Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batman Incorporated 13, originally released July 31st, 2013.
It never ends. It probably never will.
Drew: What does it mean to end a run writing Batman? How do you “end” a story featuring a character that has been published in perpetuity for over 70 years with no signs of slowing down? Sure, Grant Morrison “killed” Bruce Wayne, but that was back at the close of his epic’s second act. No, the ending here had to be something much grander, something much truer to the unrelenting nature of Batman. The sheer scope of Morrison’s epic is deserving of the same pomp and circumstance of “the definitive end” of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, but Morrison manages to approach that same grandiosity with modest deference, keeping in mind that, while the he may be done, Batman will keep on going. That simple nod turns his elaborate love letter to Batman’s past into an equally impassioned love letter to Batman’s future, and gracefully shifts Morrison from center stage to the audience.
Hey, remember that scene from the opening of issue one where Gordon arrests Bruce? We finally see what happens next, as Bruce kind-of, sort-of tells Gordon what happened with Talia. Batman and Talia dueled in the batcave while Batman Incorporated did their best to maintain order as Gotham fell into chaos. Jason arrived just in time to save Bruce, and Kathy Kane showed up just in time to kill Talia (and then pointedly assert that Kathy Kane doesn’t exist). Bruce is released from GCPD custody at the behest of Spyral, but returns to Wayne manor to find Damian and Talia’s graves empty. This quashes any thoughts of retiring Batman, because of course not.
The “of course not” note is one that Morrison hits with gusto, carrying us through a fist-pumping montage of Batman suiting up, punching bad guys, and otherwise being a badass. The message is clear: Batman will always be Batman, no matter who’s writing him. It’s a beautiful sentiment that seems to acknowledge Batman’s future as much as the run has acknowledge Batman’s past. Curiously, some of those nods are simultaneously to the future and the past — Gordon specifically name-drops Zero Year, and check out this hybrid of iconic images from Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns:
This run has always been about Batman’s historical baggage — and we’ve certainly seen plenty of references to Frank Miller’s work, specifically, but it’s interesting to see the past and the future of Batman butting up against each other like this. I think this is the first time I’ve seen Morrison openly acknowledging the future of Batman publications (even if that “future” happens to be some kind of prequel story).
Ultimately, I think this all gets at the cyclical way we experience comics — nobody reads TDKR as their last Batman book, and between comics’ wonky continuity, it’s never really clear when any given issue is taking place. Like old-school editors always like to point out: every issue is somebody’s first issue. The flipside of that is that every issue is somebody’s last issue. Beginnings and endings, and everything has to work as both. I’m amazed at the way Morrison has worked that idea into the form of his epic, carefully putting everything back where he found it. Morrison does tie Bruce’s grief to Damian (and perhaps Talia), but it is still grief that motivates him.
That’s not to say Bruce doesn’t progress at all throughout this epic — far from it. Indeed, before he discovers that Damian and Talia’s bodies are missing, Bruce seems poised to throw in the towel, telling Gordon that Batman died, and seeming to acknowledge that his grief was a bottomless pit. That may frame up Bruce’s decision to re-don the cowl as a greater sacrifice than it seemed before, but it all flows out of Batman’s ethos — you don’t need to read any of the epic to recognize the Batman that comes out the other side.
Speaking of the other side, Ra’s al Ghul is apparently cloning Damian (and maybe Talia) to raise an army of “Sons of Batman.”
It may seem strange to tack such a specific coda onto an otherwise graceful ending, but it fits perfectly with the ouroboros theme Morrison has woven through this epic. Indeed, the beginning of his run feels like the ending to a rather specific Joker story. Morrison is making the end-as-beginning and beginning-as-end theme explicit, inverting our expectations while reminding us of Damian’s introduction at the start of the epic. Artist Chris Burnham even includes a cheeky little ouroboros icon in lieu of a “next month” tag, further emphasizing the cyclical nature Morrison’s run.
Christ, there’s a lot going on here — I haven’t even brought up the implications of Kathy Kane’s return, or the brilliant way Morrison reiterates the parallels between Jason and Damian — but in the interest of not going on indefinitely, I’ll turn it over to you Patrick. Indeed, there are way too many things going on here to properly prompt you, so instead I’ll leave you with my own reaction to react to (which I think is appropriately meta): this may be the best ending of any work of art I have ever experienced.
Patrick: That’s a bold claim, but I think it might be justified. It’s not just a great ending, but a unique one — there’s really no other medium, no other character, and no other writer that could pull this off. I’ve done a pretty-okay job of reading the second half(ish) of this epic and mostly after I started reading this series. So my perspective is a little wonky — but I can only imagine what the journey must have been like for people following this thing in real-time as it was published. All of us that read these 14 issues of Batman Incorporated experienced something special, but you die-hards that have been reading Morrison’s every bat-word for a decade have experienced something conceptually improbable: a thematically unified story, spanning the entire publishing history and future of Batman. Guys — that’s neat; what a neat experience we all had!
The thesis statement that Drew puts forth is so clearly articulated throughout the issue. It’s almost unnerving to see Morrison handing out meaning so transparently, especially as he’s been such an obtuse motherfucker for so long. Chris Burnham’s incredibly simple title page acts as a sort of embassador of the whole issue.
Why would it have to be anything but this? It’s the whole conflict distilled down to its component parts — even embracing this new color-dichotomy of Black vs. Red. See how the snakes of the ouroboros alternate in color between red and black, reinforcing the idea that it’s these characters that create the un-ending cycle that is “Batman.” And the circle theme shows up a bunch of other places too — when Bruce is tripping on sword-venom, his T-rex’s tail spirals in the background.
It’s also super cool that Batman seems to have pulled himself through the the inky mess and sorta splattered out on the page, as if to acknowledge the physicality of him being a piece of art in a comic book.
As far as what to make of the appearance of, and then denial of existence of, Kathy Kane, I can only guess. It’s interesting, right? She enters declaring that Batman doesn’t kill and then proceeds to do the one thing that Batman is incapable of doing. It’s not like Batman couldn’t have bested Talia on his own — or at least, with Jason’s help — but there needs to be some sort of impartial third party to actually do the killing. Why not a character that — as far as we knew, and is confirmed by the character herself — doesn’t exist? It’s the kind of fanon-stuff we talk about all the time: there are characters and stories and phenomenon that blink into and out of existence, but it doesn’t mean that any part of the reality is more or less important than other parts. Kathy Kane was needed in this moment — the story going forward doesn’t make sense if she’s not there. And yet, we just sorta have to deal with the fact that she doesn’t exist. I love Batman’s response this vexing paradox.
He’s accompanied by Bat-Cow and Alfred the Cat — both characters introduced in the New 52. It doesn’t matter that she played a more vital role and Damian’s pets are basically living props (albeit, living props the fans love), it’s the animals that we’re stuck with going forward in continuity. For right now, anyway. This is also the time we see them in this issue, even though there are a bunch of panels that could have featured them in the background. It’s like Bat-Cow and Kathy Kane can’t occupy the same space at the same time, but Morrison and Burnham decide to put them on the same page anyway. It’s okay, guys, we can totally deal with it.
But it’s not all commentary and meta-junk: Damian’s death gets the mythological heft it so richly deserves. We’ve seen the emotional stuff play out in the Batman and … series and a few issues of Batman — that’s all been beautiful, but it all has air of temporariness to it. Hell, the mere fact that Batman and Robin is explicitly going through the Five Stages of Grief suggests that there’s an end to Bruce’s suffering. This issue paints the loss in a different light entirely. It’s not that Bruce forgets, or even gets over, the death of his parents (we get a handy flashback at the beginning of the issue), but the death of his son and his Talia strikes a similar emotional core. Their deaths are like motivation 2.0 for Batman. From now on, there’s another dark rainy night that we can point to to say “that — that turned Bruce Wayne into Batman.” How cool is that?
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