We’re heading into a busy time of year at my real job, so the nerd farm will be a bit… fluffier than normal for the next little bit. But tonight… Tonight, one last hurrah for long, spoilery, over-thought analysis. Last Wednesday brought us to the end of an era, after all…
Batman Incorporated 13, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
So. He stuck the landing. Nailed it. Granted, he usually does, these days. “These days” being, you know… the last decade, decade-and-a-half. Ever since Invisibles, really. But, still…
Grant Morrison wrote Batman for seven years, three times longer than he’d initially planned, writing three separate, individually-planned novels that built one on top of the other, making the run as a whole into one big and genuinely epic tale. He excavated seemingly-irredeemable concepts from forgotten and reviled depths of Bat-History and made them relevant again. He gave us an extremely unlikeable new Robin and made him a fan-favorite. And he examined Batman himself from every conceivable angle, sending the character on a voyage of self-discovery that reconciled Batman with Bruce Wayne and brought out his Inner God.
So it’s interesting to me that Morrison stuck the landing by making Batman essentially ineffectual.
Yep. Completely defeated. Utterly squashed. Melted, in fact, by a plan that Talia put together in her spare time. Ouch. And make no mistake: he’s done for here, completely at the mercy of a woman whose love for him curdled into hate, who wants an end to their conflict, who won’t rest until he’s dead, and–
What’s that? Why’s she offering him an antidote if she wants him dead? Well…
She doesn’t. Not really. That was just play-acting, Talia filling the role of that Unbeatable Villain she’s talking about. Leviathan, its plan to overthrow society, the genocidal Oroboros Ring of Death… It’s all part of her gift to him, a love game played in terms he’ll respond to: crime, violence, and murder. Hell, even Damian was little more to her than a game-piece. A tool. A toy. A metaphysical cat-o-nine-tails with which to lovingly lash Batman’s soul.
Kink on a grand scale.
Not buying it? Then I point you to the beginning of this confrontation. When Talia descends into (or, alright, I’ll say it: penetrates) the Batcave, wearing her (*ahem*) strap-on Thomas Wayne bat-mask, to reenact her own father’s classic (*oh my*) sword fight with Our Hero… This is how she starts things off:
They kiss while Gotham burns. There’s a great two-page sequence showing the battles raging as they lock lips, Batman Incorporated and all its allies fighting Leviathan tooth and nail across Gotham City, and the globe. Some people just go in for whips and chains, but Batman… His dominatrix needs to put the whole freaking world in peril to get him off.
Talia’s wrong about that, of course. She turns herself into a monster for him, and it’s still not what he wants. He doesn’t get it, as she says. Her little game turns his stomach, and her callous disregard for their son enrages him. He might have been a terrible father, but he loved Damian. Which, we discover, is why he pushed the kid away. As he tells Jim Gordon, in relation to his parents’ deaths…
That line’s like a bomb going off, resonating backwards through not only Morrison’s run, but Batman’s entire history. Damian couldn’t be his partner because he loved him, but Dick Grayson? Jason Todd? Tim Drake? No problem. This is not to say that Batman didn’t care for his various youthful wards. Far from it. He helped them cope with their own inner demons by giving them training and an outlet for their aggressions. And he did a good job with them. The only one who hasn’t turned out better-balanced than Bruce is Jason Todd, who (arguably) was killed before Our Hero really had a chance to get through to him. Batman could be a friend to these boys, a mentor, even a big brother if they needed it. But he couldn’t be their father, because that’s a bond he’s actually not capable of forming.
Poor Damian. That kid was doomed from the word go. And even sadder? If Bruce had said to Damian the same thing he said to Gordon, the kid might not have died. And even if he had, he would have at least died knowing that one of his parents loved him. Which was not a reassurance he actually enjoyed.
But where was I? Ah, yes. Ineffectual Batman. Talia beats him, no two ways about it. She takes her lumps, of course. No matter how much she might try to play it off, losing Damian to Bruce stung. But otherwise? Leviathan out-maneuvers Batman Incorporated, and Talia takes Batman himself out with a poisoned blade. He loses utterly.
Except, of course, (spoilers!) he doesn’t. And the reason he doesn’t is also the reason why Ineffectual Batman sticks the landing for Morrison. Because we’re back once again to the Final Lesson of the Batman: He’s never alone. I’m not sure that’s a lesson he really understood until this issue, though. Because, even though he planned tons of back-up, and even though it proves vital to his victory here, none of that is really what saves him. Sure, a Robin rides to the rescue…
…and it’s Jason Todd, which offers some small bit of redemption for the one Boy Wonder Bruce couldn’t help. He needed to plan all that, and it helped. But it still represents Batman as the mastermind, Batman planning his actions… alone. And what he really needs to learn the importance of, what really saves him this time, is aid unplanned. Aid earned long ago, from quarters he didn’t anticipate (but maybe should have):
Kathy Kane! Secret head of Spyral, and the one woman that actually did win Batman’s heart. She’s been operating behind the scenes the whole time, and it’s only through her actions that Batman pulls this particular victory out. Much like Talia, Kathy out-maneuvered Batman. But unlike Talia, his example taught her to be a better person, and it’s that debt she repays here. Of course, she still completely fooled him, and used Batman Incorporated as a means to an end. So if you want to see the real Bat-Dominatrix, look no further.
(An aside: I like that “I don’t exist” line, in particular. It works as an admonishment from the world’s premiere super-spy, but it’s also Morrison going meta, as he so often does. Because Kathy Kane was long-since erased from DC Comics history, and no doubt erased again with the recent reboot. And I’d like to think that her triumph here is a triumph for all those forgotten, silly, swept-under-the-Bat-Rug characters Morrison has dusted off and reclaimed in the last seven years. But at any rate…)
With Batman Inc neatly wrapped up, Morrison spends his last few pages putting things back the way he found them. In his conversation with Gordon, we learn that Bruce is going to lay Batman to rest. Things went too far this time. He lost a son, and very nearly lost the world, by getting in over his head. So Talia won. Batman is dead. Except… There’s a new mystery. New danger. New crime. And there always will be. And that’s because of Morrison’s other major Bat-Theme, the one that defines his run as a whole: Batman and Robin Can Never Die! Even when they do.
So. What’s left to say here? As long-time readers no doubt know, I’ve been a huge fan of Grant Morrison’s Batman. It’s a match made in my own personal funnybook heaven: my favorite writer of spandex fiction doing my favorite spandex character. Though the first volume of the run had its problems in both story and art, everything from Final Crisis onward has been pure gold. After getting him over that gothic hump he’d been suffering under for so long, Morrison made Batman fun again. He embraced the ridiculous without giving up the grit. He went dayglo without forgetting the gloom. He introduced some great new villains, at least one of whom (Professor Pyg) seems destined to be a classic. And he did it all with depth, subtlety, good humor, and maybe the best character writing the Bat-Cast has ever seen. I will miss it terribly.
Grant Morrison Batman… RIP.