Batman Inc #3, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
In the wake of the Batman film shooting last week, DC asked that stores delay selling this book for a month. Asked, not ordered. And, since the books had already shipped… Some stores went ahead and sold the book anyway. What’s the big fuss? Well, it’s probably something to do with this:
Ouch. The image of the teacher pulling a gun on her class, alone, might have been enough to make DC nervous. But really, I think it’s what she’s saying that put the scene over the top. A scene in which a Batman character (even a villain) is seen encouraging underprivileged children to violence might not play so well on a newsday that saw multiple talking heads proclaiming how “Batman-obsessed” the Colorado shooter was.
(An aside: if having a Batman poster on your wall is evidence of dangerous obsession, then I know an awful lot of people who are secret emotional powder kegs…)
On the one hand, I can see how the victims’ families might find the scene troubling, so I’m glad DC tried to show them some consideration. But on the other hand, from my perspective as someone who was only touched by the shootings via the news, I’m fine with the sale of this issue less than a week later. I don’t mean to sound callous. I only mean that my distance from the events allows me a certain philosophical detachment. Leviathan’s message of violent revolutionary empowerment is a far cry from the mere chaos the shooter was apparently trying to create.
But enough discussion of a lone madman. His actions are tragic, but allowing them to control even a simple review of a funnybook is giving him more social weight than he deserves. But as long as we’re considering weighty social matters, let’s take a look at the actual politics underlying Batman, Inc.
I’ve commented on Leviathan’s revolutionary message before, but just to reiterate: Leviathan is the conservative nightmare made real: a group preaching the violent overthrow of the rich and powerful, making the poor feel empowered while actually making them slaves to a new master. They’re even co-opting the children of the rich and powerful themselves, indoctrinating them in their exclusive colleges and boarding schools so they can go out and become powerful activists for the cause. Considering how closely their methods and motivations mirror the paranoid fantasies that far-right conservatives hold about the left, you’d almost think that Batman Inc. was a right-wing rant disguised as super hero adventure.
But I think it’s something else entirely. This entire final act of Grant Morrison’s Bat-Run seems to be exploring an idea he tossed off as a gag in Final Crisis: money as a super-power. And not just in the obvious, “I have a Bat-Boat!” sort of way, but in terms of the character’s entire operating philosophy. Batman’s always been the premiere capitalist super hero, but here he’s really become the capitalist ideal, the successful businessman who invests in and gives back to his community. Because he’s a super hero, of course, that investment includes robots and punching crime in the face. But he’s also about investing in people, giving them training and support so they can afford to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
We see this with the Robins, of course, and with the various members of Batman Inc. But there’s also that bright young girl he helped out of a life of prostitution by the simple expedient of offering her a job. It’s that “giving back” aspect of classic capitalism, that awareness of the debt the successful owe to the communities that made them successful, that sets Batman apart from those who argue that the social safety net is a fascist plot. They tend to focus on the achievements of the individual, denying that the successful owe any debt to anyone but themselves. But Our Hero learned something different at the end of Return of Bruce Wayne: no man stands alone. Not even the Batman.
But I called this a review earlier, and only one question really matters in a review: Is the comic itself any good? As regular visitors to the nerd farm will no doubt be utterly unsurprised to hear me say… Yes. Yes, it is. Batman Inc. #3 is good funnybooks, start to finish.
The story concerns Batman re-establishing his old “Matches Malone” cover identity…
…to gain information on Leviathan’s operations in the Gotham underworld. Matches is one of my favorite old-school Batman concepts, a slimy small-time operator, complete with cheesy 70s mustache and sunglasses. He was “killed off” years ago, no doubt because he looked so out of date. But here in the second decade of the 21st Century… lo and behold! He’s actually fashionable again. Morrison writes the persona well: Batman is obviously having fun playing this magnanimous bastard, and even makes it work when he breaks character to save a lounge singer being menaced by two Leviathan thugs who look for all the world like recipients of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men formula:
Another nice touch: Batman’s allies are even getting in on the act, acting as muscle for Matches (and, of course, backup for Batman in case things get out of hand). It’s a fun scene, made all the moreso by El Gaucho’s homage to Gotham legend Bueno Excellente:
Things accelerate quickly from there, and I won’t blow the plot for those of you who have to wait a month to read this issue. But it’s the usual entertaining mix from Morrison and Burnham, including some great banter between Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Damian…
…a musical refrain…
…and an absolutely terrifying new bad guy who I won’t show you (spoilers!). But he reminds me a little bit of this guy:
Crucially, the issue also includes a diagram of how all the various plotlines of Morrison’s Batman run connect together:
This was particularly impressive to me, and I’ve left the scan plenty big so you can follow all the threads around more easily. It’s a nice refresher as we head into the end-game of this years-long run. Much of the planning behind these connections was, of course, done on the fly. Morrison had planned to leave Batman twice before this, and is drawing things together with hindsight. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Each successive act of his run has built upon the previous ones, and this kind of intricate thematic wire-work ain’t easy.
Note, also, how each of Our Heroes’ reactions reveals character: Dick is impressed, Bruce analytical, and Damian self-centered. That’s economy of story, right there: plot recap, in a single panel, without painful exposition, and an iron grasp of character on display, to boot. Compression done right.
Actually, that’s pretty indicative of the book in general. So on that note, I’ll leave you.