Batman Incorporated #4 is a turning point in comics. It’s the difference between good comics and great comics. It’s an uplifting piece of pop art that gleefully slips out of the fanboy chokehold that renders so many superhero comics lifeless — namely, the grit and the double-standard-ridden desire for realism that makes Batman completely kosher yet decides that a dog in a Batman costume is a bit too beyond the pale. Realism in superhero comics? Go read Adrian Tomine if you want realism. Then come back and tell me that’s what you want when you read Avengers.
This fourth issue finds Grant Morrison already getting bored with the formula he established in the previous three issues. The first two issues were fairly straightforward –Batman and Catwoman fight Lord Death Man while recruiting the Batman of Japan — while the third seemed to be setting up for more of the same, except with Argentina and El Gaucho instead of Japan and Mr. Unknown. With this second part of the series’ second story arc, Morrison throws in the current Batwoman and the original Batwoman, returning to his exploration of Batman’s entire fictional history. Don’t worry, it’s accessible. I promise.
The Kathy Kane Batwoman is a character I’m as familiar with as I am with currently deceased (?) President Howard Taft and one that was written out of continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths (Batwoman, not Taft). Regardless of her previous status in Batman continuity, Morrison reintroduces Kathy Kane was Batman’s girlfriend, a polymath and indie filmmaker (!!) who sought to do what Batman does just because she’s so ridiculously talented. Obviously, there’s more to the story than that, but I’ll spare you the delicious details and simply say that Kathy Kane is the greatest person. After all, she’s an artist! All Bruce Wayne does is make art out of bad guys’ faces.
When we get the Batwoman flashbacks, colorist Nathan Fairbairn changes up the look of the book, going from a more naturalistic coloring of Chris Burnham’s “Frank Quitely meets Tony Moore” art to brighter palettes and characters awash with Benday dots. When this happens, Burnham dispenses with all the requisite grimacing and goes for the more grinning, gee-whiz feel of the Silver Age Batman. In other words, we have a Batman who actually emotes as oppose to the borderline psychopathic Rorschach-lite writers often default to.
Flashback Batman is the biggest draw of the issue, almost a different person compared to the guy who’s beating El Gaucho to death with giant crackling electricity gauntlets in the present. Instead, he’s a guy who complains that “Nobody can wear a Batman costume in Gotham but me!” and gets caught bedding (so to speak) Batwoman — Denny Colt style, with lipstick smooches all over his face — in the Batmobile bubble dome cockpit.
Let me repeat that: Batmobile bubble dome cockpit. Thanks, Grant and Chris.
Just above, we have my three favorite panels of the year: Robin complaining about Batwoman whilst training with Ace the Bat-Hound. Besides the autocritique of the entire premise of Batman Incorporated (“Even the dog’s wearing a mask. It makes it all dumb instead of special. Like it doesn’t matter anymore.”), Burnham’s storytelling in this scene is transcendent, perfectly expressing Robin’s boyish annoyance, Alfred’s quiet butlerness, and Ace’s single-minded dogness as Robin throws down his cape and trains with the dog as Alfred picks up the cape and folds it neatly. The real winner, however, is the final panel, where Robin tosses his padded glove behind him and Ace jumps up to bite it. If you just read the words and glossed over the art, you’d have missed a great little sequence.
Chris Burnham is a comics revelation. He drew the totally insane Officer Downe for Image, and he seems to have gotten even better since then. Striking compositions, expressive poses and facial expressions and he never skimps on the detail. The two Batwomen (one’s surely an impostor!) fight on a scary carnival ride and Burnham never forgets his setting: we’ve got gravestones, a mummy, a flaming eyeball on the car, not to mention Frankensteins, brains in jars and fake severed arms being chewed on by rats. Almost makes me wish he were the regular artist on this book, and I am a member of the Yanick Paquette fan club.
Batman Incorporated just keeps impressing me. I thought it couldn’t get better than the opening scene of #3 with the intriguing cannon fodder British superheroes, but then #4 comes along with 22 pages of amazing art and fun Batmantics. As soon as I finish this sentence, I’m going to ask Batman Incorporated #4 to move into my apartment with me, so I can wake up next to it every morning.