By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham, Jason Masters, Andrew Bressan (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)

The Story: Who needs a corporation when you’ve got a one-man army?

The Review: I used to do workshops in improv comedy—something I highly recommend for anyone who has an opportunity to do it.  As intimidating and nerve-wracking as it can be at times to create something from nothing, to me it feels like the creative process in its purest form: using whatever came to mind as a spark, teasing out every interesting thread, molding it into something coherent by instinct.  There’s a lot of risk, but that’s what makes it so thrilling to do and see.

Morrison writes the same way improvisers act, with similar variation in quality.  When he’s good, his work has an in-the-moment, totally present feeling which is irresistibly engaging.  When he’s not so good, there’s a borderline random looseness which makes you feel that he’s writing himself into a corner that he’s not quite sure how to get out of.  In the case of Batman Incorporated, he’s not quite there yet, but you do sense the story closing in on him.

If this was a lesser writer, you might be inclined to cut your losses now and take off before Morrison’s myriad plotlines collapse entirely.  But being driven against the wall with no clear way of escape is for Morrison his favorite kind of challenge, just like his protagonist.  “That’s Batman at his most dangerous!” Nightwing declares.  Maybe Talia has overlooked this point, as her father implies, or maybe she doesn’t appreciate it as much as she should, but it will almost certainly lead to her downfall.  Ra’s al Ghul in his one-man chess match pointedly knocks over the red queen with his black knight, demonstrating that the knight is the only piece in the game with the ability to circumvent obstacles, even more powerful ones, in its path.

This all shows that no matter how many allies Batman may rely upon, ultimately, his finest moments happen when he operates alone.  So for all his effort to build up Batman Inc. as a concept, the story indicates that the fundamental premise of the operation (to establish Batman’s presence around the world and combat evil wherever it may appear) has little importance in the war against Leviathan.  While the remnants of his allies will take part in this final battle, they won’t do so according to one of Bruce’s master plans; they’ll act upon their own instincts, just like the man who inspired them.

Of course, you’re very interested in seeing Batman take on Talia solo, armed with Azrael’s Suit of Sorrows, Lucius Fox’s prototype exoskeleton, and the Man-Bat Serum.  And you do want to see who this “Headmistress” the Hood serves under is, and what her connection to this conflict is all about.*  But overall, the Leviathan storyline hasn’t brought the epic greatness that Morrison wants.  The problem is he wants to convey a worldwide threat (“[A] meta-bomb chain reaction around the globe,” Talia says), but centers all the action on Gotham.  It narrows the scope of Talia’s villainy, and undermines every attempt by the characters to make it seem like the planet at large is in danger.

Masters is joined by Bressan in filling out a few pages in this issue, and again, the only thing worth remarking about their work is it’s inoffensive and doesn’t obtrude upon the rest of Burnham’s art—although that may have more to do it with the fact that this story is mostly talking heads and Burnham doesn’t have much occasion to show off anyway.  He operates best when the action is hot, and there’s little of it here, though we can expect more next time.

Conclusion: More set-up than story, the activity in this issue is so low-key that even Burnham’s usually energetic art feels stifled.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * More than ever, it seems like this Headmistress is Kathy Kane.  If so, I wonder what this implies for her existence within current DC continuity, especially since Batman Inc.’s place in current continuity is kind of loosey-goosey itself.

– “The cars won’t start.  The suppliers sent us contaminated gas,” frets a Gotham officer.

“They’re shutting down the city’s nervous system,” Commissioner Gordon realizes, “Blocking its circulation.  They’re killing us.”  Sounds like Gotham has become an auto-addicted culture.  I would like to see all of Gotham’s cops rescuing the city on bikes.