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Sunday Slugfest: Batman, Inc. #2

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2010
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Yanick Paquette (p) Michel Lacombe (i), & Nathan Fairbarn (colors)
DC Comics
Due to technical difficulties with the Comics Bulletin server, the Sunday Slugfest was delayed by a day. Please accept our apologies in getting this edition of the slugfest posted. Thank you.

Dave Wallace:
Kyle Garret:
Thom Young:

Dave Wallace:

The second issue of Batman Incorporated doesn't feel quite as fresh and impressive as the first. Perhaps that's because we've now grown accustomed to the new “Batman Inc.” status quo that sees Bruce Wayne attempt to recruit a global network of Batman counterparts--and so the core concept of the book's story doesn't feel quite as novel as it did a couple of months ago.

Or perhaps it's because we don't see quite as much banter between Batman and Catwoman this issue, with their interactions taking a backseat in order to let a fairly predictable story play out --involving the coming of age of the “sidekick” of Japanese hero Mr. Unknown as he takes on the mantle of his dead mentor.

Then again, it could be that there's just not as much substance to this story as previous Grant Morrison Batman comics, with fewer layers of meaning and clever story devices than we've been used to over the last couple of years of the writer's run.

All that said, there's still a lot to like about this issue. It brings Batman Inc.'s first story arc to a disarmingly brisk close, with none of the storytelling fat and flab that can make so many paced-for-the-trade, six-part story arcs feel artificially stretched-out.

This current story is fast-moving and direct, and it contains quite a few neat action beats along with some enjoyably outlandish ideas (such as the underwater battle that takes place in a tower block apartment).

There are also some fun nods to the camp 1960s TV-show incarnation of Batman, with a scene in which Bruce pieces together a string of clues that feels just as tenuous as some of Frank Gorshin's more elaborate riddles.

If I have any real complaint, it's that the issue is a little light on characterisation: in particular, the villain Lord Death Man feels short-changed by Morrison's script, as he is never developed beyond his admittedly cool visual design and his back-from-the-dead gimmick. The new Mr. Unknown is also fairly broadly sketched, with a character arc that feels a little rushed due to the steep learning curve that's necessitated by the arc's short, two-issue length.

However, the book's art helps to elevate it to above-average status with particularly strong work turned in by inker Michel Lacombe who gives Yanick Paquette's linework a real sense of weight and form. I like the thick-and-thin line technique that Lacombe employs, as it helps the book's boldly outlined central characters to stand out as larger-than-life against well-observed finer details (like the floating TV remote control on the title splashpage, or the cityscape that unfolds behind Batman as he hitches a lift on a helicopter).

There are also fewer obvious cheesecake moments here than in issue #1 (although there are still a fair few), and Morrison gives Paquette one or two chances to make the issue more than just a great-looking extended action sequence--including a canny but subtle homage to the cover of Batman #180, where the arc's villain first appeared.

There's only one point at which the art doesn't quite work for me, and it's a significant moment in the opening action scene in which Batman plants explosives on the outside of the window of the water-filled apartment. Perhaps it's meant to be initially confusing and ambiguous, but I found myself having to turn back a page and reread the sequence once I realised what was going on.

Ultimately, this issue is an enjoyable comic that looks slick and features some fun ideas that allow it to outshine many superhero books being published today. However, a lack of any real depth (both in terms of plot and characterisation) and a fairly predictable trajectory for the story means that it isn't quite as challenging and engaging as some of Morrison's previous work with the character.

Kyle Garret:

Batman, Inc. #2 features a nice resolution to the first storyline. It also features a bomb of an ending, filled with implications that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.

It is probably the most straightforward Batman story we’ve seen from Morrison since he’s taken over the path that this character would go down. We have the standard creepy Batman villain with his standard masked henchmen. We have an overly elaborate trap. We even get a damsel in distress. It’s all well done, of course, but fairly by the numbers--at least in contrast to Morrison’s usual approach.

The details are what set this story apart, and they also happen to emphasize how crazy the final page is. Morrison does an excellent job of incorporating as much of Japan into this story as he can--or at least the Japan that exists in the DC universe.

Lord Death Man was last seen in the recently released Batman manga in a story that originally published in Japan in 1966. That story was, in fact, a sequel of sorts to Batman #180--a story that Batman actually mentions in this issue--when Lord Death Man was just Death Man. It appears that Morrison is going out of his way to be inclusive with regards to native culture and native heroes.

Or is he?

The end of this issue gives us the Japanese Batman and he is, quite literally, a Japanese Batman. He is a Japanese citizen answering a Bat-signal in a Batman costume.

Given Morrison’s previous use of the Club of Heroes, it wasn’t hard to assume that the Batman franchises that Bruce Wayne was going to set up across the world were meant to be supportive in nature. After all, every hero in the Club of Heroes is basically a Batman from another country, but they still maintained their native identities. Yet, that isn’t the case now.

Now Bruce Wayne is deputizing heroes. He is stripping them of their identities and placing them in Batman uniforms--which is a fairly huge development. Morrison is taking his concept of the corporate Batman to its furthest degree, to the point where it is white-washing the world to a homogeneous state.

This road is a dangerous one for anyone to take, let alone an American playboy and representative superhero. How will this work in countries that aren’t receptive to American influence? Will it even work in countries that have no problems with it? Will a vigilante like Batman lose something if not an honest reflection of where he or she is from?

I’m really interested to see where Morrison goes with this concept and whether or not it will become an issue. I don’t see how it can’t, and I think the revelation on the last page was supposed to tip us off as to what’s to come.

Thom Young:

What can I say about this issue that my colleagues haven’t already said above? I agree with Dave that the second issue of Batman, Inc. isn’t as impressive as the first. However, I disagree with Dave (to some degree) on why that it. For me, it was the work of the illustrators that bothered me.

The work of Yanick Paquette (pencils) and Michel Lacombe (inks) isn’t bad. In fact, it’s quite good, and I would have enjoyed it considerably had I come across it in a comic published by Fantagraphics or in Art Spiegelman’s Raw--which means, of course, that it would not have been a Batman story.

The problem for me is the thick lines that are used in many of the drawings (though I can’t tell if they are lines created by Paquette that Lacombe merely inked faithfully or if Lacombe has an inking style in which he lays down heavy lines over the pencils in order to give the drawings that sense of weight that Dave referred to in his review. Either way, the style didn’t work for me--not for Batman, but I would definitely like it in an independent comic with a more avant-garde style than we would normally expect to find in a Batman comic book (even one written by Grant Morrison).

On the other hand, as I was reading the story and reacting to the illustrations, I began to wonder if the style was meant to mimic a certain type of manga. I know next to nothing about manga aside from Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen--which are the only manga I have ever read. Perhaps Paquette and Lacombe are creating more of a sense of Japanese manga with their heavy lines--an effect to which I would be mostly oblivious.

As for the “Japanese Batman,” I was a bit shocked that Jiro Osamu is now going to be wearing a Batman costume as he fights crime in Tokyo. I expected him to maintain the identity of his mentor, Mr. Unknown, for whom he had been working as a sort of “Mr. Unknown Beyond” in the same way that Terry McGinnis works for Bruce Wayne in the future in Batman Beyond. However, Jiro fakes his own death in order to have a fresh start as “the Batman of Japan.”

Of course, this plot development is an extension of the “replacement Batmen” motif that Morrison has been developing since the first issue of his now nearly four-and-a-half-year run of Batman stories--Batman #655. It particularly resonates with the “Club of Heroes” concept that was first introduced into the Batman mythos 56 years ago in Detective Comics #215 with the initial appearances of The Gaucho (Argentina), The Knight and Squire (England), The Musketeer (France), The Legionary (Italy), and The Ranger (Australia)--who, along with Batman and Robin, were known as the “Batmen of All Nations” in that seminal appearance.

Later, in their second appearance in World’s Fines Comics #89, the Batmen of All Nations were renamed the Club of Heroes when Superman joined the team after philanthropist John Mayhew became their patron. This team essentially filled the void in the DC universe after the Justice Society of America ceased appearing in comics in late 1950 and before the Justice League of America began in early 1960. In reality, “Club of Heroes” was a better name than “Batmen of All Nations” since The Gaucho, The Musketeer, The Legionary, and The Ranger never really seemed like versions of Batman as much as they did versions of other characters (the Knight and Squire, of course, did seem like British versions of the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder).

As an Argentinean version of a cowboy, The Gaucho is more of a cross between the Golden Age Vigilante and Green Arrow, with The Gaucho using a bola (mistakenly called a “bolo” in Detective #215) instead of a lasso (Vigilante) bow and arrow (Green Arrow)--hough, I suppose the bola is also a replacement for a Batarang.

Similarly, The Musketeer has been influenced more by the characters from Alexander Dumas’s The Three Musketeers than he has by Batman. The Legionary owes more to The Shining Knight and The Ranger was simply an Australian version of The Lone Ranger.

In that same vein, Mr. Unknown seemed more inspired by The Shadow, the Green Hornet, or DC’s own initial depiction of The Crimson Avenger. I suppose I thought Batman, Inc. was going to be merely a contemporary re-working of the “Batman of All Nations” concept in which all of the various “Batmen” (with the exception of Dick Grayson) weren’t actually “Batman” but were merely non-powered masked heroes who view Batman as the best of their ilk.

It’s clear that Morrison is developing his Batman, Inc. concept from ideas implied in the stories that appeared in Detective #215 and Batman #65--which was the first place that Batman is shown training a “franchise Batman” (Wingman) and establishing him in another country--a “certain northern European government has put in an urgent request for a counterpart of Batman!”

Other Batman readers have retconned Wingman as being the “Batman of Sweden.” Sweden is definitely northern European, and its proximity to the Soviet Union might well have caused the government to request a “franchise Batman” for their use. However, the idea that Batman says “a certain northern European government” leads me to believe that the idea was a reference to something in the news in northern Europe that readers in 1951 (when Batman #65 was published) would be able to infer.

However, I cannot find a significant news item for 1950-51 that involves Sweden (or Finland or Norway either). However, the nation of East Germany was established as the Soviet Union withdrew from northern Germany and set up the communist government of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, and the early 1950s (particularly 1950 and 1951) were a tension-filled time in Germany--particularly in Berlin--as many East Germans attempted to cross into West Germany while the Bundesrepublik Deutschland attempted to round up and deport communists still living in West Germany.

Thus, I believe Wingman was supposed to be either the “Batman of West Germany” or the “Batman of West Berlin.” The idea of Wingman being stationed in West Berlin seems all the more plausible when we consider that the government of West Berlin was jointly administered by the United States, Great Britain, and France.

Anyway, readers who are unsure about Morrison’s Batman, Inc. concept should realize that the idea is nothing new. Morrison is merely reviving a concept that was originally established in the 1950s by editor Jack Schiff with writers Bill Finger and Edmond Hamilton. It’s also unlikely that DC is going to have multiple heroes running around in Batman costumes for more than one to three years. In the meantime, I’m intrigued in seeing Morrison having Batman spanning the globe as he sets up his Batman, Inc. franchises--with the next stop Argentina and the return of The Gaucho.

With Catwoman returning to Gotham City at the end of this issue, it will be interesting to see who Bruce Wayne shares his hotel suite with when he visits Buenos Aires--you know, now that Morrison has restored Bruce as the hairy-chested sex god version of Batman from the 1970s era of Neal Adams. I wonder if Beatriz da Costa is going to fly down from Rio de Janeiro where she is the president of the Brazil branch of Wayne Enterprises.

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