Some may look at a fill-in after three issues of Yanick Paquette as a bad thing. Those people obviously have not seen Chris Burnham’s art. Drawing upon various artists from Grant Morrison’s run on the Batman titles, Burnham’s art has a schizophrenic feel; He shifts styles depending on the sequence, relying upon three different approaches for three different places/times. He manages, with colorist Nathan Fairbairn, to make each different sequence of the comic have a different feel beyond how Morrison writes them. There’s a genuine sense of different contexts giving different tones that you don’t often see in comics that jump between places and times.
While this issue continues the story of Batman and El Gaucho trapped in Sombrero’s deathtrap, two more stories spring out of it: one taking place at the same time, the other flashing backs to an earlier point in Batman’s career. There’s an elegance to how all three parts of the comic connect seamlessly, feeding into and from one another to provide the reader with a great big picture, all revolving around Batwoman: the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane.
It was inevitable that Morrison would get around to reworking and reshaping Kathy Kane to fit into his larger Bat-story. He takes that character and not only builds her up as someone greater than Batman in many ways and as the love of his life, he also destroys it all with a startling revelation.
In those flashback sequences, Burnham and Fairbairn present the art using Benday Dots and a brighter, less shadowed art style. Burnham adds more cartoony and comical elements to his art, playing up the goofiness of the Silver Age and Morrison’s writing, moreso than any artist before him who’s worked with Morrison. In some spots, it reads like a purposefully funny, goofy ‘all ages’ comic got snuck into a more serious, grandiose one. What’s remarkable is how the different tones don’t clash and, instead, balance one another out.
Burnham is definitely influenced by Frank Quitely, something that’s apparent from the first panel of this issue, but it’s JH Williams III’s influence that stands out. Burnham and Fairburn do a wonderful job of making it look like Batwoman (the current version) stepped out of her comic and into this one. She’s colored in the same way that Dave Stewart and Williams colored her, giving off that almost painted look that stands out among the more regular colors. Later in the issue, Burnham creates tension through smart, inventive layouts and compositions, including a fading background that nails the emotional tone of one of the panels.
“Batman Incorporated” #4 reads like something of a return to Morrison’s earlier “Batman” work as he merges the present with the past to both craft a new story and fold a part of Batman’s continuity into that narrative. With Burnham and Fairburn, the original Batwoman fits into the current continuity without losing any of that Silver Age charm that made her old stories so fondly remembered. If anything, Morrison shows how her influence on Batman helped create that lighter tone. And, if that weren’t enough, it’s an issue full of action and thrills. One of the single best issues in Morrison’s tenure on the character yet.