Batman Inc. etc.
Reviewed by Martin Skidmore 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 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.
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.Tags: Batman, David Finch, DC, Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, Yanick Paquette