By: Grant Morrison (writer), Yanick Paquette (penciller), Michel Lacombe (inker), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)

The Story: Lord Death Man rises again, and this time he’s ready to bring senseless crime back into fashion for the great nation of Nihon.  With Mr. Unknown out of the picture, it’s up to Batman to make sure Shiny Happy Aquazon doesn’t become L.D. Man’s next superheroic victim.

The Review: The only way to convince anybody that Batman is needed anywhere other than Gotham is to show just what kind of twisted fiends can pop up in other corners of the world.  In this issue, Grant Morrison’s updated take on Japan’s Lord Death Man makes the villain a worthy candidate for a Dark Knight’s rogue gallery—even if it’s not Bruce Wayne under the helm.

Morrison does two things in this issue: sow the seeds for Japan’s own urban legends (which can be returned to later, if we’re lucky enough), and offer strong evidence to support the need for Batman Incorporated.  He accomplishes both of these things by portraying Lord Death Man as the Eastern nation’s Joker, a man bent on creating chaos for the heck of it.  Make no mistake, however—this guy is no Joker imitation.  His mission statement may involve the same kind of gross atrocities (and incessant creepy laughter—“Heehee!”), but for a very different, more profound, even culturally appropriate philosophy: “You placed the first charge on the disabled kids’ bus like I told you?  Super-sweet.  Life is cruel, death the reward.”

Equally as impressive as Lord Death Man’s buildup into a formidable psychopath is Jiro Osamu’s path toward earning his chops as a vigilante.  In the previous issue, he demonstrates he has the necessary skills to be a crime-fighter, but by now everyone knows Batman is more than the sum of his physical and intellectual parts.  To be Batman requires the drive to face off against seemingly impossible odds and still manage enforce justice.  Jiro gets the opportunity to do just that in the final scenes, where he literally stares into the face of Death and takes him down, upholding Batman’s standards of vigilantism as he does.

As fun and noble as Jiro’s turn under the cape is to read, the real thing sells so much better.  In the end, it’s Bruce Wayne as Batman that finishes the job and comes up with the most fitting ending for Lord Death Man.  But in a way, this story isn’t about trying to sell Jiro as a parallel Bruce Wayne.  Jiro actually has more in common thematically with Dick Grayson—a sidekick growing into his own, learning how to fill his boss’ big shoes.  And with the original Mr. Unknown gone, Batman steps up to guide Jiro into his place, but with a bigger banner to work under.

What’s really remarkable about this issue is how even as it dives into some fairly dramatic beats, it still remains an incredibly fun read.  Men stuffed in safes and launched into space, underwater battles in a fifth-floor apartment, priceless jewels that liquefy in dry air—this stuff makes comics a joy to read.  Every character gets a chance to shine, though the banter between Bruce and Selina works so well that you have to be disappointed she isn’t sticking around for the long haul.  This semi-breezy Batman won’t do for mythic reads, but you’ll love him even better than the broody one.

Yanick Paquette continues to knock the art out of the park.  Every character and setting gets distinctive treatment; nothing looks run-of-the-mill.  Paquette continues to deliver on making the art as essential to the storytelling as Morrison’s words, especially where point-of-view is concerned.  Whether it’s Batman hitching a ride on a copter over the Odaiba skyline, or someone holding a bowl of noodles in the foreground while in the background Lord Death Man is about to fly his car through the window—every panel rattles with energy.  Michel Lacombe’s inks sometimes get a little muddy, but are otherwise great, and Nathan Fairbairn’s colors always set the right mood for the scene.

Conclusion: Honestly, the concept of Batman Incorporated still has some ways to go before its success in the long run can be seen, but at least the idea is driving some exceptionally enjoyable stories.  Issues like these prove just how boundless creativity can really get in comics.  If this series can maintain that feeling, there’s no doubt it can be one of the best comics in the next year.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen