17 August 2013
“The thing about Batman is that it always goes on, and that’s the thing I love about these characters… When I’m dead and moldering there will still be Batman.”
In August 2009, four years and an entire universe ago, I bought my first Batman monthly comic. It was Batman And Robin #1 by Grant Morrison, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Morrison was in the middle of telling the most epic Batman story of the modern era, which saw the Caped Crusader become a father, save the world, die, travel through time, create a Bat empire, and lose the one thing he cares about more than anything else in world. This week the story comes to a close in the pages of Batman Incorporated #13.
Picking right off from where the previous issue left off, Gotham City is engulfed in flames and under attack from Leviathan, the terrorist organization led by Batman’s sometimes lover sometimes nemesis Talia al Ghul. Batman engages Talia in a vicious duel, seeking revenge after she had their son Damian murdered for turning his back on her cause. The climactic battle provides Chris Burnham with the opportunity to display excellent artistic prowess, and panel after panel are completely captivating. The entire sword dual between Batman and Talia is masterfully presented in large splash pages, leading to a passionate kiss as Gotham burns around them. A poisoned Batman also provides one last glimpse at classic Morrison surrealism, and Burnham handles the shift very well.
As for the story itself, it’s difficult to judge this as anything less than the conclusion of seven year story, let alone as a single issue of a comic book. The story ties up many of the threads that Morrison has carefully sown, but nevertheless will leave some fans disappointed. It’s hard not to compare this issue with Geoff Johns’ recent last issue on Green Lantern. Both were the final story from big name authors after runs that lasted close to a decade, but there are differences between the two. Johns’ issue was a 60 page event that had weeks of build up between the GL titles, while Morrison gets a standard 24 pages, with barely a mention in the other Bat-books. Johns was able to persevere because he was writing the main Green Lantern title and had the weight of the other GL books behind it. Morrison had long ago left the main Batman title to other author to continue his story in Batman And Robin and Batman Incorporated, but in the pre-52 universe it was clear that Morrison’s story was still the driving engine. The way Morrison and Johns choose to close their stories is very different as well. Johns gives Green Lantern an epilogue, a conclusion really, providing the eventual fates of all the major characters, whereas Morrison concludes his story while setting up many new threads for other authors to carry one. Johns’ final Green Lantern issue will surely receive more critical acclaim than Batman Incorporated, but it many ways what Morrison did is actually more respectful to the readers and to Batman himself. Johns’ issue has had the unfortunate side effect of making everything that follows seem rather redundant and unnecessary. Morrison, on the other hand, seemed to realize that his time as the guiding voice of Batman was over, and made sure that the next generation has plenty left to work with.
There was probably no bigger victim in DC New 52 relaunch than Morrison and his Batman story. After the relaunch, Batman Incorporated was not even included in the first wave of new titles, and the delay caused Morrison to become overshadowed by Scott Snyder’s truly excellent work on the main Batman title. Morrison, in a way, still had the last laugh when the death of Damian Wayne caused all the Bat books to once again orbit around his story. Despite the attention this placed on Batman Incorporated, for the most part Morrison’s ongoing story was left untouched in the other Bat books, and it seemed like it simply didn’t fit in with the New 52 interpretation of Batman. Many fans will probably be wondering what would have been different if Morrison was able to conclude his work before the relaunch forced him to re-tailor the last chapter of his story to a new status quo. When the whole run is eventually collected in a “Grant Morrison’s Batman” omnibus, the New 52 Batman Incorporated will surely seem out of place with the rest.
Regardless of all the difficulties the New 52 created for him, Morrison was still able to end his story by touching on the same themes and ideas that he had been exploring for the entirety of his run. The idea of Batman is at the centre of something larger, this Bat family that keeps growing and expanding, and will continue to defend the weak and fight evil. Grant Morrison has shown that Batman is a legend now, Bruce Wayne might be hurt, he might be held back, and he might suffer terrible losses, but Batman will never stop.
Final Verdict: 8/10. Grant Morrison brought his story to an end despite many difficulties imposed on it, and managed conclude it that way he wanted to. Batman Incorporated #13 is filled with adventure, action, and the large ideas behind the legend of Batman that has made Grant Morrison’s entire run with the character an essential part of comic book history.