Looking back on my review of Batwing, Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom you’ll see that I was pretty darn disappointed with it. I wasn’t upset because it was poorly drawn or illustrated, but because it was 2 issues shy of giving the reader a full story. Just 2 issues! To me, that’s either a horribly assembled book with no ending or a sleazy cash-grab to make readers buy the next volume. If you went ahead and bought The Lost Kingdom against my recommendation then you have been waiting nearly 9 months for In the Shadow of the Ancients to be released all so you can finally see the conclusion of Batwing’s hunt for Massacre. Nine. Months. Entire human beings are formed in that period of time. The Lost Kingdom wasn’t even that memorable so I can guarantee you’ll have to read that again before diving into this.
In the Shadow of the Ancients collects issues #7-12 as well as #0 and unlike its predecessor, Volume 2 not only has the ending to The Massacre plot, but it actually tells a complete story of its own with beginning, middle, and end PLUS a couple of side stories. Why so much content? Because following The Lost Kingdom, it was clear that readers were not responding to the Batwing series and it was time to stir things up by adding frequent guest stars, bigger action with magic and aliens, and a crossover issue with Night of the Owls. It’s quite the different book than what we had last time and with so much extra stuff thrown in to try and hook new readers, Batwing himself takes a backseat. There’s quite a lot of Batman, Nightwing, and a few other heroes along the way and it made for a pretty cool finale against Massacre in the book’s opening chapters…but it didn’t mean as much to me because Batman, Robin, and Nightwing were doing all the work. All that buildup over Volume 1 and now we see that Batwing can’t finish his first fight with a super villain solo. As far as it being a thrilling showcase of how awesome Batman and his boys are, it was a success. But as a the conclusion to Batwing’s first ever adventure? Not so much. And with Nightwing and other heroes joining him in each of the following stories (except for #0 and the Court of Owls tie-in), it just made the hero look inept.
The problem with David Zavimbe as Batwing wasn’t his character, he’s a compelling fellow. And it wasn’t because the story took place in Africa, that’s actually what should have set it apart from every other DC title. The problem was that his suit looked stupid (best armor Batman has to offer… but no helmet), his name was “Batwing” which is the name of the damn Batplane and I thought we had all agreed on that ages ago, and the terrific setting wasn’t utilized properly. Volume 1 had terrific, realistic looking people but when the big selling point of your comic is its exotic location, artist Ben Oliver fell short by drawing little to no backgrounds whatsoever. It looked like the characters existed within a vacuum. And instead of the story dealing with the real world problems of a continent as gargantuan and strife ridden as Africa, author Judd Winick gave us a place with problems not so different from any of the other cities with costumed guardians.
What Volume 1 did have going for it was an interesting, haunted main character and a very formidable villain who had an origin tied with that of our protagonist. It was personal. Once the Massacre business is taken care of and Batman exits Volume 2 (briefly) we get into some ridiculous battles that some might find fun, but for me it tossed Batwing further out into rather campy fantasy and that wasn’t what I wanted. If you’re interested in seeing Batwing fight a dragon (with the help of Nightwing, who does all the hard work) or fight a giant with a big hammer and alien henchmen (with the help of the Justice League International, who do all the hard work) then this could be a fun ride. In my opinion, the very best parts of this book are from issue Zero and the Night of the Owls tie-in.
Besides David’s farewell issue #19, the Night of the Owls crossover was David at his most bad ass. I thoroughly enjoyed the action of that issue and found it to be one of the most fun participants in that month’s event. The Zero issue is also quite good and would have made an equally amazing issue #1 way back when the New 52 first began. These two issues are make for some very entertaining reading, as do the moments with the Batfamily (again, not because Batwing was good, but becasue the Batfamily was written well) during the opening chapters that finished Massacre’s story. I also found Volume 2 to be a better illustrated issue. Marcus To, Ryan Winn, and Dustin Nguyen all did a great job bringing this world to life in a way that the Lost Kingdom illustrators did not.
$14.99 cover price for 7 issues. That’s a pretty good deal that adds up to quite a bit less than it would’ve cost you to buy this series monthly. And then there’s also Amazon offering it for only $11.77! So if you find yourself still curious about David Zavimbe’s adventures even after taking my own lack of enthusiasm into consideration you’d really not be losing much cash by taking a chance on this graphic novel.
Those who read volume one and were left hanging last July (yeah, it was seriously that long ago) should feel good about picking this graphic novel up because it’s available at a great price and it actually concludes the story you started all those months ago. Anyone else would absolutely need to buy volume 1 first in order to fully understand what’s happening here since the first couple chapters are the ending that should’ve been included in the previous TPB. Also, if you’re hoping for the same level of emotional gravity or some great heroics from David you will be disappointed. Besides the Night of the Owls tie-in, Batwing always finds himself in over his head and in need of being bailed out by the likes of Batman, Nightwing, or the Justice League International. To me, reading about a superhero who can’t get anything done himself isn’t all that interesting and apparently that was the case with many others now that DC has given up on the character and replaced David Zavimbe as of issue #19. If you want to read some of the last episodes of a hero who couldn’t hack it, be my guest. There are a few fairly entertaining moments collected here, but nothing that I would revisit. Here’s hoping the change in creative team and their new vision of Batwing 2.0 salvages this series.