By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)
The Story: Talia will always her daddy’s little, assassin-killing girl.
The Review: It’s not easy being a spin-off. Not only does it make that much harder to develop an identity of your own, but even if you do, you will always live with the stigma of not being the original. In the world of comics, only several characters managed to step out from the shadows of their predecessors, and only in some exceptional circumstances. And just like with most things in this world, it’s even harder for a woman to accomplish the same task.
Talia al Ghul has had a rough time breaking free from the pigeonhole of being one of Batman’s gallery of lovers. If he’s the James Bond of the DCU (as early issues of this series’ first volume showed), then Talia counts among the greatest of his Bond girls, but then, you hardly ever remember the Bond girls, do you? They come in, beguile our hero momentarily, then ultimately get crushed as he moves on to his next mission, with yet another dangerously sexy lady waiting.
Morrison takes some major pains to manufacture a rounded character for Talia, diving into every stage of her life, from her formative years training in the lethal arts to her current ambitions for world war. Yet even though our lens is focused on Talia, her father stands in the back of each scene. It’s the typical tale of a father indulging his daughter’s every whim (“I always wanted my own secret headquarters under London, thank you.”) while depriving her of what she needed the most: the love of both him and her mother.
With that, Morrison not only gives Talia a convincing motivation for surpassing her own father as master of the known world, but also a sympathetic one. Dismissed by her father, rejected by the only man she ever loved, you can view this whole Leviathan endeavor she’s thrown herself into as a cry for attention on the scale that only someone of her family’s stature can produce. In a lot of ways, Batman serves merely as a target for her ire; her real beef lies with someone else. When Ra’s shrinks back as Batman looms over him in the desert, he doesn’t realize that it’s Talia’s machinations that made this utter fear of the Dark Knight possible.
It’s amazing, considering the fractured and hop-about structure of this issue, how easy it is to follow. You can’t guarantee that the time and setting will remain consistent from page to page, nor even panel to panel, yet it all runs together cohesively, each scene nonetheless elaborating upon the other while naturally setting up the next. If nothing else, this issue is a superb demonstration of Morrison’s craft, of a writer who knows how to use his tools.
Burnham, like Frank Quitely, has an ability to convey utter seriousness despite the exaggerated, cartoonish style of his figures. With him, a child’s cheeks become even chubbier, the chest of a man harrier and more rugged, the face of a woman almost deadly sharp in its well-formed features. This hyperbolic approach to the art meshes very well with the Silver Agey wackiness Morrison brings to his scripts, forming a world that’s impossible to believe yet very believable. For anyone who needs to see the essence of what makes superhero comics so compelling, this issue would be a perfect offering.
Conclusion: One of the most effective and thorough character pieces I’ve seen of a person who’s been a bit poorly defined up till now.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Kind of makes you think, though: if you have to trust others to revive you after you’re dead, it seems a lot more likely those people will just let you croak and take over your empire themselves.
– When Ra’s held up Talia on that mountain and told her the world would all be hers one day, I couldn’t help thinking, Fantastic—a barren and frozen wasteland. Just what I wanted, Daddy.