Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about Grant Morrison’s epic Batman stories.
Grant Morrison has always had quite the range. From his surreal take on Doom Patrol to his independent work on titles like The Invisibles to his straight-up superhero stories in JLA, Morrison has offered up a wide variety of stories over the years. The scope of most of his stories is vast, encompassing huge ideas into the pages of his comics. Keeping it all straight can be tough, especially with a month long break between chapters.
Today, Morrison’s latest opus comes to an end. With Batman Incorporated #13, the story Grant Morrison began in 2006 gets its final chapter. Let’s take some time and examine how we got here.
Though the story wrapping up today began seven years ago, that wasn’t the first Batman story Grant Morrison ever wrote. His first time dealing with the Dark Knight and his enemies came in the form of a standalone graphic novel titled Batman: Arkham Asylum, though it is also known as Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. The threadbare plot offered an excuse for Batman to wander the halls of the famous Arkham Asylum and run into the various denizens of the most famous madhouse in comics. The star of the story is clearly artist Dave McKean, a mixed media master and longtime collaborator with Neil Gaiman. Together, Morrison and McKean told a story that was pitch black and ended with a therapist murdering the asylum’s administrator. Surprisingly, Batman seemed fine with this outcome.
I never much cared for this story. It seemed dark for dark’s sake. There didn’t seem to be more to the story than simply pointing out how messed up everyone in the Batman universe was, even Batman. Still, McKean’s work is gorgeous and the book is worth a look for that alone.
The following year, Morrison told another Batman tale. In the pages of a five-part story in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight titled ‘Gothic,’ Batman battled against a seemingly immortal old private school teacher of Bruce Wayne’s named Mr. Whisper. Thanks to a deal with the devil, Mr. Whisper could not be killed. This deal did require him to kill others though, including young boys. The tale was moody and wonderfully drawn by Klaus Janson. There was more happening here than in Arkham Asylum as this tied into Bruce’s youth and told a different kind of horror story.
After this story, Grant Morrison didn’t write another solo Batman story for years. Sure, Batman was a key part of Morrison’s JLA, but that was a team book. Only Batman appeared there. His own supporting characters and most of his villains didn’t fit in with the Justice League. Finally, in 2006, Morrison officially began his epic Batman story with Batman #655 after laying part of the groundwork for it in 52.
In the pages of that first story arc, the son of Bruce Wayne suddenly made himself known. During a 1987 Batman one-shot titled Batman: Son of the Demon, it had been shown that Bruce and Talia al Ghul, daughter of the terrorist Ra’s al Ghul, had conceived a child together. This story had almost immediately been declared as being out-of-continuity when it was first published. Morrison wasn’t going to let something like that stop him and he quickly folded Damian Wayne, son of Bruce and Talia, into his story as a major character. Having been raised to have his every whim catered to by scores of Talia’s servants, it was hard for many readers to empathize with him in the beginning.
Soon after introducing Damian, many other elements of Batman’s past which had been wiped out by various continuity changes were brought back. Every strange Batman story from the 1950s was now back in play. Every supporting character lost to the ages could now possibly waltz back into the story, if Morrison so deemed it necessary. The stranger tales, the ones involving aliens and time travel, were apparently chronicled in something Bruce called the Black Casebook. Alfred figured all these cases stemmed from the various hallucinogenic substances Bruce had been exposed to over the years.
The linchpin of these strange stories, Morrison would later claim, was a story found in Batman #156 titled ‘Robin Dies at Dawn.’ There, Batman voluntarily underwent an extended time in an isolation chamber to see what effects seclusion and loneliness had on a person’s mental health. The experiment broke something in Bruce. Delusions following this experiment were to blame for some his more outlandish later cases.
Later, Morrison would claim that the scientist who performed this experiment was secretly a villain by the name of Doctor Hurt. He was a member of a group known as the Black Glove and their goal was the complete destruction of Batman. Hurt wanted to keep Batman off balance and unsure of himself as they began their plot against him.
The Black Glove first struck against Batman during a meeting of the Club of Heroes. Another Silver Age concept revived for Morrison’s story, the Club of Heroes was made up of heroes from various nations who were seen as the “Batman” of their communities. None of them had super powers but they all kept themselves at the peak of their physical status. Among this group were Knight and Squire, heroes who were eventually deemed popular enough to have their own spin-off miniseries written by Paul Cornell.
It was against this group that Black Glove made its first appearance. They were beaten back by the Club but not before one of the Club’s members died.
Soon, Doctor Hurt, who appeared to have unnatural long life just like the Mr. Whisper character from ‘Gothic,’ made his full move against Batman. Dressed in the Batman costume of Thomas Wayne, another reference to a Silver Age tale, Hurt got the Joker to work with him along with Jezebel Jet, Bruce Wayne’s current girlfriend. After several attempts to break Batman’s mind, it seemed like Hurt had succeeded when he drugged Bruce Wayne and dumped him in an alley. With his sense of self and of reality breaking around him, Bruce heard the phrase ‘zur-en-arrh,’ which was written in graffiti all around the city. The phrase was meant to be a subliminal trigger for Bruce which would completely destroy his mind along with the idea of Batman.
But Batman is always one step ahead of his foes. In his mind, Bruce had changed the ‘zur-en-arrh’ trigger. Now, when confronted with that phrase, a personality known as The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh took over. Gone was Bruce Wayne but the crazed, obsessed, and color-challenged Batman of Zur-En-Arrh took over. Alongside Bat-Mite, a figure of Bruce’s damaged psyche, Batman returned to action.
The story ended with Bruce having regained his sanity and Doctor Hurt went missing when a helicopter the two were fighting in went down. Though the story was called ‘Batman: R.I.P.,’ Batman easily survived the crash. However, it didn’t seem as though he survived his next tale.
During the events of Final Crisis, Darkseid had taken over the world. He had beaten nearly every hero in the DCU, including Batman who he had started experimenting on. Darkseid planned on cloning Batman, but found that trying to replicate Bruce’s memories burned out each of the clones’ minds. After escaping from Darkseid’s experiments, Batman broke his “no guns” rule by shooting and killing Darkseid with a Radion bullet, the same bullet that had killed Orion of the New Gods earlier in Final Crisis. Before he died, Darkseid struck Batman with the Omega Sanction.
The remnants of the room where Batman and Darkseid fought were examined and a burnt, skeletal corpse of Bruce was found by Superman.
Thinking Bruce Wayne dead, Dick Grayson took over the role of Batman while Damian Wayne became his Robin. Having started out as a character many fans absolutely hated, Morrison slowly changed Damian into a fan favorite. Dick and Damian’s time together as Batman and Robin brought a new life to the franchise and was a welcome breath of fresh air in a comics universe where change rarely happened.
Gradually, Dick began to realize that the Batman corpse they’d held on to since the end of Final Crisis wasn’t the body of Bruce Wayne. After resurrecting the body in one of the world’s last Lazarus Pits, it was discovered that this was one of Darkseid’s nearly mindless clones of Bruce.
The real Bruce Wayne had been buffeted through time by the Omega Sanction. First, he found himself in prehistoric times and he eventually jumped from early Puritan society to pirate life to the American west until he finally found himself at the very end of time. Each jump brought him into contact with a monster of some kind. Eventually, it was shown that each of these creatures had been something called the Hyper-Adapter, a mixture of organic and technological advancements created by Darkseid. The plan was for the Hyper-Adapter to bond with Bruce Wayne and kill him.
However, Batman was able to separate himself from the Hyper-Adapter with the help of his allies. The creature was sent back through time where it was killed by Vandal Savage after it took the form of a giant bat.
Bruce’s travels through time allowed him to defeat Doctor Hurt, who returned to destroy Gotham City in Bruce Wayne’s absence. Granted unnatural long life by his interactions with the Hyper-Adapter when it was stuck in the 20th century along with Bruce Wayne, Doctor Hurt referred to the creature as Barbatos, a creature who the Riddle also prayed to for a time. Bruce was able to disrupt Doctor Hurt’s plans in the past, well before Hurt could implement them.
With the return of Bruce Wayne to the present, things seemed fine once again. Doctor Hurt and the Black Glove were finally finished and all was right with the world. But, Bruce had big plans. Realizing that he was only one man and that he couldn’t be everywhere at once, Bruce launched an initiative known as Batman Incorporated. It was the Club of Heroes idea writ large. There would now be a Batman everywhere with Wayne Enterprises publicly funding the entire thing.
For the first time, Bruce Wayne and Batman were linked in the public consciousness. This change meant that Bruce Wayne was now the public face of Batman, which lead to him giving his fair share of interviews about his new business franchise.
Meanwhile, Dick Grayson remained the Batman of Gotham City while Bruce took the Batman cape on the road. He traveled from country to country, setting up new Batmen wherever he went and fighting alongside them as new threats reared their heads. Slowly, an entity known as Leviathan revealed itself to Batman. A shadowy organization, Bruce had no idea who they were or what they wanted. Soon, the truth was revealed: Talia al Ghul was at the head of Leviathan and she wanted her precious son Damian back at her side.
The New 52 did little to dent Grant Morrison’s epic tale. While Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s relaunched Batman series quickly became the de facto “main” Batman book, Morrison’s Batman Incorporated went on hiatus. During that time, Dick went back to being Nightwing and Bruce became the only person to use the Batman name. When a new volume of Batman Incorporated debuted some months into 2012, it began setting up the end game for this years-long story. Morrison had constructed quite the web for Bruce and one I’ve really only touched on lightly with this article. The pieces were all in place for the ending.
During the final battle between Talia’s forces and the remnants of Batman Incorporated in Gotham, Damian was killed. Talia had wanted her son back by her side, but Damian had refused, wanting to stay with his father and be Robin. The shadowy figure seen standing by Talia’s side since she’d been revealed as the head of Leviathan was the one who did the killing.
When the figure had been confronted by members of the Bat family, his helmet had become damaged and his true face was shown. Though his frame was massive, he was just a young boy himself, genetically modified by Talia and her scientists. He was bred only to know combat and death. The visual of the young boy was striking and reminiscent of Morrison’s earlier We3 miniseries he’d published with Frank Quietly in 2004.
The issue ended with Bruce Wayne alone, having been driven to his physical and emotional limits. He seems at his rope’s end and Talia has just entered the Batcave. How will the story end? Will Talia’s web close upon Bruce and all of Gotham City? The answers lie in today’s final Grant Morrison written issue of Batman Incorporated. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.
Jeff Reid has been loving this story and knows it deserves a close rereading sometime soon. When it happens, he’ll tell you about it on Twitter.