Batman Incorporated is a story about a father and son, but issue #2 is devoted to the woman who casts a long shadow over the child in the equation. Writer Grant Morrison’s pen agrees with Talia al Ghul, mother of Damian, presented here in all her ruthless, unblinking glory. Every villain has an origin story, and Talia’s is as colorful as you’d expect from someone with her lineage.
Though there are some very familiar moments in Batman Incorporated #2, Morrison’s character sketch of Talia from childhood to present day adds to the narrative and gives the reader a fuller understanding of who she is. What kind of person would add “assassin” to the list of required life skills for her child? One who was cut off from her mother and raised by Ra’s al Ghul. But before a sword was put in her tiny hands, Talia was just a kid who wanted her father’s love and attention. It’s a little heartbreaking to see her briefly as a tot drawing cute pictures of Ra’s, knowing all the while that she’ll develop a deadly cold-heartedness to rival her father’s.
In a single issue, Morrison conveys Talia’s drive and massive sense of entitlement as a woman who has been given almost every tangible thing she’s ever wanted. Most teenagers would settle for a car as a birthday gift. Ra’s gives his daughter a secret headquarters under London, and yet that doesn’t make up for the fact that he can’t/won’t attend her birthday party again. Despite having endless resources, brilliance and the physical prowess to cut down ninjas, Talia was denied any real closeness with her father. So it makes perfect sense that this powerful woman finds it unacceptable that Batman, her child’s father, would flat-out reject her offer of love and a family. Damian effectively became Talia’s enemy the moment he chose the Robin role over her, so if he and others have to suffer in her quest to crush Batman, so be it.
Illustrator Chris Burnham and colorist Nathan Fairbairn are a strong art team. Burnham has an eye-catching style and draws an exquisite Talia. Check out that beautifully, dangerously arched eyebrow in the scene where she fixes “the gaze men fear” upon a would-be kidnapper. Burnham and Fairbairn also provide two especially memorable panels that show how mother and son mirror one another.
“Underestimating me is a common and fatal error.” No kidding. Batman Incorporated #2 is a rock-solid primer on all things Talia and an exciting setup for what surely will be an epic family reunion. Grade: B+
— A version of this review was published earlier at Newsarama.com.