Before you freak out about the score, please read the whole review.
All roads lead to….yeah, it had to come down to that, didn’t it? So here we are: the final chapter of Batman Europa, a globe-trotting team-up between arguably DC’s greatest dueling duo. We’ve had three issues, three cities, and a lot of stunning painterly (and often impressionistic) artwork. Storywise? Not a lot there, unfortunately.
But what we do get is pretty entertaining for a finale. Visually it’s impressive, and some of the dialogue is worthy of a chuckle or two. Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello’s portrayal of Batman feels uncharacteristic a couple times (like when he say “Basta!” for no reason), but overall it does feel like a story that could have happened relatively early in Batman’s career.
Who is it, Bats? Who is it???
So let’s get down to brass tacks here. And sorry, I’m dropping it all under a spoiler because there’s no talking about this book without revealing the Big Bad and I’m sure some of you would prefer to be surprised.
So what do we think about Bane? Well, we’re certainly not asked to think much. His motivations are pretty bland and there’s nothing more complex to the game he’s playing that just that: it’s a game to try to “break” Batman again.
From there the story plays out like an old familiar grudge-fight. Batman and Joker as a team even collapses (because Joker is never going to be physically up to a match with Bane). So he gets sidelined and spend most of the fight on the ground with a broken arm just reveling in the violence and indeterminate as to whose side he’s on.
And then Batman just sort of takes out Bane by punching him real hard.
Then we get Batman and Joker curing their virus by swapping cooties in a vile, bizarre and completely unhygienic fashion because even though Batman’s strong enough to punch out Bane, there’s no time to solve this problem in a controlled environment like the real scientist that he is. On the flip side, it’s so gross it’s amusing and can now be added to the pantheon of Batman/Joker texts that can be accused of having homoerotic subtexts. Thanks Casali and Azzarello!
They are each other’s disease.
There’s not much more I can say about the plot or the events of issue No. 4 because, really, that’s all there is here. Let’s talk then, about the story as a whole. Does it work? Is it all worth it?
Depends on your definition of “work” and “worth” I suppose; two very subjective terms.
Here’s what doesn’t carry through across the four issues:
- The virus that’s killing Batman and the Joker seems to have peaked out in issue No. 3. while it’s certainly referred to her (and ultimately resolved, of course), the slow degeneration that felt so much more profound last issue has been tempered. It could be that Gerald Parel, who is on art this go-round (working from breakdowns by Giuseppe Camuncoli), has a far less erratic style (compared to the jittery off-kilter slashes of color and motion we saw in No. 3). But it’s also down to dialogue. I just feel like we got a stronger sense that Batman could feel himself failing whereas in this book both he and the Joker seem to have caught a second wind.
- Read through in continuity, the media res structure really becomes obtrusive. Here in issue No. 4 we once again open with Batman and Joker at the crisis point, but there’s no reason to get excited because we know we’re going to back out of this moment, have a big splashy page of Rome, a history lesson, and then play catch up. It worked for the start of the story overall, but to stop and do this three more times in a story this brief is frustrating–i expect particularly once the story is trade-collected.
- i appreciate the desire to do something structurally poetic, but I don’t think it works. Especially since there’s no particular payoff for it. It’s not as though what we’re presented in these snippets is subverted by what actually happens or provides an alternate perspective in any way. It’s just a revving motor for the action. The same is true for the European history lesson. It’s interesting stuff, but by the end of the book they could have been traveling through Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska and the author could have teased out themes of history and antagonism to fit the theme. These four particular cities are four of the oldest cities, of course, but again, I don’t feel like it lends any special weight to the story. And especially since Batman and the Joker are quintessentially American characters who don’t have roots in these locales.
Here’s what does:
- Art art art. This is going to look amazing in a collected edition. It will be like a beautiful coffee table book. In all seriousness, it’s as good an argument as any that comic books can be fine art. The various artists meld well together and the style choice works well for a European adventure that invokes a rich history.
- Batman and Joker together will always be entertaining. They can’t help it. I believe I said something like this before with regard to Europa, but if they were just sitting around baking cookies, I’d probably still buy it and be at least moderately amused.
And that’s pretty much it. That’s what Batman Europa has brought us. Fantastic artwork, some amazing covers, a premise full of potential, and a script that probably could have been a one-and-done plus-sized annual with a little tightening. I honestly wouldn’t have wanted to tighten it too much–it’s nice to see the panels breathe and how that lends a sense of panorama to the whole thing. But to drag this out over 4-5 months? It’s too much.
I fully suspect this will disappoint many, but hopefully others will appreciate it for trying to do something different and beautiful. Overall Score: 6/10 (I lean optimistically that this is something I might want to re-read again someday or even actually own). Issue No. 4: 5/10 because it’s literally going to hit you either one way or the other.
- Finish the set! If you bought the first three, you might as well.
- You’ve been enjoying the aesthetic of the art: here’s more of it!
- You just love Bats & Jokes regardless of what they’re doing (i said this the last time and this really is the selling point).
At the end of the day I’m of a mind that you can go to the beach and play volleyball or you can go to the beach and sit under an umbrella and watch the waves. Both can be equally satisfying depending on your mood. Batman Europa is an European vacation fully under the umbrella. We’ve been taken on a beautiful exotic journey that has demanded no particular effort or engagement on our part.