Under the alias of “Duke Turner,” Luke Fox travels to Italy to find Italian crime lord, Charlie Caligula, who is hosting a one of a kind fighting tournament. If you love stories about a secret agent trying to infiltrate a death match, be it Enter the Dragon or Gymkata, you’re going to walk away from Batwing #26 thoroughly entertained. This fast-paced issue is not only incredibly fun, but it’s a really great jumping-on point for new readers, despite being a means of tying up loose ends from previous installments.

However, squeezing the entire plot of an ultra fun 1.5-2 hour long action movie into a 20 page comic requires a hefty amount of exposition and giant speechbubbles that spoon feed the audience comprehensive background info cramp a good tale when used in excess. So while “When in Rome (Sort Of)” may be one of the most entertaining stories the Batwing series has ever had, it never reaches its full potential due to the writers breaking one of the cardinal rules of “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Despite having so much of the plot explained to us through numerous expository speech bubbles and narrative boxes, things never get dull and there is a ridiculously high level of action. It’s really quite impressive that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray were able to tell such a big story with a beginning, middle, and end all in one regular $2.99 comic. And it’s also worth noting how great of a read this is for fans of Grant Morrison’s Batman: R.I.P. and the Batman, Incorporated series. In issue #26, Batwing fearlessly stands up as the spiritual successor of Batman, Inc. by bringing back Charlie Caligula (who appears to have immense potential as a James Bond-esque baddie) and introducing a brand new character who has taken the mantle of a fallen champion from Morrison’s Club of Heroes storyline back in Batman #667-669.

While I was slightly annoyed by the ample exposition, the events that unfolded always held my attention and I must say I had a blast even when things started to go really fantastical with the introduction of a giant with fireball fists or an alien diamond that offers its owner the power of global surveillance

Spoiler
It was sort of a “well, duh!” moment when Caligula and his crew caught Batwing and Legionary in the act of stealing it though. I mean, you’re trying to steal something that’s given Caligula the power to oversee everything on Earth. Obviously, he knows you two are coming.
The only other thing in the issue that really caused me to furrow my brow was… well… You know that scene in Batman Begins when Bruce refuses to kill a murderer as part of his induction ceremony, but instead he decides to blow up the building while the same murderer and countless other people are still inside? It’s kind of like that, but way worse.
Spoiler
Caligula triggers a self-destruct sequence from the comfort of his panic room. The explosion is not just meant for this single building but the entire island, which we saw as being heavily populated in the establishing shot of the island and the gladiator fight. That’s a lot of people, not to mention all the henchmen that are inside the compound. Batwing and Legionary find Caligula and escape the island before they are consumed by the island-sinking disaster the villain had engineered, but Batwing is such a heavily tech-based villain that it seems silly to not have him at least attempt to shut down the self-destruct sequence. Batwing and Legionary never even consider that they just allowed countless people to be killed.
All that matters in the end is that the good guys won, the bad guys lost, we had fun along the way, and the explosion we see now is really cool.

Speaking of cool visuals, this comic is full of them. Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira deliver one of their best-looking issues yet with panels that are creatively angled and expressive of the proper tone of adventure, comedy, and suspense. The fight scenes during the opening MMA match, the deathmatch, and the battle with Caligula’s men (which was beautifully silent), will be sure to garner some much deserved attention but I think it was the set pieces that most impressed me. Charlie Caligula is an over-the-top Bond-Villain through and through and his look and the backdrop of this story reflect that perfectly. I loved his private island with all of its recreations of classic Roman structures.

Recommended If…

  • MMA, James Bond, and Grant Morrison’s Club of Heroes are all things you enjoy
  • You’re loving these Darwyn Cooke covers as much as I am
  • You’ve been looking for a good jumping-on point for this series

Overall

Batwing #26 is great escapism and a wonderful jumping-on point for new readers. However, I do disagree with how exposition heavy it gets at times and the potential body count that our hero ignores in the story’s conclusion. If you approach it as a lighthearted action adventure, you’ll have a really good time. I know I had fun reading it. So much fun that I’m going to ignore the body count thing and just go ahead and give it an 8. Yeah, it has some problems, but I think it’s satisfying and worth your $2.99.

SCORE: 8/10