Semi-Strong Batch: Batman Incorporated #3 Reviewon August 28, 2012 at 8:33 am
Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Well, it wasn’t so bad in relation to the July shootings that led to Batman Incorporated #3 being delayed for a month. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s another matter, but I’ll get back to that.
Batman Incorporated #3 has a lot going for it, and that is a surprising thing for a guy who hasn’t been digging Grant Morrison’s Batman stories to say. Morrison delivers us a 70s style detective story, with Batman spending a large part of the issue undercover – Batman doesn’t appear in full costume in a single panel of this issue – trying to root out Leviathan and Talia Al Ghul. It’s not a perfect issue, but it’s generally a refreshing throwback to Neal Adams / Dennis O’Neil stories from the 70s, with the weirdness for the sake of weirdness that Morrison can’t seem to help himself from chucking into his Batman stories dialed back to a dull roar. Not no roar, but it’s subdued enough for me to alternate between hoping Morrison might be mellowing, and suspecting that his mescaline dealer coughed up a weak batch.
With that said, this issue suffers from a few storytelling problems, and requires a few voluntary leaps in logic if you want to truly enjoy it… which means that the “weak batch” theory is getting more of a foothold with me.
Batman spends most of this issue undercover as his old organized crime alter ego Matches Malone, who we haven’t really seen since before the New 52 reboot. If you’re an old school Batman fan going back to the 70s the way I am, you have fond memories of Matches, and Morrison clearly feels the same way. Morrison has Batman play Matches to the hilt, and the snappy, hipster patter he writes for Matches is a pure, 1970s joy to read. There’s a panel where Matches is confronting two goons, and the combination of his exhortation, “Back off, muchachos, you’re tangling with a master of karate,” and artist Chris Burnham’s use of angle and pose to make Matches look like he dropped off Neal Adams pen, brought me right back to the Batman comics of my childhood. I’ve complained before about Morrison being beholden to ephemera from Batman’s history, and his portrayal of Matches is really no different. However, Matches is a larger part of that Batman ephemera, and his use feels appropriate for the story, so it worked very well for me… so long Morrison doesn’t get cute with the 70s references and throw The Ten-Eyed Man at Batman.
There are some problems with this issue, and sadly, Matches Malone is one of them, in the sense that I find it impossible to believe that Talia Al Ghul doesn’t know that Batman is actually Matches. There are at least two stories from the Dennis O’Neil era where Batman and Talia and / or Ra’s Al Ghul cross paths, and besides: Talia knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and she bore his fucking child; do you really think that she’s going to be fooled by a fake 70s porno moustache? As cool as it is to see Matches again, I have trouble believing that Batman would make the misstep of using the identity to take Talia on. Batman is a billionaire; one would think he’d be careful and spring for a fake beard and a different wig, and come up with a different name for the project. I propose Dick Biggens. But I digress.
Then there’s the opening sequence, which got the book delayed. I can understand why the opening page, which features a teacher waving a pistol at a classroom full of school children, got the book delayed in the face of the Aurora shootings last month, but what I can’t figure out is why the sequence is in the book in the first place. After the incident, we see that Leviathan has sunk his hooks throughout Gotham, as parents who complain about the incident are pushed through a social services system that subtly and silently quashes dissent, allowing Leviathan’s influence to spread. It is an effective sequence to show how Leviathan is silently able to twist Gotham to his will with no muss and no fuss… but it is introduced by a sequence where a fucking teacher waves a gun around a classroom, which is about as subtle as a dickstomp.
Tonally, the sequence utterly clashes with the point Morrison seems to be making – that Leviathan is quietly consolidating power without attracting attenttion – and it makes no sense: after the scene, we see parents of one of the children complaining to the school’s principal that their child has a Leviathan sticker on their notebook. Really? You’re concerned about the sticker, and not the fact that a teacher pointed a fucking gun at your kid? Are we supposed to believe that the child was recruited to Leviathan’s cause in a single 45 minute class period, to the point where he forgets to mention to Mom and Dad that it happened at gunpoint? Further, we are retold later in the issue that Leviathan has introduced mind control drugs into the food at a burger joint… and the best way to turn kids to your cause is by waving a gun at them? Wave a handful of McDonald’s coupons, moron! The sequence doesn’t bear the slightest scrutiny, and appears to only exist to open the book with the shock of seeing children at risk for no logical reason at all.
I think Chris Burnham’s art is growing on me, because I generally liked what I saw in this issue. Burnham continues to work in thin lines with a ton of detail work, and the man knows how to depict grotesquery – we see Goatboy from the first issue again here, and Burnham makes him look like he is suffering from stress so bad it has given him leprosy. Further, the gimmicky page layouts that distracted me from his storytelling in the first issue are blessedly missing from this book; his panel layouts here are clear and simple to follow, his camera angles are dynamic, and his pacing is excellent – the sequence where Robin is subduing some guards is quick, presented interestingly, and give us a sense of the violence at work without being overly gory. While I still think he’s trying too hard to channel Frank Quitely, I like what I saw here better than I did a couple of months ago.
On the whole, I had fun with this issue, and I think it’s worth checking out, particularly if you have a nostalgic soft spot for Matches Malone as I do. But that opening sequence is a real problem, man. Opening your book with a shock sequence that doesn’t pass the sniff test is a hell of a hole to dig your way out of, and if you have no feeling for Matches, you might find it insurmountable. That gun in the classroom exists only to play on your basest emotions, and I can see why DC delayed the book because of it. In the face of a real world tangentially Batman-related gun crime, it would be hard to justify this sequence… particularly since I can’t justify it even within the scope of its own fucking story.