TAG TEAM REVIEW: Batman Incorporated #6

A comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic & Dave Wallace
Danny: With Batman Incorporated #6, it finally becomes clear -- if Grant Morrison's initial run on Batman was about negotiating the character's long, somewhat paradoxical history, then Batman Incorporated is about making sense of the fact that there are way too many Bats in the world -- Batwomen, Batgirls, International Batmen and even fringe groups like the Outsiders.

Dave: Yes, ever since the very start of his run on the Batbooks, Morrison has been playing with the idea of alternate Batmen and replacement Batmen, and examining what these characters have to say about the core Batman concept. Not only does this issue probably feature more of these variations than in any other issue of the series so far, but it also tries to come up with a reason why Batman might want to put together an army of similarly themed heroes, sets out how such an organization would work, uses the concept to strengthen the mythical element of the character rather than to dilute it and also functions as a lovely done-in-one story with a neat twist ending.

Danny: The first five issues were all about Batman putting together his army, and now with #6, Bruce Wayne and Morrison himself issue the book's mission statement. The ending was a fun twist, one reminiscent of the classic "Almost Got 'Im" episode of Batman: The Animated Series. The bit where he explains the name Nero Nykto struck me as a bone thrown to the portion of the population that doesn't read the online annotations.

Dave: Perhaps. It definitely seems unusual for Morrison to explain himself so openly like that. But for every explicit explanation of what's going on in the story, we get another hint at greater depths, another ambiguous line of dialogue, or another mystery -- such as the unseen character who steps in to redeem a superhero identity that was tarnished way back in Morrison's original "Black Glove" story.

Danny: I just feel like Morrison wanted to make it a little easier for David Uzumeri or somebody like that.

Dave: I hadn't heard of him until you mentioned him - but looking at that link, I guess he's similar to (another Morrison-Batman annotator) Rikdad -- who hasn't yet written anything on Batman Incorporated, but provided extensive online analysis of Morrison's previous Batbooks. And very enjoyable and thought-provoking it was, too.

In fact, talking of the rest of Morrison's run, it's nice to see yet more little touches in this issue that connect its story to the wider picture of the writer's larger saga. Whether it's the receptionist girl that Batman rescued from the street in Batman #664 (and met again in issue #701), the robotic Batmen that tie back into Batman: The Return (and also foreshadow the events of Mark Waid's Kingdom Come) or the Leviathan subplots that are currently acting as the glue that holds the various story strands of this title together, there's a great sense that everything is part of a larger tapestry.

Danny: Exactly. It feels like Morrison's trying to perform a sort of alchemy on the idea of the flabby, unending superhero franchise, turning every loose thread spin-off character, every good tossed-off idea into something important as he ties them all together. The Kingdom Come Bat-bots in particular are an evocative image, if you know your comics -- you can almost imagine a not-too-distant future where the Batman Incorporated idea fails and Bruce Wayne resorts to crime-fighting automatons to do the work for him.

Dave: Having said that, this issue does work well as a standalone tale, too. In fact, in some respects it would have made a great first issue for the series, in that it sets out the core concept of the book -- an international army of Batmen -- perfectly. But I suppose that such a complicated story (in terms of the sheer number of characters it covers, if nothing else) might have been intimidating to new readers trying to get on board.

Danny: It's funny that Morrison takes this long to lay out the premise. I guess that's the benefit of being Grant Morrison writing a Batman comic. People will read it because it's Grant Morrison writing a Batman comic, affording him the opportunity to take his time in building his newest epic.

Dave: Well, I do think that the premise was set out pretty clearly in earlier issues -- Morrison just took a gradual approach, rather than going for the all-out assault that this issue provides. In some ways, this reminds me a little of his All-Star Superman #10 (still one of the best things he's ever written) in that it takes several disparate story strands, many of which occur simultaneously, and pulls them all together to give you a sense of becoming aware of the big picture.

Danny: What I really meant was that Morrison finally establishes the main conflict of the book in plain English, where Batman's explaining to the troops that they're taking on an evil force called Leviathan. Though I'm sure if you've been paying really close attention to The Return of Bruce Wayne he was probably planting the seeds way back then.

Dave: You're right, it's only now that Bruce is explicitly stating that this has all been about building an army, to stand against another army. A fairly simple hook, but one that's given Morrison the opportunity to launch some big, imaginative, revolutionary ideas in the world of Batman -- whilst at the same time filling the book with fun, memorable little details, like the super-villain team of "average Joes" or the lovely-yet-gruesome scene with Jim Gordon at an urban dump.

Danny: That's my favorite part of Morrison's work. It rarely feels like he's half-assing. Joe Average and the Average Joes could have been generic Italian mobsters or a handful of minor DC Comics villains and the Emoticon Gang could have just been guys in regular ski-masks, but instead Morrison came up clear concepts for each group. It's the difference between a great writer and a mediocre-to-pretty good writer, I think.

This issue is especially great because we get to see the whole Bat-Corporation in action, especially in that amazing two-page splash at the end of the issue. It's like eight issues of Batman Incorporated at once!

Dave: That gives me the opportunity to talk a little about the artwork of Chris Burnham. I know I already said it in our review of issue #5, but I think that he and Yanick Paquette have together made Batman Incorporated a wonderful looking book. Here, Burnham gets the opportunity to cover all sorts of material -- from exciting action sequences like a mid-air assault by Batgirl, to scenes that could seem mundane under another artist (like Bruce Wayne surfing internet chatrooms -- a fun acknowledgement of Morrison's online following), but which feel lively and characterful here thanks to Burnham's talent for expressive faces and body language.

Danny: That panel of Bruce Wayne typing is great -- the angle, Bruce's wry grin mixed with Dick's smile that may or may not be a response to that know-it-all Damien's abject befuddlement at his dad's antics. He's got that Frank Quitely attention to detail.

Dave: He's also got Frank Quitely's gift of making each image feel like a perfectly still moment in time, captured in perpetuity, whilst also conveying extremely fluid movement (as well as a strong sense of form and weight) in the scenes that require it. A good example is Alfred's amusing attack on the Emoticon Gang -- the image of the gangly butler helping to take down the group certainly feels like a single instant, frozen in time, but there's also a lot of very clear action implied by the image. Which I guess is what good comic art is all about.

And as you mentioned, that final montage -- in which certain elements of different scenes link up, reinforcing the idea that Batman Incorporated is both an umbrella brand for a host of different characters, as well as a single core concept replicated across the globe -- is a beautiful way to finish the issue, and one that encapsulates the tone of the book perfectly.

Danny: The best part is how the two-page spread is juxtaposed with the title emblazoned across the bottom -- the word "nyktomorph," an appropriately obscure word that means, as far as cursory Googling has revealed, an "imagined figure of the night." Appropriate, considering Batman Incorporated #6 establishes Batman as a ubiquitous, ill-defined figure capable of punching crime all across the globe.

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