By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)

The Story: It’s the douchey, pervy side to Batman you’ve never seen before.

The Review: You know one skill of Batman’s that doesn’t get utilized nearly enough?  His mastery of disguise.  You’d think writers would show this off more often, especially since if they want to shore up his cred as the world’s greatest detective.  Maybe they think the idea of Batman donning a wig and an accent is too undignified.  Maybe they think he can just as easily get the same intel just by beating it out of his enemies.

Fun as that well may be, it doesn’t come close to the entertainment you get out of Bruce, decked out in a cheap suit of noxious colors, and adopting the persona of one of those smart-aleck, sarcastic gangsters (as opposed to gangstas) that made up nearly the entire 40s pulp population.  You don’t often think of Batman as having a sense of humor other than a dry remark here and there, often at his teammates’ expense.  Here you see he’s got to have an untapped funny bone somewhere in his body, seeing how he throws corny wisecracks like baseballs.

His expression of surprise that a former acquaintance didn’t recognize him: “I figured the scent of my distinctive cologne would be enough to strip the enamel off your teeth.”

Inquiring why a certain chanteuse was getting harassed by a couple of lump-headed burlies: “You refused to sing ‘I Will Always Love You’ for their special date?”

And of course, the gem of them all: “I’m like true love and nuclear war—there’s no way to prepare for ‘Matches.’”

Best of all, Bruce gets some of his pals in on the fun, with El Gaucho as a knife-licking sadist, the Hood as—what else?—a thuggish hoodie, and Batwing as a dumb mute who only speaks with his fists.  And what with Dick reprising his role as the Dark Knight, you can see a lot of potential in a series that casts Batman Inc. as a crime-fighting company, but one of the theater.  There’s a kind of logic in the playful way in which Bruce approaches his war on Leviathan.  For Talia, the mastermind, this global operation is one big game, but a deadly serious one; nothing will piss her off more than to have the target of her plan not only beat her, but do it with a grin.

Otherwise, there’s really nothing at all amusing about Leviathan’s objectives and execution.  Those opening pages give you a clear sense of how subtle their invasion has been, and what an overwhelming task Batman and his comrades have before them.  Heck, even just taking one intersection of Gotham, the scrappy team is already outnumbered.  Morrison plans for this to be one of the greatest, biggest tasks Batman will ever accomplish; the scale is definitely there to make that happen.

Do you know why Burnham is such an asset for this title?  He can convey in one page what it would take other artists three, and even then their sequences would come out posed, artificial, entirely without credibility.  Burnham doesn’t lose a single ounce of detail or emotional weight, no matter how much he packs onto a page.  Just look at that opener: in two panels that measure no more than two inches by five inches, you get a whole classroom of students, each interacting or doing something different, each showing a little personality, though they remain nameless and voiceless.  Take note of the tic-tac-toe game and doodle of a hanged teacher on the chalkboard.

Conclusion: For sheer entertainment alone, this issue ranks up there for one of Morrison’s best issues in the last year.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I don’t know if Burnham wrote it himself, or it was letterer Patrick Brosseau, or even Morrison with his usual, meticulous details, but Matches snapping “Scram!” is awesome.

– I’d like to know how Dick as Batman made himself about a foot and a half taller than Bruce as Matches.