Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Colourist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Cover: Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn; Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics
From 2006 forward, Grant Morrison’s name has been synonymous with Batman. From the main title and his definitive Batman tale, to the depths of certain oblivion through time, back to the re-ascension of Bruce Wayne to the mantle of the Bat, Morrison’s Batman opus has garnered a fair and justified amount of acclaim over the last six years. His name was missing, however, from the new crop of “New 52” titles in Fall 2011 when DC relaunched its line of comics. Moving several months forward, we find Morrison has returned to finish his Batman Inc. story, leading the way for DC’s second wave of “New 52” titles.
The relaunched series drops us directly in the thick of the story, sparing no space for a recap of the previous volume for readers unfamiliar with the plot. Because this at face value has nothing to do with the “Night of the Owls” arc running through the other Batman titles, Morrison’s story and its concept lends it itself to potential confusion for newer readers who haven’t read the previous six years of Morrison’s work with the characters.
The issue commences oddly with Bruce Wayne standing in the rain in a cemetery, informing Alfred of his intentions in light of a recent tragedy. As his sentence finishes, the GCPD arrives to arrest Wayne for a crime which to this point we’re unaware of as readers. The following pages jump back a month in time to reveal Batman and Robin leaping into action across Gotham at night as they pursue Leviathan’s henchmen. These early pages overwhelm the reader with action as Batman and his son ravage the thugs with poetic violence, while the subplot is sprinkled about the pages enough to keep it fresh in the reader’s mind while not over-saturating the experience with it. We eventually learn the source of the contract placed on Damian Wayne, a twist unexpected yet logical considering the uneasy relationship between Batman, Damian and the League. Building towards the end of the issue, Batman and Robin discuss Damian’s brutal, often fatally wounding methods in dealing with criminals; Batman scolds Damian about wearing his hood as well lest it get him in trouble. The end of the issue brings clarity to the first page of the comic, giving reason for the chosen location of Bruce Wayne’s arrest. The assassination plot was executed perfectly by the hired goon, while the previous allusion to Damian’s attire causing him problems is brought full circle in the end of the first part. This effective re-telling of Batman’s greatest failure, the death of a Robin, hits the relationship between father and son even closer to the heart due to the biological relationship between them. This makes the story more impactful, poignant and organic, let alone unexpected. In the world of Batman, where there are no shortages of Lazarus Pits, it is doubtful this will be the end of Damian, but in the meantime Morrison’s tale is a very interesting character study on the impact of loss on an almost infinitely arrogant man.
Joining Morrison on the relaunched title is artist Chris Burnham. Somewhat resembling the style of Frank Quitely, a longtime collaborator of Morrison’s, Burnham hits the finer points of Quitely’s work while expanding it further to demonstrate greater environmental range and atmospheric tone; the art spans a darker, moodier rain-soaked cemetery and the brighter aspects of Gotham’s night sky lit by its sprawling office buildings and apartment complexes, strangely complemented by the characters’ arrival at a gruesome slaughterhouse. While strange earlier in the issue during the raid on Leviathan’s goons, Burnham’s work towards the end of the issue, primarily featuring the final conversations between Bruce and Damian and the latter’s ballet of violence on the criminals, is fantastic. The final page pays homage to “A Death in the Family” fairly, displaying the anguish and sorrow of a father mourning his son, all expertly pencilled, while Fairbairn’s colours gave the final page life as Batman’s emotions erupt over the brim of his lips.
While difficult to reconcile how this story ties into the greater tapestry of current Batman stories, the continuation of Morrison’s story promises a different take on the actions and life of DC’s resident Dark Knight in contrast to the “Night of the Owls” mega-crossover. Although his take on Batman felt as though it had come a little unglued post-Batman R.I.P., the first issue of the relaunched Batman Inc. brings Morrison’s Batman back to form, scaling back the scope of the stories to where Morrison’s epic was at its pinnacle. Where it felt off once it expanded its scope to larger scales such as the cumbersome initial Batman Incorporated concept or the time-travelling aspects of The Return of Bruce Wayne, this issue displays the refined, focused yet layered simplicity of Morrison’s work on Batman which is where his run has been its best.