(One would think that a book this keen on wide shots would have one that features all the characters on the same level, for banners and whatnot, but whatever)
It’s about time we got some superheroes on this site. And why not begin with the man who started my obsession with the genre; the Dark Knight Detective, himself, Batman.
“The shadow of the Bat has fallen on Gotham City. But Batman is not the one casting it.
An elite fighting force mimicking the Dark Knight has invaded the streets of Gotham. Their equipment, tech and tactics are based on Batman’s, but they’re far more sophisticated than anything he’s ever seen. While the army’s motives remain a mystery, its targets are clear: these Batmen are gunning for Gotham’s vigilantes.
The Dark Knight knows he can’t face this foe alone, and neither can the city’s other crime-fighters, so with Batwoman as his general, he’s organizing the next generation of Gotham’s heroes into an army.
Tim Drake, a.k.a. Red Robin. Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. Spoiler. Cassandra Cain, a.k.a. the Orphan. And reformed criminal Basil Karlo, a.k.a. Clayface. These are the shock troops in Batman and Batwoman’s war. When they finally see the face of their true enemy, will they stand together… or fall apart?”
James Tynion IV
Eddy Barrows – Alvaro Martinez – Al Barrionuevo
Eber Ferreira – Raul Fernandez
Adriano Lucas – Brad Anderson
Okay, I know this is a trade, but that is an obnoxiously long description for what is ultimately a rather simple story. In short, Batman basically assembles the Avengers, but for Gotham City. Tim Drake as IronMan, Clayface as the Hulk, Batwoman as Captain America, and take your pick on who between Spoiler and Orphan is Black Widow and Hawkeye. No Thor, but… having a Thor would make this absurdly broken. Anyway, moving on. Let’s just get right into this.
Characters & Tone
First and foremost, it’s very clear that this first volume belongs to Batwoman. The vast majority of the time with character is spent on her settling into her role as a leader, and most of the major revelations of the story feature her very heavily. That said, Batwoman has pretty much always been a character I’m just lukewarm towards. If only because there was seldom anything that really got her to stand out to me. There are, of course, the obvious things – she’s former military, she’s a lesbian, she’s Batman’s cousin, all of those are important, and they do inform the character quite a bit. Heck, her family struggles are just as big a deal, and offer some strong parallels to Bruce’s own familial hardships, just… a tad bit different in the end. What I’m saying is that I like her, but she’s never been a character that’s blown me away. I do really appreciate seeing her play off of Batman, however. And the inspiration she takes from Batman, as well as her relation to him, are both major features in the story, which were interesting to explore.
Aside from her, we’ve got Robin (yes, I know it’s officially Red Robin, but that will never not sound stupid for him, or make me hungry, so we’re going with the original name). He’s definitely the character given the second most emphasis. Specifically, he’s at a point in his life where he’s needing to make some important decisions, and figure out what kind of person he’s going to be. Tim has always been my favorite Robin. What I find interesting about the Robin dynamic is that each Robin possesses a specific Batman trait, but amplified. Dick has his athletic ability. Damian has his fighting prowess. Jason has his… I’ll be honest, I have no idea what Jason has. Tim has always had his mind and cunning. Yes, Nightwing is my overall person to have been Robin, but Tim’s always been my favorite as Robin. Because it just felt like a better matchup. And Tim, as Robin, was a character more open to exploration because of his differences from those before and after him. The Robin book from the 90s was awesome! And Tim really shines, here. They do an excellent job of really letting you know he’s the smartest person in the room. That said, I think having Stephanie act as a supporting and supportive role in his arc works nicely, as she offers him some perspective and brings some humanity into the picture to offset the giant brain. Tim is definitely the MVP of the book, despite everyone having a role to play.
Aaand then there’s everyone else. Stephanie really gets a pass for being an attache to Robin’s arc, however much I’d have liked to see her doing more of her own thing. But that’s really the issue. Batwoman and Robin aside, these guys aren’t given a terrible lot to do. In terms of story, not plot. In terms of plot, just about everyone is putting in work. Again, though… just about. Orphan is the best fighter among them, and is relied on more than once to beat people up. Clayface, on top of being muscle, is a reliable multi-tool, good for tight situations. Spoiler? Well… she’s sneaky. And that’s all good and well. Among them all, she’s likely there because she’s the stealthiest. But in this, she doesn’t really have a moment. Orphan has one, Clayface has a couple, but Spoiler? Eh. She pulls of one kind of useful thing, but at the end of the day, she barely knew what she was doing and only seemed to succeed based on pure luck. So… yay for her?
Batman playing a supporting role works out surprisingly well. It’s always interesting seeing Batman in situations where he needs help. The man’s good, but he’s not god. He’s still mortal and, against this kind of situation, he’s still hopelessly outmatched. But he understood that, which is why he assembled this team at all. Why didn’t he just call in the Justice League? Well, for starters, I’m sure they all have their own problems to be dealing with. Seems to me that in comic book universes whenever the heroes aren’t all in the same place, all the bad stuff seems to be going down all at once in their respective domains. But aside from that, if he did that, we wouldn’t have a book. So suspend the disbelief a little and enjoy it while it lasts.
Erm… see… this is where I have some concerns. I’m not going to spoil the plot’s nitty gritty details, for those who’ve not read any of this, yet. But perhaps the one most lingering question in the entire thing is “why did you decide to base yourselves on Batman?” And I don’t mean the literal skillset, tech, etcetera. That much is obvious. The dude’s a one-man army. But these people even went as far as to specifically rip off the bat motif and symbolism, when… there is literally no reason for them to do that. Granted, Kate’s reason also never made much sense to me, but this is even flimsier. Aside from that, the plot is entirely serviceable. And there are enough loose ends and questions to really be explored in future events.
Don’t ask me which artist did what, but the majority of the artwork found in this book is wonderful. Crisp lines, really dynamic lighting, beautifully composed cinematic compositions, and colors that keep Gotham dark, but still manage to pop in all the right places to give the book life. But then… look, as a comics writer, I know that this part is on the writer, not the artist. This book just got plain silly with the two-page spreads. I like a good two-page spread, but honestly I’ve always been of the mind that one should only use them when you have an image you really want to show off. Otherwise it interrupts the flow of reading the thing. Especially when you’re reading from a trade, because the creasing make things a chore to decipher. I will say, however, that I like how they handled certain scenes. Flashbacks took on a different style. A painted style that had a more emotional and sentimental feel, as is reminiscing. Combined with the sepia toned color scheme of those scenes, and you have something that’s really visually setting the mood. Although there are some panels where it switches to the painted style outside of flashback, and I can’t figure out why.
I’m not sure I even need to talk about this. It’s Gotham. You know Gotham. Everyone knows Gotham. I don’t need to clarify what Gotham is. But if I am to delve into this a bit, then I will say I’m liking the new base, the Belfry. It’s like the Bat-Cave, but in a tower at the heart of Gotham. It’s decked out with all sorts of tech that Tim built into it, and I think it really has some staying power as superhero bases go. Not the most original thing, no, but it’s filled with enough surprises that I’m sure it can carve itself a nice little spot as a cool new base of operations for the DC Universe, which is filled with some of the best bases in comics.
Read it. Read. It. Rebirth has been an absolute blessing, after the train wreck that was the New52. Emphasis is being put less on being cool, and more on being smart. They’re playing deeper, not bigger, and it’s working. There are some great stories to be told here, given the events of this story, in particular. So I’m hoping it keeps going in this direction. It’s hard to believe Detective Comics will be reaching #1000 within the next few years. (if the bi-weekly thing, keeps going, that is). But I couldn’t think of a better way to keep it going. With all that said, ladies and gents, thanks for reading.
Keep up the awesome, and take care