Batman / The Shadow #1 review

Batman Shadow 1

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

This comic definitely depicts one of the better interpretations of Batman that I’ve seen in quite some time.  At its heart, this story is a murder mystery, which fits perfectly with both the title characters.  Throughout the course of the story we see Batman doing actual investigative work: examining crime scenes, collecting and analyzing evidence, and questioning known associates.  We also see Batman utilizing disguises, lock-picks, and displaying a proficiency in combat.  It’s basically almost everything I could possible hope for in a Batman.

Never hurts to have an amazing establishing shot to help set the tone and mood of everything to follow.

Our story starts off with an Arkham Asylum attendant making his rounds.  We quickly learn that he’s an upstanding individual that respects the inmates and treats them like people instead of monsters.  We end up  following him home to his apartment where we learn even more about his life through phone messages and his interaction with a handicapped puppy.  Everything about this guy says that he is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  So, it came as a great shock to me when he gets brutally murdered!  Even on subsequent reads, I’m just as taken aback by it.  Part of that is due to the shock that anyone would want to kill someone so wholesome.  It’s also sad, because even though it’s extremely brief, you really get the sense that this person had a life….and then it was taken from him.  And the other part is due to the fact that it’s so unnerving.  You don’t directly see anything, so it’s one of those moments where your mind is able to create a more ghastly image than anything the artist could come up with.  But what you do see is the twitching of his feet.  And the way it’s rendered, well, a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is utterly disturbing and immensely beautiful all at the same time.

I find it extremely satisfying that this story starts off so simply.  This isn’t about saving a city from mass destruction or stopping the world from being destroyed.  It’s just about Batman investigating the murder of some random and seemingly unimportant nobody.  Because, remember, every crime and every life is just as important to Batman as any other.  He isn’t about only taking high profile cases to further his name.  This guy that Batman has never met before actually matters to him, and for no other reason than he is a person and had the right to live.  Man, I love Batman.

Once Batman arrives on scene, the first thing I noticed was that his relationship with the police seemed bristly.  And that’s great.  I like when the police have an uneasy and grudging acceptance of Batman.  They tolerate him, but they don’t necessarily like him.  And that’s just the way I like it.

Riley Rossmo making Batman look cool as hell.

After gathering evidence and analyzing it in the cave, Batman heads out once again to seek answers.  Batman fans that aren’t familiar with The Shadow won’t realize it, but all the characters Batman ends up questioning are literary characters from the world of The Shadow.  It’s attention to details like this that I just love.  Especially when Batman asks Harry where Lamont is.  Harry responds, “That’s what you’re calling him?”  It’s a subtle reminder that while many readers recognize Lamont Cranston as The Shadow’s alter ego, Cranston is simply another identity that The Shadow adopted, not who he truly is.  In any case, of all the individuals questioned, Margo Lane’s interview is the most entertaining (and rightly so).

Once again, I love the atmosphere that Rossmo establishes in this scene.  And that response!  Really helps establish that The Shadow’s intimidation game makes Batman’s look like a sophomore attempt. Comparatively speaking, of course.  Batman is obviously still one scary dude.

Another tiny detail that non-Shadow fans might miss is the ring that all Shadow Agents wore.  If you look closely, you can see that all the individuals that Batman questions are wearing rings with a red jewel in them.  SHOW SPOILER ▼

Art for this story is handled by Riley Rossmo.  Last year I got a look at Rossmo’s work as he provided art for several of the chapters that contributed to “Night of the Monster Men”.  At the time, I wasn’t really a big fan of what I was seeing.  And while his style hasn’t changed since then, I’m feeling differently towards his look in combination with this particular subject matter.  I know this comic takes place in a contemporary setting, but in my mind I’m still being transported to a bygone age.  And Rossmo’s art has a somewhat older/antiquated look to it, so it feels fitting.  And while that may seem like a criticism, and could be in some instances, it’s actually a complement in this particular situation.  I won’t say too much more about his work in this particular paragraph because I feel like I already peppered those comments throughout the rest of the article as they came up.  Suffice it to say, I thought it was great.

*Genuinely major spoiler in the tag*

SHOW SPOILER ▼


A Couple of Nitpicks:

  • Maxie Zeus can’t do that.  He doesn’t have actual lightning powers like the Olympic God he is named after.  He just thinks he is Zeus.

  • This “bats live in the shadows” line is totally cheesy.  And then there’s the “I hope you’re listening” because “I’m coming for you”.  I get that it’s supposed to be menacing/threatening, but it came off as hollow and vaguely juvenile to me.  Kinda like, “Oh yeah …well…well…well…you’d better run!” Haha.

  • Once you get to the end of the story and reread it, this line no longer makes much sense.  Bruce doesn’t come to Ducard because he was stuck on the case and didn’t know where to go next in his investigation.  He found evidence that connected Ducard with The Shadow.  So really, Ducard was simply another person of interest in Bruce’s ongoing investigation.
  • Bat-1.  This might just be something that exclusively bothers me, but I hate the Bat-1 handle.  Several years ago when I first saw it, I hated it.  I hadn’t seen it in awhile, so I completely forgot about it.  But then it got thrown into this story, and I was rudely reminded how much I dislike it.  Back when it was introduced, it was used as a radio chatter handle.  Alfred was Penny-One and Bruce was Bat-One.  This way if someone was listening in, you wouldn’t hear their real names.  But the thing is, BATMAN is already Bruce’s codename.  He doesn’t need another one.
  • This one is more of an “I don’t get it” than a nitpick.  In one scene Bruce whistles and this helps him find a hidden door way.  Was he….listening for the difference in sound pitch it made as it bounced off a hollow wall instead of a solid one?  That’s a little weird.  Couldn’t he have just walked around and examined the room?

Interesting Facts:

(I almost called this section “Shadow Facts”, but then I realized it sounded exactly like Shadowfax, which is Gandalf’s horse from Lord of the Rings.)

  • Unlike Batman, The Shadow didn’t start off as a comic book character.  He was initially part of a radio drama from 1930 which featured detective stories.  In fact, the initial stories weren’t even about him.  He was simply a fabricated persona that narrated the show (Kind of like The Crypt Keeper from Tales of the Crypt).  It wasn’t till a year later that details about the character himself even started to take shape in the form of magazine serial stories.  Basically, audiences became far more enamored with The Shadow than they were with the unrelated/random detective stories that he narrated.  Five years after The Shadow Magazine, he finally got his own radio drama.
  • I liked how they slipped in the year 1931 when Batman opened cowl footage 1,931.  So…Case File 1,994.  Maybe Steve Orlando’s birth year???  I know it’s not Scott’s.  That’s 1976.
  • “Archive item number 599” is a reference to Henri Ducard.  Ducard first appeared in Detective Comics #599 (1989).
  • The Shadow predates Batman by 9 years and is often seen as the archetype, not only for Batman, but superheroes in general.  But Batman is probably the one superhero that mimics The Shadow most closely.  A billionaire playboy who dresses up at night as a vigilante to bring justice to criminal using skills he learned while traveling in the far east.  That sentence actually describes both The Shadow and Batman, so I’m sure you see what I mean.

  • Even Batman himself has gone on record as stating that The Shadow was one of his biggest inspirations, as seen in Batman #253 (1973).
  • Incidentally, there is another Shadow story in Batman #259 (1974) that is dedicated to the memory of Bill Finger (who had died earlier that year).  Interesting that they would use a Shadow story to commemorate Finger.  I’d say that’s as good an indication as any that Finger is the one who added Shadow elements to Kane’s original Batman model to make him the Batman he eventually became.

  • Even Batman: The Animated Series honored The Shadows influence on Batman in the episode entitled “Beware the Gray Ghost”.  Instead of using The Shadow directly, the show created their own version of The Shadow in the form of Gray Ghost.  Incidentally, he was voiced by Adam West, the actor who played Batman in the 1966 TV series.  But here’s something even more interesting.  The name Gray Ghost was actually the name of one of The Shadow’s villains.  Whoa!  Betcha didn’t know that one.

Variant Cover:

  • This variant cover is awesome.  At first, you think The Shadow is just being illuminated by the light of the Batsignal.  But then, you realize that the Batsignal behind him is actually being created by his own silhouette and he’s just in a normal spotlight.  For instance, the tips of his guns are forming the bat ears.  It’s just a really cool image.  Simple, yet very dramatic.  I think it’s also meant to pay homage to this little number:


Recommended if…

  • You like a Batman that uses detective skills and disguises.
  • You like murder mysteries.
  • You like stories with a haunting atmosphere.
  • You life References….REFERENCES GALORE!
  • You like looking at the evil that lurks in the hearts of men……

Overall:

This story is amazing.  It’s got a Batman that acts the way I like to see Batman acting: using detective skills, wearing disguises, and showing a proficiency in combat.  The creative team also spent no time slouching when it comes to the finer details.  They really did their research and included not only relevant details of the characters in-world, but also all kinds of references that highlight the characters existence in our-world.   Now, I firmly believe that no story is without valid criticisms, but my problems with this story are so small that they are actually nitpicks rather than criticisms.  I know it’s way too soon to call this the greatest Batman min-series I’ve read in years, but if this first issue is any indication of the quality and story we have to look forward to with the rest of this tale, I’m going to be singing praises about it from the top of the French Alps!  Hopefully everything to come will be just as amazing as this issue, but for now…only The Shadow knows…

SCORE: 9.5 / 10 

Around The Web

Commenting Rules

  1. Stay on topic! Head over to the forums to discuss more.
  2. No "first" comments.
  3. Don't be a jerk!