Garland of Skulls
I absolutely loved the last issue of Batman Incorporated. I think I am beginning to get a grasp on Morrison's unique writing style and long term story telling, and I love it. Granted, it would be nice if he would occasionally answer a few more questions rather than speed from one ambiguous revelation to another, but at the same time, his refusal to nail down every aspect of his story is what paves the way for so many theories in the present and revelations in the future. Ambiguity and perplexity are Morrison's allies in story telling, and making up theories is half the fun of reading and enjoying them. I have a theory that The Heretic is Damian from the future, and I am eager to see if this issue will reveal my prediction to be true. Does this issue reveal all we have been wondering, or just leave us scratching our heads in wonder?
In this issue, Batman rushes to the tower where many of his operatives fell prey to Talia's trap. There, he confronts Talia in spirit if not in body. Also, the Robins, both present and future, discuss things back at the cave.
The Frustration Which Is Morrison
It is extremely difficult for me to analyze an issue such as this because it does not really tell a complete story. Unlike the last issue where things were pretty well centered on future Damian and even that which took place in the present had a nice little arch, this issue felt like it only moved things forward by inches. Don't get me wrong, a lot happened and there is plenty to discuss, but it just didn't have the same sort of neat stopping point which makes it easier to evaluate as a single issue rather than as a piece of the whole arch.
I heard a lot of fear about there being more than one penciler on this issue, but those fears were misplaced. Chris Burnham is the guy who usually takes care of all Batman Incorporated art, and he does his fair share here as well, but Andres Guinaldo also steps in and does a fair bit of the penciling. You can definitely tell a difference between Guinaldo rougher more realistic style and Brunham's smoother more exaggerated style, but they both look good, and they blend well together. If I had not been warned that multiple artists would be handling this issue, I don't know that I even would have noticed. Burnham does continue to draw Damian's face squinchy which I do not appreciate, but other than that, the art looks great.
The Zen Parable of the Goatherd
This was one of the most perplexing elements of this issue. When Batman arrives at the building, Talia has planted various symbols representative of the Zen Parable of the Goatherd or the Ten Bulls, and she narrates to Batman about them as he fights his way up the tower. I did a little research on it, but I have to admit that I am stills stumped.
The parable of the Goatherd represents the Zen Buddhists steps towards enlightenment with the goat, if I am understanding it correctly, representing enlightenment. I think the idea is that you have to search for enlightenment, follow whatever path takes you there, struggle with it, enjoy it, transcend the experience, and then return to society to share enlightenment. Typically, the herder pursues the goat or ox up the mountain, and Talia refers to the building as the mountain, yet Batman reaches the image for achievement of enlightenment before he reaches the top of the “mountain” where the goat would be found in the parable. Furthermore, Batman does not seem to have any moment of enlightenment. There is also the fact that Talia decided to go with with goats instead of the traditional oxen. She says, “the goat has so many layers” which is intriguing. The only thing I can think of as symbolic about the goat is its stubbornness and willingness to eat anything and neither of those aspects shed light on this issue.
It's clear that Talia and Morrison felt that this was important, but I am at a loss to understand it.
Batman asked the Robins to stay out of the fight which is odd. I do not see any particular reason for this, yet there is a lot going on in their two page scene. In addition to working out the relationship between the brothers, (and by the way, Tim telling Dick, Jason, and Damian to shut up is my favorite DCNU Tim moment) it also reestablished that Jason did go nuts after the “death” of Batman. It also gives us the introduction of Damian's cat, Alfred. Though this is sweet, it also serves as a bitter reminder that Damian is still in danger of his horrible future fate. Finally, it took me awhile to realize that Alfred gave Damian the cat to fill Damian's need for a pet. I suspect that Alfred will try to get Batcow out of the cave now that Damian has something more manageable upon which to bestow his affections.
There was a lot of high quality action in this issue, yet at the same time, a lot of it was superfluous. Talia didn't really think she was going to kill Batman with any of her traps, so what was the point? Similarly, what was the point of The Heretic's actions?
All of this leads to one of the most interesting exchanges of the issue. I, along with many fans, feel that Talia has been incorrectly characterized as overly brutal in this story, and I took that as merely a mischaracterization or a reinterpretation by Morrison, but in this issue, Batman confronts Talia on the issue basically saying she is not acting like herself. This means that Talia has shifted for some reason, and I am curious why she has changed. The fact that Morrison brought this up makes me think there might be a revelation about this down the road.
This is another great issue of Batman Incorporated.