Monday, July 21, 2014

Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison issue #7

In most of my Batman reviews of New 52, I would often stress more than once that I would enjoy a comic book a lot more if I'm also able to connect with characters in a deeper level. This is more vital to me than making sense of the plot. Still, the latter is something I can be very critical of (which is why I could still rate some stories low even if there are redeeming character interactions therein (see a few of my reviews for Peter J Tomasi's Batman and Robin line-up for reference). For Morrison's Batman Incorporated, I understood that connecting with characters may not be necessary to enjoy the overall narrative itself, especially the very promising plot about Batman recruiting vigilantes across the world to fight an incoming global war against the mysterious Leviathans. But it'd be nice to like the characters as well while all these crazy things are happening.

For the first two issues set in Japan, I immediately warmed up to the hero-to-recruit Jiro Osamu, otherwise known as the younger half of the Mr. Unknown persona. It was an instant connection that just happened only because I liked how his character was set up. I can't say the same for El Gaucho for the Scorpion Tango storyline later on (and though I did enjoy the Hood character, I'm not sure I should even trust him).

So that brings us to this issue entitled Medicine Solidiers and it has to be the first character-driven story from the series so far, and one that completely captured my fancy for utterly relatable characters with great personalities and a fleshed-out relationship between them. It's a story about a father and son dynamic duo in South Dakota. They're called Man-of-Bats and Little Raven. Every once in a while, I would read Morrison's notes for each character just to get a sense of the idea behind that creation, and I must say that Morrison based these characters on a less politically-correct Western-style interpretation from old comics about cowboys and Indians. However, Morrison himself understood the racial insensitivity of those old comics and so proceeded with caution and a more nuanced understanding of the kind of mindset and cultural tension present in that city.

I personally found Man-of-Bats and Little Raven surprisingly intriguing. Morrison's idea of them is based on the re-imagining of what it would be like to portray a rustic Batman and Robin partnership in a countryside setting where they don't have the money or resources at all. The result, as expected, is a saddening condition. Their batcave is a garage whose contents makes it more like what a nerd would keep around as opposed to what a professional vigilante would have. Their batmobile is a beat-up car that sometimes breaks down in the middle of missions. And the people whom they serve and protect are just citizens whose problems are as common as they come. This father-and-son would go door to door to help with housing facilities, food donations, etc. Their brand of vigilantism is a community-approved necessity.

Man-of-Bats is a doctor in real life and whose nocturnal activities are known and frowned upon by his colleagues. Meanwhile, his son finds their less than illustrious cases to be a nightmare routine; he believes there is more to being a hero than merely cleaning up and taking care of the people in their community. He dreams of fighting big bad villains like the real Batman and Robin in Gotham City. I don't blame him for such high hopes and ambitions. After all, why else would you ever become a tights and capes hero if not for the thrill and glamor of that lifestyle? 

His father knows that true service goes unnoticed so he doesn't mind the quiet life they live together, preventing petty crimes and solving day-to-day struggles of their neighbors. His son desires more than those humdrum scenarios, however, so he abandoned his father in the middle of an arrest. While reading this issue, I know that it lacked the great pacing and action-oriented tone of the previous issue and yet this is something that I had a great time reading because it felt personal. I cared about the characters in focus. I sympathized with their plight and rooted for them to get what they want the most. For Man-of-Bats it's the reassurance that he is fighting for something that's worth his blood and sweat--that he is not alone. For Little Raven, it's the acknowledgement that what he does with his father matters, that somehow, someday, someone will take notice and revitalize his passion.

Thankfully, Batman eventually comes along and makes all their dreams come true. It sounds cheesy to say but that's exactly what happens and it's so poignant. I was relieved that both father and son didn't have to face things alone anymore; that their greatest inspiration has noticed the good deeds they have done for their community and respects them for their tenacity and devotion. I especially loved that panel where their neighbors tried to help out as well when Man-of-Bats was being attacked by a group of hooligans. It's always touching when ordinary citizens rise up to defend their heroes. It warms my heart to see that here.


* I've rated this a perfect score because this is the missing element of emotional resonance that I've been hoping for.

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