Convergence: Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1– “The Dark Side of the Street”
Written by Larry Hama
Pencils by Philip Tan
Inks by Jason Paz
Colored by Ellery Santos
The first Batman comic story I can remember reading was KnightsEnd, which dealt with Bruce Wayne reclaiming the title of the Batman from Jean-Paul Valley after the events of Knightfall. His back healed, and his confidence in his mission regained, Bruce brought an end to the psychotic Valley and his brutal, violent ways as Gotham’s knight. Years later I read all three parts of the story, Knightfall, Knightquest, and KnightsEnd, and while it almost seems anticlimactic in retrospect (especially given that it leads right into Prodigal, another story where Bruce temporarily gives up the mantle, albeit willingly and to Dick Grayson), it was the story that got me into Batman in the first place.
I say all of that to establish that I have a history with these incarnations of Batman, and as silly as it is, I was excited to see that amazingly Nineties AzBats costume in action once more.
Unlike last week’s Convergence titles, this one takes place in Metropolis instead of Gotham City. Just like last week, however, the reasons for these characters being where they are are just as convoluted and contrived. It’s to be expected in this type of story, though, so it’s easy to look over.
Things get moving pretty quickly from the get-go, with Bruce trying to gain a foothold in Tobias Whale’s crime organization. He’s left with Whale’s muscle, “Johnny Valli,” to see if his story checks out.
Valli, of course, is Jean-Paul Valley, who came to Metropolis to experience the “Parallax event.” This is the only reference to another tie-in that’s mentioned, and while it’s confusing as I haven’t read the Parallax issue, it’s easy enough to connect the dots and move on.
It’s also established that this Bruce is still recovering from his broken back, so his physical contributions might be limited. Being Bruce Wayne, though, that’s not stopping him from trying to take down crime however he can. This is still a very driven Bruce Wayne, but he’s a bit shaken and less confident than we’re used to seeing. It provides a nice counterpoint to the overly-confident Valley, whom he grows increasingly more weary of as the events unfold, and there’s a line Bruce drops that throws a wrench in the “Bruce is the mask” interpretation of the character that I thought was kind of fun.
Valley toughs Bruce up, who is then allowed into Whale’s inner circle due to his connections. What follows is pretty much a heist job: Whale wants to find out where a specific food shipment will be routed so he can intercept it and have control. A simple set up, and it generates some good action.
More than that, though, everything just looks so good. Philip Tan, whose work I’m not familiar with, draws some striking figures and uses some creative panel layouts, but the shining stars are Jason Paz and Ellery Santos on inks and colors, respectively.
Everything is dark and gritty, but not muddy, and there’s an almost painterly quality to the images. Some of the action scenes in the latter half of the book look a tad rushed, but it’s still really nice to look at. Most striking is the use of lighting, like in the preview image released a few months back.
That page also highlights one of the drawbacks of this issue: it’s just so wordy. The dialogue mostly rings true, but there are times that it becomes too expository for its own good. Valley, for instance, telegraphs almost everything he does as he’s doing it in the climax, and it’s just eye-rollingly clunky. I know Hama is a very talented writer, but I also know that his history with Batman isn’t exactly looked upon kindly. His work here is fine, if not exactly career-best, but it’s definitely better than the reputation his Batman run in the early 2000s has.
You know, the one with Orca.
Unlike most of the other tie-ins for this event, Shadow of the Bat doesn’t feel like it’s an event book until the last few pages. Honestly, that’s a great thing, because this felt like a story that could have stood on its own without the Convergence trappings. Once members of Wetworks (who I remember seeing on discount toy racks in the Nineties and… that’s the extent of my knowledge) show up at the end, the issue just kind of stops, but when it’s allowed to be its own thing this is a very good looking, solid read.
- You enjoy a good heist.
- You’re keeping up with all of the Convergence tie-ins.
- There has been a severe lack of leg spikes in your life, the need of which only AzBats can fulfill.
- One colon in the title just isn’t enough for you. And let’s throw in a hyphen for good measure.
Overall: Take away the team-up, tweak the story a bit, and this could have been a great one-and-done issue on a Bat-title. As it is, it’s a solid tie-in that gets weighed down just a bit by some clunky dialogue and exposition, but is made up for with great art and an enjoyable story.