Holy disappearing Bat-book! There are SPOILERS after the jump! Since most of you definitely haven’t read this issue yet, I’ll say it again, just to make it perfectly clear:
First, allow me to address the elephant in the room: This issue has been delayed due to the terrible atrocity which occurred in Aurora Colorado; DC decided to err on the side of tact by not releasing a Batman issue which featured a gun in it the same week that mourners are still heavily distraught over the events that took place in that screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
For the record, the scene is nowhere close to recalling the Aurora tragedy and if it wasn’t for DC publicly making the connection themselves no one would have linked the two in any way. The scene in question is literally two panels long and over by the time you turn the first page. Within the scene in question, a teacher who has come under the sway of Leviathan’s mind control drug pulls a gun on a class of young students and militantly preaches Leviathan’s coarse, base ideology.
That’s it. Now, while I think any parallel between this scene and real-world events is completely non-existent, I don’t begrudge DC for postponing the book. After all, as this review proves, those who really wanted to read the book are still doing so.
Truly, my heart aches for all innocent victims in every corner of the earth and while I do not wish to be seen as insensitive or as trivializing the events, I also strongly believe that we as a culture give these events and the actions of the insane folks who perpetrate them, more power over us and our lives than they should ever rightfully deserve to possess. Our discourse and our art should remain our own – even in the face of chaotic tragedy – especially in the face of tragedy, as it serves to function as a buffer between the notion that art causes these problems and the truth that art is never a cause of problems, it simply posits a solution.
If we hide the art away, censor it or otherwise deny it, then we are lending credence to the absurd notion that it is the art itself which causes such tragedies. We must remember at all times these were the actions of a sole, mentally ill individual whose issues stem from a far deeper place and are a result of a much more complex and large interconnected series of problems.
In other words; let’s not dwell on morbidity and give the awful idiot who perpetrated the real-world atrocity in question another thought. If anything, let us focus on healing the victims and changing our social discourse so that we can be candid about why things such as the Aurora tragedy happen in the first place. Let’s keep that discussion out of comic books. Rather, let us focus those energies and discussions where they belong, in the political and judicial fields.
The current issue at hand is the issue currently in hand – and to be honest, after the breakneck speed of the first two issues this one seems a bit subdued. Although, comparatively speaking, this single issue still contains more detail, information and story than 99% of the other books from the big two out there, so even subdued it is still running circles around normal superhero comics.
We’re presented with a quite straightforward little slice of story – Bruce has revived the “Matches Malone” persona (nice name!) to help infiltrate Leviathan by doing some nice, old-fashioned under cover detective work. Leviathan agents have been popping up with alarming rapidity all over the place and “Matches” is keen to work his way up the thug ladder to the local bosses. Matches begins his search by meeting “Small Fry” in a nightclub. I’m not sure (knowing Morrison) if Small Fry is an obscure DC character from the distant past or some new creation (Google failed me), so I leave it in the capable hands of those with a more comprehensive knowledge of the obscure history of the DC universe to properly answer this question. Regardless, he looks like a young boy but acts like and adult and Matches mentions they “go way back”, having known each other for a very long time – so perhaps this is a character with some form of Anageria; an exceedingly rare disease which gives the appearance of non-aging. Matches later refers to Small Fry as “child of the universe”, so I’m sure I’m missing a reference somewhere to who this character really is or what he represents.
Matches soon steps in to protect a female singer named “Lumina” (who is performing in the club) from being strong-armed by two Leviathan thugs. Matches calls in backup to sell the idea that Matches, being the worm he is, would need help defeating the two behemoths:
Our “Dead Heroes Club” make their first appearances in their new identities; The Hood, El Gaucho and Batwing all playing their new roles. However, since I’m sure Talia is aware of Bruce’s “Matches” persona, it seems that it would be fairly obvious to her that these new compatriots are indeed Bruce’s Batman Incorporated agents – who just recently all “died” (a point Damian later brings up once his new persona is revealed). As such, I’m not entirely clear what Morrison is trying to represent Bruce’s motivations to be here – yet I’m certain it will be revealed as we progress through the series’ arc.
After Matches successfully defends the poor singer from the thugs, he gets a visit from… Batman. Yeah! Dickbats makes a return to help further obfuscate the fact that Matches is just a disguise. Again though, I’m sure Talia is not this stupid, so I only assume this ruse was perpetrated for the benefit of all the thugs in the nightclub, so word circulates that Batman and Matches are at odds. He can probably easily fool the low-level thugs and I’m sure that is what this whole charade was intended for.
We also are given this tidbit, which I would be remiss not to make mention of, as Morrison hardly ever inserts arbitrary elements into his stories (unless it is just as comic relief):
Yessir, Nightwing with a cape. Hmmm… screw your “continuity”, New 52!
We also find that Damian was dead serious about keeping Bat-cow and that the drugs used on the cattle are derived from Professor Pyg’s peculiar compounds. Interesting, in that Pyg was part and parcel of Dr. Hurt’s plan, not Talia’s, so obviously Talia had some more concrete connection with Hurt and the Black Glove than previously assumed. Either that or she had infiltrated them as well, unbeknownst to them.
We’re also treated to a great panel showing the intricate and convoluted web of Talia’s master plan which has delivered us to this point in the narrative.
Soon enough, Bruce dons the Matches costume once again and hits the streets to speak with Goatboy from issue #1 – Goatboy, who even though is credited with killing Damian, still lives in fear of death under the thumb of Leviathan. He provides Matches with some slim leads involving the sacrificing of goats and saying Leviathan is like a new religion. He also mentions this:
Could this be a legitimate reveal? Is Goatboy telling the truth? If so, does it give us the answer to the identity of Talia’s mystery right-hand man?
As Bruce follows up the leads from Goatboy he receives a call from the mysterious “Lumina” (the singer from the nightclub) and is then led into a Leviathan trap. Goatboy needs a third sacrifice and Matches is the perfect candidate for him. As Bruce/Matches is about to be executed by “Jack Ketch“, Damian has escaped from the protective custody of the Batcave and revealed to us his new “Dead Heroes” identity: Redbird. Damian assumed Bruce was walking into a trap of Talia’s design so, of course, he takes it upon himself to find and rescue him if need be.
This barely scratches the surface of all the details and events of the issue. Once again, Morison notches up the mystery and the suspense and he does it all with an amazing flair for action, humor, dialog and a total reverence for the subject matter as a whole. No one writes Batman like Morrison and only three issues into this second volume of Batman Incorporated he continues to prove he has a handle on the character and is able to weave tight, captivating stories far beyond the ability of any of his contemporaries. This is still the best Bat-book in print and we only have 9 issues left until all is revealed and Morrison’s 7 year labor of love is laid bare and complete. I am enjoying every second of the ride.
On pencils, Chris Burnham continues to channel Quitely, somehow without feeling obnoxiously derivative. He has a great skill for conveying emotion and realistic, kinetic movement. His work easily stands shoulder to shoulder with Morrison’s writing. I adore the action scenes in this book; they’re full of authenticity and weight. The creepy Leviathan moments are hammered home with grotesque detail and the small touches such as a bloodied tooth flying through the air, or the spiraling sound-effects of a ringing alarm help further push Burnham’s work beyond the rote and familiar.
These are two amazing artists working together in sublime harmony to produce the best book in DC’s current line-up. The plot thickens and we race towards the dizzying conclusion – get caught up, get on board and enjoy the ride.