By: Grant Morrison (writer), Yanick Paquette (penciller), Michael LaCombe (inker), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)
The Story: Bruce Wayne begins his mission to recruit an international association of Batmen by looking up Mr. Unknown, his counterpart in Japan. Lord Death Man, boss baddie of the Land of the Rising Sun, however has announced his goal to “Kill all Japanese crimefighters!” With the help of Catwoman and Mr. Unknown’s partner, Batman (prime) intends to confront Lord Death Man and prevent the failure of his mission before it starts.
The Review: Grant Morrison tends to polarize readers with a combination of high-concept ideas and ambitious execution. His newest series, however, seems on track to being the most grounded of his current writing: Batman, realizing the power of
his own icon, decides to market it around the world to battle underworlds beyond Gotham. This issue has no philosophical musings, no metaphysical abstractions, no extreme sci-fi complications.
Of course, the idea of a league of Batmen only has weight if the contenders for the symbol can even begin to measure up to it. The first contender in question, Mr. Unknown, at first glance doesn’t seem to. We open on him at his least impressive moments—and also his final ones. He is quite literally declawed before losing face altogether. The instinct is to peg him as an incompetent—how could Bruce even consider lending his symbol to this guy? But even if Mr.Unknown’s defeat paints him poorly, it elevates his nemesis, Lord Death Man, to a level of malice worthy of a Batman villain. Lord Death Man’s cruel teasing and appearance very quickly establish his iconography and formidability.
And if Mr. Unknown himself comes off uninspiring, his partner, Jiro, in comparison shows off his admirable capabilities, setting us up to suspect that perhaps the division of power between Mr. Unknown and Jiro is not what we are initially led to believe (particularly considering the revelation that Jiro acts as Mr. Unknown’s body double). The existence of Mr. Unknown’s underground base, complete with advanced tech and a sleek vehicle further emphasize the parallels between Batman and Robin’s world to their Japanese counterparts.
For those concerned that they’ll receive yet more helpings of an introspective, broody, distinctly-Morrison Batman, have no fear. The Batman of this issue is at his best—absurdly capable, highly observant, and kickass. He extracts information from henchmen in a way no one else can: “Your boss might kill you if he ever finds out, sure. Me? I’ll carve the nose off your face right here!” Not only does Batman show off his chops, but his billionaire persona has never come across as so enviable. In public, he is suave, and in private, irresistibly rugged.
And the lucky object of that ruggedness is Selina Kyle, who hasn’t been portrayed as so competent and sexy since the days of her ongoing (which I miss, by the way). Her mastery as a thief is made front-and-center, and her fighting skills are given their due as she tackles henchmen and robots by Batman’s side. What really sells her characterization in this issue is the nonchalance with which she does everything, very true to a woman who models her behavior after felines.
Morrison sets up the stakes very efficiently and fairly high. The predicament all our heroes, both Western and Eastern, find themselves in toward the end is a classic: escaping the villain’s trap. But this plot device loses its generic quality to some fun, unexpected elements—an underwater cage within a flooded apartment room, with a massive octopus tucked in for good measure. The tension is also heightened by the knowledge that failure here means failure for Batman’s entire mission, and in a metaphysical sense, failure for the concept Morrison is trying to sell.
This is the type of work Morrison seems to enjoy; taking what would otherwise be clichéd story structures and refreshing them. At times, his attempts deliver inconsistent and isolating results. But at least in this issue, he demonstrates admirable effectiveness. One thing I’d like to call attention to is his succinct use of dialogue to quickly establish character and setting. Even the blurbs on television serve to offer credibility to the world of the story: “Shiny Happy Aquazon of Super Young Team fame talks about being chosen to open the Poseidon Crown Jewels exhibition…”
No less than Morrison’s is Yanick Paquette’s attention to detail. His exhibition panel of downtown Tokyo is exotic and lively, so meticulously drawn you could recognize which part of town it is. Subsequent readings will reveal even more subtle embellishments. My favorite is on the final page, in which despite the watery environment in the foreground, you can still see outside the window a dove flying by in the sunshine. Paquette’s weakness seems to be in conveying action; at times, especially as Catwoman and Batman swing through the air, the movement appears posed, lacking dynamism. But to counter this, Paquette’s sense of layout and storytelling through perspective is nearly always just right, giving energy to face-paced scenes and tension to slower ones. And Nathan Fairbairn’s colors add an extra layer of richness to everything; however impressive the linework, it is the colors that give this issue its cinematic vibe.
Conclusion: This issue really worked well on every level. There is still some doubt as to the value of multiple Batmen, particularly since the original is portrayed so vividly here. Even compared to the characterization of Catwoman, the Japanese
characters lacked depth and credibility. It would have been valuable to have more layers to Jiro or Lord Death Man’s personality and backstory revealed, but the issue is packed and satisfying, regardless. If this first issue is an indication of the
caliber of work to come, then there is a lot to look forward to from this story and its team of creators.