Batman Incorporated: Volume 1

As a rule, I don’t buy single issues of comics. Ignoring briefly that I’m a uni student on a shoestring budget, I prefer to read short installments of an arc as one big story; it might’ve taken nearly a year, but I’m glad I waited for Green Lantern: Brightest Day, because the end of every issue made me internally scream “I WANT THE NEXT ONE OMFG THAT WAS SUCH A GOOD CLIFFHANGER!” Thankfully, they were all on hand.

So far the only exception to this rule has been Batman Incorporated. Coming after the stunningly awesome events of Batman and Robin Must Die!, I bought every single issue of Inc each month it came out. The first issue was something of an impulse buy, but afterwards I kept hurrying back to the comic store when each new story was released. It was that good.

Finally, they’re all collected in one volume nearly a year and a half later, the delay owed in no small part to the bewildering decision to put it on hiatus until December – a full four months after Flashpoint. It’s probably a better idea for newbies to read the preceding Morrison volumes before diving straight into this once, especially since there’s not much of a precede before things kick off with a kung-fu battle in Tokyo as Batman attempts to recruit Mr Unknown, the Japanese Batman equivalent. From there the plot spins off into several countries across the world as Bruce Wayne gathers international Batmen for a battle with the enigmatic organisation Leviathan.

Admittedly, when the idea was first announced at Comic-Con 2010 I was hesitant to accept it; it sounded like a ridiculous concept, despite my love for Morrison’s work, and I couldn’t really see how it could work. Surely it would devalue the uniqueness and personal concept of Batman to have one in every single country? Granted, we already had a second Batman in Dick Grayson, but they really were apples and oranges compared to each other.

Reading the story, the devaluing doesn’t enter into it at all.

If you ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I’ve been raving about this series for a good while, and the week leading up to the hardcover’s release was punctuated by constant “Ooooh, it’s out this Thursday!”s from me, to the point that I half expect someone to beat me to death with it at my D’n’D game next week. I seriously can’t praise it enough, and it’s only better now that it’s compiled into one volume.

Every single Batman is unique in every single country Bruce visits; spicy Argentinian El Gaucho with his red bandanna and handlebar moustache, badass African Batwing with his effective use of electric blue outfits, former Batgirl Cassandra Cain taking up the Hong Kong mantle of Blackbat…there’s so much variety that the Batman monniker is more of an ideal, a standard, rather than an actual descriptor. The blurb on the cover even mentions raising “the standard of the Bat” – a more apt summation you’d be hard pressed to find.

As much as I’d love to go on forever about how wonderful Morrison’s fresh approach to Batman is in this volume, I have to be objective, even if just for a little bit. I mean, if I just talked about how much I love the comics I’d read it’d get kinda boring, right?

The one thing I was hoping they’d have in the hardcover was some kind of prologue or text page to give a quick summary of what’s led up to this point. This is part of what made The Black Mirror accessible, and I’m a bit sad they didn’t include something like that in here for newer readers, especially since it’s being advertised by comic shops in my neck of the woods as a standalone series. On the other hand, Morrison seems to have written the story primarily for those who’ve been following his arc from the beginning, so it’s kind of understandable. If this is your first foray into Morrison’s Batman (and if that’s the case, I strongly recommend Batman and Son instead) then get ready to trawl Wikipedia for a few minutes before you read.

The pacing also deserves a bit of a mention; Morrison employed shorter, three-issue stories during his run on Batman and Robin that all contributed to the overall arc but were individually accessible in their own ways. He tries a similar thing here, but it doesn’t work quite as well – the opening story in Japan was good, but ended a bit too quickly with only two issues. Conversely, the three-part story following it with El Gaucho and Batwoman discovering unlikeable truths relating to Bruce Wayne’s first love Kathy Kane was good, but went a bit all over the place. For a story that seemed to be trying to fit into three issues as a self-contained arc as well as contributing overall it went a bit schizophrenic (and not just because of the artwork, which I’ll get to later) and there wasn’t a great sense of progression. It was still good, but didn’t really work as the three-issue structure Morrison stated he’d be using.

While the narrative is a little slow to start, once it hits Issue 6 it really gets going. In fact everything before then feels like something of a prologue before we get into Incorporated proper. There’s a continuity cavalcade featuring pretty much every member of the Bat family – including recent MIA Cassandra Cain – and mentions and appearances of characters stretching all the way back to the start of Morrison’s run. The best quote at the end – taken from the finale of Issue 6 – is one of the most fist-pumping lines I’ve ever read in a Batman book. Read it in context; it is awesome.

I won’t go too deeply into the ending because it truly is titanic. It’s a lead-in to the second season of Incorporated (starting May 2012) and ends on such a humungous cliffhanger that I can’t even obliquely reference what it is to those who’ve not read it. If you’ve been with Morrison since 2006, and have followed with his recurring Oroboro pattern in this book, then it’ll definitely bring things very full circle.

The artwork is exceptional, if at times a bit schizophrenic. Part of this is to do with the army of artists involved, with the majority of the load being handled by Yannick Paquette and Chris Burnham. I’d not encountered either of their arts before, and found them to be a good contrast in many ways; while they both focus on colour, Paquette has a slightly more muted feel that touches on others like Alex Maleev and Steve Epting, whilst Burnham’s full-on fleshed-out colour was strongly reminiscent of Frank Quitely – who’s also a frequent collaborator with Morrison. The only part where the art really falls down for me is in Issue 8, within Internet 3.0; Scott Beatty’s graphic stylings – quite obviously 99% CG rather than actual drawn artwork – seem wildly out of place, even for an issue that takes place in Tron-land. There’s nothing else like it anywhere else in the book, and it look far too surreal even for a Morrison story. The human faces in the real world seem to live in the Uncanny Valley, and it would’ve been completely off-putting if the story wasn’t pretty ok.

The dialogue is exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Grant Morrison work – true to the characters, doesn’t tell you everything, and gives you hints towards putting together the full picture. There’s little extraneous exposition, and quite a few WHAM moments rely on the visual rather than Robin piping up and going “Father! I just found a countdown timer for a nuclear bomb in the President’s bathroom!” (not that that happens). At times it can be a bit hard to follow, especially when new baddie Doctor Dedalus is involved with his past-Nazi reminiscence, but it puts me in mind very much of the Nolan Batman dialogue. The reader doesn’t have everything explained to them, and needs to work some stuff out themselves.

As I said, this was so good I got it in single issues. That should highlight how good I think it is, since a comic has to be really fucking excellent for me to purchase it monthly. I’ve already updated my standing order with the local haunt for season 2, which is mostly likely going to be the finale to Morrison’s entire run. If his time on New X-Men is anything to go on, we can expect one hell of an explosive ending.

STORY: 5/5
ARTWORK: 3.5/5 (would’ve been a 4.5 if not for Beatty’s jarring artwork)
DIALOGUE: 4.5/5

OVERALL: 13/15

BEST QUOTE: [after starting to pummel a bunch of American terrorists] “You should’ve stayed in Pennsylvania, Joe Average. We don’t have a Batman in Pennsylvania. Not yet. Welcome to Gotham.” – Batman

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