Friday, December 12, 2014

[Best of Batman] Batman Incorporated Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison

Batman is fundamentally the lone caped crusader of justice, a creature of the night engulfed in the blackest of shadows whose aim is to deplete the criminal population in his beloved city Gotham. He's badass cool because he's also a billionaire playboy by day and can afford the most awesome martials arts and combat training, as well as make his own set of awesomely fangasmic gadgets. For those reasons, every comic book fanboy wants to be Batman even just for an hour.

Batman has been around for 75 years, adapted into a lot of visual mediums, and anything with his symbol stamped on it will consistently guarantee an excited audience. Even the most sheltered and non-superhero fan has an inkling of understanding of how Batman operates: he's a distant and aloof anti-hero who only has a butler and a teenage boy as a sidekick plus the company of a string of socialites to keep up appearances in public. Batman has always been alone since the night his parents were brutally murdered in front of him. But as far as clichés go, certainly no man is an island, and writer Grant Morrison's collected issues for his series Batman Incorporated challenge and question that age-old belief that Batman is meant to be alone.

The zero issue even starts with Batman making an official announcement that he was never supposed to be alone. While almost all other Bat-titles utilize the existential solitude that has defined Batman for generations, Morrison decided to do something radical just to shake things up which explains the very premise of Batman Incorporated: in the aftermath of the Final Crisis events where Bruce Wayne was presumed dead, former first Boy Wonder Dick Grayson took up the cowl with Bruce's illegitimate son Damian as his new Robin. Some time later Bruce comes back with a new platform against crime, and decides to create a vigilante franchise that recruits potential crime fighters across the globe. From Japan to Argentina, to England and Australia, these skilled men and women pledge their service and allegiance to the unending symbol of Batman. This was an intriguing concept since it puts Batman in the context of a teamwork situations which we never often see him enough (outside of Justice League, that is). However, anyone who's been reading him in comics should know better; Batman does work and cooperate with many other costumed heroes--but it's been unanimously agreed upon that he is better off doing things by himself. It just feels right.

This is why, initially, the idea of a Bat-Inc. is uncomfortable for most long-time readers. Personally, though I found the concept a fresh and exciting one, but I wasn't too keen on the execution. I previously reviewed the original 2010 run of this series back in July, and that volume collects nine issues plus a special. When DC comics revamped as New 52, they decided to keep this title which actually became a tad bit problematic if you're reading this alongside other New 52 Bat-material. Essentially, this should have been credited as an old-continuity series because some of its major plots ring more true to what was established from the previous continuity. Now this volume Demon Star, which was composed of six amazing and tantalizing issues illustrated by Chris Burnham, is definitely the height of Morrison's painstakingly tedious plot-building since the conceptual work of this series started seven years ago. Ultimately, it was worth it because it has garnered a well-earned phenomenal success with the finished product. When I say that this was seven-years-in-the-making, I meant it. You have to go back as far as Morrison's Batman and Son and Batman RIP. The plot thread continues to his run for Batman and Robin. To truly appreciate the effort he has put into this series, you also need these previous works to compare with since in them you will find the seeds of what was going to flourish eventually as Batman Incorporated. The series is often peppered with callbacks and references to Morrison's established canon subplots found in those works. All the more reason why I insist for you to view this as a part of the old continuity and New 52...

...but therein lies the complication. But this is only the first volume. I might discuss the implication of the paradox Batman Incorporated presents next week when I do reach issue #8 where a significant event has happened and therefore affected other Bat-titles for New 52. In the meantime, Demon Star is a crowd pleaser if you don't have any strong negative bias against Morrison as a writer. Sure, he's been known to be quite dick-ish and evasive but the quality of his work has never disappointed me. I admit that his tonality and approach to Batman might be an acquired taste, but his experimental flair keeps his stories interesting because he has a unique perspective on how to write Batman than most of his contemporaries. With a Batman-Morrison story, you will always have an adventure you can sink your teeth into. Demon Star attests to that. Here we get a very well-nuanced character arc for Talia al Ghul who is the main villain at play for Batman Incorporated. Batman's relationship with his son and partner Damian was also explored in an angsty level, and the Leviathan is probably a more real and tangible threat than Synder's Court of Owls (after a year-long introspection, I realized I never really bought the concept of the Court of Owls). A lot of savory things are also happening in the background that you might miss out on if you're not versed enough with the old continuity material from way back.

I made a claim once that Morrison's works for Batman are not readily accessible or newbie-friendly and Batman Incorporated will certainly seem that way in the surface--at first. If you take comics reading seriously and actually find time to research parts you don't comprehend (or, even better, read previous continuity stuff as well), then I can assure you that Batman Incorporated will be one of the most dynamic, diverse and memorable comics you will ever read these days.


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