I suggest you read Batman & Robin before reading this one. Batman’s emotional state flows better if you follow that order. However, a side-effect of following that sequence might be that with Batman & Robin #18 being totally silent, Batman #18 could come off as looking really wordy by comparison. But…Flipping through the book a second time I think it really is just a very long winded installment regardless of what you read beforehand.
Harper Row is what this issue is all about. Yes, Batman is angry about the loss of Damian and the story builds toward that but overall it’s a very Harper-centric story. I quite enjoyed Harper Row’s previous starring role in Batman #12. She was a rather likeable character and it didn’t feel like she was being shoved down our throats as a potential new member to the bat-family. Batman #18, on the other hand is the opposite of that. It’s all a bit much and she comes on too strong! The thing that I liked about Batman #12 was that Harper brought something different to the table: the perspective of the everyman on the street. It’s a lens that we rarely ever get to look through and I honestly don’t think that Harper’s role needs to extend beyond that for her to be interesting.
Simply seeing a couple of kids from The Narrows scraping by is plenty compelling for me. The way she and her brother’s lives would change after each arc could have even served as a way to gauge Batman’s effectiveness and how the actions of the story we’ve all been following rippled throughout the city. But with Batman #18 we have a Harper who has been training her body, fitting herself into a catsuit, using grappling hooks to swing from rooftops, and she’s even toting around a gadget-stocked utility belt of her own. I’ve seen the interviews with Snyder saying that Harper Row will not be a new Robin but she appears to “not be a new Robin” in name and appearance only. The heart of what a Robin represents is still there. By nearly all accounts she seems to be following the same trajectory as Tim Drake after Death in the Family only this time we’re following a story called Death OF the Family.
After the murder of Jason Todd, Batman grew reckless and Tim Drake took it upon himself to track down Batman and prove to him that he needed a Robin. He must have a lighthearted, hopeful companion to counterbalance the grim, paranoid, brutal persona of Bruce Wayne’s monster. Someone has to pull The Dark Knight back from gazing too deeply into the abyss. That’s the exact same story that’s playing out here in Batman #18 only Harper Row doesn’t get to call herself “Robin” at the end of it. She just gets to wear a nondescript black catsuit from here on out.
It’s all quite predictable. Not really a bad story, but one that felt very familiar. One of the great things about Snyder’s Batman books is that every issue always has some level of tension or mystery. Whether or not the surprise that came at the end was satisfying or not doesn’t matter, at least it was not immediately foreseeable. I didn’t get that sense of wonder in issue #18. I was just waiting for a replacement character to earn approval for 30 pages. The payoff for those 30 pages is satisfying though, especially for newer readers who won’t be making Stephanie Brown and Tim Drake comparisons on every page. The final page in particular is quite moving. And yes, there are some cool Batman moments that we see from time to time, shots of him chasing down every common criminal Gotham has to offer but a similar montage was done in Batman & Robin #18 to far greater effect.
When it comes to the look of this book, the Greg Capullo cover alone might be reason enough for many to pick this book up. Those red laces really became Damian’s trademark and choosing them as the focal point of the Requiem cover was a stroke of genius. It’s also rather fitting since the story is essentially about Harper filling or not filling those boots. However, the usual art team doesn’t work on any of the interiors of this issue. Instead that duty falls to penciller Andy Kubert, inker Sandra Hope, colorist Brad Anderson, and letterer Nick J. Napolitano. I make a point to mention the letterer this time around because there is some pretty ugly lettering near the end of the first chapter where the end of every line is cut off and raised slightly up the speech bubble. Kubert’s pencils didn’t seem quite on par with what I’ve seen in the past either but maybe that’s just because I’ve gotten so used to seeing Capullo’s work. I will say that I was often distracted by how large Harper’s septum ring was drawn. It’s huge and booger-like. An ex-girlfriend of mine had a septum ring and it definitely wasn’t this large but that doesn’t make me an expert on them by any means. I don’t remember Capullo or Cloonan drawing the nose jewelry this big either. Harper’s head is also quite round for the first half of the comic but when she starts wearing the costume she gets a much longer face and a squarer jaw. But I’m probably being nitpicky about that. Look, the art is something that I can always count on as being top-notch in Batman. Capullo, Glapion, and FCO are one of the best teams in comics so it’s probably unfair to compare the work of others to what that group produced. I know FCO’s colors are easily the thing I missed most. Gotham looks too clean without him.
The backup (which isn’t really a back up, it’s referred to as “Chapter Two”) is illustrated by Alex Maleev with Nathan Fairbairn doing the colors. It’s a very different look than what came in chapter one. Maleev’s lines are a lot heavier and Fairbairn’s colors are far more vibrant. The thing that most stuck out though was Cullen, Harper’s brother, who looked quite different from the way Kubert depicted him. Maleev’s Cullen is much chubbier and has shorter hair. Harper’s hair is also several inches shorter and she looks taller and more slender as well. Other than the vast difference in style between teams I found the art in part two to be pretty good. They simply weren’t tested the way the artists of part 1 were. A conversation in a hotel room, a conversation in an office, and a conversation on a roof is all they had the chance to illustrate. Luckily the very last page is a wonderful finale and the artists really got a chance to shine.
Batman #18 is an important issue for a Batman fan to read because it solidifies Harper Row as an important character in the New 52 from this point forward. Whether you like this new direction or not, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a key moment for her character and the New 52 timeline. And although it’s not really a bad comic I did find it to be the least enjoyable of all of Snyder’s Batman run. The absence of the usual art team, the level of predictability to the story, and some bad dialogue made the book drag in parts.
Yes, you’ll want to read it because everyone will be talking about it and discussing such a big development is fun but I found the comic itself to just be okay at best. It’s definitely not something I will want to re-read again anytime soon. It’s like a 6.5 or a 7/10 for me. Somewhere around there if these arbitrary scores mean anything to you? Not that it really matters though. Let’s be honest, this thing is going to sell-out no matter what due to the Damian/Requiem hype and that lovely cover. You’ll want to buy it up quick because otherwise it’ll be on eBay for an outrageous mark-up.