‘Batman Inc’ Vol. 1 applies the idea of Batman on a global level

After his death and time travel, Bruce Wayne returns and reclaims his rightful place as Batman. However, after his adventures and trials in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne miniseries, he realizes that his approach towards crime fighting has been too narrow. Bruce Wayne reveals that he has been funding Batman since his inception and announces Batman Incorporated, a global network of Batman’s friends, family, and allies to help fight crime throughout the world. Batman Inc. also is the beginning of the end of Grant Morrison’s five year Batman storyline and elements from earlier storylines are present in this series ranging from members of the Club of Heroes to Bruce Wayne’s dead love interest Jet Black, who also funded the Black Glove criminal organization.

Here are capsule reviews of the nine issues of the first volume of Batman Inc, which takes place before the New 52.

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Batman Inc.
 #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Yanick Paquette
Inked by Michel Lacombe
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

Batman Inc. #1 has an international flavor that reminds readers of the beginning of Morrison’s run where Bruce Wayne avoided attackers while skiing in the Alps during “Batman and Son”. Morrison sets up a combination mystery and heist storyline with the death of the first Mr. Unknown and the theft of a diamond belonging to Shazam villain Dr. Sivana by Batman and Catwoman. Morrison also pokes fun at Western comics readers’ stereotypes of manga and its readers. (Tentacle monsters are involved in some shape or form.) He writes Batman in a rejuvenated, more joke cracking manner as he and Catwoman flirt and trade banter while fighting thugs. (Catwoman gets the best barb of the lot, “It’s always nice to see henchmen making an effort.”) Yanick Paquette’s art is bright and expressive with clear action choreography during Batman and Catwoman’s fights against some of Lord Death Man’s thugs as well as the opening scene with the death of Mr. Unknown and the escape of his  body double, Jiro Osamu. He does a great job of differentiating Japan from Gotham and fills each panel with little details, especially the scene at the manga store. Colorist Nathan Fairbarn uses lots of red for Jiro Osamu’s fight scene hinting at his possible future as the Batman of Japan. A few problems with Batman Inc #1 are the gratuitous fan-service shots of Catwoman even though she is portrayed as an equal to Batman in both intelligence and combat prowess and the lack of real motivation for Jiro to use a gun to kill even though he is supposedly training to be Batman of Japan. Knowing Morrison, this could turn out to be a false trail, like “Batman” shooting the Joker in the face in Batman #655

Batman Inc. #2
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Yanick Paquette
Inked by Michel Lacombe
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

In Batman Inc. #2, Morrison and Paquette show remarkable economy of storytelling by wrapping up last issue’s cliffhanger, developing Jiro Osamu into Mr. Unknown, and also dealing with Lord Death Man. Jiro gets a lot more characterization in this issue, and readers get to see his dedication to the previous Mr. Unknown for whom he did the physical things, like stake-outs and combats, while Mr. Unknown did detective work. Throughout the issue, he goes from the gun-wielding, dumped by his girlfriend Jiro Osamu into the hero Mr. Unknown, who doesn’t try to kill his foes deciding to fake his death and take on a new identity because he is serious about being a “Batman” for Japan. Paquette gets to draw a lot of epic and gruesome action sequences, and he is up for the task with the exception of Catwoman’s rescue of Jiro’s girlfriend, which was a little unclear and crowded with batarangs, water, and tentacles everywhere. However, he channels pure terror in the scene where Lord Death Man breaks out of the hospital and is greeted by his army of skull wearing thugs. Fairbarn gives these panels a nice dose of black as Lord Death Man creates mayhem. He also does a good job with a quiet scene between Bruce and Selina showing Selina’s unrequited love for him along with the presence of Batman Inc in Japan with a well-placed Bat-signal. The interactions between Batman and Catwoman were the best part of this short story arc with Catwoman occasionally bringing out Batman’s light, sarcastic side. Morrison shows that as much as anyone she gets him, calling him a “beautiful, crazy man”. Batman Inc. #2 is Morrison at his most accessible as he writes a character-driven, action adventure story with a few meta elements, like Lord Death Man’s comments about death, which could apply to Batman’s recent experience in Final Crisis and death in any superhero universe.

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Batman Inc. #3
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Yanick Paquette and Pere Perez
Inked by Michel Lacombe
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

After this Japanese adventure, the setting abruptly switches to Argentina during the Falklands War where a bunch of C-List British heroes are killed off, and names like “Spyral” and “Dedalus” are rattled off. This bit of misdirection is classic Morrison and will most likely have a big payoff down the road. The rest of the comic is action, detective work, and interactions between Batman and El Gaucho, an Argentinan hero, who he is trying to recruit for Batman Inc. Yanick Paquette’s art continues to be clear and cinematic as he gets to draw Batman and El Gaucho do epic things like bowl over thugs with a huge helicopter and fight a supervillain on a hot air balloon with a talking parrot. Morrison finds the sweet spot between Silver Age camp and modern realism in Batman Inc #3. Batman makes a bad pun and cracks a smile, but he also has a serious conversation with El Gaucho about police corruption in Argentina, and how no one cares if three street orphans go missing. Morrison also gives El Gaucho a solid motivation for refusing to join Batman Inc calling back to his “Club of Heroes” story with J.H. Williams. Confusing start aside, Batman Inc #3 is a nice blend of action and mystery with some humor and a tango dancing Bruce Wayne thrown in for good measure.

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Batman Inc. #4
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham
Colored by Nathan Fairbarn

Grant Morrison continues his theme of jarring opening pages when he introduces Batwoman to his Argentinan story arc instead of resolving last issue’s cliffhanger, which had Batman and El Gaucho in one of El Sombrero’s (El Gaucho’s arch-nemesis) classic deathtraps.Morrison also re-introduces the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, who has been presumed dead for many years. He continues to treat every Batman ever written as canon and welds the old Silver Age Batman stories featuring Batwoman into modern canon. This attempt doesn’t detract from the death trap story,but makes it weightier by giving it personal stakes. Chris Burnham’s art is very different from Yanick Paquette’s as he uses smaller panels to tell his story as well as making his figures and lines chunkier. His characters seem more natural and organic than Paquette’s hero poses, and this works well during the flashback romance scenes between Kathy Kane and Batman. Morrison redefines their relationship with Batman being a young crime fighter with a child Robin, and Kathy as a former spy, who was also an extreme sports star and socialite. Kathy Kane’s return to comics adds some vulnerability to the previously unflappable Bat-God. However, not everything is as it seems as Batwoman takes over most of the detective work. Batman Inc #4 has quite a few plot threads and flashbacks going, and the plot moves a bit slower than the three previous issues, but Morrison and Burnham do a nice bit of worldbuilding and elaborating on a forgotten part of Batman’s backstory.

Batman Inc. #5
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Yanick Paquette
Inked by Michel Lacombe
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

Batman Inc #5 concludes the second arc of Batman Inc while also laying the groundwork for the series’ Big Bad and revealing the reason for  Batman Incorporated in the first place. Morrison introduces yet another spy/superhero character The Hood, who is a parody of a 1960s British spy complete with racism, sexism, and a Union Jack parachute. His role in the plot is very confusing as is the concept of Oroboros, which starts out as a mystical totem and ends up as a world destroying weapon or even worse. This is the most disjointed issue of Batman Inc #5, and the characters slightly break the fourth wall and talk about this fact. However, the comic has a powerful ending that sets the stage for the Batman Inc series as a whole and has an excellent fight scene between Batwoman and female supervillain Scorpiana that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of female characters’ costumes in superhero comics. Paquette captures the brutality of Batwoman’s fighting style and uses smaller, jagged panels to show that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and use her surroundings to her advantage in combat. Moments like this and Batman surprising everyone (including causing hardened military man Jake Kane to spill his coffee) keep the story interesting and accessible in contrast with its labyrinthine plot, which gets resolved in an explosive, but anti-climactic manner.

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Batman Inc. #6
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

“Batman is everywhere.” Batman Inc. #6 is a nice, standalone issue that explores this statement and shows the activities of Batman

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Incorporated on a day to day basis while simultaneously having Batman on multiple continents. Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham do a brilliant job creating the villains of this issue, The Average Joes, which is a shameless parody of the international crime empires that Batman has fought throughout his career. Morrison continues to balance light and dark in Batman Inc with Batman and his associate Nightrunner busting a child slavery ring connected to Leviathan after Bruce Wayne goes trolling on an online forum and purposefully spreads rumors about Batman’s true identity to throw his enemies off his trail. As well as showing the operations of Batman Incorporated, Batman Inc shows the relationship between Batman and different characters as he trusts them with different roles and information in his organization. Tim Drake gets to run the stealth squad (an homage to the Batman and the Outsiders comic), Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne get the most information about his fighting through time, and Alfred is the only one who he takes real advice from while trusting him with his life and losing to him in a chess game. Chris Burnham gives each of these characters a distinct look and body language, which culminates in a two page spread showing the various Batman Incorporated operatives in action. For example, Nightrunner doesn’t get much characterization, but Burnham places him in a situation with lots of moving cars while keeping step with Batman on a mission to show that he is an effective crime fighter.

Batman Inc. #7
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham
Colors by Nathan Fairbarn

Batman Inc #7 is a one-off story featuring Lakota Sioux crime fighters Man of Bats and Red Raven fighting a Leviathan cell masquerading as a drug cartel on their reservation in South Dakota. This story continues the theme of evolving as a crime fighter, but is set in an area with 80% unemployment, no mail service, movie theaters, or malls and rampant crime and poverty. Grant Morrison gives both Man-of-Bats and his son Red Raven great characterization as Red Raven goes from wanting to join the Teen Titans and fight alien invasions to understanding that protecting his community from the Leviathan organization is much more important. Chris Burnham turns in some of his  best work of the series with gritty line work that isn’t usually found in superhero books. He also inserts details about Man of Bats and Red Raven’s Sioux heritage in the comic, and Morrison makes these details, like the Ghost Shirts at Wounded Knee, an integral part of the plot. Morrison also shows that being a superhero isn’t just about money or gadgets, but about having a connection with the people one is fighting for. He and Burnham breathe new life in these obscure characters while also showing the strengths and flaws of Batman’s ethos. (Wouldn’t it be better if he was offering to help reduce the unemployment rate instead of giving Red Raven a new Batmobile?) In the end, Batman Inc #7 is a great comic about communities banding together and helping each other to eradicate evil.

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Batman Inc. #8
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Scott Clark and Dave Beatty

Batman Inc #8 is the final pre-New 52 Batman Incorporated story and is yet another stand-alone story showing the operations of Batman Inc. This time the battlefield is the Internet, and the comic features Batman, Oracle, and a Wayne Enterprises board meeting. Instead of saying that the Internet is evil, Grant Morrison gives it more nuance and looks at its strengths and weaknesses albeit in a cyberpunk setting. For example, Leviathan can ruin Batman Inc. using the new invention of Internet 3.0, but Internet 3.0 can also allow Barbara Gordon to walk again for a while as well as help Bruce Wayne root out a Leviathan spy on Wayne Enterprises among other things. Morrison also uses this story to reveal the innermost thoughts and fears of the rich men and women that run this company. There are a lot of good ideas in Batman Inc #7, but the art was so-so. Scott Clark and Dave Beatty use a 3D video game style art to illustrate this comic that is similar to the prose Joker story in Batman #663. The character models for Batman and Oracle are sleek and dynamic, but the board members feel out of place in this high tech world. There is also the Uncanny Valley to take into consideration. Maybe this style of art is better left for covers. Also, the downside to these done in one stories are that the overall plot of the war between Leviathan and Batman Incorporated is put on ice for a few more months.

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Batman Inc.: Leviathan Strikes 
#1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart and Chris Burnham
Colored by Nathan Fairbarn

Leviathan Strikes #1 starts as a stand-alone story starring Stephanie Brown as an undercover student in a nefarious school for the daughters of supervillains. This was the last appearance of Stephanie Brown before she reappeared in Batman Eternal this year. Morrison has a lot of fun writing dialogue for snobby sociopaths, and Cameron Stewart juxtaposes the cheery and creepy when Stephanie and her fellow students are indoctrinated into a cell of Leviathan. However, this story is a just a prelude to 28 pages of pure Morrison and Burnham craziness as almost every little plot element from Batman Incorporated, including the diamond that Catwoman steals in the opening of the first issue and Otto Netz’s cane he received from Adolf Hitler, come into play to reveal the true mastermind behind Leviathan. The plot is occasionally incomprehensible, but at base level, it is a battle of wits between the world’s greatest detective and a criminal mastermind. Burnham and Fairbarn illustrate the labyrinth scenes from Batman’s point of view with a lot of bright colors, illusions, and panels with a mirror effect, including a page that replays the death of Batman’s parents in Day-Glo. Burnham’s depiction of mazes works well with Morrison’s multiple plot twists, double agents, and faked deaths. The man who turned Thomas Wayne into a supervillain, sent Batman on a trip through time, and turned the Joker into a costumed, British detective and ally of Batman pulls off one last twist as the clues pile up. However, Leviathan Strikes #1 isn’t all cleverness and plot. Morrison gives each of the main Batman Incorporated members a spotlight moment before the next volume. Tim Drake gets to solve the mystery of the rooms in the labyrinth, Damian Wayne shows that he still has to grow as hero when he kills someone again, and Oracle uses the Internet 3.0 and her “Batgirl” avatar to find the last Leviathan headquarters. There are also casualties as the war between Batman Incorporated and Leviathan truly begins.

Batman Inc did a lot of things very well. It spotlighted secondary characters, like El Gaucho, Kathy Kane, and Stephanie Brown, and told a variety of action/detective stories with a variety of settings and characters, who had very different relationships with Batman and Batman Incorporated. For the most part, Batman Inc balanced its shorter stories with larger arcs even if the last issue seemed a little rushed. It also featured the work of three unique and talented artists: Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, and Cameron Stewart. Paquette with his full page spreads and cinematic style was a good fit for the early Batman Incorporated stories which had Batman and his allies jumping out of airplanes, charging into battle with motorcycles, and scaling Tokyo rooftops among other things. Burnham was a versatile artist with naturalistic work and the ability to tell a story in a setting from a trippy maze to the dusty plains outside a Lakota reservation. Stewart’s bright, expressive art was a perfect fit for Stephanie Brown’s undercover mission at a twisted school for female ninjas. In conclusion, Batman Incorporated succeeds as a comic both at the micro and macro level. The most thought provoking issue of the bunch is Batman Inc #7and Leviathan Strikes has the best plot.

 




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