Comic Book Review – Batman Incorporated #5

Oliver Davis reviews Batman Incorporated #5…

Grant Morrison has a wonderful way of mixing the absurdly camp with something terribly grown up. It’s as though he’s reached a higher plane through his niche occult habits, where cheesiness has gone-off and turned into post-modern mold. It’s a good kind of mold, though. Maturer, like Stilton.

That’s why Batman Inc., or any of Morrison’s other titles (check out the sublime Happy), can flick between a fight against an army of retro-costumed assassins to a post-apocalyptic, zombie-fied Gotham quicker than a fling of a Batarang. It’s fun, you know, like how comics should be. But there’s enough intellectual engagement to make the characters and narrative mean so much more.

Issue #4’s fight between Batman Inc. and Leviathan’s assorted killers was really just a backdrop to Bruce and Damian’s relationship. Bruce has decided to send Damian back to his mother because he’s seen the future. It’s heartbreaking, and at first you think it’s mean. But then you see the future.

Bruce’s nightmarish vision is what dominates the issue, (comic)book-ended by the present. The story revisits Morrison’s Batman #666 issue from 2007, where Bruce has long since passed and Damian has taken up the (Bat)mantle. He’s a tougher Batman, more ready to kill. Bald, too.

Morrison fits a superb story into this meta-narrative. Gotham is burning, infected by a Joker serum that turns people into murderous, rampaging zombies. Imagine those infected with Rage in 28 Days Later, but with a smile full of broken and chipped teeth.

Some panels recall Garth Ennis’ disturbed series Crossed. The mindless violence those infected by the serum display echoes the depravity of that book. Twisting a child’s neck until it snaps dead, ripping a disabled Barbara Gordon (Batman Inc. is part of the old, pre-52 continuity) from her mechanised chair, wrenching at a man’s ears until blood fills his mouth – and all with a manic smile etched upon their face. It isn’t the violence that’s most disturbing; it’s the depraved glee they exhibit whilst they hack and slash and crunch and splat.

Gotham is quarantined as a result, and the President must decide whether to blast the “grubby madhouse” to smithereens. It echoes Bane’s taking hostage of the city from Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Chris Burnham’s art is again exemplary, and has made Batman Inc. one of the best drawn comics out there. His pencils directly channel characters’ emotions. During Bruce’s heartbreaking explanation to Damian, of why he must go back to his mother, the very background of the panel begins to crack. In the next, shards break off behind Bruce. The next, Damian’s face is surrounded by falling bits of background as he whispers, “don’t let me go back to her”. At the last, Bruce stands behind Damian, engulfing him in his cape, alone together in an empty white expanse. By anyone else, it would come off crass. By Burnham, the crudeness transcends into an overwhelming sincerity.

The camp becoming poignant? There’s none better at it than the Morrison and Burnham dynamic duo.

Oliver Davis (@olidavis)

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