Batman Incorporated #13
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Steve Wands and Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Not too long ago, on this very site, Grant Morrison made an ominous prediction about his conclusion to Batman Incorporated, the culmination of nearly a decade of stories featuring the Dark Knight.
"I really think a lot of people will hate it, because it’s super bleak. It kind of – to a certain extent it destroys the concept of Batman."
And you know something? He's right. Given that Morrison is, with the exception of his graphic novel Wonder Woman: Earth One and his mostly-written mini-series Multiversity, leaving the world of superheroics behind, you can't help but look at Batman Incorporated #13 as an indictment of not just of Batman, but of the superhero genre entirely. Unfortunately, to have that as Morrison's last word winds up deflating years of increasing expectations, as it proves there was no method to the madness, no grand design that would unfold at the eleventh hour - not only does Batman Incorporated #13 show that the emperor has no clothes, but actually reads like the emperor saying what a waste his entire kingdom is as a whole.
From a plot perspective, this finale feels surprisingly low in ambition for someone with Morrison's flair for the high concept - even with the international concept of Batman Incorporated behind it, Batman's league of vigilantes are almost entirely out of this finale, aside from some perfunctory montage work. Instead, this comic has really just been about Batman himself, first in terms of his relationship with Damian, and in the past few issues, jarringly coming back to his relationship with Talia al Ghul. Not only does that relationship feel a bit hollow - namely because Talia has been played as more of a one-note mastermind throughout the series - but is there ever a doubt who will win in a sword fight between the two of them?
And that, in certain ways, is part of the indictment that Morrison levels at superhero comics as a whole. To be fair, Morrison's been at this for longer than almost anybody - a career in capes that goes back more than a quarter-century is astonishing, when you think about it - but the underlying execution feels like the same-old, same-old, down to Bruce and Talia sharing one last doomed kiss, only for the two of them to blithely comment on what kind of poison she wore on her lips. Antidote counteracts poison, a world-breaking bomb is disarmed off-panel, and even the death of poor Damian just becomes a numb talking point for these people to shout over.
But it's the distaste for the dumbing-down of superheroes that really bleeds through here: "I know you like the rules to be cartoonish and the stakes to be clear," Talia remarks. "My people have orders--if I fail to return, Leviathan will release its hold on Gotham." It's arbitrary and downright self-sabotaging, and ironically it diminishes the stakes to zero. Meanwhile, Batman himself is nothing more than a flat stand-in for some defiant remarks, but Morrison has to go back to a barely developed subplot to actually put the kibosh on Talia's reign. The final cliffhanger - featuring the return of one of Batman's biggest foes - even feels a bit stale, a final punchline that I can't imagine Scott Snyder and company ever actually touching upon again.
And that's a shame, because despite the sheer exhaustion Morrison must have felt, trying to wrap a bow on his epic run, Chris Burnham is drawing this book as best he can. Stylistically, he's as close to a fit for Frank Quitely - who still feels like the seminal artist on this run, despite far longer tenures by Andy Kubert, Frazer Irving or Burnham himself - as this series could get, with his characters sporting features as exaggerated as their musculature and swollen, weeping wounds. Yet there's a lack of the deliberateness to Burnham's layouts here, partially because of the talky nature of Morrison's scripts, but also with some downright weird moments (like the composition being off when the Batmen fight around the world, or when a hand off-panel launches the killing blow against Talia, or the Dark Knight and the Devil's Daughter standing in space over a flatly colored two-page spread).
Given the motif of the Ouroboro that's continued throughout Batman, Incorporated, you can't help but empathize with Morrison. The cliches and tropes and fallacies of superhero comics are so ubiquitous that after awhile, even the most ardent of fans can spot the genre's self-cannibalism. But at the same time, it's hard to read a book like this - particularly a conclusion to a years-long arc like this - and be satisfied with that conclusion. The toys have been put back in their boxes and the consequences are nigh-near nonexistent (seriously, at this point, how on earth does Jim Gordon not arrest Bruce Wayne, let alone not get that this beat-up-looking billionaire is Batman?), but the underlying message here feels less like a celebrated riding off into the sunset and more of a final signing of a divorce, a burnt-out resignation letter with just a hint of the finger at the end.
Batman will never die, Morrison says, but will he always be shiny and new? I disagree, and I think this finale is proof: despite the coolness inherent in his concept, without a writer whose heart is truly in the product, this Dark Knight will always be just a shadow of his potential.