Aaaannnddd we’re back! Hope you all had a wonderful new year with as few Mayan apocalypses as we did. Updates may still be spotty around here for a while, though. Things get pretty busy for me in January, and there’s not as much time as I’d like for nerd farming. But we’re back tonight, and hey! Look what we got!
Batman Incorporated #6, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
It’s another fast-paced issue, with Batman running another villainous guantlet, this time for Talia, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul and mother of everybody’s favorite bratty-ass Robin, Damian Wayne. It’s got all the zippy pulp action fun we’ve come to expect from the Morrison / Burnham team, including…
Man-Bats vs Bat-Bots!
Another exciting appearance of Bat-Cow!
And one of the most harrowing action sequences in recent Bat-Memory!
Chris Burnham’s linework, always a shade on the rough side, becomes increasingly so as this issue progresses. I assume that’s because of deadlines; there are some panels that look a bit rushed, and a few figures that come off just a trifle too doughy. But the increasingly rougher lines actually work to the issue’s advantage. As the action spirals ever more out of control, so does the artwork depicting it. The effect is noticeable at printed size, but everything still holds together. When I scanned in the above picture to share here, though, I could see just how wild Burnham’s lines really get. Amazing how something that looks so sloppy comes across so well when reduced to printed size. I left it extra-big to accentuate the effect for you, though, so click to embiggen that thing before you move on.
As usual with Morrison’s stuff, there’s a little more going on here than crazy action and bovine pets. And this issue, he goes so far as to lay bare the story’s structural underpinnings for you from the outset:
So. The parable of the goat-herd. Actually, it’s usually told with an ox or a bull. But whatever the animal, the meaning’s the same: it’s a series of ten pictures that illustrate the search for enlightenment as the search of a goatherd for his missing goat. It’s an interesting theme for Talia to adopt. Much of the Morrison Bat-run has been concerned with Bruce Wayne’s attempt to become the Bat-Buddha, at least part of which was undertaken at the expense of the upbriging of his son. I’ve joked about the saga of Bruce Wayne: Deadbeat Dad before, but now we’re finally seeing his baby-mama get some payback, and she’s doing it in fitting style.
She runs Bruce through the gauntlet of a partially-deserted Leviathan headquarters, with each stage themed around one of the ten stages of the goat-herder’s tale. Some of them are typically clever super villain clues, and I won’t spoil the issue by covering all of them. But there are times when the picture chosen says something interesting about how Talia sees Batman’s quest for enlightenment. Check out the conversation surrounding the reveal of picture three, for instance:
Stage three is Finding the Goat, in which the seeker first perceives enlightenment. But the goat’s still running from him at this point, and he’s only seeing things from behind. So where we as readers have been lead to see the foundation of Batman Inc. and Bruce Wayne’s new initiatives to help the poor of Gotham City as the end result of his search for enlightenment, Talia thinks it’s really just the ass-end of the goat.
I like what happens next here, though: Bruce steps right into the picture, accepting his role as the goat-herd, but also putting the ball back in Talia’s court by asking about what she’s done. Because as much as this has been a story about Bruce Wayne’s awakening to become something bigger than himself, it’s also been about Talia’s. Their plans (Batman Inc. and Leviathan) are mirror images of each other, two different views of how the rich and powerful can work to change the lives of the less fortunate. Bruce gives them the tools to help themselves within the system. Talia gives them the tools of revolution, and a burning desire to use them in her name. All of which is fascinating on a story level, even if we’ve had this laid out for us before. But it also begs a thematic question: who is the goat-herd here, and who is the goat?
Talia’s certainly set herself up as the goat, the thing to be pursued. Bruce is working his way to the top to get to her, and his questioning of her is an attempt to understand her plans. But when we get to something like stage six (Riding the Goat), Bruce is hanging by his fingertips from a fire escape, having just leapt out a window to evade an explosion. The joy the goat-herd’s supposed to experience at this point seems dubious for him. But if it’s Talia riding and Bruce as the goat… Well, it sounds like she’s having a great old time to me.
Of course, second time through, the whole thing also reads like some kind of grandly kinky phone sex, the death and danger and bloody broken bones satisfying both of them far more than a simple fuck ever could. So I suppose they’re riding each other at that point, and seeking after each other the whole time, both of them simultaneously goat and goat-herd. The whole thing’s really about frustrating any actual contact, though, so when we get to stage eight, an empty circle representing transcendence, it looks like this:
Bruce can only get his hands on a dummy dressed up like her, and Talia confronts him with what she sees as the real point of transcendence in his life: the eternal choice between his mission and his family. He chose the mission over her, but will he do the same with their son?
It all falls apart at bit at that point, I’m afraid. Because Bruce doesn’t really make a choice. Talia pushes him along the path, to the final picture:
That’s the goat-herd returning to society to spread his enlightenment to others. And the enlightenment Talia’s tried to teach him is pretty freaking bleak. Batman Inc. seems broken, and the future belongs to Leviathan. But she’s not reckoning with the final lesson of the Batman: he’s never alone, even when he wants to be. So I suppose he doesn’t have to choose between family and mission. They’re one and the same for him, and even though the Robins have been ordered out of the fight… Well, Bruce left Jason Todd in charge, and if there’s one thing he can count on that douchebag to do, it’s disobey orders. In which case, I’m sure next issue will put all this in a different light.
For now, though, a fun issue of the Morrison/Burnham Batman, with a thematic thread that… either doesn’t work quite as well as it should, or that I’m too tired to successfully parse this fine evening. So I think it’s time to give it a grade, and go to bed…