Alright, welcome back. This will be a long one, so let’s just get started immediately.
First things first: you may want annotations again when reading these issues. Not only is there some untranslated dialogue that you might want to understand, but there’s some scenes that can be quite confusing. For instance, we start the third issue of this series in the Falklands where we meet a bunch of heroes called The Victory V’s who trap a new villain called Doctor Dedalus and, yes, this is apparently during the war itself. Non-British readers may not get the references of the heroes we meet here, the female member of the group being named The Iron Lady for example, a nod to the late Margaret Thatcher, so that’s one thing. Hell, she even yells “BY BLOOPETA!” at one point, and I wonder how many heads that went over as actually meaning, “By Blue Peter!”, the children’s television show, sounding as Morrison writes it because of her accent. But my own confusion stemmed from the fact that there’s a character called the Knight here who doesn’t look like the one we keep running into with Beryl. Indeed, it’s been quite a while since The Black Glove’s first story, The Island of Mister Mayhew, in which we saw flashbacks to what happened to make the Club of Heroes break up, but this Knight is actually the original, which of course makes a lot of sense.
You might also want annotations for the mythology references that begin here. The villain we meet in this first scene is very obviously a reference to the Daedalus of Greek mythology, father to Icarus (his story may also come up at some point in the run). It’s particularly appropriate that he’s somehow trapped on an island in the Falklands – I guess with some powers holding him in place – because in the Greek myth the character actually created a labyrinth so complicated that the man who solved it had to use a thread to find his way back out, so the tables are turned in a sense. Probably what will sound familiar to everyone is that trapped at the centre of this maze was the Minotaur, which the hero whose name I forget was tasked with killing, so this too reflects the dark nature of the Doctor that had to be contained by The Victory V’s at the cost, no less, of several of their member’s lives. The point of the story is that you should supposedly be very mindful of your creations, lest they become so complicated that they cause more harm than good, possibly referring to Bruce creating Batman Incorporated. So there’s that.
Though not outright mentioned here but first hinted at instead, and not so much a myth as it is an idea, Oroboros may not be familiar to everyone either, and it comes up a lot during these chapters as the apparent name of the boss behind Leviathan. It’s the image of a snake eating its own tail that you may have seen, representing the idea of cyclicality, of something constantly repeating itself. Though in the context of the secretive Leviathan it merely represents the “ring” they’ve formed around the world through their apparent mind control, I feel like it’s very clearly one of the more important pieces of symbology that Morrison’s adding to the mixer for the grand finale, so I’ll talk about it some more at the end of this post and what I think it could mean. Incidentally, Leviathan itself is a biblical reference, usually associated with the image of a great, tentacled sea monster. Quite appropriate, now I think about it, that Lord Death Man had a giant octopus attack Jiro’s girlfriend and Catwoman in the first story arc of this series. Yeah, yeah, Catwoman seemingly makes a joke about Japanese hentai porn, but the tentacled creature must also be a reference to the evil group of this part of the run, and how they’ve in a sense wrapped their numerous arms around the entire world.
So, yeah, that’s all stuff you can pick up on as early as the first three pages of Scorpion Tango, our first issue, but becomes more obvious as things go on. Some good annotations I found are over at Comics Alliance if you’d like to check them out, and I recommend you do, not only for the above reasons, but because there’s references to Morrison’s JLA and Seven Soldiers that, although having taken place before this run, do have some ties even at this point, though most were back in Final Crisis. This goes for all three issues and I’m sure if you look, Comics Alliance will probably have annotations for the others. With all of that said and done, I suppose we should probably talk about what’s actually going on within these three issues, eh?
Well, after that three page introduction, we join Batman as he fights alongside El Gaucho in Argentina. Note that this location is a great place to move the story to following the Falklands scene because that war, if ye didnae know, took place between Britain and Argentina themselves. The following issue does a lot of flashbacks of its own and we’ll see in that too how Morrison keeps the momentum moving at a great and logical pace, flowing from panel to panel. As you might expect, the reason Batman’s here is to make El Gaucho his next recruit, though the guy stubbornly refuses during their fight against a familiar face from ye olde Batman, and they return to his home base.
Now, this scene is quite interesting because it turns out that El Gaucho hides under his own secret identity as a fairly rich man, not unlike Bruce himself. It even appears that the villainess, Scorpiana, is the equivalent of Catwoman, albeit murderous whereas Bruce’s on and off fling is just a thief. But she and Bruce tango for two pages. Alas, it’s not nearly as entertaining as Professor Pyg’s glorious dance routines, but you should note the attention to detail after you read the scene following it. Whilst she and Bruce were dancing, the latter stole a ring off her finger – shaped like a snake eating its tail with Oroboros clearly engraved into it – that he explains contained poison which she was trying to use against him. So if you go back to the short dance – the “tango of death” apparently – pay close attention to the hands and you’ll notice how Bruce must have taken the ring off her left hand as early as the first panel of the dance since it’s missing in subsequent panels where we see it. Gotta love the little details.
Anyway, El Gaucho would be the other character besides Catwoman to know Bruce Wayne’s identity as Batman if he weren’t so dumb, appearing to believe that it’s the other way around in this scene – that Batman is “masquerading as Bruce Wayne”, and so he goes along with this, referring to himself as another person, his financier, just like he announced at the end of Batman and Robin. It’s a bit weird that he gets away with it like this and, besides, the Bat-family knows who he is, so I’m not sure why he’s bothering to keep the identity secret from the people he’s recruiting for Batman Incorporated. Oh well. Anyway, the two are led into a trap staged by Scorpiana as you might expect, but unexpectedly El Sombrero too. We last saw this guy in Batman R.I.P. and he looked pretty dead at the time, the Joker delivering him as a gate crasher into the Black Glove’s betting game bloodied and hanged. But he’s quite alive, though stuck in a wheelchair with something seemingly helping his speech, seeing as the font used is like that of a computer and there’s short delays of silence breaking up whole sentences constantly.
We don’t immediately follow through with this cliffhanger in the next issue, however. As the title implies, The Kane Affair means that Batwoman’s back, though we also explore the past of the first Batwoman through flashbacks. Confusingly, she was called Kathy Kane and the current one is, um, Kate Kane, but there’s no family relation at all. Since Doctor Dedalus is a creation of Morrison’s, these flashbacks actually change a great deal of Kathy’s history as readers familiar with the character know it from the so-called Golden Age. What does it have in connection to the ongoing story from last issue? Well, it turns out that she was roped into working for Dedalus’ organisation, Spyral, being hired by an Agent-33 (there’s actually a lot of three’s in these issues, by the way – three kidnapped children; three killed marines that the current Batwoman’s investigating the murders of; three countries that will apparently be going to war as part of Leviathan’s plan; and we frequently hear O.R.B. come up, obviously short for Oroboros, which we see revealed next issue), actually El Gaucho before he became a crimefighter, whom El Sombrero accuses of playing a role in her death. Though it still appears that he is a good guy in the next issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on the ball about one of Batman’s recruits breaking their oath, and it being him who does so.
Anyway, these flashbacks? Fucking amazing. Not only are they illustrated by Chris Burnham in a style very similar to that which J.H. Williams III used in his flashback sequences during The Island of Mister Mayhew; but in my opinion they’re even better, thanks to the colouring from one Nathan Fairburn, who employs a palette of brighter colours than the present day scenes and does a lot of contrasting. The writing in these scenes is fantastic too, either outright hilarious – the scene where the young Dick Grayson as Robin complains about Batgirl’s advances on him, reflecting his immature nature as a young boy that doesn’t “like” girls – or fitting the era. Though our Batman is very much the same, for example, still doing his little “Hh”, that isn’t used as an ironic grunt like it usually is in the present, but a genuine chuckle instead. The guy just appears a lot happier in these scenes, all smiles with Robin at his side, and affectionate towards Kathy. The latter’s particularly funny too, Batman’s eyes widening when Kathy kisses him, and Dick catching the two making out in the Batmobile, Bruce with a shit-eating grin on his face. Of course, this all comes across very well thanks to the wonderful art of Chris Burnham. If I were to compare him to anyone, it would probably be Frank Quietly, sharing a very expressionistic style with him that is wonderful to behold. It’s as finely detailed as his too. Notice that as Kathy and Batgirl share the former’s motorbike during a team up with Batman and Robin, who share the Batmobile, you can see that Robin has his face turned in Batgirl’s direction, suggesting a boyhood crush. We’ll be seeing more of Chris in the next story of this book, and then he appears to be the only artist for the last two books. So far I’m fine with that because he’s bloody awesome.
Okay, so I got a little sidetracked there from the relevance of the plot just there in my love for the whole flashback parts. Alright, well, the big revelation is that Kathy was the daughter of Dedalus – incidentally, her real second name before being married was Webb, which connects back to the old Doctor whose symbol is an eye in a spider web – who is also at this point to be revealed as a Nazi war criminal, now super, called Netz, another reference to the spider motif. Learning this is what really causes Kathy to break up with Bruce in a rather beautiful panel that I simply must mention. Kathy’s off to the left hand side of this panel, telling Bruce it’s all over, and as we scan our eyes over to Bruce on the right, the city and rooftop in the background of this panel fade until we find Bruce alone in the white space of the page, which is really quite lovely looking. We finish the issue shortly after this, Batman finding a way around El Sombrero’s plan, whom he and El Gaucho confront, whilst Batwoman is on the trail of other clues with the help of her father, who is investigating what O.R.B. could be.
So, the first thing I want to talk about for the third issue here, Master Spy, is pages two and three where we learn of Dedalus’ backstory as a Nazi who then became a turncoat whilst seeking what he calls Oroboro, “a fifth form of matter”. There’s a really confusing sequence on the third page where he seems to poison someone on the island with him, who he’s telling his story to, and we seemingly witness the guy dying…but then on panels four and five, he’s back on his feet again, showing a greater interest in what Netz is saying, but not seemingly aware of anything having just happened. If you look closely at Netz’s dialogue, however, you might notice that he tells the doctor in panel four that, “You promised to stop me if I ever began to repeat myself like some crazy old fool” just after we saw emphasis placed on the words “too late”, possibly hinting at a manipulation of time that he controls or our perception. The latter would probably make more sense as his cape dissolves into smoke whenever we see it and however he killed The Victory V’s in Scorpion Tango involved some kind of control of darkness. What the purpose of it is in this case, however, I don’t honestly know. It’s a confusing scene to say the least.
But whateva. No doubt we’ll get our answers eventually. We’ll certainly need them after the next sequence. Our entourage of heroes – Batman (who comes out of nowhere, surprising Kate’s dad enough that he spills his coffee in a funny little panel), El Gaucho, Batwoman and The Hood, a character created by Alan Grant – converge on Dedalus’ little island, though find themselves faced with Scorpiana to slow them down. The fight scene between her and Batwoman is really quite wonderful, and I love how the latter takes charge of The Hood and El Gaucho whilst Batman heads to the island alone. Once there and the others catch up, however, they find that the doctors with Netz are being controlled by Leviathan, or are voluntary agents for them; and that the Netz on the island is a fake, the real one not being there. Which we see through his word balloons changing to resemble a recording of his voice, a very confusing change seeing as every other time he’s been seen talking, including just before Batman leaves him in pursuit of one of the doctors, his word balloons have been normal, suggesting that was him. So either he somehow vanished, leaving a replacement behind, as Batman went to the top of the lighthouse, or he was never there at all. Questions!
We do, at least, see that the real Doctor is somewhere else entirely with someone he actually calls Leviathan by name, though I doubt this is the real leader. Whoever it is, for one, looks rather walking corpse-like, and besides, my money’s still on Talia being the real mastermind. But as he earlier said that he had a message he wanted to send to his daughter, that we now see here again, in the company of this person, there is the freaky possibility that it’s a reanimated Kathy Kane, I suppose, as fucked up as that is. We’ll hopefully find out how she really died fairly soon. Anyhow, in a twist like one of the Joker’s schemes, The Hood – who is working for someone called T.H.E.M. to infiltrate Batman Incorporated for some reason – deduces that the Netz they find has Alzheimer’s , thus meaning that his trapping, his labyrinth is his own mind. The implication seems to be that this is the cost of being the real Netz’s enemy, so he’s certainly looking like a particularly big foe, this guy, having rigged a bomb at the top of the island and now challenging Batman. The interesting thing is that he lists the countries that he and Leviathan have control over, which are the exact same where Batman now has allies. It’s beginning to sound like all out war, with both sides building their forces, isn’t it? And as Talia declared war on Bruce way back in Batman and Son during their only face to face encounter so far, I feel like we’re building up to her reveal if I’m as right as I think I am.
Before this issue ends, our last few pages are, funnily enough, the beginning of the next story. First panel’s caption and word balloon: “Prologue. Let’s go back to the beginning…” Hah! It’s not actually a flashback or anything, but Batman seemingly in Africa with another recruit. Actually had to search Google about this one, but the guy he’s working with is called Batwing, a fairly new character who got his own series in the New 52 reboot shortly after this. Not sure if he’ll have a bigger role to play – though I suppose that goes for all the characters – but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Not sure how I’ll be reviewing the next issues, and those after that, but hopefully I’ll read enough to get another post done today.
Before we go, I have one very last thing to talk about and that, as I promised, is my thoughts on the imagery of Oroboros that’s going on, but taken in the greater scheme of things. This run has had no shortage of themes and symbolism scattered throughout it, most recently of which was “the hole in things”, very possibly the most important to date. Taken literally it has meant the hole in Batman’s memory made by Hurt, and then recently the one left in time instead because of Darkseid. Metaphorically, however, we’ve seen that it represents the holes left in his parents when they were killed in front of him, and how this has left an empty space, one might say, in his soul, being the root of why he became Batman. Those holes were round, much like the image typically associated with the snake eating its own tail that is Oroboros, the one being used here. When I’m thinking about how Morrison may end this run, one such way that seems appropriate – especially if I’m correct that Damian will die, leaving another hole in Bruce’s heart – is to end with an acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of the character; how – because “that’s the thing about Batman” – another writer will come along and a new epic cycle of the man’s life will begin; how, like his very job as Batman that he mentions in Time and Batman, “it never ends”. Plausible? Well, I certainly think so. It’s certainly the only metaphorical meaning I can conjure up for Oroboros’ inclusion.
Phew. It’s been one of my longer posts, nearly three and a half thousand words, probably a little repetitive and with grammar mistakes, but we’re done, finally, though only halfway through this first book of Batman Incorporated. Hopefully the remainder of my posts for this book won’t be quite as long. In the extras section Morrison does state that he really liked the character of Netz / Dedalus enough to give him more than these three issues, so I get the feeling that he changed his original idea to create this rather complicated trilogy of issues. Either way, we’re getting closer to the end, and I’m sure that the closer we get, the shorter posts I’ll have to make. Or not – fuck knows when it comes to Morrison. Until whenever.