Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman Incorporated 12, originally released July 3rd, 2013.
Drew: I don’t know when exactly I learned the phrase “grand finale,” but for much of my childhood, I only associated it with Fourth of July fireworks shows. I don’t know if it was just youthful impatience, or just excitement over getting to use those special words, but that was the only part of the show I ever cared about — who wants to see brilliant explosions paced out slowly when they can all go off in rapid succession? To some degree, I think there’s still an expectation for finales to be grand — remember everyone’s reaction to The Sopranos finale? — even if that ignores that narratives aren’t the same thing as fireworks shows. A satisfying conclusion to a narrative features consequents to the antecedents set up throughout the story, effectively closing all of the open parentheses. That job is already tough (think of how many otherwise decent stories have been totally ruined by a botched ending), but becomes exponentially tougher as the antecedents and open parens pile up over the years — especially when Grant Morrison is writing. His Batman Epic has been truly epic — it features both a global scope and a historical perspective, and has introduced countless characters, relationships, and histories — all of which require additional consideration as the story winds to its close. This entire final chapter of Batman Incorporated has been about starting that process, but issue 12 suggests that Morrison might actually intend to close ALL of his open parentheses AND give us the grand finale our inner child has been begging for for the past seven years.
The issue finds Bruce, Hulk- and teched-out, battling the Heretic. Meanwhile, the remaining members of Batman Incorporated learn that Spyral may be able to defeat Leviathan, but they’ll need help. When Dick and Beryl arrive to assist Bruce, the three send the Heretic back to Talia with his tail between his legs. Talia has no patience for failure, decapitates the Heretic, and blows up Wayne Tower. Bruce leaves the rest of Gotham for Batman Incorporated to take care of while he heads off to face Talia once and for all.
The thing that impresses me most about this issue is the way it begins to conclude not just this chapter, but every chapter of Morrison’s epic. Talia killing her “son” while reminding him that she has countless replacements on hand is a clear call-back to Damian’s death only a few months ago, while the Man-Bat antidote un-mutates the ninja Man-Bat army Morrison introduced way back at the start of the epic. Each moment recalls dozens of others from earlier in the run, injecting a strong sense of cohesiveness with the rest of the epic. That’s no small feat for a seven-years-in-the-making story, but every piece has been so thematically unified that they can’t help but fit together beautifully.
Take Talia’s rapid-fire listing of her symbolic counterparts/pseudonyms throughout the epic: Kali, Timat, Medusa, the Wire Mommy, the Red Queen, the Mother of Skeletons — some of these have been introduced recently, while others were first mentioned years ago. What do they all have in common? They’re all terrible mothers. It’s no coincidence that Talia interrupts herself in this sequence to kill her son.
Re-killing this Damian stand-in (who creepily has Damian’s face in spite of a man’s body) reminds us of just how cold she is, but it also symbolically removes the Batman impostors that have populated this epic since Morrison’s first issue. These impostors have been both allies and enemies, but all have provided new perspectives on Batman. Now, Morrison seems poised to bring the focus back down to Bruce and Talia, the epic’s yin and yang.
In returning all of the toys to the toy-box, the conclusion of this epic has found Morrison effectively undoing much of what he started — Damian is killed, the Man-Bats are neutralized, etc. To me, the most shocking reversal is Morrison’s “first rule of Batman”: the notion that he was never alone. Here, at the end, it looks like he may actually face Talia on his own. Obviously, the rest of Batman Incorporated could swing in at the last moment to save the day, but I think Morrison wants to end his Batman story — a story about a boy who was inspired by the death of his parents — with a pair of very different parents fighting over the death of their son.
This epic is poised to be as thematically dense as ever right until the very end, and I couldn’t be happier. Were you as satisfied as I was, Patrick? All of the callbacks had me grinning ear-to-ear, but I think this works on basically every level — you don’t need to have read every Morrison Batman issue for this to work. My expectations for the final issue couldn’t be higher, but one of my favorite things about Morrison is that he always seems to rise to the occasion.
Patrick: Oh, I was definitely satisfied with this issue. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been slowly piecing together the strands of Morrison’s epic here and there over the last couple months, or if the New 52 Batman Incorporated has finally turned itself into cohesive story, but understanding this series is no longer a Sisyphusean undertaking. Maybe what’s happening is exactly what Drew described in his intro paragraph: it’s the grand finale: who cares if you’ve been watching the slow burn the whole time — there’s cool, satisfying shit happening right now.
Chief among those cool satisfying things is the teamwork on display that finally sends the Heretic running back to his mother, tail between his legs. I love that Talia, Batman, everyone has just decided to refer to him as “Leviathan” — not only does that bring this character more in line with the storied multiple-identities of both his “mother” and “father,” but it makes him an opaque representative for the whole group. So when Batman shouts: “Leviathan? Leviathan? Heres! Your! LEVIATHAN!” it’s like the most satisfying thing ever.
(Fun note: when I was trying to convince people to see the Charlie Kaufman-directed Synecdoche, we always ended up looking the term up. It boils down to using a word that describes a portion of something to refer to the whole, like calling Superheroes ‘capes.’ In giving this monster the same name as the organization, the pain inflicted upon him ends up being shorthand for pain inflicted upon the whole, and the satisfaction we get reading about his downfall — and the weird note of tragedy that accompanies it — can easily be applied back to Talia’s entire enterprise. It’s like living-synecdoche.)
But it’s also shout-out-loud satisfying to watch the two Senior members of Batman Incorporated take their own swings at Leviathan. Morrison might be working up to a one-on-one show down, but that’s doesn’t mean we can show some extreme agency for the group for which this series is named.
It’s also sorta rare these days that we get a whole issue of Batman Incorporated drawn head-to-toe by Chris Burnham. The quality of the guy’s work is so high, I guess it’s totally fair that DC has to bring in guest artists to round out most of his issues, but I always find it jarring to snap out of his oh-so-distinct style. You can tell Burnham has a weird understanding of the mech-arms and legs Bruce brings in to battle with him: it’s so bizarre to see a robotic hand two feet in front of Batman’s real hand performing the same actions. It’s important that we see both, this way the actions are never that of Bruce’s toys, but of Batman himself. Plus, there’s the added bonus of recreating the look of Damians signature 100-hand-slap-like pummel fest. Just, y’know, the way Batman does it.
It’s a testament to Burnham’s abilities that we can immediately recognize the one remaining eye of Leviathan as identical to Damian’s. We have to draw this conclusion, and we have to draw it fast: Leviathan (the group and the person) is a set of of mal-managed resources, twisted to fit a horrible agenda by Talia. They are victims of her machinactions — just like poor Damian was. We can see that in one concise image.
Ouch. Talia’s philosophy is so brutal. “Sons are born to die in war.” Hard to imagine a more effective way project just how horrible she is. When Morrison brings this whole thing to a close in just a few weeks, even a big dumb punch-fest is going to feel like the best thing in the world.
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