This article is the fourth in a series covering Grant Morrison’s five-year tenure on Batman, from Batman and Son to Batman Incorporated. The first, second, and third installments are available here, here, and here.
In the books leading up to Batman Incorporated, the idea that Batman and his adversaries had multiple crime-fighting or criminal identities was a clever recurring theme. I never presumed Grant Morrison had something profound to say on the subject, but it struck me as a particularly adult way of presenting what many people might dismiss as a silly superhero story.
It also made narrative sense. Morrison’s take on the Joker is that he’s a man who’s constantly reinvented himself since the Golden Age of comics, so it’s not out of character for him to dress up in a different mask for awhile. It was necessary to the plot for Dick Grayson to take over as Batman and for Damian to fill in as Robin. And as for Dr. Hurt, it’s part of his character that he’s continually trying to convince the world that he’s Bruce’s father Thomas Wayne, in addition to dropping hints that he’s actually the devil.
Throw in Bruce Wayne, the multiple bat-guises he took on while skipping through time, and his back-up identity as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh– plus the rogue Batman imposters that plagued Gotham all the way back in Batman and Son– and that’s more than enough main characters with triple secret identities to keep track of.
Unless you’re Grant Morrison.
Morrison isn’t known for his restraint, and his wit is characteristically at war with his cockiness here. Batman Incorporated is over-stuffed with high-concept splash pages, billionaire playboys who are masked vigilantes by night, nonsense schemes for world domination, comic book crossovers, jokey super teams and secret societies, and references to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory series, all the while completely devoid of any resonant human element. A series of short overseas adventures (with one embarrassing trip into the virtual reality world of Internet 3.0), Batman never gets a moment to think. Every word he speaks is breathless exposition meant to clarify whatever time-shift, location change, or abrupt plot twist just occurred in panels that seem to be missing from the middle of the page.
After the strong rapport Morrison established between Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne in Batman & Robin, depriving Bruce of his 11-year-old sidekick is the most surprising oversight in this collection. Bruce isn’t alone on his adventures, but with one exception the international vigilantes he recruits into Batman Incorporated have no character outside of their countries of origin. Likewise, Batman’s female allies in the book have a complete lack of personality that’s almost as creepy as artist Yanick Paquette’s depiction of Catwoman, who never misses a chance to stick her ass in the air and can’t be bothered to zip up the front of her suit.
Even as messy as the storytelling gets, the art is probably the most difficult obstacle to navigating the plot. Paquette, who single-handedly ruined the can’t-miss premise of Pirate Batman in The Return Of Bruce Wayne, is responsible for the initial chapters, and they’re incredibly ugly. His panels are overburdened with thick lines that hurt to look at, and his characters appear to be cut and pasted on top of backgrounds as an afterthought. Chris Burnham takes over the later issues, and though his ability to draw in a Silver Age style for flashbacks is impressive, both men are incapable of drawing consistent faces. Burnham’s Bruce Wayne stands out in particular as some sort of bizarre manga Superman, and his Lucius Fox looks less like Morgan Freeman and more like E.T.
A disastrous pairing of a writer freed from editorial oversight and artists out of their element, Batman Incorporated is a discordant disaster. An international spy caper populated with cartoon characters weighed down by a lifetime of soapy backstories, it’s a joyless series of unrelated events that are nearly impossible to follow. By placing his focus on an a world-wide organization of Batmen, Morrison neglects the aspects of the hero that make him appealing in the first place. Combined with his delusional insistence that a relentless parade of death traps and double-crosses constitute a compelling mystery, he’s created exactly the type of incomprehensible Batman book his reputation would predict. It’s redundant, repetitive, and doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.