(a) Chris Burnham
“This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Eliot’s words ring true for Grant Morrison as he brings the his seven year long Batman saga to a close with Batman, Incorporated #13, an issue that reminds readers that epic doesn’t have to be grandiose, and true meaning can be derived from hollow actions. The story of Leviathan and Batman’s worldwide crusade to end a network of pure evil that even infected Gotham City began before the start of Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1, and Talia al Ghul’s influence over the Dark Knight’s life began long before that. Batman Incorporated in the ‘New 52’ is the endgame to Morrison’s Batman saga, wrapping up years of intricate storylines, emotional swelling, and some of the lowest and most desperate points in Bruce Wayne’s life. Morrison has put the Caped Crusader through quite a bit in seven years, and this final chapter not only does Batman Incorporated justice as a series, but it closes Morrison’s run with Batman at a point that challenges future creative teams to play with and expand upon what’s been built as well as what’s been torn down.
** SPOILERS AHEAD. READ THE ISSUE FIRST. OR DON’T. I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT TO DO. **
Batman Incorporated #13 opens with the showdown between Batman and Talia, swords in hand. Each of them exists, emotionally, at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their son Damian’s death. To Bruce, Damian was everything. Damian was his only son, the future of the Wayne name, the future of Batman, and the future of Gotham City. While he was still a father to his son, Bruce believed Damian could be anything he wanted to be, and Bruce was just fine with whatever Damian would eventually choose. Though they swung through the city at night as a crime fighting duo, and even though Damian held a sword to Bruce’s nose at their first meeting, Bruce and Damian’s relationship wasn’t much different from many kids and their fathers; they simply didn’t understand each other.
To Talia, Damian was a failed experiment, raw data used in her conquest to destroy Batman once and for all. At one point, this fact may have been different; Talia may have once loved the idea of Damian as a son, when he was very, very young. But when Damian decided to leave the League of Assassins and join his father in Gotham City, Talia became resentful and created Leviathan as revenge. Well, that and Batman creating an international web of allies. “You chose to make war. I gave you an unbeatable villain. I did this all for you, in my spare time,” Talia laments as she watches her former lover crumble under the influence of fatal poisons. Talia never loved Damian because he was never more than a tool with which to strike at the Dark Knight. How do you break an unbreakable man? Destroy the thing he holds most dear. In hindsight, Damian could never have survived past Morrison’s Batman work.
Leviathan is an incredible Batman villain. But Leviathan is not Talia al Ghul, nor is it the grotesque, hyper-enhanced clone of Damian Wayne, the Heretic. Leviathan is the idea of evil that overtook those who had nothing else, and chose to follow it’s tempting call. Leviathan promised a new world order, and the more people that joined the cause, the closer to that goal Leviathan could get. How does one punch and kick a creed, a religion, or a superstition? For Bruce and Robin, the fight was against Talia. They looked away as the bigger picture was staring them in the face; Batman Inc agents found dead, more and more recruits to the cause of Leviathan, Talia’s training of a ‘roided out Damian hellbent on murdering Batman and taking his place. These are things Bruce should have prioritized. Instead, Leviathan manipulated Bruce’s mind to suit it’s own needs.
The tension between Bruce and Talia is what makes Leviathan such an unbeatable, yet nearly nonexistent enemy. Talia even so much as admits to Leviathan’s frailty when she explains that, “If I fail to return, Leviathan will release it’s hold on Gotham. Kill me and save your city. Kill me or I kill you.” Without Talia, Leviathan is nothing, but she has nothing but Leviathan with which to fight her dark detective. This is it for Batman and Talia.
Whether you subscribe to Grant Morrison’s wacky narrative style, his Batman saga has been a landmark of DC comics over the past seven years. Throughout his runs on Batman, Batman and Robin, and finally Batman Incorporated, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Morrison rewrote the book on Batman. He gave us Batman’s son, then took him away. He killed Bruce Wayne and let Dick Grayson wear the cowl before Bruce came back. He made Batman go global, and the implications were mesmerizing. There have been many great Batman stories, and many great Batman arcs, but a Batman saga; that’s all Morrison. Batman Incorporated #13 is the end of Morrison’s Batman story, but it’s not the end for his characters or his various plot points. The final pages of this book bring up a whole slew of unresolved issues that leave things open for the future. Damian Wayne and Talia al Ghul may be dead, but what does that mean for Batman, Leviathan, and the League of Assassins? We’ll all just have to keep reading.