“Down to the last stone, down to my last breath”: Damian’s future is written in Morrison’s amazing BATMAN INC 5

Batman Inc-Zone-021It’s interesting watching the Batman line lose it’s way. In a veritable mess of non-stop crossovers, DC has made sure that readers are bound to lose track of the characters under the cowls. Why care about the risks if every thing’s just a series of mounting tensions with inevitable climaxes that come far too late?

That’s only one of the many, many reasons why Grant Morrsion’s Batman Incorporated has been the premier Bat-title DC has been releasing, if not the best title DC has produced in 3 years.

Part of that’s because of the relentless focus on tension. Morrison began with the end in mind. The finale of Batman Incorporated will be the end of Morrison’s collaboration with DC, exception of course for the upcoming Multiversity. As such, he’s decided to play with any of the toys he wants to, not caring what anyone else is waiting to use them for. Barbara Gordon’s in a wheel-chair! Jason Todd’s (maybe) wearing a more heroic costume! The Joker will end Gotham!

batman-inc-221Batman Inc. 5 reveals one answer that Morrison’s been holding out on for years, the future Bruce saw was of what happens when Damian takes over the Cowl. It’s a sinister world, with zombified-Joker ghouls burning Gotham to ashes, a cannibal Gorilla Grodd-esque super villain preaching the end of days, and Babs Gordon shooting Damian in the spine.

It’s an exhilarating issue. From Bruce, Dick and Jason surrounding a breaking down Damain, the new Batman’s dedication to the cause, the nuke or Leviathan’s second wave, it’s an action packed issue in a series that’s become one of the best for it.

Batman-and-Robin-0-Damian-first-Robin-CostumeDamian will remain Morrison’s finest contribution to the Bat-mythos for years to come and this is clearly him building to a new status queue for the character. The question that has loomed over the series since issue 3 has been whether Damian was ever suited to being Robin. He’s violent, self-centered and wants little more than to prove himself.

Damian’s a character that has consciously been designed to recall Jason Todd. Morrison (like me, although that sounds often pretentious of me) has long recognized that Jason has gotten a bad rap as Robin. He was a strong, interesting character, one that clearly wanted to do what was best for Gotham and for the Family. Jason’s death was one of the legitimately tragic moments of the Batman mythology, read separately from the phone line incident, and the character’s parallels to Damian are clear. Both are less focused on saving the city than proving themselves to the Knight in black armor.

tumblr_mcjdvoOplu1qhxx6do2_1280With seven issues left, and some preview images avaliable of issues to come, it’s pretty clear Batman Incorporated will be defined by Damian’s decisions. Can he control his own impulses and prove himself to Bruce? Will Talia push her beloved too far? Will Gotham be proven to be the Hell it was promised to be? Will Barbara end up back in a wheel chair? That one is probably less important.

When Batman can be everywhere, read the book that’s finally going somewhere

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.