Grant Morrison focuses on the femme fatale Talia al Ghul in the new issue of his relaunched Batman Incorporated series for DC Comics, an origin story that's "one for the girls," the writer says with a laugh.
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"We get to see how she became the woman she is and what it's like to be the privileged daughter of one of the most important and dangerous men in the world."
Her criminal mastermind father, Ra's al Ghul, has been an undying thorn in Batman's side since 1971, thanks to his many Lazarus pits over the years. Talia first appeared around the same time and has been both Batman confidant and villainess ever since. (She's also rumored to be in the new The Dark Knight Rises movie next month Ra's was the main baddie in Christopher Nolan's first Bat-flick, Batman Begins.)
She's firmly against Batman and his Batman Incorporated group of international heroes, though. It was revealed that she's the woman behind the mysterious organization Leviathan, and Talia's also put a bounty of half a billion dollars on her son, Damian's, head.
Morrison himself has been fixated on Talia since he was a kid in the '70s "She used to look so beautiful and exotic as drawn by Neal Adams" and Batman Incorporated issue 2 (available Wednesday in comic shops and digitally) is his chance to tell her story.
"She's the woman scorned," he says. "She really feels she's given all her love and devotion to Batman and he's let her down completely, and she's even provided him with a child."
Morrison told artist Chris Burnham to check out some of the old Adams stuff, but Burnham has created his own version where you can't tell if she's European or Asian and is fittingly "the ultimate daughter of the ultimate bad guy," the writer says. "She's a bit Barbarella in a way, as well."
Yet Morrison has made sure that no matter what Talia does and she's done some pretty bad stuff she's always more than just a Batman villain. For this story to work, he says, the reader has to love her, too.
"She has to have a point of view, even if it is slightly megalomaniacal. You can see in issue 2 how she was framed by her father and how he brought her up and how that then reflected on Damian and so on, and it's a tragedy through generations," he adds.
"Where do you finally pull the plug on something like that? It's more of a human story than maybe the stuff we've done before."
In recent years, Morrison has played with sci-fi and psychological horror, but the current Batman Incorporated story line is more of a large family tale that focuses on the emotions especially of Damian, the current Robin who's torn between his mother and his father. "Damian is the heart of the whole story," Morrison says.
Issue 1 hinted at the boy's continuing struggle with keeping his assassin tendencies and overall distaste for authority in check, while Batman strives to keep his son from doing anything too unheroic.
The first four issues are set up to show the major players again, with an ongoing mystery and human-interest stories that set the stage for the more tragic central act. And as the story progresses, Morrison says, readers will see gradually what Talia hopes to do with Leviathan and her grand scheme "until it suddenly becomes quite obvious and the trap is sprung.
"The plan that she does have, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it done before," adds the scribe, who is co-writing the special Batman Incorporated zero issue in September with Burnham that will be a "proper origin story" for the Dark Knight's international Bat-posse. (There will also be a map in an upcoming issue that shows every single character introduced in the last five years and how they link together.)
Morrison is seeding clues and themes, such as the motif of the goat symbolizing the idea of a scapegoat in the first issue, that tease to the overall mystery but also add intriguing imagery for how Talia is messing with Batman's head.
"I was really running out of stuff," Morrison admits, "and I thought the last thing he's going to be freaked out with is this big family drama just when he least expects it. And suddenly, it's having to deal with this woman in his life, having to deal with the responsibility of the entire idea he's created of Batman, so it resonates out into Batman Incorporated and the people he's inspired. In the end, is it right?"
Batman and his playboy alter ego Bruce Wayne have had many love interests over the years, including quite a few trysts with Catwoman. But Morrison thinks Talia is one he keeps coming back to and the only woman he's had a kid with, at least that we know of because of the "super privilege."
"We forget that Batman's kind of an aristocrat, and he's really the best guy on Earth everyone wants to be Batman," Morrison explains. "Talia herself was raised by a father who considered himself to be an even greater man, and she's raised to be a world leader. Obviously for Ra's al Ghul, Batman is the ideal man for his daughter because Batman is the optimum man. It's almost like an arranged marriage but Talia falls for Batman because, again, how couldn't she? This is her ideal guy, a guy who even punches out her father.
"It's a really powerful relationship going on there," he adds. "She really likes him but he can't risk devoting himself to someone like her because he knows deep down she wants to conquer the world. She wants it done her way, which is her father's way, and they can never be together. That's the tragedy at the heart of the story."
In his new issue, though, Morrison is more interested in exploring Talia's pre-Batman era and showing her saga through a child's eyes in one scene, she draws pictures of her dad while he's out in the desert pointing at blueprints and with his eyes on the horizon, with the two never really connecting.
"We get to see her growing up and what she's like when she's 16," Morrison says. "She's a martial arts expert, she's a ballerina, and it's revealing what the daughter of the ultimate mastermind would really be like.
"The more we know about her, the more we suddenly go, 'Wait a minute, Batman might actually be in trouble here.'"
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)