Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Cameron Stewart, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn

Letters by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Colin Bell

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Leviathan Strikes! (exclamation mark mandatory) is unmistakably a book of two halves. Given that it's basically issues #9 and #10 of Batman Incorpated sandwiched together, this might come as little surprise to anyone, but the contrast in approach between the two chapters is noteworthy, and on initial reading makes for a slightly disjointed reading experience. That’s as close to a complaint about the book as I can come to, because the rest of it makes for rip-roaring finale to the last year’s worth of Grant Morrison’s Bat-saga, and sets things up for its forthcoming conclusion in 2012.

The first half of the book, The School of Night is a assassin-death-cult reinterpretation of Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian’s, a British cartoon and subsequent series of teeny-bopper comedy films of the 60s. With teaching staff resembling pop warblers Rhianna, Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, it’s pure kitsch fun, helped no end by the incredible artwork of frequent Morrison collaborator Cameron Stewart.  

Stewart's art is never the same twice, in the sense that he’s an illustrator that consistently evolves. Even though he’s already operating at a consistently high level, it's striking how he seems to get just that little bit better each time out. In this book, it’s his subtle use of ever-so-slightly off-kilter panels whenever a little kinetic action is called for that makes it for me. It’s a stylistic holdover from Stewart's last Dark Knight appearance in Batman and Robin #16, and showcases what a real flair for dynamic storytelling the artist he's developed. When the action eventually kicks off, it doesn’t let up until the very end of Stewart’s portion of the book.

It’s almost as if Stewart and latter-half artist Chris Burnham have been spurring each other on, as Burnham produces similarly career-highpoint art for the second half of the issue. However, where the first half of the book is relatively straightforward in it’s telling, it’s Burnham’s portion of Morrison’s script where everything goes absolutely insane, and the artist keeps up admirably.

Jam-packed with rug-pulls, betrayals, allegiances and big Bat-ideas, it’s a dizzying, giddy rollercoaster that demands the reader’s attention, and rewards those that keep up. The way the story zips around puts me in mind of the raised stakes of the ending stages of Morrison’s run on New X-Men, and indeed one part of this story seems to echo a beat from that work to the point where it’s nearly a cut and paste job. That said, you get the feeling that Morrison has been champing at the bit to let rip with Leviathan’s grand plans, and it’s an infectious enthusiasm permeates Burnham’s art and leaps off the page. Special mention must go to Nathan Fairbairn, whose use of color veers from tastefully subdued and foreboding in Stewart’s portion, to lurid pop in Burnham’s, and really enhances the read.

Save for an appendix that details the key plot points of the last eight issues of Batman Inc. at the end of the book, there’s little concession made plot-wise for people late to the party. While this may no doubt be confusing, near infuriating, for new readers, for people who've been following Morrison's run for a length of time the final chapter of this book is completely enthralling, as he pulls together all the threads of the web he's been building this past year.

Fun, dense and begging to be re-read, Leviathan Strikes! is a suitably epic conclusion to the latest chapter in Morrison’s ongoing run, and given that he’s stuck the landing and wrapped things up in suitably spectacular fashion twice before (see: the conclusions to Batman R.I.P. and his Batman and Robin run for more), readers are left wondering where he can possibly go from here — and that's a great feeling. 2012's Batman: Leviathan can’t come soon enough.

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