Monday, March 31, 2014

Review - Batman, Inc. Vol. 1

Let me preface this by saying this is a review of the first compilation of the pre-New 52 Batman, Inc. so it is entirely possible that the post New 52 Batman, Inc. plays out differently. With that said...let me discuss for a moment just what a tragic and poorly conceived tale this book wove. I generally regard myself as a Grant Morrison fan, albeit one who remembers him mainly from older works such as the remarkable run he had on Doom Patrol many years back. The idea of Morrison writing Batman intrigued me, and situ....this book might make more sense. Alas, I jumped on the DC bandwagon only recently, post New 52, so whatever the hell was going on in the DC Universe just before New 52 came around? Yeah, if it was anything like Batman, Inc. I can see why they realized they needed a reboot.

The premise of the story is Bruce Wayne, deciding to throw the might of his corporate empire behind financing a global war on crime in the form of a funded vigilante PMC (private military corporation, which is what this works out to be even if the book does a terrible job of realizing it). The tales in this volume weave around several threads, none fully realized or properly focused on, creating a disjointed narrative that suggests one of two things: either Morrison just wanted to write his usual crazy and couldn't figure out how to do it in a Batman venue, or that there are a lot of crossovers and references to other comic titles at the time that are hopelessly impossible to figure out without the proper context.

As an example of how disjointed this story is, let me point out a few of the dozens of oddities that clearly lack proper context without who knows how many other sources from this period:

Who Are These Batmen?: There are multiple Batmen in the book, only one being Bruce Wayne. One might be Dick Grayson during the period he played Batman (which I know from reading the remarkable "The Black Mirror") but it's actually not clear from any context as to which one he is. Part of the problem? None of these Batmen act like Batman. They act like hapless pawns in Morrison's convoluted tale, a common trope in his writing that I felt worked well for a team like Doom Patrol, but works miserably for a book about a control freak who dresses like a Bat and keeps tabs on the entire DC Universe, just in case. This is not that Batman....none of them are.

Spewing Vigilantes: Was there a non Barbara Gordon Batgirl pre New 52? Was there another Batgirl who gets all of two panels midway in the book? Was this Batwoman a lesbian pre New 52? She doesn't act like the Batwoman of other titles....Why does Gaucho betray Batman when he does, even though he was really on his side? How did he thwart the mind control of whatever it was that possessed him in the first place? What the hell is any character in this book doing? They all come off as violent, foolish crazy characters who are easily dispatched, thwarted or otherwise overcome at times by Leviathan, the super-secret Not-Smersh/Not-Hydra organization specifically invented just to serve as a foil to the plot, which is sprinkled with two unmemorable villains that proceed to engage in ridiculous, poorly explained and badly conceived plots. Note that I really felt to a certain extent that Morrison' style was faltering badly here....he was writing a Batman book that ignored Batman, making him a bit character in his own tale, while simultaneously hinting at moments of greatness but not even bothering to slow down and explain it. The book could have used a serious editorial review and rewrite. There were several tales going on here, and none of them got the justice or time they deserved, in the name of confusion, poorly represented versions of the main protagonist, and an array of nonsensical events that--while characteristically Morrison--just didn't seem to work in the context of the Batman's corner of the DC Universe.

I mean...maybe the pre New 52 DC Universe was going completely nuts, but somehow I think, in the end, this is Morrison showing that his range of writing is limited to a certain roaming area, and his inability to incorporate Batman into his style ends up making the entire run feel like he shoehorned the Bat into his own limited mold. A real shame.....but I have the first post New 52 volume in this series, will be curious to see if it manages to get more focused and actually try and tell a story that can be followed without referencing dozens of obscure events and characters of the source material.

D+. I'll give it the + because Batman, Inc. had some great moments (I liked Catwoman's appearance, one of the few coherent moments of storytelling in the book), sadly hidden behind the hip tale that is so laden in self-referential material that making sense of it without countless other now out of print books is all but impossible.

Morrison's version of Batman: stricken of common sense due to some time travel plot, with way too much money and a dearth of the trademark paranoia and detective skills other, better and more timeless Batman tales have exhibited. Also, bat-bots that show up for like two pages and then nada.

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