Over the past year it’s fair to say that the Batman franchise has undergone some radical changes. We've had the death of Batman, the Battle for the Cowl, the debut of a new Dynamic Duo and the Return of Bruce Wayne. As the dust settles we are now presented with Bruce’s vision for an international crime fighting organisation.
Helmed by the renowned Grant Morrison, both the one-shot (Batman: The Return) and Incorporated flow seamlessly from his previous story arcs. This is both a blessing and a curse. Morrison’s obviously seen the bigger picture - he's in a unique position to support the franchise - using his history with the Dark Knight to support the new titles having already re-invigorated the Batman title and established Batman & Robin. The link through these titles works very well, but without the one-shot in the middle, Batman Incorporated could come across as a new beginning to the casual reader. Again, perhaps that's part of the publishing strategy.
Batman: The Return is a fantastic little one-shot in more than a few ways. For me it was an immediate treat from the feel of it, even before having a proper look at David Finch’s cover image. That - together with the actual production of the issue - are smooth in conception and touch. In fact the artwork throughout is both gritty and deep; further enhanced by Batt’s inking. A lovely touch is the extra behind-the-scenes material which will further your understanding and appreciation of what a good team can provide an eager reader.
The story itself is a progression from Morrison's exit on Batman & Robin #16. It begins with an iconic but self indulgent opening, that I personally found pleasing. The piece itself builds from a typical Batman rescue - done in Bruce's own distinct style - into an interesting plot complete with new landscapes, a new adversary and a new opposing organisation. Interestingly as well it explores the dynamics of Batman and Robin - or rather the lack of rapport between Bruce and Damien. This underlines Bruce's plans to create a crime fighting corporation. A nice touch when you consider the amount of writers who are accused of creating explanatory storylines to fill plots holes. The forethought is appreciated.
Batman Incorporated, whilst still a Morrison, has a completely different feel to it. When trying to read it straight after The Return I honestly struggled with the artwork. The style, whilst not bad, is a completely contrasting affair with an almost cartoony feel to it. There are a few little touches that were nice though, such as the glossy cover which instils a new and shiny feel to it all. Sadly after the weight and feel of The Return it still left me feeling a little underwhelmed.
Reading through it, I felt more of an understanding for the story but didn't become immersed in the way a good comic should. Morrison’s ideas developed well - thanks in part to the assistance of the premise provided by the one shot - but the way in which it was presented through the pencils and ink was overwhelming camp and theatrical. For me all that was missing was the flashes of BAM! or THWOCK! and the occasional cackling of Ceasar Romero and I would have been transported to Adam West’s Batman; not the harder black and white Dark Knight I’ve come to appreciate. Even the final page was reminiscent of the old TV show. It could almost have been, “Same Bat-time, Same Bat-channel.”
I’m not saying I don’t like it, but as an opener I felt I needed a bigger hook to keep me wanting more. I want the opening issue of a new title to really provide this, despite using such established characters. Mark Millar has a gift for giving us new creative approaches to old protagonists, but here Morrison's new direction doesn't excite me yet. I have to say that I want to see more, partly from morbid curiosity and also partly from intrigue. Either way I feel that this title will become a labour of love, unless it proves itself in the next few issues.
Matt Puddy has never been caught by anyone growling "I'm Batman" in front of the mirror. Doesn't mean he doesn't though...