“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 1, Chapters 1 & 2: Mr. Unknown Is Dead and Resurrector! (Batman Incorporated #1 & 2)

Alright, we’ve a short review ahead of us, but I’ll make the post as a whole a little longer by explaining what the deal with “Volume 1” being in the title is, and why I’m reviewing the first two issues together. So, as far as I’m aware, there is no one book collecting all of Batman Incorporated together – there’s simply the first trade paperback, and then two hardcovers (though I believe the opposite editions are coming out for both sometime this year). What you should note is that the first book is simply called Batman Incorporated, yet the two hardcovers are called Volumes 1 and 2 of Batman Incorporated instead, and both are given their own subtitles, Demon Star and Gotham’s Most Wanted. This is because these two books were released as part of DC’s New 52, that whole reboot of everything they’ve done that’s apparently backfired for the most part. This means that when we finish this first book – which I’m referring to as Volume 1 – collecting issues 1 to 8 and a two-part special, we’ll be reading  issues 1 to 6 in the first hardcover using the exact same name.

Only mentioning this to prevent any confusion. The weirdest thing about it is that everything that’s happened in the run before New 52 still counts, so it’s not technically a reboot of anything at all and, though Morrison apparently ends the run with the opportunity for another writer to pick up the reins, no one has, so there wasn’t really a point of in the last two books being put under the New 52 name. Oh well, I guess. To be fair, that is somewhat of a blessing I suppose. No disrespect meant to any other writers employed under DC, but I can’t imagine anyone picking up an ending to a seven year long run and actually doing a good job in comparison to what readers of that run’s entirety have been used to. Also, like Morrison’s said in the run through an ambiguous line in Batman R.I.P.’s finale, and the title of a post I wrote following that story arc on the very subject: “But that’s the thing about Batman”. As I argued, like any other character who isn’t owned by the one writer and artist, Batman means different things to different people, so you’d have to find someone who interprets the character very similarly to Morrison if you were going to pick his seven year tenure off the ground. But, in my experience, there are very, very few writers or artists who think and write the same way, so perhaps it’s for the best that it ends as it does, under the name New 52 or not.

Anyhow, on to why I’m reviewing these first two issues together. From what I’ve read of the first book thus far, it looks like Morrison’s telling specific story arcs in issues of two or three, quite like he did in his Batman and Robin series that we’ve just read. These first two chapters, for example, are both set in Japan, focusing on a cast of characters relevant to that setting and what’s going on; whereas the next three that I’ll be reviewing together, although not all set in the one country, do follow the one storyline that connects the set of characters present there. No doubt the remainder of the book will be the same, though I can’t obviously speak for the two hardcovers. But I don’t expect they will, at least not in quite the same way as this, because what Morrison’s essentially doing so far is having Batman go on recruitment drives around the world for superheroes to join Batman Incorporated, and I expect that Leviathan Strikes!, the special two-part issue I mentioned that’s at the end of this book, will reveal the mastermind and the final stage of our run will begin. The stories here, in comparison, could be read out of order or not at all, not really being connected like I suspect the home run will be. So, yeah, I’ll be reviewing this book by grouping chapters together where they form the one story, but I don’t yet know what the deal will be when we get to the last two books.

One last thing worth mentioning before I write a short review of these two chapters. This is actually something that I should have discussed during Batman and Robin, and that’s the fact that Morrison has also begun a more “cinematic” approach to his storytelling. You might have noticed in those reviews that I frequently alluded to images of what would happen next time. That’s because at the end of each issue of that series there would be very small panels – I think always drawn by Frank Quietly, even when he was no longer the artist after the first story arc – hinting at what was to happen next time, very similar to the teasers that often follow a television show. Well, Morrison appears to have ramped that up for Batman Incorporated.

At the end of each issue that has a related one following it we’re now treated to dramatic exclamations or questions to ponder about the cliffhanger endings. For example, the first issue ends with a villain called Lord Death Man being shot and seemingly killed, leaving a young girl in a watery trap he’d planned, which only he apparently knows how to fix, Catwoman heedlessly joining the girl in an effort to save her; and we’re presented with these three lines: “Lord Death Man lives to take life, and he’s only just begun! Can Batman solve the reaper’s riddles? Or will curiosity kill the cat?” It’s a riff on ye comics of olde that would end with questions like that too, of course, but do also note that the title of each issue is always preceded by, “Batman Incorporated Presents”, kind of like how film or TV show titles are introduced by their production studio or broadcasters. Pretty interesting stuff, I must say. The guy’s been playing around with structure for so long in this run that I’ve neglected to talk about it as much as I used to in earlier reviews, so take that to be the last I’ll speak of it.

It’s a good thing that those five paragraphs make up quite a bit of length because I have very little to say about these first two chapters to be quite honest. Not to worry, however – they’re not bad or anything, actually being frantic fun with a lot of humour. Following on from the one shot story’s conclusion we find Batman in Japan with Catwoman as company. Here’s there to recruit a new hero of Morrison’s, created by him according to the extras section, called Mr. Unknown but, as you can see, he’s, um, killed in the first issue, actually at the very start. The guy he’s killed by is Lord Death Man, not created by Morrison but another character long forgotten from Batman’s past, so I guess I was wrong about no more old stories being brought into continuity. But, yes, that’s really that guy’s name. Quite amazing, is it not?

He’s a bit of an interesting villain when it comes to his design. On the one hand, there’s his physical appearance. Though it looks like his face has been stripped of all flesh, leaving only an empty skull, if you look closely when the skull’s mouth is open, you’ll see that his own moth is actually under it – he’s wearing a skull! the other thing about him is that for some reason he can’t be killed and, as Morrison explains in the extras area again, he threw him in here because he liked the idea of a literally unstoppable villain. It doesn’t even look like he feels any pain so he’d technically be an even bigger adversary than Doctor Hurt – who only seemed incapable of ageing – if he weren’t so ridiculous in his role as a bad guy or, as Morrison’s suggests, lives life with an obsession of getting the highest body count in his cool looking car, like a gamer playing the Grand Theft Auto series. But, like Hurt, he is stopped of course, though through even more creative means than a burial. Prepare yourself. Batman launches him into space with a rocket. Godamnit, I love this fucking run.

Anyway, though Batman was previously against the idea of recruiting this young man called Jiro into his newfound worldwide team for using a gun on Lord Death Man (apparently the first rule of Batman Incorporated is to never use one, obviously hearkening back to the death of Bruce’s parents), he in the end makes him his first recruit outside of the Bat-family for valiantly faking his death as Mr. Unknown  – the real Mr. Unknown that was killed was a fairly old man, and he’d been taking his place – in order to start anew. Interestingly enough, it appears that Batman’s making his recruits swear an oath, as we see Jiro with his left hand placed on Batman’s, their right hand’s raised like boy scouts speaking an oath. As the third issue ends with the question of betrayal, I wonder if that’s possibly a hint towards any of the recruits breaking their oath, if they even took it seriously in the first place.

The only other detail to note about these first two chapters is Selina’s involvement. According to some annotations I checked out, the weapon they’re stealing together belongs to one Dr. Sivana, who I recall was Lex Luthor’s ally in betraying Libra during Final Crisis. Not sure what the weapon they’re stealing is, nor if it will be important later in the run, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the plan is. It might have simply been an excuse to bring Selina along, honestly. No, she does not join Batman Incorporated, but neither is it obvious if she’ll have a further role to play during the remainder of the run. But I’d like to think so because the two characters are a blast together, and I especially like what’s going on here. For you see, surprisingly enough, the two know each other’s secret identities. Batman: Hush is as close as I’ve ever seen the two characters get and I suggested in my review of that book that it should be possible for them to know each other, working together like they do under their persona’s, and dating as themselves. Not sure why they know each other here, but I’d be quite interested to read whatever story it’s in that they reveal themselves for who they truly are. So, hopefully she’s back, though part of me kind of doubts it unless there’s some particularly important reason for her presence.

On that note, I’ve said all that I can think of. When I’ve finished the next story arc – which is three issues long, at least – I’ll be grouping all of its chapters together too, and hopefully that’ll be tomorrow. From what I’ve read so far, there is at least a bit more to talk about so it should be a much longer post. Until then.

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