Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Managing Editor
Grant Morrison began writing for Batman with Batman #655 back in 2006. Almost seven years later, Morrison has written Batman, JLA, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, and many other well received titles that have fleshed out the DC Universe. Morrison’s approach to Batman has always been a bit different. In his run on JLA, many fans dubbed Morrison’s take on the character as “Batgod,” where Batman would always be at least two steps ahead of everyone else and resulted in him overcoming exceedingly overwhelming odds. More recently, that take on the character has all but evaporated.
Batman Incorporated #13 hit comic book stores today, finishing Morrison’s controversial run on the title. With everything said and done, readers can’t help but feel that Morrison skewed his own characters to fit a story that doesn’t fit within The New 52.
The highlight of the issue is the artwork. Although Chris Burnham’s art didn’t strike me when I first experienced it, after talking with him about his thought process and work, the merits of his style began to shine through. His attention to detail is nothing short of amazing. His work on Bruce’s face after the battle clearly shows the damage done to him by Talia and the double page spread of the Ouroboros is simply amazing. Even better is his expertise with drawing bodies—with Batman’s dynamic fighting, it’s hard for some artists to keep proportions in check, make the fighting fluid, and make the art look real. Burham succeeds in that endeavor.
The fault of this run, however, is in the writing. The issue hastily tied together loose ends, especially concerning Kathy Kane, leaving the reader with an anti-climactic and uninspiring ending. Kathy Kane is used as a dues ex machina, coming into the Batcave—how does she even know how to get in, anyway?—and removes Bruce’s ability to deal with the problem himself. By killing Talia, Bruce doesn’t have find a way to stop what’s happening and still stay true to his morals, really robbing him of any sense of closure, as he should have been the one to end the fiasco. Kathy Kane tells him to stop fighting crime and never chase her down. Bruce accepts, essentially rolling over.
Some writers have quit DC, reportedly because of too much editorial oversight and their inability to let writers tell their stories. George Perez and Rob Smith are two notable examples—Andy Diggle resigned from Action Comics with only one issue written. In Batman Incorporated’s case, it seems like Editorial gave Morrison too much free reign.
The most noticeable fault in the run is its relationship with The New 52 continuity. Batman Incorporated started before The New 52, but was allowed to continue even after the reboot. According to Batman Annual #1, Bruce returned from his training trip around the world six years ago. How is it, then, that in those six years, Bruce has evolved enough to do in six years what took pre-52 Bruce his entire career? My point is that pre-52 Bruce Wayne was at a different point in his life and accomplished so much more than The New 52 Bruce Wayne—it seems impossible that this story could even happen in The New 52.
Damian’s birth and age could be explained by Bruce impressing Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul during his training trip. Damian could have been conceived before Bruce returned to Gotham and started his career. Both of those statements have “could” in them, because we’re not entirely sure, and there’s no way for us to know.
What can’t be explained is how Bruce has gone through three Robins, Kathy Kane, grown enough as a character to trust other heroes and create Batman Incorporated, and be able to carry on pre-52 Bruce’s story after only five to six years of vigilante activity.
The above only reflects the story’s inability to exist in the continuity—Morrison’s run has also caused other continuity issues to happen. Newsarama did an interview with Chris Burnham, where he said, “I read the outline for the series before we started, and I’m still surprised! The spirit and general direction remained the same, but as far as the plot details and contents of each issue are concerned, the outline went out the window with issue #2!”
The outline “went out the window,” presumably under Editorial’s blessings. This leads us to believe that Morrison was writing as he went, to a degree, with the specifics of his plot changing and evolving along the way. In Red Hood and the Outlaws #17, Jason and Damian talk about partnering up during the events of Batman Inc. This isn’t possible because Damian died the only night they worked together. Either Scott Lobdell wasn’t aware of Morrison’s changes, or he had a lapse in communication on his part.
It’s Editorial’s job to coordinate between writers and ensure that everything makes sense. Their decision to allow Batman Incorporated to continue was their first mistake, and their inability to delineate a clear, detailed, and transparent continuity only made things worse.
Overlooking the technical errors, Morrison’s portrayal of these characters widely contradicts their normal personalities. In my previous articles, I talked about Talia and Damian’s misrepresentation in these issues:
“Damian is no longer a clever, intellectual boy, skilled in tactics as shown in Batman and Son and Batman and Robin (2009), both of which were written by Morrison himself. Morrison reduced him to a naïve, child-like character. In reality, through his training as both an assassin and Robin, one would think Damian should have had more sense than to attack an opponent who’s both physically larger and is potentially as or more skilled head on in front of about fifteen snipers. No one would do that. In his last moments, Damian does not exert any control, use any tactics, or exemplify any of the many skills he’s accumulated over his career. Morrison’s definition of a “heroic death” does not fit the standards of what the general public would consider it to be.
“Morrison “threw in elements of his own parents’ divorce” which colored Talia Al Ghul’s character. Pre-52, she legitimately cared about her son, now, however, she sees him only as expendable. He needed Talia to move away from her maternal qualities to justify her actions towards Damian. This makes the reader lose all faith in Talia as a mother, which turns the reader completely against her. Although this may be what Morrison wants, her actions go against the fundamental core of her character. There is no redemption for Talia, there is no remorse. Her tears and “moment of weakness” at the end of Batman Incorporated #8 are out of character with Morrison’s initial out of character portrayal of her character in his own book.”
This treatment has extended to Ra’s Al Ghul and Bruce as well. In the final page of Batman Incorporated #13, Ra’s says, “I will hound you unto the grave, Detective. I will give you no rest. I will have my revenge.” Ra’s is a very intelligent man, especially when it comes to matters concerning the Batfamily. He has also show the ability to be objective and calm in his approach towards Batman. However, Morrison depicts him slightly deranged, placing the blame solely on Batman’s shoulders for what happened.
The actual Ra’s al Ghul would recognize that this all stemmed from Talia’s mistakes. Her inability to control her creation led to Damian’s death and her inability to follow through with her plan would have made Ra’s indifferent to the ordeal. I would imagine him saying, “My daughter has failed. The price for failure, in the League of Assassins, is death and that is punishment enough for her.”
Not to say that Bruce is without sin in Ra’s eyes–for Bruce, I would have imagined Ra’s to deem him a failure as well for not saving his son. While still Talia’s ultimate fault, Bruce would have failed as well in Ra’s eyes. Wouldn’t the appropriate punishment for failure be to bring Damian back to life and warp him against his father?
Even more unsettling is Bruce’s attitude towards his son. “We had a son. Bad seed. Bad blood. I did my best to rescue the boy from his mother’s influence,” is what h tells Jim Gordon on page 3. Saying “Bad seed. Bad blood” ultimately reflects on Bruce as well—he’s calling himself and his legacy, his parents, the bad seed. Furthermore, by calling Damian “the boy,” Bruce distances himself from Damian and reinforces the idea that Damian is “his mother’s” child. In a way, Bruce has absolved himself of accountability and placing the majority of the blame on Talia. Bruce knows that he’s as much to blame as Talia for raising Damian and distancing himself like that goes against his character.
The only characters that seem to have been given the proper treatment is Alfred and Jason. Alfred refused to leave when Bruce told him to, acting like the faithful father figure he is, and Jason stayed loyal to Batman while deceiving Talia. Those two moments in Batman Incorporated #13 were refreshing, to say the least.
The issue ends with an opportunity for the storyline to continue, with Ra’s cultivating clones of Damian and harvesting “Lazarus Blood.” Whatever happened to the Lazarus Pits, anyway? I’m sure I missed the explanation of that somewhere in The New 52, so any comments illuminating that problem would be appreciated!
Beyond all of that, beyond all of the misuse of characters, of the continuity errors and confusion, there’s still one crucial aspect of the story that no one seems to dwell upon. The New 52 was an editorial move by DC Comics to reinvigorate the franchise and to move it towards the future in a new direction. Why, then, after all the effort to move away from what they were doing and start again, why would they continue a series from pre-52? Why would they let Morrison “take Batman back to the very beginning”? Doesn’t that contradict what they were trying to do in the first place?
Morrison critiques the comic book culture through this story, as well. When Talia says, “I know you like the rules to be cartoonish and the stakes to be clear,” she’s implicitly referring to what’s usually done in the comics. The Ourobos could also be seen as a symbol of comics continually revisiting the same plots, tropes, and characters. All of this really makes the run that much more hollow, because if Morrison actively commented on these tropes, why doesn’t he write something that stands above it? As far as I’m concerned, he lost the right to critique comic book’s “cartoonish” rules when he created Bat-Cow, whose level of ridiculousness can only be compared to the Bat Credit Card from Batman and Robin.
All in all, the run of Batman Incorporated was uninspiring and unfitting of The New 52. I’ll look forward to Damian’s appearance in Batman and Son the animated adaptation, and the new storyline Damian: Son of Batman.
Overall, this run gets a 2/5.