Batman Incorpo–RATED

Returning after a reasonable absence from all our lives, Grant Morrison’s relaunch of his Batman & Robin/Batman Inc storyline struggles a little to make it through the backlog of New 52 storylines surrounding it.

Now, when I say that, what I mean is that Morrison started off as the sole leader of Batman’s world, dictating the line and forcing a little more quality into his surroundings. He gave Scott Snyder a different Batman to work with, and the push for Paul Cornell to write his Knight & Squire miniseries. With the New 52, however, we now have a Batman universe which is dictated by Snyder, and sees a number of Batman titles are squabbling between each other for centre-stage. One of them happens to be a direct continuation of Morrison’s work already, in the form of Peter Tomasi’s Batman & Robin relaunch.

So Morrison has to compete with all these books, and a diminished ‘impact’ in the eyes of readers. His stories are not going to affect Snyder’s work anymore, and he has to work alongside Tomasi. Luckily, he remains Grant Morrison, which greatly helps matters. Batman Inc #1 is a fantastic read, densely packed with contrasting and competing storylines, entertaining character work for everybody who appears, and fresh, silly ideas delivered in a contemporary fashion. This is a grown up modern-day version of the Batman TV show.

Chris Burnham’s artwork is going to be repeatedly compared to Frank Quitely over the next few months – deservedly so, because there is no higher compliment – but he stands out on his own merits. He continues Quitely’s idea of having sound effects appear organically in a story, as part of the scenery – look carefully when somebody falls to the ground and you’ll see the cracks form a sound effect. But there’s also more, with hidden bat-symbols appearing where you’d least expected, and daring panel layout which tries new things without detracting from the main storyline.

I particularly liked seeing a bullet crack through Batman’s cape as he dives to safety, and the appearance of a masked cow.

The story sees Batman and Robin attempting to find a first lead into the rise of ‘Leviathon’, the latest in a series of opulent villainous organisations which has designs on taking over Gotham. But Morrison is more interested in using this to examine the different tiers of society, and continuing the regular theme in Bat-titles of the clash between the super and the normal. Jeph Loeb focused extensively on this, but Morrison touches it with a much greater lightness.

His characters feel utterly fresh and vibrant on the page, helped by Burnham and in particular by the exquisite colouring work from Nathan Fairbairn. Fairnbairn in particular deserves credit for taking a Batman book and filling it with primary colours, instead of the typical dark, brooded, gothic overtones most go for. The book has a different tone to any other, and the artwork is the primary way for readers to see and enjoy the shift.

Batman Inc isn’t perfect – the final page cliffhanger is strangely set up, as the momentum brilliantly arranged by the layering storylines fizzles over the last three or four pages, and the jump in chronology confuses the story somewhat. I still enjoyed it, but the final page isn’t shocking, because Tomasi’s series still exists. Again, with Morrison not in complete charge nowadays, he has less power to shock – it’s with the storytelling and characterisation that he can cut readers.

Which he does, time and time again. This is a fun, high-energy title which effortlessly juggles everything and distils all the themes of Batman into a book which feels upbeat and invigorated. It’s a powerful statement of intent from the creative team, and bodes well for the future.

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