Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Batman, Inc in the DCnU

Batman, Incorporated began on the final pages of Batman and Robin #16, a postscript to that story and a prologue to a new one. The publication history is torturous: Batman: The Return introduced the menace of Leviathan, then eight issues of Batman, Incorporated ran before plans were altered or postponed by the DC Universe's reboot in Flashpoint. Then what should have been two issues was run under the title "Leviathan Strikes." Since then, six other issues have been published, restarting the numbering of a series which had barely begun. So five numbers have been used twice, there were two one-shots, and we have an issue #0 which was, if this bit of confusion means anything, presented with a splash page saying it was "Before the new 52" although it was published in the middle of the other numbers and there are no identifiable glitches in continuity between then and now. To muddy the waters a bit more, Batman, Inc #5 (in the new numbering) hearkens back exactly or approximately to a timeline from 2007's Batman #666, published five and a half years ago and yet another look at that possible (and possibly same) future in Batman #700. Confused? You should be.

We should presume that Morrison's telling the same story he was telling with or without the DCnU reboot, give or take minor glitches (such as, perhaps, Jason Todd being free from prison; Dick Grayson taking back the Nightwing identity; and Bruce using Damian as his Robin, despite an earlier pronouncement to the contrary). Perhaps the other Batman titles are navigating an altogether different course -- the Court of Owls is sufficiently similar to the Black Glove, how could they have coexisted without warring or merging? But Morrison's never had much coordination with the other writers on the bat-titles, and even if Inc is shunted to a tertiary position while Scott Snyder and others take the higher-profile titles, it appears that Morrison's tale continues on, with no sharp delineations from the time it began in Batman #655 over six years ago. To be sure, his plans have evolved along the way, considerably, but Morrison loops the story backwards with flashbacks to the John Mayhew plot, and his rendition of the night Bruce rang a bell to summon Alfred almost as seamlessly as though it had all been planned in advance.

We've known since February 2012's Leviathan Strikes that the villain of this extended story is Talia after Morrison's two previous long maxi-arcs (running in three different titles) both centered around Doctor Hurt.

Once we dispense with the confusion of reboots and how it fits with Snyder, et al's work, the story remains tangled in time. Batman, at the very end of time in Return of Bruce Wayne #6, saw backwards to the vastly earlier time (the mid 21st century, it may be safe to say) when Talia's putative plan played out, a look back first mentioned in The Return when Bruce says he has to protect his allies from "what's coming, what I saw." Apparently, we see that vision (or a slightly more detailed version of it than Batman himself saw) in Inc Vol. 2 #5. It is a vision which Bruce believes will not come to pass (and given its level of horror, we may be sure will not come to pass), which puts into play that the future is malleable: Bruce was at the end of time looking back, but for reasons contained within Morrison's story (and not, likely, within Flashpoint, which was driven by other forces), Bruce believes he can alter it, but not completely. It is also clear that his vision was not complete (in Inc Vol. 1 #1, he calls it "a glimpse of the big picture", and he was despite that glimpse surprised to learn that Talia is Leviathan). He also calls the upcoming struggle with Talia "the fight of my life." And as he says in Vol. 1 #6, "Something big, something bad is coming. And no. Not everyone is going to survive it." So while he believes some portion of the vision can be addressed, he believes that some deadly portion of it cannot.

After extensive foreshadowing that the death of Damian is at stake, we receive a vision of a future in which Damian is Batman, which has featured in three full stories: Batman #666, Batman #700, and Inc Vol. 2 #5. Add in a non-incidental similarity to a reference in Batman #665 when Bruce awakens from a stupor to imagine a grinning Damian telling him that the third Batman is the worst of them all, and remembers a previous dream in which a Batman "sold his soul to the Devil and destroyed Gotham." At the time that served as an elaboration on his first foggy meeting with Michael Lane (the third "Replacement Batman" trained by Doctor Hurt). It also seemed possibly prophetic in Batman and Robin #15, when Doctor Hurt tried to deal for Damian's soul. And it very obviously hearkened to a scenario seen in Batman #666, when Lane and Damian fought a showdown using devilishly-provided longevity. I've previously written up that issue here.

The story in Batman #700 seemed to tell a story (tied in with three others in that issue) of the real future with Damian as Batman, one less haunted by apocalyptic overtones, and no indication that Damian had gained longevity by dealing with the Devil. And yet, it has a striking similarity to Inc Vol. 2 #5 in a baby who is infected with Joker virus. In that telling, Damian obviously does have such powers (rising again after being mowed down by machine gun) and the panel showing him mourning the death of Batman (apparently Bruce, but again see my earlier write-up) indicates that we are back in the #666 timeline, one which was never assured to happen, but which shows what might. Morrison didn't plan this far ahead in 2007, but here we are, and that timeline with the ultimate grim outcome – the total destruction of Gotham suggested back in #665 – coming to play, with Doctor Hurt, as good as the Devil himself, standing by the shoulder of the President, whispering bad confidences to destroy what was once his home city when centuries earlier he was the 1760's Thomas Wayne. This seems to validate that Doctor Hurt remains in the wings for future use, living until he's freed from the coffin near Wayne Manor.

Now, the story in the present takes a strange turn. Damian is cast out from Bruce's shelter, seemingly left to a high risk of death without such protection. We still have a flash forward teaser from Inc Vol. 1 #1 showing Bruce, looking over graves, seeming to quit his Batman identity before being arrested by Commissioner Gordon. With Inc. agents set up around the world, it seems as though the fight of Bruce's life is to begin, and with Damian's death perhaps the tragic end of a story being written so far with the prophetic power of Greek tragedy.


  1. Great read as always Rikdad. Hope we get to read more as Morrison's batman saga is nearing its' finish line.

  2. Good points all. It's to Morrison's credit that he can write a story in 2012 that in large part picks up on ideas and concepts he started building six years ago. I think that's why Inc. #5 had such emotional power; it had a cinematic intensity you rarely find in a comic. And that was true both in the future scenes and the present ones. Thanks for your post.

  3. LaHuman, thanks! In part, the long layoffs have discouraged me from commenting more. Batman Inc was first introduced two years ago, during which time we've had 14 issues, plus two one-shots.

    The Argentine plot, with its copious allusions to Borges, merits serious discussion on a literary level. Some of Morrison's best work.

    The "web" image I placed at the top of the post is the sort of thing one might scrutinize for clues. If there is a mystery in progress, I'm not sure what it might be. We seem to know that Talia is the villain, and that's that. We don't know exactly what her plan is, but we know that Damian Version #2 is part of it and a tragedy, apparently concerning the loss, in some sense, of the original Damian, is at stake.

  4. ManWithTenEyes, great way to put it, that Morrison picks up ideas and concepts. He's done it with other storylines, and he does it here. Clearly, he has a larger set of ideas in mind than he ever puts to paper, and he revisits them, weaving storylines together, in ways that he could not have originally intended.

    The various visions of Damian as the future Batman are a great example. #666 had an uncertain relationship to the "real" timeline which was much discussed during RIP. Was this a possible future? The real future? Or was that distinction unknowable? Morrison said that it had "clues" to what was happening in RIP, but it certainly proved clear that the death of Batman shown there was not the ending of RIP. Later, it was shown that the deal Damian made with the Devil was not the ending of Morrison's run on Batman and Robin. Now, years later, we see that the timeline of #666 is consistent with a possible future that Bruce seeks to avoid, whereas the timeline of #700 is perhaps distinct from that timeline, although similar to it.

    It would be interesting to see Morrison pick up another "timeline" whose reality was never addressed: The fantasy that started Batman and Robin #13 that showed an evil Thomas Wayne / Doctor Hurt deliberately arranging the deaths of Bruce and Martha. This powerful substory could simply be left alone, but then again, Morrison could pick it up and elaborate on it, working it into continuity in some way, in some story to be published years from now.

    Part of the power in Inc Vol. 2 #5 is Bruce's powerlessness. He is being forced to sacrifice something. We may guess that he will make a good decision to avoid the worst-case scenario, but in doing so, he may choose a tragic outcome of lesser, but still compelling impact.

  5. Yes, the story developments and Burnham's art made both Batman and Damian look something they rarely are ...vulnerable.

    I would love to see a follow-up of those first few pages of B&R #13 as well. That scenario and the following pages showing Hurt shooting Dick were quite disorienting at the time. But while Morrision came back to the scene with Dick, the Thomas Wayne scene was left shrouded in mystery. Hurt's imagination? A clue the Black Glove was involved in the Wayne shooting but it went awry? Something else? Plenty to puzzle about there.

  6. Dr Hurt has always been an enemy more towards Batman's continuity, rather than Batman himself. His latest appearance is part of a reoccurring pattern of attacks to the status quo. R.I.P.: He shockingly claims that he's Bruce's father, Batman & Robin Must Die!: The perverted take on the Death of the Waynes. And finally in Inc. #5: He has literally obliterated any continuity with the push of a button. No more Gotham, no more Batman. Dr. Hurt is the only villain (so far), to have destabilised the Batman mythos, another reason why he needs to be used again in the future.
    And did anyone catch the subtle cyclic reference to "Batman & Robin Must Die!" ? Hurt attempts to spread a chaos-making contagion into Gotham's population, while the Joker threatened to blow up the whole place with a nuclear bomb. Flash forward to Inc. #5... Joker's last prank has infected the city with chaos-making contagion, and Dr. Hurt manages to blow up Gotham with a nuclear bomb.

  7. ManWithTenEyes, The scenario in #13 was an echo of the lies Hurt told Alfred and (at the very end) Bruce and leaked to the press in RIP, but it included young Bruce's death, which Hurt didn't claim, but as you say, perhaps he imagined. (And "imagine" could mean "desire" or "believe"... It's hard to tell if Hurt believes every lie he tells, or if he lies even when the listener knows the lie isn't true.) It also echoes the account of Bruce's grandmother in ROBW that "Thomas" may have ordered the hit on Martha, then escaped. More generally, the pattern of a man having his wife killed has been repeated a huge number of times in Morrison's Batman work (including Mayhew, the real Oberon Sexton, and all of these Wayne pseudo-backstories).

  8. Babbler, that role of Hurt is an intriguing one, and one he spoke in his final encounter with Bruce, priding himself on being a mystery Bruce can never solve.

    In Inc #5, there are word balloons where someone speaks to an unidentified "you", apparently part of Damian speaking to his (non-present) mother, which may have interesting revelations hidden, saying that "you" opened the door to the devil ("Devil"?) and the "hole in things." If Talia was responsible for Hurt being unleashed, that's news.

    Good observation on the reversal of Batman and Robin's finale. Also, the Joker plague is a fantasy Joker imagines at the end of #676. And moreover, the nuclear bomb is a plot element from the movie "Dark Knight Rises" although it's also a plot element of so many other stories, that connection may be coincidental, but Morrison does make nods to other media.

  9. Welcome back Rikdad, was worried we lost you once Batman Inc. started and the Dr. Hurt story was over, or it seemed, we will see. I am disappointed that Morrison is leaving DC once Inc. finishes, there will be Multiversity but probably not much after that with him going to the indie books which is great too.

  10. Glad to see you blogging about the Bat again! Always a great, insightful read! Any thoughts about issue 6?

  11. besides Multiversity I know from good source he's working on a Wonder Woman book with Paquette and another one with Frazer Irving.

  12. lol the new 52 version seemed to be getting his butt whooped quite a bit compared to the superman from the real dc universe, to which they seriously need to bring back at this point.

  13. diFace, that's good to know. I think Morrison's use of Wonder Woman in Return of Bruce Wayne was truly remarkable. In limited screentime with another character's name in the title, WW shone in that story. I'd love to read GM's take on Wonder Woman, although I've been delighted with Azzarello's run (I'm a couple of issues back and need to catch up).

  14. WW by Azzarello is also a rare gem. I don't always like his writing (First Wave books I hated) but I give it to him, he HAS ideas! ;)
    sorry for taking this long to reply but honestly I forgot I even commented :D