Wednesday, July 31, 2013
From the time Talia walks into the cave until Bruce walks out, needing stitches for the cuts on his face, probably minutes, only, elapse. Batman's allies are busiest as they go to work around the world neutralizing the threat of mass destruction, and Batman's allies come to his aid in the scenes that follow the end of his sword fight with Talia, one that she perhaps wins by cheating. Then two of Batman's allies enter the cave and cheat to save him. And then, intercut with all the action, Batman's fondest ally, Jim Gordon, helps to patch him up with words. And an extra surprise or two follows.
When Inc began, Batman and Selina Kyle stole a substance that Sivana had created, a meta-material that allowed him to turn invisible during his final battle with the Heretic. It also proved to have critical utility as an agent to neutralize Talia's ring of meta-bombs around the world, and in actions we see only in montage, the threat to the world at large is eliminated as Inc. agents make sure those seven bombs will never detonate. An old Morrison Batman principle at work: "The victory lies in the preparation."
But Batman loses the sword fight, succumbing to one or two poisons Talia snuck into the mix, and will die unless he begs for mercy. Just in time, Robin arrives. In this case, Jason Todd, who tricks Talia into giving Batman the antidote in return for the trigger to set off the metabombs. Talia accepts, but in vain, because with the metabombs neutralized, the trigger is worth nothing. And then, as she vows continuing revenge, Talia is abruptly taken down by a shot from the Headmistress, as expected, Kathy Kane, who briefly outlines her scope of operations in Spyral, and she departs leaving Talia dead and Bruce in a vacuum, the Leviathan threat at an end. But Batman is deeply shaken by the loss all around him. His child and the child's mother are laid to rest side by side, and he's unsure of continuing on.
This is the low point of Bruce Wayne in all of Morrison's run, the exact moment we saw in flashforward in Inc v2, #1, when Jim Gordon arrives to arrest Bruce Wayne, but in his interrogation of Bruce, Gordon plays the part of a sympathetic figure, a counselor, a priest. As Bruce talks through it, Gordon tries to understand the motives and how the madness was too large for him to control, and all throughout, Gordon knows that he might be speaking directly with Batman. And when it's over, he makes it clear that Batman is needed, and gives him the encouragement to suit up again, and return to his mission.
The events of #13 are full of mirrors to earlier stories. Bruce's lover enters the Batcave and belittles him, attacks him -- this is a key moment in RIP, with Talia serving a role now like Jezebel Jet did then. Morrison said that the image of a woman betraying Batman was the first thought he had for his run that began in 2006. Here, the same moment plays out, although the surprise of Talia's animosity has long been apparent. The sword fight itself is a mirror of one Bruce fought with Ra's in the desert in Batman #244.
Each of Morrison's long Batman arcs ends with a Robin coming to his aid. In RIP, Dick Grayson protects his blindside. In Return of Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake awakens the man inside the possessed Bruce-Hyper Adapter combination that returned from the future. And here, Jason Todd is the Robin who saves Batman, neatly giving each of the three Robins his turn. In fact, the coda of Inc's midpoint, in the Leviathan Strikes #1 special, gave Damian his turn to be the Robin who saves Batman, in a scene quite similar to this one, with Batman staggered and defeated at the feet of his enemy.
And so, in counterpoint to the grand message of RIP that the towering figure of Batman can defeat any enemy, rise above any menace, we have the grand message of Return of Bruce Wayne: Batman always had his allies; he was never alone. Inc #13 shores that up by showing Jim Gordon as the cop who comforted young Bruce Wayne on the night of his parents' deaths, a fact in Nolan's Batman films, but not -- previously -- in post-Infinite Crisis continuity. The appearance of a bat-themed woman ally who shoots the bad guy is also a key moment in Nolan's films, when Catwoman shoots Bane, remarking as Kathy Kane does here, that Batman's rule not to kill does not apply to her. And so the battle ends.
Bruce standing over two graves is a counterpoint to his childhood tragedy, he the only one left standing from a family of three. Jim Gordon's interview with Bruce Wayne is the counterpoint to whatever he gave young Bruce on the night of the Waynes' deaths (we may imagine it to be the same comfort we saw in the Nolan films). And we know from Gordon quoting it that Bruce saw all of this destruction as the "hole in things", Doctor Hurt's self-aggrandizing description, a void that nearly overwhelmed him until Gordon affirmed that Gotham needed Batman once more. So we see in montage that Batman does return, just as determined as before, and things really are much the same as before Morrison's run. Batman is Gotham's protector. Everything has come full circle. For Batman to rise again after having been taken down is how all of Morrison's runs have ended: Bruce returning from defeat while a narrator provides solemn acclamation is a fivefold Morrison ending/non-ending, something we saw in Batman #681, #683, #702, and Return of Bruce Wayne #6.
Kathy Kane, from the shadows, arranges for all charges against Bruce Wayne to be dropped. And then there is a surprise. As Ra's al-Ghul hinted in mocking comments he made to Talia in #10, he is the larger figure who will rise when she falls. Was he pulling the strings behind the Leviathan plot all along? No, but he saw opportunity lay on the other side of it. Ra's readies a continuation of his war against Batman and has the bodies of Talia and Damian as well as the lab and embryos to build an army of Damian clones he will control in the future. This opens the door for Talia to return, and in principle, Damian.
Inc was in its larger strokes more conventional than Morrison's other long Batman stories. The ambiguities and unreliable narration reached their peak in the middle, when Batman got lost in the traps and mind games of Otto Netz. The key distinction of Batman, Incorporated's war with Leviathan is in its scope. This story was 25 issues long, grander even than Morrison's long run up to RIP. It turned around the world and pivoted from literary references to Borges, to deep dives into Batman lore from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and it ended by renewing Batman in terms of his origin in the Thirties.
The power of this finale, unlucky #13, is in the extent that the reader shares the feeling that the sprawling epic which twice poisoned Bruce and left him waiting for a mortal blow at the feet of his enemy, succeeded in taking him to a dark place. Perhaps we're too certain by now of his ability to rebound to feel that it ever got so dark. Damian's death five issues ago and the mourning that followed were the psychological low point of the story, and for Bruce to rise from that surely indicated he could rise from this. After having seen Bruce face off against the Devil and Darkseid, to stand up after nearly dying in the past and in the future, we can't be surprised to see him rise again now. Perhaps what lingers longest from this finale is the clipped tone of his interview with Gordon, the caring Jim Gordon showed him, and the obvious sense that the two men were both shaken by all of the destruction this brought to Gotham. When Morrison was just seven issues into a run he didn't know would be anywhere near this long, he put Batman and Jim Gordon on a rooftop and let them share this kind of a moment when all the evils that awaited Batman in Morrison's run were just beginning to unfold. And with the same shared devotion, reverence, and mutual respect, they discussed the Replacement Batmen with Gordon asking, "Look at you, all beat up to Hell. Why did you have to choose an enemy that's as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?" And Batman answering, "Same reason you did, Jim. I figured I could take him. This isn't over." But now, for Morrison's glorious portion of the Batman legend, it is.