Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

A New 52 Review: Batman Incorporated v.2 #1

Posted by Don MacPherson on May 23rd, 2012

Variant coverBatman Incorporated v.2 #1
“Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan, Part One: Demon Star”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Burnham (regular)/Frank Quitely (variant)
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

While Grant Morrison acknowledges in this script some of the events from various Batman comics he didn’t write, what he really does here is pick up where he left off in the first volume of Batman and Robin. In that series, he impressed readers with his presentation of a new dynamic between the Dynamic Duo. In that previous project, Batman was Dick Grayson, the original Robin, and the new Robin was a genetically engineered child assassin. The dark and light aspects of the pairing were reversed. Now Morrison has Bruce Wayne back, and the Dynamic Duo is the Dark and Dismal Duo. Peter J. Tomasi has been doing some solid work with the two characters in the New 52 incarnation of Batman and Robin, but Morrison has something else in store here. His focus isn’t so much on character but on plot, but given the scope and inventiveness of that plot, it’s a worthwhile read. More importantly, Morrison’s Batman work has served as a great spotlight for Chris Burnham, who quickly went from being an unknown illustrator with a couple of obscure graphic novels under his belt to a go-to talent for DC.

Gotham is chaotic enough on the best of days (or nights), but things are crazier than usual because there’s a price on a prominent Gothamite’s head. The entity known as Leviathan has put a price of Robin’s head — and the truly chilling part is his mother is the one pulling the deadly strings. Tonight, a master sniper known as Goatboy is trying to claim that prize. As Batman and Robin fend off the attacks, Leviathan is moving in, taking over Gotham’s underworld. Meanwhile, allies of the Batman thought to be dead gather for a secret meeting, and they meet the man who says the Batman hand-picked him to lead them.

While Frank Quitely wasn’t the first artist to pair with Grant Morrison on the writer’s Batman epic, he definitely stood out as the definitive one with his work on the first volume of Batman and Robin. With his efforts on the previous volume of Batman Incorporated and now this one, Chris Burnham has proven himself a worthy artistic heir to Quitely’s noteworthy and strikingly unique efforts before him. While Burnham’s style is easily distinguishable from Quitely’s, his characters’ faces exhibit a similarly squat shape and design, and that brings a certain edge and slightly surreal tone to the over-the-top story. I love how he experiments with panel designs and storytelling techniques. I was specifically taken with how he “projects” panels on the exteriors of Gotham City buildings. The scene flows quite well as the action progresses around the main characters as they make their way across the cityscape.

I have to take issue with a couple of moments early in the book, though. I had trouble following the action through the slaughterhouse. At first, the workers seem like innocent bystanders, but the next thing I knew, they were masking themselves and trying to kill the heroes. Furthermore, I really didn’t see what was happening in the “Pok pok pok” sequence. At first, it seems like something is happening to the workers, but it appears, after a second and third reading, the sound effect is meant to reflect the slaughter of animals to be processed for meat. It’s an important element, as it reflects Leviathan’s consumption and exploitation of others to achieve its (or her) nefarious ends. But it was a confusing scene — hell, a confusing panel — that jarred me loose from an intense and challenging story, if only temporarily.

The first scene following the opening flash-forward is depraved and sickening in a way, and it seems to be a rather loud repudiation of meat-eating. Leviathan’s evil machinations are directly compared with the devouring of flesh, and the action in the slaughterhouse grows increasingly gross and disturbing. It’s certainly a far from subtle scene, which makes for an interesting contrast with other aspects of the book, which are drenched in mystery and misdirection. I also appreciated the narration, presented in “Goatboy’s” voice. Morrison humanizes him by delving into his motives, which again makes for an interesting contrast with the parent-versus-child riff in the larger plot.

Perhaps what was most surprising about this issue was just how funny it is. While the anti-carnivore scene failed to sway me in my dietary choices, it leads to a great payoff when Damian declares (a) a new guiding philosophy and (b) a new member of the Bat family. Morrison also approaches Damian’s homicidal choices in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner. I found Morrison’s choice to reintegrate the “Mutants” from Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns to be an interesting choice. I don’t know if it’s meant as an homage to that benchmark story of the 1980s or somehow as a commentary on Miller’s more recent creative choices. It actually served as more of a distraction than a creative addition to this particular story, but maybe it’ll prove to have a more important meaning in the larger plot as it progresses.

In and of itself, this is a fun comic book. It boasts some incredibly dark moments, some unexpected humor and some well-co-ordinated action sequences. Morrison’s script strives to incorporate and acknowledge the broader tapestry of recent Batman continuity without getting bogged down in it. But ultimately, the greatest strength of Batman Incorporated is its biggest liability as well: Morrison’s ambitious effort to tell a Batman epic. To fully appreciate what unfolds here, one really has to be up on Morrison’s entire run on various Bat-titles going back five years. That “Dead Heroes Club” scene is going to throw a number of readers for a loop. After I read this issue, while I was looking forward to seeing what comes next (and more Burnham art), I also wish I’d had all of those previous Morrison comics handy — not because I wanted to read them, but because I felt I needed to read them. I appreciate the complexity and vision of what Morrison’s trying to accomplish here, but I fear he’s sacrificing accessibility in the process. 7/10

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One Response to “A New 52 Review: Batman Incorporated v.2 #1”

  1. Chain Reactions | Batman Incorporated #1 | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] Don MacPherson, Eye on Comics: “While Frank Quitely wasn’t the first artist to pair with Grant Morrison on the writer’s Batman epic, he definitely stood out as the definitive one with his work on the first volume of Batman and Robin. With his efforts on the previous volume of Batman Incorporated and now this one, Chris Burnham has proven himself a worthy artistic heir to Quitely’s noteworthy and strikingly unique efforts before him. While Burnham’s style is easily distinguishable from Quitely’s, his characters’ faces exhibit a similarly squat shape and design, and that brings a certain edge and slightly surreal tone to the over-the-top story. I love how he experiments with panel designs and storytelling techniques. I was specifically taken with how he ‘projects’ panels on the exteriors of Gotham City buildings. The scene flows quite well as the action progresses around the main characters as they make their way across the cityscape.” [...]