Friday, July 1, 2011

Batman Incorporated # 7

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Company: DC Comics

Say what you will about Grant Morrison.  I know for a fact that a lot of people haven't cared for his run on Batman, that they feel that his version of the character doesn't work and the weirdness that he's known for just feels wrong in the superhero context.  I can see that to some extent.  Morrison does bring the strange and throughout his run he's had Batman lose his mind, kill a god, die, travel through time, save the world from total annihilation, and out Bruce Wayne as Batman's financier.  I can see how some people might think that these things compromise a character who's essentially supposed to be the greatest detective and battle thugs and villains on the streets of Gotham.  These are strange, very out there ideas, no doubt
about it, but they're something else too:  They are exciting and ambitious ideas that get under your skin.

In the pages of Batman Incorporated, the focus centers on a very approachable concept:  Batman versus the many tentacled, hands in every aspect of life, entity known as Leviathan.  Lately, each issue has been introducing members of the new Batman Inc.  With this issue specifically, we again see Man-of-Bats, this time on his home turf in a Sioux Reservation.  He was great in the Black Glove arc, but this is a great expansion and street view of the character.  Right off the bat, page one even, Morrison does a sensational job of showing what kind of man Man-of-Bats is.  He's kind, dedicated, and is there to help anyone and everyone as we see him going door to door, talking with people about everything from politics to black mold to delivering food to the needy.  It humanizes him in a way and sets him apart from Batman, as he isn't an agent of fear, he's very approachable and out in the open.  Morrison also goes deeper into the character of Raven, Man-of-Bats' Robin.  The very realistic way that he's portrayed, as a teen who's seeing himself stuck in the place he's at but really wants to do something more, like fight giant robots, is just as relate-able and interesting.

There's also the nature of the setting to talk about.  An Indian Reservation could have been played as cheesy or campy or overdone, but Morrison plays it straight.  The logistics and the things that the people are dealing with feel very real.  That realism and the way it's shown makes you want to see more than this glimpse of this world and the people who inhabit it.  Morrison also just doesn't focus on the characters and setting either, there's action to be found!  In fact, this issue is violent and bloody, whether it's seeing Man-of-Bats confront a single dope dealer or when Leviathan's agents finally do descend on our heroes.  I don't think it rivals things like Scalped, which is another Indian Reservation title, but I was a little surprised as just how dark the book skewed.  However, no matter how dark it gets, it never steps over that imaginary line of being too dark or dire, which is why I love Morrison.  He gets superheroes in a way that few people do and present them as always overcoming adversity.  He also writes my favorite version of Batman. There are scenes in this one where he's actually smiling while he talks to Raven, marveling at the ingenuity that Man-of-Bats and he have implemented to fight crime.  It's a small moment, but there is a lot conveyed with it.

Part of the reason for that is Morrison's script, but another huge reason is artist Chris Burnham.   Burnham shares a lot with artist Frank Quitely.  They both have a distinctness to their style, one that fits entirely well with Morrison, but it's the way that they are both able to take cues from the script and really translate it on the page to something tangible.  You can see the emotion in these characters, it's there and it's awesome.  Burnham's attention to detail is flawless and meticulous and amazing.  There's a scene that depicts Man-of-Bats' "Batcave", and you really find yourself coming back to the panel over and over again, each time finding something new and cool.  There's even a giant Wooden Nickel in place of the giant penny that we're used to.  It's fun and I think that's what Burnham's art conveys.  He also handled action well, is able to make it feel organic and fluid instead of static and bland.  He also draws one hell of an image of Batman riding a horse.

In the end, Batman Incorporated's crazy meshing of Silver Age and traditional super-heroics is an amazing thing.  This is a stand alone issue, one that certainly has ties to the bigger picture, but anyone could jump into and not be overwhelmed.  A great issue, perhaps the best one yet of this particular series.

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