Today, Drew and guest writer Tyler are discussing Batman Incorporated 11, originally released May 22nd, 2013.
Drew: I love one-offs. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of a self-contained narrative, or just their relative rarity in modern comics, but I’m always excited to jump into a single-serving adventure. Unless, of course, it falls in the middle of the closing arc of an Epic I’ve been reading for years. I don’t want to hold the placement of this issue against it — especially since it likely afforded the creative team time to craft an incredible close to this arc — so I’ll do my best to put my expectations aside, but it’s a strange uphill battle that very few issues in comicdom are subject to.
Of course, Chris Burnham — who steps into writing duties here — doesn’t shy away from the feeling of interruption that comes with this issue. In fact, the issue starts with a “we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming” bulletin, dropping us into downtown Tokyo, where a gang of Leviathan subcontractors is working to get into Talia’s good graces. Enter the Batman of Japan, Jiro Osamu, and his diminutive sidekick, Canary. Their first encounter is a bit of a bust, but Jiro manages to trace the gang back to their headquarters, where he is able to hack their tech, rendering them completely helpless. Burnham then cheekily reminds us of just how badly we want to see what’s happening with Bruce by closing with the same panel as the end of issue 10.
In many ways, this felt like it fit right in with the first volume of Batman Incorporated, which notably opened with a two-parter that introduced the world to Jiro. It embraces the Silver Age goofiness and occasionally-fictional self-reference of Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic with abandon. Take this issue’s villain, Lady Tiger Fist:
You can’t get any more absurdly on-the-nose than that, and Burnham’s suggestion later that her accent is too thick to use voice-activated computers immediately brought General Kala to mind (or, at least my mind). It’s too over-the-top to not love, which describes a lot of Morrison’s run.
There are other elements of Batman Incorporated, however, that aren’t present here — most notably the direct commentary on how all this wackiness fits into Batman history. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for riffing on Silver Age tropes (we all had a good larf over Deadpool 7, and Matt Fraction and Mike Allred are doing beautiful things with their FF run) — but what really set this series apart was the way it embraces the zaniness while attempting to reconcile it with modern comic sensibilities. It’s made Morrison’s run some of the most challenging, complex, but ultimately rewarding comics I’ve ever read. This issue feels a little more like a generic throwback, which while fun, feels a bit light in context.
But of course, there are those expectations creeping back in — how could a one-off in the middle of an arc’s climax not feel frivolous? I suppose, then, I should address the elephant in the room; while I mentioned the suspicion that this issue served as a deadline-extender for Morrison and Burnham’s next two issues, I can’t help but also see this issue as a tryout for what may become of this series after Morrison leaves. You may remember that Burnham also took on co-writing duties in the zero issue — which I enjoyed the hell out of — and there’s really no denying that his senses of humor, action, and character have been a perfect match for this series. This is all conjecture — there has been no mention of this series continuing after #13 (though, suspiciously, no mention of it ending, either), and I have no idea if Burnham is interested in writing a monthly (though I suppose this and the zero issue might give me some idea) — but what if the series continued with Burnham as writer? If this issue is any indication, I would enjoy the hell out of it. Sure, it wouldn’t have the insane quintuple meanings of Morrison at his best (but who can replicate that, really?), but it would serve as an endless parade of madcap fun and colorful characters.
Geez, in spite of my best efforts, I’m having difficulty focusing on just this issue. I should turn it over to our guest writer, Tyler. Tyler, were you able to get over the fact that this wasn’t an epic battle between Bruce and Talia? what do you think of the prospect of a Burnham-penned Batman Incorporated? Oh, and what did you think of Jorge Lucas’ art?
Tyler: I’ll start by saying that although I was a bit thrown by how jarring a departure this was from the rest of the current series, I did thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, I would say that it is just how deliberately Burnham departs from the main storyline that saves the issue from ultimately becoming too frustrating. And believe me, I was certainly frustrated when I realized I was going to have to wait yet another month to see Talia and the Heretic taken on by a freshly juiced Man-Bat-Batman in his new duds.
While I don’t think the issue is spectacular by any means (especially when viewed beside the rest of the series), and I think it suffers a bit from an occasional uncertainty of tone (see: the guy getting his tongue ripped out on page one, followed by Jiro and Canary’s seemingly unfazed aloofness to all this violence and carnage) — I do think it does a lot of things right as a stand-alone tale of swashbuckling, Silver Age action. You mentioned the Silver Age-y feel of the issue, Drew, and I am with you 100%. Whereas you saw a little Flash Gordon camp in Lady Tiger Fist, I was personally reminded of something out of Jack Kirby’s Forever People. (And while I’d marry Burnham’s artwork, were that sort of thing legal, I did very much like Jorge Lucas’ filling in for the issue, and thought it fit remarkably well with the Silver Age tone.)
And really, what made the issue for me were the villains. I thought the weird, frivolous sort of ultraviolence of the motorcycle chicks, along with their super-catty superficiality made for just the right mix of ridiculous earnestness and villainy. I also got special pleasure from the ultimate reveal of what was under their masks. It seemed like such a silly, on-point explanation for their behavior—especially their apparent enthusiasm for terrorizing that poor, pimple-faced girl.
And it all just made perfect sense to me, upon meeting their string-puller. For who else would be responsible for these super-powered buxom brats and their neglected-child-turned-bully syndrome but an arrogant, demanding, never-impressed surrogate mother-figure going by the moniker of Lady Tiger Fist?
Which brings me (somewhat tangentially) to my main problem with the issue, which also happens to be what most intrigued me about it. And this all has to do with something you brought up, Drew, and that is the subject of Chris Burnham’s writing, and the idea of his helming any future Batman Incorporated stories.
Now, I hate to think an entire issue of one of my absolute favorite runs of a current superhero story has no greater purpose than to fluff up an otherwise highly intelligent, masterfully plotted series. So, I read and reread this particular story, putting Burnham’s writing under the same sort of scrutiny I’d put to basically anything I read from Grant Morrison. This was probably unfair, not to mention dumb, and I ended up tossing some of my theories of greater depth and meaning in favor of a simpler, closer-to-pure-entertainment sort of lens. I realized I was being unreasonable to Burnham. What I’d been mistaking for Burnham aping Morrison, was really just me reading Burnham as if I were reading Morrison. Which is a terribly silly thing to do, and yes, I am terribly ashamed of myself.
That said, though, one of the things I liked most about this issue was Burnham’s significantly goofier take on one of the main themes of Morrison’s recent years as All-Father to the Batman Universe. That is: Fathers and Sons. Or, more generally: Parents and Children. Or, more specifically for this issue: Surrogate-Parents and their Surrogate-Children.
Maybe my favorite moment in the entire issue comes when Jiro and Canary discover the secret base of Lady Tiger Fist and her biker gals, and said biker gals run out to meet the costumed crime-fighters for round two.
For me, this moment summed up so much of what Batman Incorporated has been about, and in just about the silliest way possible. What are the members of Batman Incorporated, if not Batman’s adopted children, trying to live up to his name and make him proud? And how great is it to see this contrasted with a more villainous, and failed version of the same?
And as Lady Tiger Fist screams at her adopted daughters for failing her, for double-crossing her, basically for just existing, it seems—I can’t help but think about next month, when we’ll return to the original Batman, as he seeks revenge (and not just a little absolution) for what must be considered the ultimate failure of parenting’s prime directive: that is, a parent’s failure to protect his/her child.
So, in answer to your question, Drew: was I able to get over this issue not being the climactic battle with Talia I thought it would be? Only time will tell how it’s affected me as a person, but for the present, I’d say Burnham has filled in quite admirably as my surrogate Batman-writer/father, in this, the ever-angsty search for surrogate fathers and sons that is the world of The Batman.
Tyler is an aspiring [insert dream, here] with a penchant for [insert unique trait/interesting talent, here]. He is fascinated with everything, surprised by nothing, and terribly frightened of both. He lives in Chicago, IL.
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