By: Grant Morrison (writer), Chris Burnham (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)

The Story: Batman doesn’t like a lot of people, so killing off his first love is not a great idea.

The Review: Probably the most distinguishing trademark of Morrison’s writing is the grand scope of his vision: his ideas stretch far into the future, and with his reputation, he can afford to imagine that much in advance.  For readers who stick with him to the end, the payoff of all the groundwork he’s lain down can be a very special satisfaction, but you’ll need patience to handle the frequently bewildering threads he’ll weave through every story arc.

This issue features a good sampling of typical Morrison fare: the fraught interweaving of past, present, and future events; seemingly out-of-context plotlines; charged, even melodramatic dialogue.  It’s the kind of stuff he’s known for, but very at odds with the spy-thriller feel this title had been going for.  Still, this is Morrison’s big pet project; it’s inevitable it’d have greater stakes than Batman globe-trotting for lookalikes.

The constant scene-jumps, hopping from one time period and setting to the next can be hard to swallow though.  One series of panels have Batman and Batwoman on the verge of hallucinogenic death, the next shows Kathy Kane confronting Dr. Dedalus, master spy and apparently her employer.  In turn, you learn El Gaucho is a former partner and (unrequited) lover of Kathy’s, and he unwittingly led her to her demise.

The sudden inclusion to the series of Kane and her current successor, Kate, is a puzzling curve ball, but makes sense—to a limit.  You can’t have Batman Inc. without Batwoman, his first spin-off.  Kate’s personal agenda (finding who sniped three Marines—touchy ground considering her military roots) seems independent from Bruce’s, but with the reappearance of the Ouroboros serpent in her case, their paths will no doubt cross, sooner or later.

As well as Morrison sells the quirky-yet-formidable Kathy and the gritty Kate, each is a product of their period, while Batman has lived through both.  So you wind up with a touchy-feely, jokey Batman alongside the gruff, hardcore Batman we all know and love, and the juxtaposition of both personalities just seems off-putting.  Morrison’s attempts to bring in Silver Age elements can be hit-or-miss, and this distracting Kathy Kane plotline feels like an unnecessary miss.

On the other hand, you can’t deny Kathy and her connection to Dr. Dedalus, the central villain to all this, neatly brings Bruce’s goals for Batman Inc. full circle (Ouroboros again) and gives him a personal stake in taking down that “unrepentant Nazi master criminal.”  But before I’m sold on Dedalus as a foe that requires a world of Batmen to defeat, I need more than crazy talk and capes of smoke—I want to see him at his most far-reaching, criminal manipulative.

Burnham has to cover a lot of ground this issue—Kathy’s origins, Kate’s avengement, Dedalus’ imprisonment, Batman and El Gaucho’s cage fight—and he apes a lot of different styles to do it.  I see bits of Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams III, and even Frank Miller in his panels, and he plays them well, but the mish-mash quality is a step down from Yanick Paquette’s consistent strengths.

Conclusion: There’s a wealth of detail amidst the jumble of material Morrison gives you, but you may need a couple re-reads to truly enjoy them.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen