Dave Wallace: If you thought Grant Morrison’s run on the Batman titles had been complex so far, you ain’t seen nothing yet. After reading Batman Incorporated #5, I’m left with more questions than ever about the latest phase of the writer’s epic run on the batbooks — but I’m also left entertained, intrigued and eager to see how the many plot points that have been set in motion over the course of the last few issues play out.
Danny Djeljosevic: Five issues in, it’s become clear that Moz has no interest in keeping still. The basic pitch of Batman Incorporated (“Batman travels around the world to recruit other Batmen”) suggests a more serious, more international version of the Brave and the Bold cartoon, but this is a Grant Morrison comic we’re talking about, so nobody should have expected anything less than this multifaceted sophomore story arc.
Dave Wallace: Indeed, despite the easy-to-grasp basic concept of the book, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
On a surface level, the book is a fun superhero romp that sees Batman team up with El Gaucho, Batwoman and British super-spy The Hood in the Falklands to thwart a mysterious supervillain who has apparently been imprisoned there for years.
Danny Djeljosevic: Each issue of this story arc so far has introduced and spotlighted a new moving part. First there was Batman/Gaucho team-up and the threat of Doctor Dedalus; then came Batwoman, the other Batwoman and the espionage group Spyral; now we have The Hood, an obscure ’90s character from Shadow of the Bat. At first it makes the arc feel a bit disjointed in the “I thought this was supposed to be about Gaucho and Sombrero” kind of way, but this is Morrison playing with the “international hero vs. international villain” formula he set up in the first two issues.
Dave Wallace: Yes, it might seem initially disjointed and it might be demanding to constantly keep expanding the book’s cast, but Morrison quickly draws us in and helps us get to know these new additions through some very fun sequences.
There’s plenty of action, including some enjoyable James-Bond antics from the Hood (Yanick Paquette draws a beautifully slick spy-plane), and there’s a wonderful fight between him, Batwoman and Scorpiana, the villainess who has been featured in the previous couple of issues (and in “Batman R.I.P.” before that).
Danny Djeljosevic: Paquette renders the Batwoman/Scorpiana fight amazingly in fragmented, asymmetrical, diagonal panels instead of the standard rectangles. It’s a great way to switch up the pacing and feel of the book and reminiscent of Cameron Stewart’s slightly shaken panel layouts from his Batman & Robin fight scenes from the end of Morrison’s run. The action is disrupting the very panel layouts themselves.
Dave Wallace: You’re right, and it makes me wonder just how carefully Morrison is controlling even apparently minor stylistic choices like this. He certainly seems to have a very precise vision for the title — because once you start to scratch beneath the surface, you quickly realize that there’s so much more going on in this book than simple fight sequences and hero vs. villain face-offs.
Most compellingly, there are hints that the issue’s big villain, Doctor Dedalus (who also goes by many other names) might have powers that stretch outside the very comics page itself.
Danny Djeljosevic: Doctor Dedalus, huh? Named after the mythical Daedalus, the innovative creator whose work’s ambition leads to its own? Or James Joyce’s obvious fictionsuit Stephen Dedalus? Is Morrison, like in Animal Man making himself the bad guy again?
Dave Wallace: I think it could be exactly that, actually.
Whether it’s a contiguous narrative explanation of Dedalus’s history that seems to be taking place at several different times and in several different places, the character’s frequent literary allusions or his concoction of a “meta-bomb” aimed at thwarting Batman, there are all sorts of suggestions that Morrison might be playing with the kind of fourth-wall-breaking ideas that have characterised so many of his past works.
Danny Djeljosevic: It wouldn’t be a Grant Morrison comic if there wasn’t a meta-undercurrent. He always uses his work to communicate directly to his audience, and it’s on us to figure out just what he means just as he expects us to figure out just what’s going on in his complex, often daunting plots.
Dave Wallace: There’s also some interesting stuff going on regardless of the meta angle — including a suggestion that Dedalus is a lot more knowledgeable about Batman’s recent adventures than you might expect, with an apparent awareness of Bruce’s time-travelling antics in Return of Bruce Wayne, as well as holding close connections with the Leviathan organisation introduced in Batman: The Return. The character seems to be being set up as a replacement for Doctor Hurt in the mystery bad-guy department, and I have to admit to already being just as hooked on him as I was with “Thomas Wayne.”
Danny Djeljosevic: Dedalus has such a great simple-yet-iconic design for just being a skinny old guy in a big hat. He’s proving to be a promising threat, a quaint counterpoint to the theatricality of Doctor Hurt. It’s that unassuming geriatric-ness (geriatricity?) that makes Doctor Dedalus so threatening.
Dave Wallace: There’s plenty to keep fans of the other characters interested, too. Batman himself gets about as succinct an appreciation of his skills as you could imagine (“Outta. Nowhere.”), there’s a nice acknowledgement of Batwoman’s reverence for the person who first inspired her to be a crime-fighter and there’s a surprising twist on The Hood’s motivations for teaming up with the group. Coupled with some smart humour (as well as some not-so-smart gags, although I have to admit to loving the awfulness of the “Herr Netz” pun), it all makes for a very entertaining issue indeed.
Danny Djeljosevic: That’s one of the main things I love about Morrison’s comics. There’s a ton to intellectually chew on, but Moz never forgets to make an entertaining superhero comic with great moments and choice lines.
Dave Wallace: Plus, there are a few more references to the original Batwoman whose history was explored and revised by Morrison in the previous issue, suggesting there’s plenty more to be revealed about how she fits into the writer’s bigger picture, too.
Danny Djeljosevic: That last issue was such a great mini-detour where Morrison did for Batwoman what he did for Batman. I was a bit disappointed to see her go in #5, but it almost feels appropriate considering fill-in artist Chris Burnham disappeared with her. Plus, Morrison and Paquette have a story to finish.
Dave Wallace: Yes, I already mentioned Yanick Paquette’s artwork briefly, but it’s worth paying more heed to his work here, as he really helps to ground the sometimes-outlandish story in a realistic-feeling world. The characters have a real sense of weight and form under Paquette’s pencil, and his sold grasp of action choreography means that things never become unclear even with several characters flying around in a small space.
Danny Djeljosevic: My favorite bit of Paquette moment happens in the two-page splash, where we have a spread of The Hood’s spy-plane, then a three-panel row below of Hood ejecting from the plane, landing with his parachute and, finally, the chute crumpled on the ground as Hood hides behind a rock and Batwoman sneaks up behind him. Those three panels show off such economical storytelling.
allace: Yeah, it’s very clear, economical storytelling as you say — but it also looks beautiful in its own right.
I also appreciated little touches like Paquette and his colorist Nathan Fairbarn using shading techniques for Batwoman that reflect those used by JH Williams III in the character’s solo adventures, or the use of color to reflect an imaginary (?) death sequence (that brings to mind a fluffed attempt to do a similar thing with the Joker in “Batman R.I.P.”). It shows that the art team is paying close attention to Morrison’s script — and with a book that’s as intricate and carefully-constructed as this, that’s essential if the writer’s ideas are to be properly realised. Between Paquette and Burnham (who’s back next issue, apparently), this really is a great-looking book.
Danny Djeljosevic: Morrison’s been saddled with less-than-stellar artists in the past, and that usually been the biggest hurdle in connecting with some of his work. He’s also worked with some of the greatest working comics artists — Frank Quitely, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, just to name a few — and those collaborations have resulted in some of his best work. I think we can add the underrated Paquette to that pantheon.
Dave Wallace: And one final note, on the issue’s epilogue featuring the Batman of Africa: whilst it’s definitely an intriguing lead into the next chapter of Batman Incorporated — with yet more ties to Leviathan — it’s also yet another example of Morrison absorbing and recycling old Batman continuity. In this case, it’s the costume design for the African Batman, which seems to closely echo the “Batwings” design from Batman #250. I wonder whether there’s anything more to the connection, or if it’s just a fun nod to that old story: