Today, 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 failure. Morrison 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?