Drew: After catching up on the entirety of Grant Morrison’s “Batman Epic,” I’d gotten the impression that I knew Morrison as a writer, or at least as a writer of Batman stories. His every tic had become familiar to me, from his penchant for mind-bendingly baroque symbolism, spouted by even the most unlikely characters, to his general assumption that everybody knows what the fuck he is talking about. His work with Batman has largely served to place Bruce in an ever-deepening universe where everything is connected, and discovering how is essential to his survival. As the Epic draws to a close, however, and the connections become more apparent, Morrison changes his strategy, delivering a straightforward, nearly Platonic Batman story, complete with disguises, masked goons, and a double-crossing dame.
He’s still Morrison, of course, so there’s plenty of symbolism, but it seems to take a backseat to the narrative, which isn’t always the case. The issue opens with a prologue about just how deep Leviathan’s roots are in Gotham, but much of the action revolves around Bruce in his Matches Malone guise. Matches meets up with Small Fry, a diminutive crime boss of some kind, in a seedy nightclub, where Matches pumps him for information about Leviathan. Their meeting is interrupted, however, when Bruce sees some lumpy goons manhandling Lumina Lux, the nighclub’s singer. She explains that the goons were there to offer her a job, but their conversation is interrupted when Batman shows up to issue a stern warning to Matches.
It turns out it was Dick in the costume, a ruse to… build confidence in Matches, apparently? Anyway, we also get confirmation that Damian is alive — he’s being forced against his will to stay in hiding — and that Bat-Cow’s meat has been tainted with some kind of mind control drug. Nevermind! Bruce heads back to the nightclub as Matches to ask more questions about Leviathan. This time, he chats with Goatboy — the assassin that “killed” Damian — who is scared out of his wits. Bruce heads to the location Goatboy gave up, but is called away by Lumina — apparently that gig with the goons isn’t going well. Bruce heads in, but is ambushed by a bunch of crazies. Meanwhile, Damian breaks out of the Batcave to rescue Bruce.
It’s an issue packed with event, but it’s also surprisingly breezy. It feels utterly unlike Morrison, but when you consider the scope of the Epic, it starts to feel like the closing of a massively long arch form. What began with Talia virtually dropping Damian on Bruce’s doorstep is looking like it might end with the same focus on those three characters. This may simply be the calm before the storm of a climax that has been years in the making, but after all Bruce has been through in this Epic, I’m not sure there’s much Morrison can do that would top it.
Moreover, we now know all of the connections lead back to Talia, so there isn’t much mystery left. The notion that she had been pulling the strings from the very beginning still boggles my mind, but again, I don’t know if Morrison can really outdo what he’s already done. Instead, he takes the opportunity to gloat a bit about the complex web he’s weaved throughout the Epic.
Dick calls it Talia’s web, but I’m not sure there’s much distinction between the accomplishments of a fictional planner and the writer who actually did the planning. That said, Morrison is actually being pretty modest here; the connections are in fact so numerous as to render the notion of a web meaningless — he could simply write “everything that has happened” and it would have the same effect.
In fact, that Morrison has given us so many connections to draw from may explain the lighter touch with symbolism here. The nightclub is called Three Eyed Jacks, which may or may not be an allusion to Twin Peaks, but the important part is that the image of three eyes comes back just as Bruce is about to be ambushed.
We should recognize the goat from issue one, along with it’s shape; the inverted star, Algol, the demon’s head. We’re now duly aware of the connections between that star in Perseus and the house of Al Ghul, but the fact that Morrison keeps drawing our attention to the star itself gave me pause. The fact that the star is actually a binary star was made explicit in issue 2, as well as the fact that the two stars represent Ra’s and Talia. Further research reveals that the stars are more spceifically classified as “eclipsing binaries.” How that makes Algol twinkle is kind of neat, but I’m more interested in the narrative implications of the eclipsing cycle. Issue 2 saw Talia’s star eclipsing her father’s — can we expect a re-reversal by the Epic’s end?
As usual, the art here is fantastic. I’m always charmed by Chris Burnham’s distinctive style, but I was also impressed at Nathan Fairbairn’s colors — particularly in the opening scenes. Fairbarin cleverly uses red as a shorthand for Leviathan, an detail I barely noticed until Lumina’s act of betrayal, where red saturates the page.
Of course, Burnham steals the show right back in the next sequence, but I’ll leave that gem for you to mention, Patrick. So was this issue as enjoyable for someone less initiated with Morrison’s Batman Epic? I found this issue a breeze to follow, but I’m wondering how much I’m relying on an intimate knowledge of the rest of the story. It struck me as relatively un-Morrison-like (I mean that in a good way), but maybe I’ve just built up a tolerance. Was this any fun for you?
Patrick: Absolutely – yes, I enjoyed this issue tremendously. Batman, Incorporated has had precious little time to make an impression on me, but the way this issue balanced all that wonderfully obtuse Morrison-stuff with a sense of fun and excitement sealed it for me: I think I love this series. I understand that the issue I just read is not meant to be indicative of all the books in the Epic, but simply knowing that its architect is capable of something as graceful as this has me foaming at the mouth for the next issue.
Because you left me a nice little in here, let’s talk about the rescue Damian stages. First of all, it’s vintage Damian: even though Robin is grounded, he knocks out Alfred and takes to the street under the name Redbird. I can’t imagine any of the other Robins gassing Alfred to go out a’crime fightin’, but OF COURSE DAMIAN DOES. The bravura sequence you alluded to is an absolute marvel in in silent, action-based storytelling. Not only does Burnham save the full-on reveal of Damian in his new costume for the final page, he conveys this awesome sense of motion. There’s a lot to love here, but this one struck me as particularly amazing:
Fucking awesome. It’s like a horror movie for the bad guys. They can’t quite see what’s picking them off one-by-one, but they know it’s totally terrifying. I can almost hear Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Alien playing under this action. At Retcon Punch, we all seem like suckers for any time Damian ably takes out some thugs, so naturally I found this satisfying as hell. Oh and then there’s the reveal I mentioned. Behold, Damian Wayne-Al-Ghȗl operating under the name “Redbird”:
I love that he’s armed with those little hand clubs – I’m not going to call them escrima sticks without being instructed to do so – but it does look like he’s borrowing liberally from Dick on this whole concept. Damian’s such a strong individual, it’s not surprising that he would have to break out of the Robin role. Also, all the Robins transfer out of the role at some point… maybe “Robin” is not meant to be a career goal. It seems like a pretty quick progression for Damian, but if anyone’s going to break the all-time shortest tenure as Robin record, it’s going to be this precocious motherfucker.
Which actually brings me to a concern I have: Batman and Robin. When we first picked up this series a few months ago, I was worried that this was going to horn in on the excellent father-son dynamic established in the first 8 issues of Batman and Robin. Now, I feel exactly the opposite. Morrison has a very clear momentum built up for Damian, something that cannot be said of Peter Tomasi’s version of Robin right now. I’m sure if I dig deep, I have space enough in my heart for both of these series, but I can already tell you that this one is making look less favorably on the other.
And the reason Batman, Incorporated trumps its competitor so well is all that dense symbolism you mentioned. I might not be as rampant in this issue, but there are always little things tucked away, begging to be noticed. You mention Three-Eyed Jacks as a possible reference to Twin Peaks. I’ll take that one step further and suggest that Small Fry acts as a stand-in for the backwards-talkin’ little person from Agent Cooper’s dream sequences. I don’t know what it adds up to, but it’s fun to notice. Also fun to notice? “Lumina Lux” – her name is just two difference light references right next to each other – which should have highlighted her connection to Algol, and therefore to Leviathan and her inevitable betrayal.
I don’t really have much to say about it, but let’s bring up the elephant in the room. There was one sequence here that caused this issue to be delayed in light of the shooting in Aurora.
It’s odd, right? The story here is a brainwashed teacher bring a gun into the class to bully her students into following the teachings of Leviathan. No one gets shot, and it’s not in a movie theatre. Were there no other comics last month that included someone pointing a gun at someone else? Is it just extra-sensitive because it’s a Batman title? Would anyone have even thought twice if this thing was released on-time and without comment?
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