Hello yet again. Before we start, I thought I’d point out something rather cool which I just found out. Though I have all the books for this run, in the future I’ll probably update both Final Crisis and Batman and Robin to their Absolute editions, those great oversized books DC release for their most popular series’. Unfortunately those are the only two parts of Morrison’s run that have been given this treatment at the moment. However, at the end of the year – the 4th of December to be precise, though that date may well change – all of Batman Incorporated is being collected in its own Absolute edition too. Fantastic news in my opinion, and hopefully some of the other parts will be collected like these too. Yeah, yeah, I’m not sure I’d care to see Tony S. Daniel’s inconsistency in an oversized format, but if it meant that Andy Kubert and J.H. Williams III’s story arcs were also given the same treatment then I could certainly live with that. The only thing that’s been changed for this series’ upcoming edition that I know of so far is new art from Chris Burnham for the last two books – apparently there’s a few pages that had to be done by other artists to meet deadlines, but those will now be replaced with his version’s, which is quite nice.
Alright, so let’s get started. This special one-off issue is actually a fairly thick thing, collecting two unrelated stories together, only the first of which is Stephanie Brown / Batgirl’s infiltration of a girl’s finishing school, though Batman’s there to keep an eye on her in disguise. It’s a bit jarring when this story ends and you’re suddenly dropped into one that begins in medias res, but the artist changes from Cameron Stewart to Chris Burnham to at least make the transition more obvious. Still, I do wonder if the plan was to give both these stories their own issues but that couldn’t happen. That the first half of the issue specifically points out that it’s set before the New 52, which we’re just about to start, leads me to believe that that could well be the case, it interfering with Morrison’s original plans. But, two shorter stories combined or not, they’re typically very good.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the first one, however. Something at the back of my mind is telling me that the whole idea of a finishing school being a training facility for assassins is a homage to some other work, but I really couldn’t tell you what I’m thinking of unfortunately, only that I’m sure Morrison’s paying tribute to some other piece of work. But, yeah, although Batman has already recruited Batgirl for natural reasons, his prescence at the school in disguise of a gardener suggests that he is there to be an observer, indeed only joining in the fray at the end for a brief moment before giving her permission, in a way, to finish off the rest by herself, implying that she’s passed. It’s kinda like Dredd in the film, uh, Dredd, saying to Anderson, “You look ready”, mirroring a much earlier scene and subtly showing how impressed he is. Incidentally, this is, to date I believe, Stephanie Brown’s last ever adventure as Batgirl, seeing as Gail Simone would come along to give Barbara they ability to walk again for the New 52. Seeing as this is all of I’ve seen of this incarnation of Batgirl, I can’t exactly tell you what I think’s better, but this whole issue is narrated by Stephanie, and it did seem pretty good stuff. It’s actually quite interesting narration too, seemingly addressed to Bruce when she says things like, “You’ll be glad to know I still remember Rule One”.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a Son of Pyg? Yep, seriously. Alas, his son does no dance routines – a bloody crime, I tell you! – but he’s not ham-fisted (nor is the shadowy presence of another character that I’ll talk about at the end of this post) in simply for comic relief if that’s what you’re thinking, though I’ll talk about that shortly. Whereas the dad’s obsessed with body image, the son seems to be a masochist, or at least that’s what I think he’s supposed to be. He endures the pain of driving a needle through his hand but I couldn’t tell if that was because he’s taught himself not to feel it, or if he’s taking something that stops him from feeling pain. Whatever the case, the guy’s caught and I doubt we’ll ever see him again. If he does show, I think he should dance for my amusement. Just sayin’.
The only other thing worth pointing out is the imagery of circles, that will become even more obvious in the following half of the issue, starts here, I having first noticed it when Stephanie’s fighting off some of the other girls in the middle of a football field, a painted white circle of course at the centre. It becomes more apparent that this is a thing in the Son of Pyg’s introductory scene where he gives Stephanie and her friend one of the wafers containing the chemical agent being used to control people. The religious imagery here would of course be interesting enough, but it’s more than that as he explains, “The wafer symbolises your death and rebirth”, tying it more closely to the image of Oroboros, the snake eating its own tail that represents cyclicality, which in turn goes back to my theory that Morrison is using this very same metaphor as an explanation for the constant cycles of life that Batman goes through under other writer’s pens. That suggestion feels a lot more possible now, seeing as this is clearly coming up at a point where we only have two books to go and, as I say, we see circular images a lot more in the second half. Boy, do we. There’s not really a point in detailing each of these because you can hardly miss them, a circle being present on almost every page.
It may not surprise you to learn that, with this being the first issue for a while that we see Doctor Dedalus again, it’s confusing as hell. If you couldn’t tell from my rather lengthy post on his three chapters of the run, I was very bloody confused as to what was going on in some scenes; how, for example, a doctor with him seemingly died but was with him again only a few panels later. Well, I have two good pieces of news. First of all, the guy’s dead which means that, even if Morrison didn’t explain what his tricks were, we’ll never have to be put through the brain grinder by him again. So, yet again, do consider finding yourselves some annotations. You should be able to work out what was going on by re-reading this half of the chapter once or twice more, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a look at some annotations anyway. In fact, you should maybe work it out in your own head first and then check out some notes to see if there was anything you got confused; that’s what I did, anyway. Thankfully, though, we do learn what Netz’s secrets are and…well, they’re anti-climatic, though certainly prove how dangerous a foe the guy is for someone so old.
It all comes down to a simple gas in the air, what he calls a “mind eroding agent”. More interesting is where he got it: from Professor Pyg who we, sure enough, saw trying to unleash a different chemical he made into Gotham City. Even more interesting than that little fact is that it was this agent of Netz’s that caused the man to go insane, to actually become Pyg in the first place. And who could blame him? How the mind eroding works, as we saw earlier in this series, is similar to Alzheimer’s, your mind breaking apart such that you end up repeating things that you don’t realise you’ve already said and whatnot. For instance, as Batman first meets the real Dedalus face to face we see three unconscious men near him. On the very next page he’s fighting these men and asks the Doctor, “Why?”, to which he in turn says, “Again “why?””, implying that Batman had just asked this seconds ago. Indeed, like how I can only imagine Alzheimer’s feels, this is a very disorienting part of the run to say the least, perhaps most of all when I think about it. One thing I did notice, being a nerd, is that the chair Dedalus is sitting in is very reminiscent of Number Two’s in The Prisoner, that cult British show which was very bloody confusing. It makes a lot of sense for Morrison to throw this in – that’s if it’s not coincidence – because that show did very little to stick to chronology, the release date’s of the episode not actually coinciding with the actual order in which they happen.
Absolute madness or not – we see other scenes too, by the way: Batwing discovering that Jezebel Jet isn’t the head of Leviathan, and then being chased by other “bat wings”, the man-bats; The Hood, apparently having been working for Spyral but as an agent of Batman Incorporated, is seemingly killed after discovering that Leviathan, a huge vessel out at sea, is a trap that everyone’s rushed to; we cut back to Dick, Damian and Tim fighting what appear to be Leviathan agents, but are actually the Batman Inc. recruits who responded to this trap; etc. – we eventually join Batman as he finds the real Netz and the best part is that he almost fails to stop him. Like I said, this guy is really powerful. It doesn’t help that he apparently has El Gaucho on his side for a moment but, by the time that guy instead applies the antidote to Dedalus’ gas on Batman, it appears already too late, Batman too weakened and El Gaucho being almost killed.
But it’s funny what Morrison is doing here when putting Batman through the wringer. All he has to do to save everyone is push a button and he almost fails in that task,it being Damian’s intervention in killing Netz that saves the day. What’s really cool about that is that it’s the first time that I believe Damian’s killed since way back in Batman and Son, so the look on his face is all fearful that his father may be disappointed in him. D’aww. Anyway, back on his feet again, Batman realies that this is all a distraction and that the real mastermind, Leviathan, was elsewhere, still believing it to be Jezebel. But we’re told that, as well as finding out that Jezebel wasn’t the leader in Mtamba, Batwing also discovered that villainess’ body, missing only thing…her head, as we discover, sitting next to a red phone in a glass box, like ye Batman phone of olde. Then we get the big reveal we’ve all been waiting for: Talia, of course, is Leviathan.
This is a short but great scene. You really ought to see the look on Batman’s face as he picks up the phone and realises who will be on the other side. This ending also supports my belief that Damian’s going to be killed, with her actually placing a massive bounty on her son. Whatever happens in these next two books, it’s not going to end with sunshine and a rainbow, that’s for sure. But we’re not actually done here as I have a few queries that I expect we must see answered, so let’s go through these quickly to wrap things up.
First of all, I mentioned a “shadowy presence” in the first half of the story, that being the mysterious headmistress of the school Batgirl sneaks into. One moment she’s there and the next she’s gone again, Batman seemingly believing that she was Jezebel Jet. Well, at the end of this issue we actually see a woman relaxing in the sun talking to a “matron”, seemingly about Bruce, and this looks an awful lot like Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman. No, she does not appear to be dead after all and certainly isn’t that skull-faced person we saw with Dedalus in a few scenes – that was actually Talia hiding her identity for some reason. But what her purpose is, I don’t honestly know. It’s just hard to believe that, unlike El Gaucho, she’s a true baddie, the head of Spyral. No, I just don’t buy it. Brainwashed perhaps, but what grudge could she possibly hold against Bruce that’s made her another evil woman that Bruce fell in love with?
Next, we find at Talia’s side the mysterious guy who spoke to Damian in Batman: The Return, which I think also supports my idea that he may be an age accelerated clone of the boy. We’ll just have to wait and see if that’s the case or not but, like I said, it would seem oddly poetic if he, in a sense, were to be killed by himself. Up in Leviathan’s satellite, which we’d previously seen Netz and Talia use, some heroes also discover Lord Death Man as I suspected might be brought back, but we never see what happens there before this issue ends. The last thing we really need to know, connecting to this, is which of our heroes have died in this issue, if any at all. One thing Dedalus keeps saying is that a member of Batman Inc. will die every five minutes, but it’s hard to tell if we’re only seeing him say this several times because of his mind eroding gas screwing with Batman, or if he’s really serious. But we do certainly see several characters in peril. The Hood is apparently shot; Batwing is attacked by Talia’s man-bats; although Batman says that Dedalus’ knife missed El Gaucho’s carotid artery, that guy did look pretty dead with all that blood; and the five characters up in the satellite accidentally released Lord Death Man. So many questions!
The very, very last thing I want to mention is Chris Burnham’s art in this second half of the issue. Wow. Thank god these books are getting their Absolute edition because his artwork here seriously rocks. There was a splash page several issues ago at the end of Nyktomorph that I really should have mentioned, but that’s only two pages out of all the amazing things this guy does. In this issue there’s not only a lot of surrealistic imagery, but the artwork’s finely lined for most of it until Batman confusingly enters a decayed room covered in cobwebs, at which point the linework becomes more sketchy looking to reflect this change, which is pretty incredible stuff. Credit to Nathan Fairburn too, who changes the colours at this point to be a mixture of browns. These two will be all we have for the next two books – except, as I mentioned at the start of this post, the scenes which Burnham apparently didn’t have time to complete; and some stories not actually written by Morrison that are apparently included in the second book (which I’ll probably not review, that being the case) – and I for one am looking forward to it.
We’ll get started on that tomorrow and, seeing as it’s the beginning of the end, with twelve issues to go, I may do twelve separate posts for each to finish us off. Until then.