It’d be the understatement of the last five years to say that Grant Morrison’s 6 year run on Batman has been controversial. By some, (me and many, many others) its been one of the worst runs in recent memories. For others, Morrison revolutionized the character and the place Batman plays in the DC universe. Regardless, his recent work has become more accessible than ever, with The Battle for the Cowl, The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman RIP all available on the cheap or in trades.
All of this was a concentrated effort on DC’s part to rerelease the run for the return of Morrison’s most celebrated series, Batman Incorporated. Regardless of individual feelings on Morrison (he’s pretentious, contrarian and overly focused on trying to be the next Alan Moore), Batman Inc. is an accomplishment, an artistic, smart and imaginative take on Batman’s place in a world outside of Gotham City.
The series focuses on Bruce Wayne’s return to the timeline after being banished by Darkseid in Final Crisis. After witnessing a future of crime and death, he realized that more needed to be done to stop the rise of worldwide crime. Revealing Bruce Wayne to be the financial backer of Batman, although not Batman himself, and began recruiting heroes around the world to join his company, a collective dedicated to protecting the world from the cataclysm to come. It was an ambitious idea, integrating the imaginative silver age style that Morrison was obsessed with as well as the worldly perspective that often seems to elude American writers.
The series began its second, as Morrison calls it, season on Wednesday but before we get into it, its worth reanalyzing the first run. Batman’s attempt to establish a worldwide network of agents is constantly being stopped by a nefarious terrorist organization known as Leviathan, led by the senile ex-Nazi Otto Netz and eventually, Talia al Ghul.
Tons of flashbacks, twisting plans, an ouroboros and a threat against all of the Bat-family, the brand new Batman Incorporated #1 opens with frames reminiscent of the classic animated series episode “Over the Edge.” Bruce Wayne stands at a grave and declares to Alfred that Batman Inc is dead. We then jump a month into the past where Batman and Damian hunt down an assassin named, sigh, Goatman who is attempting to cash in on the bounty Talia placed on her son’s head at the end of the first series.
There’s certainly problems here. Morrison clumsily works in references to the ongoing Batman and Robin series and tries to tie it into Damian’s attack on Netz at the end of Leviathan Strikes. Morrison’s never been able to play well with other authors and his attempt to make goofy stylings and art mesh up with the bloody, violent and cannibalistic stylings of his villains doesn’t exactly match up. It doesn’t work particularly well but if you’ve made it through the original run, you know what you’re in for. Along with that, it takes about half the issue before any other members of the network show up and when they do, they just talk dubiously about what they’ll be able to do now that Leviathan thinks they’re dead. Because of all of this, most of the time, it feels like you’re reading just a strangely pencilled issue of Batman and Robin. For me, that’s not a bad thing but Morrison doesn’t have the same grasp on Damian that some of the other writers, namely Peter Tomasi has had in the last year.
The big talking point has naturally been the ending of the issue. Yes, it was there solely for shock value, probably put there a little bit to distract from how successful Scott Snyder’s Night of the Owls has been and was definitely there for Morrison to show that he is indeed back in the game. I think he’ll be able to show his hand a little more and give the series some of the subtelty that the original Batman Inc showed occasionally. As of now, Batman Incorporated may be for die hard Batman fans and Morrison’s acolytes only. Its a book that’s hard to love but its one that may be worth reading, almost solely to see how Morrison hopes to conclude his time in Gotham City.