James Tynion IV started off his run on Detective Comics with “Rise of the Batmen”/The Colony storyline and followed that up with “The Victim Syndicate” arc. Both of those were fairly original concepts, but with League of Shadows, I’m starting to see some overlap with past stories.
If you’re at all familiar with my reviews, you know I have a hard time integrating new takes on characters that clash with their original stories. For instance, last week I was pretty perturbed at the changes that Tom King made to Bane’s origin. While I’m also not fond of seeing changes made to Cassandra’s Mythos, there is an element that makes it more tolerable for me to handle. You see, Bane existed pre-Flashpoint and carried forward into the New52 and Rebirth. With Cassandra however, she ceased to exist. Her appearance in the New52 wasn’t a continuation of the character’s journey, but a brand new introduction. As such, it’s been easier for me to accept her alterations a little more readily since she wasn’t something that carried forward. It doesn’t mean I’ve accepted everything with open arms. For instance, I thought that the New52 David Cain paled in comparison to his pre-Flashpoint existence. It seemed relevant to share this perspective with you all so you’d know I had an actual reason for not being quite so hard on Tynion’s changes as I have been with King’s. But as my opening paragraph should’ve indicated to you, I’ve finally started to find a couple of things in Tynion’s narratives that aren’t sitting quite as well with me as some of his earlier submissions.
Instead of picking up immediately where we left off with the BatFamily surrounded by League of Shadows members, we start the comic with a quiet little chat over coffee between Ra’s Al Ghul and Lady Shiva. I loved this scene. While their interaction is extremely brief, you can infer a great many things about their relationship from it. You could call it exposition, but it’s done in such a way that it’s rather indirect, encouraging you to fill in the blanks and create the exposition yourself instead of being told outright what is going on.
For whatever reason, Lady Shiva and Ra’s appear to have an ongoing feud that’s resulted in her using The League of Shadows to attack his League of Assassins.
When Shiva refuses to supplicate herself before him, Ra’s resorts to force, and Shiva loves it. As the scene wraps up, I was left with three thoughts. First, did Ra’s just run away? Second, those are Colony members. Last year when The Colony showed up, I thought their insignias and the shape of their helmets bore a striking resemblance to that of past Ra’s iconography. Is this simply a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or is their a greater connection between Ra’s and The Colony that has yet to be revealed?
Lastly, I was a little surprised that they would so readily reveal that Cassandra was Shiva’s daughter. In the original story, I recall it being a much more momentous reveal. But then I got to thinking. I guess there is no reason to keep something like that secret, when it’s possible that many of the people reading this story are already aware of it. Presenting it down the line would then be very anti-climatic for those of us who are already in the know. So while I guess it works to alleviate that potential problem, it feels way less epic and sprawling to present it so matter-of-factly.
At this point, we jump back to the BatFamily and their predicament. Almost instantly, Batwing is taken out. I’m starting to notice a reoccurring theme with Batwing. He keeps running his mouth, and every time he does, he gets walloped. I’ve chuckled about it up till now, but this seems pretty serious and not really a laughing matter anymore. You’d have thought he would have learned his lesson from the previous experiences, but I guess not.
This scene also includes some less than stellar dialogue and actions delivered by Clayface. As I’m always so quick to point out how good Tynion is at delivering dialogue, I thought it only fair to highlight how clunky Clayface’s exchange with the League of Shadows members felt. He basically taunts them with the knowledge that Batman taught him Kung Fu. Unlike the opening exchange between Ra’s and Shiva that felt almost poetic, this just felt very unnecessary. Like, who cares that he knows Kung Fu. And really, is that what’s going to get them quivering in their boots or the fact that he is a giant clay monster? Beside, shouldn’t he just be able to envelope them all in a ball of clay? Why fight them in a practical way when he has vastly superior unconventional means at his disposal?
Next up we have the obligatory rooftop fight scene between Cassandra and Shiva. Look, I’ve been here before. Just look up Batgirl #7, 8, and 9 by Kelley Puckett. Thus far, I think Tynion had been fairly good at steering clear of things that would invite comparison, here, I can’t help but think of that other story. And while I would have been happier if he had paved an entirely new road for the character to go down, this rewrite isn’t without its own charms.
In Puckett’s story, Cassandra had her ability to read people’s body language removed by some guy who rewrote the way her brain worked. He gave her the ability to comprehend language, but it messed up her fighting skills. Personally, I always disliked that element of the story and was glad to see it gone. It added that supernatural/superhuman element that pulled me out of the reality of it all. After all, it was just about normal people with highly tuned fighting abilities. It was grounded in a sense of reality until magic mind guy came along. In that sense, I appreciate that during Tynion’s fight between the two, Cassandra isn’t handicapped by some outside factor.
Tynion/Duce vs Puckett/Scott
Both stories are similar in the sense that Cassandra refuses to submit to killing strikes, but Tynion makes it solely about that, and that I like. Another thing that I noticed is that Tynion’s Shiva is much more brutal and, for lack of a better word, impatient. In the original story when Shiva thought Casandra was inferior, she suggested that they have a rematch when Cassandra had gotten better so that they could have an actual worthwhile fight. Here, Shiva is like, “I have no time for your ineptitude”, and straight up tries to kill Cassandra instantly. While that’s pretty badass and no nonsense of her, Tynion’s Shiva lacks some of the honor and civility that I’m accustomed to seeing represented in the character. That’s not to say Puckett’s Shiva didn’t show brutality and Tynion’s doesn’t have civility. I just think Tynion has dialed back the civility and upped the level of brutality.
I know people are going to bring this up, so I’m going to address it. I’ve seen a lot of people complain that Tynion consistently makes Batman look bad in order to make other people look good. I’ll agree that some of those past instances have bothered me and others I have been fine with. This is one I am ok with. While there have been instances where Batman has beaten Shiva before, it’s always been neck and neck. Batman himself has even gone to Shiva for training before. So while there are factors that may contribute to one or the other winning in a fight between the two of them, you can’t argue that Batman himself recognizes the fact that Shiva has mad skills.
The book wraps up with several wonderful character scenes, the predominant ones in my eyes being between Kate and her father and Batman and Cassandra. In the former, Jacob recounts a harrowing tale to Kate that paints Shiva as an even bigger monster than the story has thus far demonstrated. While it does go with telling over showing, which is something I usually don’t like, I actually feel like my mind is able to do the scene more justice than what the illustrators would have been able to come up with. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have been able to given adequate time and space, but showing Shiva single-handedly killing 43 people would be a fairly large undertaking. And I’m sure there are far more useful ways to utilize page space than dedicating them to nothing more than mass slaughter.
Art for this issue is handled by a whole slew of people, 2 on pencils and 3 on colors. Among them, Christian Duce is the primary artist, so I’ll be looking at him. Christian was also the artist on last issue, and while I found his work ranging from merely acceptable to slightly generic, there wasn’t anything that really stood out as noteworthy. This time however, I think he spent a little more time applying the majority of his skills to the Cassandra/Shiva fight. The art on those pages just seems sharper and more refined to me. The fact that I got out my Kelley Puckett/Damion Scott Batgirl comics also made me note something else about Christian’s work. While still evoking a comic book feel, Christian definitely leans more towards a realistic depiction of things rather than a stylistic approach like Damion Scott favored. Looking at the side by side comparison up above, you can see that Scott utilized exaggerated proportions and representative images in his character renderings rather than the more straightforward imagery that Christian uses.
- You’re a fan of Lady Shiva Woosan.
Despite the fact that Tynion chose to step on the toes of the past in his latest chapter for Detective Comics, I actually found his alterations to be quite tasteful and respectful. While he does the characters and original story justice, I still think I would have been more fond of seeing something completely original rather than a reimagining of a classic scene. That aside, I actually found part 2 of “League of Shadows” more entertaining than the opening chapter. If you’re a Shiva fan, you’ll probably get a great deal of joy out of this issue. While she doesn’t monopolize all the page time, she’s definitely the star of this particular tale. Even when she is absent from the page, her presence is still largely felt as all the other major scenes in the story are ultimately about her. Whether that be a recounting of one of her past exploits or merely another character reacting to Shiva’s evil. This is clearly a Shiva-centric story. And not one to miss.
SCORE: 8 / 10