Aaaaand, we’re back! It’s been a long January here on the nerd farm, but hopefully we can now resume normal service. Starting with…
Batman Inc #7, by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, and Jason Masters
Lurking behind one of the greatest super hero covers in recent memory is a story that… No, wait a minute. Before we get to the story, I’ve just gotta gush about that cover a little. I mean, holy crap look at that thing! An army of demented children, holding Our Heroes’ masks on pikes?! You really just don’t get much better than that. Among the many nice touches artist Chris Burnham included here: that adorable little gap-toothed girl on the left, the tall Joey-Ramone-lookin’ kid, the guy on the far right with his hair falling all down over his face, and (my favorite) that completely insane-looking little firebug. Also: they’ve got Chief Man-of-Bats’ mask! And he’s not even in this comic! Has a blatantly silly and ethnically-insensitive character revived for the 21st Century ever gotten as much love as that guy’s gotten in the Morrison Bat-Run? I think not!
But anyway. The story. Not much to chew on in the way of analysis this month, so I thought that instead I’d focus a bit on the craft of it all. Because beyond the mythic trappings and socio-economic critique inherent in this book, Grant Morrison’s also demonstrating some rock-solid storytelling technique. One of my favorite little tricks is the “new guy” thing. We’ve known for a couple-three issues now that Talia’s replaced people throughout Gotham with Leviathan converts. So this issue, when this happens…
…it sends up alarm bells. And our suspicions are only confirmed a few pages later, when the receptionist at Wayne Towers calls one of the security guards “new guy,” and he opens fire on his partner as part of Talia’s assault on All Things Batman. My mind immediately went back to Gordon’s order, and I thought, “Yeah. They ain’t gettin’ any backup.”
Which is unfortunate, because… See that schoolbus in the background? Well, that thing disgorges the horde of tiny insane cultists that have already been spoiled by the cover.
And, actually… While you’re looking at that panel… Go ahead and embiggen it so you can appreciate the very fine “rain drawing” of Chris Burnham and colorist Nathan Fairbairn. They’ve done a nice job of capturing the sort of hazy look objects in the distance take on in heavy rain. Burnham’s outlines become rougher and rougher as objects get further away. So the cop in the foreground is drawn normally, with some nice color-defined raindrops hitting him, Nightwing and Gordon are less well-defined, the bus even moreso, and the buildings in the far background are reduced to slabs with unevenly-blackened windows. The reflections in the wet pavement are nice, too, as is that slight glow around the retreating ambulances. A lot of fine work, put into a panel that’s only about an inch and a half high on the printed page.
Oh, and that Wayne Towers receptionist I mentioned earlier? It’s Ellie, the girl Batman saved from a life of prostitution by offering her a job, way back at the beginning of the Morrison run. A small act of kindness that might be paying off soon, as she seems to have escaped the taking of the building and is on the loose inside Wayne Towers. Considering that this is Morrison’s third planned departure from Batman, I’m aware that he didn’t plan this from the get-go. But that doesn’t take away from the long-term plotting he’s doing here. Ellie slots perfectly into the series’ socio-economic arguments, even if she is an example of Morrison mining his own past work for raw plot material. If he’d published all this as a novel rather than a monthly funnybook, we’d never know the difference.
Speaking of Wayne Towers, by the way, I never noticed before this issue, but even the damn building’s got bat ears:
But getting back to the long-term craft department… The black-and-red checkerboard from Batman RIP makes a surprising return appearance this issue as Batman wakes up from the beating he took last time:
If I recall correctly (though I’m far too tired to go back and check right now), the black and red always symbolized death. Appropriate, considering the predicament Talia’s got Our Hero in. But speaking of Talia, this issue continues the work Morrison’s doing to establish her as a master-villain in her own right. Damian starts if off with this concise and really rather insightful analysis of her, and of his parents’ relationship:
Talia herself drives the point home later, gloating to Our Hero not just because she’s got him in a horrible death-trap, but going so far as to belittle the very idea of Batman itself:
Oh, that’s cold! She’s deconstructing Batman, revealing the whole idea as a ridiculous childish fantasy. And it stings so badly because, well… she’s right. Or at least, she’s not wrong.
But her plan also betrays the part of Talia that’s still “how she was when they were young.” Sure, Leviathan brings her untold wealth and a fanatically-devoted army of poor people to do her bidding. But that’s not the point of it. The point of it is to destroy All That Which is Batman, and she’s doing that primarily because Batman is what drove first Bruce Wayne and then Damian to reject her. She’s twisting whole societies to her will and endangering all life on Earth because her boyfriend dumped her.
In fact, it’s almost like, on some level, she’s trying to win him back, getting his attention again the only way she knows how: by playing his game better than he does. I’ve discussed the kinky aspects of her villain banter before, of course, and that “If I’m especially evil, will I be your number one archenemy?” has the breathless air of a playful dominatrix about it.
I’m not 100% sold on that last argument, of course. But if I’m right…
Well, that’s at least as silly as Chief Man-of-Bats.