In “Batman Incorporated” #0, writers Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham team up with artist Frazer Irving for a round of “Brand Building” as Batman head-hunts globally for allies in the coming war against Leviathan.
Each recruit gets a vignette-style sketch by Morrison and Burnham, and the script’s sharp dialogue excels in quick character study. Knight (of Knight and Squire) displays charming enthusiasm as he rambles to Batman about his plan to shrink his headquarters, then trailing off into a “look, just forget I ever said that.” The usual characters get memorable lines too, from Alfred’s Jeeves-like crack about a Bat-mole to Damian (as Robin) declaring “I’ll happily punch him.”
The issue is bookended with two sequences that focus on how Batman has never been truly alone, with Alfred always by his side after his parents’ death. Morrison and Burnham link a flashback from “Batman: Year One” with Alfred’s caretaker role and move directly into a conference room where Bruce Wayne is pitching Batman Incorporated. This abrupt segue feels forced, as does the theme of teamwork and the need for support.
Batman’s homecoming to the Batcave at the end of the issue flows more naturally, showing rather than telling how Batman serves Gotham and world so well in part because other people serve him out of love, loyalty or shared goals. Alfred’s devotion, and yes, servitude, to Batman/Bruce raises uncomfortable questions about hierarchy within Batman’s organization, with the recruits ranging from starry-eyed to resentful of Batman. I wonder if the writers have plans for conflict within the corporation, or if Leviathan’s threat will be enough to unite these characters, divided by nation and personality, all under the Bat logo. Regardless, the lead-up to the last page has excellent pacing and it is appropriate that Alfred should have the last word, ending the issue on a philosophical, resonant note.
Frazer Irving’s art for “Batman Incorporated” #0 is not as visually cohesive as his recent work on “The Shade,” but his composition and use of color remain exceptional. The ominous 8-panel sequence of Batman’s vision of Leviathan feels appropriately heavy with foreboding and symbolism, and panels throughout the issue have exquisite composition. Dark Ranger’s acrobatic fight sequence is gorgeously balanced, and another memorable series of panels has Mr. Unknown, the Japanese Batman, fighting a gorilla and a villain named Veiniac made entirely of veins. Morrison and Burnham were probably cackling with glee writing this character into the script, but Irving’s dynamic silhouetting and restraint with color make Veiniac’s physiology beautiful rather than ridiculous.
Despite these visual and verbal delights, “Batman Incorporated” #0 is thin on plot. With nine recruits (Knight and Squire in the UK, the new Dark Ranger in Australia, Ravil in Russia, Nightrunner in France, Chief Man of Bats and Raven Red in America, Jiro/Mr. Unknown in Japan, El Gaucho in Argentina) all vying for screen time with Batman, there isn’t for much apart from the speed-dating-paced “interviews.” Not only is there no self-contained story, the content of “Batman Incorporated” #0 doesn’t obviously advance the existing arc of the series. Reading the issue feels like attending a loud, crowded party hosted by Batman and then being rushed out the back door after a blizzard of introductions. This is not an unpleasant experience, but it feels like a lot of handshakes and smiles without making a sustained connection. The exception is the new Dark Ranger, Johnny Riley, who gets a coming of age story on fast forward, and it’s impressive that Morrison and Burnham pull off this compression.
Out of the Zero Month issues I’ve read, “Batman Incorporated” #0 is the most unfriendly towards new readers. It’s still a worthwhile read for the sharp character sketches and Frazer Irving’s art, but one’s mileage will definitely vary depending on knowledge of Morrison’s Batman run and fondness for lesser-known DCU characters.