7. Founding (and Funding) Batman Incorporated
Secret identities are a funny thing. Anyone who spends more than ten seconds actually thinking about superhero comics realizes they’re fairly ridiculous; there’s really no way for us to buy that nobody would realize Clark Kent is Superman, but it’s a fantasy world, it’s a genre trope, and we forgive it. It helps that the issue usually isn’t brought right out in the open; most superhero stories just avoid putting their main character and his superhero alter ego in the same place at the same time, making the whole device easier to swallow.
Not Grant Morrison. During his tenure as (arguably) the biggest name writer over at DC of the modern age, Morrison has made a habit — maybe even a fetish — of not ignoring the most ridiculous aspects of DC’s stable of characters but embracing them, milking them for all they’re worth. On his ongoing Batman opus in particular, Morrison has been quite concentrated in seeking out the less well remembered/more “embarrassing” parts of Batman’s storied history, dusting them off and parading them out. At the very least you have to admire his chutzpah; and sometimes you end up with legitimately great stories (Batman has a son!).
Sometimes, though…sometimes Bruce Wayne decides to announce that he’s publicly funding a global organization called Batman Incorporated:
Batman, who has always walked a precarious line between hero and vigilante, whose relationship with the power structure in Gotham — particularly the police — is by necessity strained, who arrives back in Gotham as a one man instrument of justice…Batman has decided to (more or less) fund a corporate Batman franchise.
This idea is so insane it almost comes around from being stupid to being awesome. Almost.
Thematically, there’s some obvious juice to be wrung here: if, as Morrison says, the first rule of Batman is “Batman is never alone”, the ultimate expression of that idea has to be a team of international allies. But that’s the thing: Batman already has a team of international allies. They’re called the Justice League, and Batman historically hasn’t had much problem calling them up. (Grant, you know this. You’ve written some of the most acclaimed Justice League comics of the modern age.)
What does Batman, who historically has been reticent to allow others to join his team, get from this? A band of well meaning crime fighters who now have huge targets on their backs. (More on that in a second…) What does Bruce Wayne get out of this? Possibly the lamest explanation for not being Batman anyone could’ve possibly conceived. “Uh, no dude, I’m not Batman, I, uh…I just fund him. Yeah! And in fact, I’m going to fund a global franchise of him!” As if it wasn’t already obvious enough that the guy with three surrogate sons who are the same approximate age as Nightwing, Red Robin and Robin, who has the means and funding to be a super equipped crime fighter, who is built like a brick wall — as if it wasn’t already obvious enough that guy might be a prime suspect for Batman, Bruce just painted a target on his back. DC writers have had to jump through all sorts of Herculean hoops to justify people not knowing that Bruce is Batman; it’s gotten to the point where the only sensible explanation is that everyone in Gotham has sustained some massive brain trauma.
The worst part of this whole questionable decision? Batman, who has always felt human life was so sacred, who had been understandably reticent to bring new allies into the fold and put them in harm’s way following the death of Jason Todd — that guy has now established a whole order of Batmen who will be targeted twice as viciously because they wear his symbol. If you’re so concerned about fighting crime across the globe, Bruce, why not just secretly fund some upstart crime fighters? Putting them under the banner of Batman Inc. has (as the ongoing series has proved, with its high body count) become almost a death sentence.
This article was first posted on July 18, 2013