Review by: froggulper

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Variant cover by YANICK PAQUETTE

Size: 32 pages
Price: 2.99

Grant Morrison doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He gets credit all right, but often the praise is directed to the most obvious features of his writing, leaving his more subtle skills unrecognized and under-appreciated. For example: During Morrison’s Batman & Robin run there were an awful lot of accolades regarding how shockingly weird Professor Pyg was on the surface level, but rare were any explorations of how the character was a brilliant combination of the perfection-obsessed protagonist in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion on the one hand, and certain horrifying psychological experiments made infamous by Dr. Harry Harlow on the other. Morrison is known as a shocking and weird writer, and if the bizarre surface details of any given issue happen to strike a reader’s fancy, then the reader will likely praise Morrison almost unconditionally for that particular issue. But whether the surface level of a Morrison story resonates with a reader or not, there’s usually a LOT going on beneath the surface of the story, and it’s on that level that I think the most impressive and enduring qualities of Morrison’s writing are found.

All that said, I haven’t been enjoying Batman Incorporated all that much. I’ve liked it, but haven’t found within it many deeper meanings. Most of it has been surface-level Morrison, which is fine. I like surface-level Morrison okay. I chuckled and pumped my fist, for example, when Damian Wayne pulled out a crowbar last year. But ultimately, I want something more from Morrison comics. Because I know Morrison is capable of deeper, more interesting things.

So I was very pleased to read the latest issue of Batman Incorporated this week, because issue #4 is something of a return to form for deep-game Morrison, utilizing all he knows and playing wildly with form and content in ways few writers would even attempt. The storytelling in Inc. #4 is more complex than that of the first three issues combined. Complexity in itself does not make for a great comic, but when the complexity is THIS allusive, THIS meaningful, THIS representative of comics history, and when it’s orchestrated THIS well by the writer, then it’s a joy to behold.

There’s at least one scene-change on nearly EVERY PAGE of Batman Inc. #4. Many of these changes are flashbacks. A few of them flash to alternate drug-induced realities, when Batman and Batwoman are feeling the effects of hallucinatory weapons. There are montages. There are callbacks: to previous issues of Morrison’s run and to previous times in Bat-history.

A gillion things are accomplished in this issue:

-The current storyline with Batman and Gaucho vs. Sombrero and Scorpiona is furthered along, with our heroes getting out of a deathtrap and learning new information.
-More of the overall machinations of the Batman Inc. saga are revealed and brought into focus via the “Maestro” scenes.
-We check in on Kate Kane and her father, and watch her get pulled into the Inc. mystery.
-We learn the post-Infinite Crisis continuity of Kathy Kane.
-We see how Kathy Kane ties into all of the above (she’s a wedge between Bruce and Gaucho; she had contact with the secret organization which is now working behind the scenes globally; she was the predecessor of Kate Kane and her image pulls Kate into the goings-on).
-We get a better idea of who Bruce and Dick were years ago, what they went through and what they (particularly Bruce) lost along the way.

That’s a hell of a lot to fit in one issue. Morrison seems to pull it off effortlessly, although a tremendous amount of effort probably went into the planning. The “channel-surfing” style of the narrative never seems confusing. I couldn’t say the same during Final Crisis, when at times it seemed like Morrison was just jumping around for the sake of seeming avant garde. But here all the bouncing around felt exhilarating to me. You never knew what was going to happen on the next page, and every characterization was note-perfect. In just a few words, you could instantly tell what the character was about at this period in her/his life.

I don’t know of another writer who can pull something like this off. Bendis can’t–If he tried, half of the Silver Age characterizations would be somewhat off, and his fans would be arguing amongst themselves and apologizing for the continuity gaffs. I love Jonathan Hickman, but he couldn’t write a comic with THIS much excitement and kinetic energy on every page–S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of scene changes, but the mood is usually very monotone and somber. Geoff Johns has a deep appreciation for comics history, and his books are very exciting, but I’ve never seen him attempt anywhere near this number of scene-changes, flashbacks and montages. Seriously, how many scene-changes are in this comic? Thirty?? And most of them flash back and forth in time! It’s crazy and it all works so well.

It’s an issue like this that shows us what Grant Morrison can do. This isn’t just designing a strange looking villain. Or giving us a “hoo-rah” moment where the hero saves the day. It’s like a maestro conducting an orchestra, playing a symphony which the maestro himself wrote, a symphony which somehow represents various eras in the history of the genre while also furthering the cutting-edge of music, and including a few brain-teasers along the way. It’s just fun and impressive as hell. And it’s understandable if every issue can’t be this good.

As usual, I’m shortchanging the art. It was excellent. Burnham was a monster on this. Wildly different moods and emotions are expressed perfectly, as are wildly different eras and settings. The whole issue looks cohesive, despite the differing content page-to-page. As many others have said, Burnham seems like a mix of Quitely and Cam Stewart. He also brings his own style. He’s the sort of excellent artist who makes you wish, at least for a second, that the entire current run could have been drawn by this one guy.

A few last things:

I can’t recall ever reading a comic before in which Kathy Kane actually appeared (aside from a few flashback panels in Morrison’s previous work). I might own some old ’60s reprints with her in them, but I haven’t read them in 15 years at least. But I wasn’t lost at all. Contrary to what a lot of detractors say, Morrison’s Batman stuff doesn’t “force” you to read old issues. You just have to be aware that those old stories exist, and their existence is kinda implicit in the current comics themselves. I think it’s just kinda an obsessive-compulsive thing when readers think they “need” to have read every old comic that’s referenced in a new comic.

Yeah, Batman Incorporated has been late, but it’s catching up. You CAN criticize the lateness without impugning the content of the actual comic. I think editorial has done a HORRIBLE job scheduling many different Bat-books over the last few years, going all the way back to Batman R.I.P., when editorial admittedly let Tony Daniel take 9 and then 10 weeks for the final two issues, and then all that extra reworking effort just wasn’t visible in the finished art. Editorial’s solicitations have also been very misleading: saying Paul Dini is writing comics that he isn’t, never letting us know until the the comic comes out that certain artists (Jock on ‘Tec #853, Quitely on Batman #700, Paquette on Inc #3 ) are going to have partial fill-ins. And the covers we see in the solicitations on Tuesday are often not the actual covers we see on Wednesday in the store (as of this moment, the cover we got on Inc #3 is still shown in the preview for #5). So in the issue pages on iFanboy, in the space beneath the questionable solicitations of various late Bat-comics, I feel it’s absolutely justified to comment about what a sloppy and misleading job Bat-editorial has been doing. I can separate that stuff from all the goodwill I have regarding the actual content, but editorial’s endemic failures should at least be pointed out, until Mike Marts & co. stop screwing up so often. When you’re barely an issue or two into your new marquee series (Inc. & Dark Knight) and you’re already getting huge delays, that’s remarkably bad.

But this current issue? Remarkably great!

Story: 5 - Excellent
Art: 5 - Excellent


  1. A writer who certainly benefits from re-readings; be it a single issue or entire arc, you may not always like it and sometimes he can strike out, but Morrison is usallly reaching for the stars with the form of mainstream superhero books, trying to invert them and twist them and seeing how far he can push things before it all breaks.

    There’s a kind of sugar rush you get when going over his B&R and Batman Inc. stuff initially but if you read it slowly and usually for a second time the picture develops a bit. It’s a good trick and I’d love to see more of his plot layouts or outlines for older works that are already completed to see how many plates he is spinning. Superman2000 gave us a 5 year hit of Superman goodness in 20 pages.

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