Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing the Batman, Incorporated 4, originally released October 24th, 2012.
Shelby: When I set out to write a review, I like to be as fully caught-up on the story as I can be. I don’t feel that I can accurately judge an issue without taking into consideration the story which has has taken place so far. That’s why the relaunch has been so easy; even if I pickup up a new title, I’ve only got 13 back issues to get through. There is certainly merit to the uninformed opinion, we proved that with zero month, it’s just not the approach I prefer to take. Batman, Inc puts me in an unique and frustrating position; I am fully caught-up, in that I’ve read all 5 issues, and yet I still have no idea what’s going on.
Nobody is who they appear to be in this issue. Bruce, as Matches Malone, is in the process of getting himself killed by some sort of wacky kangaroo court. Damian, as Redbird, sneaks in the back, apparently planning to take on the entire League of Assassins on his own. He teams up with the vaguely familiar Wingman as Batman, Inc storms the gates. Spanish Batman and French Batman work together while English Batman and Squire take out the lights and Batwing deals with the horde of Man-Bats on the roof. Everyone assembles when it’s all said and done, and Bruce gets Talia to agree to a little pow-wow. Wingman is actually Jason Todd, which makes Damian super angry. Then Batman drops the bomb; Damian has to go back to Talia, otherwise the chaos that would descend on the world would be all his fault.
There’s a lot going on in this issue, and it’s not all very clear. The League of Assassins vs. Batman, Inc fight is a perfect example. The fight itself is cool, Chris Burnham continues to shine with his unique and charming style. The action is easy enough to follow, art-wise. The bigger problem I have is it’s just a group of people in occasionally hilarious costumes punching each other. I have no trouble discerning what’s happening, it just doesn’t mean anything to me.
The most upsetting part of the story is obviously Batman giving up on Damian. This can go one of two ways, either Batman means what he says, or it’s a lie to draw out Talia somehow, and I have problems with both of those options. Let’s say Bruce means what he says, that despite everything, Talia’s terrorism has worked. Her threats are too dangerous, too scary, and Bruce needs to give in to her demands and return Damian to her. This just doesn’t align with my opinion of Bruce, I can’t believe he would return any child, let alone his own son, to a woman seeking to kill him. This leads me to my second option; Bruce is using Damian to trap Talia somehow. This would merely demonstrate that Bruce is no better than Talia, and I have a hard time believing he would stoop to her level. Ultimately, the loser is Damian. If Bruce is telling the truth, Damian’s just going to go back to the mother he hates and grow up to be just like her, just like Ras and Talia. If Bruce is manipulating Talia through Damian, how is Damian supposed to trust his father again? All of the positive effects Bruce’s influence has caused will be wiped out, leaving Damian an emotionally scarred, 10-year-old killing machine.
I suppose there’s the third option of hallucination/it’s all a dream. That would better explain Batman’s uncharacteristic behavior, but I’d like to think Grant Morrison is smarter than that. Putting a hook in my heart with Damian’s sad face, then declaring “LOL, jk!” is such a cheap move.
This title is frustrating for me, in part because I feel I HAVE to like it; it’s Grant Morrison, it’s Batman, it’s this super ambitious and epic idea and everyone loves it, and I just don’t. I don’t like the relationship between Bruce and Damian, preferring the more character-driven relationship seen in Batman and Robin to Morrison’s business-like approach here. To me, this title is a perfect representation of the impenetrable comic book stereotype: a massive build up of continuity which turns the thought of getting caught-up into a daunting, impossible task. Even if I had the time to read all the back issues I would need to understand what’s going on in this title, I don’t really want to. Do I not like Batman, Inc because I’m not caught up, or do I not want to get caught-up because I don’t like it? It’s a fine line, and I walk it every time I read this title.
Drew: Oh, Shelby. I think we all knew you and I were going to disagree over this issue — hell, I suspect that’s precisely why Patrick scheduled us together on this; we’re kind of like bugs in a mason jar he keeps finding new ways to shake. I want to keep the focus on the issue at hand, but I’ll reserve a little space at the end to defend this title, as well as its place in Morrison’s larger Batman Epic.
To answer the rhetorical question you posed, Shelby, I think your not liking this title is causing you to seek out reasons that you don’t like it — which is perfectly normal. The problem for me is that you’re also not interested in this title, so you see things as “confusing” when you really mean that you just don’t care to put the pieces together. Sure, Morrison expects us to work a bit to understand what’s going on, but contrary to your assertion, he’s given us everything we need to understand what’s going on in this issue.
Take the fight scene you mentioned. The action seems crystal clear to me, so I think your complaint is about not understanding which ones are the good guys. But here’s the thing: we’ve already been introduced to all of these characters in this run of the series. I know you’re already duly familiar with Red Robin, Nightwing, and Batwing, and since you called Squire by name, I’ll assume you recognize her and Knight from the zero issue. But you should also recognize the Hood (another British representative of Batman Incorporated, whom you identified as the “French Batman”) and El Gaucho (the Argentinian representative, whom you identified as the “Spanish Batman”) from their appearance in issue 1 as members of the “Dead Heroes Club.” You should also recognize them from issue 4, where they appeared in disguise as Matches Malone’s henchmen, alongside Batwing.
My guess is you were confused by the origin of these guys when they appeared. I think that was fully intentional on Morrison’s part — he expected you to do the leg work to put that together. Not by delving into pre-relaunch back-issues, but by having an intimate knowledge with the issues since the relaunch. I don’t think that’s asking too much.
The really big guy throwing punches in the fight scene you excerpted is Freight Train, a member of the Outsiders, a group Batman formed even before Batman Incorporated. But you don’t need to know that to recognize him, either, since he also appeared in that “Dead Heroes Club” scene in issue 1.
Morrison is definitely keeping us on our toes, and he often feeds us important information long before we know we need it, but there really isn’t anything going on here we aren’t equipped to figure out.
…That is, aside from Bruce’s intentions with Damian. I really have no idea why Jason needed to be disguised as Wingman, or what that has to do with returning Damian to Talia. That said, I don’t think Damian would be in any mortal danger — Talia’s hit on him amounts to “if I can’t have him, no one can.” Turning him over to Talia is the only way to call the dogs off — Bruce is doing this out of love. I don’t know how that plays into Bruce’s global war with Leviathan, but I’m excited to find out.
As for this series as a whole, Shelby, I reject your “it’s too complicated” dismissal based on one thing: your own fandom of Johns’ Green Lantern. Sure, Johns gave us what felt like a more accessible entry point in Green Lantern 1, but understanding any of what’s going on there requires working knowledge of John’s entire run. What does Black Hand having a Black Ring mean? Why is Sinestro a Green Lantern again? Why isn’t Hal? I never complained about this, but more important, you never complained about this, Shelby. You already understand the value of long-form narratives, the rewards of stories long in the telling. You know that you can’t watch an episode of LOST like you can an episode of The Simpsons, and that holding them to the same standard of accessibility is patently absurd. I appreciate that walking in on the last fifteen minutes of a movie can be frustrating, but I can’t understand blaming the movie for that. I recommend sitting back and enjoying the ride (perhaps with the help of this handy site that annotates Morrison’s comics). Failing that, I think you and I can agree you’d be happier without this title on your pull. I know it’ll break Patrick’s heart (so we’ll have to promise to disagree about something else), but life’s too short to be reading comics you hate. Maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.
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?