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Grant Morrison’s Batman Epic Part 7: The Devil’s Daughter

It’s taken me many months, but I have at last arrived at the end of my project re-reading Grant Morrison’s seven-year-long Batman epic.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne, The Long Road Home, the story of the return of Bruce Wayne to life and the DCU, and Part 6 of Grant Morrison’s run, Batman Incorporated.

I am excited to dive into an analysis of the end of Mr. Morison’s story, issues #1-13 of Batman Incorporated volume 2.  But first, a warning: there are spoilers ahead.  There is just no way to discuss this final run of issues without talking about some of the major plot twists.  I will try not to spoil every single twist and turn of the stories, but I’m going to have to mention a few of the big events.  These developments are, I think, pretty well known to comic book fans, even if they didn’t read these specific issues.  But still, fair warning: SPOILERS ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

In the middle of the final arc of Grant Morrison’s storyline, the DC Comics universe was completely rebooted, re-starting all of its series back at issue #1 and re-starting all of its characters and their story-lines.  This “New 52” universe-wide reboot was intended to be a massive blank slate for all of DC’s characters, so that they could tell new stories, unburdened by decades of continuity.  Unfortunately, Grant Morrison’s long-running story was just nearing its conclusion!  What would happen?

Well, his Batman Incorporated series was cancelled and re-started with a new #1.  Fortunately, DC editorial seems to have been willing to turn a blind eye to what Mr. Morrison was doing in his series, and while this new Batman Incorporated title was theoretically set in the “New 52” rebooted continuity, it’s actually way more complicated than that.  The most major plot twist in the story, the death of Damian Wayne, was referenced in all of the other “New 52” Bat-books, which dealt with the impact on the Bat-family on Robin’s death.  So, in that respect, the events of Batman Incorporated were set fully in the “New 52” rebooted universe.  And there are a few other nods in the series — Batman wears his “New 52” costume, and in the final issue (number 13), Commissioner Gordon references “Zero Year,” Scott Snyder’s major new story-line that is presenting the revised, “New 52” version of Batman’s origin.  But on the other hand, this story is clearly NOT set in the rebooted “New 52” universe.  Whereas that rebooted universe has wiped away all of the previous decades of continuity (including all of the Batman stories that came before), this story is hugely based on events from the pre-“New 52” continuity, all of the twists and turns of Mr. Morrison’s last several years worth of stories.

The result is, I think, the best of all possible outcomes.  The handful of references to “New 52” continuity found in Batman Incorporated are minor and not at all distracting, and thankfully Mr. Morrison was allowed to conclude his long-in-the-planning story-line, without being forced to adapt to the suddenly-new continuity of the “New 52.”  Thank heaven for that!

Issue #1 of Batman Incorporated volume 2 picks up immediately following the events of the Leviathan Strikes one-shot, in which Talia al Ghul, Batman’s former lover and the mother of Damian (now Robin), was revealed as the mastermind behind all of the recent attacks on Batman and his allies.  Talia has become embittered that not only has Bruce Wayne spurned her love, but that her son Damian has chosen to ally himself with Bruce, rather than with her.  And so, like a vengeful child, she has chosen to use all of her resources to lash out and destroy all that Bruce Wayne holds dear.

Issue #1 of volume 2 is a phenomenal beginning to this final story-line.  The first page shows us Bruce Wayne, standing in a graveyard in the rain, telling Alfred that it’s all over — “Batman.  All of it.  This madness is over.” — just moments before Commissioner Gordon arrives and arrests him.  It’s a phenomenal hook into the story!  On page 2, we shift back to one month previously, and it will take until Mr. Morrison’s final issue, Batman Incorporated #13, for us to catch up with that dramatic moment.  The rest of the issue is jam-packed with Morrisonny goodness, with turns both silly (the Bat-cow) and dramatic (the palpable threat of Talia’s unfolding plan).  Batman’s international crime-fighting allies are still involved in the story, to my delight… and I was even more excited to see Mr. Morrison include a Gotham City gang called the Mutants.  That is, of course, a nod to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and is yet another amazing example of Mr. Morrison’s “all Batman stories happened” philosophy.  Despite both of DC’s big universe-wide reboots — 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and 2012’s “New 52” — Mr. Morrison has managed to include in his Batman tale characters and story-lines from across the many decades of Batman’s publication history, stretching all the way back to the 1950s.

We also get, at the end of issue #1, the “death” of Damian Wayne.  It’s a fake-out, of course, but that little twist must be seen in a new light after the events of issue #8 and Damian’s real death.  I am reminded of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  News of the filmmaker’s plans to kill off Spock had leaked, so writer/director Nicholas Meyer included a scene, in the opening minutes, in which Spock dies during the Kobayashi Maru test.  It’s not for real, of course, but that fake-out death was able to put audiences at ease and allow them to enjoy the movie… until the end, when Mr. Meyer tore the rug out from under them with Spock’s real death.

This entire last run of issues is illustrated by Chris Burnham, who does spectacular work bringing to life everything that Mr. Morrison throws at him.  His art-work on these issues is a magnificent achievement, and fits perfectly with Mr. Morrison’s story.

Issue #2 is a fascinating spotlight on Talia, as we flash-back to a series of vignettes from her life, seeing her youth and training under the direction of her father, the immortal criminal mastermind Ra’s al Ghul.  We see her complicated relationship with her father, and we see the events which led Talia to develop as she did.  The whole issue is fantastic, but my favorite moment is the large panel when, threatened by kidnapping and abuse at the hands of a thug looking to blackmail her father, the teenaged Talia looks him right in the eye and declares: “You would never tire of me, Doctor Darrk.  Though you’ll never be given the opportunity to verify that.”  It’s a great moment in which we see the steel in this young woman, perfectly illustrated by Chris Burnham, who draws Talia as a figure of stunning beauty but also as someone we begin to fear in that instant.

I was particularly intrigued by one moment in which Mr. Morrison diverges from established continuity: his suggestion that Talia drugged Bruce Wayne on the night when they made love and Damian was conceived.  I don’t believe that was suggested in the original story in which that took place, 1987’s Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham.  It’s an interesting twist, which helps excuse Bruce Wayne for failing to be involved in raising Damian until Talia brought Damian to Bruce in the very first issue of Mr. Morrison’s story.  It also casts Talia as more of a villain.

That is one of the most interesting developments of this final story-line: casting Talia as a brutal, implacable villain.  In the past, Talia has often been a villain but one who always seemed redeemable.  In many stories, she has wound up helping Bruce Wayne, her “beloved,” against her father Ra’s al Ghul.  But  here, any ambiguity has been stripped away and she is portrayed as vicious and evil, and is ultimately responsible for the murder of her own son.

The noose slowly tightens in the coming issues, as Talia’s plan unfolds and Batman and his team find themselves increasingly on the defensive.  I was delighted to see the return of “Matches Malone” in issue #3 — the undercover identity of a Gotham hood that Bruce Wayne occasionally uses.  (My image of Matches is indelibly that of the version from Batman: The Animated Series.)

Issue #5 is a fascinating side-step, as the whole issue takes place in the future, after Bruce Wayne has died and Damian has become Batman.  This issue is a sequel to a similar story that came early in Mr. Morrison’s run, Batman #666.  It’s a fantastic story, and a nightmarish peek into a terrible future.  But, in light of what happens a few issues later, it leaves me a little confused.  Is that idea that Batman #666 and this issue are an alternate future that was erased by Batman’s preventing Damian from being Robin (and then definitively erased by Damian’s death in issue #8)?  When reading Batman #666, I thought that was a peek into what could very well be an in-cpntinuity future for the characters, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

The implication on the last page of issue #5 is that this is a possible future that Batman saw on his journey through time — one in which Damian sold his soul to the devil (apparently literally!!) and Gotham is destroyed.  As a result, Batman will no longer allow Damian to be Robin.  But, first of all, it’s weird that Batman seems to have seen this one possible future so specifically on his journey through time.  How is that possible?  When did it happen?  Why didn’t we see it happen?  (Since this is such a major plot point, why didn’t we see Bruce glimpse this possible future at some point during The Return of Bruce Wayne?)  It seems like a sort of silly way to drive a wedge between Bruce and Damian at this key point in the story, especially unnecessary because Mr. Morrison had already created a much simpler way of doing that: Batman had forbidden Damian from going out a Robin a few issues earlier, because Talia had put an enormous bounty on his head.  So there was already a reason for Batman to be fearful for Damian, and for Damian to be angry and resentful towards Batman.

And then we get to the shocking death of Damian Wayne in issue #8.  When Grant Morrison’s story began and he first introduced Damian, he was an arrogant, annoying brat.  I was not that interested in the character — I found him to be a pest, and besides, the idea of a kid side-kick for Batman has never interested me that much.  So it’s astonishing to realize, here at the character’s end, how cleverly Mr. Morrison has developed Damian, over the years, into a character that we really care about.  Issue #8, in many ways, is Damian’s finest moment — right up until his death, which makes that turn even more cruel.  We get to see Damian leaping into danger, which not only shows his courage and heroism, but we also see that he is incredibly skilled — in many ways, even more skilled than Dick Grayson, Batman’s long-time partner and protege.  I was delighted to see Dick and Damian briefly reunited in this issue — a great touch, since the characters had become partners for a year when Bruce Wayne was thought to be dead, but they hadn’t interacted much since his return.  I loved seeing the characters back together.  They had such great chemistry, particularly when written by Mr. Morrison.

Everything seems like it’s going great and that Damian is successfully saving the day — until, in the issue’s final pages, Damian is brutally killed by Talia’s genetically-engineered henchman, a hulking brute dressed in imitation of Batman.  It’s a terrible, painful twist, and Mr. Morrison really makes us feel the tragedy of it.

I must say, I was surprised by this move.  On the one hand, I like that Mr. Morrison has drawn a clear ending to the story he began, back in 2006, when he brought Damian Wayne into current DC Comics continuity.  On the other hand, the character had grown to be so rich and so popular, that I was surprised that Mr. Morrison (and the DC Comics editors) didn’t want to leave the character in play after Mr. Morrison’s run concluded.

The final issues depict Batman’s mourning for Damian and his brutal final confrontation with Talia.  Man-bats enter back into things, a nice connection back to Grant Morrison’s very first Batman storyline, and Kathy Kane also pops back up (though after the focus she got in Batman Incorporated volume 1 issue #4, I sort of expected her to have a larger role in this last story-line).  The big final fight with Talia’s henchman in issue #12 is BRUTAL, and the revelation as to his identity is very sad.

Grant Morrison’s final issue, #13, kicks off with a spectacular cover by Chris Burnham.  It’s a perfect final image for the series, one that is both iconic and timeless, while also being very specific to the story being told and the recurring theme of Oroboros and circles.  We finally catch up to the opening scene of issue #1,  and we see Bruce’s final confrontation with Talia.  It’s dramatic stuff, and Mr. Morrison boldly brings the long story of Bruce and Talia, that began back in 1987, to a definitive end.  Of course, getting back to my earlier discussion about continuity, I suspect future Batman writers and editors will consider this story to be outside of the “New 52” continuity, even though the death of Damian a few issues earlier is definitely IN “New 52” continuity.  It’s confusing, I know, but I’d be shocked if Talia didn’t eventually pop back up in the “New 52.”  For now, though, bravo to Mr. Morrison for creating a real ending to her story, something so rare in the maintain-the-status-quo world of monthly super-hero comics.

Issue #13 also gives us a little more Kathy Kane, a little more Bat-cow, and an explanation for that scene with the diamond in the opening of Batman Incorporated volume 1 issue #1.

Though Talia’s story had an ending, Batman’s story continues, something that Mr. Morrison addresses head-on in his final pages.  Even though he is no longer writing the character, “Batman never dies” (a nice call-back to the opening line of Batman R.I.P.).  And the final page is just great cheesy pulp-cliffhanger gold, as Ra’s al Ghul looks out over a room full of little Damian clones and proclaims “Sons of Batman.  Rise!”  It’s a nice reference to Son of the Demon, and a great big dangling story thread for a future writer to perhaps pick up on (and perhaps this will be the key to a resurrection for the character of Damian?).  I wonder if this story-line will be continued soon by other Batman writers or if, like Son of the Demon, Grant Morrison’s saga will lie fallow, unreferenced and out of continuity for years to come, until way down the road when some future storyteller will craft an exciting new Batman tale with this story as its basis, just as Grant Morrison did with Son of the Demon.  That would be very cool indeed.

And so, here we are, at the end at last.  I have had an absolute blast re-reading Mr. Morrison’s saga.  This is long-form comic-book story-telling at its best.  The individual issues were all enjoyable, to be sure, but Mr. Morrison’s story really benefits from being read from start-to-finish.  There are so many wonderful, subtle connections that are a delight to discover.  Of course, for every connection I found, there are many that I am sure I missed.  Part of me wants to start over from the beginning right now, and read the whole thing through again!

In thinking about Mr. Morrison’s story as a whole, I am reminded of David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive.  That is a very twisty, mind-bending story, but if you pay close attention it does actually make sense in the end.  I would say the same of Grant Morrison’s Batman saga.  However, what keeps Mulholland Drive from greatness, in my opinion, are the many digressions throughout the movie, weird scenes and subplots, most of which are interesting but don’t seem to go anywhere or get any resolution at the end of the film.  (Because Mulholland Drive was originally intended as the pilot for a TV series, this isn’t surprising.)  Grant Morrison’s Batman saga is a better comic book than Mulholland Drive is a movie, but I find the comparison intriguing.  If there’s one weakness to Mr. Morrison’s saga, it’s that at times I did find it to be a bit too confusing for its own good (I’m thinking specifically of Batman R.I.P., which I found to be too convoluted to really enjoy, even upon repeated readings), and there were a number of digressions and story-lines that didn’t reach the level of resolution I was hoping for in the end.

For one, I still find myself wondering about the mysteries surrounding Oberon Sexton.  Why, exactly, did the Joker masquerade as that detective?  Who was he working with or for?  What the deal was with that enigmatic reference to his having super-hearing?  Going back further, what exactly was the deal with Bruce Wayne’s love-interest at the start of the story, Jezebel Jet?  Was she really a villain the whole time?  Why?  What was her motivation for wanting to bring down Bruce Wayne/Batman?

I could go on, I’m sure, but I won’t, mostly because I want to emphasize how impressive I found Mr. Morrison’s lengthy saga.  Mr. Morrison played the long game, and he believed that his audience would have the intelligence and the patience to keep up.  I love how creative Mr. Morrison is at pushing the medium, at stretching the kinds of stories that comics can tell.  I love how complex and cerebral his stories are, and his delight in fracturing the narrative to present you multiple stories all at once, all of them mind-bending.

This was a terrific achievement in comic book storytelling, and for me I suspect this will long stand as one of the most interesting Batman stories of recent memory.  I am a little bit sad to be finished!  (Maybe I WILL go back and start again from the beginning!)

The comics I reviewed in this post are available in these collected editions: Demon Star and Gotham’s Most Wanted.  If you are curious to read Grant Morrison’s Batman saga from the beginning, start with Batman and Son and go from there.  Have fun!  I sure did.  Batman and Robin will never die!

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