Batman, Incorporated demonstrates just how versatile a writer Morrison is. The stories run from entertaining if mundane team-ups between Batman and regular members of his Bat-family, to location pieces profiling individual members of the Batman, Inc. network, to the kind of time-shifting, multi-perspective work Morrison is known (and often praised or cursed) for.
This is ambitious, adventurous work, though the end is just the beginning (a theme of the book itself). This may disappoint some readers hoping for more than just a prologue in Batman, Inc.; there is a second story here just below the surface -- as there often is in Morrison's works -- that I found interesting enough, but ultimately my expectations for this one might just have been too high.
It's hard to know what you're going to get, chapter after chapter, in the first volume of Batman, Inc.. The first two issues are a Batman/Catwoman team-up in Tokyo; well-written, but nothing to truly raise Batman, Inc. to the level of Morrison's earlier works (the first two issues of Batman, Inc. do not compare, for instance, to the first two issues of Batman and Robin).
With issue three, however, Inc. becomes a trippy time-traveling tale full of false identities and double-crosses; this extends as something of a trilogy through issue five. Issue six is a bit of scene-setting for the Batman, Inc. network overall; issue seven profiles the Native American Man-of-Bats and Raven in a story where Batman hardly appears. Issue eight is a "regular" Batman/Oracle team-up, differentiated only by computer-generated art. "Issue nine," which with the DC New 52 became the first part of the Leviathan Strikes special, is mostly a Batgirl Stephanie Brown story with a little Batman thrown in; the second half of that special returns to the book's earlier trippiness for a altered tale that rivals the end of Final Crisis in its complexity.
I emphasize this to underline the range of stories found in Batman, Inc.. It may not seem so impressive for Morrison to write a "regular" Batgirl story, but it is impressive that Morrison can write the "out there" Doctor Dedalus issues and then also do a (close, but not quite) Bryan Q. Miller impression for an issue dedicated to Batgirl Stephanie Brown. Given how bizarre Morrison's work can sometimes be, I'm often surprised when I'm reminded of this important fact: Morrison is also a fan and he also loves these characters even more perhaps than some other creators do, and it shows through in the range of his work.
The Dedalus conflict is what will define what Morrison calls the first "season" of Batman, Inc.; it's complicated, but not as hard to surmount in my opinion as Final Crisis. We encounter Dedalus first when he's imprisoned by British super-team the Victory Vs; the Knight seems to time-travel here, but I think it's more just an artful flashback from the end of their attack to the beginning. The scenes of Dedalus's own perspective are equally unclear, but explained away at least in part by Dedalus's dementia -- when he seems to have killed his aide, for instance, this is a trick of Dedalus's own mind played on the reader, too.
"Leviathan Strikes"'s final chapter is the most similar to the end of Final Crisis, employing numerous shifts in time even as the forward action continues. Batman Bruce Wayne seems to attack Dedalus in his psychedelic headquarters, but later perspectives show the room in ruins, with Dedalus behind instead of in front of Batman. The finale takes place on the ship Leviathan, sinking fast; however, Dedalus only causes the ship to sink some pages later, and when Oracle sends reinforcements to the ship, it is whole and sailing. The ship is rising, figuratively, even as Batman's fortunes are sinking; in keeping with the story's theme of "oroboro," the end of the story is equally an aspect of its beginning. Like the word "Leviathan," this is another of Morrison's clues as to the villain Leviathan's identity -- Morrison's Batman saga is returning to where it began, as well.
I have faith in Morrison, but I actually found Batman, Inc.'s conclusion a let down. We've seen Talia al Ghul give over her son to Bruce Wayne, and then fight and fail to get him back. Damian remains a point of contention between the two, but when the newly resurrected Bruce Wayne talks about having seen an apocalyptic future, and Dedalus is working for the skull-headed Leviathan who promises a world-wide reign of terror, it seems far too simplistic that this boils down to Talia trying to get Damian back from Batman. The sole saving grace is the weird bat-figure at Talia's side, one who (as of Batman: The Return) himself seems to be a time-traveler and suggests an extra level to what's to come.
Under the surface of Batman's Leviathan problems, however, Morrison is also integrating with modern continuity Batman's Silver Age relationship with Batwoman Kathy Kane. Morrison touched on this way back in Batman RIP, and it's a treat for fans who've stuck with Morrison this whole time (and really, who hasn't?) that he's delving into more detail now. I had understood that Batman, Inc. was not always the intended direction of Morrison's Bat-saga, but the Kathy Kane tie throughout the books makes it seem that way, and adds to the scope of this story. Batman's relationship with Kane has long been a sore spot in continuity -- Bronze Tiger remembers his hand in Kane's death (or did, pre-New 52), but Batman never mentions her -- so it's great to see Morrison make it all make sense. That Morrison suggests Kane is still alive and returning for Batman, Inc.'s next season was the best part of the conclusion.
The first volume of Batman, Incorporated was not as dynamic as I expected; despite that I praised Morrison's "regular" issues, I'm surprised to see so many of them in this book, with less space given to the really wild international concepts the title promises. Batman, Inc. is well-illustrated throughout and offers a more detailed reading experience than most Batman comics you'd pick up, but it left me wishing this book's real story would get here already.
[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and text on all characters by Grant Morrison]
Next week we're back in the DC New 52 -- times two! -- with the Collected Editions reviews of Batman: Court of Owls and Green Lantern: Sinestro. See you then!