The Batman work of writer Grant Morrison has shifted its position in DC Comics’ line from the guiding force of the Dark Knight’s four-color world to the most idiosyncratic book published by an office putting out over a dozen Gotham City-themed releases each month. But just because “Batman Incorporated” isn’t calling the shots for the long term life of Bruce Wayne doesn’t mean the story is any less personal or any less expansive in its casting.
In the months ahead before Morrison’s departure from the title, “Incorporated” will continue to roll out new and hidden faces in Batman’s world, from the crimefighter’s underworld alter ego Matches Malone to the vigilantes Wingman and Redbird. And underneath all the strange faces and wild story turns is the tale of one family, broken by years of deceit.
Morrison spoke with CBR News about the overarching threads of the book, from August 22’s issue #3 through September’s special #0 issue co-written by series artist Chris Burnham through October 24’s #4. Below, the writer reveals how his early work with Talia Al Ghul and Damian Wayne grew larger than he ever anticipated, in what ways influences from Walt Simonson to Frank Miller have impacted the book more than you may know, what his secret origin with Burnham is and why the finale of the series will tie together everything from the writer’s many years with Batman.
CBR News: One of the things that’s stood out about this new volume of “Batman Incorporated” is that while many expect this to be an end to your many years with the character, seeing things like Frank Miller-eque mutants appear makes you go, “Grant is still pulling in more references to stories past!” What has the challenge been for you in bringing home all those threads while still reveling in what you love about the character?
Grant Morrison: Honestly, when I started on “Batman” I had no idea I’d be doing six years of it, but it just kept becoming more interesting, and I had more ideas for it. This is just where it’s gone, and it’s finally reached its last 12 issues. So, I wanted to throw everything into it. With the mutants, we saw them briefly in “Batman” #700, and here they are again. We’re setting them up where we know that in seven years time, these guys will be the most appalling gang in Gotham. They’ll be the characters we saw in “Dark Knight.”
It’s about putting it all together but getting more focused on the emotional side of things. This is Batman, Talia and Damian, caught in the middle of this gigantic global war. It’s really about parents falling out with each other — only these parents have the power to crack the world in half. [Laughs] One side has a supervillain army with assassins and Man-Bats and genetically engineered troops. It’s kind of the horror of what goes wrong in a family just expanded to a global scale.
One of the most unexpected twists in this journey has been Damian’s role in the book. In a way, he is really the through line that’s tied everything together — to say nothing of shooting him in the latest issue #1. Has this become his story, more or less?
Yeah. This one’s mostly about him. Again, it’s about making the whole thing come full circle. I knew when I was coming about to the end and all the strands started to tighten, I noticed all this stuff I wasn’t really aware of. There was this whole idea that there’s a circle in the story that starts in the first issues, when Batman realizes he has a son. That circle crops up again in various forms, including the eye of the Gorgon, which is represented in the star Algol. So there’s all this concentration of symbolism and references that started to get more and more intense as we’ve gotten near the end. I just focused it down on Damian and who he is — the trouble this has all caused him and the trouble it continues to cause through these next few issues until it kind of wrecks everything.
Damian is a character you “gave up” to the DCU so other writers could play with him even as you continued his core story. You’ve brought so many other characters to prominence in “Batman Incorporated.” Do you have similar hopes for them, or are some of the team set to destruct or die in this last blast of story?
It’s been logical to pick up any character that seems like fun. Man of Bats started out with a couple of panels, and he took on a life of his own. Suddenly, he’s got a whole history and background and a life of his own. A lot of them are like that. All of them get a little disheveled in this last story, and some of them may not survive it. But like I said, when these characters become of interest and the readers pick up on them, it’s good to let them go on. I think most characters rather than die should be changed in comics. It’s interesting to have a character transformed.
You and Chris Burnham have found a solid, steady working relationship over the “Incorporated” comics you’ve done together. Aside from the bigger thematic threads of a story like this, fans have always seen you weaving in some fine detail work to the world. How has Chris’ ability to pull those details off added to the book, and in what ways has he changed how the story will develop itself?
It’s been great. He came in at the end of “Batman & Robin,” and it was an emergency job. Joe Casey was someone I was talking to, and I said, “Joe, I’ve got this problem,” and he said, “You should give Chris a call.” He came in just to do a couple of pages, and it was brilliant. It was all that stuff you were talking about that appeals to me — the detail and the focus that’s not quite comic books but almost a photograph. That’s the art I really enjoy alongside the fact that he was thinking about the acting of the characters and was just there with them on the page thinking it all out rather than drawing stock figures. It just became more and more apparent that he was really fun to work with.
Chris is a smart guy who can really come up with his own stuff. The #0 issue of “Batman Incorporated” was actually plotted all out by Chris. I did two pages for him, and he’s done the plot and the pages, and then I’m going to come back in and dialogue it. It’s been a completely different way of producing a book, but he’s absolutely capable of doing it. What he came up with was great! It reintroduces every “Batman Incorporated” character, and there’s a neat little story that threads back on itself. To have someone capable of working on that level, I think, really shows in the book.
Even on issue #1, I thought it was time to get away from this dominant “movie” idea for comic book stories with the long horizontal panels. I like some of that too, but we’ve seen so much of it, so I said to Chris, “Check out some Walt Simonson ‘Manhunter’ stuff and Frank Miller’s ‘Elektra Lives Again'” and a bunch of books that weren’t necessarily cinema inspired. And suddenly, Chris produces this amazing book with all these super multiple panels that I’d never even thought of. It’s been great working with him, and the idea that I’ll get to do these twelve issues with him is fantastic.
Coming up, we’re getting a return of Wingman and Redbird which is the latest in a long line of Batman & Robin iterations we’ve seen throughout the series. What makes this pair the final take on that running idea for the series?
Well, when you see who both of them are — and it might be slightly obvious who one of them is but not so obvious who the other is — and how it plays out, it’s not really what people are expecting. But they’re obviously the end game of “How many iterations of Batman can we get to?” The whole idea of “Batman Incorporated” will start to fold back in on itself as Leviathan’s schemes become more and more evident. We wanted to create a finish for that, in a way.
So do you feel as though you’ve gotten all those finishes put together over the 12 issues as planned? In other words, how definitive an end is this to your “Batman” work?
Yeah. I will say that everything does kind of tie-up. Every little thread we’ve had for the past six years gets a payoff. As I’ve said all along, it’s kind of a heartbreaking story ultimately because it has to be. But I can’t say in what way it’s heartbreaking. We’ve seen a little bit of this in the first issue, with Bruce Wayne under arrest. Things are happening here that will change things forever, as we always say.