If Grant Morrison's earlier Batman work confused you, frightened you, discouraged you, or just caused you to stop reading this series, now is the time to jump back on.
If you've been reading the series all along, following Morrison's clues and apparent tangents, enjoying the strangeness from issue to issue, then you know that everything has been building to "Batman R.I.P." This is the arc that will give us all the answers as Batman finally confronts the mysterious Black Glove and, according to all indications, the Batman that emerges at the end of the summer may not be Bruce Wayne.
"Batman" #676 opens with a splash page of Batman and Robin, six months in the future, crouching on a Gotham rooftop, lightning striking behind them, as Batman declares, "You're wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!" My guess is that the Batman on the first page is Dick Grayson and the Robin is Damian, Bruce Wayne's recently-revealed son. The masked characters on that page could be Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake, though, and maybe this "Batman R.I.P." thing will end with the status quo being restored after all. But that's the fun of this arc, we feel as if anything could happen -- and Morrison and Daniel will tell an entertaining story along the way. Almost a year ago, however, in "Batman" #666, we saw a glimpse of Batman's future, and that future-vision showed Damian as Batman, and in his brief Bob Kane-inspired "origin story," we saw that Damian had been Robin before taking the mantle of the bat. When I read "Batman" #666 originally, I thought it was a thematic flash forward, and not necessarily a literal part of continuity, and I didn't pay much attention to the slightly different costume worn by the Batman who died so that Damian could take over. In retrospect, Morrison seems to have planted more than a few clues in that issue, and my guess is that in Morrison's grand scheme, the Batman costume is passed from Bruce to Dick to Damian.
Honestly, though, this is all speculation on my part, and I don't really care what happens, I just care how it happens, how Morrison and Daniel tell the story. And in "Batman" #676, they tell it with flair. Immediately after that one-page leap into the future, we get a story which begins as a horse and carriage pull up to a gothic mansion. It's as if the "six months earlier" tag jumped us 100 years into the past. A horse and carriage? In the 21st century? Yes. And the hunchback character who enters the mansion finds himself in the presence of the Club of Villains, a group alluded to last year in Morrison's "Club of Heroes" storyline. The Batman of All Nations from that story -- the Gaucho, the Legionary, the Knight, etc. -- each had their own nemesis, and in yet another example of Morrison planting clues we didn't notice, the characters mentioned in passing all those months ago now appear in "Batman" #676, in the (Tony Daniel-drawn) flesh: El Sombrero, Charlie Caligula, Springheeled Jack, and more. Are these characters collectively known as "The Black Glove," the mysterious tormentor of Batman? Or are they working for the Black Glove, whose identity is still unrevealed? We don't know, and that mystery propels "Batman R.I.P."
There's also action, as Batman takes the new Batmobile for a spin. Romance, as the hairy-chested Batman passionately embraces Jezebel Jet in a panel taken straight out of Neal Adams's classic Batman/Talia scene. And horror, as Morrison's new incarnation of the Joker -- the "Clown at Midnight" version -- imagines the slaying of Robin, Nightwing, and Commissioner Gordon. This brutally malevolent Joker, seen only in the prose issue of Batman from early 2007 and on a few pages of "DC Universe" #0, is a truly frightening character.
Much of "Batman" #676 is spent laying groundwork, and guiding the reader through what has already been implied in previous issues, but it is a good comic nonetheless, and it sets things up for what will be one of the most memorable "Batman" stories in history: "Batman R.I.P."