Thursday, 24 October 2013

Batman Incorporated Vol. 1: Demon Star (The New 52)


Batman Incorporated Vol 1: Demon Star (The New 52)

Looking grouchy runs in the family
Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Chris Burnham

Read as hardcover trade.

Background Information:

If you think Batman Incorporated is going to be anything like the Dark Knight Trilogy, you’re gonna have a bad time. The book’s writer, Grant Morrison, is not famous for that “realistic” approach that recent films have taken to the caped crusader. Rather, Grant Morrison is all about delving into the supernatural and, sometimes, the bizarre. His work, as a matter of fact, more closely mirrors Tim Burton’s work on the franchise than Nolan’s- Morrison loves the weird and wonderful and it’s something that made him truly stand out as a Batman writer. Some fans have loved him for it, some wouldn’t be disappointed if he crawled into a hole and died.

What you need to know about Batman Incorporated is that it’s in every way Morrison’s book he began the series before the New 52, and decided to continue on the same story after the reboot. Sure, there’s plenty here that can steer new readers in the right direction, but you’ll still be plonked straight into the middle of a story that has been going on for a couple of years beforehand.

You also need to know that Demon Star focuses mostly on Talia Al’Ghul. She’s Ras Al’Ghul’s daughter and the mother of current Robin, Damien Wayne (who is also Bruce Wayne’s son). She’s every bit the warlord her father was and is this collection’s main villain.

Review:

I’ve mentioned in my Court of Owls review that I’m not quite sure what the point of Batman Incorporated is, and I stand by that. It used to be a series about Batman trotting the globe on adventures with Batmen (Batmans? Batpeople?) from around the world. For the New 52, though, Morrison has put Batman and his global allies back in Gotham. This makes it kinda’ difficult to understand why DC decided to include this book in the new continuity. Is this supposed to be a “Team Batman” book? No, the team doesn’t feature too prominently here. Is it a book about Batman as a symbol? No, there’s not much discussion here about the significance of Batman to Gotham. This book simply feels like it’s there so that DC can sell more Batman books.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Demon Star is that the plot is really hard to follow. This isn’t because the book plonks you in the middle of a story already in progress, though. It’s more got to do with how much the story flits back and forth between time periods. Basically, the story runs thus;

Batman and Robin have gathered their global allies into Gotham, where a criminal conspiracy called Leviathan is slowly growing, brainwashing children and generally raising hell. Talia Al’Ghul is the woman behind all of this, and she has her sights set on Damien Wayne/Robin. It’s not a nice, motherly feeling that drives her to this, but her hatred of Batman and desire to destroy him. It’s a story that sounds simple enough, but it’s made difficult to follow by multiple flashbacks and flash forwards that serve nothing but to disorientate the reader. The story is complicated further by a cliff-hanger non-ending that makes this volume feel incomplete.

There are some pluses to the story, however. Morrison writes Damien Wayne perfectly. See, this particular Robin is by far the vainest of the lot. He has way too much confidence in his own abilities and sees everyone as beneath him. That frustrates a lot of fans who prefer the more light-hearted Robin, but Morrison actually writes this character really well (which he should do, he introduced the character in Batman and Son). In Demon Star, we see Damien at his best: a frustrated child who doesn’t understand why he should be treated like one. The best moments in this book are when Morrison grounds Damien and you get to see him show that frustration. Even people who hate the Wayne child have to admit, seeing him annoyed at not being taken seriously is fun.

The art is spasmodic at best. Although that’s Burnhams name on the cover, responsibility for the art falls between multiple pencillers.  Frazer Irving and others share the burden for the visual side of Demon Star, which makes it rather disjointed. Sometimes the art is amazing, other times it’s barely adaquete. Add that to the all-over-the-place story and you have a book that feels everywhere at once and really goes nowhere.

Demon Star is not a bad book by any means, but it certainly does not belong in a universe that claims to be a reboot. It’s not a new story; it’s a continuation of an old one.  It gets two and a half out of five batmen.

** ½

+Damien is written perfectly.

-The story doesn’t flow well.

-The art doesn’t fit together.

Alternate option: Batman: Court of Owls

Currently the best Batman series out there, this is a book much better suited to new readers.