By: Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham (story), Frazer Irving (art)

The Story: Batman Inc. takes a lesson from high school cliques: membership by invite only.

The Review: I’ve never had the same problem with derivative characters the way some comic book commentators do.  I believe the prejudice comes from a belief that such characters represent laziness or lack of inspiration or something.  Frankly though, I don’t see how they’re any worse than song covers or interpretations of jazz standards, both of which I love.  There’s no harm in imitation so long as it introduces new ideas to stand on its own.

While none of the inductees of Batman Inc. will instantly become your new favorite character from this issue alone, Morrison gives each a reason to be liked.  More than almost anyone else in the biz, he’s the master of economy in writing.  In a few lines, even a few words, he can convey a character’s entire personality and something of their background as well.  Reveling over a fifteen-minute murder-solving, Knight (as in “and Squire”) crows, “I’ve done harder bloody crosswords.”  That one line says most everything you need to know about Knight, doesn’t it?

More than sheer personality, Morrison gets across how each Batman operates within the unique challenges of his particular locale.  Nowhere does that come across more clearly than for Ravil, Batman of Russia, who also has to navigate geographic obstacles on top of everything else.  As he attempts to guide his American inspiration and their freshly-captured villains through a snowstorm, he says, “The Bat-Bus is this way—twenty minutes maybe.  When we’re back in St. Petersburg with a drink in each hand, we’ll laugh at the symptoms of frostbite.”

Almost as much fun as getting the flavor of each Batman is watching them interact with each other.  Even though you only get a couple Batman-on-Batman interactions in the issue, they show a lot of potential for interesting team-ups to come.  For example, the banter and snap between Squire and Dark Ranger, Batman of Australia, has a lot of chemistry for a long-distance relationship between virtual strangers.  It shows that despite the Batman stamp, this series easily counts as one of the warmest on the stands.

Bruce alludes to this in the opening pages, stating that one of the fundamental truths about Batman is that “I was never alone,” not even from the beginning.  That claim becomes the thesis of the issue and the whole justification for Batman Inc.  This Batman doesn’t shy away from alliances and friendships; he sees them as a necessity to his mission, even a pleasant one.  When he visits Black Glove, Batman of Paris, you get the distinct sense of old pals looking on the next generation (i.e. Nightrunner) with mingled pride and ruefulness.  It’s tender and sincere, which isn’t anything you expect from Batman, but Morrison makes it work anyway.

Irving’s no stranger to Morrison’s vision of the Bat-verse, but after work on esoteric titles like Xombi and The Shade, you can’t help seeing his art here as pedestrian by comparison.  Still, he proves more adept at action sequences than you might expect, using silhouette and shadow to get the movements across.  The monochromatic coloring is ubiquitous to Irving, of course, and while he handles it carefully overall, there are moments when they’re just too much, like the oppressive yellows of all the Dark Ranger scenes.

Conclusion: Not too many writers can scrabble together so many players into one issue and make each feel like an important cog to the whole work, but Morrison manages to do just that.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Once again, you can’t help noticing the tension in continuity within the series.  The sighting of the Super Young Team and some of the last group of Outsiders makes you wonder what their future in the new DCU will be.

– I love almost every Bruce-Alfred moment, and we get a great one here: “…you know, I can’t recall when I’ve ever seen you eat, Alfred.  But you always have food waiting on the table for me. Thank you.”  D’awww!