Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Batman- The Grant Morrison Odyssey: New 52 Style V3

What Came Before:

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!
Part 8: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 1
Part 9: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 2
Part 10: Batman Inc. Part 1
Part 11: Batman Inc. Part 2
New 52 Part 1
New 52 Part 2

 Depart the origin issue and return to where we left off with Matches Malone being hung, Redbird fighting dogs, and based on this cover, Wingman in action!

Only, instead of Redbird fighting dogs & soldiers as in issue #3, we kick this issue off with two direct stabs at the heart of Bruce Wayne and the foundations of what created Batman:

The Monarch Theatre....Zorro's Restaurant...two direct shots at Bruce Wayne: NOT Batman, at Bruce Wayne.  The theater outside which where Thomas & Martha Wayne were murdered, a restaurant named after the movie that Bruce and his parents watched prior to their deaths, plus a Bible quote hyping up Leviathan; this is all a direct shot at Wayne by Talia Al Ghul because, as she says in the 3rd panel, "...he took my son from me".

What is rather intriguing about this sequence though is the relatively throw-away line by The Heretic that reads "I thought I was your son..."; that line, and Talia's follow about Leviathan having many children, betrays something more sinister and rather insidious about her plans for Bruce, Batman, and Gotham City.

The next scene returns to the "trial" of Matches Malone as he ignites that match, sets ablaze a gunpowder trail, and announces that he "...set a new record for holding breath" as the world around him goes batshit nuts (pun totally intended)!

As that page shows we've got El Guaucho and The Hood in action against Talia's assassins. In the subsequent pages there is a good deal of mindless ultraviolence as the Club of Heroes take on Merlyn and a horde of other nameless villains.  In the midst of this chaos we catch up to the activity of issue #4 as Damian Wayne, aka Redbird, joins the fray and Wingman steps up to the plate. The most interesting part of this, for me obviously, takes place in the fourth panel of this following page:

Obviously there is a recognition here between Damian/Redbird and The Wingman that flows both ways but before it can be explored much further we cut scene to Matches Malone getting away from his "trial".  I think my favorite part of this whole sequence comes from Damian's insistence that Bruce said ROBIN was grounded, not REDBIRD.  Oh yeah, add in the fact that D insists he knows Wingman's fighting style and I think the scene depicted below is multi-layered:

There is some humor to be found in Damian talking about the dog's blood I must admit...

Anywho, as we progress we see more of the Club of Heroes & Batman Inc. brought into the fray as Knight, Nightwing, and Red Robin come bursting through windows while Squire snips at power lines like Wolverine in the Hellfire Club.  This is Batman Inc in full-force and they are a tough lot!

Batwing arrives on the scene with some reference to the events of Leviathan Strikes! plus we get an appearance by Alfred who name drops Kirk Langstrom and his "Man-Bat Serum". We also get Damian showing off his own detective skills by noticing Wingman's voice, accent, and "unmistakable grating sound"...

GoatBoy rears his head again with Lumina Lux in tow as a hostage.  The two individuals who sought to play Batman & Matches Malone for suckers are in one place and ultimately only one of them wins the kindness of Bruce Wayne.  Lumina stabs GoatBoy with a fork, allowing her to escape, and Bats gives her the Multiple Sclerosis medicine she told Matches her sister needed.

So, according to Bats, The League of Assassins is broken and Brucie wants Talia to have a sitdown to talk about what's going on.  She in turn tells Bruce to reveal to Damian just who Wingman, his Double Agent, really is...

So I find the name Wingman especially intriguing given the reveal of his identity.  Now I was holding out some ridiculous hope that the introduction of a new Wingman following the events of the Black Glove story arc would somehow lead to a Jean Paul Valley. Now, given that the original Wingman was a traitor to the group and was responsible for killing the original Dark Ranger, the choice of Jason Todd to fill the role was...ironic perhaps.

Look at JT's previous roles; he was a Robin, a sidekick, a WINGMAN to Batman more or less.  Upon his rebirth (due to Superboy-Prime punching stuff in the pre-New 52 world), he was a traitor to EVERYTHING Batman stood for; he killed villains, took over drug dealing operations, and ultimately made a mockery of everything Batman stood for before the BS that was Countdown to Infinite Crisis attempted to turn him into something...awful.

In his post-rebirth world, thanks to Judd Winick and the Red Hood: Lost Years mini, Jason has a very strong connection to Talia Al Ghul which also puts him in a prime position to be a part of this mission despite his anti-Batman history.

The sad thing is that despite everything heroic he has done, despite all of the missions that Damian has undertook alongside his father, ultimately (as a result of seeing the future) Bruce still sees the threat his son represents.  So, in front of most of his New 52 family (minus Batgirl), Bruce essentially tells a heartbroken Damian that he must return to his mother or else we will see the world of Batman #666...

The next issue of Batman Inc, number 5 to be precise, take us on a journey through the world of 666...

 Yeah, I love using alternate covers, what can I say?

Essentially we pick up right where we left off with Gordon and his men arresting the various assassins that Tali sicked on Batman Inc but it turns into a tale of Bruce telling Jason and Damian just what happens if D ascends to the cape & cowl:

As Bruce saw in the future, presumably in his The Return of Bruce Wayne visit to Vanishing Point, and as we all saw in Batman #666, the future under Damian-Bats is a bit of a nightmare.  Previously we saw a Gotham under the rule of a Batman willing to slaughter anyone in his path (evidenced by the murder of Pyg) and one in opposition to whatever still existed of the GCPD (headed up by Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl).

As you can see in the panel above, the relationship between Barbara and Damian-Bats is far less contentious than previously depicted and, in fact, allows room for Alfred-Kitty! Also, in stark opposition to the version of the character published in the New 52 era, Babs is depicted in a wheelchair, totally in continuity with the pre-New 52 version of her character as well as with the original Batman #666 version.

Now this version of Gotham has been overrun by Joker toxin (as referenced in #666) and they remaining "heroes" are left defending Arkham Asylum against the hordes of the infected (Walking Dead influenced perhaps?).

The baby Damian saved (tagged as Batman Beyond's Terry McGinnis in #700) is apparently already immune to this chaos but the rest of Gotham isn't!  Jackanapes, in the original #666 story, pops back up here and confirms (whilst spouting biblical Revelations references) that the baby isn't just immune but he is also a carrier of the Joker toxin and has now infected all of Arkham.

So in the midst of the chaos on Arkham which includes Barbara getting infected with Joker Toxin and shooting Damian-Bats with a Tommy Gun, we also have a man who is likely Dr. Hurt/Thomas Wayne influencing the President to drop bombs on Gotham City!  Prior to that page...

We have amazing artist, and all-around awesome dude Chris Burnham replicating a Kubert scene, plus Dr. Hurt laying a guilt trip on Damian for being the one responsible for opening up "the hole in things" that lead to all of this drama.

This page from the death of Arkham, and essentially Gotham, is necessary to point out just due to its inclusion of a great number of other villain's Grant Morrison dealt with during his run.  Not only do we have Jackanapes prominently featured but it also includes Flamingo (first introduced in #666 before being featured in Batman & Robin) as well as Weasel and some Dark Knight Returns Mutant looking guy.  As you can see, Damian knows it's his mother Talia...

Still, the sad revelation after the bombs are dropped and Dr. Hurt's influence is felt and we return to present day is that fourth panel look from Damian to his father. "Don't make me go back to her" is one of the most heartbreaking lines I can imagine Morrison writing and Burnham's depiction of that moment completely conveys all the sadness I would imagine Damian is feeling at that moment.

Unfortunately for the Wayne family, resolution must wait as a building containing Knight, Squire, Halo, Looker, Batwing, and others, explodes into flames....

To be continued...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Batman- The Grant Morrison Odyssey: New 52 Style V2

What came before:

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!
Part 8: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 1
Part 9: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 2
Part 10: Batman Inc. Part 1
Part 11: Batman Inc. Part 2
New 52 Part 1

We left off with Batman Inc. #3 and Damian "Redbird" Wayne surrounded by a pack of dogs; a cliffhanger ending that is left dangling for the following issue due to a number of factors.  The first factor was the delay in that issue shipping due to the Aurora, CO shooting at The Dark Knight Rises and you can read more about the delay here.  The second factor that plays into the cliffhanger left dangling was the decision by DC to run a Zero Month to celebrate the first anniversary of the New 52 with the issues looking back on the history of the New 52 while also introducing a few new books of which only Talon and Phantom Stranger remain. For a book that was only a few months into its run, at least this iteration of it, it was kind of an abrupt cut but given the nature of this book I don't think there would ever have been a natural breaking point to insert this issue:

Page one throws us into the "old" DCU with an in-between the scenes look at the close of the Club of Heroes/Black Glove arc from Batman. We are watching the Island of Dr. Mayhew blow up as Batman and the surviving members of the Club escape.  We clearly see Knight, Squire, El Guapo,  and The Musketeer while the shadow of Man-of-Bats is noticeable in another scene.  It's a brief scene but it puts some historical context to this issue as well as establishes the mindset of certain characters following the events on The Island.

The following page (the one on the right) pulls from the very first issue of Batman (the one on the left) with the title of the page.  It may use the title from the original #1 but it's also an amalgamation of Year One as well as elements of Grant Morrison's take.  The bell, its ringing, and what it represented was an important story element throughout the pre-Batman Incorporated issues that I talked about previously.

What is most important about this entire sequence on the next page, maybe the most important panel in the entire series, is the very first panel:

"I was never alone."

Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne: some of the members of the Bat-family that have been there in various forms at one point or another during the crime fighting tenure of Bruce Wayne.  Since day one Bruce has had Alfred for support and that is what is so significant about ringing that bell as it pertains to the idea of Batman Incorporated.

The next eight panels represent first Bruce's fall into the cave, then the blackness, then the "death" at Darkseid's hands (or whoever it is in the New 52) that sent Bruce spinning through time, and the final 5 panels in the sequence represent what I would have presumed he saw during that look at time which presumably took place inside Vanishing Point during Return of Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately my presumptions are somewhat shaken when Bats says this happened inside the cave which I assume is the cave at the close of Final Crisis/beginning of ROBW; then again it could be the Thogal cave too.  Also of note, "two headstones...", look back at the image from issue one of this volume of Inc...

The world isn't in flames but there's a pair of tombstones. Could be Martha and Thomas, could be anyone else...

Scene jumps to another background piece as Bruce is now proposing, rather telling, his board about the Batman Incorporated program.  I suppose this would situate the scene post-Batman & Robin #16 when he announced it to the world.  A historical nod to Victim's Inc.(a program established many moons ago, #217 to be exact) is tossed in there but my favorite moment of this page is the final panel as Bruce singles out one Mr. Treadwell as looking...uncomfortable.  It's a play off Damian's calling out the same guy during B&R:

In that case it was in reference to an abundance of money being diverted to a Thomas Wayne foundation set-up for railroad victims. Thomas, as you may recall, is also known as Dr. Hurt/El Penitente and that point of the arc was revolving around the Mexican train.  In this case Treadwell is being popped for for embezzlement and accepting bribes amongst other things.  It's also nice to see Dick & Damian side-by-side one more time in the Batman and Robin gear.

The most curious part of this entire page is not the Bat-Robots (last seen during Vol. 1 of Inc I believe) fighting but rather how the story is tagged BEFORE THE NEW 52! That's the same way the Leviathan Strikes! story was tagged as well and it the title "Brand Building" harkens back to the "Building a Better Batmobile" story title for me as well.

Back to Knight and Squire, a reference to a Yemen mission which I do believe is the mission from Batman: The Return that gave us the torn out whale, the first appearance of Heretic, and bridged the gap between Morrison's Batman & Robin and Batman Inc Vol. 1.  This also marks the first of what turns into a running gag throughout Inc. with a shrink ray reference.  Other people on the internets inform me that some of this is also a reference to the Danger Mouse cartoon which I grew up watching on Nickelodeon but I don't remember it specifically enough.

By the way, reading someone else's interpretations of this same material has been very helpful in making some sense out of certain points that I didn't quite wrap my head around initially or in giving me specific issues to reference when I couldn't remember them myself. 


From Knight & Squire the scene moves to the Club of Heroes Dark Ranger, or rather his sidekick Scout, who has taken up as a tattoo artist.  Not sure if there's anything to the Crystal Creature or Cyclops creature but it does seem like the kind of thing we may have seen in a Batman comic from the 1960's. I mean those are the books in which we got this:

Knight, in disguise, attacks Scout as a test but Scout states he gave up that mantle after Dark Ranger died back on Mayhew's island.  Knight still puts the decision in the hands of Johnny Riley, telling him to hit up Squire if he needs to talk, then we cut to Russia...

Ravil was killed off in the New 52 Batman & Robin #1 by Nobody before he ever did anything, but he had a Bat Bus so therefore he is awesome.  Also we get a nod to Damian's age and I am not entirely sure how it jives with any other non-Morrison points where his age has been noted, it is nice to see it acknowledged.

The Musketeer pops back up, reinforcing his statement on page one that he is out of the game, but we see The Nightrunner come back into the picture.

Back to Scout as he is somewhat tormented by the choice to take up the Dark Ranger mantle.  He obviously took Knight's advice to contact Squire since we are seeing her hologram.  Scout's struggle comes from the fact that he wasn't there on Mayhew's island and a measure of guilt about his predecessor's death being due to his absence.  Squire gives the pep talk, telling Johnny he's cute when he scowls, and sowing those romantic seeds I suppose.

Time for catch-up with Man-of-Bats and Red Raven:

There focus has always been on the community and obviously continues to be.  That Jeff Moon guy did make an appearance in their Vol. 1 story in issue #7 as well.

Our world tour then takes us to Japan where we revisit Jiro, the Batman of Japan, rocking new duds which make it so he no longer look like a Batman. The gorilla and Doubleface are references to the Bat-Manga (putting it in continuity I suppose) while anyone who read Final Crisis is aware of the Super Young Team and this would likely be their first reference in the New 52.  And yes, Jiro gives us our second shrink ray reference of this book...

The El Gaucho page is one deep in history as it references his previous appearances in both Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 of Batman Inc and also shows us he is the only one of the group who Bruce gave zero choice to when it came to joining the group.

Finally we wrap things up with a return to the new Dark Ranger on his first outing alongside Batman before we return to the Batcave.  Bruce is doing one-armed pull-ups on a stalactite...

Alfred notes the burgeoning relationship between Ranger & Squire as well as shows us a side of Bruce we don't frequently see; a thankful one. "...You always have food waiting on the table for me. Thank you."

I must note that I find it extremely purposeful that the final line in the book is " all comes around in the end" given the circular nature of this entire epic.  The Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tale, a ring around the world, the fact that this is in a 0 issue, it started with Talia in Batman & Son and has come back to Talia.

So, despite having originally wrapped up my zero issue blog like a month ago, I am only now publishing it because yeah I originally intended to write about 3-4 issues at once like I did with the pre-New 52 Morrison blogs.  Problem was I finally realized that (a) they turn out ridiculously long and (b) it is insanely time-consuming to for me to do that. 

So I am going to keep putting them out there, one or two issues per, depending on my free time. If you have any interest in reading more of the stuff that falls out of my brain in the interim, you can check me out on Sequart!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Batman-The Grant Morrison Odyssey: New 52 Style V1

The New 52 changed everything for DC Comics.

Lois & Clark, Barry & Iris, and Arthur & Mera apparently...their marriages never existed; in the case of the first two couples it seems their romantic relationships never blossomed in any form!

Still love was far from the only victim of the change though...

Wally West...Stephanie Brown...and Cassandra Cain all ceased to exist (at least thus far) as did the Justice Society of American and its plethora of members.  Sure certain JSA characters eventually came to exist in the world of James Robinson's Earth 2 book but their origins were vastly different as was their historical importance to the larger DCU.  Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Al Pratt: rather than standing as the fathers of a superhero movement they, along with Hawkwoman, Dr. Fate, and a new Batman represent the 2nd generation of heroes on an Earth-2 that saw Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fall in battle with Darkseid & the hordes of Apokolips.

In the New 52, characters became younger, their timelines truncated, their histories either changed or, in the case of the Bat & GL corners of the DCU, uber-compressed into a roughly 5 year time frame.  This of course is an idea fans (myself included) have had a hard time accepting given the level of chaos that has occurred in their respective worlds, particularly in the last real-time decade.

Into that New 52, along with the aforementioned Earth 2 book amongst others, Batman Inc. (Vol. 2) was introduced as part of the "2nd Wave".  Heralded as the grand conclusion of Grant Morrison's Bat-Opus, of which I have written about extensively in the links below, it is a series mired in the rich history of the Old DCU (including characters who no longer existed) and every fan salivated wondering just how Morrison would fit into the new world in which he was relaunching this book.

Before I jump in to the meat, here are all of the previous chapters in this very long journey for your perusal:

Part 1: Batman & Son
Part 2: Club of Heroes/Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
Part 2.1: Devil-Bats & The Bridge to RIP
Part 3: RIP
Part 4: The Missing Chapter/Last Rites/Final Crisis
Part 5: Batman Reborn
Part 6:Blackest Knight/Batman vs. Robin
Part 7: Batman & Robin Must Die!!!
Part 8: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 1
Part 9: Return of Bruce Wayne Part 2
Part 10: Batman Inc. Part 1
Part 11: Batman Inc. Part 2

With issue number one the first page doesn't pick up from where things were left off in the Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! Special rather it jumps right into the heart of the story with a page of sadness and confusion:

A rain-soaked Bruce in front of two graves (his parents' perhaps), telling Alfred that everything is over and to tell the others, presumably meaning the extended Bat-family.  That final panel on the first page of Commissioner Gordon calling for the arrest is certainly shocking, especially when you turn the page to see what happens only to find the story rewinding back to "one month previously".

A page of beautiful Chris Burnham art (love the Dark Tower food bag btw) depicts Batman & Robin hurdling out of the Batmobile and into the rain (a bit of visual continuity I suppose).  Side note, the issue's title is "Demon Star" which, as we know from Vol. 1, is the eye of Gorgon/a star in the constellation Perseus/also call Algol/Al Ghul/Demon's Head!

The chase is on after a ludicrous Goat-headed guy with a gun who runs into a meat packing plant.  Of note during the chase though are a pair of trucks in the background with upside down stars as their logo and either "Long Star Brand" or "Lone Star Brand" as the company.  Oh yes, and the Goat Headed guys motorcycle also has a giant goat head on it!

I have to admit as I read this back that this scene here:

May be THE most violent and bloody thing ever depicted in a Batman comic book.  There are entrails everywhere, gutted cows, living cows getting stabbed in the head with a somewhat humorous & 1960's "POK!" sound effect.  Every one of the goat-masked workers is soaked in blood, Damian slides through blood with a neatly done "SPLONK" effect as his assailant hits the floor into a pool of blood!  Chunks of meat go flying as a Batman ducks a saw and it strikes one of the dangling corpses...the "camera" follows the meat straight onto a fork that enters the mouth of an apparent Leviathan member "across town" engaged in some sort of dinner party.  One hell of a violent transition from Burnham!

Of note in this pow wow depicted in the bottom left of this page:

...a nurse, a mummy, someone who resembles Rosie The Riveter, an old man, a mobster looking guy, and in the following panel someone who appears to be The Invisible Man.

It's in that final admittedly disgusting panel that we hit our first bit of narration in this issue and it comes from some unseen entity, not a man directly involved in this conflict, rather one who has seemingly set it all up.  "He" inadvertently kills his best friend (the original Goat Head who was acting as bait) in an attempt to cash in on the half billion-dollar bounty Talia Al Ghul had placed on her son Damian Wayne, aka Robin, at the close of Vol. 1.  Two things I feel need to be noted about this assassination attempt; first is Damian's immediate reaction of "It wasn't me! I didn't do it!" which is likely a result of his having to kill Daedalus to save his father and the second is the image of just how far away the assassin is when he makes the shot.  It's an impressive feat for a guy who we learn is named Goatboy due to a combination of Gotham meaning "Home of Goats" and from a Bill Hicks sketch...parental advisory and all that jazz before watching this one:

I must say that I love the art during the scene of Goatboy fleeing from Batman.  The way the rain is drawn, the angles, the Officer Downe and "P-KOW!" billboards, and that I can now see it is "Lone Star" on the side of the trucks.  From a writing standpoint, I also appreciate how much like Batman Goatboy describes himself to be, "I know the secret spots and the hiding places nobody else sees. I know the beat of every cop, where the gangs meet...".  Those are all words/thoughts I could see coming from Batman himself.

Still in the slaughterhouse, Damian saves the life of one cow while Bruce points out that the cattle branded with the upside down star are contaminated.  He also questions Damian on the significance of the two-horned star but Damian is either ignoring him or not paying attention because this:

The contaminated meat plays a part in the next scene as we return to Leviathan's dinner party with a focus on one of the Brothers Grimm as he questions the skull-faced Talia and her Ninja Man-Bats.  She kindly informs him that while the others ate beef, he was fed his brother. Gross...

Jump back to B&R chasing down a Lone Star truck and a discussion between the heroes not only gives us some insight into the Bruce & Damian dynamic but also put this story into a time frame of sorts with a reference to Damian killing Nobody (from the first New 52 Batman & Robin story arc). It also allows us some insight into how Damian looks at his partnership with his father versus his one with Dick Grayson, "I don't know why you bothered to come back from the dead. We were fine without you. We had everything under control."

The dynamic of the Bruce/Damian relationship is very different from that of Dick & Damian.  In that it was more of a brotherly relationship with Damian starting out thinking himself superior to Grayson and ultimately ending in a earned respect after Dick proved himself.  The Bruce/Damian dynamic is the exact opposite and Damian spells it out himself, "Yet here I am, jumping around dressed as a superhero to impress you."  I also appreciate the commentary from Bruce on the's not the first time someone has mentioned its perils to Damian.

The two running threads converge in the midst of all of this as Talia's Ninja-Bats drop the Grimm brother from the dinner party head-first on the concrete right in front of the Dynamic Duo just as Bruce is again questioning Damian on the significance of the demon star. It's a reminder to the audience of facts that were pointed out in the first volume but we may have forgotten in the interim, "Another name for Algol in the constellation of Perseus. In Arabic, 'Al Ghul'."

Jump from Gotham to San Francisco where a hooded individual enters into an S&M looking shop, requests his "perv suit" (which we see is that of The Hood) in a notably British fashion and descends into the basement where we find Batwing and Old DCU Outsiders members Halo, Looker, and Freight Train (the Dead Heroes Club as BW says)!  This is our first look at how both Batman Inc does and does NOT fit into the world of the New 52.  When last we saw these characters in Vol. 1 Batwing was killed by a horde of Man-Bats while The Outsiders were blown up in space.

Now what makes this difficult is that (a) Batwing, obviously not dead, has been running around in his own series during the entire New 52 and (b) The Outsiders team that got blown up consisted of Halo, Looker, Metamorpho, Freight Train and Katana.  Now the problems: at the time of publication, Katana did not exist in the New 52 and Metamorpho, while mentioned here, has never been shown in the New 52 that I'm aware of yet. Let me Google that see:

Bless the internet's little heart!  That's from the New 52 Justice League International #1 apparently so he has been shown one time since the relaunch.

Anyway, in the case of Inc V2, he isn't called Metamorpho rather Element Man and Freight Train says he was part of the Justice League which contradicts everything Geoff Johns has written about Martian Manhunter being the only other member besides Supes, Bats, WW, Flash, GL, Aquaman, and Cyborg.  As for the other, in the Post-New 52 relaunch Looker popped up in a National Comics book with a completely different look and story but I believe that is considered an alternative continuity.

Couple quick mentions here for this "Batcave West": the giant penny reading "In Stagg We Trust" is presumably a reference to Simon Stagg who has yet to exist in the New 52.  Not sure about the costumes in the trophy cases but right behind Freight Train is a afro/mask combo that screams Black Lightning.

As for the actual story, Hood (who makes mention of Matron & The Agency) and El Gaucho renew their little rivalry from V1 and we get the arrival of the new Wingman. It's a name that I now find quite amusing but I will wait to elaborate on that until I get to the reveal of his identity.

That is one amazing page of art right there!

We get the arrival of The Mutants of Dark Knight Returns fame as well as see a connection between that Dark Tower bag I mentioned earlier that seemed to be just a throwaway gag and the Lone Star truck.  Lone Star distributes the contaminated meat while Dark Tower is the fast food joint giving it to the people. Goatboy makes his return, scoping out Damian for the kill but Batman shows up and...

Well we don't know the "and" just yet because it cuts to the Leviathan scene from earlier, presumably in the Monarch Theater set-up from V1 now that I think about it, where the Skeletor version of Talia is confronting Goatboy and someone else.  Fatherless is back snapping necks while famous pre-New 52 assassins Merlyn and Bronze Tiger (their first New 52 nods) as well as The League of Assassins all get name-dropped.

Goatboy, with Fatherless looming over his shoulder, tells Skele-Talia his tale of shooting Batman in the face and stunning him long enough to accomplish the assassination thanks to Damian's hood being down:

...the hood that now conceals his dead face. End issue one with a shot somewhat familiar to long-time readers:

Issue two certainly makes an immediate impression with its cover art:

Another issue where the first page has little to do with what came before as we are thrown into some sort of hippie-looking benefit concert with the first words being "...So Neptune is in Capricorn", a very odd way to start a Batman story if you ask me.  So a-Googling I went to find out a little more about what that means and this is the page I ended up at here.  The fact that this page delves into the history of Ra's Al Ghul (his first new 52 appearance as well) made the explanation quite amusing to me, especially the last paragraph:

"Their only problem is getting reality to work as they think it should. They may envision a system that runs smoothly, is responsive to the needs of all those involved, and that promotes on merit. It can be frustrating for them to deal with the harsh reality instead."

Seems to sum up Ra's pretty well. He meets a woman named Melisande, gets her pregnant and thus in turning the page we see that this is actually the story of Talia Al Ghul.  This page totally cracks me up and I think you can see why from its companion image:

Back to Melisande for a second.  She did exist prior to this, kind of, in both Birth of the Demon & Son of the Demon of which the latter was considered non-canon until Grant Morrison brought Damian Wayne into the picture at the start of all of this.  The first book, written by Dennis O'Neil, gives Talia's mother no name only states that she met Talia's celibate father (eventually rendered improbable by the existence of other Al Ghul children like Lyssa) at Woodstock, she was of mixed Chinese & Arab descent, and died of a drug overdose.  The second book, written by Mike W. Barr, gives her a name in Melisande and tells a different tale of her death coming by being shoved into a Lazarus Pit.

Talia confronts Ra's face-to-face in current times, talks about how Otto Netz concocted the imagery around which Leviathan is based ("...a mix of warlike colors and terrifying female archetypes"). In a fashion that reminds me of the tale Batman & Robin #0 tells of Damian's origins we see how Talia was brought up fighting ninjas, watching her father bathed in Lazarus pits, learning poisons, buying ponies and airships and all the while, like any parent thinking they can buy their child, Ra's never stopped to, paraphrasing here, wonder what Talia ACTUALLY wanted or needed ("I needed a mother").

It's in the above first meeting with a woman who claims to be Melisande that Talia (and to a degree the reader) begins to learn about the meanings behind her last name.  The fortune teller explains Perseus and the unlucky star Algol located in the eye of the Gorgon, she also claims to be Talia's mother who Talia believed died in child birth (making that origin story #3 for Melisande). An Ubu carts her off to an unknown fate while the origin continues depicting Talia ballet dancing and then it's off to a secret underground lair that I am fairly certain Talia made reference to early in Morrison's run as her birthday present.  Ra's claims it once belonged to the infamous Devil Doctor of Limehouse which (thank you Wiki) is apparently a reference to a character from Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman series who in turn is based on Fu Manchu.  Morrison and Moore...

The Sensei (Ra's father in the Old DCU) is referenced as Talia, Ra's, and Ubu are assaulted in the base and I believe this is also the first mention of him in the New 52.  Talia also shows her first real signs of rebelling against Ra's in these sequences as she questions the whereabouts of her mother to which Ra's retorts "...Your mother is dead, Talia. You've always known that."

The story catches up with published history as we get the story from Detective Comics #411 of Talia's abduction by Dr. Darrk, a former member of the League of Assassins. This take on the story puts Talia in control of the situation as she basically tells Darrk that she allowed the abduction to take place which leaves him befuddled.  In typical villain fashion, he threatens mass rape on Talia but only after he tires of raping her first: "...many men will pay for the pleasure of your company when I tire of you" to which Talia casually replies "You would never tire of me, Doctor Darrk" which is a rather confident and certainly shocking retort to the threats Darrk is making.

Cue the "rescue":

Several images pulled from the various books that established Bruce & Talia's relationship and in the following page Talia actually confronts her father for the first time, at least chronologically, about the consciousness transfer rites that framed the entire Resurrections of Ra's Al Ghul story and are the essential reason Ra's "allowed" Damian to exist in the first place.

I really like that first panel as Burnham plays off his earlier images of Talia's chemical experimentation. In that earlier page the fumes formed a skull, this one a heart, it's a nice touch that really demonstrates the different aspects of Talia's personality.  For Bruce it's love, everyone else can die!

Okay maybe it's not exactly love seeing as how the night Bruce & Talia consummated their relationship it appears Talia put that heart-cloud elixir into Bruce's drink prior to their sexual congress.

That "new Alexander" notion pops up again, it's a way Talia has referred to Damian several times during the course of Morrison's Bat-opus and really depicts her intentions for her child.  You can click on the Wiki link for the full details but suffice it to say that Alexander the Great is considered hall of fame level in the history books specifically in the Military Leaders category.

Now I feel I should note that that page is not exactly how the original stories were presented.  The Ra's panels were from Batman #244 and the rest of the page is a take on the events of Son of the Demon.  This is what that sexual encounter looked like originally:

As you can see the spiked drink, the "Alexander" comment, none of that is present in the original presentation BUT it can be there in-between moments.  Talia could very easily be spiking the drink behind the curtain, that Alexander talk could fit in after that last image since the next page in Son picks up afterwards.  Just a nice way that Morrison/Burnham take the story & visuals of what was originally there but play with it to create their own take on events.

Back to the action:

That baby-in-a-bottle image is one that we witnessed previously in the old DCU, specifically in Morrison's Batman & Robin when Talia showed Damian his "brother":

As a matter of fact, the bottle & "Damian vs. Ninjas" images being paired specifically comes from the infamous Batman #666 issue that depicted Damian as the future-Batman:

Nice touch from Burnham or Grant or whoever made that creative choice.

I find particular interest in the final two panels in that Inc page up there because of how they play into the larger New 52 world.  The first of the pair features Talia giving her sales pitch to the villains of the DCU and the cast, while shadowy, very strongly appears to be Lex Luthor facing us, Black Adam way back in the shadow, Deathstroke and perhaps Dr. Psycho with their backs to us, and an unfamiliar head on the video monitor.  Even in the New 52 I suppose it is entirely plausible Deathstroke and Luthor could be involved in this pow-wow but Black Adam hadn't been born into the New 52 yet (see the Shazam back-ups in Justice League for that story) and, if that is Dr. Psycho, what Wiki tells me about his New 52 story wouldn't lead me to believe he would be put in any position to be involved in this meeting.  The foibles of Grant Morrison & The New 52...or maybe it was artist's choice who to include in this cast, I would have to see a script to know for sure.

As for that second panel, that one cements Talia's influence on the R.I.P arc as she inserts General Malenkov (I just found out there is a real life person of that name) into The Black Glove...only for The Joker to eventually kill him.  She also notes in that panel that she is going to introduce the detective to his son which puts this event into a chronological context with the Batman & Son arc that started Morrison's run.

We then get a look back to the moment that really started all of this, that final straw that turned Talia into The Gorgon, the close of Batman & Son that I mentioned in my very first Morrison-blog.  The original from Batman #658

And the Batman Inc #2 version:

 I think the donning of that mask marks the complete turn of Talia to villainy.  There has always been something sad about her, something that made her life feel like a product of manipulation by her father and, to a much lesser degree, perhaps Batman as well. In a deranged way, I think putting that mask on is representative of her finally shedding all of that baggage, taking control, and maybe throwing in some of the pomp & pageantry inherent in the capes & cowls crowd.

That final panel has a call-back to a moment from the Batman: The Return book that preceded Batman Inc. Vol. 1 when Talia mentions her "monster grown in the belly of a whale":

A rather gruesome visual from David Finch that decimated whale corpse; of course we know she is referring to Fatherless who then makes a sudden appearance from out of nowhere (very Batman like) to smash skulls and demonstrate to Ra's that he should now fear his daughter: "Look into the eye of The Gorgon"...

One more issue to cover for this volume of the blog and it features the return of one Batman's most frequently used aliases: Matches Malone!  It's been a long time since Matches has shown his face in Gotham and well there are a few stories in which his name pops up in a Google search, it seems Gotham Underground in 2007 was his last appearance of note.  I fell it is of some importance to mention that original first appearance of the true Matches Malone (not the alias) was way back in Batman #242 AND was as part of a Ra's Al Ghul centered story.  Is it a coincidence that Grant decided to bring him back into the picture as part of a Talia Al Ghul story arc?  Probably not...

The story jumps right into the details of Leviathan's insidious plot to infiltrate Gotham as we see a random woman disappeared in the middle of the train station.  We then see a similar looking female enter into a classroom, hang up a banner bearing Leviathan's sigil, and hold her class at gunpoint while stating "Leviathan brings a better way".  The text box tells us what Burnham's art show us: this is a neglected school in a neglected neighborhood and perfect candidates for Leviathan to recruit/convert.  It's a tactic that our own US military has been accused of using and while I'm not going to argue one way or the other about the validity of those accusations, it is an intriguing take for Morrison to use for Leviathan's tactics.  Also, this is a tactic we saw in V1 only at the time it was in Batwing's neck of the woods in Africa...Leviathan's influence is spreading worldwide!

Before I continue with the story, I want to sidebar to the image Leviathan has co-opted as their own, the Kali Yantra:

You can read a detailed explanation of the Kali Yantra here but in short it is a symbol of the Hindu Goddess Kali (mentioned several times by Talia), and it is intended as a symbol of change and transformation.  It is a positive symbol of a strong female character that Talia & Leviathan have bastardized into their own.

Back to the story and we see just how far the reach of Leviathan has extended when we see what happens to parents complaining about the Leviathan book in schools. First it's a brand new principal at the school making a phone call followed by a police man, the new guy on the force freshly transferred from Keystone City (HI FLASH!) shredding evidence and then planting what certainly sounds like child pornography onto the parents computers.  Then a social worker pulls the kids away from the parents while a newly appointed judge sentences the parent to prison.

That page above really lets us see how deep the teeth of the beast have been sunk into Gotham City as the Khali image points out the recruits: a judge, a cop, a random guy walking on the street, the sidewalk hustler, and the hot dog vendor who is probably selling the contaminated meat from issue #1.  Leviathan is everywhere...

Based on the lyrics, and the name "Warm Heart, Cold Town" that is given a few pages later, the song isn't one I can find in reality so probably something Grant created for the story.  The lyrics are interesting, particularly the last ones on the above page ("...You'll be turned upside down, on your own! Hanging around!") because the name of the story is "The Hanged Man" which in tarot looks like this:

The "Bullet ridden cadaver" comment from Small Fry harkens back to a BKV story where Scarface killed Matches which could possibly mean Morrison is retconning any other appearances by Matches OR simply that gangland rumor hasn't been updated.

Whiskey Road, Small Fry, I don't remember them off the top of my head but a search through the Essential Batman Encyclopedia makes mention of Matches infiltrating the Whiskey Road Gang after Bruce recovered from the injuries sustained in Knightfall at Bane's hands.

Matches talking about getting disappeared is ironic because of what Leviathan is doing in Gotham City and the idea that Matches suffers from Porphyria is quite humorous given that you can almost describe it as being allergic to sunlight. He's Batman...he's allergic to the sun...he's a cave dweller who only comes out at night!

Matches wants Leviathan info, Fry make reference to paying respects to the late Brothers Grimm who we know were killed by Talia & Leviathan, he saves the singer from some thugs while flanked by an undercover crew of El Gaucho, The Hood, and Batwing.  The singer introduces herself as Lumina Lux (Latin for Lights Light) and, of course, Matches goes for it until "Batman" interrupts the proceedings in a scene we have seen play out in various fashion over the years.  Sometimes it's been Alfred in the bat-suit, it's also been Tim Drake, but this time it's Dick Grayson stepping back into the cape & cowl for a minute.

Batcave time as Bruce, Dick, and Damian discuss the situation including some of that back-and-forth between D&D that I miss from their Batman and Robin partnership.  The highlight is probably the line "How does it feel to be the new dead Robin, Damian?"...

The web of Leviathan, a symbol we saw used quite prevalently in the Otto Netz story, only this time we have faces on the board.  Let's see if I can hit all the marks:  Leviathan/Talia is at the center and one thread spills out to Fatherless while another to Ra's Al Ghul, a third to Lord Death Man, a fourth to Jezebel Jet's severed head, a 5th to that training school for killer girls we saw in the Leviathan Strikes Stephanie Brown story, and another to the Spyral web from that same story.  The web than goes nuts from there and basically includes every major & minor player from the whole of Morrison's run.  We see Netz, Gaucho, Kathy Kane Batwoman, both Pyg's, Dr. Hurt, Black Glove, Wingman, Jason Todd, the 99 get the idea.  It's all connected and, as Damian says, it's really not Leviathan at the center, "It's us. We're at the center of all this."

There's something adorable about the following page's image of Alfred carrying for Bat-Cow but there is nothing adorable about the message he brings: the cows are indeed infected with a derivation of Prof. Pyg's mind control drug we saw in Batman & Robin. Bruce's concern is evident in how Burnham draws him as is Damian's annoyance at being grounded for his own safety.  I also find it touching how Damian firmly believes that without him Batman is the one in danger not vice versa.

Matches meets with Goatboy in bar called Three Eyed Jacks (nothing to make me think the name has significance, just found a One Eyed Jacks brothel in Twin Peaks) and this sequence does more for me to establish that Goatboy is more than he seems.  Visually he looks like a down on his luck loser but we know from issue #1 that he is an amazing shot with a Batman-level sense of the city.  This interaction lets us see his awareness of all the elements playing into Talia's schemes; the Lilith, Kali, and Leviathan imagery...the mythology she is playing with, the "...creepy stuff you look up on the Internet" as Goatboy says (which is exactly what most people reading these books and definitely anyone writing about them is doing).  The fact that he has also "...heard the rumor they used Batman's DNA to build a Frankenstein monster" also makes me believe Goatboy is more in the loop than he would have Matches believe...he may even be feeding this information to Matches at Talia's behest.

The entire Lumina sequence brings to mind the dynamic of Jezebel & Bruce's relationship in that he was being played from the beginning but I think it's safe to say Bruce was well aware of that fact especially when he went to a door with a goat head knocker on it.  Bruce comes off like a sucker for a pretty face hiding dangerous secrets quite a bit but most of the time I figure he knows what he's getting into and just plays along to see where it's going.

So Damian takes on the Redbird identity to circumvent the "Robin is grounded" rule and, although he knocks Alfred out, I think that 4th panel actually says a lot about how D has changed.  The one who first appeared in Batman & Son wouldn't have taken a second to acknowledge Alfred, he likely would have knocked him out with a club to the head rather than the kinder gentler gassing method.

The following page is a terrifying cascade of images and giant Punch & Judy-style heads, heck Morrison even uses the name Jack Ketch for the hangman here.  Goatboy is involved here, Small Fry is one of his three sacrifices, Matches is intended to be the third, and the second...while only shown in shadow, appears to be a small child which leads me to believe it is the son Goatboy has mentioned several times over.  We bid farewell to Matches, for this issue at least, with him striking a match for some unknown reason.

This entire sequence does make me question if it was Talia orchestrating the situation here (she would presumably be aware of Bruce's usage of the Matches identity) OR if it is all a play by Goatboy, based on Matches' inquiries into Leviathan, used to secure his spot in the League of Assassins?

The closing sequence is a great depiction by Burnham of just why Damian is such a dangerous kid. He takes down three thugs guarding the house who never even realize where he is coming from and does so in complete silence. My favorite of these pages are the vertical panels and how they convey the action...just beautiful...second favorite is the CLANG!CLANG!CLANG! emanating from the alarm in that circular fashion.  I'm a sucker for awesome usage of sound effects...

That will wrap it up for this installment with Damian fighting dogs, Matches striking matches, and Alfred unconscious in the Batcave.  The threat of Leviathan looms strong over Gotham but contrary to the next issue blurb, the next issue will not "enter the kill box" but rather it will be a flashback to the beginnings of Batman Inc with DC's Zero Month.  See issue #3 got delayed because of its content and shipping proximity to the Dark Knight Rises theater shooting which then pushed everything else back so instead of it being #3, #4, and then #0 it ended up being #3, #0, and then #4.