Review by Karl Verhoven
The two previous Batman Incorporated books were first class superhero entertainment: clever, thoughtful and exhilarating. While encompassing some very fine moments, this isn’t quite as good.
A shock concluded Demon Star, and the consequences reverberate here. Gotham Mayor Hardy’s widely repeated statement of “Batman is no longer welcome in Gotham City” is one, which informs the remainder of the book as the Incorporated element plays an ever diminishing part. This is Batman fighting against a threat to his friends and to his city, and desperation and a seemingly invincible foe requires desperate measures.
It distils to an inevitable two person battle in which writer Grant Morrison’s sure sensibilities go somewhat astray. He presents a few deus ex machina revelations, the dialogue is a little too arch in places and the two orphans analogy is strained. Considering this is Morrison’s parting gesture in a genre-defining run, the conflict itself is far more traditional than anything preceding it, either here or in his Batman run overall. This lies at the heart of Morrison, though, as in between those pages are a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon that’s revealing, insightful and compelling.
Jason Masters contributed pages to the previous book, Demon Star, and here helps out on the art to a greater extent. While working from Chris Burnham’s layouts, his form of cartoon exaggeration sits uneasily between Burnham’s more polished work. Burnham is now barely recognisable as the artist of the opening pages in the first Batman Incorporated book. Starting in a good place (not anyone can manage a passable Frank Quitely imitation), his progress has been astonishing and visible over the series. He’s now throwing out decorative and designed pages without ever sacrificing the storytelling, and his future is going to be worth monitoring. One example of his talent is that for possibly the first time ever Bruce Wayne actually looks battered the morning after the fight of his life. It’s a fine contrast to the usual scene of Alfred applying the wet towels as Batman digs another bullet from his thigh.
Burnham also writes a chapter, drawn by Jorge Lucas, and starring the Japanese Batman. It’s fun, but Burnham the artist is better than Burnham the writer, and Lucas doesn’t match Burnham the artist. Burnham later has another try at Jiro Osamu, this time drawing the story himself, and it’s far better.
As a sort of bonus there’s also a selection of short stories shining the spotlight on the assorted foreign agents Batman has used, providing them with solo outings. The mood varies from a sombre Squire to a rambunctious Gaucho in the company of Nightrunner and Dark Ranger. There’s even a Bat Cow solo by Dan Didio and Ethan Van Sciver, which takes the biscuit for stretching a joke too far. John Paul Leon modifying his usually dark and compressed style is interesting, but while diverting, these are all trivialities compared with the main content.
Gotham’s Most Wanted only disappoints in comparison with what preceded it. Read in isolation there are multiple items of interest amid a fast-paced thriller. Those wishing to make the comparison themselves can find the entire saga collected in a hardcover slipcased edition as Absolute Batman Incorporated, but with re-drawn pages. Burnham was commissioned to draw the material he couldn’t manage during monthly deadlines for the original comics.