With today’s release of Batman Incorporated, Volume II, #13, Grant Morrison has officially ended his long, seven year(!) tenure on Batman. It has been an incredible ride and for my money, it still stands as the greatest, most intricate, thoughtful and subversive story the character has ever been proxy for.
The real question on everyone’s mind though – did this final ‘double-sized’ issue deliver the payoff that those seven years rightfully deserve? Well…
That’s impossible, right?
I mean, no matter what, people will be disappointed. This is probably especially unavoidable as Morrison has taken a rather subtle, non-bombastic approach to delivering the final blows of this strong story.
Instead of the huge, violent battle royale between the remaining Leviathan forces and the big cathartic one-on-one Talia Vs. Bruce fight, we get a medium-paced, cross-cutting meditation narrated by Jim Gordon. Gordon muses on Bruce, Gotham, Batman and the violence which the city was/is enduring. While this is fine and works well enough (even though certain parts do come off purely as forced exposition), it still feels out of context and slightly out of rhythm with the rest of the story. Something this last quarter of the arc has definitely suffered from overall.
What remains and how it is presented are two different things though – here Morrison still manages to tie up the story in a satisfying, albeit completely obvious and unsurprising way. It all feels rather banal to me because, in my mind, and in every other sharp reader’s mind, we already knew the answer to all the scant few dangling threads Morrison had left to tie up in this final issue. Nothing came off as surprising, but rather just par for the course as we gently tic off boxes and close everything out in rote, mechanized fashion – Of course the Oroboro trigger and ring of death were disarmed, of course Kathy Kane is revealed as the Spyral headmistress and swoops in at the last second to dispatch Talia. Of course Bruce Wayne is released from police custody suddenly and his name is cleared. Of course Gordon knows Batman is not dead and will return stronger and better than ever before.
It just feels a bit weak; Talia even mentions how the rules are ‘cartoonish’ and the stakes are clear; we’re seeing the meta-commentary run its course and there is nowhere left to take it except squarely on the nose because there isn’t time left to weave it into any more layered plotting and imbue it with more delicate textures. It just is; it’s stated directly and plainly and then we see a concrete example immediately following; deadly nightshade lipstick, the poisoned sword tip, the last-second swoop in rescue and the antidote applied to the hero… Then the femme fatale, like in all good genre stories, is shot down. A revolver pointing right at her from off-screen surprises the audience with its bloody, sudden bang.
This final chapter simply came off as somewhat maudlin and turgid, but perhaps that’s due to me projecting my own anxieties and feelings about the series’ end onto it instead of my truly objective opinion of the work divorced from my personal emotional context. But perhaps not…
after all, all of the action to close out this story appeared in what amounted to a few montages and it honestly all felt a bit anti-climactic because of it. Add to that, the rather trite way all the loose ends were wrapped up and I’m thinking it isn’t just me. I think it may just be a rather transparent and boring conclusion – a conclusion which seems almost defiantly at odds with Morrison’s usual flair for the clever and elegant.
Gordon’s line about how ‘it’s like “zero year” all over again’ stinks of forced editorial glad-handing, trying to gild over all the nastiness and bitter, dissonant chaos that should be left in the wake of Morrison’s story. Leaving a fragile segue open for the golden boy, Scott Snyder to come in and politely pull out and finish all over Morrison’s sweaty, shaky readers. Ewwww. Okay, I apologize for that metaphor, but you get the idea.
To see the Ra’s reveal at the end is fun, but not exactly coherent since when we last saw Ra’s he was telling Talia, somewhat jovially, that he knew she would lose anyway… yet all the same, the turn is still fun. It just doesn’t seem smart and fun like the rest of the work. I have the lingering feeling that Morrison was obliged to play to the pre-ordained trope of everything having an easy reset button firmly attached to its neat little ending of soft scares full of future plots involving nefarious madmen (and women). A backdoor safety net to make up for Lazarus Pits being non-functional is forced into place right as the story closes, leaving all the possibilities that existed before Morrison started toppling walls over, right back where they were. It is as if everyone was afraid of allowing any significant changes to the inner-workings of the Batman mythos. Talia can now safely return to continuity, hell… now even Damian can return (and he will if we are to believe Ra’s will follow through with his “sons of Batman” anti-Batman army – which echo’s Morrison’s Action Comics mythos).
Yet, despite all the above, it still feels satisfying overall. Seven years of great writing cannot be ruined, no matter how you place the period at the end. We must remember the strength of the wok as a whole. Morrison redefined Batman and codified the purity of the adventurous pleasure and complex depth inherent to the character like no other writer has done. He successfully revitalized and informed the next generation of writers which will work off of the warm clay he left on the work bench. His ideas, stories and characterizations will stand the test of time and seep into all future renditions of the character in all mediums it enters into, and for that, we have to hold the work in the highest regard, no matter what we may think of the final step.
Final score for this final issue:
Three out of Five
The final score for the Morrison epic as a whole:
Six out of Five.