[24 May 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
There was a kind of pulp-thusiasm reading those very first Incorporateds. After two long years Bruce Wayne was finally back. But it had been much, much longer since he’d been in the driving seat.
In the closing issues of his run on Batman And Robin, and in throughout the entire mini series The Return of Bruce Wayne Morrison had given us all, a Batman we had never seen before. A Batman even the visionary scope of filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s characterization failed to deliver. Morrison’s Batman was a Batman that took charge of things. A Batman that was proactive. A Batman building something, rather than simply reacting to crime.
It was the best Batman yet.
Going from Batman And Robin to Batman Incorporated, who knew what we’d find. It was Bruce Wayne back, sure. It was a globe-spanning mission to prepare for some unforeseen enemy. It was the incorporation of the Batman identity. But who knew what the tone of the book would be?
And those opening issues… the ‘Mr. Unknown is Dead’ storyarc… those were just a sublime return to Batman’s pulp origins. It felt exactly what you hoped last year’s First Wave could have been, after reading the Batman/Doc Savage oneshot. It was the electric hyperspeed that is Tokyo that Morrison mimicked so beautifully with his Japanese superhero underground in the pages of Final Crisis.
And the ‘el Gaucho’ storyarc that followed, Batman’s trip to Argentina, was even better. We slid into a newer, more shaped, more Byzantine warren of plotlines that recalled Batman’s early days and his run-ins with Batwoman. The story even threw in a Brit masterspy superhero and tapped both the British-Argentine conflict and the Second World War as points in an evolving conspiracy.
But the ‘el Gaucho’ arc is probably where Incorporated begins to show its first cracks. Was Yanick Paquette the proper choice for the artwork on both arcs? A flawless artist and a consummate professional, Paquette has an amazing mode for rendering mundane the pulp elements of the superhero genre. Paquette’s work on Seven Soldiers of Victory: Bulleteer is a perfect example of this. In a world awash in superhero fetish porn and superhero conventions, the ordinariness of the everyday folks who visit these conventions shines through.
But was Paquette the best choice for illustrating Batman’s time in Argentina?
There was a subtle shift in storytelling between the Japanese and Argentine storyarcs. Incorporated’s Japan was an essay in pulp-made-everyday. Much like Jane Juffer’s sublime At Home With Pornography which details the ways in which pornographic cultural tropes (the making explicit of sexual intercourse) has entered our everyday lives. Incorporated’s Argentina was different though. It was more Byzantine, a plot driven more by complications, and not complexity. And it becomes hard disarticulate the story-modes when reading Paquette’s artwork.
What saves the storyarc as a whole is Chris Burnham taking control of the middle issue to tell the old-timey tale of when Batman and Batwoman first met. But even this is not enough. The ‘present-day’ story of Batman in Argentina still reads as pulpy, when the story feels more neo-historical thriller à la Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code.
So Paquette on two issues of the second storyarc is a first strike against Batman Incorporated, but not a big one. The story is still easy and flawless. And Morrison definitely deserves kudos for being able to compress this wealth of plot in so few pages.
Which is why ‘Nyktomorph’, the World Tour issue of Batman Incorporated is so outright disappointing. It’s a really simple structure. Nero Nykto, an underworld information broker briefs new criminal franchisors Joe Average and the Average Joes on Batman, while Batman himself appears everywhere on earth, including the internet to mount a disinformation campaign.
There is so much happening, all at breakneck pace, that it seems hard to handle. What’s the Australian Batman’s name? Who is Nightrunner? Is the Batgirl in Hong Kong the same Batgirl from Incorporated’s eponymous sister title?
But of course the real question is, is this book worth reading?
Strangely, despite all it’s shortfalls, the answer is a resounding yes. And not simply because ‘Nyktomorph’ is a bridge to another part of the story that will necessarily slow down the pace of storytelling. There’s a mind at work here, and Morrison is always worth the price on the ticket. Especially for as little as 3 bucks, US.
But the real thing of course is Morrison’s Project with Batman. Project capital P. It’s the first time any creator has actually demanded this of a vigilante character, but can Batman be free? Free from the mired history that created him, in the same way Bruce Wayne freed himself from simple revenge.
Think of that sublime moment in the ‘Miracle on Crime Alley’ issue of Batman R.I.P., when Bat-Mite discusses how the city was nothing more than a machine to produce a Batman that would go on forever. “Call it a Miracle on Crime Alley”, Bat-Mite said.
The stakes have never been higher. After all these many, long decades, Batman wants to be free. And reading Grant Morrison, more than anything else, is an act of trust that his project for the character is generationally definitive.
One issue of a Batman-like-lightning is the slightest of prices to get the whole picture.