By this point, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the news of the big change to the composition of the Batman Family that occurs in “Batman Incorporated” #8, courtesy Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Jason Masters. If for some reason you haven’t heard the news yet, though, the details won’t be mentioned until later in this review and you’ve got time to stop reading now and click on another link. That’s not just because we’re being kind and trying to hide spoilers, though. It’s also because it’s only part of an issue that’s good all around.
A comic that’s about the various Batman Incorporated members going up against the forces of Leviathan could have been a very standard tale, but it’s the way that it’s told that makes it feel much more interesting. By way of example, take page 5, where Batman continues to try and get out of last month’s trap where he’s been chained up and crammed into a locked safe that is now underwater. Burnham lays the page out into seven panels, the first six of them in all odd shapes and sizes, but clicking together in place. It’s almost like a variant version of a tangram puzzle, as the pieces line up perfectly with one another. With the strange angles of each of the panels, Burnham has created a cramped and claustrophobic atmosphere for the glimpses of Batman’s predicament. He doesn’t quite fit into any of these puzzle pieces, and as a result you can feel him straining against both the safe walls and the locks and chains that bind him. As we watch his hands struggle to fit the pick into the padlock, these strange shapes show what a difficult position he’s in, unable to make everything align just so.
It’s almost certainly no coincidence that the sixth panel doesn’t line up perfectly with the first five; if this is a tangram puzzle, then it’s one with an incorrect solution, just like Batman’s attempt to free himself. Then there’s the seventh panel, which is really part of the background that the first six sit upon. What’s great is that by making it a long, narrow image with the safe at the bottom (and a lonesome air bubble heading up to the surface), Burnham has given us the impression of the safe plummeting down, even though it’s already touched bottom. It reminds us of what happened last issue, and also helps reinforce the idea that far from the surface. This is comic book storytelling at its finest, and that’s before we even talk about Burnham’s delicate lines, careful body composition, and sheer power behind every character that he draws in “Batman Incorporated” #8.
There’s a lot to love in this comic. Robin and Nightwing’s team up is a joy. Their dialogue zings back and forth, and the part where Damian’s “We were the best, Richard,” is responded to with a, “Hey, we can’t help being great,” just feels perfectly natural. It’s a nice call-back to their time together courtesy Morrison in “Batman and Robin” from a few years ago, even as it encapsulates both characters perfectly. Their two pages of talking and occasionally jumping about brings Morrison’s fondness for these characters to life. This comic is, after all, essentially one extended fight scene and it’s material like this that makes it fun. And for the vast majority of the comic, fun is the perfect adjective used to describe it.
Then there’s the moment in question, the one that’s gotten all of the publicity for “Batman Incorporated” #8. It’s safe to say that Morrison and Burnham don’t short shrift readers on this. It’s actually a four-page sequence, one that opens up with a 20-panel fight as Damian battles the heretic monster of a clone that towers over him. This is not a fight that is rushed or trimmed down. From there, it’s a powerful two-page spread which figuratively and literally shatters Batman’s world as readers bid goodbye to Damian Wayne. With pieces of the panels literally falling down and crashing as the page structure splinters and collapses, it’s almost hard to notice all the little pieces showing Batman’s crazy escape and then arrival to where the deed has just been done. The rain falls and the last pieces of the shattered world of Batman hang over his head as he cries while Ellie stands in the background. It’s in many ways a combination of an inversion and a moment of coming full circle. Instead of Batman crying for his parents, Batman cries for his son, who was calling out for his own parents. With Ellie in the background, we’ve seen the return of the prostitute from Damian’s first storyline who’s not only doing well, but got saved one more time by the Batman Family as well as having helped save them in her own right. Everything comes back together as Morrison takes readers one step closer to the conclusion of his seven years of Batman that’s run through three different titles.
“Batman Incorporated” #8 is an elegantly constructed comic, one that brings you so much joy and fun before everything comes crashing down. But here’s the good news: if there’s one thing Morrison loves to do, it’s bring heroes to their lowest point before letting them rise again. We’ve got four more issues for a ray of hope to return. Will you be reading? You should be.