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Batman Incorporated: Bruce Wayne Takes on the World (Again)

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Riding high on the Second Wave of DC’s New 52, Morrison and Burnham streamline the Dark Knight’s global corporate takeover.

Humiliating Confession #1: While researching this column, I initially googled Batman Confidential.

Humiliating Confession #2: While researching a future column spotlighting the forthcoming Batman: Earth One, I searched for Batman: Year One.

Snicker all you want, but as a collector, reviewer, and columnist preaching the four-color word to the masses, I’ve seen a lot of books come and go, over the years – something in the range of 50% of them were probably Batman-related. All kidding aside, my confusion (in my defense, it felt more like ingrained muscle memory, really) made me wonder if the world really needed another Batman book.

And come on, isn’t Batman Incorporated just Batman and the Outsiders on a larger scale?

The answer to this question is an unqualified “No.” More than just an explosion of the core idea of Batman and the Outsiders or the Silver Age inspiration of Morrison’s new millennium take on a global “club” of Batmen, Incorporated represents the cutting edge of superhero storytelling and marketing. Although steeped in lush history of the Bat-Family, Batman Incorporated transcends the trend towards nostalgia-based titles, injecting a healthy shot of social commentary into the mix. With a corporate structure providing the basis for his network of agents and Bruce Wayne’s use of the media to sell the product, Morrison asks a very thought-provoking, not to mention relevant, question of his audience: When does modern myth-making meet the concept of branding?

In a fast-paced, You Tube world, branding, whether it’s personal, corporate, or even spiritual, is a driving force behind many success stories. DC’s new logo is a prime example of a corporate giant repositioning itself to best take advantage of new technology, delivery platforms, and buying trends. Designed for use across a wide variety of media, the logo is intended to expand the publisher’s brand into emerging markets. If DC’s logo doesn’t convince you of their obsession with branding, then consider the New 52, itself – a massive exercise in rebranding, if there ever was one.

Oh and there’s that little movie by Chris Nolan coming out this summer. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s called The Dark Knight Rises and if the timing of this release of a high-profile Batman book doesn’t strike you as coincidental in the months leading up to the movie opening, then you’re right on the money. It may not be the full-on media blitzkrieg that accompanied Burton’s Batman back in the day, but rest assured DC and the WB know what they’re about, when it comes to marketing tactics.

This is essentially Morrison’s intent with Batman Incorporated – the repositioning of the Dark Knight for prime accessibility by a wider, more sophisticated audience. Even as Bruce Wayne elevates his alter ego onto a par with his more powerful colleagues such as Superman, Morrison reminds us all just how influential and far-reaching the shadow of the Bat really is.

Thankfully, Morrison is a consummate craftsman, who despite past controversy and a twisted imagination, has a deep love and respect for his chosen medium and refrains from a heavy hand with his themes. In fact, this incarnation of Incorporated embraces the pared-down spirit driving DC’s New 52, with Morrison streamlining the convoluted plotlines of the first volume while still retaining its distinctive flavor.

Somewhat picking up where the previous series left off, Talia’s secret organization Leviathan is still the main antagonist for Bruce and Damien Wayne, lending the story a pulpy, family twist. Previous plot points are neatly summarized, even as Morrison drives the current chapter forward, dropping hints (and no doubt a red herring or two) of future developments. If it wasn’t for some confusing, if titillating, references to events from DC continuity pre-Flashpoint, then this issue would be nearly perfect.

Whether there’s a need for another Bat-title or not, Batman Incorporated #1 is well worth the price of admission. There are few comics on the stands today that pack as much storytelling punch per page as the first issue of this volume, while challenging the audience to redefine their notion of the modern superhero myth.

Relevant, rocking comics for the Modern Age. It can’t get much better than that.

Batman Incorporated  #1 Vol. 2, Grant Morrison (W), Chris Burnham (A).DC Comics, ongoing series, $3.99. Released on May 23, 2012.

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