Batman Inc. etc.

Reviewed by 22-Nov-10

The changes Grant Morrison is making now were not expected. Batman Incorporated: a whole organisation of Batmen and associated characters. It’s one of the most daring changes I’ve seen, given the huge stature of the character – but is it a good move?

Batman: The Return 1 by Grant Morrison, David Finch, Ryan Winn & Batt

Batman Inc 1 by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe

Batman 704 by Tony Daniel

I take second place to no one in my love of Grant’s writing – he may be my favourite comic writer ever by now. I totally loved his treatment of Batman in the JLA, and I loved his run on Superman; but his Batman has disappointed me. Some great ideas (most notably, what if all that stuff really had happened to one person?), and some fine moments and stories, but not as much fun as his Superman, and it hadn’t felt as if it redefined the character or given us anything unforgettable or game-changing. Until he killed off Bruce Wayne, of course.

I may revisit the series that brought him back – I fancy rereading it all at once – but while that was obviously inevitable, the changes he is making now were not expected. Batman Incorporated: a whole organisation of Batmen and associated characters. It’s one of the most daring changes I’ve seen, given the huge stature of the character – but is it a good move? Why a whole gang of Batmen, apparently in response to an anticipated threat only he perceives, rather than using the JLA, say? Does an army of Batmen, with, by the look of it, extra equipment amounting to something like superpowers, not devalue the brains and skills of the main man? Maybe: I am sceptical about this move, but I am kind of excited too. It genuinely is brave, and if there is someone who can bring off a shift of this scale and convince us it makes sense, it is Morrison, so I am willing to offer plenty of rope.

So what sort of start does it get off to? A really impressive one, partly thanks to penciller Finch and inkers Ryan Winn and the aptly-named Batt, who provide a darkly beautiful intro sequence in the first pages of one-off The Return, a restating of the moment where the creature of the night inspired the bat motif. In mood terms, this is magnificent, powerfully moody and kind of inspiring. Finch is one of the very best new pencillers I’ve seen in mainstream American comics in decades, terrific on faces, layouts and, very significantly here, he makes Batman’s slightly reworked costume look real – I can’t recall the last time I thought a character like Batman looked convincing in a costume, but this looks like a strong athlete in a real outfit, without making it look any less impressive than it always did.

The rest of the issue is setting things up: some suggestions of how Bruce is organising his Bat-squadron, how he is beefing up their tech and so on; a decision as to how he is handling his son Damian; and some glimpses of what will undoubtedly be a big storyline for a while, with some big criminal organisation as the adversaries – I have no idea if the boss is someone new or if it will turn out to be Ra’s Al Ghul or some such.

Batman Inc is a little less striking, if only because the art is only good rather than absolutely top quality. Paquette delivers some strong panels and sequences, but I think his work is far too cluttered at times, and his faces can be undistinguished. The story is pretty good – Bruce-Batman sets off with Catwoman to steal some maguffin from Dr Sivana, then to Tokyo to appoint a Japanese Batman, but his candidate is dead when he gets there, killed by Lord Death Man (Grant has demonstrated his perfect ear for Japanese heroic names before). He also gives us a top cliffhanger ending showing his outstanding feel for traditional thrill power.

Tony Daniel takes over Batman with #704, and this is where the Batman Inc strand starts in this comic, with this title featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, so it seemed worth grabbing this as well.

The first thing I need to note is that someone hasn’t picked up what ‘fap’ has now come to mean, so it is not a good sound effect for what seems to be either a slap or a shove. This also brings me to my big problem with Daniel’s art: I often can’t tell what is going on, even when rereading a sequence. In the opening sequence, as far as I can tell, someone tries to strike someone else from behind with a golf club, but is prevented from doing so by being garotted. By the person he was trying to hit. So this person has super speed, or there is someone else there not suggested or supported by anything else, or this is just incompetent art. Judging by my uncertainty about what the ‘fap’ soundtracks (actually a subsequent page makes it clear she was foiling an assassination attempt, and another look reveals she is catching an arrow; but Dick reacts as if slapped)(oh my god, slapping Dick with a ‘fap’ sound effect…), and a moment where I swear Dick Grayson is lounging back while leaning on thin air, I am opting for ineptness.

The story reminds me a lot of some stuff Alan Moore wrote for me back in the ’80s, when FA was a printed zine: he talked about how ‘so what?’ is a valid reaction to a lot of superhero antics. He was right of course, but it’s rarely as mandatory a reaction as it is here. Some woman we’ve never seen before is the subject of an assassination attempt by some guy we’ve never seen before (but who looks EXACTLY like a minor comedy character used in the Eclipso storyline in the animated Justice League), and someone is looking for something – honestly, it’s no clearer or more meaningful than that. How can you avoid a ‘who cares?’ reaction to that?

It does put Grant’s work in perspective: even with the shake-up he is giving Batman, even with his example, even though Batman has been far from his most brilliant work: even with all that, there is a huge and unmissable gulf in class here. The intelligence, craft, wit and sense of purpose in Grant’s work is incomparably greater than in Daniel’s dismal first issue. I do like Daniel’s drawing of Batman on the cover, though. A final note is that David Finch is going to be writing and drawing Batman: The Dark Knight, and I wonder if he can write anything like as well as he draws, so I will probably try that too.

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9 responses to “Batman Inc. etc.”

  1. Peter Campbell says:

    Morrison’s Batman work is one of the very few comics series he’s written that left me cold. This sounds a bit more interesting, but the potentially endless possible spin-offs from the bat-squadron could become very wearying.

    • Martin Skidmore says:

      I think there are already loads of Bat-related titles, and this is a way of drawing them together – but yeah, I bet there will be plenty of spin-offs too.

  2. Ian Moore says:

    I’ve decided to give these a miss. Grant Morrison’s Batman comics suffered a bit too much from DC-crossover-itis, meaning that it always felt like I was missing key plot elements by not reading some other stupid book. The B&R comic had some great moments and elements – the trip to England, Robin being a scary psychopath, Jedward – but it seemed to lack coherence, particularly towards the end. pfeh.

  3. Alex S says:

    I agree with most of this, but one small note – Morrison didn’t invent Lord Death Man. As with his prior policy (what if all that stuff really had happened to one person?), he found him in some peculiar Japanese Bat-manga which I believe was reprinted for the Western market a few years back.

    Incidentally, is there any way to set up reply notifications on here? I’m getting to the point of not knowing which pieces I’ve got replies on.

  4. Mike Teague says:

    I picked up Batman and Robin #17, simply because Paul Cornell is writing a three part fill in and whilst it was an enjoyable issue, I couldn’t help thinking of Martin S’s topic in the Forum regarding too much continuity and back story putting off new readers. Unlike Marvel, who at least attempt to give a rough summary of what has gone before (some more successful than others), DC just throws you into the action. I do not buy any of the other Batman books (just how many are there now ???). I am aware that Bruce Wayne had died and that he is now feeling a bit better. So who are the Batman and Robin in this issue ? Long gone are the days when most pub quiz teams could answer that question. About halfway through the issue, the clues start appearing. Clearly this is the Dick Grayson Batman, but I wasn’t aware that there was an active Robin – yes, clearly a title called Batman and Robin does give a rather large pointer, but I assumed that this was an alternative reality a’la Legends of the Dark Knight, Elseworlds, etc. Again, another reason for a quick synopsis ! Robin is referred to as Tim at one point, so would this be Tim Drake ?
    As I say, this is a shining example of Martin’s arguement. When I don’t know who the two title characters are without some solid background information, I will buy the remaining issues of Paul’s story, but will not be continuing after that.
    I am seriously thinking of dropping Justice League of Crossovers because I don’t buy many DCs (and one I do is Jonah Hex !).

    • Martin Skidmore says:

      Well I bought every issue of B&R before that, but stopped there, and even so I can’t tell you who that Robin is. I’d be surprised if it is Tim Drake, who has been going by Red Robin of late. Robin had been Damian Wayne, Bruce’s son by Talia As Ghul.

      • Mike Teague says:

        Thanks Martin, I think your comment emphasises the need for some form of background text.
        Remember the little introductory text over the first page of 70’s and 80’s Marvels ? That would at least be a start as it tells you in a line or two who the title character(s) is/are.

    • Alex S says:

      Whilst I mostly like the shared universe aspects of DC and Marvel comics, full crossovers (where a single story is told in multiple ongoing titles) do put me off. All my post-Grant Morrison attempts to read X-Men comics have been derailed by this, and then Thunderbolts and Deadpool did the same thing. DC are probably slightly worse, though, and counterproductively so: I almost started buying Gail Simone’s excellent Secret Six, then saw that it had a crossover coming up with the mediocre current Doom Patrol run and thought, shan’t bother.

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