Eye of the Gorgon: Batman Incorporated #2 [Annotations]
The third issue of Batman Incorporated might be delayed for a month, but here at ComicsAlliance we've got annotations for the second issue to tide you over! Twenty pages of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham doing their continuity cut-up style you've seen before in the fourth issue of the last volume, tying together panels and scenes from numerous old comics with a new narrative that pushes the current story forward. Click below the jump to read.
Page 1: Ra's and Melisande are at a concert greatly reminiscent of the Live Aid charity show from July 13, 1985 -- which would make Talia roughly twenty-six years old, which would make her somewhat age-appropriate for the about-thirty-ish Batman currently residing in the New 52.
Despite how important Melisande is in the history of Ra's and Talia, she's never been seen on panel until now. Her name comes from Mike W. Barr's graphic novels Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon, while her actual origin comes from Denny O'Neil and Norm Breyfogle's Birth of the Demon. In Birth, Talia said that Ra's met her mother at Woodstock; the Live Aid setting here is a modern updating of that, since otherwise Talia would have to be in her sixties. The "Lazarus Affair" arc by Marv Wolfman in the late '70s revealed that Talia was actually over two hundred years old and maintained her age due to Ra's's "Lazarus Touch," but that seems to be completely discarded ever since, largely because a woman staying young due to her daddy's touch is insanely creepy.
Melisande talks about Neptune being in Capricorn, which would also date this page (and Talia's birth) as taking place between 1984 and 1997. Neptune represents dreams, while Capricorn is pragmatic; as Melisande says, the convergence of the two is about the realization of dreams. More importantly, however, it's about frustration with the world not matching your dreams, and a drive to change it. Children born while Neptune is in Capricorn are dissatisfied with the world and wish to remake it in their image; this reflects not only Talia's desires, but also Morrison's description of Darkseid's motivations from the Final Crisis Secret Files, and Darkseid's shadow still looms large over Morrison's Batman run.
Additionally, the movement of Neptune through the constellations reflects Morrison's infatuation with the social effects of solar cycles, which he went into in Supergods, discussing how rough decade cycles alternate between pragmatism and psychedelia, uppers and hallucinogens. Neptune in Capricorn represents the merging of the two, which also aligns nicely with Batman's nature as a pragmatic, realistic thinker whose battles lead to him tripping more balls than you could find in a McDonald's PlayPlace.
Ra's displays a lot of dissatisfaction with the wealthy and privileged, dismayed by the lack of a proper aristocracy to protect the poor. His criticism of Live Aid is particularly pointed, blaming the rich rock stars for performing to encourage the poor to give to Africa rather than just giving all the money themselves. This echoes Doctor Hurt's complaints about Batman as well from R.I.P., chiding him for spending his time and money beating up poor people in alleyways. Class warfare is an important undertone in Morrison's run (as well as to the character of Batman in general).
Anyway, so Ra's basically wins over a hippie girl a hundredth of his age with the power of cynicism and knocks her up "for Gaia." Ra's al Ghul: the original hipster.
Pages 2-3: This page alternates between Talia entering her father's stronghold and a scene from shortly after Talia's birth, where Ra's climbs a mountain himself with a pickaxe and pulls a full Lion King presenting her to an adoring audience of desolate snowcapped peaks. A love of desolation has always been Ra's's major driving trait -- hence why he always seems to roll in deserts and mountain ranges -- he essentially sees himself as Earth's antibiotic against the infestation of humanity.
Page 4: Okay, so where have we heard "tiamat" before? Talia says that the "terrifying female archetypes" she took as her standard -- Kali Ma, Medusa, Tiamat -- were ideas from Otto Netz. Netz worked with the original Professor Pyg. And what did Pyg say to Damian in Batman and Robin #3?
"Did I tell you on Monday she's Mormo, formless chaos? On Tuesday it's all Tiamat this and Tiamat that. Tohu Va Bohu and boo-hoo-hoo. Wednesdays, the Gorgon Queen comes in on tiptoes with a million forked tongues for hair."
In context, it seemed like he was talking about his own "mommy made of nails," but in fact it's Damian's. Terrifying female archetypes, all of them -- it even seems possible that Pyg's placement with Simon Hurt was the result of Talia's machinations rather than Hurt's, since she (as we see later this issue) infiltrated that organization with Malenkov.
As for Ra's and Talia's relationship, well, we'll see the truth of that over the next few pages.
Page 5: We continue with Talia's past. The first panel, of her training, is inspired by a similar panel of Damian echoed later in this book that came from Andy Kubert's Batman #666. The rest is simply Talia studying (and drawing seriously adorable pictures of her mass murderer father) before having to see...
Page 6: ...Ra's rising from the Lazarus Pit for her first time. I really love the way Burnham sells Ra's's pure lunacy. The last panel, of Talia training while kicking a tree, is inspired by one of the opening pages in Batman: Year One.
Page 7: Here we see the emotional disconnection between Talia and Ra's start to build, as Talia apparently engages in rampant materialism for want of a maternal figure. (Which is kind of questionable politically and a crappy thing to say about single dads, but then most single dads don't run environmentalist terrorist empires and lie about what happened to their wives, so, well.)
The panel of her learning chemistry is important, not only for mirroring Batman's own original two-page origin, but also for setting up her ability to create poisons and antidotes that becomes important later. It's important to note that Talia is just as ruthless, and brilliant, as her father, despite having a small fraction of world experience. Morrison and Burnham are going a long way towards setting her up as a mirror image of Batman, driven by a completely different type of tragedy.
Page 8: Here we meet someone I can only assume is supposed to be Melisande, although she looks far more than ten years older than the beautiful woman we saw at Live Aid a few pages ago. The version of the Tarot card she's holding -- II, La Papesse, usually the High Priestess -- seems to be from the Marseilles tarot, implying (much like her name) Melisande's French heritage. The card, according to my loyal occult resource Wikipedia, represents secrets kept and revealed, and women living independently. That's happening on multiple levels in this scene and throughout this book, and if I listed them all we'd probably hit four thousand words.
Melisande gives Talia a crash course on astrology and where her father's star lies, in the Eye of the Gorgon.
Page 9: Melisande now shows Talia the nature of Algol, which is a binary star containing a father and a daughter -- representing Ra's himself and Talia, who, unlike Ra's's other children such as Nyssa Raatko (assuming she's still in continuity), has taken "al Ghul" as a surname. It's interesting that both Ra's and Talia lie within the Eye of the Gorgon, since everything Melisande says about Medusa (whose star this is too!) doesn't really apply to Ra's. Still, she points out that Medusa is a scorned woman, grown undesirable -- which not only represents Melisande, who's been tossed away by Ra's, but also present-day Talia, who is pretty damn pissed at that Bruce Wayne guy.
Melisande talks about how she begged to join Ra's in the Lazarus Pit, and this version of the history of Ra's breaks pretty cleanly from everything Mike W. Barr did in Son and Bride of the Demon, where Melisande died after accidentally falling into a Lazarus Pit. It's kind of interesting to note that Melisande's line about how she's "old and ugly and he stays the same" kind of reflects Luthor's line from the first issue of All Star Superman, about how he's getting older and Superman is staying the same. (Maybe Morrison's just dealing with his own aging.)
Melisande warns Talia that Ra's lies (true) and that she needs to create the illusion of helplessness to survive. Which Talia executes to great effect later. We never find out what Ubu did with Melisande after this final panel -- does he execute her? Just take her out? Talia asks her father later, but never gets an answer. Perhaps Melisande also plays a part in Leviathan, with Talia and Kathy Kane and the rest of the League of Scorned Women?
Page 10: The first scene, I presume, is just to demonstrate that Ra's was an absent father, leaving halfway through a ballet recital (who's the rest of the audience, anyway? I guess Ra's just rolls around in public like that a lot, considering he also attended Live Aid.)
We finally get to see Ra's give Talia her own Londonian underground headquarters, which we first saw in Morrison's very first Batman arc, especially in #656. Ra's states that it used to belong to the Devil Doctor of Limehouse, who was the thinly-disguised Fu Manchu from the first volume of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
So not only can Morrison just not stop poking the Alan Moore beehive, but by doing this also draws a parallel between Fu Manchu -- oriental criminal mastermind with distinctive, bordering on iconic, facial hair and a a beautiful, brilliant daughter as his lieutenant -- and Ra's al Ghul, who's all of the above. Ra's tries to make up for his absences with Talia, but at this rate I'm pretty sure Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids" was probably written about her.
Page 11: However, any sort of touching family moment between the al Ghuls is ruined by the arrival of the Sensei's assassins. The Sensei is the original leader of the League of Assassins, and -- as revealed by Morrison himself in #671, during the "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" crossover -- the father of Ra's, with whom Ra's is constantly warring. I'm not sure how Ra's being the son of the Sensei lines up with Denny O'Neil and Norm Breyfogle's Birth of the Demon, which I'd think would be the definitive origin for the character even for Morrison even though it came out in the 1990s. We met Ra's's uncle there, too, who lived in a desert tribe; it wasn't stated whether he was his mother's or father's brother, but the Sensei looks way more like he's from the far east, not the middle east. (Also, "Sensei" is a pretty Japanese word.) Then again, it's perfectly possible Sensei traveled to the Middle East, since he himself is immortal.
In any case, the Sensei was a leader of the League of Assassins back when they first appeared, second only to Ebeneezer Darrk, who we'll meet later, who was placed there by Ra's and then rebelled against him for reasons yet to be elaborated on. And, of course, Ra's continues to lie about Talia's mother.
Page 12: We now cut to the events of Talia's first appearance, in Detective Comics #411 by Dennis O'Neil and Bob Brown. The last issue of an ongoing arc featuring Batman fighting the League of Assassins and Doctor Darrk, the issue featured Batman traveling to Egypt on a tip from a dead informant, dressing up as an old lady to board the Soom Express. Darrk, meanwhile, has kidnapped Talia, and as he tries to take her to his lair, Batman attempts to rescue her and gets the crap beaten out of him and thrown in with her. Darrk forces Batman to fight an angry bull for Talia's safety, which he does, and then as they're escaping, Talia grabs Darrk's gun and caps him in the chest. In the original version of this story, it's made to look like Talia was really kidnapped; later Ra's stories, and this retelling, give a version where the entire kidnapping was a ruse to hook Talia up with Batman. So ladies, you should probably put a recap of this issue in your preferred first date section on OKCupid.
The retelling on this page has Darrk "kidnapping" Talia while she's studying at Cairo. Her dialogue on this page explicitly states that she's allowing herself to be kidnapped as part of a larger plan we'll see more of later; the original reason for Ra's matchmaking his daughter with Batman was so she could bear him an heir, although Morrison, back in the "Resurrection" crossover, gives new meaning to the reason why Ra's wants an heir.
Page 13: A new conversation inserted into the events of 'Tec #411, with Talia goading Darrk on to leave the train and set up the trap for Batman, while Talia practices her sexy Medusa death hypnostare. Notice that Darrk refers to it as a "wink", a nod to the star Algol's variable light and "winking" nature.
Page 14: All of the panels on this page are from 'Tec #411, with the exception of the final panel, which is from Batman #243 a few months later -- the woman in the background is Molly Post, a champion skiier Bruce conscripted (in his Matches Malone guise, which made its first appearance in this arc) into his assault on Ra's's headquarters alongside scientist Harris Blaine (later to die in Bride of the Demon) and former Assassin Lo Ling.
Page 15: Cut back to the present, as Ra's confirms that he forced Talia into a situation where she'd fall in love with Batman, because he's a manipulative douchebag. Cut back to the events of Batman #244, where Ra's -- after having risen from a Lazarus Pit after the events of #243 -- escapes to the desert to set a trap for Batman, who's coming to swordfight shirtless with him in the desert. The conversation between Ra's and Talia here is new, with Talia beginning to suspect why Ra's wants her to bear him a grandson -- to give him a new body to migrate to after his death and the deplenishment of the Lazarus Pits. This process, where Ra's attempted to inhabit Damian, occurred in the "Resurrection of Ra's" crossover, which is rapidly becoming less of the black sheep of Morrison's Batman run.
Anyway, two shirtless dudes with tons of hair fight with swords in the desert and it's totally badass...
Page 16: Until Batman gets stung by a scorpion. Thankfully, Talia already knows how to create an antidote to its poison, and delivers it to the defeated Batman with a kiss, defying her father.
Page 17: Batman, almost undead, takes care of Ra's and then -- in a scene that was originally implied to be from Son of the Demon but now seems to be another, heretofore unseen incident where Batman decided not to wear a Bat-condom -- gets drugged (you can tell only Batman's drink was drugged by the swirly heart motif coming from his drink that's been repeated in every Talia-does-chemistry scene this issue). It's unclear to me what the drug did, since I'm pretty sure Bruce would have slept with Talia with or without chemical persuasion, so perhaps it was some sort of super-bat-sperm-enhancer or something?
Page 18: And so Damian Wayne, current Robin and focus of this conflict, is conceived. The first panel shows Damian's gestation (artifical, explaining how he could be at most four or five years old in the New 52 timeline but biologically ten), mirroring another panel from #666; the second panel, with Bruce refusing Talia, I don't believe is a direct representation of a previous event but could very well be; the third panel mirrors Talia's training as well as Damian's training from #666; the fourth panel shows that Talia actually was the mastermind behind the villainous Society from Villains United and Infinite Crisis, neither of which -- much like this book -- could have occurred in the New 52 continuity. (Note, for instance, Black Adam's appearance here, when he's only just been introduced in the present day in the backups in Justice League).
The final panel shows that prior to the events of "Batman & Son," Morrison's first arc, Talia was able to convince Malenkov to join the Black Glove, therefore successfully placing Talia as this series' uber-mastermind all along, behind Simon Hurt, behind Professor Pyg, behind the League of Assassins and the Black Glove and John Mayhew and everybody else. It's worth mentioning as well that the last arc in the Tales of the Demon trade paperback features Ra's, Talia, the Sensei and the "death" of Kathy Kane -- who's now almost definitely working with Talia against Batman as part of Leviathan.
Page 19: The first three panels are explicitly from Batman #658, and show Batman refusing to join Talia to raise Damian, making the choice that would solidify her plan to become Leviathan. Jumping back to the present, Talia demonstrates that she, not Ra's, is running this show, as well as showing her awareness of the fact that Damian's death at the end of last issue was faked. The "monster at her command" that Talia is describing, "grown in the belly of a whale" and "as stealthy as Batman himself" is the Heretic, who's likely the Damian clone shown way back in Batman and Robin #12. As we saw back in Batman: The Return, the Heretic literally gestated in a superhuman experimentation lab in the middle of a gigantic whale. (I almost wonder if Morrison will name him Jonah.)
Of course, the gigantic whale he was grown in is also the organization Leviathan itself.
Page 20: The Heretic knocks some Ubu skulls together. Talia puts her skullface mask back on and rolls out with her crew, having completely emasculated her father and established her dominance like Cesar Milan with an unruly Rottweiler.
Links to my other annotations:
- Batman: The Return; Batman, Inc. #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, Leviathan Strikes (not yet done), v2 #1
- Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6; Batman #700, #701, #702; Batman and Robin #14, #15, #16
- original Batman run and previous issues of Batman and Robin