Monday, 28 May 2012

Project 52.1: Batman Incorporated #1 (Michael v Alex)

Here we are. The comic that made me care about the whole New 52 reboot in the first place, because I'd worry it was going to get in the way of Grant Morrison's five-year Bat epic. But I'm playing my hand early. Read on, but beware of spoilers.

(Guest-starring in today's post is Michael Eckett, who described the two of us in an email last week as "the Batman and Robin of Reviews, Inc". 'Nuff said.)
Project 52.1
Worlds-finest-1



Batman Incorporated #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham






                  Michael Reviews Batman Inc #1


It's Batman Inc in the New 52! Sort of. Well, Batman has his New 52 costume on, otherwise it's business as usual. Evil organisation Leviathan is attempting to create a ring of crime around the world. Presided over by Talia Al Ghul, Batman's ex and mother to Damian Wayne, the current Robin, Leviathan aims to destroy The Batman and everything close to him, which includes placing a bounty on Damian's head.

This is all covered in exposition dropped into dialogue amid tight characterisation; not an information overload, but in conversations peppered through the plot as the Dynamic Duo race to hunt down criminals and solve clues in a meat packaging plant, juxtaposed against dinner served by Leviathan as they muscle in on other territory. There are some references to Bruce's death and resurrection as well as Dick Grayson's time as Batman being in continuity. And allusions to the previous Batman Inc run, but nothing that would confuse readers. Characters that we thought dead in the New 52 show up in the Dead Heroes Club, unchanged, as though nothing had happened. Their base in Batcave West also allows Chris Burnham to draw another giant coin, another set of old costumes in glass cases another set of kooky trinkets, just as he was prone to do in the old series.

The usual Morrison Batman tropes are there, idiosyncratic phrases like "Rocket Rifle" and "Perv suit", the dirge of information in a single issue, cartoon villains that manage to remain threatening, and the little nugget of information in the background being brought to the forefront as a clue later for Batman and Robin to show how smart they are.

Perhaps the only real difference is Chris Burnham's art which has somehow managed to improve as he finds fantastic new ways to lay out his pages. His work is exemplary of the things you can only do in comics, his use of depth and striking the right note between detail and cartooning make his work constantly vivid and exciting. Some of Burnham's visual tricks are fascinating and I love having to go over this comic again and again for the review, always finding new things to appreciate.

A simple story for Grant Morrison, something perhaps more reflective of his Batman & Robin run than prior Batman Inc issues, but it's fun, excellently paced and leaves us with a few loose threads to fret over.

Batman Inc returns, different Bat-timeline, same Bat-Style.

FINAL GRADE: A–


Project 52.1 wide

Alex Reviews Batman Inc #1

Okay, full disclosure. Batman Inc #1 represents the culmination – or at least the continuation – of one of my top-ten-all-time favourite superhero stories. Grant Morrison has being helming at least one Batbook for half a decade now, and I've read every issue. So I'm probably not your most objective guide here. But... bloody hell, that was quite the comic.

Quick recap. Over those five years, Batman has discovered he had a son; battled a shadowy organisation led by his ultimate nemesis, who may or not have been the devil; died; but didn't really; got replaced by ex-Robin Dick Grayson, with the aforementioned son donning the domino mask as Robin; travelled through time; come back, and set up the titular BatmInc, a sort of worldwide vigilante franchise. And then met an even more shadowy organisation led by an even more ultimate nemesis, who turned out to be the mother of the aforementioned son, still acting as Robin.

As with any years-long serialised story, it's had ups and downs – the text issue, Tony Daniel's art, that Batminternet issue – but mostly it's been fantastic comics. And naturally, so is this.

It really is a perfect encapsulation of the run as a whole. As my esteemed colleague mentioned, all the hallmarks are there. Here, have a few more: the reintroduction of the weird (goat-headed assassin, the furry Manbat minions from the first issues) to the Batworld. The playing around with form (a page which has its panels 'projected' onto the sides of buildings, the built-into-the-world sound FX Morrison and Quitely introduced in the first issues of Batman & Robin). The great Morrisonian slogans ("Welcome to Batcave West, and the Dead Heroes' Club") and throwaway characters with rich implied histories (the dining room full of crimebosses, including The Invisible Man, a nurse and a mummy). The drool spots where I've hyperventilated over each page.

Chris Burnham's art – which combines Quitelyesque shaky lines and wrinkled faces, with the smooth cartooning of Cameron Stewart, and works in the experimental panel shapes of JH Williams III – is reminiscent of the very best artists to have touched the run. And apart from being very pretty pictures, sets the tone wonderfully – colourful, playful Pop. There's a panel where he abstracts the image of Batman and Robin falling from the sky into single-colour icons. It made me crack a big smile.

As that recap earlier might suggest, Morrison's run has always been poking around in the dark corners of Bathistory, and finding a way to bring it all back. A child losing his parents in Crime Alley. The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Bruce Wayne's spine on Bane's knee. Adam West. Echoing and reassembling.

And that's what this issue does, for Morrison's own run. It draws together plot points from all over. Setting up the closure of the arc that began with the introduction of the young impetuous Damian Wayne, and his supervillian mother's questionable parenting techniques. Old mysteries, too - who's under the Wingman mask? What's going with Red Cross' double-triple cross? What is it with Gotham and evil goats?

Appropriately, it ends on an image of Batman kneeling over his shot-in-the-brains son, screaming to the sky. It's the perfect capstone to this first issue, the fourth #1 of Morrison's run. A dramatic cliffhanger, which  takes that most classic Batman image – the young boy losing his parents to crime – and inverts it.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.