I Wanted to See Him Ride a Damn Buffalo
Batman, Inc. brings another member of the Batman of All Nations into the fold as Batman pays a visit to the reservation home of Man-of-Bats and his son Raven Red. The issue gives a look at the status quo of these two Native American heroes but offers little more than that, serving up an underwhelming experience and one of the weaker issues of the series.
The solicitation and cover hype up a story that is far more exciting than the one actually contained within the pages. This issue somehow manages to be neither plot-driven or character-driven. It is not very "-driven" at all, in any way. There is a lack of momentum here that gives the story a very slow and meandering feel as we get a taste of Man-of-Bats and Raven Red's lives. This was quite likely down purposefully on Grant Morrison's part, though. The weighed down, almost oppressive, quality of the story actual meshes quite a bit with the character's lives, especially with Raven Red's perspective that he is being anchored down when he could be doing more exciting things. But purposeful or not, a burdensome and plodding story is still a burdensome plodding story.
As someone who developed an interest in Native American literature in college, I should be biased in favor of this story. Morrison really packs on the Native American characteristics here. Right from the issue's start, he hits you with the harsh realities of poverty and drugs on the reservation. He then proceeds to give you a feel for how close-knit the communities can be where everyone is someone's kid and there's always a family history. But then he keeps going. And going. He lays it on thick and neglects the actual story narrative that is supposed to hold it all together. It all hangs off a plot that comes off as a rather cheap and lazy way to tie things into the ongoing Leviathan story, which reads like it was all put together as an afterthought. Towards the end, it is like the story wakes up and remembers it is supposed to have some point in the ongoing series of Batman, Inc.
"Batman on a budget" is the nutshell description for Chief Man-of-Bats' operation, and it really adds to the underwhelming nature of this issue. Man-of-Bats does come off as heroic in his own way but also rather mundane and pathetic. Again, Morrison likely means for it to be that way. Sadly, it fits. With Native American stories, things are often more depressing than anything else. But this doesn't leave me wanting to read more of the character.
Chris Burnham's art really excels here. This issue could not have been done any better than the way he does it. The effort he put into capturing all of the characters and the reservation environment really has to be appreciated, because nothing about it all feels artificial or phoned in.
It is a little hard to decide what to think of this issue. Morrison honestly does nail many staples of Native American stories. The writing is basically good, and the art is fantastic. I guess what leaves it so underwhelming and disappointing is that Morrison stops there with the staples. He captures the basics but then seems to choose to do nothing further. There's nothing interesting really done here, and there easily could have been. Even the potentially interesting father and son dynamic of Man-of-Bats and Raven Red seems content to just touch on all of the basic beats and not develop in any unique or surprising way. This issue is somewhat of a generic tale in which Batman happens to visit.