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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