The End Is Never The End: A Conclusive Post On Grant Morrison’s Batman Run

When I started this run I didn’t expect to enjoy it from the first book all the way to the last. In some of earliest posts I consistently spoke of my plans to take breaks at this point or that so I didn’t get so used to reading books by the one author that I’d get bored of him. In hindsight, I maybe should have taken these breaks, only because that when I look back now, I feel like readers can see where I was burnt out on writing up posts for each or several issues. There’s certainly quite a few posts that I’m proud of – in fact,  I’m very surprised to find that I was on the ball so very often – but I do wish I took more time to write a few instead of blasting my way through them, mentally exhausted or not. Yet I never did tire of Grant Morrison’s writing.

Of course, what probably helped it from going stale at some subconscious level was the variety of artistic talent on display. Yes, so many artists being swapped for one another caused a few bumps along the road, but the only issue that looked completely terrible, inexcusably so, in my eyes was Ryan Benjamin’s at the end of The Black Glove. The only other stuff that came remotely close to being bad – though not, I should say, anywhere near as bad as whatever the fuck Ryan Benjamin was doing – was Philip Tan’s three issues in Batman and Robin, which was far too dark in my opinion, and Tony S. Daniel’s inconsistency before the amazing job he did in Time and Batman. Otherwise, I honestly believe that everyone else was doing somewhere between a good to outstanding job.

You could level some criticism at the artists who fell into the former category for “playing it safe”, I suppose, but what you have to keep in mind, I think, is that all of these people, good or amazing, had deadlines to meet and what I can only imagine are some demanding scripts to match, so I think it’s no small feat that you can look at the run as a whole and I either like what you see quite happily, or be completely blown away by it. Though J.H. Williams III, Frazer Irving, Frank Quietly and Andy Kubert were some of those who blew my mind, I think it’s Chris Burnham paired with Nathan Fairburn, the colourist, that made my jaw drop the most. It’s no wonder those guys are creating all new pages for the Absolute edition of Batman Incorporated because it’s a fucking miracle that they managed to keep up and draw every one of their issues together so damn well. But hell, let’s not play the favouritism game – at the end of the day, every one of these books has good art in it, and that is bloody amazing.

Still, whether the different artists can keep things looking fresh or not, you’d think that I’d get bored reading the words of man sooner or later. But I truthfully did not. The only other Batman books I have, most of which are my father’s, can be read alone, technically possible here but probably not a good idea. This is the only time I’ve read a particularly lengthy run by an author on a character who’s shared with others. In all the time I collected 2000AD there was never a point where one writer exclusively worked on Judge Dredd, you know? Yet Grant Morrison spent seven years writing this epic tale, longer if you take Seven Soldiers and 52 into consideration, so you might also think that, even if I never grew tired at all, he would, the brightness that it starts on fizzling out.

This is, in fact, a point of debate when it comes to the ending. Shortly after I wrote my post on that final issue, I decided to do some looking around for what other people’s thoughts were on the ending of the run and it didn’t surprise me to find that a lot of folk see the finale as too negative in contrast to how it all began. Personally I don’t see how else it could have ended but on its bittersweet note, and I think that the darker contrast itself is actually part of what makes the ending so powerful. Like the last line of my post on issue twelve suggested, I think that the hard thing is actually letting go after all this time and looking to the future. Maybe Morrison didn’t make that point clear enough, ending Gordon’s monologue as he does with the cynical sounding, “It never ends. It probably never will.” How he should have actually ended it, in my opinion, is with some other lines before this that I think mark off the greatest theme in this run. There’s been a lot of those, some subtle, like class warfare, simply adding depth to the world; and then there have been those like family, there from the start but having developed over time.

But there is one concept of the Batman mythos, indeed its very fiction, that has reigned supreme over all: the hole in things.

It wasn’t until the end of Batman R.I.P. that Doctor Hurt spoke that immortal line about himself, but the hole has actually been there from the very start of the run, a single gunshot leaving a hole in the middle of the Joker’s forehead. Even if we didn’t see that at the time Hurt made his speech by looking back, Morrison expanded the theme in a way that was obvious. First there was a hole in Bruce’s memory concerning the Thogal ritual and whatever Hurt had done to him. Shortly thereafter there were the holes Darkseid created in his manipulation of time. And eventually, when we found ourselves reading Batman Incorporated, the holes where everywhere we looked, staring back at us. It was Talia’s dark “Gorgon eye”; it was the absence of parental guidance that she and Bruce shared; it was the bloody wound left in Damian’s chest after being driven through by a sword; it was the rupture this left between the boy’s already feuding parents; it was the clean mark left in Talia’s head where Kathy’s bullet sped through; it was their empty graves that Bruce found himself looking into after being released by GCPD; and, of course, it was the unseeable centre of Oroboros. Only…

We could see it the whole time. It’s the most obvious one of all, really: the hole left in Bruce’s heart on the night his parents were killed. “Two shots killed my father”, he tells Gordon. “The third bullet left a smoking hole in my mother’s new fur coat. It left a hole in me. A hole in everything.” Indeed, it’s this very hole that Bruce has spent his entire life trying to fill. But he can’t and won’t, not only because it wouldn’t be fitting as a character, but because the moment he does so, there’s no more to tell – it would be at that point that Doctor Hurt would finally get his wish of seeing Batman retire, and we as readers would never have another Batman story to read ever again. It’s not what I would call a limitation of the character but an actual necessity instead. By killing Talia, Kathy Kane emphasises one of these herself: “Batman doesn’t kill”. It’s one of the things that defines him, seen here alongside the emptiness the death of his parents left in his soul: “The pain was so terrible”, he tells Gordon, “I decided I could never love anyone ever again”. That won’t be a thing that ever happens either.

Which is why, getting back to point, I feel like Morrison may have ended the run sourly with Gordon’s last piece of dialogue, that comes across as being quite bleak right enough, when he perhaps should have done so with a follow up to this idea of a hole being left in Bruce. Continuing off-panel but being read back to use, Bruce told Gordon, “I looked into that hole in things over and over again until it hurt, Jim…and you know what I found in there? Nothing…A space big enough to hold everything.”

How beautiful is that? Not only is it an astonishing thing to say about the character himself, but it also represents why we love him so damn much too. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t really embrace other super heroes in the way I do Batman. Though they might be symbols of something else, the thing that makes Batman so unique is that we can empathise with him somewhat. No, I don’t mean we all have parents who were shot dead in front of us or anything like that. But I do believe that many of us, perhaps most of us for all I know, are trying to do good by ourselves – to realise that we have our own holes in our lives, our own things that make us vulnerable in some way or make us unhappy, and spend our lives fighting against them.

Which is why I think Morrison’s right – this from the afterword – that, “long after all of us have come and gone, there will be Batman” because the fact of the matter is that he, and numerous other invented characters, will still be significant then, and they always will be. Life goes on, with or without us, and as long as we all live, the possibilities of the imagination are endless; forever. A snake eating its own tail.

 

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 6, The End: The Dark Knight and the Devil’s Daughter (Batman Incorporated #12)

And so we come to the end of the tracks. It’s been a long ride but here we are at the final issue – and fuck knows what number it is overall – in the twelfth book in a row that I’ve read from the one author.

Starting this post isn’t as tricky when compared to that in which Damian was killed because, well, let me get one thing out of the way: for all the praise that I’m about to heap onto this ending, it’s not the perfect finale that I had pictured in my head, surprisingly small in scope for Morrison. The ending I had conjured up was grand in scale but this most certainly isn’t. It’s actually quite sad too, though that doesn’t completely surprise me. In one of my more recent posts for this particular series I did note that the humour had piped down considerably, and it shows here when the last gag didn’t even make me smile, but just feel tremendously sorry for Bruce. As a matter of fact, I was curious to see what Morrison thought of this ending himself and found this particular quote, which I agree with to a certain extent: “I really think a lot of people will hate it, because it’s super bleak.” Well, I didn’t hate it or think it was that bleak, but I definitely left feeling that it ended on a bittersweet note, which is how I would describe it.

This finale is technically told to us from the perspective of Commissioner Gordon, who is interrogating Bruce Wayne after his arrest, that which we’d already seen at the start of Volume 2. It proves to be a captivating narration this way, we skipping back and forth between the interview and the showdown between Talia and Bruce, but more interesting than the similarly structured issue that followed Damian’s death because Morrison steps into the shoes of Gordon to explain his actions in this run and why he’s ending it the way he is. And to be fair, when I think about it really hard, I’m not sure how else such an epic story could have ended but by acknowledging the fact that Batman is Oroboros, the serpent eating its own tail forever. In an earlier post, somewhere but god knows which one exactly, I actually left a link to Morrison answering an audience member’s question about the ages of his characters in this run, to which he replied that it didn’t matter, going on to talk about realism in comics and why it was a load of bullshit. But he also pointed out that Batman would be around long after he was dead. Yes, much like that post of mine that followed  Batman R.I.P., what Morrison suggests is that another writer will come along after him (in fact, he references Scott Synder’s currently ongoing Zero Year storyline, which is a new origin story of Batman), and after that person another, and another after whoever they may be, and it will continue that way forever.

Which is why that, though Talia and Bruce’s fight ends abruptly with a gunshot killing the former character, in the end we find that both Damian and Talia’s coffins have been cleanly stolen from their graves, and it’s why in the story’s epilogue we find Ra’s preparing a new army made up of Damian’s remaining clones. The story of Batman will never end. Sure, Morrison’s run has, these two cliffhangers and the deus ex machina of Kathy Kane entering to murder Talia then disappearing just as fast forever remaining unresolved, but it doesn’t matter – there’s other stories to tell, and they will be told. That’s why it’s a bittersweet ending, I think. On the one hand, it concludes in the only possible way, Morrison saying these words through Gordon’s ending monologue: “All I need to know is this: Batman always comes back, bigger and better, shiny and new. Batman never dies. It never ends. It probably never will.” That’s nice in a way, knowing there’s so much other creativity out there to be discovered.

But, on the other hand, looking back at all these posts I’ve written for all of these books, made up of so many issues, some of which I read additional material for because they were so layered, it’s sad to think that the story ends here. Quite like Bruce describes the impact that watching his parents being killed before his eyes left on him – it left a hole, of course – it’s hard, I think, to let go.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 5: Fatherless (Batman Incorporated #11)

An extremely short post before we reach the last issue of the run. Really, there’s not a lot you can say about this one seeing as the bulk of it is made up of Batman’s fight with Damian’s clone, the “fatherless” of the title, who is referred to on the book’s jacket as “the heretic” as well. It’s an exciting fight, not only for being action packed, but because Bruce is fucking furious with this guy for killing his son – just look at all the guy’s expressions that Burnham draws. Crazy.

It ends quite abruptly, however, with a reveal that I hadn’t paid any thought to: what this guy looks like under his mask. Quite strange that it never occurred to me, seeing as I acknowledged quite early on that he was probably an accelerated-aged Damian. Still, even if I had considered it carefully, what would probably have never crossed my mind is the the idea that he actually has a baby face for a grown man’s body, particularly hideous in this scene because when Beryl – who wants to kill him for what he did to Cyril – used her sling shot on him a while ago, she actually took out one of his eyes. Seriously, Bruce lets the man-baby go free when he finally looks upon him face to face, actually going, “Urr. God. No.” in disgust, and no bloody wonder.

Still, the killer of what I think was probably a lot of people’s favourite character by that point doesn’t get off scot-free, which is somewhat of a…comfort. I don’t know – once I saw his face, I was as revolted as Bruce, so when Talia decapitates him for failing her at the end of the chapter I didn’t exactly give off a massive cheer or anything. It came as a surprise to see Talia casually murder him, though it’s actually fairly obvious in hindsight. One of the things I hadn’t mentioned about previous posts was that, since the guy killed Damian, she’s been pretty pissed off, not letting him call her “mother” anymore, and having the people who made the fight against Damian unfair killed via apparent skull crashing. Lovely.

Incidentally, seeing as I have nothing else to say about this penultimate chapter of our run, I suppose I should also mention another thing I forgot to bring up in my last few posts. Somehow Talia has time to go see her father in his little prison shortly after Damian’s killed and there we find Ra’s playing chess, and paying his daughter, um, compliments: “Bravo. You have become a monster at last. […] I salute you.” Yet he also implies that she’s forgetting “one vital detail”, which I now believe is Kathy Kane’s involvement in all of this. As is revealed near the end of this, apparently to prepare us for the last, Spyral is some kind of “international intelligence community” who has been closely monitoring Bruce, and supposedly Talia, ever since the former created Batman Incorporated. What has this to do with Ra’s’ scene?

Well, the thing I noticed in his scene, that I meant to mention, was that he’s using red and black chess pieces, a familiar pairing of colours in this run, black representing chaos, and red the power of good. The really important thing about this game he’s playing is that he uses a black horse to take the red’s queen. When you get to the end of this issue then, take careful note of how Talia refers to herself after killing Damian’s brother: “I’m the wire mommy. The red queen.” Then look back at Spyral’s latest, possibly last, scene: their logo is red and black too. Though it’s inconsistent with what these colours have typically represented, as Kathy Kane wouldn’t appear to be a villain, it does look like pretty heavy foreshadowing that Talia will indeed be filling that second grave of Bruce’s vision, and that the one killing her will be Kathy.

That we’ll find out in the next post. It’ll probably be quite a long one as I want to cover every little thing that I can so that my follow up post, to end my write-ups of the run, will be focused on it all as a whole, not tying up loose ends that I may have missed in the last ever issue. See you then.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapters 3 & 4: Fallen Son and Gotham’s Most Wanted (Batman Incorporated #9 & 10)

It’s all coming to a head now.

Following last issue’s gutting moment, the next two chapters are a pretty standard affair, though very clever. The first starts with Damian’s funeral, but we intersect between it and scenes of Bruce and co. fighting off his killer until they’re forced out of Wayne Tower, at which point everything seems to come to a sudden halt, continuing onwards at this steady pace all the way until the fourth chapter’s ending. Indeed, it’s quite like a kettle boiling, quiet at first but building itself to a roar. It’s not just Bruce and those closest to him that are completely stunned, however – we see the Squire mourning Cyril’s death; Gordon hiding his Batman Incorporated badge as the Mayor of Gotham announces that Batman is no longer welcome in the city; and other characters, Tim and Dick specifically, begin to plot their revenge for Damian’s death. It’s the same all over the world apparently, at least where Batman Inc. is centralised – we see that El Gaucho, Man-of-Bats and Raven Red, Jiro (the Batman of Japan) and the Batman of Paris (forget his name, I’m afraid) are contending with their own problems too, also seemingly stuck in the stalemate of this war.

Things are certainly not looking good, possibly moreso in the second of these issues where we not only see Bruce witnessing the Gotham Police Department destroying the Bat-signal, Gordon watching on sadly, but that he’s being held responsible for the mess that the city’s in – how it’s being held hostage by Leviathan – because he funded Batman Incorporated. At the end of the day, though, Bruce is not going to sit by and watch his city eat itself alive, and he’s certainly not going to give in to the demand Talia sends his way. But get this: his plan involves Doctor Langstrom, yet another throwback to the beginning of this run. If you can’t remember, he’s the man whose wife Talia kidnapped in Batman and Son to force him into giving her his man-bat serum, which she’s of course been using ever since. So I did some chin stroking when I saw that Batman had paid the Doctor a visit, considering that he may have not only just taken the antidote to the formula off the doctor but done something else too… Cut to Bruce in his Batcave, slumped in his chair in a pose we’re all too familiar with at this point, the one that mimics that in Year One as he becomes Batman, the difference this time being that it’s literal as he injects himself with the man-bat serum, arriving with a legion of bats from his cave in a terrifying fashion in time to meet Talia’s demands. If I were Damian’s adult clone, I would be worried now.

The build up to that exciting reveal aside, there’s other interesting developments taking place. In the first book collecting this series there was a meta-bomb, apparently kept in the possession of Otto Netz, brought up, only to disappear. It reappeared at this late stage in the run a while ago and what the mysterious box apparently does is activate the Oroboro weapon that Netz referenced, one that will quite literally create a ring of death around the world, simultaneously nuking whole countries around the globe if activated. As a possible counter to this, however, there is the similarly secretive crystal that Bruce has in his possession at Wayne Tech. So it seems like one object is Talia’s last resort, and the other Bruce’s ace in the hole, so I guess we’ll see these playing a role as of the next or last issue.

Meanwhile, the other thing I expect that will play a big role in our finale is Kathy Kane’s angle. So, here’s an interesting thing. A few issues ago I said that The Hood brought Jason Todd to Talia, continuing his triple agent business, or whatever the hell he is. But, actually, it’s the “Headmistress”, leader of Spyral, that he brings him to. Though it appears that she could have villainous intentions in the first of these issues, as the new Knight – the Squire having taken Cyril’s place – and Dark Ranger come to rescue Todd, the latter character actually refuses their help, recognising who can only be Kathy and the gravity of “what’s actually going on here!” Hm. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what to expect here. All I can muster up is that Talia could be the second grave that Bruce is supposed to be and maybe Kathy’s the one responsible for her death, but it seems like she has a bigger trick up her sleeve when Jason says something as dramatic as that. Oh, well. Not long to wait at least.

The last point of interest is a very small detail that some readers may have skipped past in the scene between the Prime Minister of Britain and his assistant. The former is scrambling for some way to revive the Knight when he says, “I realise there are no active Lazarus Pits left”. This should be true because back in Batman and Robin – in the third story arc, I believe – we found it being used to bring back the clone of Bruce and Batwoman when she died, but the mine this was hidden in caved in even as the characters were there, effectively rendering it useless. Yet the assistant tells the P.M., “That may not be strictly true”. Now, I don’t expect that this will be some major part of the finale in the way of the meta-bomb and Kathy Kane, but I do suspect that this may be the kind of thing Morrison ends our run with a reminder of, perhaps with the suggestion for a future writer to come along and bring Damian back from the dead. Curious stuff, eh?

Thankfully, with two issues to go, we’ll get every answer we could want very soon. My entries for both of these should follow this one sometime today, and I may even begin my last post on the run or a draft of my “contents page”, as it were. Until then.

 

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 2: The Boy Wonder Returns (Batman Incorporated #8)

Wow.

Yeah, that seems like a good way to start this post.  In fact, it’s the only thing I could think of, giving me an easy excuse to then make it the first subject of this entry in the blog. This issue was one of those chapters in a story of great length that renders you speechless. It’s one of those moments that leave you in the suddenly difficult position of trying to start talking about it, no easy task. To be honest, I can’t even think of the last time I’ve had trouble writing or talking about something major in a work of fiction; something which has affected me on an emotional level, I mean. (Oh, yeah, if you couldn’t tell: Damian dies.) The reason I think this is is that I’m a pretty creative person myself – not only a big reader or admirer of art, but someone who does a lot of writing and drawing in their own time too. Reading the foreshadowing in a character’s line of dialogue; seeing why an artist colours this like that; understanding what the imagery of this shot in a film or comic could mean; knowing when an author’s using certain writing techniques and for what purpose; et cetera are just a few examples of the kind of things I constantly keep an eye out for, and I’m quite proud when I call it right, which I believe I often do. The downside is that the impact of certain scenes are quite often softened.

When I was reading through George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for instance, I inevitably came to the very popular Red Wedding scene, which had been foreshadowed to no end. In fact, I had already predicted one character’s demise as early as the book before from a vision that another character, far away, experiences. When I was coming to write my annotations for the Red Wedding’s chapter, the build up of which strongly suggested that the more anonymous faces of the vision in the last book were actually the same as those currently present, I had therefore already decided that all of them were about to be stabbed in the back, quite literally, before I got there, making what should have been a shot through the heart a mere grazing. Which isn’t totally a bad thing because, god knows, it still hurts like a son of a bitch when it happens. But, interestingly enough, I could talk about it quite easily, and managed to keep focus in my annotations of the chapter, pointing out such things as the onomatopoeia that open it, instead of writing “Ermagerd, he actually did it!” and going off on a rant about how Martin is an evil bastard.

Which is why I find it fascinating that I’m having trouble finding the words with which to talk about the death of Damian in this chapter. If you had been reading my entries about Grant Morrison’s Batman run since the second book of Batman and Robin at least, you’d know that it was as early as there, in the last issue illustrated by Andy Clarke in which Damian confronts his mother and she declares him an enemy of the family, that I first put it forward that the boy was going to die. Since then I’ve brought it up as a possibility every chance I could, littering posts with my theories about how it was going to happen. However, very recently, two things in this run have really surprised me. First of all, there was the story Asylum at the end of the last book. That was our last tale of Damian as the Batman of the future, and what was incredible about it was the fact that it was a real thing, not – as I had always suspected – a silly “elseworlds” series of tales, and the point of its inclusion at end of the last book was meant as a shocking revelation of Damian being Bruce’s third ghost, the Batman who would destroy Gotham. The other thing is right there in my last entry, a simple thing I feel somewhat ashamed for not even considering until it was too late: that Damian might die heroically, and not as an ironic twist of the knife in the war between Bruce and Talia.

You know what? Writing those three paragraphs did put me in mind of a scene in another piece of fiction that I found particularly devastating to a point that talking about it was quite tricky, and be warned that this is a Breaking Bad spoiler. That show is a masterpiece, filled to the brim with foreshadowing, a hell of a lot of duality, symbolic use of colour, and allusions to other work. Indeed, when I told my friends over Facebook about my Hamlet theory, I was actually quite surprised to find that this wasn’t such an original idea of mine, they telling me of websites covered in articles and posts on forums written by people who saw the same thing. Therefore, much like the equivalent of the scene in Hamlet, I realised that when Jesse didn’t go to sit on a park bench with Walt, exposing his crimes using a wire that Hank and Gomez are listening in on, he had actually missed his chance at nailing the bastard, dooming himself and these DEA agents. So when the well-titled episode Ozymandias arrived, I had hardened myself for the death of at least Hank and Gomez. But the former character’s death was still crushing for me. It didn’t matter that I saw it coming – it hit me really fucking hard.

It’s a perfect scene for a few reasons. For one thing, we had come full circle to the spot that Walt and Jesse had used in the first season of the show to create meth together, setting this up to be an iconic moment of the series’ entire run, the one and true moment where Walt’s crimes would finally catch up to hurt him and those closest to him the most. The other thing is that Hank by that point was a character we were really rooting for, a man we wanted to win. We’d seen his character develop from the family member who cracks the hilarious jokes in the background to one we genuinely cared about because, like no one else, he was always true to himself, by far the most honest character we had. That, of course, is also another important piece of the scene: he is a respectable man and character until the bitter end, ignoring Walt’s pleas to beg for his life, preferring to die a good man. That it comes mid-sentence of him saying his last words, when you’re vulnerable but preparing yourself, just goes to strengthen the impact of the scene. Breaking Bad spoilers end here.

Those two paragraphs apply to Damian’s death in a lot of ways too – note, for example, the similar mirroring technique in both he and Dick being thrown against glass that surrounds and protects outfit displays, a reflection of Damian throwing Tim Drake, also present in this scene, into such a display in the Batcave near the start of this run. The main difference is that, no, his death doesn’t catch us off guard so suddenly, but the pay-off is still as huge. Despite the fact that I was correct in my idea that he faces off against his man-sized clone – his brother; his own self – I could never have predicted seeing him brutally impaled the way he is, the clone stealing his “Tt” line as he ends his life, and the shattering glass of Bruce scrambling to get there in time surrounding such a distressing image. Credit to Chris Burnham for the incredible job he does here. On the page before that is a dozen-and-a-half panel fight scene in which Damian starts with the advantage before quickly losing it as Talia’s men fire bullets and shoot arrows into him as he tries to fight off his clone until, by the end, he’s a bloody mess whose last word is what we saw future Damian’s to be – simply “Mother”. It is fucking horrible. Turning the page we even find a shot similar to that of Bruce cradling Jason Todd’s dead body on the cover of Death in the Family, only better in this case – if you can call it that – because we can clearly see the distraught look on Bruce’s face and Damian’s dead eyes staring off panel. Even Talia sheds a tear at the top of this page.

But like I said – I was ashamed to give no thought to the possibility of Damian dying as a heroic character, and that he does, defending Ellie like I thought he would. Yet like the character whose demise I spoiled in the Breaking Bad spoiler territory above, he meets his end with dignity too, as much as he can show for a child anyway. All the time that occupies his fight with the clone, being shot and torn to shreds by arrows all the while, is spent well, causing injuries where he can or calling out his attackers as dishonourable cowards, even spitting in his brother’s face in replacement of saying, “Fuck you”. It’s not the death I imagined for the character, I’m sad to admit, but it’s the send-off he deserved and easily one of my favourite scenes in a comic series ever.

Until next time.

“Batman Incorporated”, Volume 3, Chapter 1: Belly of the Whale (Batman Incorporated #7)

The end begins, and in a funny way, it does so just as the run itself began. The very first page is similar to that which began this run – where Gordon fell all the way to street level, however, here he is as spectator to Batman’s near lethal descent, being caught at the last moment by one of Talia’s man-bats. Later on in the issue, a subject which I’ll give its own paragraph, a girl that Batman saved all the way back in the Bat-Bane storyline rears her head for one last time. Even though I vaguely suggested in my last post that Talia is Bruce’s ultimate foe, here we also see her lock him into a safe that she has Damian’s clone throw in a pool, very reminiscent of the moustache-twirling sort of villainy that we saw from Hurt early on in the run. We really are coming full circle in a big way.

But we’ll get to that. This issue, as you might imagine, is quite chaotic in nature. Though Gordon seems to sum the situation up early on when he tells Nightwing that, “The hostages are dead. Your people are dead”, that’s nothing compared to the onslaught that unfolds, ready to lead us into the next issue. The first curve ball thrown our way is The Hood turning out to still be working for Spyral, zapping Jason Todd unconscious when he finds him alone. This is quite curious to say the least because the least we heard from this group was at the end of the first book, where it appeared that Kathy Kane was their leader. But she hasn’t been heard of since, so does this mean she has a role to play in the finale? Well, I certainly hope so – if she doesn’t then I’ll be sitting here after I’ve finished the run wondering why Morrison brought her back at all, so hopefully The Hood’s betrayal is suggestive of her having a hand to play in all this. That The Hood brings Jason to Talia at the end of the issue is possibly an indication that Kathy’s plan has something to do with Talia. Maybe she and Bruce are secretly teaming up? Can’t say I buy it myself, but I’m not sure what else she can really do that could help, if lending a hand is what she’s planning on doing.

Elsewhere in this chapter, Nightwing and Gordon are set upon by children. Kind of a messed up situation since they can’t exactly shoot the kids or anything, but I expect that when Damian arrives on the scene in the next issue, beating up some kids around the same age as him probably won’t be a moral conundrum. Yep, our young hero wears his Robin costume once again. In another reflection to the beginning of this run, though, and indeed his recent escape as Red Bird, he doesn’t harm Alfred but actually has help from the faithful butler, who promises to lie to Bruce so he doesn’t get in trouble. Which is a little sad because, as you’ll see, I expect that Damian’s dying in the next issue, making this sign of friendship and respect from Alfred, as well as the boy’s farewell to his cat and cow, quite sad.

As this is going on, Tim Drake goes off in pursuit of Bruce, but obviously only stumbles into a trap staged by Talia, only to then escape and head towards Wayne Tower instead, where shit is going down. This is indeed where Bruce is brought in a safe. It’s actually quite funny because we don’t see that he’s in there until after he’s been chucked in the pool, where I guess he’ll have to prove himself a magician of some sort. Anyway, at Wayne Tower we find that one of his own security guards is an undercover Leviathan operative, shooting another guard and trying to kill Ellie, a girl who we first saw back in Batman and Son – about halfway through that book – and has occasionally turned up since. This is one of the nice details in Morrison’s run. It’s layered heavily with symbology and clever imagery but, underneath all that, there are recurring secondary characters that are fleshed out ever so slightly.

However, Ellie, I feel, is quite unique, and I believe has a pivotal role to play in the next issue in which I expect Damian to sadly come to his end. You wouldn’t think it from the few times we’ve seen her, and the once or twice that I believe she’s been mentioned in conversation. In her first appearance she was a young prostitute that Bruce, as Batman, casually gave the telephone number of WayneTech to, telling her they were looking for a receptionist. Sure enough, when we next saw her – I believe this was in Time and Batman, in the story that took place between the end of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis – she had accepted this job, and even had a boyfriend if I recall. Here she is again, caught in the middle of what’s going on at her job.

Frequently I’ve said that Damian’s death would probably be ironic, caused by either of his parents in a pointlessly tragic way, but in her I see the opportunity for him to die as a hero, saving the life of a girl who Bruce already reformed himself through a simple action. But here’s the best part: though no one seems to have stepped forth to take over Morrison’s story of Batman after he’d finished with it – soon in our case – there is a very clever hint here that, if he had continued, she would be the new Robin, for the security guard that’s shot calls her by a nickname that made me smile: Ellie-bird, which sounds curiously like Jason Todd’s nickname as Robin, Jaybird. Not a coincidence, I’m betting. So, yeah, Damian may die a hero after all, saving, of all people, Morrison’s choice for the next Robin. Now that would be quite an ending for the kid.

We’ll find out soon if that’s the ending he gets. In my mind, it’s the one he deserves. The chapter ends with four panels: Nightwing being beaten by the children; The Hood delivering Jason to Talia; Red Robin arriving outside Wayne Tower; and young Damian flying off in his jet pack from Batman: The Return (incidentally, Traktir and Spidra from that same story find out that his clone burst out of the whale carcass they found in that tale, and seem to put up a final stand of their own against incoming man-bats) to apparently save the day. The trouble is, below these panels there is the word “Next” followed by an image of the Robin insignia, bloodied. More worrying still is that the cover for the next issue is that of the book itself – that image of Robin as a ghostly figure, mirroring the same used for Batman that J.H. Williams III used in Batman R.I.P. Of course, Bruce never died in that story, yet I see this as being more literal, marking the end for poor Damian completely. The night’s nearly over, but I’ll make sure to get that post up at the very least.

Until then.