Batman Incorporated 1

Today, Peter and Drew are discussing Batman Inc 1, originally released May 23rd, 2012.

Peter: Batman Inc. has been a very intriguing concept since the first issue came out last year. The idea that there could be others who work in the same style of Batman and share ideals and resources sounds like a good idea, right? I am inclined to say yes, but, I don’t think this first issue really gets the point across.
This issue open one month in the future. Bruce is standing at him parents graves in the rain. He declares to Alfred that Batman, and all the madness is over. Bruce turns around to find Gordon and members of Gotham’s finest putting him under arrest. Returning to the present, Bruce and Damian are chasing a masked man wearing a goat mask. He runs into a cow slaughter house. Turns out, all the guys hacking up the cows are crazy too. They don masks and attack Batman and Robin. Bruce and Damian beat back the goatmasks, and Robin tackles the original culprit. Just then a bullet rips into the bad guy’s back, killing him. Bruce tackles Damian out the way of a second shot. Turns out, the assassin is just a guy working on a hit against Damian put out by Leviathan. The guy he shot was his friend who he was using to set Robin up. Also, the assassin’s name is Goatboy. The slaughterhouse owner shows up, and Batman tells him that these cattle are contaminated, and that all the cattle with the upsidedown star brand can’t we used. Robin also declares himself a vegetarian and introduces Bat-Cow.

Across town, several shady looking characters are eating a meal, while being coaxed by Leviathan is trying to get the West Side club scene from the Brothers Grimm. Leviathan, in the form of two Man-Bats and one guy who looks a lot like the Cryptkeeper, inform Grimm that everyone else at the table ate contaminated beef, but he ate his brother. Leviathan is going to get what they want.

Bruce and Damian are speeding along in the Batmobile heading after a truck carrying some of the contaminated beef. Damian and Bruce argue about Damian’s recent string of killing people. (which is up to three) Damian argues that the last one, Otto Netz was totally worth it. Damian jumps out of the Batmobile and blows up the cockpit. They discuss that the upsidedown star, otherwise known as the Demon Star, which is another name for Algol a star in the constellation Pegasus, which in arabic, is “al Ghul”. Just then, Grimm falls from the sky, since he was dropped by the pair of Man-Bats. It is pretty clear that Talia, Damian’s mother, and head of Leviathan is trying to kill Damian.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a man known as The Hood, Britain’s Batman walks into a sex store, and uses a secret elevator in the changing room to get into the Batcave West, and the Dead Heroes Club. The DHC are members of Batman Inc. that have faked their deaths and are now hiding out in SF, under the direction of The Wingman.

Batman and Robin come upon a group of bad guys moving more of the contaminated beef onto a truck. Meanwhile, Goatboy has been tailing them, looking for his next chance to get his shot at Damian. Damian attacks the bad guys. Goatboy takes aim. Batman jumps Goatboy. Flashforward to Goatboy and another assassin with the creepy Leviathan types. He relays using video on his mobile to prove that he shot Batman in the cowl, blinding him momentarily, and then Goatboy killed Damian.

Okay, this issue is really messed up. First of all, I’m not entirely sure where this story falls in the grand scope of things. I was under the impression at first that this issue falls in the old DC universe, since that’s where Batman Inc. started, but Batman mentions NoBody, so those events are also allowed? Does that mean that the other Bat titles will have to explain Bruce being arrested in one month? I sure hope not, because that could just derail everything.

Grant’s writing is a little scattered. I have seen him weave great stories together across several issues, but this one doesn’t. The back and forth between Batman and the Leviathan story is not smooth at all. Also, the time jumps don’t flow well. How did Bruce and Damian get from the slaughterhouse to the freeway trailing a truck of beef? And how did they get on the topic of Damian killing three people from vegetarianism and Bat-Cows? This really needs some work in my opinion.

Also, this story doesn’t set up the Leviathan backstory for any new readers. Calling this issue a #1 is a complete sham. Morrison doesn’t nothing to get new readers up to speed. You HAVE to have read the previous Batman Inc books, including the short TPB Leviathan Strikes.

I did however, really like the Goatboy character. It is a little weird how a guy with a rocket rifle who is a killer for hire ends up poor, a single father, and a taxi driver. That just sounds pretty awful. But his character is portrayed as very human. He doesn’t have a good reason for wearing a mask, he just likes Bill Hicks, and finds it ironic that Gotham means Home of Goats. But his humanity is almost admirable. He is doing this for his son. Awwww.

The art by Chris Burnham has both it’s high points and low points. I think that images like this one of Goatboy really convey a huge amount of emotion. However, some of them are just kind of weird. This shot of Batman and Damian, while funny, seems very out of character.

I think that is the weirdest part about Burnham’s art here. It is clear that some of it is meant to be funny, some is supposed to be serious, but it all seems just a little disjointed and out of place. Nail it down, and we’ll talk.

Batman Inc shows promise, but it just doesn’t do Batman justice at this point. Morrison and Burnham need to bridge the connections between the funny, the serious, and the story elements. Perhaps an issue dedicated to catching up the reader with a backstory? Drew, what did you think of this Batman story?

Drew: Well, I definitely think I enjoyed this issue more than you did, Peter, but I think part of that has to do with expectations. After the back-half of the Leviathan Strikes TPB you mentioned (which has Bruce running in circles, repeating the same confrontation over and over), I was just glad I was able to follow the plot here. That sounds like an embarrassingly low bar, but I actually found quite a bit to like in this issue.

You’re absolutely right: this issue doesn’t do much to ingratiate itself to new readers, but I think there are enough fans clamoring for the conclusion of Morrison’s “Batman Epic,” that playing to them specifically can be excused. Fans understand that this isn’t Batman Incorporated #1, but a continuation of Morrison’s work. The renumbering is really just a formality of the relaunch. I’ve been under the impression that the relaunch didn’t really change that much in Bruce’s world; he’s still had the same succession of Robins, Dick still replaced him when he “died,” and he still franchised out the Batman name when he returned. What he and Damian have been doing over in Batman and Robin is just what’s happened since then, so I didn’t think it was weird at all when Damian mentioned NoBody.

I also really dug the art. Sure, there are a lot of weird comedic moments in this issue, but I think the credit there belongs to Morrison, who has never shied from the campier aspects of Batman’s history. Burnham adds just the right silver age flair to the moment you highlighted to make it sing. More importantly, I thought he came up with some really brilliant layouts. His handling of sound-effects is a thing of beauty, but I was most floored by the projection effect he uses as Bruce and Damian descend on the “mutants” (in a clear allusion to The Dark Knight Returns).

I’m not sure it means much, but it’s a cinematic touch that allows Burnham to do both a splash page and multiple panels, which is a neat trick. That he’s such a good match for Morrison’s tone is probably the most important, but I really enjoyed the playful quality he has with the layouts.

That’s not to say this issue is perfect, but most of my issues were with the writing. The leaps in time you mention are classic Morrison, but none of them really bothered me here — I don’t need the blow-by-blow to understand that Bruce and Damian raced to the Batmobile to chase the truck, or specifically how the conversation turned back to Damian using that thug as a human shield. What did bother me was Morrison’s ever-distracting tendency to slather on symbolism for the sake of having a lot of symbolism.

Take, for example, the “demon star,” which just leads us back to the fact that Talia is Leviathan, which anyone who picked up Leviathan Strikes already knew. Ultimately, it’s just a way for Morrison to flex his symbolism muscle, but it doesn’t even make sense that Batman would be taking time to work this out, or that Talia would be taking time to leave hints like this: Bruce knows she’s behind Leviathan. Wasn’t it just a pseudonym to throw Bruce off the trail? Why does she keep using it now that he knows its her?

Other allusions bother me less — and I’m downright tickled that the meat is all destined for “Dark Tower,” apparently the Gotham equivalent of White Castle — but I still don’t understand why they’re there. Like, Goatboy is clearly supposed to make us think of the Devil, but I have no idea what we’re supposed to do with that connection. Or the fact that Talia fed the one Grimm his brother is a clear allusion to Titus Andronicus (the second in a Batman title since the relaunch), but again, I don’t know what that allusion means. That’s an issue I’ve always had with Morrison’s contrived symbolism, but one I can usually excuse when it’s something intended by one of the characters. Here, he’s just seem to be demonstrating that he’s read a lot of books, which is more than a little distracting.

Ultimately, I thought this issue was fun enough to excuse any problems I had with it. I’m certain Bruce has faked Damian’s death to get the upper-hand on Talia, but seeing just how that plays out is going to be one hell of a ride. Plus, come on, how can you not love Bat-Cow?

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27 comments on “Batman Incorporated 1

  1. I don’t know how I feel about this title. I didn’t read Morrison’s Batman Inc, or any of the Leviathan stuff, so I was more than a little lost. I was also confused about who exactly put the hit out on Damian: if it was Leviathan, then why did Goatboy feel the need to go to Leviathan and ask for protection? Was it actually Talia? Wait, so if Talia IS Leviathan, then…what?

    I also really like the art (especially the Bat-Cow panel, adorable!), but I don’t think it matches the tone Morrison has set. This could also be because I don’t have a clear idea of that tone yet.

    If this is actually not really a relaunched title, just a continuation of what came before, I’m going to call bullshit. Guess what, Grant Morrison: this is a relaunch. You can’t just do what you want and slap a #1 on it and call it a day.

    • I dunno, this doesn’t seem any worse in terms of required reading than, say, Green Lantern 1. Sure, Johns managed to put enough exposition in there to kind of catch us up, but I still feel like I miss things having not read the previous few years of Green Lantern continuity. Ultimately, I think Morrison was in the middle of this huge story, and jumping out of it to catch everybody up would have been disruptive to an arc that seems to be destined for a massive-ass trade collection.

      It’s tough, because there is A LOT of required reading, but I actually think just reading Leviathan Strikes will get you filled in on what is about to happen. SPOILERS FOR THAT (which I already kind of spoiled in the AC): Talia is Leviathan — in fact, she’s the grim-reaper-looking skeleton-face that’s having dinner with Grimm. Talia put the hit out on her own son ’cause she’s cold-hearted, and because she wants to ruin Batman’s life. Goatboy came to her after killing Damian for protection from Batman (and he’s going to need it).

        • I’m torn on this issue (and by “this issue,” I mean the issue of whether it’s fair game to essentially ignore the relaunch). Drew, I think you make a totally valid comparison to Green Lantern #1, which I understood pretty well because I read the like 8 years of comics before it. Both GL#1 and BI#1 are focused pretty tightly on the relationship between the two leads – without that anchor, new readers would be lost on either title.

          So I’ll admit to being mostly lost while reading this one. I can’t fault Morrison (or his fans) for wanting to see this tale played out. He even does a good job of incorporating elements of the relaunch into this title, but it’s still hard for me to get a grip on the Batman Incorporated story. Some day when I have the time and money to read the Great Batman Epic, I’ll relish each one of these issues. For the time being, I’ll struggle my way through them and enjoy the humor.

        • I really would recommend picking up Leviathan Strikes. It’s less a trade collection and more of a double-issue. It fills you in on a lot of what you need to know going into this arc, and also acts as a crash-course in Morrisonisms.

          ACTUALLY, if you consider that “Issue #1” (as it was sort of released), then Morrison actually has been better about ingratiating himself to a new audience than we’re giving him credit for.

          Still, that thing is so unabashedly Morrison-y, if you can get through that, I think you’ll be able to get through anything he might throw at us on this title.

  2. I didn’t even mention the Damian-Bruce relationship, which Morrison has a great handle on. I love that Damian finds this whole superhero thing to be childish, all because he could handle it since he was a toddler. What a precocious little fucker.

    Full disclosure: I also declared vegetarianism when I was about Damian’s age (actually, a bit younger), so I have a soft-spot for precocious little fuckers.

  3. I don’t know, maybe I’ll get kicked out of comic book fandom for this, but I have never really been bowled over by Grant Morrison. Arkham Asylum is super good, but as Patrick pointed out to me, you don’t read that book for the writing.

    • He has some ticks I’m not a huge fan of, but his vision of Batman as impossibly prepared, driven further and further by increasingly competent villains is fascinating. I don’t think it’s my favorite take on the character, but it’s a damn compelling one. I really do think this issue has a lot more to enjoy if you recognize all of these characters and their motivations. Just as an example: I was really happy to see Wingman taking a firm leadership role, but the significance of that (or even who he is) isn’t going to mean much to someone who hasn’t immersed themselves in Morrison’s Batman universe. Ultimately, you don’t need that info to follow the plot, but it makes the stories much more emotionally fulfilling.

    • I think I have to agree with you. Sure he can tell a great story, but I think if DC was gonna go ahead with the relaunch they should have made a better decision with this title. The Dead Heroes Club scene bothered me the most because of throw away line about Element Man and the Justice League. Gaucho and Hood I can accept as Morrison’s addition to canon, but we don’t even know if EM is around anymore.

      I can’t say I’m surprised but it seems incredibly rude to be so flagrant with the ‘new’ DC universe and other writers’ storylines. Also I thought the dynamic between Batman and Robin was a huge step backward from the arc we just finished with Nobody, but I guess everyone loves to write Damien that way.

      • Dead Heroes Club also had a weird bit about Batwing faking his death. Which… that seems like a gigantic contradiction to what he’s really up to. FUCK ME. I hate having to have conversations about what’s “really” happening. But if these series are going to refer back to eachother as much as they are, there has to be some kind of internal logic that doesn’t actively contradict itself.

        • I’m happy to think that this story is happening at a different time than what’s going on in, say, Batwing. I don’t think it really detracts from my enjoyment if it doesn’t “fit” in continuity. The Dark Knight Returns for example doesn’t “fit,” but we can all still enjoy it. Or, in more practical terms, what Batman is doing in the Justice League doesn’t exactly fit with what he’s doing in Batman (or The Dark Knight, or Detective Comics, for that matter). They’re kind of related (allowing titles to crossover into Owls, for example), but not related enough that a timeline really makes sense for them. To me, this is the end of a story that started a long time ago, so it doesn’t really need to fit with what’s going on now.

        • And I think you’ve unlocked it for me in that last sentence. This isn’t something new, but a continuation (perhaps even a conclusion to) a much longer story. I’m just not a part of that story, but I AM part of the New 52. So it’s not so much a dig at the title, but it does adversely effect my experience reading it.

          I want us all to get these kinds of continuity / author-authority conversations out of the way here on this write-up because I know that if we keep talking about it, I’m never going to enjoy Batman Incorporated. And I think I COULD really like this story (Damian is a goldmine and Morrison gets him).

  4. Also I would really hate to see this turn into some kind of struggle of personalities/continuity between Morrison and Synder’s Batman. Sure Synder is the new kid on the block so to speak since Morrison ran Gotham for years, but I already like his stuff better and definitely think he (Snyder) should remain ‘in charge’.

    • I feel the same way.

      To Patrick’s point, I’ll let continuity slide between titles that share characters, but there’s got to be some consideration there.

    • I don’t see them as competing so much as just different. Morrison’s version is different from Snyder’s, which is different than Loeb’s or Miller’s (or for that matter, Nolan’s or Timm’s). They can all coexist happily in my head as versions of a character I like enough to support multiple interpretations. It would definitely suck if Morrison’s version snuffed out Snyder’s, but I think it would also suck if Snyder’s snuffed out Morrison’s. Batman is big enough for the two of them (and lucrative enough for DC to let them keep doing their thing).

      • Fair enough. I suppose everything doesn’t always have to line up (although its nice if it does) and we can just enjoy this story for what it is. That said though, I’ll probably wait for the trade for the rest of this one so that I’m not arguing with myself each month about which Batman is better.

        • That might be the best way to go. I’m really hoping they collect the whole “Batman Epic” in some kind of massive TPB, just so people will have one place to go to find the whole damn thing. Unfortunately for me, I think I’ve collected enough of the arcs that it makes more sense to go the piecemeal route.

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