I'm pretty sure 2011 was a shit year. Not necessarily a shit year for comics considering gems like a new Animal Man ongoing, Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker and the return of Casanova, but overall I'd say the two-thousand eleventh year of a lord (not necessarily ours) was generally not so great. But at least we get a double-sized Batman Incorporated special to close out the year with a decent taste in our mouths.
By which I mean I'm going to felate this book like I need crack money.
The last time we left off with Batman Incorporated, we had experienced a surprising misfire in the form of a cyber-adventure that had its moments, but suffered from dated, hard-to-follow CG art — and with Incorporated it's pretty well known that Grant Morrison writes in something vaguely resembling Marvel Style, so it's pretty clear what happened there. Then the New 52 happened and the last two issues of the series never came out, one of which promised Batman fighting evil school girls, aided in his girlpunching quest by Stephanie Brown, the One True Batgirl.
Thanks to the reboot/relaunch/renumbering of the DC titles, Batman Incorporated's status was unknown. Surely whatever Morrison was cooking up would be negated by the New 52 and we'd have an incomplete epic! It turns out, however, that Moz and Chris Burnham would complete the story in the 12-issue Batman: Leviathan and the final two issues of Incorporated would be collected in Leviathan Strikes!
The first of the two stories is a one-off as Stephanie Brown infiltrates a St. Trinian's style girl's school where students learn DIY grenade making and marksmanship from analogues of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Rihanna (LOL SRSLY) before falling victim to a secret mind control cult. The story's surprisingly light on Batman and heavy on Batgirl, giving Stephanie a lovely last hurrah — which is much appreciated if you're a fan of the character (hint hint). This is a Batman comic, but Batgirl's the star — even when the Dark Knight finally swoops in, Batgirl gets to make all the pivotal moves and save the day.
If that weren't enough, Cameron Stewart drew the thing. Guy's seriously been at the top of his game this year — from Assassin's Creed to Suicide Girls all the way to this Batman Incorporated story, his art has never looked better. Moreover, he's quickly become a master of comic book storytelling, rendering accessible pages but knowing when to tilt panels askew during fight scenes or deliver some dutch angle-style page layouts. I'd feel sorry for the guy who follows him if it weren't Chris Burnham.
Speaking of which, the second chapter of Leviathan Strikes! is pretty much the season finale of Batman Incorporated, a rousing conclusion where Morrison throws in nearly everyone who showed up during the course of the series along with a kitchen sink or two.
After a short introduction scene with Bruce Wayne paying Lucius Fox a visit at Waynetech R&D, the real story of the issue starts pretty much in medias res, with Batman, the Other Batman, Robin and Red Robin trapped in the Labyrinth of Doctor Dedalus, endlessly entering and re-entering one of five doors while the mysterious organization Leviathan promises to murder a Batman Incorporated agent every five minutes. And that's only Page 5 of a story that features exploding satellites, Ro-Bats and a juxtaposition of a severed head and a flashing red phone, among about a million other things as the set designers of The Prisoner, The Holy Mountain and Batman '66 plot to kill superheroes with spiral patterns and ticking clocks.
Needless to say, this shit is cray, and the final chapter of Leviathan Strikes! exemplifies what I love about Grant Morrison comics — not only is Moz wildly imaginative, but he doesn't give a shit about kowtowing to lazy, stupid readers who need every single detail of a story explain as it's being spoonfed to them. It's those readers who generally accuse Grant Morrison comics of being incomprehensible nonsense.
No — this story benefits from multiple readings, studying the details (there's a lot of those) and generally not having the memory of a goldfish with a learning disability. It's rare that a single issue has instant reread value — I generally only read floppies I'm not reviewing a couple of times before putting them in the longbox — but this story begs the reader to figure out the order of events, to appreciate the repetition and circular events — and there are a LOT of circles in this comic.
These days, artists are essential to the success of a Grant Morrison comic, considering the only work of his I've disliked in recent years has been due to substandard art that Morrison's writing struggles to overcome. Good thing Chris Burnham was the artist of this section, and he rises to the occasion like few others. The cool kids discovered Burnham through Joe Casey collabos like Nixon's Pals and Officer Downe before he suddenly broke through to the mainstream on Batman Incorporated. At first he seemed like some kind of Frank Quitely surrogate but quickly showed off his own distinct style, combining grimy Quitely lines with Cameron Stewart pop renditions with his own hyperdetailed, eyeball-hurling violent Chris Burnham style that makes Geoff Darrow seem impressionistic.
Then comes Nathan Fairbairn to make clear in no uncertain terms the importance of the colorist to a comic book, creating subtle hues when needed and bright pop art colors when the story goes nuts, then swapping out the bright colors for muted tones for the sake of effect, not just bland attempts at "realism."
This comic is a bravura performance for all involved, as Morrison, Stewart and Burnham killed it. In the days of ridiculous marketing schemes, renumbering and event fatigue, Grant Morrison and company — deferred one-shot aside — shows how it's done. Make an awesome comic, and it will be awesome. If Morrison and Burnham can bring the noise to Batman: Leviathan like they did with Leviathan Strikes!, comic books as a medium might have to end.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.