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

The Story: It’s a battle royale between circus freaks, assassins, and costumed crusaders.

The Review: From the beginning, this title has straddled two very different kinds of stories, each of which is a reflection of the dichotomy that is Morrison’s genius, if you happen to believe he’s a genius.  The first kind of story is bombastic, unpredictable, firecracking bursts of sheer superhero excess.  The second kind of story is driven and invasive, and intensely cerebral in the way it plots its course and sticks to it, determined to see it to the end.

It stands to reason you’d notice the more frenetic aspects of this title rather than anything else.  Morrison fills the pages with action, every bit of it begging for your attention.  I know some folks have a kind of sniffy prejudice towards mainstream comics, but issues like this one show how a writer can take advantage of the zany side of superhero and elevate the ridiculous into art.  “World’s greatest assassins…meet Batman’s front line,” announces the Hood.  When the front line consists of an entire gang of Bat-men, you’re guaranteed craziness of the finest degree.

We’ve seen fairly big bits and pieces of the Bat-men’s personalities and backgrounds before, so all that’s left for Morrison to do is flesh them out and develop the relationships among them.  None have taken off so much as the rivalry between El Gaucho and the Hood, however, keeping the tone light and lively even when the action gets pretty rough.  In a crowd of Batman titles, it would be wise to have the group series place more focus on, say, the group.

Unfortunately, this issue makes it pretty clear that there’s a tension between the independence of the other Bat-men and the star power of Batman himself.  In one scene, Merlyn demands to face Batman, rather than his hired hands.  “Hired?” scoffs “Wingman,” “…we’re doing this because we love it!

He may well be telling the truth, but you have to wonder if he loves fighting this escalating war caused by a woman’s scorn.  There’s really no way to overlook just how insane it is that Talia would declare war on Gotham—and the world—just to get back at Batman for luring her son away from her.  On the other hand, that’s exactly something she would do, and have the capability of doing, and it only plays into the over-the-top entertainment of the series.

No Morrison comic would be complete without some confusion.  Just as you think you’ll get through an entire issue without scratching your head, you get this strange confrontation at the end between Damian and the man behind “Wingman.”  It’s a baffling moment because it seems to bears no relation to the context of the scene, which is Talia and Bruce’s talk of war, and it doesn’t naturally lead to the talking points of the final page.  It’s just a strange, out-of-nowhere thing of its own.  As always, if you can explain it to me, please do.

You would never describe Burnham’s art as sleek, but it has amazing swiftness of movement just the same, cutting across the page to the point where you feel like it might run right off.  Let me just say, having browsed through both Green Arrow and Hawkeye, it wasn’t until this issue that I got a sense of how fast and powerful an arrow unloosed from a bow can be.  It hums with energy.  Even before you see which target it hits, you know the impact will be deep and painful.  Such is the action of this series under Burnham’s hand.

Conclusion: As always, I applaud Morrison’s ability to write something which is just purely entertaining, yet rises above a guilty pleasure.  Still, it’d be nice to get some movement on the big, underlying plot though.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I always appreciate that Morrison remembers the little details enough to give resolution to even the smallest players.  This issue sees the end of both Lumina Lux and Billy the Goatboy’s personal storylines.

– I happen to think sending Damian back to his mom sounds like a horrible idea.  Talia is clearly not the type to forget old grievances, after all.