The time for preparation is over. Batman is done globetrotting and recruiting new agents for the war with Leviathan. The war is here in The New 52 Batman Incorporated and with a story that takes place primarily in Gotham City and focuses mostly on the relationship between Bruce and his son, this volume has more in common with Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin than his previous Batman Inc. run. And while this is certainly the culmination of 7 years worth of storytelling, those readers who are just now hopping on board can still follow along and have a very good time. It’s just that the readers who have read Morrison’s Batman epic from the beginning will appreciate this book far, far more.
This should really be considered a second volume for the series, but the launch of the New 52 has caused a bit of confusion. The original pre-New 52 run of Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated was 10 issues long and it was collected in its entirety in a deluxe edition. Demon Star, however, only features issues #0-6 of the 13 part New 52 series (14 parts if you count the special coming out in August and as of the writing of this review the final issue has yet to see print) which will conclude Grant Morrison’s long-running Batman saga. So this is one of those graphic novels that unfortunately only give you half of the story and those who like to trade-wait should also know that the big headline-grabbing event that resonated throughout all bat-titles just a few months ago is NOT included in this volume. The few remaining issues will be available in December as the Batman Incorporated, Vol. 2: Gotham’s Most Wanted hardcover.
IMPORTANT: If you’re at all curious about reading the pre-New 52 Batman Inc. Deluxe Edition or—even better—read Morrison’s run from the very beginning with Batman & Son, you should stop reading this review right now! I will be keeping spoilers for this particular volume at an absolute minimum but I will discuss revelations from the pre-New 52 stuff including who is behind Leviathan.
The volume opens with issue #0, which actually came out long after #1. Issue #0 does a great job of recapping much of Morrison’s incredibly complex multi-year story, but with a work as dense as this I think that the chapter only benefits those who need a refresher. New readers are likely to be confused by #0 and I recall that very thing happening when the issue was first published. It was a bit of a shock to the system for the uninitiated. Also, the artwork and overall tone of this chapter doesn’t give readers a very good idea of what they’re in for with this volume. As I said, this is a different narrative from what you saw in the Pre-New 52 Batman Inc. That one was more about globetrotting and had a far more flamboyant, campy vibe to it. Morrison himself has stated that he was heavily influenced by the Batman: The Brave & the Bold cartoon and approached it like a team book (like X-Men or Justice League, for example). Issue #0 is a return to that lightheartedness and bouncy atmosphere with an incredibly large cast whereas the rest of the book is much darker and centered around Bruce and Damian. The artwork also didn’t quite fit the more humorous nature of #0. Frazer Irving is a fantastic illustrator, but the imagery was too static and moody for material that was meant to feel a lot ore energetic and fun.
After issue #0’s hurried summary of the more colorful days of Batman Incorporated, we shift gears to something more morose. Bruce Wayne and Alfred are at the cemetery when none other than Jim Gordon appears to arrest our hero. It’s a shocking opening and a scene that has yet to fully play itself out in the non-linear narrative as of issue #12. From there the story jumps back a single month to a very accessible, traditional Batman and Robin crime fighting adventure that gradually incorporates (heh) many, many plotlines left over from Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! It’s a wonderfully done, gradual introduction to a complex story and it’s lead to a lot of new readers jumping on board. That’s why I think it’s probably best for those new to the series to start reading this chapter first and then you can come back to #0 later. With the funeral scene out of the way, what follows is the same level of energy and fun as the old Batman Inc. but with more Batman and Robin and a far darker Gotham backdrop.
As you may recall, Talia has placed a half-billion dollar bounty on Damian’s head and so our story deals with those assassination attempts quite heavily in the first chapter, but then sidesteps for chapter two. I love chapter two. While those who have been reading the saga from the start might have been bogged down by this chapter, it was a great way to inform New 52 readers who hadn’t touched Morrison’s work before and it’s a very thorough origin story all packed into one very beautifully illustrated comic. I’m of course talking about the origin of Talia Al Ghul, the true leader of Leviathan. As much as I talked before about this being a father and son story, I mainly said that for the benefit of those who didn’t know the big reveal. Batman Incorporated is not so much about stopping a quest for global domination (although that’s definitely there), it’s something far more personal. It’s a family affair and Gotham is caught in the crossfire. It’s about the world’s most dysfunctional family and the bloodiest custody battle the world of super heroes has ever witnessed. Understanding Talia, her motivations and where she comes from, is vital to appreciating Batman Inc.
While Grant Morrison provided two easy-going, informative chapters for the new readers to grab onto, they won’t be getting a whole lot more purchase than that. The pace picks up quickly from chapter three on and readers will again be pelted with a lot of symbolism, cameos, and casual mention of prior events that only tried and true fans will fully understand. Take for example this image of Talia’s web. You have to be quite versed in Morrison’s epic to know what each of the bubbles mean, especially the Kathy Kane stuff.
But luckily the amount of action is high and the character interactions are humorous and that combination makes readers more willing to put up with being slightly confused, especially when Morrison totally ignores the continuity of the New 52 and sets off to do his own thing. It’s important to note that this is a tale that Morrison had planned for quite some time and the shake-up that was the New 52 initiative threw a wrench in some of the storytelling. He worked around it here and there, but other times he didn’t compromise. It’s a tough balancing act when Morrison’s idea all along was to combine all of Batman’s 70+ year mythology into one cohesive world and suddenly the New 52 happens and much of the slate is wiped clean.
One of my favorite aspects of the Batman mythology that is woefully underused is Bruce’s other alter ego, Matches Malone. Chapter three shows Bruce attempting to infiltrate the Leviathan organization as Malone and this causes a series of events that send us hurtling into the epic battle which will consume all remaining issues of Demon Star save one. I speak of issue #5, featuring Batman 666. This is the vision that Bruce saw some time ago that revealed a possible future in which Damian were to become Batman. It’s really, really dark and twisted but a lot of fun. I definitely wouldn’t want it to be an official ending to the Batman legend but it’s a fun story with a lot of great nods to Morrison’s Batman & Robin and even Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke
Sadly, with the final chapters yet to see print at the time this book was published, readers are left to wait until December for a satisfying conclusion. The book feels like it simply ran out of pages right when things are at their most exciting and you’ll feel a bit short changed and anxious for issues #7-13 to finally get here. Also, the last few chapters collected in this edition saw a wane in art quality as artists Andres Guinaldo and Bit had to fill in for Chris Burnham for several pages. Burnham’s art quality itself seemed to lose its smooth textures in the latter issues as well and some panels get a little sketchy. Luckily, even his more muddled imagery is superior to most artwork you see in any other comic.
While some might not like the more cartoony style and even I’ll admit that Damian looks a little too cherub-like at times, I love Chris Burnham’s pencils. I think that he perfectly embodies the zany nature of Morrison’s writing and the two talents complement one another beautifully. Chris Burnham is always experimenting with page layout and panel construction so that the imagery is never boring and he has a real flair for action.
The sense of movement is undeniable and I always find myself looking forward to action scenes the most because the drawings are so dynamic. And how could I not mention the colors? Nathan Fairbairn kills it. It’s a wonderful blend of dark and light, two ideas that always seem to be in conflict in Morrison’s pursuit to mix all of Batman’s history into one coherent narrative. When things are campy and fun, the colors are incredibly vibrant, then there’s the dingy underworld of Matches Malone that’s far more muted, and lastly the dark, murky blues and greens of the storm that consumes Gotham throughout the war-filled finale. Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn harmonize to give Batman Incorporated a very distinct look and feel that separates it from all the other bat-titles.
It includes a variant cover gallery and nothing else. Pretty disappointing when you consider how much bigger Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls is compared to this. I suppose they’re saving all extras for the inevitable deluxe edition.
Value: Full Price!
The lack of any bonus material is aggravating and the $24.99 price is asking quite a bit for only 176 pages of material, but I think the re-read value on this is high enough to make it worth it, but just barely. Truthfully, I think readers might be better off waiting for a deluxe edition that includes volumes 1 and 2 together, but that likely won’t happen for at least another year.
I’m not the biggest fan of issue #0 or the whole Batman Incorporated premise in general, but I found Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1: Demon Star to be a really fun read with some of the most engaging and energetic artwork around. This is one of the most unpredictable comics you’ll find in the entire Batman line and Chris Burnham’s layouts are incredibly creative and a real treat to see. A big flaw the book has, however, is the lack of a good breaking point. Batman, Vol. 1 & 2 had a similar problem in which the large scale story had to be split into two volumes but there was a natural intermission between those two halves. Batman Incorporated, on the other hand, cuts-out right when things are at their most intense.