I’m going to go ahead and admit to you that the first time I read Batman Incorporated 1 I didn’t quite follow what in the hell was going on. As with the first time I read Final Crisis, I got the gist of things, but didn’t understand the importance of all the layers lying overtop the basic plot. I think I get it now, but I’m not making any promises here.
I don’t want to spend much time on the chronological story. That’s where things get confusing. But suffice it to say, most of the book shows Leviathan closing in on Batman while Bruce goes around the world, recruiting agents for Batman Incorporated (in one of my favorite nods, he inducts members in a crazy candle-lit ceremony just like the famous induction of Dick Grayson as Robin way back in the day). Things go well, then they go badly, a handful of people die or are nearly killed, and Damian kills Otto Netz.
Netz is a villain hired by Leviathan, rescued from a prison island he’s been trapped on for decades, specifically to trap and ruin Batman. But he was also the head of Spyral, an old intelligence organization whose members included Kathy Kane (the original Batwoman) and Don Santiago (El Gaucho). Apparently, too, Kane was Netz’s daughter — Netz blames Batman for Kathy’s loss of love for her father, and so his mission to destroy Batman is fueled by revenge as well as his bargain with Leviathan.
So instead of chronology, I want to try to deal with the image-realities soaking this book. That’s what makes it difficult to read, the insistence the book has that everything is secret and everyone talks around half the past while reliving the other half. There’s a great flashback showing Agent-33 of Spyral (El Gaucho) trying to recruit Kathy Kane after her husband’s death — she goes into a motorcycle stunt ring in her mourning clothes and “flirts with death” because that’s where her husband is. In fact, there’s one of the symbol layers now: rings. The snake eating its own tail, rings, circles, loops, and reversion are all over this book. There’s even a point in a flashback where Bruce tells Kathy he’d like to have the serious discussion about their relationship later, as he just got over an “alarming atavistic transformation.”
Alongside the circles are the Spyral-eyes. The Spyral organization’s logo was a single eye in the middle of a web, very appropriate for an intelligence organization. Of course, we learn at the end that “Otto” means eye and “Netz” means web, both in German, so Spyral had Netz hard-coded into its symbolism from the very beginning — and, of course, it’s difficult to ignore the English homophone, “nets,” as Batman and company are swiftly caught in one. Alongside the eyes — one example being their final discovery of Jezebel Jet’s decapitated head, with one eye missing — are cameras aplenty, and the screens displaying those cameras.
Leviathan has their own symbol, of course, a red flag with geometric shapes falling in on one another, but their more common symbolism is verbal. The zealots, nearly all children in some issues, scream “Hail Leviathan” at every opportunity, usually without any reference to the conversation they were having. At one point the children in the back of a slave trader’s van have killed the guards in it and are covered in blood and hailing Leviathan like good little brainwashed people.
It’s not just brain-washing though, I think. Like I said, it’s meme-symbols. Leviathan is tapping into the hole in things left by Darkseid’s passage through our space-time coordinates. Leviathan isn’t just brainwashing people, it’s imbuing with a weak form of Anti-Life. The rest of their zealot-speak is almost exactly the same. Ideas propagate across the world at lightning speed here, with Leviathan and Batman fighting to infiltrate the subconsciousnesses of everyone on the planet faster than the other and faster than everyone else. Bruce comes out and says, at least once, that the goal is to make it so people have no idea where Batman is, and he successfully accomplishes this several times, as with his disguise as an underground detective named Nero Nykt. This story is one of the propagation of ideas, and calls to mind one of the philosophical ideas Morrison has mentioned in his other work: that the superhero is nothing more than an idea that is better than the other ideas, the bad ideas, we keep throwing at one another. Bruce is trying to set up a network of ideas. He even begins to create an Internet 3.0 to virally spread Batman through every aspect of our lives. Of course the volume’s end reveals that Leviathan the person has been Talia Al’Ghul all along, which affects Bruce powerfully.
This all runs together into the next volume, so we’ll have to stop there. Let me end by simply pointing out some of the enjoyable bits: most issues end with excellent ye olde fashioned cliffhangers, with giant type screaming like the narrator of the old Batman show. A flashback shows Dick helping train Ace the dog, who’s wearing a Bat-mask as well. El Sombrero’s back, which is always exciting. And Catwoman is the best I’ve ever seen her in a short appearance that made me wish Morrison had written her more, even though his Talia is fantastic. And keep an eye on Spyral and a mysterious hero hired into Batman, Inc whose face isn’t shown in this volume.