It's been a few months since the first series of "Batman Incorporated" temporarily wrapped up in anticipation of the title's return this month. At first, my instinct was to dig out the previous series and re-read them in order to prep for the all-new "Batman Incorporated" #1. Instead I resisted that urge; it's a new #1, and I decided I should try and approach the title as fresh as I could, to see how well the book would work for those who hadn't read the previous eight issues and double-sized special.
As it turns out? The new "Batman Incorporated" #1 kicks butt either way.
Grant Morrison has at least temporarily set aside a lot of the labyrinth storytelling methods that punctuated the original run of "Batman Incorporated." In many ways "Batman Incorporated" #1 reminds me a lot of Morrison's run on "Batman and Robin," just telling a strong story starring Bruce and Damian Wayne. All you need to know from the previous series is carefully brought up again in this issue; there's an evil organization called Leviathan, and Damian's mother Talia al Ghul is its leader. Beyond that, everything is new, starting with Bruce Wayne being arrested on page 1, then jumping backwards one month to start telling us the events that led up to that moment.
The story moves briskly, full of great bursts of dialogue from a wry comment on ex-girlfriends trying to get one's attention, to the introduction of the Bat-Cow. There's a little bit of something for everyone; a fight scene at a meat-processing plant, a horrifying dinner, the location of the Batcave West (and other members of Batman Incorporated), and a desperate would-be assassin. Here's the thing that struck me the most, though; "Batman Incorporated" #1 felt like a double-sized issue, even though it's still just 20 pages long. There's so much packed into this first issue, it almost feels like a gauntlet being thrown, reminding us how to kick off a new series.
Chris Burnham drew a good portion of the original run of "Batman Incorporated" (issues #4, 6, 7 and the half of the "Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!" one-shot that would have been #10), so you might think you know what to expect here. You'd be wrong. Burnham's somehow, impossibly, gotten better in the intervening months. If I hadn't known better, I would have guessed that it was Frank Quitely drawing "Batman Incorporated" #1, not Burnham. The art is lush and full of detail, from the hordes of police officers surrounding Bruce Wayne at the bottom of the very first page, to the debris flying through the air as Batman and Robin leap out of the Batmobile on the two-page spread that immediately follows.
Burnham's storytelling is amazing here; lots of tiny panels that dance across the page, and some facial expressions that just about killed me. Damian's petulant face when he complains about being lectured is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while, and the frantic, desperate, scared face of the would-be assassin when we first meet him makes you feel sorry for the man despite his motive. And when Burnham tells the story on one page by having the story shift onto old, faded billboards along abandoned buildings, the end result looks dynamite.
For those interested in the new lore and timeline of the DC Universe post-"Flashpoint," they might be a little puzzled and/or intrigued by "Batman Incorporated" #1. There's an explicit mention to Batman's death and rebirth, as well as Dick Grayson's stint as Batman. There's even a reference to the Outsiders and Element Man being a member of the Justice League in the past. I'm sure people who like to piece these sorts of things together just found a goldmine of information (or should that be a sinkhole?) that should drive them crazy for months to come.
Of course, nothing hinges on how this book does or doesn't fit into the overall line. Is it fun? Absolutely. Is it great? I'd go so far as to say yes. "Batman Incorporated" #1 reminds me of how exciting it was to read "Batman and Robin" #1 by Morrison and Quitely a few years ago. This is just as promising. I can't wait to see what happens next. If you're a fan of Batman -- or just good superhero comics in general -- you need to read "Batman Incorporated " #1.