Bats and Jokes crash Paris in Europa’s penultimate chapter with Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello continuing the formula we’ve already seen in the previous two books. This time it’s Diego LaTorre working from layouts created by Giuseppe Camuncoli to give the story an artistic flair that complements the previous styles.

Artistic flair makes up a good percentage of all this book has to offer, unfortunately. The aforementioned formula provides little depth or surprise in terms of the story and the reveal of the “big bad” might be somewhat of a head-scratcher for many readers.

Our dynamic dying duo (still infected with a deadly virus) continue to prop one other up in their search for a cure, but at this point I can’t really tell you why they need to work together. Batman keeps saying they do, but I’m finding it hard to believe that the World’s Greatest Detective is so debilitated or out of touch that, for example, he’s not aware of a Joker cult living in the catacombs of Paris. Also, for the first time we see that the virus might be taking the Joker’s edge off, but for all of the characters’ degeneration, the mutual desire to find a cure now feels like a very thin thread on which everything else is draped.

To raise stakes in the last issue, informant Nina was captured, but since she’s so thinly written I’d almost forgotten all about her until she was revealed:

Spoiler
Only to be found dead. I’m not sure what she actually contributed at this point aside from motivation to get from Prague to Paris.

The Key is Turned, but the Car is Still in Park

This book ought to be launching us boldly toward an epic finale, but it definitely feels like it’s not even quite idling. The predictable structure is working against any kind of organic build-up of tension, and the repartee between Batman and the Joker is superficial at best. We’re not learning anything new or gaining any depth into their relationship. While I was never a fan of writer Doug Moench and artist Kelley Jones’ run on Batman in the 1990s, they did spend a lot of time (maybe too much) putting Batman and the Joker in situations where they talked and talked and played cat and mouse for page after page.  Again, not my favorite interpretation of the characters, but there was exploration and probity in those conversations. In Europa, Batman doesn’t want to make conversation and repeatedly tells the Joker to shut up. Maybe that’s more realistic, but it’s not very interesting.

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Batman skulks; Joker quips

No spoilers on the villain they’re up against, but I will say that if you’ve been playing the guessing game up to now, prepare to be befuddled. I think there’s opportunity to make this work, but given what we’ve received so far in terms of exploring the Batman/Joker dichotomy, I’m not terribly optimistic.

Is a Sports Car Without an Engine Still a Car?

Following on the painterly art of Giuseppe Camuncoli in issue No. 2, LaTorre’s work here is similarly brush-stroked and impressionistic. On the one hand I really liked how the muddied colors, indistinct lines, and blurred contrasts made for a sense of disorientation and echoed the degeneration of the characters, but on the other hand, there were moments where it was just flat out hard to tell what was going on; particularly in the scene in which Batman and Joker fight against a swarm of mechanical gargoyles.

On second read-through, the action came through and I was able to enjoy some well-orchestrated moments, but I feel like if the words and pictures aren’t carrying you through the story the first time around, there’s a problem. Last issue some of the action was likewise indistinct despite some other really nice moments and images, which goes to show that the book seems to consistently have the same problem despite the fact that we have a different artist.

In much the same way, Batman continues to feel slightly out of character; his narrative voice is occasionally strained and the license he gives the Joker doesn’t seem very plausible. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy and study in LaTorre’s technique and I appreciate some small moments and exchanges between these two colossal enemies.

And yet, while I’m a big fan of the spare story sparely told, and despite those moments of lovely visuals and silent (for the most part) gestures, Europa feels underwritten at times and overdrawn at others. Did this story actually need four issues? I’m going to have to sadly report: no. Batman Europa is unfortunately, at this point, a shiny convertible with some peculiar detailing, but not much under the proverbial hood.

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But Joker has some crazy hair in this, so that’s cool

Objectively I want to give this issue a 6 at best, but I continue to hold out hope on the premise, I loved the snippets we see of Paris, and I’m genuinely intrigued (if not blown away) by the reveal of the villain running the show. I also think LaTorre’s cover of the Eiffel Tower is a stunning piece of work, so that alone made me bump the score.

Recommended If…

  • You want that killer cover by Diego LaTorre (it really is quite striking)!
  • You can’t bear the thought of quitting half-way through.
  • You just love Bats & Jokes regardless of what they’re doing.
  • You enjoy different and unconventional styles of comic book art.

Overall

I love Batman and the Joker enough to overlook a lot of problems with this mini-series, but this issue did try my patience a bit. I think it might work better in trade but even then, the redundant story structure continues to lack freshness or spontaneity and the stakes don’t feel any greater now that Bats & Jokes have met their foe. Unfortunately this just isn’t a very strong story despite some occasionally beautiful artwork and the whole of picturesque Paris as a backdrop.

SCORE: 7/10