By: Grant Morrison (writer), Yanick Paquette (penciller), Michel LaCombe (inker), Pere Perez (supporting artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)

The Story: Pack in your venom antidote and tie up your bandana, muchachos—Batman’s going south of the border!

The Review: A good idea doesn’t always pan out into a good story.  Quite often, once you start bearing down on the execution, it just ends up falling apart at the seams.  The establishment of Batman Inc. is an undeniably great premise for an issue-by-issue romp around the world of international super-heroics, but so far it has lacked an overarching goal, a point that can threaten its liveliness in the long run.

Morrison beats that problem to the punch by slowly integrating, in his trademark puzzling style, the looming threat which Batman Inc. will no doubt face down the line.  The issue opens on WWII, as Britain’s version of the All-Star Squadron confronts the mysterious Dedalus, an encounter with triumphant, though tragic, results.  Morrison restricts clues to Deadlus’ identity using controlled scene jumps, but as the name pops up later in El Gaucho’s case, there’s no doubt we’ll learn more of him and his importance in time.

One of Morrison’s great strengths is his ability to create nearly fully-realized characters from the get-go.  In just two pages, he introduces a whole team of British with their powers, origins, and interrelationship dynamics all intact.  He just has a knack for using dialogue for world building: “The sooner I can sort out my cosmic hourglass and scarper back to Alter-England, the better.”

And his characters only continue to grow as the writing goes on.  As the issue proceeds, El Gaucho reveals his own personal backlog of rogues, a polished operation, and a carefully manicured civilian life.  You have to love his resistance to playing second-banana to Batman (love how he introduces Batman as “My new partner”).  Instead of feeling created for the purpose of the story, El Gaucho seems like he’s always existed in his own world, only Morrison has given us a chance to visit.

Others have mentioned it before, but you’ve got to love how Bruce’s James Bond-like qualities get played up in this series.  His tango with Tristessa not only drops necessary clues for the plot to move forward, but it reminds us just how jaw-droppingly enviable Batman’s alter-ego really is.  Bruce as a billionaire playboy hasn’t been sold this well since…well, far longer than I’ve read comics, honestly.

This title’s success has to be due in equal part to Paquette’s stunning art.  He uses POV to make each panel as dynamic as possible and expertly control the story’s flow.  The astonishing attention he puts into the background will keep you coming back to find new details: the graffiti on the walls, the architectural style, the labels on the liquor bottles, the Club of Heroes’ group photo on El Gaucho’s desk, and more.  LaCombe’s seems to have perfected his inking technique as they only rarely muddy the lines, and Fairbairn’s bold colors make everything look like a summer blockbuster flick in comic book form.

Conclusion: Excepting a bit of Morrison-esque confusion in the dialogue, this issue is a reward and treat for those who waited patiently those three months for its return.  If the quality stays this high, I personally don’t mind the wait.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen