Batman Incorporated #5-6: The Bat-Empire Expands [Annotations]
We're finally back with an annotated look at the last two issues of Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated, #5 ("Masterspy") and #6 ("Nyktomorph"), in preparation for next week's #7. There's a lot to digest inside, including a bunch of callbacks to Seven Soldiers, New Adventures of Hitler, Return of Bruce Wayne and countless other cultural miscellany. Join us in our latest analysis of Morrison's masterful run on the legend of the Dark Knight.
Batman Incorporated #5, art by Yanick Paquette
IN THIS ISSUE: Batwoman, the Hood, Batman and Gaucho all converge on the island in the Falklands where Doctor Dedalus was trapped in a lighthouse, in his "maze of death," echoing the Greek myth of the Minotaur's labyrinth. After a fight with Scorpiana, Batman chases a Leviathan operative into the lighthouse, where he's nearly killed by a weaponized Hammer of Wayland Smith (previously worn by British superhero Mr. Albion, who died trapping Dedalus here) before jumping out of the lighthouse and having the Batplane blow it all to Hell. They then realize the Dedalus walking around was not Dedalus at all, but rather a former director of the facility equipped with a tape recording of Dedalus's real voice, since he's been kidnapped by Leviathan.
In a prologue to the next issue, new Batman Incorporated operative David Zavimbi, Batwing, investigates a Leviathan training camp in Mtamba before getting shot at a lot and getting the hell out of Dodge with Bruce Wayne.
Page 1: We pick up right where #4 left off, with Batman and Gaucho beating the crap out of El Sombrero for nearly killing them both in a deathtrap. He claims to work for "the greatest of them all," who we'll later find out is, of course, Doctor Dedalus -- it seems he's had his hooks in certain members of the Club of Villains for quite a while. As for Gaucho's comment about a broken back being too good for El Sombrero, it's notable Batman stops him -- he'd know about the pain involved in a broken back.
Page 2: On this page we get the secret history of Otto Netz, the future Doctor Dedalus. A Nazi spy and scientist who discovered the story of Oroboro like "a shining thread through the labyrinth of history" (yet another Daedalus/Theseus/Ariadne/Myth of the Minotaur reference), in the first panel we see him receiving a "unique cane" from Adolf Hitler as he explains that Oroboro will make its possessor "master of the world." Behind him is a map of England with four locations circled in the south, near the Welsh border, and on the table in front of him are what are presumably the prototypes for his many-lensed spy glasses. The last time Morrison wrote Hitler was in "The New Adventures of Hitler," printed in Scottish art magazine Cut in 1989, where a post-art-school, pre-WWI Adolf Hitler visited Britain on a quest for the Holy Grail. The similarities between Oroboro and the Grail myth are unmistakable; lost fragments of history and myth thought lost on the British Isles.
The second panel shows us Netz finding either Oroboro itself or a clue regarding its existence, and states that it's a "fifth form of matter," lost to "prehistory and the fall of primordial, unknown empires." He finds it in a cavern with a sword, a copper jug and a shield, with a decidedly Celtic cross on the wall. When it comes to primordial, unknown empires in Grant Morrison's DC Universe, one must look no further back than the proto-Aruthurian culture in Seven Soldiers, a book which intertwined Welsh and Kirby mythology with a time-spanning epic fight against the Sheeda/Sidhe, fairies who turned out to be not from another dimension but, rather, the far future (the Celts called it "Annwyn"; Morrison changed it to "unwhen"). This fifth form of matter could be the silver-blob "magic mirror" that Morrison considers a fifth-dimensional entity attempting to burrow into our four-dimensional reality (see The Invisibles), or something more specific to the DC Universe itself.
The final two panels reveal that Netz allowed himself to be captured by the British and went turncoat, becoming an underground figure who fought both law and crime as a means of study, before retiring to Argentina (like many ex-Nazis) and returning as "Doctor Dedalus," taking his name from the fake book written by the Florida Group under the name Espartaco Extrano that was revealed back in #3.
Page 3: Dedalus is replaced by a Leviathan operative later in the issue, and I'm unclear as to whether the man on this page is the real Dedalus or his doppelganger. He clearly either has Alzheimer's or is faking it; I still don't know quite what to make of the final two panels on the second row, where the man following him seemingly falls over and dies, but quickly restores himself. A trick of Dedalus's perception, or a trick of time?
Or did Dedalus actually kill his caretaker, and that caretaker is immediately replaced with a Leviathan operative, who asks Netz to tell him again about Oroboro because this will actually be his first time hearing it?
The poison Dedalus uses to kill the caretaker is, as he says, digitalis, also known as foxglove. (Foxes themselves are a regularly recurring symbol in Morrison's work; as shown in Animal Man, his childhood imaginary friend was a fox.) Much like a Joker, Dedalus asks his caretaker to stop him if he's heard this one before (since he's repeating the same stories over and over -- a commentary on the endless oroborous or simply dementia?) and asks him to deliver a message to his daughter, who we found out last issue was the presumably-dead Kathy Kane, former Batwoman. Whether she's alive right now to get a message delivered to her is unclear.
The note is a three-link circular chain made of of blue, green and either red or brown, depending on how we choose to interpret it. Since blue, green and red form the RGB color model that can be used to extrapolate all other colors of light, that seems a likely explanation. What the message could possibly mean, I don't think we're equipped to know yet.
Pages 4-5: We're introduced to George Cross, AKA the Hood, operative of T.H.E.Y., whoever T.H.E.Y. are. An honest-to-God government superspy, he's Batman's James Bond side ratched up to a thousand. The Hood, as I said last month, was firs introduced in Shadow of the Bat #21 when Bruce Wayne was in England looking for a cure for his broken back after the events of "Knightfall."
Page 6: He's also, evidently, a brutal flirt. Unfortunately for him, Batwoman plays for the other team.
Page 7: Here we get more of the bigger picture: the dead Marines that Batwoman was investigating last issue were on their way to this island, instigating a possible international incident that would essentially be a Second Falklands War between the U.K. and Argentina. Here, the categorize Oroboro as a power source that could change the world; it's likely that's just a facet of its possibility. The robot scorpions that show up in the final panel to vex our heroes are the poisonous remote-controlled pawns of Scorpiana.
Page 8: Obviously the end of Hood's sentence is "like a giant bloody bat." Jake Kane practically spitting out his coffee at how badass Batman is was a nice touch, since this is really the Jake & Kate Show's first encounter with Bruce rather than Dick.
Page 9: This Batwoman met Bruce before during her origin story, in Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's utterly superb "Go" arc collected in the Batwoman: Elegy hardcover. After beating up some punks who were trying to rob her, Batman swoops down to give her a hand back up, giving her a new symbol to belong to and fight for after she was kicked out of the military due to the now-thankfully-largely-repeated Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that prevented LGBTQs from serving openly in the military.
Hood is British, Gaucho is Argentinian; it's no real surprise that decades-old racial enmity would come to the forefront, especially among two superspies, one of whom is practically jingoistic about Britain and the other one of which was likely operating in that conflict. Hood calling Gaucho "Zardoz" is a reference to the Sean Connery film of the same name, where he has a similar hypermasculine, totally awesome moustache. (Side note: Zardoz has his own DC Universe knockoff in the form of Vartox, interstellar hypermasculine groovy space king, who was recently featured to hilarious results in Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's also excellent Power Girl run.) When Hood tells Gaucho he'll "go down like the Bel--" before getting cut off, the end of his sentence is "the Belgrano," a ship shot down during the Falklands conflict that may or may not have already been retreating to Argentina. As far as I can tell from my Americentric background, it's the Falklands equivalent of the controversy around the Gulf of Tonkin sinkings in the Vietnam war.
(hat tip to Amy Kennebec for the help with the Belgrano reference.)
Pages 10-12: Scorpiana attacks! Paquette murders this action sequence; the final panel is especially fantasy as Batwoman just owns the crap out of her. Even Gaucho and Hood stop to stare in amazement as Kate literally kicks Scorpiana's helmet off in a cloud of broken glass.
Page 13: We finally find out why Kate recognized the face of the girl who fought her in the Ghost Train last issue! At least we know that we shouldn't know who the Hell she is. Why Batwoman is beating up Scorpiana in the name of Kathy Kane I'm not sure -- maybe for desecrating Kathy's memory; maybe because Kate thinks Scorpiana might be responsible.
The three dead Marines, apparently, were psy-ops officers who were supposed to watch over Dedalus. Gaucho points out that everyone present is connected to Kathy Kane; is that because Dedalus is orchestrating things in her memory, or could she still be alive? The leader of Leviathan is burnt beyond recognition as it is...
Page 14: Lending credence to the idea that Oroboro has something to do with time travel, Dedalus immediately recognizes Batman as the "time voyager," fresh off of his travels in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. Batman approaches Dedalus's caretaker and he runs into the lighthouse; Dedalus mocks him while Hood, Gaucho and Batwoman survey the remains of the superhero team that locked Dedalus in the tower in the first place, first glimpsed back at the beginning of #3. Gaucho worked with Dedalus in Spyral when he was Agent 33 and Dedalus was Agent Zero.
Page 15: The Leviathan operative dies of digitalis poisoning, so maybe Dedalus did poison him at the beginning of the issue; it's still very unclear what actually happened in those two red-tinted panels. The hammer was left by Mr. Albion after the confrontation with Dedalus in #3, and -- this is pure speculation -- may or may not be the seventh treasure left by the New Gods in Seven Soldiers, since all of the other six played pivotal roles in that narrative, unless the hammer the proto-Arthurian knight Bors used to split the atom and create the world's first nuclear explosion was that.
Dedalus also seemed to prepare for not just any arrival but Batman's arrival -- this isn't just Batman with an unrelated conspiracy, it's connected to who and what he is.
Page 16: I guess the switch between Dedalus and the tape-recorded double took place after Batman ran into the lighthouse? This is the first page where we've seen him speaking in a tape-recording word balloon rather than a traditional one, but that could just be because the heroes just figured it out, rather than it being a recent switch. He seemed to be having a real conversation with the Leviathan agent.
Kate apologies to her father for fighting with him recently, a reference to the events of Batwoman: Elegy where Kate found out that her father knew her long-thought-dead sister was alive and kept this information from her until she returned as Intergang head Alice.
Page 17: We still have no idea who T.H.E.Y. are, or why they want the Hood to infiltrate Batman Incorporated. They could just be a branch of the Ministry of Defense, or they could be a subsidiary of Leviathan and he doesn't even know it. The book is titled "Masterspy," after all.
The fake Netz remarks that he recognizes the voice of the real one.
Pages 18-19: Indeed, Batman looks through Netz's fake-out and speaks to him through his recording goggles. Again, the enmity between Netz/the Leviathan leader and Batman seems personal; Netz's comment that Batman "must decipher the mystery of Oroboro" seems to point towards Netz wanting Batman to do it as an integral part of his plan. Why else would he lure that many world-class crimefighters to his former prison if not to use them to further his own master plan?
You'll note that every area Netz mentions as being part of a "new order" is a place with a Batman Incorporated operative -- Gaucho in Argentina, Mr. Unknown in Japan, Black Bat (who we'll see next issue) in Hong Kong, Dark Ranger (who we'll also see next issue) in Australia, Knight and Hood in England, and Nightrunner in France. Batman and Leviathan are both building rings around the world.
Also, note the pattern on the viewscreen in the final panel -- the symbol/message Dedalus wanted sent to his daughter. Again, I have to wonder -- the only other person in the room is the charred leader of Leviathan. Could that be Kathy Kane herself?
Batwing's design, as has been noted, is a shoutout to a black child's imagined idea of what Batman would be, from "The Batman Nobody Knows" in Batman #250, collected in the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade.
IN THIS ISSUE: Bruce Wayne continues to expand the Batman Incorporated empire, recruiting Dark Ranger in Australia, Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) in Hong Kong and Nightrunner in Paris (seen in Incorporated for the first time). He tracks a child slavery ring run by Leviathan from one of these places to the next, discovering that the children are actually brainwashed Leviathan assassins, sleeper operatives about to be awakened for some dark design of Dedalus and the mysterious, burned leader of Leviathan from their orbital satellite base. This is told through the framing device of "Joe Average and the Average Joes" hiring underworld private eye Nero Nykto to figure out what's going on with Batman, except Nero Nykto is Batman, that name meaning "Dark Knight" in Latin. He beats them up, and the shadow of the Bat falls across the entire world.
Page 1: Basically everyone on this page, I think, is new, except for Nero Nykto, who we discover at the end of the issue is Batman in disguise. While he goes by the name Night-Eye, his tie clip is still recognizably the Brother Eye logo, a clever detail put in to signify his real identity. Bruce created the Brother Eye satellite in the pre-Infinite Crisis DC Universe to keep an eye on the world's metahumans before it got hijacked by Alexander Luthor and Maxwell Lord and used to create an army of metahuman-targeting, murderous OMACs.
Much like Batman is franchising, so are Joe Average and the Average Joes; the difference is, Bruce Wayne has far more experience with corporate takeovers than these guys do.
Page 2: In the third panel here we see Ellie happily working at Waynetech. While it's not quite the "tiny goth Pepper Potts" role I was hoping she'd take when we last saw her in Batman #702, when she was thanking Bruce for getting her off the streets and into a real job right before his "death" in Final Crisis. In an interview with the Mindless Ones, artist Chris Burnham revealed that he designed the Waynecorp lobby as a sort of "Bruce-Cave," with trophies of his corporate adventures, such as the giant quarter.
Pages 3-4: The Emoticon Men are, as far as I know, brand-new creations, although possibly inspired by Gail Simone's character the Emoticon from her Welcome to Tranquility miniseries.
Batman's comment about how "if [Batman] didn't exist ... we'd just have to invent him" is a paraphrase of the famous Voltaire quote about God, which Morrison previously used in All Star Superman #10, when the inhabitants of Earth-Q, a world without a Superman, evolved in rapid-time, with Morrison chronicling the evolution of divine philosophy from Voltaire to Nietzche to, eventually, Siegel and Shuster, implying that Earth-Q is our world, and Superman is the end result of the classical concept of God.
The robotic Batmen behind him are probably people in suits, similar to both the Bat-sentries from Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come and the suits Bruce and Damian wore to investigate the Kollektiv in Yemen back in Batman: The Return.
Page 5: Some pretty exact detective work here as Bruce, Dick and Damian help Commissioner Gordon clear himself of the charge of randomly shooting a bunch of illegal immigrants, which, well, seems like a pretty ridiculous charge to put on Gordon in the first place. (Note the likeness of ComicsAlliance Batmanologist Chris Sims in the final panel, being pecked at by birds.)
(Where's MY cameo, Burnham?!?!)
Page 6: Bruce introduces Tim Drake, Red Robin, to the Outsiders, a team he's apparently now taking control of. They're fresh out of Batman and the Outsiders #40, by Dan DiDio, Philip Tan and Ron Randall, where after splitting in half for fifteen issues Batman rides on in, takes everyone home except for Geo-Force, and shuts down the title.
The characters, left to right, in the last panel are Looker, Metamorpho, Freight Train, Katana and Halo. The overseas work Tim performed while Bruce was inactive all occurred in the Red Robin ongoing series.
Page 7: Bruce rallies the troops and tells them all about Leviathan, as well as what he learned while lost in the timestream that made him so afraid of them as a threat. Unfortuantely, he only tells them this, and not us, the reader. Cheap trick, Morrison.
The crew, from left to right: Batgirl (Stephanie Brown), Halo, Red Robin, Looker, Oracle/Barbara Gordon via the big computer monitor, Robin (Damian Wayne), Batman (Dick Grayson), Katana, Metamorpho, Freight Train, Huntress.
Pages 8-9: Here, we see that Batman Incorporated is actually increasing the value and profile of Wayne Enterprises, as well as the fact that Grant Morrison has confused a message board and a chat room. (For shame.) Part of Bruce's plan to throw suspicion off himself being Batman is to make Batman a modern urban legend: something conspiracy theorists argue about on the Internet, likely with a huge talk section on his Wikipedia page and an entire subsection on Snopes. The more crazy theories are out there with hints of truth to them, the less people will care about anyone who actually figures it out.
The "Victims Inc." that Alex DeLarge mentions on the Gotham Guardians messageboard is from Batman #217, the issue where Batman left the Batcave and moved downtown to Wayne Tower upon Robin's... flight from the nest. He started "Victims, Inc." to help victims of crime in Gotham City, but it was a plot point forgotten about relatively quickly.
Page 10: Once again, Morrison skips past all of Bruce's exposition so that we, the reader, can be kept in the dark. I still kind of think that's dirty pool, although Morrison's entire run has been obsessed with gaps and holes in things, so perhaps it betrays a deeper symbolic purpose.
Pages 11-13: Alfred's advice -- "think ahead, deploy your forces for maximum impact and strike hard while the other chap's got his eye on the wrong square" -- does seem rather suspicious, considering he checkmates Bruce in chess one panel later. I'd go ahead and say that Alfred seems kind of sinister and perhaps he is playing a role in Leviathan, being a former master spy himself, but that guess already bit me pretty hard in the lead-up to Batman R.I.P. (second time's the charm!)
We switch over to France, where Nightrunner (introduced in 2010's Batman and Detective Comics annuals, in a main story by David Hine and backups by Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy) is chasing a runaway truck through the streets of Paris. Note the totally ridiculous Frenchman caricature in the top panel of page 12; I'm shocked he doesn't have a baguette, cigarette and white flag just to complete the package.
It seems, perhaps, that he was actually a member of the "Les Stereotypes" mentioned by Bruce/Nykto in the bottom panels, since I can't think of a more blatant French stereotype.
Meanwhile, as Batman and Nightrunner save these supposedly tranquilized slave children from the truck carrying them, it turns out they're unrepentant, brainwashed murderers killing in the name of Leviathan. Batman takes pictures of the dead bodies and uses them, as Nero Nykto, to imply that Batman killed them, therefore increasing criminals' fear that Batman is now more willing to cross lines. The more he can convince people of that fact without actually doing it, the easier his life is.
Batman traces the supposed recipient of the child assassins, Jimmy Song...
Page 14: to Hong Kong, where Black Bat, the new name of former Batgirl Cassandra Cain, helps him scare the Hell out of some Hong Kong mobsters and dump a busload of heroin into the harbor. This is the first we see Cass in her new costume and new name, although she's been showing up since in the rather good so far Batman: Gates of Gotham miniseries by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy, which also builds off the history of Gotham established by Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
Page 15: Nykto's just trying to freak these criminals out, now; it's clever how Bruce is pretending to be an underground private eye just to increase criminals' fear of Batman's activities. Bruce went to Australia following the leads from Hong Kong, and teamed up with the new Dark Ranger, introduced in Batman #681 as the old Dark Ranger's former sidekick, Scout, taking up his mentor's mantle after the original Dark Ranger's death in #668. (The villainous Wingman traded suits with him and burned him alive; we'll see what Batman does with Wingman's legacy momentarily). This one's an Australian Aborigine, and as Nero says on the next page, is totally okay with tattooing the criminals he subdues to mark them for life.
Page 16: We cut back to North Africa, to the ruins of the Leviathan training camp from the end of last issue (presumably); Batwing has now joined up with Traktir and Spidra of the Super-Kollektiv, introduced back in Batman: The Return as byproducts of Leviathan-run biological testing to create new supersoldiers in a bizarre satire of Final Crisis.
As for whoever is taking over the mantle of the traitorous Wingman, it's really two possibilities: the first is that it's Jason Todd, the second Robin who took a bad turn and became the murderous anti-hero Red Hood. However, Bruce only says that it's to salvage *a* reputation, not necessarily the reputation of the person in the suit; with the casual way that the new Wingman calls Batman "Bruce," it's completely possible that this is his super ace in the hole in the form of his good friend Superman himself. (Hat tip to Teatime Brutality.)
Pages 17-18: Batman continues to build his own myth, as he says at the bottom of page sixteen, even putting out the rumor that Batman died and came back as a God, mirroring the rumor in advance of Final Crisis that Batman would die and come back as a New God.
Also note that Batman's cloak dissolves into smoke, much like Doctor Dedalus's patented "cloak of smoke."
As Bruce points out, "Nero Nykto" means "Dark Knight," and these Joes were about as average as you could get.
Page 19: Cut to Dedalus and the leader of Leviathan onboard their orbital space station -- a perfect place, by the way, to pick up Lord Death Man's spacebound remains for his return in some sort of final confrontation where he can GTA the place up just like he did in issues 1 and 2 of this book. There were two hundred and fifty children in the Leviathan underneath New York in Seven Soldiers; here, Dedalus says that five hundred are about to be activated, "each trained to imitatet he action of the virus." (The virus, not a virus? Could they mean the OMAC virus? They are on a satellite, after all...)
Hilariously enough, Dedalus repeats the same rumor Bruce was pushing a page before, that Batman has come back as a God.
Pages 20-21: Congratulations, Chris Burnham. This is a really impressive double-page spread, a single violent tableau broken across eight locations.
From left to right: Batwing; Nightrunner; Gaucho; Blackbat; Red Robin; Jiro Osamu, the former Batman of Japan (as corrected by Chris Burnham below in the comments); Dark Ranger; Batman again. The absence of Dick and Damian is rather conspicuous.