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
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:
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...
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:
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 "...it 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!