Batman Incorporated 0

Alternating Currents: Batman, Inc 0, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman Incorporated 0, originally released September 26th, 2012. Batman Incorporated 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Drew: Up until the relaunch of Batman Incorporated, I had read the entirety of Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic in trades. At the time, I lacked the resources of a comprehensive guide to the entire run, so I didn’t exactly read the whole thing in order. I’d start in the middle and work my way in either direction; I’d hop to another trade and need to close the gap between the two. That non-intuitive reading order only exacerbated Morrison’s famous obliqueness, leading to some incredibly disorienting reading experiences. Since then, I’ve re-read everything in proper order, allowing me to understand the current run with surprising ease. I was happy to be conversant in what Morrison was doing, but a little part of me missed that sense of suspended animation, waiting for things to click into place. I was a little happy, then, to find a few fleeting moments of that confusion in this issue, though I suspect not everyone will be.

The issue picks up at the conclusion of “The Black Glove,” where we’re first introduced to the international band of Batman disciples who would eventually become the first representatives of Batman Incorporated. Morrison (and Chris Burnham, who has story credits on this issue) then cleverly zips us back to that fateful night from “Batman: Year One,” where Bruce sits, bleeding, contemplating his failureMorrison and Burnham focus on the lines “If I ring this bell, Alfred will come. He can stop the bleeding,” and shows us that he did, in fact, ring the bell. Jump to Bruce explaining his decision to start Batman Incorporated:

It’s a bravado sequence, built upon our deep familiarity with Batman history. Of course, the references don’t stop there, as we jump to the board meeting where Bruce is first pitching the idea for Batman Incorporated, with Dick and Damian showing up to arrest Mr. Treadwell for embezzlement, delivering on a plot point established way back in Batman and Robin 10 (Vol. I, that is).  From there, the issue jets around the globe as Bruce and his English counterpart, Cyril, make recruiting runs.

A loose narrative forms around Johnny Riley rising to the challenge of stepping into his mentor’s role, but the issue reads more like a game of spot the reference than an actual story. It was a fun little detour for someone who recognizes — and more importantly, is happy to see — these characters, but I suspect seeing Bruce and Jean-Marie sizing up the Nightrunner (or learning that Jean is planning to cash in on his experience on Mayhew’s Island) isn’t as exciting for someone who has no idea who these people are. That will affect the mileage of this issue significantly, as vignettes don’t allow for more than the briefest character moments, often between characters that will only be familiar to those following Morrison’s run.

Take, for example, this exchange between Johnny and Beryl, who was set up as his sole support-structure.

The writing has “flirting” all over it, but artist Frazer Irving does a brilliant job conveying it physically. There is a kind of sophomoric symbolism going on as his posture steadily straightens during that scene, but it works largely because he parlays that confidence into success when Bruce shows up for his field test. It’s a good story beat for Johnny, but I’m actually more excited at the romantic prospects for Beryl, who I’ve long thought had a bit of an unrequited thing for Tim (though if Morrison’s done anything to foster this suspicion, I can’t produce any evidence of it). My point is, this moment mostly speaks to me because of my fondness for Beryl — seeing her happy is a payoff in and of itself.

That isn’t to say Johnny’s story isn’t compelling, but the pace is so brisk, it ends up being pretty bare plot beats, familiar to anyone who’s ever seen The Mighty Ducks. The “you’ve got my back, I’ve got yours” ending is little more than a cute way to wrap things up, giving Johnny a way of proving his mettle. As far as cuteness goes, I was actually more fond of a bizarre runner in this issue, where people keep asking Bruce about a shrink ray. It’s hard to tell if that’s simply referencing some silver age oddity, or if Morrison is foreshadowing a key device in forthcoming issues, but for now, I’m happy to have it just be a total non sequitur.

Patrick, I’m really excited to hear your reaction to this issue — unlike other zeros, this one is referencing YEARS of events you may-or-may-not recognize, giving it a unique potential to be utterly indecipherable. Did this manage to make any emotional connections with you? Failing that, did it at least make sense? I have the benefit of recognizing all of the people and places, but how does it read if you don’t?

Patrick: Here’s the thing with my understanding of Batman Incorporated: I don’t totally understand it. But dude, each of these issues have been wonderful examples of effective self-contained storytelling. I may not know who all these heroes are — or what their relationships are — but it’s a pretty simple concept: heroes from around the world get a chance to be on Team Batman.

Here’s a fun trick — tell someone who’s not into comic books the name of this series. Go ahead. Take a break from reading this review, find a 40-year old secretary, and tell her that you’re reading Batman Incorporated. She laughed, didn’t she? It’s a goofy conceit, and one that’s only possible because a ridiculous man who likes ridiculous stories held Batman’s reigns for so long. And I love the level of near-insanity achieved by something like this.

My favorite is when Batman checks in with Man of Bats Mr. Unknown, the Japanese Batman. Well, I should be precise — Jiro’s got some kind of probationary-Batman status. You and I joked on twitter this week about Bruce filing for Incorporated tax status, but this mundane administrative stuff that’s actually happening in the issue is just as funny. And the villains that Jiro spends his time fighting sound like DC Villains set up their own franchises. “Veiniac” is a hilarious play on Brainiac (what would the point of being MADE OF VEINS be?) and “Doubleface” seems like an awfully silly Two-Face to me. And then there’s these two panels that literally made me laugh out loud.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but those all sound like dead-end leads to me — details invented wholesale for this issue. It’s as though there’s an imaginary comic book series we’ll never be able to read that chronicles all of Man of Bats Mr. Unknown* adventures fighting these weirdos (and wooing Lolita Canary from the Super Young Team).

It helps that the art in this issue is so jaw-droppingly beautiful. Panels are often composed of a few simple but striking colors, which gives convoluted action sequences a graphic clarity the likes of which we don’t see in more detail-heavy books. Here’s a great example. Knight stops by to recruit Johnny Riley, but Riley doesn’t appreciate the surprise. How to take out your opponent in a way that shows you’re not fucking around? Kick him through a wall of course.

Do I know why this character would be resisting recruitment by Batman? No, I don’t. That’s the cost of admission though — and I’ve come to accept that.

This series is definitely tough to follow. Morrison is notoriously self-referential, scene changes are frequent and abrupt (and usually without a banner indicated where we are) and these last four issues have dealt in disarming chronology. In fact, we’ve only had 2 issues of forward story progression in the last 5 months. Between the zero, that Talia issue and the month we took off (due to the shooting in Aurora), there just hasn’t been a lot of time to develop a proper flow. I recognize this, and I’ve decided to take it in stride. Once I let go of the assumption that I would understand everything, I’ve been able to enjoy this thing. Keep ’em coming Morrison.

* Thanks to Andy English for correcting me in the comments below.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

22 comments on “Batman Incorporated 0

    • I don’t know about “know,” but I certainly recognize them. Some are characterized enough to make their appearances noteworthy, but for some, it’s more a game of “oh hey, it’s that guy!” I do like the little character beats we get, though. When Jean-Marie is introduced in “The Black Glove,” he’s talking about how he managed to parlay a prison sentence into a best-selling book, so hearing about how he wants to turn that experience into a movie deal has this great “of course he does” quality. Morrison is the absolute king of writing off the page, giving characters insanely detailed back-stories and personalities he barely ever hints at. It gives even his most fourth-tier characters a consistency between appearances, which makes for a surprisingly dense, immersive world.

      • And I think that’s the huge difference between the way he deploys new (and fairly inconsequential) characters and the way someone like Judd Winick does it. Winick probably invents the same number of dudes-in-capes, but fuck-all if I can tell you anything about them personally.

        And for the record, I know it’s a dumb thing to say “Grant Morrison is a better writer than Judd Winick because…” Duh. Of course he is.

  1. I love Morrison, particularly his Superman, and I have found the parts of his Batman epic that I’ve peeked at to be highly entertaining – but I find it extremely difficult to reconcile his Batman with the regular Batman even before the relaunch. This is only made murkier now by the fact that the Who’s Who In The New 52 now lists Batman Inc #1 (2011) as the first true appearance of these characters… leaving the entire first few years of his Batman run up in the air as far as what has happened and what hasn’t. I believe these are the issues that are leading Morrison away from DC after Batman Inc 12 and Action 16. Someone on another board said it best, they said “I don’t think that he would against a reboot, it’s just that this isn’t *his* reboot.”

    • I think we need to be careful about putting too much stock in the “Who’s Who in the New 52” features. The name of feature very specifically notes that it’s only giving us information “in the New 52.” I don’t think that invalidates these characters’ appearances prior to the relaunch.

      Anyone know if this series is slated to continue without Morrison? AND what would be the point of that?

      • I have absolutely no answer to these questions, but I raise you another question: What is the likelihood is planning to kill Damien as the ultimate stage in his run? I believe it has been laid out as a family tragedy in certain ways, and it would also be a way for Morrison to take a popular character he created off of the table until his eventual return to super-hero comics. It also seems possible Scott Snyder has been seeding Harper Row as the first female Robin since Spoiler is no long in continuity

        • Whoa. I don’t think there’s any way DC would allow Morrison to kill Damian, who has become a surprisingly popular character. It would have huge resonances across a number of titles (especially Batman and Robin), forcing essentially all of the bat-family titles to adjust any forthcoming story-lines. That said, I hadn’t really considered exactly how Morrison might attempt to end this massive story he’s been telling. It’s got to be something big. Considering that it started with the arrival of Damian, his departure is a pretty logical choice.

        • I think it seems the logical ending, too. But then, as you bring up, the question becomes whether they’ll let him do it. Normally they may make some attempt to appease the comic legend, but with him already leaving the company any way, and Damian being a financial asset of DC’s, it then becomes hard to say. Could a plan to do this that was vetoed by them even perhaps be one of his current qualms with the company? He’s not one to publicly decry the big two (he’s said things like he’s sorry that people like Alan Moore and Greg Rucko don’t understand the nature of their contracts before) so there may be more going on than we know about

        • I’d heard rumors that Damian was originally supposed to be killed of very early in the story, but fans liked him too much. I don’t know if the push to keep him around was a decision Morrison made, or one DC forced on him. Either way, my guess is that Damian isn’t a key player in the endgame of the epic. Whatever Morrison is planning, it must work just as well if Damian were already dead.

      • I really hope it doesn’t continue after Morrison departs. It’s a neat concept, but it’s his concept, and I think it’s all building somewhere. That said, I would totally read a Knight and Squire story, if such a thing ever came to be. He’s hinted at A LOT of back-story, and we’ve gotten just enough of their personalities to endear them to me.

  2. Yeah, I don’t think I like this title. The problem is, I don’t like the concept of Batman, Incorporated. The idea of Bruce Wayne openly funding Batman, Inc. to support a world-wide network of Batman wannabes and NO ONE FIGURES IT OUT is silly to the point of incomprehensible. The rest of these Batmans seems to fall in line with the hokey, clownish Batman of the Silver Age; while I can appreciate the nostalgia factor and see how it could appeal to a lot of readers, I am not one of those readers.

    • It’s pretty clever, actually: when Bruce returned and announced Batman Incorporated, Dick had taken up the mantle of Batman, so Batman was around when Bruce was missing, after he returned, and while he was flying around the world helping to set up Batman Incorporated. Gordon openly acknowledges that Dick-Batman isn’t the Batman he’s used to, but for most of the world, seeing Bruce standing next to Batman is enough to allay any suspicions. Sure, his story for funding Batman is secretly his reason for being Batman, but nobody needs to know that.

      • Well, I actually do enjoy this book quite a bit, but I also agree the entire concept requires one to suspend an immense ammount of their disbelief – even if he could convince the world that funding Batman doesn’t mean that he *is* Batman, what good does that do? It’s just as illegal to fund an illegal operation as it is to participate physically – and villians are just as likely to threaten and attack the financer of the hero and their loved ones as they are to attack the hero themself. By being the financer of Batman Bruce is negating any advantage of actually *wearing a mask and being Batman* in the first place!

  3. In hindsight, Morrison has been elevating the importance of that bell since very early in the Epic. I honestly have no idea if it was building to a speech like this, but he’d taken incremental steps to put the bell on par with Martha’s pearls as a key moment in Bruce’s development into Batman. The idea that Bruce was never alone is so simple, yet so revelatory. It effectively debunks the whole solitary crusader portion of Batman’s mythos. It’s obviously not the only reading, but it’s a very compelling and original one. I strongly recommend embarking on the whole Epic, beginning to end (or now, whichever you get to first).

    • Damnit, I should have been following this run the whole time. I am a huge fan of the realistic, street-level Batman popularized by Batman: Year One and leading into some of my favorite stories like Moench’s Prey arc and O’Neil’s Venom, so when it first started happening Morrison and Batman just didn’t seem like my ideal fit. Now I’m really regretting it

      • Oh, there’s definitely some very Morrison-y bits in the Epic (particularly where it intersects with Final Crisis), but its such a rich narrative he’s crafted, I’m willing to accept the portions that try my patience. Much of what he’s done is attempt to reconcile that realistic portrayal of Batman with the high-flying Silver Age Batman. Mileage varies on the success of those ideas, but I’m pleased with the density of the self-references Morrison is able to achieve over the course of the story — it’s a very fully-realized world.

        The good news (if you’re interested) is that the entirety of the Epic is available in trade, which is how I’d collected everything up until Batman Incorporated 1 (Vol. II). It’s ultimately a hefty investment, but the first trade, “Batman & Son,” is a pretty easy entry-point, and a great way to see if you’ll be interested in the story. The tone actually changes pretty wildly over the course of the Epic (often thanks to the very distinctive styles of the artists Morrison has worked with), but if you enjoyed this issue AND Year One, most of the Epic falls between those two extremes. Except for Final Crisis. That shit is still crazy.

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