounds, there are a couple of clues that point to this being more than just wild speculation. The first is from the end of the previous chapter, where the reader's attention is drawn (by both the Joker and Batman himself) to the colors red and black; this may be pointed towards Jezebel Jet (a black woman with dyed red hair), but it could also be directed towards Robin, whose costume is red and black, and whom, we were told earlier in the chapter, has not been captured like all of Batman's other sidekicks ("Well, little red Robin's proving to be a more... slippery customer than we expected"). We know from upcoming solicitations for Robin's own comic that 2009 will see "an all-new Robin," and the cover of last month's issue of the Robin comic did say that the end was near... But what kind of end is that, exactly...? (To add entirely specious fuel to the fire; it's never been revealed what made writer Chuck Dixon leave DC Comics so suddenly this past June, just prior to the launch of Batman RIP, but as the writer most credited with the development of this current Robin, the possibility of his leaving in protest over discovering that the character was going to be revealed as the character trying to take down Batman once and for all is an interesting one.) While Robin's sudden turn to the dark side would be a surprising one in more ways that one, it's definitely a revelation that fits writer Grant Morrison's promise that the villain's identity will be "possibly the most shocking Batman revelation in 70 years." But where does this leave Batman himself? Not dead dead, apparently; Morrison has also said that the storyline will end "Bruce Wayne as Batman" but that "it's so much better than death. People have killed characters in the past but to me, that kind of ends the story! I like to keep the story twisting and turning. So what I am doing is a fate worse than death."
Uberfan Omar Karindu has a compelling argument as to what that fate may be:
Batman Will Die At the End of "Batman R.I.P." This doesn't have to mean that Bruce Wayne dies in the flesh, or even that he no longer wears the costume and fights the fight. It means that Batman as a persona, as the 'real" person where Bruce et al. are merely masks and tools, has to die. The Black Glove has won by exploiting the split that let Batman take on all the unreason and hurt of Bruce Wayne, child victim of crime and traumatized orphan, making the split expand and multiply. So how does Batman win? By fixing the split, by unifying the personality again, the whole personality. By letting Bruce Wayne live, and hurt, and be a little irrational when it's human to be so, and ultimately, by killing the need for Batman. Batman will die; Bruce Wayne will live. Bruce Wayne will no longer be "a daytime mask for the Batman," but rather "Batman" will either cease to be or will become simply a mask Bruce Wayne finds useful in extreme circumstances. Let's face it, you don't have to wear the symbol of your father-as-heroic-ideal and your childhood fears wrapped up into one Bat-emblem to fight crime, help crime victims, answer to and avenge your parents' memory. In fact, what Batman has done is to mix the impossibly perfect memory of Thomas Wayne with the impossibly infinite well of fear and suffering of that scary cave of bats and that terrible night in Crime Alley, tp the point that the heroic ideal Thomas Wayne can also be the murderous psychopath Simon Hurt. Thinking in absolutes about regular people gives you God and the Devil all in one... What if Bruce Wayne puts himself back together to the point that he doesn't need Batman anymore? Would that be the death of Batman?
(The entirity of Karindu's post is well worth reading - It dives into Batman's insanity as hyperrationality and the ways in which all of Batman's companions from Wayne himself to Alfred on down are enablers, and therefore accomplices of the Black Glove.) Is healing Bruce Wayne's insanity a fate worse than death? Potentially, for Batman (and for fans who like their Batman to be driven, haunted and a little on the nuts side himself); it would definitely fit in with what we've seen in RIP up until this point, which has often commented on the broken psyche of Bruce Wayne... as well as fulfilling (famous fan of the more sane, groovy 1960s Batman than the Dark Knight version of the character) Morrison's aim of providing something more shocking than death - What if Bruce Wayne just... gets better? We'll find out whether either of these speculations are correct on Wednesday, when Batman #681 - part six of Batman RIP hits stores.