In this issue: Lincoln Redcrow and Man-of-Bats team up to beat the Hmong once and for all in this special Batman Incorporated/Scalped crossover.
Because most of the people who read Batman Incorporated probably don't read Scalped, Issue 7 will probably be a lot of comic book readers' first glimpse into the despair known as the Indian reservation. I'll spare you the history lesson, but I'll say this: it's not like Elton John would have you believe.
It's not even what the cover would have you believe, and not just because Man-of-Bats never rides a buffalo through Monument Valley. The Incorporated Batmen standing around a disheveled hovel with a crying, shitstained baby on the floor and an OD'd mother on the couch would be more accurate, doesn't strike me as the welcoming image DC wants to put out, even though it is pretty gritty -- DiDio take note!
Pretty easy to imagine a superhero book that takes place at a reservation to flounder in a lot of ways -- too many stereotypical mystical Indian, too much O'Neill/Adams socially conscious ponderousness -- but Morrison's a smart writer, so he and Chris Burnham decide to create a milieu that wouldn't be out of place in Jason Aaron's comic. This not only makes the DCU feel like a real place, but provides an excellent contrast to Batman that we haven't seen yet in this series. After all, his last one-on-one team-up was with El Gaucho, who is another wealthy superhero. There are too many rich superheroes in this world. Why is Iron Fist rich? What does he need to buy? He knows kung fu.
Wisely, Morrison also makes Batman a supporting character in this issue, withholding his appearance until halfway through the issue. When you have a guy who dons a feathered headdress and polices a community living in poverty in a pickup truck that doesn't double as a hovercraft… well, an offensively rich superhero is impossible to identify with. I don't care whose parents are dead. That shift in perspective also makes for a wonderful introductory page, where the traditionally dressed Indian superhero almost only appears as a shadow for the entire page.
Batman and Man-of-Bats aren't too dissimilar, either. Batman polices a giant, unforgiving city, a being of great emotional distance from his citizens while Man-of-Bats, by virtue of having a small community to take care of, knows everybody and can help each individual, except when they don't want to be helped. Still, you get a sense that Man-of-Bats' battle is a losing one, whereas Batman's is simply never-ending.
Morrison writes a self-contained issue that doesn't feel truncated -- just economical -- and still manages to employ his deft handle characterization. In the course of the issue, you end up learning a lot about Man-of-Bats as a socially active, almost fatally caring person and Little Raven as someone who's more than a little frustrated with his place in the world. And, because Morrison keeps it ground level, (save Batman) he makes superheroing seem surprisingly quixotic as nobody seems to take Man-of-Bats seriously, not even his own sidekick. It feels almost as if Morrison's dipping into his depressingly ironic Filth-era darkness for this one.
Chris Burnham's artwork sells the grit and squalor of the book perfectly. His style fits perfectly with Morrison's run, going toe-to-toe with Moz-Batman alum Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart, whose work Burnham's art feels like a vague hybrid of. We've seen him do cartoonish violence and globetrotting Batman adventures; here he delivers some really graphic violence (for a mainstream superhero comic book) as well as great fight choreography and striking panels.
This issue could have been really forced and racially problematic -- though some might argue that the latter is true. However, Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham deliver another great issue of Batman Incorporated -- one that adds a little more to the series' overarching story while still holding together as a perfect standalone issue for anyone who's depressingly late to the party.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, 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 as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat.
Batman Incorporated is Grant Morrison’s Batman ’66. The man responsible for the most important chapter in the character’s development since the 1980s can do absolutely no wrong under the cape and cowl, and this series have proven that his understanding of the character and his appeal is intrinsic. Hell, Morrison’s talents for the Bat might be genetic, considering the ease with which he has redefined Bruce Wayne several times over.
The idea of a man in a suit running around punching crime is silly, inherently, but it’s even sillier when he starts a like-minded fraternity. Hell, he has his own logo, over which his recruits take oaths! Since issue 1, Morrison has explored the idea that the Batman needs to be everywhere at once -- an idea that has crossed the mind of any comic book fan at one time or another. The intriguing thing about Batman building an army is the lens through which its viewed: when Frank Miller explored the territory in The Dark Knight Retuns, he portrayed him as an aged lunatic on the fringe of his mind desperately building a legacy. On the flip side, Morrison sees this as a perfectly logical progression of the character. Having died and resurrected, Wayne understands the necessity of making sure the globe is protected. While dark and brooding Batman has his place, that approach has been done time and again, and usually offers no new insights. Morrison’s series at its core explores the idea of Batman like so few others truly have, including the mentality that it takes to follow in his footsteps without his resources, officially or unofficially.
Issue 7 of Batman Incorporated is one of the series’ best and most unique: while we have seen Batman jet-set to Japan and Argentina to find the best and brightest Batmen, the issue explores, in one of its protagonists’ own words, "America’s Third World." Batman’s quest brings him to an Indian reservation in South Dakota, where it is guarded by the hulking, benevolent Man-of-Bats and his disillusioned sidekick and son, Little Raven. They are a scrappy, makeshift cult -- their broken-down truck is called the "Batsmobile," they run their "Bat's Cave" as a museum for tourists and Man-of-Bats daylights as a community doctor. Morrison’s interest in this section of society is duly noted, and it seasons this installment with a personal flavor -- I get the feeling this could be Morrison’s favorite issue, if not his favorite to write. He manages to effortless bring in the series’ overarching Leviathan antagonist, but it never feels forced or unnecessary.
Batman Incorporated #7 is like an issue of Scalped guest-starring the Bat-Man, and that might be the finest compliment I can pay anything ever. Not to say it is derivative, but Morrison nails the despondency of the Indians -- as Little Raven tells the Bat-Man, "We’ll take Batmobiles if you got 'em, but anything you give to him he's gonna back to them." The plight Man-of-Bats faces in helping his community is paralleled in Batman’s struggle with the massive Leviathan -- the more effort he puts, the more Leviathan seems to grow. The impetus for the issue is also clever: Man-of-Bats gets arrested for brutally assaulting a known drug dealer, only to discover that he is only carrying mints. After being captured and almost killed by his assailant, he is freed by the Bat-Man, who discovers the mints were laced with a powerful mind-control agent. It’s a bit of a goofy reveal, much like the items contained in the Man-of-Bats museum (including a bulletproof shirt), but very much akin to something that would happen in Batman ’66, and helps establish the severity of the lengths Leviathan has reached and will continue to reach.
Chris Burnham’s heavily detailed and pop-tinged pencils are reminiscent of frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, including his penchant for facial structure and skin lines. As great as Yanick Paquette’s first issues were, Burnham came into his own with the spectacular #4, and both #6 and #7 have been as delightful to look at as they have been to read. Burnham has demonstrated a natural understanding of Morrison’s style, and his selection as an artist has been one of the moves that has cemented the important and the quality to be expected of Batman Incorporated. Having worked with Joe Casey on the profanely superlative Officer Downe has given Burnham a talent for gore and violent residue, and nobody quite draws a broken face or a stab wound like he does. Nathan Fairbairn’s colors complement Burnham’s semi-sinewy art quite nicely, with deep reds for the blood, piercing blues for the skies -- his rich palette is Technicolor pop-art brilliant, and gives the comic that brighter-than-bright look that both catches the eye and traps it. Fairbairn is one of the finest colorists working today, and the tiers of talent that are bringing us Batman Incorporated month to month make it seems so effortlessly brilliant.
The issue never fully delivers on its cover’s amazing promise (Batman does ride a horse, but I really wanted to see Man-of-Bats flex buffalo,) but within its pages is one of the most original and exciting Batman stories even Morrison has produced. The man rarely finds a way to top himself anymore, since he puts out such great work consistently, but Batman Incorporated #7 is an exemplary issue and a benchmark in the series, and it is to its credit that the Bat-Man himself is the least fascinating character. Plus to further prove my Batman ‘66 accusation, the issue ends with someone summoning Batman to the Internet 3.0 (which is awesomely loony), and the question bars that close the issue are similar to the ones that that series’ multi-part stories used to employ. With only two or so issues left, I think we can all agree, 2012 cannot come fast enough -- same Bat-Man, same Bat-medium.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain't got time to bleed.
Every issue of this title brings a new surprise and a change in tone. I guess that's part and parcel of the concept, Bruce broadening his operation in order to recruit an army of Bat-Men. Though it is an international force, they're far from cookie cutter copies of the cape. Each man or woman donned the costume for their very own purposes, in response to their own particular situation, and they each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses.
Chris Burnham is becoming the signature artist of the run, and he's no slouch, giving the excellent Yanick Paquette a run for the money on his issues. Burnham has a more cartoonish style than Paquette's action-packed realism, but he also has something of the detail-mindedness of Geoff Darrow or Frank Quitely. He seems adept at taking on whatever stylistic challenges Morrison, in his infinite eclecticism and far-ranging knowledge of the different eras of comics history, throws at him.
This issue reminds me of nothing so much as the O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues, because we're seeing the effects of drug and alcohol addiction on a native community, or as Raven Red says, "Welcome to America's very own Third World," the sort of bold political statement that doesn't often make it into comics. Native American Man-of-Bats and Little Raven (a father-son duo, with all the emotional baggage that implies) are doing their best to help a blighted community, but it's an uphill battle characterized by poverty and despair.
This is grim stuff, and the bloody drug violence that ensues isn't so much cathartic as simply lethal and wearing. But it's well-told, mostly maintaining a precarious balance. It's all very heavy for a comic that also wants to embrace the light-hearted silliness of the Silver Age, but Burnham just might be the artist to make it work. I mean, the bad guy kicks his own dog! That sort of thing simply cannot stand!
Especially not in what is, essentially, a Western. The amusing cover alone lets us know we're in cowboy territory, but Morrison makes sure we know who his Western heroes are. When Bruce shows up, he doesn't so much come to the rescue as throw his hand in, and it's nice to see him take the time to appreciate the different (but no less effective) scale of operations of the heroic Man-of-Bats.
And of course, amidst all the desperation, we've still got the ur-nemesis of Leviathan attacking Batman Inc. as fast as Bruce can set it up. That subplot anchors us in the larger narrative. This isn't the most fun issue of the series thus far, but it's a pretty important one.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at http://cornekopia.net.
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