Batman #21 review

Batman 21

It’s been 11 long months, and I’m sure that many of us have been patiently waiting for DC to continue the story that began in their epic DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that premiered last May and kicked off the entire Rebirth label.  But has the wait been worth it?

If you were hoping to get even some small answers out of this comic, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  Nothing new is truly broached and everything of real importance that does come up is stuff we already knew.  Also, if you were hoping for the story to progress, you’ll be surprised to find that incredibly little takes place to propel things forward.  In fact, I’m inclined to look at this issue as more of a teaser for “The Button”, rather than being an official first part.

When you compile all the events that transpire during this issue, they amount to little more than 2 or 3 minutes in comic-time.  Likewise, it’ll probably take you roughly 5 minutes to read this story in real-time.  So yeah, not much here.  When you take all this into consideration, it’s ever so slightly disappointing and doesn’t really measure up to the awesomeness that was DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  You could even say it’s little more than a recap to fill people in on the details if they didn’t read DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and get them excited for the coming story.

I’d liken it to going to see a movie you’ve been eagerly anticipating.  You arrive early so you can get the best seat possible.  You pay your 10 bucks for admission, grab your popcorn, and claim your seat.  As the lights dim and the trailers begin to roll, you know you’re in the home stretch.  As the movie starts, you’re totally pumped.  The events unfolding on the screen are mesmerizing and you can’t wait to see what happens in the next scene.  And then…the credits roll?!?  That’s right.  You just paid 10 bucks for a 5 minute movie.  And even if it was an amazing 5 minutes, it was still just 5 minutes.  Granted, single issues of a comic are not generally adapted into feature length films.  But a good four-part story can easily be translated into a 2 hour movie, and there’s no way that what we have here could amount to 30 minutes of screen time.

Having said all that, I don’t want you all to think I didn’t enjoy this on some level.  I did.  For those five brief minutes, I was entertained.  But afterwards, I couldn’t believe that was all we got.  Ultimately, it just didn’t live up to my expectations, and that’s probably my biggest criticism of it.  But now, let’s get to the specifics at hand and judge it for itself.

***From here on out, expect spoilers.***

I’m a little surprised King didn’t have plaques identifying who all these characters are. He’s done it in all his previous issues. Then again, maybe it’s because this time all these people are nobodies.

The story starts off with Saturn Girl…in Arkahm Asylum…watching a hockey game.  This is either a completely random event that won’t hold any significance to the rest of the story, or its relevance is simply masked by our current ignorance of its importance.  The simple fact that it involves a hockey player killing a player from the opposing team makes it seem like it should be significant.  I mean, killing another player in a fist fight doesn’t seem like rational or common place behavior.  It’s as if something else is afoot.  Then again, the uncommon nature of it might simply stand as a memorable place-marker that heralded a more significant incident.  (For those who aren’t aware, it’s probably worth mentioning that Saturn Girl is from the future.)

Or…throw all that out and it’s just there so that Batman can have a quippy comeback line later in the issue.  Whatever.

At this point in the story, we transition to the Batcave where Batman is watching the same hockey game.  Ok.  I’m not sure why he would be watching that, but ok.  I mean, I know Batman surfs the news looking for relevant crime related reports, but he seemed pretty interested in that hockey game even though it had nothing to do with crime.  And then when it started getting unusually violent, which would have been the part I assumed would have actually gotten his attention, he just turns it off.  Ok then.

In any case, Batman asks Flash to come to the Batcave to discuss the Button, and Flash tells him he’ll be there in a minute.  At his point, friggin Eobard Thawne shows up!

Oh hell yeah!  Now things are about to get good!

Personally, I find Eobard to be one of the scariest and most powerful villains in the entire DC Universe.  With most villains, they do something bad and you just have to go stop them or find them after the fact and punish them.  With Eobard, he doesn’t even necessarily need to pull off a crime in a time when there’s even a hero around to defeat him.  Hell, he can go into the past and kill you before you’re even born.  Plus, how do you hit a man that can move faster than the speed of light.  And even if you do manage to defeat him, the guy can vibrate through walls and travel through time.  How do you keep someone like that prisoner.  Eobard is one scary dude.  I also felt that DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was in some small way a continuance of the events from Flashpoint.  So, seeing Eobard show up here definitely added weight to that belief.

From here on out, the rest of the issue is basically just one big long fight scene between Eobard and Batman.  Now I know that over the last several months we’ve seen a lot of Batman getting his butt kicked.  Both King and Tynion show Batman getting smacked around all the time.  Since it’s happened so much lately, I’ve gotten in the habit of attempting to justify Batman’s defeats.  Since this marks another Batman loss….I’m sure people will be upset by it, sick to death of seeing it, and aren’t happy to still be seeing yet more of it in their Bat-book.  But let’s take a step back and try to make Batman look good here.  Even though Batman does lose, this is a fight where Batman held out against Eobard Thawne for a whole minute.  Heck, that in and of itself is an accomplishment.  The fact that Batman held out for so long is actually a testament to his skills.  A lesser man wouldn’t have even lasted a second.

You’re probably wondering how a ten page long fight scene between these two, where Eobard simply wallops Batman, could possibly be interesting.  Well, it starts off by having a genuine back and forth between the combatants.  Unlike King’s previous attempt with Bane where Batman was just beat on, in this story, Batman actually fights back for a change.  It actually makes it much more engaging when one of the fighters isn’t completely steamrolled.  We actually see Batman thinking on his feet.  There also seems to be a lot more defiance written into this Batman.  Which is fun to see, but also kind of odd since King wrote both this and the Bane story.  Where was this Batman then?  It could be that Jeoff Johns and Jason Fabok had some input on the structure of the story.  I don’t want to take anything away from King if he was solely responsible, but I have to wonder since I am enjoying this more than his previous story.

Another thing that makes the fight fun to read and reread is that each panel is accompanied by a time stamp, ticking down to the moment that Batman hopes the Flash will show up.  When Batman and Eobard are just talking to one another, you can see the seconds ticking away.  But when they are fighting, instead of seeing it from Batman’s perspective, we see it from Eobard’s.  Single seconds spread out over several panels as Eobard speeds up.  Instead of seeing a bunch of blurred fists connecting with Batman in a single panel, we see dozens of individual strikes falling over several panels, but all within a matter of one or two seconds.  It really helps to give you an idea of how fast Eobard is moving.

At the end of the day, even though I enjoyed the fight, I felt it lacked meaning.  Eobard comes from nowhere, for reason’s we aren’t given, and even he isn’t sure how he got there exactly.  So, what are they fighting for?  One could argue that Eobard is beating on Batman because Bruce’s father killed Eobard in another reality, but it’s never made clear.  And Batman, well…he fights bad guys.  So, while the action of the fight works really well, we aren’t given a solid reason to care about the fight.  What are the consequences, what are the characters’ motivations.  It’s essentially just a cool fight without meaning, setup, or even a hint of denouement.

Check out the bloody spit dripping down Eobard’s face. Couple that with the fact that his suit is yellow and he is smiling, and it’s basically an image hiding in plain sight that’s honoring the visual of the Comedian’s pin with the blood drip.

Art for this issue is handled by Jason Fabok (Oh Jason, how I’ve missed you).  If that’s not clear, I think Jason is awesome.  And his art in this issue is no exception to the rule.  Not only does Jason’s style capture the most quintessential elements of super hero art, but his technical aptitude is off the charts.  Even when he chooses not to go above and beyond, I still give Jason bonus point just for being him.  But with this issue, I have to give him bonus bonus points.  Why?  All the Watchmen stuff he incorporates into the issue.  And I’m not just talking about all the smiley faces everywhere.  Jason takes care to mimic the page layout design that is famously associated with Watchmen.  And to me at least, it doesn’t feel like it was decided that they would use that layout and forced the story into it even if it didn’t work.  Instead,  the layout actually complements the images and reinforces the story being told.  There’s also things like Eobard’s face mimicking the Comedian’s pin (as seen above).  For me, Jason is the real star of this particular show.

Although, all these references are pretty sweet too.

Interesting Facts:

  • Batman does a knuckle roll with the Comedian’s button.  Reminded me of the time Val Kilmer did a double knuckle roll with two quarters from “Real Genius”.  Incidentally, Val Kilmer was Batman in “Batman Forever”.  Is this some kind of weird homage to the fact that Kilmer was Batman.  If so, it’s kind of indirect, but I guess I see the connection.

  • I think the “No one will save us!” line from this issue is referencing this famous passage from Watchmen.

  • Are there any Batman fans out there that can read these words and not hear them in Heath Ledger’s voice?
  • Joe Shuster was the co-creator of Superman.  Well, the hockey player that beats the other guy to death is named Shuster.  Is this supposed to mean something?  You don’t use the name Shuster in a comic book and expect the reader not to think of Joe Shuster.  And if it is supposed to be Joe, why is he playing for Gotham?

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been patiently waiting for DC to get back to the Watchmen stuff.
  • You’ve also been patiently waiting for Jason Fabok to return.

Overall:

After waiting so long, it’s somewhat disappointing to be given so little.  We don’t really learn anything we didn’t already know and no real progression occurs.  While what we are given is good, we’re just given so very little of it.  Ultimately, this comic is little more than a teaser for the bigger story at hand…albeit one hell of a fine teaser.

SCORE: 8 / 10

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