The Four Faces of Batman


There’s been some fan grumbling about Batman having four series of his own, and certainly they stick out among DC’s 52 relaunched titles, and more so when you consider the many other Bat-Family titles in the mix: Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, Batwing, Nightwing. Oh, and Batman’s also in Justice League and Justice League International, and two former Robins are heading up Teen Titans and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Birds of Prey used to be considered part of the Bat-Family because it had a number of Batman-related characters in it such as Oracle, Huntress, and sometimes Catwoman, but from the look of it that’s not true anymore. Even Old West bounty hunter Jonah Hex is moving to Old East Gotham City in All-Star Western. You could go further and point to Midnighter over in StormWatch, but he was created as a Batman parody in a separate universe that’s just happened to be folded into this one, so that doesn’t count.

By any measure it’s a lot, but the fact is, Batman has always had a lot of titles. Back in the 1940s he was in Detective Comics, Batman and World’s Finest and remained in them through the 1950s, when superheroes had otherwise fallen out of fashion, nearly to the present day. World’s Finest ended in the 1980s (at least the first series), but by then Batman was also in The Brave and the Bold and Batman & the Outsiders.  And this has remained true to the present day: whether it’s Batman Black & White, Batman Confidential or Batman Incorporated, the guy is DC’s most enduringly popular character, so he’s in a lot of comics. I just read Batman’s four starring titles back to back, and it’s a mixed bag, but the common element is that, unlike some of its other A-list heroes, DC isn’t changing Batman much at all.

That’s one way to head up the Batman line.

Detective Comics #1, by Tony Salvador Daniel, DC Comics, $2.99, out September 3.

Of the linewide relaunch of all DC’s comics, Detective Comics was the most dramatic, because it was the longest-running series in American comics, period. It started in 1937, introduced Batman in #27 in 1939, and even gave DC Comics its name. (Yes, it stands for “Detective Comics Comics.”) Going from issue 881 to number 1 last month felt more like the end of an era than a beginning.

But what about the beginning?  Well, that’s quite a cover, isn’t it? Not quite the Fu Manchu cover of the first Detective Comics #1, as I’ve mentioned before, but pretty dramatic. This title is currently the domain of artist/writer Tony Daniel, who worked on Batman before the relaunch with writer Grant Morrison and on his own. He was one of those artists who came up in the 1990s on Marvel’s X-titles and Image Comics, with a very ‘90s style, but it seems like he’s simmered down a little.

And thank goodness for that, because this was some ludicrous nonsense.

The first page is a classic fakeout.  Holy Batastrophe, has Batman killed the Joker?  Well, what do you think? There’s a gruff Batman voiceover in dark captions talking about all the havoc the Joker’s caused, and there’s the Joker’s bloodied face, in a fixed expression of wide eyes and gaping grin.

A fellow of infinite jest.

Anyway, of course not. Batman’s not even there. And the Joker… well, it’s unclear what’s going on with the Joker. Some guy wearing a mask of another guy’s skin (ewww) looks like he’s maybe killing the Joker, but talking deferentially to him at the same time, and … oops, well, doesn’t matter now; the Joker just killed the guy.

I’m sure there’s some fan outraged because this guy with a lifespan of two pages was their favorite character.

Daniel draws a good old-school Joker, which is good to see after some of the gross recent stuff before the relaunch with him cutting off his lips and whatnot. Unfortunately this issue seems to indicate that when next we see him he’ll be going for some more dramatic cosmetic modifications,

When we first saw the relaunched Batman in the previous week’s Justice League, which takes place a few years earlier, he was being hunted by Gotham cops who figured he was just a menace. Here he’s still being hunted by the cops, but apparently his alliance with Commissioner Gordon is well in place. It’s just not everyone got the memo, and the mayor’s not necessarily on the same page.

All in all, its a decent beginning that doesn’t get too much into backstory of any kind. Batman is Batman, the Joker’s the Joker, Commissioner Gordon is Commissioner Gordon.  That’s all you need.

Daniel’s a stronger artist than a writer, and a stronger plotter than a scripter. His dialogue has its moments, but at times it’s hard-boiled to undigestible toughness, in terse, overdramatic sentences that don’t always make sense. That’s just imitating Frank Miller—who was imitating Mickey Spillane, who was imitating Chandler and Hammett badly—and it’s become a time-honored way of writing Batman ever since The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One in the 1980s. Although his drawing style is different, some of Daniel’s panel layouts also show a Miller influence, which is by no means a bad thing.

It’s not a bromance, it’s a batmance.

As for Jim Lee’s redesigned costume, it still looks like Batman and not some knockoff, unlike his tweaked threads for Superman, but it still seems like there’s a lot of extra stuff going on. There are all these extra lines in the costume that look like they might be armor seams, only it’s skintight so that doesn’t make sense.  (This is true of a lot of his new costumes.) And what’s with the striations above the Bat-symbol? They just look like he’s been clawed by Catwoman or something. I’m not crazy about the ribbed boots and bladed(!) gauntlets either, but I could get used to them.

What this costume really needs is more random lines.

It’s not a great comic, but it’s by no means a bad one. While gruesomely bloody at time, it keeps things moving at a fast clip and doesn’t feel unnecessarily convoluted, despite the fact that DC has been saying that most Batman stories from the last 70-odd years still happened, just in the last five years.  With all he’s up to in six books a month, it’s clear the guy keeps busy.

Insert”dynamic doodoo” joke here.

Batman and Robin #1, by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, DC Comics, $2.99, out September 10.

This comic, on the other hand, is not good at all. The Batman and Robin series was started by Grant Morrison in 2009 after he’d seemingly killed off Batman in Final Crisis. It featured original Robin and once and future Nightwing Dick Grayson taking on the Batman cowl and Batman’s psychopathic, assassin-raised son Damian as Robin. I wasn’t as avid a fan of it as some, but it was a fun comic.

If you buy a Batman and Robin #1, make it this one.

Right now it’s not clear how that all went down, because DC editorial says that none of the various multiverse-changing Crises ever happened, and Batman was “killed” fighting Darkseid, whom the heroes now may not have met yet. (At least that’s the case in Justice League, set a few years in the past.) It’s not clear why characters like Red Hood are even around, then, because former Robin Jason Todd was only brought back from the dead because the Superboy of Earth-Prime punched the timestream in Infinite Crisis (seriously, don’t ask), but for some reason DC wanted every Robin ever but only one Batgirl, even if the other Batgirls would still make sense and the Robins don’t really.

For that matter, it’s not clear how Damian Wayne even exists. The son Batman never knew he fathered by Talia, the daughter of villain Ra’s al Ghul, Damian is now ten years old, which means he would have had to be born well before Bruce Wayne became Batman, when he was a teenager. But I digress.

Damian tires of your prattle.

The new series is written by Peter Tomasi, a former DC editor who wrote a few issues before the relaunch. Patrick Gleason’s art isn’t a draw unto itself, but he’s got a good sense of composition and his faces have character. Tomasi’s writing, on the other hand, is pretty bad. The dialogue is disconnected and repetitive, and hooboy does he drive that “You’re my son!” thing into the ground. But the two haven’t spent much time together till now, so maybe Bruce is just reminding himself.

I’m sorry, he’s your what again? I keep forgetting.

It takes place on the anniversary of the night Bruce Wayne watched his parents be murdered, and he takes Damian on a pilgrimage to the sewer underneath the alley where it happened on the same date and time. They go there in the new flying circular Batmobile that looks so much like the Blue Beetle’s ship the Bug that Ted Kord would probably sue if he weren’t dead. Batman intends this to be his last visit, and he says he’ll start observing their wedding anniversary instead of this grim occasion, while Damian takes every opportunity to be a jerk about it and tell his dad he’s a pussy. Oh, and then they fight crime a little.

I hope the Russians love their Batmen too.

This issue features the first appearance and almost immediate death of an overmuscled Batman in Moscow who’s slightly reminiscent of ’90s foe the KGBeast and seems to be part of Batman’s Batman Incorporated international franchising endeavor, which must have still happened to some extent, because Batwing of Africa now has his own comic.  This nameless Russian Bat is killed by a seemingly invisible new villain named Nobody, mainly as a teaser for upcoming issues.  Who is this dastardly Bat-hunting foe? Well, I guess we’ll find out, although if I hadn’t already ordered the next two issues of everything this would be an easy candidate to drop.

The cover, well, it’s just OK.

Batman #1, by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, DC Comics, $2.99, out September 17.

I guess it’s fitting that Batman #1 would be the best of the Batman #1s. Starting Batman over was no small deal in itself, by the way, as that comic had been running since 1940, finally ending at issue 713.

Good times, man. Good times.

The new Batman series starts with a narrator’s caption boxes recounting the ways various ordinary citizens describe the city of Gotham in a word or two (you can tell it’s Batman talking because the boxes are yellow text on a dark gray background) while Batman wades into a rogue’s gallery of escaped enemies old and new in Arkham Asylum. He’s a multitasker.

Everybody loves Professor Pyg.

But what’s this? The Joker leaps into battle by Batman’s side.  Surely there’s something mighty strange going on behind the scenes—and of course there is. And Batman’s voiceover turns out to be a speech Bruce Wayne’s giving later on at some charity event or another; it seems like he does that a lot these days.

I think we always knew they were meant to be together.

The new-kid-on-the-block writer of the Vertigo series American Vampire and Marvel’s Iron Man: Noir, Scott Snyder spins an enjoyable yarn. His dialogue is lively, and the story at this point is pure setup but builds enough suspense to bring me back for more.

For the most part I really enjoy Greg Capullo’s artwork here. He’s another guy I don’t really know, because he came up in the ’90s on egregious testosterone-overload comics like X-Force and Spawn that I steered clear of as much as possible.  But there’s a slight cartoonishness to his penciling in the villains and some other characters that’s a lot of fun. I especially like his Jim Gordon, and his two-page spread introducing the Batcave is dynamite.

My one real complaint is that in DC’s rush to de-age all its heroes, Bruce Wayne doesn’t look like himself anymore. He looks like Dick Grayson.  One panel with Bruce and most of his once and current Robins really drives home how much they all look alike: Bruce looks like Dick, Dick looks like Tim Drake, Tim looks like mini-Tim, and Damian looks like, I don’t know, tiny Tim. (Estranged ex-Robin Jason Todd is notably absent.) At Wayne’s society event, Bruce meets another prominent philanthropist who unfortunately looks much more like much more like Bruce Wayne than Bruce does. Much as I enjoy Capullo’s work in this comic otherwise, the characters should really be distinguishable from each other by more than size and facial expression.

Send in the clones … don’t bother, they’re here.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about what the Joker looks like right now. In Detective he’s the dapper, lipsticked Joker Classic, while in Batman he’s all smudged and smeared makeup à la Heath Ledger and a permanent grin cut into his face. Judging from the events in ’Tec, it may be a moot point soon anyway.

This issue isn’t a knockout or anything, but it’s a solid opening to Batman’s primary title and outshines the rest of this batch of Batman books in a walk.

Now with arms the size of his torso!

Batman: The Dark Knight #1, by David Finch & Paul Jenkins, DC Comics, $2.99, out September 24.

And this one’s the worst of the lot. It reads like a slightly brain-damaged version of Snyder’s Batman, with the same framing device: a voiceover of Bruce Wayne delivering a speech while we watch Batman kick ass. There’s an Arkham breakout, just like in Batman, except I guess it’s a different one because different stuff happens in it–and some of it, like the depiction of Two-Face, is irreconcilable.

Remind me why we even bother to lock people up there?

Writer Paul Jenkins has done a lot of work for Marvel, some of it decent like his Captain America: Theater of War miniseries, and some of it pretty overblown. Here, though, the terse, hard-boiled dialogue and narration makes a Michael Bay flick look like Woody Allen.

You should really get that leg looked at.

Artist/coplotter David Finch, who unusually takes top billing in the comic, was popular with some and ridiculed by others for the bizarre musculature he brought to Marvel’s Batmanesque Moon Knight. Some of that excess is definitely in evidence here: the stumpy foreshortened limbs and musculature that looks like a bodybuilder who can scarcely move, let alone with the athleticism that someone like Batman would require. His steroid-exploded Two-Face is just laughable.

Seriously, if this is what you want, why bother to use Two-Face?

On the plus side, with the notable exception of a lifeless Indian Barbie Doll that Bruce meets at a party as a new romantic interest, Finch’s character faces have distinct personalities. They’re sometimes grotesque and often dead-eyed, but they’re recognizable as who they’re supposed to be. That’s a low standard to sell a comic on, but it takes less than that to sell a Batman comic.

The earth-shaking debut of the White Rabbit–the first and last we see of her in this issue.

One thing I’d almost forgotten until I read this one is that there was a big change in Batman’s status quo shortly before the relaunch besides, but linked to, his international legion of Batmen. Bruce Wayne outed himself, not as Batman but as the guy who’s been funding Batman all along. That explains why a number of these other titles feature bad guys plotting to kill Bruce Wayne. So reading this comic at least served some small purpose in sorta-kinda mentioning that. But the glimpses of villains we’ll be seeing in upcoming issues, like a masked Playboy bunny and a Hulked-out Two-Face, are as good an indication as any that you’re better off staying far, far away from the next issue.

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