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
New 52 Part 3
New 52 Part 4
New 52 Part 5
New 52 Part 6
New 52 Part 7
Another powerful Chris Burnham image for the cover of this issue and one that features a variation on arguably THE most important quote in the history of Batman, "...He Shall Become A Bat!". Here is the original source of that line from Detective Comics #33 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane:
And here is another version of this scene from the seminal Year One story by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli:
It is THE defining line of dialogue in Batman history, the one that set up the future of Bruce Wayne's life and here, for this issue nearly 75 years after his debut, it is borrowed for the cover. That is putting some serious weight on the contents if you ask me (which you kind of did just by reading this blog).
The weight of Batman's history is again brought to bear as soon as you open up the cover and look at the first page. The very first text boxes you read also harken back to that historic 'Tec story from 1939:
In this case though, the disguise pictured is not the cape & cowl of Batman but rather the Suit of Sorrows worn by the Michael Lane version of Azrael. There is a lot of history wrapped up in these elements of the story so I will try to keep it as concise as possible.
The Suit of Sorrows was an armor gifted to Batman from Talia Al Ghul circa Detective Comics #838 that charts its origins to the 12th Century and The Crusades. It bestowed its wearer tremendous power but apparently also drove its original owner insane. The Order of Purity, a splinter sect of The Order of St. Dumas that spawned the Jean Paul Valley Azrael, retrieved the suit at some point and it would eventually fall into the hands of the Al Ghul's. Batman attempted to use it but felt the same pull as its original wearer so he sealed it up in the Batcave where it remained until its disappearance/theft during the chaos of the Batman:R.I.P section of this saga.
Michael Lane, the flagellated man spouting Nostradamus quotes, was one of the "3 Ghosts of Batman" (the one I referred to as Devil Bats in earlier blogs) but prior to that was a GCPD cop who was experimented on by Dr. Hurt/Thomas Wayne. Prior to the experiments though he suffered tremendous loss leading to a mental breakdown as his son died, his wife committed suicide, and his siblings were murdered in a satanic ritual. All this set him up to ultimately be picked by The Order of Purity to become their Azrael which led down a confusing path in which Lane at some point told he is a descendant of Christ and tries to burn down Gotham City. He discovers he's been manipulated by Ra's Al Ghul and goes off into hiding. That bring us to now...
Batman looks to Lane for assistance and finds the man, obviously engaging in some flagellation looking at that back, and spewing a reference to St. John and The Dark Night of the Soul (in short a "spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God"). Lane makes reference to his destiny to be the Devil's herald on Earth, a potential future for Lane as told in Batman #666 that also included the now deceased Damian as Batman, his walls plastered with a series of pictures that are mostly nondescript except for one:
That image in the first panel is another allusion to Lane's potential future as Devil-Bats but for Bruce it serves as a reminder of his vision, the one that spawned the creation of Batman Incorporated in the first place. It calls back, presumably, to the end of Final Crisis and the beginning of Return of Bruce Wayne with Bruce's talk of dying in a cave. Saying that in that moment Bruce witnessed the end of the world at his son's hands could be interpreted as issue #666 being a look at that vision, of the reader seeing some of Bruce's experience post-FC many months before the story was even written.
Despite his own loose grasp on reality/sanity, Michael Lane's statement that "We're all your sons" is a dead-on perspective of the entire concept of Batman Incorporated (even though Bruce claims it's been liquidated). Whether it's Robin and Nightwing or Man-of-Bats and Red Raven, they are all spawned from the ideals that Batman put into play when he first donned the cape & cowl. He is father to them all but sadly it was only his genetic offspring that paid the ultimate price in this crusade...
Lane, in his quasi-religious ramblings, again nails some points home as he brings up the Number of the Beast (666), drops the assorted names which Damian's clone has been referred to (Heretic, Unborn, Fatherless), and caps it all off with the big bad of this piece: Leviathan. Now, in Lane's perspective, Leviathan is a sea monster from The Old Testament with a big reference point being "Job 41:1–34" but as we know, for Batman, it is the organization ran by Talia Al Ghul.
Speaking of the she-devil...
Although he isn't shown in full, it must be noted that (I believe) this issue of Batman Inc marks the New 52 debut of Ra's Al Ghul.
Visually, I love the addition of the black veil over Talia and from a story perspective, it is also important to note that Damian's death was NOT her intent but rather, in her mind, Batman's fault because he "refused to make a choice". The sequence on the above page also serves to illustrate that this "game" for Talia is about both of the primary men in her life: Batman and Ra's. It's like she is looking to make a point to both of them and, in the case of Ra's here, she is infuriated when it is implied she's overlooking something. The Knight taking The Queen, combined with the almost Joker-like "HAHAHAHAHAHA", serves a perfect close to this interaction...
Yet with the following page, in contrast to Ra's mockery of his daughter's quest, we see how much Leviathan has infiltrated Gotham City. The GCPD and National Guard are overwhelmed, Bruce Wayne and his Batman Incorporated are in the middle of a political nightmare, and Gotham's Mayor Hady has effectively outlawed Batman in the city. That ban provided this image, the top panel reminiscent of the end of The Dark Knight film if you ask me:
And in the vein of Dark Knight, to my eyes, Burnham's take on Lucius Fox is reminiscent of Morgan Freeman:
In the Lucius sequence, we are taken from a press conference in which Fox somewhat addresses the Batman Inc connections to Wayne Enterprises, we see the photonic crystals first introduced in Leviathan Strikes!, Bruce mentions how he needs to turn himself in (ish #1 of this volume), tells Lucius Damian is out of the country, and we get a moment purely in the vein of Lucius' movie role in the above page's unveiling of the massive prototype.
We then jump back to Talia, as if we are following our two leads in the steps to their inevitable confrontation, as she punishes the men responsible for opening fire on Damian during his battle with The Heretic by having her "son" murder them all. Her words, if taken at face value, speak to how highly she actually thought of Damian which stands in stark contrast to how she treated him once he picked Dad over Mom. We also see how Leviathan has its hooks in Mayor Hady and how it can manipulate the very basic necessities of the GCPD.
We join Nightwing & Red Robin as they meet up with The Knight (the former Squire) and Ranger as they track down Wingman/Jason Todd/Red Hood who was nabbed by The Hood and turned over to the Headmistress from Leviathan Strikes! all girls school. What we learn in this sequence though, likely to the surprise of the reader, is that this group is actually in opposition to Talia & Leviathan. In fact, they are attempting to remove a bug Talia has placed on JT.
Jump over to the man behind Talia's Ninja Man-Bat army, Kirk Langstrom, as members of the GCPD bust in on him in search of Batman. Kirk protests Batman's presence there but as we see in this amazing Burnham page...
...Bats was indeed there (I just love the depiction of the bullets on that page), as Kirk insists he was only producing an aerosol antidote to the Man-Bat serum.
We then jump back to Talia & Heretic in a sequence that gives us a look at just how much of a child this clone-monster truly is at heart:
He wants what he wants and he wants it now and will do whatever he has to in order to get it, even hurt his own mother apparently. Yet much like the way in which she wired up Damian in Batman & Robin Vol. 1 to be remote controlled by Deathstroke, she also has her clone-son wired up to prevent him from even engaging in the "disobedience" that Damian did. Talia herself must be disgusted with this creature she has created though because being called "mother" by the clone-beast only agitates her further while being called "Lady Talia" seems to be what draws the electroshock to an end.
Here, as in the Year One version of the "I shall become a Bat" story (which Morrison also used in other parts of his opus), we have a bruised and battered Bruce seated in a chair, only now he is already Batman. So what does this mean? It means its time to step-up his game with an altered Suit of Sorrows and a needle of the Man-Bat serum jabbed into his neck.
Back to Talia as she prepares for the endgame at 11pm:
On top of the roof with the very pool in which she trapped her "beloved" while her son died, this daughter of Al Ghul continues to play her part in this drama, even going so far as to once again don the Leviathan skull mask. It completes her transformation into a stereotypical villain for Batman to fight. Unfortunately for her, this Batman barreling at her is far from typical!