Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus Volume Three (2020)
Reprints Batman: The Return #1, Batman Incorporated v1 #1-8, Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1, Batman Incorporated Special #1, and Batman Incorporated v2 #0-13
Written by Grant Morrison (with Chris Burnham)
Art by David Finch, Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Scott Clark, Cameron Stewart, Frazer Irving
Grant Morrison’s Batman run entered its third act with quite a significant speed bump. Eight issues into Batman Incorporated, the book was canceled along with every other DC Comics title to make way for the New 52. The New 52 was an attempt in 2011 to inject fresh talent and get new eyes on the company’s comics and characters. There was undoubtedly an initial boost of interest, but over the following five years, the company would backtrack many of the changes until the current status quo, which is “embrace everything and continuity will just be hyper-flexible.” At the time, then Editor-in-Chief Dan Didio abruptly ended Morrison’s tenure on Batman with the promise to fans that at some undecided point soon, it would be wrapped up. There is a conclusion, but it still has some frustrating parts due to not knowing how this fits in with how Batman’s timeline was altered.
Before all that, Morrison was coming off Batman and Robin and the Return of Bruce Wayne. This second act concluded with Wayne announcing that his company would help fund a program to support international heroes who operated in the same vein as Batman, hence Batman Incorporated. He has Lucius Fox begin R&D on Bat-Knights, towering robotic sentinels that could patrol the city even if Batman wasn’t around. Barbara Gordon was still a paraplegic then, so he created an avatar for her to use in a virtual space he was making. The crime was going high-tech, and in this way, Barbara could continue her crusade as Batgirl. Stephanie Brown, the current Batgirl at the time, was sent to a mysterious all-girls school in England that Batman believed was connected to a rising threat. Dick Grayson would stay on as the Batman of Gotham while Bruce would take on global threats. Damian Wayne was even allowed to stay on as Robin.
In the first Batman Inc arc, the Dark Knight found himself in Japan alongside Catwoman, who had become a full-fledged ally. They are there to investigate the murder of Mr. Unknown, a Japanese Batman counterpart. He is murdered by his longtime nemesis Lord Death Man. The Bat and the Cat team up with Jiro, Mr. Unknown’s sidekick, and avenge the late hero’s death. That’s followed by Batman teaming up with Argentina’s El Gaucho to take on the beginnings of a larger conspiracy involving an organization known as Leviathan. Morrison again gets to indulge in their love of British heroes with a flashback that introduces several British-themed superbeings.
The main villain of this larger storyline is Doctor Dedalus, an aged Nazi who has spent his life searching for the fifth mysterious element he has named Oroboro. Morrison also manages to incorporate one of their literary favorites into the story with variations on the meta-textual storytelling of Jorge Luis Borges. Morrison also included Borges as a major part of their Doom Patrol run in the 1990s.
I’m also a big fan of Borges’ work, having read through a collected volume over a decade ago. At the time, I remember thinking this must be partially what it feels like to trip on psychedelics, and now, having used those drugs, I can concur there are a lot of crossovers. This type of storytelling warps how you perceive reality around you; instead of accepting the passive, unengaged way of interacting with the world, you start seeing layers of people and objects you have never thought about. Morrison is doing the same with Batman, plunging deep into the concept of this character to understand what he really is and represents.
This first volume of Batman Incorporated ended abruptly in 2011 with issue 8. The main storyline still needed to be completed as the New 52 was rolled out. Among the Batman titles that debuted at launch, there was Batman, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin, Batwing, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Morrison was not writing these books but instead working on Action Comics rebooting Superman’s history. You can read my review of that omnibus here.
Additionally, Batman’s timeline had been compressed so that he’d only been in operation for five years. Yet, all four Robins were kept in continuity, and Dick Grayson was operating as Nightwing and Jason Todd as Red Hood. None of this made much sense and spotlighted a glaring issue with DC Comics’ continuity. Because Didio wasn’t brave enough to erase critically acclaimed and fan-favorite runs that had been happening just before the reboot, it made this new reality completely incomprehensible. Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern was brought into the New 52 without a single change, and that was a problem. Hal Jordan’s death and resurrection were tied directly to the events in the Death of Superman storyline. But that seemingly had never happened to Superman in the New 52…so how to make sense of this? You can’t, really.
In the first eight issues of Batman Inc, Morrison introduced Batwing, aka David Zavimbe. He was a hero operating out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of Wayne’s global initiative. While only briefly glimpsed, it implied he would have a more prominent role as the series continued. When New 52 launched, there was a Batwing title, but it wasn’t written by Morrison. This Batwing was Luke Fox, son of Wayne Enterprises’ R&D head Lucius Fox. The connection between these two characters was mainly ignored and added to the confusion.
In 2012, DC published Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes, a one-shot special that collects two unpublished issues of the original run. It follows up on Stephanie Brown’s undercover work at Saint Hadrian’s Finishing School for Girls, which Leviathan runs. There are also some tie-ins to Morrison’s reintroduction of the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, into modern continuity. The school employs the Son of Pyg, the offspring of the infamous Professor Pyg from Morrison’s Batman and Robin ongoing.
The second half of this special is a beautifully illustrated and incredibly trippy exploration of Doctor Dedalus’ ship floating out in the middle of the ocean. The original Batwing shows up with some dialogue shoved in to explain that he had faked his death or something and gone deep undercover. Of course, that was added because, within the New 52, Zavimbe had been erased. One of many places where this run feels awkward. Overall, this is a fun story that brings the original Incorporated run to a close. The art is especially stellar, and Morrison has put together a very talented group of artists he rotates around from arc to arc.
A few months later, a new Batman Incorporated ongoing was launched with Morrison’s name in the writing credits but an addition as well. Artist Chris Burnham had his name added to the writing credits. The book continues exploring the threads laid out by Morrison from before the New 52; the focus is on Batman and Talia’s war for the soul of Damian. While the externalities surrounding the book make it a complex piece to fit into continuity, reading it on its own is very rewarding. Damian transforms from a selfish little prick into understanding Bruce and why his father operates with specific rules. There are some incredible moments from this iteration of Robin. However, Morrison kills off the character and has stated in interviews that their plan from the start was that Damian would only be a character within this run. DC editorial thought differently and almost immediately started pushing a storyline in the pages of other Bat-books to resurrect the boy.
So this run ends with a whimper rather than what it was intended to be. Morrison has commented that they felt the rug was pulled out from under them with the New 52, but they didn’t stress too much about it; that’s how it is to play with the toys of these big media companies. DC especially loves a good reboot and then dealing with the confusing fallout of these moves.
This was my first full read-through of the Morrison run. Previously I’d read it in chunks, and I’d never read through the second Batman Incorporated ongoing until now. I can’t say it is my favorite Grant Morrison ongoing run, but it is certainly not bad. It is impeded by things outside the writer’s control which is a shame because I’ll always wonder what this could have been like if it had been able to go on unimpeded. For what it is, the story does have a clear arc for many of its central characters. Of course, Batman has the most apparent transformation, but I love what the story does for Talia and Damian. I don’t know how I feel about Damian staying dead, but the way Morrison sends him off is really emotional and underlines that people can change; they can become better when they have something to look to as a guide.
It will be interesting to see how much James Gunn and company choose to incorporate in their upcoming reboot of the DC Cinematic Universe. There are many ideas here that would look good on the big screen. I hope the filmmakers look closely at the themes & concepts that made this run such an interesting one that compelled fans to keep following despite the bumps in the road.