BATMAN, INCORPORATED #3
What did the
Art by Chris Burnham
Cover by Chris Burnham
Size: 32 pages
Spoilers for the original Batman Inc. run follow:
In a world where superhero comics tend to take the dead-serious approach, normally with Batman leading the pack in grittiness, it’s awesome that a book like “Batman Incorporated” even exists. In his other books, we see Batman battling crazed killers who sew their mouths shut or hallucinating about his dead parents as he goes mad in an underground labyrinth. In this issue, Batman snaps his fingers and the accompanying sound effect is “Scram!”…that’s really all you need to know about the difference in tone here.
…And holy shit do I love it.
This might be the most purely entertaining single issue of a comic book I’ve ever read! Don’t get me wrong, I love what Scott Snyder is doing, but his stuff works best as a whole. This, despite having continuity that occasionally goes all the way back to the 70′s, is a comic series where every issue aims to be one thing above all else: fun! Despite presenting itself as unnecessarily complex on occasion, the plot is simple enough to jump into. There’s an evil organisation known as leviathan, headed by Talia al Ghul, that is out to kill Batman and take over the world…or something. Hilarity ensues.
This isn’t completely a comedic series, it has moments of intense violence and even drama, but it clearly has one foot in DC’s breezier silver age. For me, one of the most endearing qualities of this series is that when it flashes back to Batman’s silver age adventures, it presents them as they actually were written back then, with no attempt to gritty them up a la Identity Crisis. Batman was just a huge dork with a tendency to say “old chum” at one point, and somehow, that actually makes the character more interesting. It’s like it took him a while to become the cool, brooding hero we know today.
As I mentioned before though, for as much fun as this comic is in individual issues, it seems to go out of its way to scare the hell out of new readers. At one point in this issue, the over-arching story and its various plot revelations are shown in the extremely apt image of a tangled web. Grant Morrison should be on a special writer’s edition of “Hoarders: Buried Alive”. This guy just loves the hell out of continuity, and hangs on to plot points long after they stop mattering to anyone still reading. The way I summed up the story a couple paragraphs ago is really all there is to it, and while some people I’m sure love all of the call-backs, I find myself wishing that a lot of this fat would be trimmed off. Speaking as someone who HASN’T read every issue of Batman that Morrison ever wrote, the constant nods back to long dead plot points don’t distract you from the fun that’s being had currently, but they do often feel like you’re being left in the cold while Grant and his longtime readers exchange some secret handshake.
But I’ve mostly been ranting about the series in general. So anyway, about this particular issue…
“Fun” is a word that I’ve already overused in describing this, but that’s because comic book escapism rarely gets more pure than what we have here. The issue largely takes place in a blues club, with Bruce Wayne having thrown himself into the role of Matches Malone, his extremely outdated gangster cover ID (the kind of character who would end every sentence with the word “see?!” and use phrases like “yous guys”). He often lights matches for dramatic effect, wears sunglasses in dark rooms, and just in case he has to go all Batman on someone, has worked into his cover that Matches is a master of karate. It’s all completely ridiculous (read: amazing). In one especially hilarious scene, he has his Batman Inc. employees portraying his henchmen, and let’s just say, they show off some serious acting talent.
Grant Morrison’s dialogue is frequently gut-busting here, but the star of the show is actually Chris Burnham. This guy is just incredible. I can’t decide what I like better, his immaculately drawn backgrounds with their remarkable sense of depth, or his detailed and expressive character work. And then there’s the way he lays out action scenes, knowing exactly what to show and what to suggest to create the illusion of movement. Just look at the scene at the end where Damien sneaks around taking out guards! Pardon my French but IT’S SO FUCKING GOOD. Also, I didn’t even know this guy could do horror, but that courtroom scene at the end was the most I’ve enjoyed being completely disturbed in a while.
I managed to get my hands on this issue last month; call me weak but once I had my grubby little hands on it I couldn’t bring myself to tell the store owner it had been held back. This topic has been covered so much it feels like beating a dead horse at this point, but I’m a little perplexed as to why it was delayed. I’m not trying to point fingers, everyone copes with tragedy in different ways, but this unfortunately seems like the exact book we needed this time last month. Back then, me and a lot of others were wondering “Is it still even okay to enjoy Batman?”, this issue poses a counter question: what good are comic books and their characters if not to give us those moments of escapism that we sometimes need, especially when shitty things are happening all around us?
Want proof it’s okay for Batman to be fun again? Start here.
Art: 5 - Excellent