The Comic Book Club: Night Animals and Batman Inc.

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EVAN: (Introductory side note: Those hands at the beginning of Batman Inc. #3 totally belong to G.I. Robot. I’m calling it.)

Man, that Grant Morrison is something. He starts off the issue by pulling off a trick he’s the master of, which is suggesting a whole other superhero history that lives adjacent to the mainline universe. “Oh, you never heard of Mr. Albion or Captain Carnation before? They’ve always been here.” They’re pastiches–Captain Britain, Doctor Who, a little bit of Morrison’s own Zenith–that feel unique to Morrison’s brain. Sure, they wind up being so much cannon fodder, but I wanted to know more about them.

And the other thing Morrison’s doing in this book is a hot-blooded fusion of superhero/pop culture traditions from around the world. Yes, the interpretations of Japan in the first two issues and now Argentina are broad enough to rub up against stereotype, but the whole premise of Batman Inc. walks a tightrope of near-campiness. So what if El Gaucho is ‘muy macho’? Morrison balances the tones just right so that nothing feels offensive. It’s tricky and brilliant.

The recurring sensation so far when reading Batman Inc. is to think, “Christ, this crap should be so corny.” I mean, the parrot coughing up the vital clue? The Tango of Death? You can practically hear the Adam West voice in Batman’s speech balloons. But, at the same time, there’s that dangerous macabre edge waiting to cut further down the line. Still, there’s so much fun here. Gaucho smirking at Batman’s “poor” secret-identity maintenance when just about anyone can figure out he’s Don Santiago Vargas. Batman uttering the line “…before he fainted.” It all just works so well.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: “Batman” x 2 and “The Extremist”)

DOUGLAS: This is a puzzle-box of a comic book, and I have no objections to that–I admire how quickly Morrison has set a tone for this new series that’s significantly different from both his Batman and his Batman & Robin. And it’s so video-game-ish I can practically sense the cut-scenes. But it works here, yes! I think what’s helping it click is that Morrison’s totally earnest about even his camp: the whole story feels cooked down from something looser and slower into a hyper-condensed, hyper-compressed meteorite. (I’m curious, though, about what took this issue so long to get done; the next one’s due in two weeks, and it’s odd that Pere Perez ended up pinch-hitting for a two-page scene of exposition 3/4 of the way through the story.)

A few observations:

*Curious that Morrison never comes out and says that the opening scene takes place in the Falkland Islands (it’s just “in time of war,” but that’s what the map is of, and that’s where it’s Atlantic/Stanley time), but if you’re bringing characters from Britain and Argentina together, it’s an appropriate location.

*When I see the name “Dedalus” next to a tower on a rocky shore, I can’t help thinking of James Joyce’s Telemachiad in Ulysses. Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges in my Batman comic? Yes please. (Espartaco Extraño is a Morrison invention rather than a creation of the Florida group–and Borges wasn’t one of their regulars–but I’m willing to roll with that.)

*The opening scenes of this issue remind me very strongly of Seven Soldiers of Victory #0: the team of slightly too few hapless second-raters heading into a fatal trap, the spider’s web (“Spyral”/”Spyder”), Knight’s “super-toys” like Merry/Gimmix’s, the presence of a double agent, the mountainous landscape, Papagayo’s face-kerchief and hat recalling Vigilante’s… that can’t be an accident. (Also, J.H. Williams III, but that’s a little bit more of a happy accident. I love that he’s still drawing El Gaucho in a Howard Chaykin style, too.)

*This is, on the other hand, the second time in three issues we’ve had a cliffhanger centered on a drowning deathtrap. Maybe it’s a motif? Have we seen any other scorpions in Morrison’s stuff since King Mob’s scorpion tattoo back in The Invisibles?

GRAEME: I agree with the Seven Soldiers feel to the opening. Everything up until the appearance of Batman, in fact, feels like it’s come from that project, whether it’s the previously unseen, doomed British superteam (complete with two Maggie Thatcher shout-outs! “The lady’s not for turning” indeed) or the villain’s speech before El Gaucho and Batman appear. I’m not complaining in the slightest, as I loved 7S, but it’s somewhat surprising nonetheless. Maybe fitting, too: the tonal shifts of that uber-series, with all its moving parts, may suggest a guide to where Batman Inc. will end up going.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Fantastic Four’s Finale and Avengers #10)

This seemed pretty much in keeping with everything Morrison set up in the first couple of issues – Batman appears in foreign country, teams up with local superhero to deal with local menace and uses that as an introduction to the idea of joining Batman Inc. – but it feels more serious, somehow. The first couple of issues felt more campy to me than this one, which is surprising considering the high camp of the Tango of Death (that, and the parrot, really reminded me of Seaguy, while I’m drawing comparisons to Morrison projects), but there’s something here that’s closer in tone to the first few “Batman RIP” issues, for some reason. I’m not sure how I feel about that; I like that it suggests that we’ll get an over-arching story in the end, but I wanted this to be light throughout, I guess. Unsure whether I just need to read this again in a better frame of mind, to be honest.

Also: Pere Perez’ pages don’t really jump out too badly in terms of fill-ins, but what is going on behind the scenes here? This issue is two months late and it still has fill-in pages?

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