Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Batman, Inc. #3

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Yanick Paquette (p), Michel Lacombe (i), & Pere Perez pages 16-17
DC Comics
Batman journeys to Argentina to ask El Gaucho to become Bat-Hombre, but in the process he encounters a villain from his past--from 1949 to be exact!

Chris Kiser:
Danny Djeljosevic:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

Chris Kiser:

A quick scan of the opening pages of Batman, Inc. #3 would seem to suggest a return to form for Grant Morrison, the typically mind-bending madman who kept it relatively mainstream for the series’ two-part opener. It’s a sequence that boasts many of Morrison’s favorite story elements--a non-linear narrative; a plethora of new (and British) characters; and casual references to huge, theoretical ideas as if they were everyday household concepts.

That feeling of a return to form is limited, however, as the comic quickly shifts to resemble more conventional superhero fare. Whatever the eventual implications of the offbeat intro, this issue ends up being mostly about a well-recognized hero chasing down and duking it out with a number of colorful villains. Thankfully, that’s a formula that Morrison knows how to write really well.

Having been a de facto international Batman since Morrison’s first stint on the franchise, El Gaucho finds himself with an official invitation to the book’s titular corporation. While Bruce Wayne works to convince him to say “,” a secret villain from the heroes’ pasts hatches a scheme to lure them to their deaths. The tension is palpable at every significant juncture, climaxing in a great cliffhanger that is nothing short of textbook.

Yanick Paquette keeps it going here, making all the hot air balloons, luchadores, and parrots that Morrison cooks up looking great. Unfortunately, the one item he isn’t so adept at rendering is Batman himself, who continues to look bulky and uncomfortable in his over-designed new costume. It doesn’t help matters that the suit’s prominent codpiece still hasn’t magically disappeared.

At this point, it goes without saying that you should run, not walk, to grab any Bat-book to which Morrison lends his considerable talents. Despite the presence of a fairly clear formula being used (for now, at least), Batman, Inc. is great superhero fun, just the way one of the industry’s top books should be.

Danny Djeljosevic:

Batman Incorporated #3 has everything.

Batman Incorporated #3 has one-off cannon fodder superheroes; the trick to coming up with characters like this is that they need to be interesting enough for the reader to want more of them even though they get killed off right quick. Morrison’s always been good at this trick, and here he gives us a fun group of distinct British superheroes who wouldn’t be out of place in Paul Cornell’s Knight and Squire spinoff (if they haven’t appeared there already).

Lesser writers would be lazy in creating cannon fodder characters like this; why put a lot of effort in characters that die in the first scene? However, Morrison gives the impression that he seriously thought these characters through before he committed them to the page. It’s a tragic sacrifice, but it’s done for the sake of a colorful story.

Batman Incorporated #3 has motorcycles, scorpions, and a hot air balloon. This month’s Bat-partner is El Gaucho of Argentina, last seen as part of the International Club of Heroes during Morrison’s original Batman run. In his secret identity as Don Santiago Vargas, he’s a rich dude with his own racetrack--the sort of rich dude whose riches are not explained, but he has a villa. As Morrison’s probably Google-translated narration describes him, he’s “¡Extravagante! ¡Irresponsable! ¡Enigmático!” ¡Qué divertido!

Batman Incorporated #3 has Bruce Wayne doing the tango. Morrison’s greatest addition to Batman is making him a guy who has lots of sex--the Neal Adams “Hairy chested love god” version, as Morrison himself referred to Bruce. The first arc of this series had him cavorting with Catwoman; now he seduces Gaucho’s own version of Catwoman, Scorpiana. Under Morrison, Bruce has slowly become a person you actually want to be around.

It’s drawn by Yanick Paquette. And that guy is unparalleled.

It has “a REAL book written by an IMAGINARY AUTHOR” as Morrison’s crazy high-concept idea du jour--and that’s one of the myriad reasons I read his comics.

It has a luchador in a wheelchair. And, thankfully, Morrison keeps on with the Batman ’66 cliffhangers. As if you had any doubt that he was having the time of his life writing this book.

Dave Wallace:

As with the best issues of Grant Morrison's Batman run, Batman Incorporated #3 works on many different levels.

Firstly, it's a fun globe-trotting romp that sees Bruce Wayne journey to Argentina in order to help his South American counterpart, El Gaucho, battle a host of super-villains. There are exciting action sequences featuring exploding robot scorpions, hot air balloon escapes, and elaborate deathtraps that would make Adam West proud. We also see return appearances from more than one member of the “Black Glove” super-villain group that Morrison established earlier in his run--with Scorpiana also providing something of a romantic interest for our hero.

Secondly, it's a smart superhero comic that doesn't talk down to its readers, and which features elements that run a lot deeper than the more superficially appealing aspects of the story. For example, the book's prologue includes numerous sly allusions to British cultural history encompassing the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher and the New Romantic fashion movement, whilst later pages incorporate the poetry of Federico García Lorca and make references to Jorge Luis Borges and the Florida Group. It's hardly the stuff of standard superhero comics, but it's satisfyingly unapologetic for being bold enough to include such a variety of ideas.

If fact, Morrison seems to be concerning himself less and less with explaining himself to the reader, preferring instead to trust his audience to do the necessary work to understand his stories. For example, the slightly convoluted structure of the opening sequence--a flashback-within-a-flashback--isn't ever explicitly spelled out, but is obvious with a close reading.

There is also a lot of wordplay--in more than one language--that rewards those readers who are interested enough to work out the meanings of certain names and non-English captions featured in the issue.

The issue's femme fatale has a fitting foreign pseudonym that feels like something Will Eisner would have cooked up for The Spirit, Papagayo continues the tradition of bird-related super-villain names (think Penguin and Flamingo), and there's a liberal sprinkling of Spanish-language captions--whether it's an un-translated snippet of poetry or a series of introductory captions for the book's guest-star.

Of course, none of these allusions and motifs provides much of a barrier to understanding, as most readers will easily be able to understand all the elements via the use of online language tools or comics message boards--and Morrison’s decision to leave the Spanish passages un-translated helps to add a certain international flavour to the story.

I also love that Morrison seems to be intent on peppering each issue of Batman Incorporated with references to the comics culture of the country in which each story is set. Here, we see background graffiti that reads “El Odio Cosmico”, or “Cosmic Hatred”--a phrase that was a motif of 1950s Argentinian comics series El Eternauta, but which could also function as a reference back to the recent menace of Darkseid, or possibly some future threat.

Talking of which, the third level on which this issue performs admirably is that it not only tells a fun story in its own right, but works as part of the larger whole that is Morrison's ever-expanding run on the Batman titles. There are references back to previously established characters that will have readers digging out their back issues of Morrison’s run on Batman--with the issue's opening scene adding some detail to the backstory of Metalek (who was last seen imprisoned in present-day Britain in Batman and Robin #7) and with the effectiveness of the issue's cliffhanger hinging on the climactic events of “Batman RIP.”

There are also plenty of seeds sown for the future--subtly setting up all sorts of subplots that will doubtless pay off in future issues once Morrison begins tying everything together. For example, I'm sure that the Leviathan and Kultek organisations from Batman: The Return will end up being connected to plot points underlying the events of this issue, as well as the first two issues of Batman Inc..

I'm also expecting the vague threat of Dedalus to be further fleshed-out as the series progresses, providing the potential for another long-form mystery to fill the void recently vacated by Dr. Hurt.

Other elements of the story are less direct but function as equally significant thematic echoes of previous stories. The “Ourobouros” motif recalls the circular causal loop of Darkseid's Omega Sanction that recently played out in the pages of The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin, whilst Bruce's global recruitment drive is mirrored by that of a mystery backer of supervillains, recalling the Club of Heroes/Black Glove dynamic that was explored in “RIP.”

There's also a fun scene that renders even more flimsy Batman's supposed secret identity, revelling in the absurdity of the classic superhero conceit that even the most outlandish excuses for preserving a hero's alter ego will be accepted by his supporting cast. As with the final chapters of his All-Star Superman, Morrison walks a fine line between pointing out the inherent ridiculousness of Bruce's secret and implying that other characters actually know a lot more than they let on, with El Gaucho's disbelief at Batman's “impersonation” of Bruce Wayne playing out in a far more entertaining manner than would a more serious and convoluted explanation of how Bruce goes about maintaining his cover.

Finally, the issue is a great-looking comic. Michel Lacombe's bold inks add a pleasing weight to Yanick Paquette's chunky and slightly exaggerated designs, which belie a strong grasp of anatomy that's evidenced by a seductive Tango sequence. Even a couple of fill-in pages by Pere Perez don't detract from the visuals, as Perez perfectly imitates Paquette's lock-jawed Batman--a take on the character that might not quite jibe with Morrison's “hairy-chested love-god” take on the character, but which I'm gradually getting used to as this series progresses.

Frankly, there's really nothing bad I can say about this issue, save that it reuses a couple of ideas that we've already seen in the series--such as the closing “teaser” captions--which inevitably don't feel quite as fresh and attention-grabbing this time around. However, if the worst thing that I can say about a comic is that it reuses a good idea, I obviously don't have much to complain about.

It's a pleasure to see Batman Incorporated is continuing the tradition of great Batman stories from Grant Morrison, with this latest chapter containing just as much depth and complexity as we've seen in some of his best issues. The result is a multi-faceted superhero romp that is also the first issue of the new series to really get me excited about the writer's larger plans for the latest phase of his Bat-saga. I highly recommend it.

Thom Young:

I really enjoyed Batman, Inc. #3--probably more than I’ve enjoyed any Morrison Batman comic book since Batman #656, which I reviewed four and a half years ago. My only complaint with the issue is in that I echo Chris Kiser's comment that Yanick Paquette's depiction of Batman makes him "look bulky and uncomfortable in his over-designed new costume."

For the most part, though, Paquette's line evokes the look of Don Newton, who was a very good Batman artist indeed. Paquette just needs to make his Batman less stiff and bulky--perhaps abandoning the new costume is the answer, as I really don't like this new look for Bruce Wayne's Batman.

Anyway, as Danny mentioned at the start of his review, Batman, Inc. #3 has everything. More to the point, it has several things that intrigued me--that is to say that I believe this issue has an intellectual depth and complexity beyond what is usually found in a mainstream comic book--and it starts at the beginning with the “cannon fodder” characters that Danny mentioned above.

In the opening flashback-within-a-flashback sequence of the first three pages, the original Knight (Percival Sheldrake) is shown to be a member of a group of five British superheroes. They are sort of a “Five Soldiers of Victory” outfit, which means Morrison should have thrown in the original Squire, Cyrl Sheldrake, and one other sidekick to have created a British equivalent of America’s Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Four of these five are not long for the world after a villain named Dedalus kills the Knight’s four comrades during the Falkland Islands War. The Knight is then found by British soldiers, and he says some very interesting things.

Well, at least I think it’s the Knight who is saying these very interesting things. It’s difficult to tell since all we can see of the speaker at that point are his armored hands while one of the Knight’s comrades, Iron Lady, is lying dead nearby. However, those armored hands are not identical to the armored hands of the Knight on the previous page--indicating either that it is some other character with armored hands rather than the Knight speaking (which could be why we aren’t supposed to see a full view of the actual speaker) or that Paquette didn’t draw the Knight’s armored hands the same way on both pages.

Anyway, I think it’s the Knight who says, “Still here? Who am I now? When does this wear off?”--or, more to the point, I believe it’s the Knight’s mouth from which those lines are being issued, but it’s not necessarily the Knight’s mind that is controlling his mouth.

Those lines make it seem like someone’s consciousness was unwittingly transported into the Knight’s body--someone who is surprised to not yet have returned to his own body, and who is waiting for the effect of being transported into other bodies to wear off. It seems a bit like the situation of the old Quantum Leap television series in which a character named Samuel Beckett often finds himself in the bodies of various people as he jumps through time.

Hmmmm. Samuel Beckett. The Irish playwright of the same name (and after whom the TV character was named) once worked as an assistant to his friend and mentor the Irish novelist James Joyce--who wrote a semi-autobiographical novel (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) in which he called himself Stephen Dedalus.

Dedalus, of course, is the villain whom the Knight and the other British superheroes were pursuing, and we are told that he always appears “in time of war”--apparently to wherever the British military are engaged. Might it then be Dedalus (a sort of Joyce-Beckett character) who has been transported into the body of the original Knight?

Is that what is meant when the Knight (and Dedalus?) shout, “We locked him in and he’ll never get out!”?

Did Dedalus get locked in the body of the original Knight?

Tune in tomorrow (er in a few weeks). Same Knight-time. Same Knight-channel!

Anyway, the four British superheroes that Morrison created for the opening sequence are extremely intriguing, and I was hooked on this issue after those first three pages. In addition to the original Knight, the group of superheroes consist of:
  • Fadar--a character whose name is the Old Saxon noun for father (from proto-Germanic fadēr), but which could also mean to “bewitch” when used as a verb. (Fadar looks as if he put together his costume from whatever remnants of clothing Steve Ditko’s The Creeper and The Odd Man left behind after they put together their own mismatched costumes from boxes of leftovers.)

  • Mr. Albion--who appears to be both the defacto leader of the group and a Captain Britain analog. He carries around a large staff with a hammerhead on the end of it, which he refers to as the Hammer of Wayland Smith. However, that legendary blacksmith from Teutonic mythology could never have wielded Mr. Albion’s hammer at his forge. Mr. Albion’s Hammer of Wayland Smith should have looked more like Thor’s hammer rather than a variation of the ornate wand of office that the Lord Great Chamberlain” carries around at the start of each session of Britain’s Parliament.

  • Iron Lady--whose look gives me a sense of déjà vu, though I can’t place where I’ve seen it before; her appearance is reminiscent of Lady Justice atop London’s Old Bailey as well as New York’s Statue of Liberty. However, I’m sure I’ve seen the specific look in either an old comic book or some archaic image from the 18th or 19th centuries. Her name, of course, is a nod to the nickname that was given to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

  • Captain Carnation (at least that’s what Iron Lady calls him) dresses like Adam Ant, but with Quentin Collins’s mutton-chop sideburns and Nick Fury’s eye patch, and he claims to hail from “Alter-England.” I am very curious about this Alter-England concept, and I sincerely hope Morrison plans on revisiting these characters even though they are all now dead (including the original Knight, supposedly).
Another thing I liked about this issue is that it has one of my favorite DC villains, El Papagayo--a character that was created by David V. Reed and Dick Sprang more than 60 years ago in Batman #56 in 1949. See if this scenario from that 62-year-old comic book sounds familiar:
Batman is contacted by the president of a Latin America country (the fictitious Mantegua, which is essentially Chile, but could just as well be Argentina) to train a man to be the Bat-Hombre of Mantegua as a means of combating El Papagayo and his gang of criminals.

Unfortunately, the man whom Batman chose to be the best-suited to become Bat-Hombre was actually a “double agent” who was secretly a member of the criminal gang headed by El Papagayo. After discovering the true identity of his pupil, Batman becomes Bat-Hombre himself, and he and Robin bring down El Papagayo and his gang.
Twenty-eight years later, Michael Fleisher and Jose Louis Garcia-Lopez created another villain named El Papagayo in Jonah Hex (first series) #2--or did they merely indicate that the villain Batman faced was very old and had a history going back to the late 19th century?

Of course, I don’t know if Batman’s El Papagayo is supposed to be the same El Papagayo that battled Jonah Hex in the 1880s or whether he’s supposed to be an ancestor who has carried on the family’s villainous identity. However, considering how bad El Papagayo’s skin looked in this current issue, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Morrison intends him to be the same El Papagayo that faced off against Jonah Hex about 130 years ago. After all, some very large parrots have had record lifespans of over 100 years, and El Papagayo is a very large parrot indeed.

In Jonah Hex, the title character often squared off against El Papagayo in Mexico or in Arizona’s Monument Valley. In Batman, Inc. #3, Batman and El Gaucho square off against El Papagayo and his gang in Argentina’s Talampaya National Park, which looks almost identical to Arizona’s Monument Valley.

The epigram for the issue is from a poem by Garcia Lorca:
En cambio, el duende no llega si no ve posibilidad de muerte, si no sabe que ha de rondar su casa, si no tiene seguridad de que ha de mecer esas ramas que todos llevamos y que no tienen, que no tendrán consuelo.
Now I’ve never taken Spanish, and my translation exams in graduate school were in German and French, nor do I put much stock in online translation tools (because I’ve seen how mangled the translations of German are with those programs), so I am not an authority on what this Lorca epigram is actually saying, but I believe it’s something like, “On the other hand, the fierce lust for life does not come around your home if there is the possibility of death . . .” followed by more, about which I have no idea. Still, how cool is it that we get a verse from a Garcia Lorca prose poem?

We also get references to the Argentinean aesthetes who called themselves the Florida Group--though Jorge Luis Borges was not actually a member of the group. He merely attended some of their meetings and was published in their literary magazines. Still, I love that Morrison is bringing in all of these literary allusions--both from Argentinean literature and DC comic books from 35 to 60 years ago.

However, my favorite part of the issue was when Don Santiago (aka, El Gaucho) said to Batman, “Why the hell is Batman masquerading as Bruce Wayne anyway? I’ve met Wayne and you don’t fool me.”

Essentially, El Gaucho doesn’t believe El Bat-Hombre is very good at portraying Bruce Wayne, which is similar to something that Alfred Pennyworth said to Batman way back in Morrison’s first issue, Batman #655. Since then, Bruce has worked at trying to be better at being himself when he’s not wearing his cape and cowl. Of course, in this situation, he would be intentionally trying to lead Don Santiago to believe that Batman and Bruce Wayne are NOT the same person--that Batman merely borrows the identity of Bruce Wayne just as The Shadow would borrow the identity of the real Lamont Cranston.

Layers upon layers are evident in Morrison’s work, and this issue is a great part of the tapestry that Morrison is weaving. I highly recommend it.

What did you think of this book?
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