The Batman - Dread Creature of the Boardroom!
That's what I was expected from a book called Batman Incorporated. That's not what I got, but I like what's there. Namely, a murder mystery involving Mr Unknown, the Batman of Japan; Batman and Catwoman acting as partners in every sense; the best fight scene a bat-book has offered in ages; and a wonderfully old fashioned - and very satisfying - cliffhanger.
I'm not big on Far East superheroes. Batman Inc writer Grant Morrison's Great Ten super-team hasn't grabbed me; I suspect it's a combination of their amusingly annoying names (Most Honorable Super-Bat, Shiny Happy Aquazon etc) and the characters' achingly cool ways. Nevertheless, this Tokyo-set issue proved pretty engaging, starting with the debut of a creepy new adversary, continuing with a battle against Dr Sivana's robotic critters and ending with Catwoman facing her fears to save a sidekick's sweetheart.
This isn't the Morrison of Final Crisis, or The Invisibles, filling the pages with graphic experiments requiring screeds of annotations. It isn't even the Morrison of Batman RIP, ladling on colourful and punning clues to the big picture. It's a boy who just wants to have fun, sending Batman and Catwoman off on an adventure in a far-off-land. He's certainly playful here, not only evoking a villain from the light-hearted Captain Marvel series - we don't actually see Sivana - but cutting the fight short, having left the reader in no doubt that this is one our heroes can win.
Then again, this is only the first issue, and I can be somewhat thick, so it may yet turn out that the evil mastermind Morrison is in control. Whatever the case, this is entertaining stuff, especially in the Bat/Cat scenes. They're equals on the crime-crushing front and - hallelujah - there's no pussyfooting around in terms of their relationship. They're lovers, and in love. After a couple of decades of an obsessive Batman, with Bruce Wayne relegated to the status of just another Matches Malone-style disguise, it's wonderful to see him relaxing with Selina sans mask.
There is a little bit of the classic playboy Bruce, with Selina arriving in Japan as 'Miss Elva Barr, a cosmetics heiress'. I love that the press doesn't need any context other than 'a cosmetics heiress'. Not 'the', simply some random rich gal - Elva Barr is an alias of Catwoman going back to the Golden Age - hanging out with the rich American. Morrison obviously had great fun with Selina's dialogue, giving her lines the X-Men's Emma Frost would be proud of.
Being around the focused but flighty Catwoman almost always lifts Batman, but I hope his bantering mood this issue is symptomatic of his revised personality. And it's not like he's gone totally Adam West - when the situation calls for it, he can still scare the heck out of a henchman. The difference is that he's no longer trying to scare the good guys too.
So, Batman's not gone West - but the Sixties TV series certainly informs the delightful last couple of pages, which sees an omniscient narrator invite us back for issue #2.
The artwork is excellent - penciller Yanick Paquette and inker Michel Lacombe's lush illustrations sing on the page, then leap off it. Again and again the dynamic compositions remind us what good superhero art is about, and Nathan Fairbairn's colours always hit the spot (check out the simple character highlighting trick on page 4). The contrast between dark Gothamites Batman and Catwoman and the neon wonderland of Tokyo is marvellous. There's the odd moment when you wonder just how the madly curvy Catwoman doesn't dislocate her hips, but the artists seem to be taking their cue from Adam Hughes' version of Selina, the bad girl of good girl art, which isn't the worst choice they could make.
The only thing I don't like about the artwork is the horrendous new Batman costume - no shorts, a surfeit of seams and a ridiculous armoured codpiece - but that's not the fault of Batman Inc's team, it's a David Finch design. I suppose it's meant to sit well with the Christopher Nolan movie crowd, but heaven knows what they'll think of a Batman who cracks jokes and is finding time for a life.
Letterer John J Hill keeps the words looking good, making a particular splash on the splash page with a massive treatment for the story title. The cover by JH Williams flags up what this book will be doing, and where we are this month, but I'd have liked a little breakdown inside of what exactly Batman Inc is. I know it's Batman doing a McDonalds, franchising around the world, but I want to know more.
Which, if I needed any others, is a good excuse to come back next month.