Batman: Long Shadows is a five-issue collection from the pre-52 Batman book, featuring a touching Battle for the Cowl epilogue and the four-issue Long Shadows arc, in which Dick Grayson learns that some of Bruce’s long-time foes are harder to fool than others.
- Batman #687 “A Battle Within” by Judd Winick, Ed Benes, and Rob Hunter
- Batman #688 “Long Shadows Part One: Old Sins Cast Long Shadows” by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley and Rob Hunter
- Batman #689 “Long Shadows Part Two: New Day, New Knight” by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley and Rob Hunter
- Batman #690 “Long Shadows Part Three: Tripwires” by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter and Jack Purcell
- Batman #691 “Long Shadows Conclusion: Two Knights. Two Faces.” by Judd Winick, Mark Bagley, and Rob Hunter
Only Batman drives the Batmobile
The volume opens with A Battle Within, a short tale of Dick working out how best to honor Bruce and be true to himself at the same time. A fun start, an emotional flashback, and a confrontation with Scarecrow on the Gotham Bay Bridge are the dominant beats, and they make for an enjoyable, if forgettable, story.
The high points here are set in the past. Things kick off with Dick (as Robin) trying to catch Bruce off his guard in the cave–sort of a training exercise he’s been assigned. The scene is a great contrast between Bruce and Dick, but it also shows how Robin can soften Batman’s edges. Benes does a fantastic job drawing young Master Grayson, as well:
The other flashback takes place after the Crisis, with Superman and Wonder Woman bringing “what was left” of Bruce to Alfred and Dick. The dialogue isn’t as strong here as in the prior flashback (and neither is the art), but there’s an impactful line by Alfred that carries the whole scene:
As implied above, there’s not much else to rave about. I enjoy reading it, and Benes does good work most of the time, but it doesn’t really tell us a whole lot more than we already know.
Batman’s dead. So what does that make you?
The rest of the book consists of its titular arc. Dick does things his way, but with great success, and most of Gotham–while noticing something different–does not stop to consider that there might be someone else under the cowl. Black Mask pulls a fast one on Penguin, Batman takes on Clayface and a friend, and Two-Face tries to get to the bottom of Batman’s changes.
I’m not sure what he’s doing, but it looks cool.
For good or for ill, Bagley’s art is a standout. He has some really great shots (like the one above), and from a storytelling perspective, he does a fine job of making things exciting. At times, I would even call his facial and figure work especially good. But at others, things range from weird to downright ugly. Take this one, for example:
How you doin’, Gotham?
I can’t say that it’s a flat-out bad drawing of a person, but as a Batman drawing, the cowl is oddly shaped, and Dick’s smile appears to be born of something unwholesome. And if it isn’t good, and it isn’t weird, then it tends to nosedive into hideous:
This is the most handsome man in the DC multiverse?
Have fun trying to go to sleep tonight…
But he’s not Batman.
Fortunately, Winick does some admirable character work throughout, and we get loads of great dialogue from Penguin, Alfred, and Two-Face. Read comics long enough (and I haven’t even been reading them that long), and you learn not to take it for granted that beloved characters will always read like themselves. But here, Alfred is both proper and properly sarcastic, and Winick really seems to understand that Batman villains should be able to make you laugh just as well as they can make you cringe. Whether it’s Cobblepot having a hissy fit when his men slip up, or Two-Face losing his patience with some potential recruits, Winick has scripted people that bring a comforting familiarity to the scenes they’re in.
I really enjoyed Two-Face’s plan. He’s a villain that (for obvious reasons) is easy to associate with the less-fantastical corners of Batman’s world, and Winick plays with that really well. I suspect that at least part of Harvey’s frustration in the above panel stems from the fact that he’s dealing with a concept (teleportation) that he just doesn’t understand.
It is you…
There are weak moments, too. There’s a fight with Clayface and “The Soldier” (aka Lyle Blanco) that (I think) drags on for far too long, especially considering that the details of the skirmish are not as relevant to the plot as the simple fact that it happens. I also found the conclusion a bit unsatisfying. Two-Face enters the cave convinced that he’s not dealing with the same Batman. According to Winick’s script, Dick manages to convince him otherwise, but I don’t buy it. I think the ending would be much stronger if Harvey leaves the cave more certain than he is at the start–not less so.
There’s also a very poorly kept secret. Despite Winick and Bagley avoiding a full reveal, it’s pretty obvious that a guy–a guy in a mask–a mask that is black–is trying to start something big in the shadows. While not a huge deal, it seems a bit silly that they thought readers wouldn’t be able to recognize him right away. It’s only made sillier by the full-page, third-person reveal at the end.
Value: Dirt Cheap
Long Shadows is currently out of print. At time of writing, the hardcover can be had for about $10 on Amazon. That’s not too bad a deal if you’re looking to complete a collection, but given the overall quality of the art, I probably wouldn’t pick this up used unless I found it for a really good bargain.
After reading this trade a second time, I realize how much my issues with the art–especially from Bagley–negatively affected my first impressions of it. This go-around, Bagley’s oddities are less distracting, and I can more fully appreciate what’s being done with the characters. Dick is compelling as Batman, particularly in how he contrasts with Bruce, but the real stars of this volume are Alfred and Two-Face. Winick writes them well, and they are excellent anchors in an engaging plot. The art still drags things down a bit, but both Benes and Bagley have their shining moments, and their layouts are of sufficient quality to keep things on track and make this an enjoyable volume.