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Sunday Slugfest: Batman, Inc. #1

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2010
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Yanick Paquette (p) Michel Lacombe (i), & Nathan Fairbarn (colors)
DC Comics
In Grant Morrison’s latest ongoing Batman series, Batman teams up with Catwoman to break into Dr. Sivana’s laboratory before they head off to Tokyo to have sex and then drop by to visit Mr. Unknown, “the Batman of Japan.”

Kyle Garret:
Chris Kiser:
Dave Wallace:

Kyle Garret:

It has taken Grant Morrison four years just to start writing about the Batman he said he wanted to write about. It took him four years to establish the status quo he needed to get to tell the stories we’ll see in Batman, Inc.

When Morrison first took over the writing duties on the core Batman books, he said he wanted to write about the “hairy-chested sex god” Batman, the one we most often saw back in the 70s and 80s. That Batman traveled the world to fight crime, used his massive fortune to create cutting-edge tools, and . . . well . . . had a way with the ladies. However, that Batman wasn’t the Batman we’ve seen since the very beginning of Morrison’s run.

It’s understandable that Morrison had to make some changes to get to this point. After all, there’s a certain segment of the comic book reading public who have expectations of what Batman is, and it would be impossible to turn away from his Gotham Guardian, street-level vigilante persona. But Morrison no longer has to turn his back on that type of Batman; he has Dick Grayson covering that particular base.

So what is this new, globetrotting, unencumbered Batman like? Well, after one issue, I’d say he’s pretty great. He’s not unlike a vengeful Tony Stark with a purpose. Suddenly, the Batman box has been opened, and we might see nearly anything show up in this book, which is really exciting.

In this issue, we head to Tokyo, where Batman gets some help from Catwoman to find the Japanese guy that he wants to be part of his new system. Morrison has a great grasp of the relationship between Bruce and Selina, and pairing the two of them up in the first issue is a nice set up for what we might see throughout this series: lots of team-ups and, of course, new characters.

Morrison makes some interesting choices in his depiction of Japan. The most obvious is the fact that we don’t get the usual “translated from Japanese” footnote for dialogue surrounded by brackets. We’re left to assume which language each character is speaking. It’s interesting that this change to what has become a comic book standard has no affect on the book; yet another comic book assumption debunked by Morrison.

There’s a nice nod to the Japanese superheroes Morrison introduced in Final Crisis, and I’m hoping we’ll actually get to see, at the very least, Most Excellent Superbat. I would love to see how he feels about being passed over for a job he’s probably dying to have.

The ending is also a nice nod towards Japanese horror, and the ridiculous death traps we’ve come to expect from their American imposters. Additionally, there is a nod to the 1960s Batman television show.

Yanick Paquette has benefitted from being one of Morrison’s go-to artists. His work has gotten better and better, and I’m eager to see how it progresses on a (hopefully) long run on Batman, Inc. Yes, he still manages to work in the cheesecake shots that have become so synonymous with his work, but it doesn’t come across as gratuitous and it certainly doesn’t overshadow his work on the non-female parts of the story.

So much of Morrison’s work on Batman so far has been focused on the past; I’m excited to see what he does with the future.

Chris Kiser:

An unapologetic superhero romp, Batman Incorporated is the comic that Grant Morrison has been preparing us all for since his very first issue as regular Batman writer. Unfettered by anyone’s assumptions about who and what the Dark Knight should be, Morrison gleefully cashes in on the freedom he has worked so hard these past several years to create.

For decades, the grim and gritty realism of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One was the definitive standard for presenting Batman. While the Caped Crusader could often still be found having regular team-ups with Superman or the Justice League, anything that took the character too far into the realm of the fantastic could easily be considered a lesser part of his mythos.

While a grounded approach to Batman may still be the preferred method of many (not the least of which is current film franchise director Christopher Nolan), it would be fair to say that Morrison has shattered the monopoly once held by this particular interpretation. Thanks to the writer’s successful implementation of his “every story happened” concept, a Batman that harkens back to his wacky Silver Age roots has become much more palatable to a fair share of DC Comics’ readers.

So, here we are in Batman Incorporated #1, where tussles with giant robots and overgrown squid creatures are nothing to blink at. As Bruce Wayne travels the world to open his checkbook up to likeminded heroes across the globe, so too is this series open to any number of stereotypically comic-booky elements and conventions.

At first glance, I considered the possibility that Morrison may have actually gone too far in his superheroization of Batman--thinking that the story in this first issue felt a bit too much like any old run-of-the-mill DC product. Upon a second reading, however, it was clear how much of the beloved writer’s signature style is all over this thing.

In fact, much of this comic can be favorably compared to Morrison’s debut in the first part of “Batman and Son,” the story arc that got the ball rolling on the author’s Batman run. Anyone could have picked up that book and enjoyed it, yet it was also the place where the seeds of many complex, head-spinning future stories were initially planted. Here’s hoping that the seeding of future stories is also what’s going on now.

Ironically, illustrator Yanick Paquette would have been an ideal fit for one of those aforementioned real-world Batman stories, yet he somehow finds himself as the man drawing the scenes of Morrison’s continued Bat-reinvention. There’s a photo referenced aspect to his work, as all of his figures are realistic in nature, but I doubt many will complain about his ability to depict the story’s stranger elements.

A relatively weak cliffhanger at the end puts a damper on the fun, but there’s more than enough in this issue to bring readers back for more. As with most comics penned by Morrison, Batman Incorporated is one that seems destined to become a fan favorite.

Dave Wallace:

After several lengthy story arcs dealing with dark, demons, devilish deities, and the very spectre of death itself, Grant Morrison's run on Batman reinvents itself yet again with Batman Incorporated. This opening issue is a welcome blast of energetic, colourful fun that marks a contrast to the recent saga of Dr. Hurt and Darkseid, as it reprises the globe-trotting “hairy-chested love god” take on Bruce Wayne that Morrison attempted to resurrect at the start of his tenure whilst also dealing with the recently returned hero's plans to expand the idea of Batman into a global franchise.

For all of the complicated backstory that brought us to this point in Morrison's run, there's something refreshingly simple about this new #1 issue. Just like Batman and Robin #1, there's a sense of the writer clearing away the baggage of previous chapters to bring us something fresh and new whilst still maintaining a certain amount of links to the past. Here, Bruce Wayne's trip to Japan to train Batman's oriental analogue turns into a high-octane rescue mission adorned with the kind of trappings you might expect in a manga book and featuring a team-up with Catwoman.

To sum up the book in a few words, it's fun, energetic, and surprisingly sexy. This last quality is largely provided by Catwoman, who meows and purrs her way through the issue, clad in her trademark tight-fitting catsuit with an open chest that stays just about on the right side of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

Whilst some people might roll their eyes at these slightly cheesecake indulgences (one panel in particular, in which Catwoman casts her eyes over a shining jewel, is distractingly exaggerated), there's also a suggestion that Morrison and penciller Yanick Paquette are acutely aware of the kind of sexual stereotypes they're playing with.

Why else would the book feature a scene in which Catwoman questions the Japanese penchant for scantily clad schoolgirls being violated by tentacled monsters, ironically unaware that she herself is a walking sexual cliché of cult fiction? And why else would Morrison employ such an amusing and smart twist at the end of the book in which the issue's cliffhanger essentially brings the cover of a manga book to life--encouraging the reader to simultaneously engage with the drama of the story whilst laughing at the writer's knowing use of the stereotypical convention?

However, it's not just imperiled schoolgirls that Morrison has lifted from Japanese culture for the purposes of drama in this issue. We also see a Batman-esque Japanese hero, Mr. Unknown, attacked by a villain called Lord Death Man. This latter character is particularly noteworthy, because he's actually a pre-existing villain that made his debut in Batman #180 before being adapted into the Bat-Manga comics of Jiro Kuwata (as detailed in Chip Kidd's recent book on the subject).

Again, Morrison is mining old Batman books for concepts to rehabilitate, but he's also doing more than that: he's acknowledging the real-life way in which Batman comics have influenced Japanese comics, in a story that's all about Batman trying to cast his influence over his Japanese counterpart. Yes, despite the relative simplicity of the story, this book is just as clever as Morrison's more complex Bat-tales of the past.

I'm hoping that we see more clever links to previous Batman books and thematic connections to Morrison's own bat-saga as Batman Inc. progresses. For example, I'd be willing to bet that Mr. Unknown's kid sidekick is going to take on the mantle of his dead mentor before the story is over--just as Dick Grayson did--and that Lord Death Man's plan will be connected to the wider machinations of the sinister Leviathan organisation that we caught a glimpse of in Batman: The Return--just like the various villains of Dr. Hurt's “Black Glove.”

The book also looks great, with Yanick Paquette coping admirably with the wealth of new concepts that Morrison throws at him, translating such notions as invisible attack drones, skull-faced henchmen and a giant squid to the page with apparent ease. He also captures the physical interactions between Batman and Catwoman in a way that feels a little more mature and adult than their usual relationship (despite the frequent T&A shots).

However, the unsung hero of the artwork would seem to be inker Michel Lacombe, whose tight linework gives the book a sense of slickness without sacrificing variances in texture, and with close attention paid to the finer details of Paquette's backgrounds that helps to sell the reality of the book's unfamiliar Japanese locales. It reminded me of Paul Neary's inking over Bryan Hitch's art in Ultimates, which is pretty good company to be in.

If I have one complaint about the art, it's that Paquette's character design for the in-costume Batman occasionally looks a little of', with an ape-like jaw and bulky physique that doesn't quite suit the graceful acrobatics that Bruce is called upon to perform this issue. Hopefully, Batman’s depiction is something that will evolve and change as Paquette continues to work on the book.

Overall, I'm already finding myself thoroughly won over by the next phase of Morrison's bat-saga. Minor complaints aside, this first issue is a great example of what a modern superhero comic should be in paying homage to the past whilst also developing the core concepts of Batman logically and originally. I look forward to seeing whether Morrison can use Batman Inc. to build a story that's as complex and satisfying as the last couple of years of his Batman work have been. He's certainly off to a good start.

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