Grant Morrison’s run on Batman began full of piss and vinegar. He had the Batman shoot Joker in the face. Or at least, he had someone dressed like Batman shoot the Joker in the face, but it was a big, bold statement as he began a seven year adventure with Bruce Wayne and his son Damian Wayne. He recast the adventures of Batman and Robin as a true father and son story even if the father was thought to be dead for a good portion of the time and another one of his surrogate sons filled in the role of the Dark Knight Detective. Grant Morrison originally proclaimed his Batman would reclaim the barechested love god of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. With artist Andy Kubert, it looked like we were going to get that when all of this started. By the time of the New 52 Batman Incorporated, the second series to have that title, Morrison and his final artist Chris Burnham’s angry, punch-drunk Batman had lost it all. He lost his son and he lost his city. “Batman and Robin will never die!” Morrison once boldly proclaimed. In the end, he proved how only half of that statement is a true fact.
The two collections of the final Batman Incorporated series, “Demon Star” and “Gotham’s Most Wanted” abandon the idea of a “barechested love god.” Maybe that’s what Bruce Wayne wants to still believe he is, but Morrison and Burnham’s epic’s final act focuses on Batman, the bad lover and even worse father. Talia wants to burn down everything and everyone just because she feels jilted by the father and the son. Both Batman and Damian have rejected her. Her substitute family and children become her Leviathan, a mindless organization that exists solely for her own destructive whims. Interestingly, Batman also builds a substitute family with the members of Batman Incorporated, a Wayne Enterprises business venture to give every city its own Batman. Talia is not her father; she’s not trying to destroy Gotham as some extreme method to save the world. As she’s always been written, Talia has been motivated by love, and Morrison writes her as a woman who finally loses it because there is just not enough love in the world devoted to her from the men she desires it from: Ra’s al Ghul, Bruce Wayne or her own son test-tube grown son Damien.
Even as everyone who could be considered family abandons or betrays Talia, Morrison and Burnham’s final creative acts are to systematically tear apart everything that Morrison has built, including the substitute family that was the Batman Incorporated initiative. If Leviathan is Talia’s attempt at building an army/family, Batman’s methods are not that much different. Both initiatives created an army in its creators image. The latest reboot of the DC Universe knocked Morrison’s story only slightly off course as instead of many Batmen running around, only the one true Batman still existed but he still had all of his accomplices and hanger ons running around, trying to ineffectively watch his back. Seeing the end in sight, Morrison realizes that any hopes he had at making lasting changes to the Batman legend were going to ultimately be just mere diversions in the history books as the New 52 made his story a relic of an abandoned continuity. With a new Batman Incorporated #1, it was getting to be time to be putting the toys back where they were before Morrison began his tale.
The ultimate final battle comes down to a sword fight in the Batcave. Talia and Batman clash swords, very reminiscent of that old O’Neil/Adams tale of the bare chested Batman fighting Ra’s al Ghul. When Talia couldn’t have her son, she had another clone created from the same genetic material as Damian. One “son” would kill the other in the messy battle between the parents. Since his introduction, Damian grew from an annoying pest into a hero. He maybe wasn’t perfect, but he was Morrison’s Robin and he became our Robin as well. He also became a son to Bruce Wayne and a brother to Dick Grayson. Over the course of his run, Morrison slyly built a new Batman Family with all of the intrigue of superheroes added to the pain and heartbreak accompanying any family drama.
From issue #1 through to issue #13, Morrison revisits almost every story element that he seeded along the way, almost like the final run of Batman Incorporated functions as some sad greatest-hits tour, replaying all of those fondly remembered tunes. Between the sense of sadness and the inevitable end, Morrison is saying “goodbye” to these characters and taking us along with him. The final battle between Talia and Batman is as much of a final battle as Morrison can make it and he obviously knows that there’s never going to be a true final battle for his hero. For the reader, the true sadness isn’t due to any deaths or break ups. It’s due to the fact for all of the hopes and dreams he may have had for his stories, the final pages of his Batman story has to put everything back in their boxes for the next creators to come along and tell their stories.
The saga of the Batman has always been that of a caped crusader. It’s the story of a man who lost his family and was determined that no one else would suffer like he did. Morrison gives Batman a new but familiar tragedy as he still cannot save those he loves. During that final battle, a mother and father face off, grieving a son they both loved but wanted completely different things for. Batman loses everything but a figure from his past saves the day. History and family; that’s what Morrison was writing about even as he was saying goodbye to Batman. His Batman doesn’t win. There is no victory for the good guys as Morrison and Burham tear apart the family they built. Yet Batman has to go on. There will be adventures published as early as the next week showing Batman fighting as he always has. “Batman and Robin will never die” wasn’t so much a declaration of the skills of the characters, but a proclamation that their stories will never end even after Morrison and Burnham’s story does.