Saying that Batwing is a hero born out of great strife is an understatement. In issue #4 we learn that he’s an AIDS orphan and an ex-child soldier. Pretty heavy stuff, and if that sort of tragedy interests you then I recommend you pick up the memoirs “A long Way Gone” about a real-life child soldier who escaped that life. Issue #4 is also a break from artist Ben Oliver, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
By removing the space between his first and last name, artist Chriscross already sets himself up as a douchey, unlikeable replacement for Oliver, but if you look past the ridiculous name, you’ll see that he does bring something that Oliver’s beautiful paint-job didn’t: backgrounds. The Batwing comic finally has backgrounds! Walls, foliage, walls with maps, trees…okay there’s not a lot of variety, but at least it’s not the same white or yellow backdrop in every panel. Sadly we do get some overly exaggerated facial expressions, but that can be overlooked. Chriscross does a fine job replacing Oliver and draws a formidable looking Batwing. Well…as formidable as Batwing can look that is. The guy needs a helmet. I know DC is really pushing the “Hey, we have black superheroes, too!” thing, but if any hero should be protecting his head, it’s the guy safeguarding an entire continent. Just sayin’!
What you get here is a highly watered down tale of a real-life problem. I mean, it’s not a problem. The story’s still good and it’s not like they could make the child solider plot realistic AND get anything less than an M rating AND have it make logical sense that David and his brother would dare stand up to the warlord running things. But putting all that aside, it’s a pretty heavy origin story for David. We even learn that his parents died of AIDS, which of course makes you wonder if David himself has AIDS which is more likely than not, but I doubt DC would go that far.
I don’t want to spoil the events of David’s past as they are pretty interesting and make for one of the best Batwing comics so far. But I will say, again, that Judd Winick better expect a backlash if David’s brother turns out to be arch-enemy Massacre. It’s far too obvious of a twist.
And speaking of Batwing’s future plotlines, it looks like Batwing will be teaming up with Batman in the next issue. I understand that jamming Batman into an issue of Batwing and throwing Batman on the cover as well must drastically increase the sales of this book, but DC has to let this character stand on his own two feet if they want readers to give a damn about him. And to make matters worse, the story arc that follows this one doesn’t even take place in the Congo. Hell, it’s not even going to be in Africa and this is a comic about Batwing: THE BATMAN OF AFRICA. We’re going to Gotham. I suppose the plan is to put this character in a familiar place surrounded by familiar characters for a bit so more readers will give him a chance and then we’ll go back to Africa and hope new readers follow…but I have no interest in seeing this guy in Gotham. And I have no interest in seeing Batman hold David’s hand in the next issue…but that’s for another time.
For now, Batwing is good. Not great, but good and I recommend it.