New 52 – Batwing #5 review

After reading the latest issue of “Batwing” I still don’t know how I feel about this title. For every likeable element to this story there is something else that’s either horribly distracting or derivative. But in the end, it feels like there’s more here to complain about than to praise. What did I like about issue #5? Well, for starters there’s the cover by Ken Lashley. It’s explosive, detailed, and made this look like it was going to be an action packed episode. I also love the flashback to David’s horrifying childhood. Those glimpses into his past are a highlight of this series. In this issue, we learn that David’s use of the Batwing persona drives away his nightmares and helps him cope with the post-traumatic stress resonating from his days as a child-soldier. It’s an aspect of his character that really sets him apart from the rest of the superheroes. Kia, the only other surviving police officer, also makes an appearance in this issue. She’s a wonderfully strong female character and a good love interest for David. Her interactions with David were pleasant. And lastly, the idea of Batwing traveling throughout the continent is very exciting and by the book’s conclusion we have a clear view of where the story is headed and it should make for a brilliant setting for the final battle with Massacre. That’s a lot to like, sure, but in that quick run-down I skipped over most of the book. Here’s what I didn’t like:

First there’s the two nitpicky things I’ll try to never bring up again: I’m never going to get used to Batwing’s head being exposed. It’s just never going to happen. All logic says that a hero as heavily armored as this one should have a helmet, but I guess DC wants to make it clear to everyone that they are diverse and this Batman is definitely black. Oh well, I’ll try to make this the last time I bring it up, but…come on! And why did his name have to be Batwing? Wasn’t it universally agreed on that “batwing” was the name of Batman’s plane?

I have a hard time connecting Judd Winick to both “Catwoman” and “Batwing”…he writes them both but you couldn’t ask for a more different pair of books. “Catwoman” has snappy dialogue, a fast pace, and a heaping helping of adventure. “Batwing” is almost unbearably slow, has lifeless dialogue, and nothing much happens. I liked the first issue and from time to time there are tiny flickers of life, but in the end it’s dull and the only legitimately interesting moments come via flashback. This book should be wildly different from everything else, yet it seems to go out of its way to blend into the crowd.

Of all the Batman Incorporated Batmen, it was Man-of-Bats who was the most interesting. He was “Batman on a budget” in a poverty stricken reservation, trying to hold his community together. It was different. But with Batwing, the Batman of Africa, we get the most high-tech Batman Inc. representative there is. Not because he’s a brilliant engineer, but because Batman gave him this stuff. Oh, and WE STILL DON’T KNOW WHY BATMAN CHOSE THIS GUY. He also has his own batcave, just like Batman does. He even has an Alfred, but this guy, named Matu, has no personality whatsoever. He just lives to serve, even when Batwing shoots him in the neck with a tranquilizer dart. He just went right back to work. Like many other heroes before him, David is a police officer in his civilian life as well. And even though he was a child soldier until his teens, he is referred to in this issue as having an IQ that is so high that it can barely be measured! Oh, and he’s brooding. Does this sound like a unique character and a fresh addition to the Batman-family to you?

Another problem is the lack of a setting. He’s in the Democratic Republic of The Congo, yet can you describe the setting from what you’ve seen so far? The good news about this issue was that artist Ben Oliver is back so we would get to see his beautiful characters again. The bad news is that he still won’t draw backgrounds. I swear, according to the series “Batwing” Africa has 3 different landscapes: blue nothingness, white nothingness, and yellow nothingness. Sure the characters look great, but they appear to exist in limbo. This is a major problem when author Judd Winick has explained that the book will go across Africa, a very diverse continent. Well, what’s there to get excited about when all of these locations will look exactly the same? Next month’s issue is going to take place in Egypt, but will Oliver take the time to distinguish Egypt from the Congo other than using say red or orange for the color of nothingness? One of this books greatest strengths is that it has a unique setting. It’s not just another crime ridden city; it’s a whole damn continent. All I ask for are visuals that utilize that strength. I’m not even sure if this is the Africa that the real world is familiar with in any way. “Batwing” tries to create a history for African superheroics by frequently mentioning a team called The Kingdom, but we’re 5 issues in and we still don’t’ know what they did. If these African Super Friends existed for so long– is the Africa of the DC universe the same as the one we know in the real world? What did this team do for Africa, exactly? Why did they retire? The answers come slowly, or not at all here.

So Batman is in this issue, but what’s the point? The story says that Bruce is here to open the Kingdom’s home base up to the public as a museum. That’s fine I guess…he’s trying to boost Batman Incorporated and by opening this tribute to Africa’s superheroes he’ll be inspiring the masses so Bruce Wayne shows up. But really, the true intentions of Bruce’s appearance are all too obvious—without Batman on the cover from time to time, newer readers are not going to give this book a chance. His inclusion is nothing more than an editorial decision, most likely pushed onto Winick.

What we get is Batman shoehorned into what should have been Batwing’s first moment of true heroics. What has Batwing done so far? He’s brought down bad guys with Batman holding his hand the whole way in issue #1, he got stabbed, and he’s failed to save every murdered member of The Kingdom so far. Now we finally see Batwing in a situation where innocent lives are at stake. There are armed thugs with a bomb threatening to blow up civilians and the only symbol of justice in a city known for corruption. This should be where Batwing shines, instead, he needs to team up with Batman again. What has Batwing actually done for The Congo that Batman could not have handled on a weekend?

But even with Batman there it should have been an exciting, action packed scene. Never mind how ludicrous it is for David to change into his Batwing costume so quickly (it’s several pieces of metal armor, that the start of the book showed him applying one plate at a time). This is the most intense situation in this series to date. But the bad guys are often drawn as silhouettes, faceless, meaningless non-threats. And as I said before, this is a fight for the preservation of a landmark and to save the lives of innocent people. Well, that doesn’t translate well when the innocent lives are faceless silhouettes and the Citadel is yellow emptiness.

The things I didn’t like about this book far outweigh the things I enjoyed.

SCORE: 3/10