By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)
The Story: Who knew that bats could be a man’s best friends?
The Review: As we wind down to the climax of this series, I don’t think there’s any ignoring the fact that it hasn’t turned out to be the Batman masterwork that Morrison wanted it to be (if you didn’t gather that already from last month’s horrendously misguided issue). While you have to take into consideration that he’s struggled against unforeseen relaunches and subsequent outcasting from continuity, in the end, Batman Incorporated has been a disappointing venture.
Even so, because this is Morrison writing Batman we’re talking about, the series does have its moments, and none can be better than seeing the full wrath of the Dark Knight unleashed upon an impossible foe. Stripped of most of his supports, in the face of an enemy several dozen times larger than himself, he rises to the challenge by becoming a one-man army.* With this scene, Morrison gets straight to the heart of why we love Batman, someone who refuses to be crushed under a heel or give in to circumstances, however inevitable they might seem.
Because Batman is who he is, Talia will never, ever get what she wants from him, which is admission of her superiority. That’s really why she went to such lengths; once he rejected her, someone primed to be queen of the world, and made her feel like any common woman spurned in love, she could only relieve herself by displaying what he’s lost. Talia’s not a conqueror; she’s the person trying to get back at her ex by showing how good she has it.
For anyone who’s ever tried this tactic, however, we know it only works if we capture the other person’s whole attention. Otherwise, our accomplishments only serve to further magnify our own pain. Talia’s mistake—well, not her mistake, but a consequence of her plan out of her control—was in letting Damian get involved, to his doom. With the death of his son fully occupying his mind, Batman sees and feels nothing else but his own grief and rage, making it impossible for anything else, including defeat, to register on him.
Thus we have Talia’s almost pitiful confusion when she sees Batman continuing the fight. “Why can’t he admit defeat? Why won’t he stop?” These are the questions of someone unused to not getting her way, and as if to emphasize her core as a spoiled girl, she then yells, “Make him stop!” The command reveals how accustomed she is to having things taken care of for her; she might deign to put her mind to work, to manipulate the players, but she’s not the type who’ll lower herself to be part of the game—unless she has no choice.
That’s what sets her apart from the other woman looming in Batman’s life here. For the sake of convenience, let’s refer to her as Kathy Kane, even though the issue purposely never confirms her as such. Kathy started her relationship with Bruce by beating him at his own game, and it seems like she will do so again here. What her Batwoman persona was to Batman, her heading of Spyral, an “international intelligence community,” is to Batman, Inc.: a demonstration that she’s not only one step ahead, but she’s doing exactly what he’s doing, only better. The difference between her and Talia: the personal satisfaction is enough; she doesn’t need Batman to acknowledge her greatness for it to exist.
I’m glad to see Burnham going back to the work he’s good at. While his art doesn’t have the pure, attractive beauty of Jim Lee, Cliff Chiang, or Jesus Saiz, nor does he have the visual inspiration of J.H. Williams III, Yanick Paquette, or Trevor McCarthy, Burnham’s appeal, like Frank Quitely’s, is in his wholehearted commitment in each drawing.* When there’s action, it is action-packed, the energy flying off the page, throwing all the props into chaos. When there’s emotion, it is thick and deep, and can be felt even when unseen; every blow and movement Batman makes against Damian’s clone reveals his pain, making the battle as tragic as it is invigorating. Fairbairn’s attention to color and texture allows Burnham’s cartoony style to have necessary grounding in the real world, convincing you of the fantastic events taking place.
Conclusion: Just because it won’t necessarily go down in history as another of Morrison’s classics doesn’t mean that it can’t be a better than average story.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Technically, bats aren’t men. Right?
* He probably needed it to draw the revealed face of Damian’s clone, which is one of the more haunting visuals I’ve seen in a mainstream book in a while.