I remember a fair share of complaints about the lack of bridging material between the end of "Batman R.I.P." and Batman's "death" in "Final Crisis" a year ago. One story tumbled directly into the next, and it was a little hard to even reconcile the two (although possible if you looked closely) as Batman went from one particularly insane mission to the next. With Batman now fighting his way through time towards the present day in "Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne," Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel are stepping back to that sliver in time between the two, expanding it to 30 days and starting the countdown for the last days of Bruce Wayne.
As a plot blurb, "Batman" #701 sounds a bit pointless, certainly. But in execution, it works far better than you'd think. Maybe that's because in some ways it's setting the stage for the current storyline in "Batman and Robin," with the echoes of Dr. Hurt still rattling around inside of Bruce's head. But it also makes a difference knowing that when this story is over, Bruce will have been blasted into the past by Darkseid's Omega Effect, seemingly dead. There's a sense of doom and dread hanging over the narration here, Bruce still trying to digest the warning that the next time he puts on the Batman outfit will also be his last.
The real gem here is, easily, Morrison's narration from Bruce Wayne himself. "Surviving is easy," the book opens. "Surviving is what I do." It's a perfect summation of the character of Batman in general, as well as how Bruce Wayne clawed himself up from tragedy to re-invent himself, and to continue on all those years. His inability to let go Hurt's words gives extra heft to the villain, and perhaps makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy on Bruce's part. "The trap I was so sure I'd escaped was locking into place all around me," he notes, even as he heads directly into the opening moments of "Final Crisis" and his doom.
Daniel inks his pencils here, and I have to admit that I miss Sandu Florea's work with Daniel. Some of the pages and figures are a little rougher and wilder than I'm used to from a Daniel and Florea collaboration. That said, sometimes it works out well; the page with Bruce collapsed in bed reminds me of artists like Tim Sale, in how Daniel plays with the folds of the sheet and the shadows it creates. Likewise, Batman's cape in the final page of the issue is much more textured than what I'm used to from Daniel, and in a good way. Of all of the Morrison/Daniel comics released, this is easily the best pairing they've generated.
Six months ago, the idea of a two-part "R.I.P. The Missing Chapter" would've been nonsensical. Now? I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Bring on the second half.