By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)
The Review: The sound bite going round the geek internet circles this week is Morrison’s “I think people will hate it” line, “it” in this case being this final issue of Batman Inc. Most likely, the remark is both honest and facetious; Morrison has more than enough experience with the reading public to sense their reaction to his work, but he’s also not so self-deprecating as to think he actually wrote anything terrible.
The truth is Morrison’s name is so strongly associated with the revolutionary and epic that he can’t help falling short of expectations sometimes. He really set himself up for a plunge from the moment he started claiming this series as his final Batman story, his last word on the Dark Knight. Of course people were going to understand that as a guarantee of greatness. And the premise did have all the makings for success: a worldwide threat that only a global flock of Bats can detect and counter.
If anything, the revelation that it was Talia who orchestrated Leviathan in her “spare time” adds a wildly hyperbolic dimension which only makes the story bigger, more spectacular. It’s because of their respective statures in the world that you can accept the explanation of this entire conflict as a lover’s spat taken to extremes. Within this framework, Damian’s role becomes even more symbolic. He is the child-pawn which both his mother and father can use to manipulate and hurt the other, the prize in a custody battle between divorced parents. His tortured death thus makes a strong statement as to the inevitably tragic result of this kind of contest.
For all that, Morrison ultimately shoots himself in the foot by limiting the scope of his own story. The most noticeable flaw of the series is that it never took its global mission seriously. Early issues stood out for their fun romp across the world, visiting Batman lookalikes and analogues and seeing how their motivations and operations compare with the original. At some point, however, the title degraded into a typical Batman story, centered on a threat targeted to Gotham, with only rumors of danger to the planet at large.
This is almost entirely due to confusion on Morrison’s part as to Talia’s actual motivations. At first, it seemed like Leviathan was her way of showing Batman what he lost when he rejected her: someone who could have literally given the world. But once she, too, focuses her attention on Gotham alone, her true aim becomes clear, which is simply to hurt him as much as possible, to destroy the thing that diverted his love away from her. She brags that she “already rule[s] the world” and that she has no need for branding, flags, or slogans. She mocks his mission as child’s play, as work beneath him, but eventually she also sinks into the mud with him, as “flamboyant” and “cartoonish” as all the other mental patients he deals with.
If she seriously wished to expose the inherent ridiculousness of his work, she should have allowed Leviathan to fulfill its natural function and simply crush his corporation, his city, and himself, mercilessly and quietly. It doesn’t make much sense that she would craft any kind of deal where Gotham would be spared; it seems both arrogant and self-destructive, especially once she falls to two of the oldest cons in the business.
But what strikes you as most bizarre in this grand finale is that it doesn’t make much of a statement on Batman. Yes, his prep-time gets a good display in the neutralization of Ourboros, but the finishing blow comes from another party altogether, one whose importance and role in the Batman mythos remains unclear. And although he declares his city as the last bastion against the evil forces of the world (“You might think you own the world, but you’ll never have Gotham City!”), somehow, his triumph lacks impact in the moment, and it certainly has no ramifications to the DCU at large. As much as Morrison tries to depict this conflict as far-reaching, it’s significant that no one else in the world, hero, villain, or otherwise, seems to notice.
Just as this story is only an echo of the marvelous Batman stories Morrison has told in the past,* Burnham’s art only has traces of Frank Quitely’s audacious style, which you can always tell is what Morrison really wants supporting him and which Burnham valiantly tries to provide. There’s a sparse precision to Quitely’s figures that make the characters look like actors, larger than life, striding across their settings as if the world had become their Greek stage. Burnham renders art that is dramatic and full of impact, but nonetheless very grounded in the loud tradition of superhero comics. There’s a wisdom to Quitely’s art that Burnham’s still lacks.
Conclusion: Morrison is mostly wrong. You probably won’t hate the issue, but you will mourn for the greatness it could have been. With the DCU largely ignoring its presence, Batman Inc. is the lone artist shouting to be heard on his street corner while the rest of the world passes by, his message not fully-formed enough to vie for anyone’s attention.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I mean, does it get any better than escaping the clutches of pure evil to shoot the ultimate dark god in the head—from behind?