We begin in a graveyard, with a broken Bruce Wayne talking to Alfred by a familiar tombstone, then move back a month, as Batman and Robin chase a goat-masked thug through the rain and into an abbatoir. As butchers pull down masks to become literal citizens of Gotham – ‘the Goats’ town’ – the place turns into a bloody battlefield. The crazy fight ends with one villain dead at the hands of his boss … and Robin a vegetarian.
The head of the masked gang, Goatboy, is a small-time killer turned taxi driver, meaning he knows the city as well as Batman. Having shot his friend from a rooftop, he makes good his escape, to take another pass at Robin later. It seems that Leviathan, the criminal organisation run by Talia al-Ghul, has put a hit out on Robin – her ‘traitorous’ son, Damian Wayne.
Across the city, Leviathan takes over the territory of local hoods the Brothers’ Grimm in a grisly dining scene guaranteed to reinforce Robin’s new convictions.
Later, Batman and Robin come across a mutant gang shifting gear for Leviathan, giving Goatboy a second shot at Robin.
And in San Francisco, an unexpected branch of Batman Incorporated is eating fondue.
Given that this issue is so preoccupied with meat, it’s perhaps appropriate I give you just the bare bones of the story. There’s a ridiculous amount to love in Batman Incorporated’s second debut, as it rejoins DC’s line having taken a break for the New 52 to settle in, and you’ll enjoy discovering the details for yourself. All you really need know is that writer Grant Morrison and artist Chris Burnham are back, and providing an alternative for those of us currently feeling rather ‘owled out’.
The story is assured, pacy, with dialogue both darkly dramatic (‘The others ate beef …’) and archly amusing (‘I was trained to rule the world, father’) as Morrison shapes his Gotham and the relationship between Bruce and Damian. While there’s something to enjoy on every page – there’s no fat in this 22pp opener – my favourite moment comes as Damian declares that he’s changing his dietary habits I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve ever read Art and Franco’s Tiny Titans, you’ll laugh hard.
While this book doesn’t reference any Night of the Owls business, it does acknowledge recent Bat-books as Bruce voices disapproval over Damian’s willingness to kill. And it ties into Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns with the Gotham mutant gang.
Mainly though, this comic goes its own way, continuing the massive story Morrison’s been telling for several years. That it remains so coherent is a tribute to the man’s craft, and the comic’s editors.
Returning artist Burnham dazzles with his vision for Gotham, never skimping on the details as almost-proud dad Batman and perma-disgruntled Robin dart across the page. His storytelling is first class – no matter how small he goes with the frames, things remain clear. And he captures the comedy beats as well as the drama, with many a standout scene. My favourite, apart from a certain Aw Yeah! moment, shows the new Dynamic Duo swinging past Gotham’s towers, with the buildings serving as panels. Colouring the artwork, Nathan Fairbairn adds to the experience with his intelligent design decisions, while Patrick Brosseau’s letters sit well on the artwork.
And that cover by Burnham and Fairbairn is just delicious in its rightness.
It’s been a while coming, but Batman Incorporated is back and with issues this brilliant, fingers crossed it sticks around a long time.