Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman Incorporated 9, originally released March 27th, 2013.
Drew: In Batman Incorporated 0, Grant Morrison asserted that “the first truth of Batman” was that he was never alone, and backs it up with the fact that Alfred was there from the start. But is that the first truth of Batman? If Batman was born that night in his father’s study, he was surely conceived 18 years earlier as Thomas an Martha died, making loss the first truth of Batman. With that loss comes the loneliness that Morrison’s “first truth” was reacting to. Sure, Bruce sought comfort in his friends and wards, but every moment of his life was shaped by the crushing loneliness he felt watching his parents die. The death of Damian reemphasizes that point, distancing Bruce even from Alfred, who — as Morrison asserted — was always there. The result is a uniquely lonely Batman, spinning another take on the character into the tapestry of Morrison’s epic.
The issue finds Bruce not dealing with Damian’s death on two fronts: 1) as he tries to fight off the physically superior Damian clone, and 2) as he and the bat-family bury Damian. Bruce is able to escape the battle with an assist from Dick and Tim, but he completely rebuffs Alfred’s consolations at Damian’s grave, holding Alfred accountable for letting Damian go out in the first place. It goes without saying that Alfred has always been at Bruce’s side, but that’s especially true of this epic, and artist Chris Burnham does a brilliant job of conveying just how hard this is for Bruce.
Of course, Bruce’s assertion that this doesn’t concern anyone else is immediately undercut by images reminding us of Dick’s loss — under Morrison’s pen, Damian was arguably closer to Dick than anyone else — and of Beryl’s. She’s decided to take up the mantle of the Knight, and teams up with Johnny Riley, Dark Ranger, making good on the relationship established in the zero issue. Moreover, the entirety of Batman Incorporated has gone underground, hiding both from Bruce AND Gotham at large, which has banned Batman Incorporated in an effort to comply with Leviathan’s demands. Their first order of business is to track down Jason, who seems to be held by the assassin’s boarding school we saw Stephanie Brown grapple with in Leviathan Strikes (which just might be a backdoor confirmation that Steph IS cannon in the New 52).
The most striking thing to me about this issue is the way we see the Batfamily react to Damian’s death. After a month of “Requiem” issues, we may have gotten used to the idea of Damian ‘s passing, but it just happened in this title, and each reaction serves as a telling character moment. Bruce, Dick, and Tim all act in the spirit of vengeance, but while Bruce acts with his characteristic silence and efficiency, Dick responds with equally characteristic talkitiveness (relatively speaking, of course). Tim, on the other hand, responds with detached tactical prowess, which is especially fitting, given that he and Damian never got along all that well. This beautifully mirrors his own inception to the Batfamily, where he really had no skin in the game, but acted in what he felt were the best interests of Batman and Gotham.
The fight scene is laid out with jarring, irregular panels, which contrasts rather sharply with the neat, ordered layouts of the funeral scene. The effect is a very clear demarcation between the two scenes, giving us some subjective sense of Bruce’s state of mind. Curiously, the gutters between the irregular panels remain quite uniform, suggesting that, even at his most off-kilter, Bruce is able to maintain some control. I suppose that kind of discipline is expected of Bruce, for all the good it does him — Bizarro Damian still ably trounces him.
Talia has very effectively put Bruce through the wringer, driving Gotham to the chaos of No Man’s Land while the Heretic threatens to break Batman’s back a la Knightfall. If those sound like the same mix of elements used to create the chaos of The Dark Knight Rises, don’t worry, Morrison throws some of the mutant gang from Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in there to spice things up — and to reassert what the real TDKR is.
I highly doubt Morrison will set to making the entirety of TDKR cannon, but this is a fun nod, either way.
Patrick, I know I could go on all day, but I’ll turn it to you before I drool over every panel. One big thing I didn’t even mention was the suggestion that there might be other Lazarus pits out there. It’s brought up as a way to bring Cyril back, but if you combine that detail with the fact that Talia seems a little upset that Damian is dead, I can’t help but start grasping pitifully at any straws that might suggest that Damian could come back. Also, how sad is the image of Bruce trying to find comfort in Bat-Cow’s company?
Patrick: Lettering props to David Sharpe for putting a speech balloon inside Bruce’s speech balloon when he muses about “Bat Cow” in those panels you just posted. I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between the loss we experience as readers and the loss experienced by the characters in Damian’s universe. There is something profoundly real — in a way I’m not totally comfortable admitting — in having to let the character go. And that outline around “Bat Cow,” a term so delightfully and uniquely Damian, connects Bruce’s experience with Robin to our own: that is how we see all of his dialogue after all.
Drew, you mention that we’ve been up to our elbows in remembrances of Damian, and it’s sorta remarkable that this issue boldly does so many other things. Even the funeral, which by all accounts should focus of the deceased, takes a harshly judgmental turn. None of the emotions play neatly or cleanly, and setting shifts dramatically, forward and backward through time – sometimes within the same page. It all adds to that feeling of unease, and helps to put the reader into a mindset similar to Bruce, where all you want to do is just scream into the cave until the bats scatter. It’s much less comforting than the rage-fueled crime-fighting-sprees we’ve seen in Batman and Robin or Batman. In embracing that confusing, it’s a much more honest expression of loss. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for the anger and sadness we’ve been reading over the last four weeks, but this take on loss is both distinct and necessary.
Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: the fight at Wayne tower – how does that end? Dick kicks a guy, Tim uses a tank and then… they just bail? The Heretic (which is just what I’m going to call Bizarro Damian for simplicity sake) not only survives this encounter, he gets away to have a little chat with Talia and continue their reign of terror. And if that feels a little bit too much like traditional resolution for you, Morrison dares you to feel sympathetic to The Heretic as the nature of his “relationship” with his mother is revealed to actually be sorta sad.
Just a few panels previously, she specifically tells him not to call her mother, and yet here he is, trying so badly to win her love and approval. Also, pointedly, he wants to be Batman, which is just exactly what Damian wanted. This is confusing. You should not feel sympathy for the whale-clone-monster that just murdered your favorite 10 year-old superhero.
It’s also not like Batman has much of an opportunity to reflect on any of this: there’s still a ton going on. Issue 8 may have been the end for Damian, but this train keeps right on chugging – riots in the streets, Batman Incorporated outlawed, and Jason held captive. But even as Batman keeps pushing his family away — including Alfred — it seems like there are some allies he just can’t shake. Did you see the way Bullock motions to Gordon to hide his Batman Inc. pin?
And that’s Bullock who, while a Bat ally, isn’t the staunchest Batman supporter.
Anyway, I thought this was a great issue – one of the few that was both powerfully sad and not defined by that sadness. Plus, with the end of the series looming, every page of Chris Burnham art we get here is a special little gift. Like Drew said, we could probably drool over every single panel, but let me just pull out one that I liked.
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?