Posted by Don MacPherson on March 27th, 2011
Batman Incorporated #4
“The Kane Affair”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: J.H. Williams III/Yanick Paquette (variant)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I have to be honest — I found the previous issue of this series to be completely confusing. Colorful, yes, and entertaining, but confusing. Furthermore, I found Morrison’s approach to this new series (and premise) was turning formulaic in a hurry. Fortunately, this fourth issue shatters that perception, as Morrison explores much more than the notion of crimefighting as a corporate concern. He also explores the rich and weird history and continuity that this character and publisher has to offer. It’s not at all clear where Morrison is headed with this bizarre story of conspiracy and heroism, but with this issue, I discovered I was enjoying the challenge, just as I did during Morrison’s greatest Batman story, “The Black Glove.” And if that weren’t enough of a treat for readers, DC introduces a wider readership to an impressive, new talent in comic art, one who will no doubt become one of the most lauded and sought-after illustrators in the industry in short order.
The Oroboro conspiracy proves to reach far beyond the borders of Argentina, where the Batman and that country’s hero El Gaucho are forced to fight each other to the death to save three poor children who’ve been kidnapped and locked in a deathtrap by the villainous Sombrero and Scorpiana. Back in Gotham City, Batwoman find herself on the trail of criminal Johnny Valentine, whom she’s connected to Oroboro. She chases him to a circus, one that once belonged to the original Batwoman. When the Batman learns of a connection between the original Batwoman and his Argentinean counterpart, it’s beginning to look as though Oroboro claimed another victim years ago.
Artist Chris Burnham is a real find. A quick web search indicates he assisted with the art for part of an issue of Batman and Robin a few months ago, and after seeing the art on Batman Incorporated #4, it’s no surprise that DC quickly signed him to an exclusive. His meticulous detailed artwork brings an ugly world of crime and violence to life. His style is reminiscent of that of Frank Quitely, but as I read this issue, I was also reminded of the work of Cameron Stewart at times. He’s definitely progressed as an artist over the past few years. I first sampled his work on the creator-owned graphic novel Nixon’s Pals, written by Joe Casey and published by Image Comics three years ago.
Burnham demonstrates his versatility. He captures the stoic, haunted look of the new Batwoman wonderfully, but he also adjusts his style for the Silver Age scenes. Not that he adopts a simpler, bright style for those sequences. In fact, his style isn’t suited to that lighter period of the genre at all. But that seems to be the point. There’s something uncomfortable and unnatural about those flashback scenes, but it works. There’s such a chasm between the two different takes on the title character that those old-school elements should look and feel out of place. The weirdness of those moments in the context of modern genre storytelling adds to the tension and mystery of Morrison’s larger plot. I also loved how much his take on the original Robin in his earliest days in the costume resembled the modern Robin in terms of attitude and expressiveness.
I love that Batwoman artist J.H. Williams III provided the cover for this issue. The extreme worm’s-eye view approach to the iconic scene, the dark, moody colors and the strong portrayal of Batwoman inside the comic serve to tide this reader over until the oft-delayed Batwoman series finally gets underway. Another visual strength of this comic book stems from Pat Brosseau’s letters. The way he distorts the traditional lettering technique for the hallucination scenes remind me of the strong work Todd Klein did on Alan Moore and J.H. Williams’ Promethea a few years ago.
After I read the long-delayed third issue of this series a short time ago, I worried that Morrison was already stuck in a formula. In the first two issues of the series, Batman travelled to Japan to recruit a Batman Inc. operative for that country. After that Japanese adventure in the first two issues, the same sort of story seemed to be unfolding in the third issue, this time in Argentina. This issue shows, though, that Morrison isn’t using any kind of formula. In fact, it shows that he’s incredibly difficult to predict as a writer. He obfuscates and hints, teases and tells. I really didn’t pay much attention to the Oroboro reference in the third issue, but here, its importance is much more apparent.
Morrison’s decision to restore a couple of quirky elements of the Silver Age of DC Comics is clearly more than an effort to relive his childhood. By bringing back the original Batwoman (and by extension in one flashback panel, the original Bat-Girl), he adds a new layer to the modern Batman and the dynamics among these characters. The writer is also quietly building up El Gaucho’s back story, transforming him into a former spy and linking him to the Batman family in an unusual way.
It’s interesting that DC has allowed Morrison to revive a piece of its past that it ha buried years ago, but then again, the Kathy Kane we meet in this story is a far cry from the one who joined Batman and Robin on their adventures a lifetime ago. She’s a much darker character, meant to be much more than a love interest or female reflection of the title character. Her motives are radically different, and there’s an edge to this new incarnation of the Silver Age character that keeps the reader from seeing her completely as a protagonist. Oddly enough, I’m reminded of the embittered incarnation of the character that turned up on television a few months ago in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Furthermore, given the hallucination sequence in the story, I’m not entirely convinced that Morrison has actually restored this lost element of the Batman mythos. Rather than retconning a retcon, he may be playing with perception, misdirecting an audience that’s expecting one thing but actually witnessing something else entirely. 9/10
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