By: Grant Morrison (writer), Cameron Stewart & Chris Burnham (artists), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist)

The Story: Now that’s a boat ride you’re not bound to forget.

The Review: While it’s unclear where Batman Inc. fits into this refreshed DCU, with everyone still in the youth of their vigilante careers, it’s obvious Morrison’s grand idea for the next step of Bat-policing will stick around for a while (note that the final word of this issue says “to be continued” in 2012, not “to be concluded”).  But to stay on the safe side, it’s probably best to consider most of this story out-of-continuity, lest we run into unexplainable paradoxes later.

In fact, we could very well run into in the first act of this oversized issue (which, at seven bucks a pop, requires a major leap of devotion to take home), as it stars Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.  With Steph’s existence in the new 52 is still up in the air, fans will be glad to see possibly her last appearance under the cowl, especially since Morrison writes a pretty terrific version of her.  She comes with all her liveliness and charm intact (“…kiss my kung fu.”), and by infiltrating a finishing school for privileged girl assassins, she shows almost more competence than in her now-defunct solo title.

By itself, the Steph-as-Batgirl tale is great fun (with some tenderness in the background as Batman shows up as backup, giving her some much-desired praise as only a father figure can), but included as a finished product with the rest of the issue—it feels very disjointed, to say the least.  You have to remember, though, Morrison never intended for his story to be packaged in this way; the DC relaunch made the mash-up an unavoidable necessity.

That doesn’t entirely excuse the thoroughly confusing nature of remaining story, however.  Like with most Morrison tales, the surface of the plot is straightforward: Batman and his many Robins (with Dick Grayson still wearing a bat on his chest) arrives at a Leviathan freighter for a final showdown with Dr. Dedalus and take down his invasive organization for good.  The moment Bruce actually confronts the ex-Nazi mastermind, however, things go off the loopy end but good.

We have a ridiculous number of time and setting jumps, some of them happening within the same page as Bruce slowly, painfully succumbs to Dedalus’ mind-eroding gas, and becomes unable to distinguish what is real and what is memory.  Besides that, you’re constantly skipping to catch up with a variety of Batman’s agents, some of whom purportedly die in their work against Leviathan (including, apparently, David Zavimbe as Batwing and the pre-relaunch Outsiders—see what I mean about assuming this is out-of-continuity?).

Setting aside the usual Morrison-being-Morrison stuff, the rest of the issue has plenty of good twists, including the revelation that even as Batman incorporated his brand to defeat Leviathan, Leviathan was already sinking its hooks into Batman Inc. itself.  You have double-agent plays all over the place, and the final reveal of Leviathan’s dear leader and ultimate goals, which happen to tie into events of Morrison’s Batman and Robin, to make things even more complicated.

Stewart’s light, easy style makes a perfect fit for Steph Brown as Batgirl, especially since he can draw young girls who look like young girls and not try-outs for Teen Maxim.  He adds in all sorts of cool, funny details (e.g. rhinestone-studded pistols, sub-headmistresses wearing outer corsets) that definitely mesh with Steph’s quirky world.  As for Burnham, you have to respect the guy; he probably tore his hair out trying to translate Morrison’s loaded script into coherent visuals, and for the most part, he succeeds.  Fairbairn offers sympathetic coloring work for both artists.

Conclusion: Entertaining, for the most part, but considering nearly a quarter of the pages is basically a recap of past Batman Incorporated issues, the price still gouges in the end.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I have to say, Morrison’s interpretation of Batwing is cooler and more interesting than anything Judd Winick has offered in Batwing’s own title: “I’ve spent my life partying with Victoria’s Secret models all day and night.”  And where’s David’s bomb-looking support squad, and why do we have only Ultimate Nick Fury—I mean, Matu—in this DCU?

– The inscription on Dedalus’ cane-dagger translates to, “Until fate calls you,” which seems appropriate, considering its part in Daedalus’ ultimate fate.