If you loved the opening salvo in this fantastic collaboration between DC and Dynamite, hopefully you’ve returned for more. If you missed out on that number one, there’s probably still time to go find it and catch up because this book is a real treat for not only Batfans, but fans of the superhero and detective genres altogether.
Brandon gave you the lowdown on the history of the Shadow in his last review, so I’ll spare you further commentary in that regard, but I do want to say that the way Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando pay their respects to the grand-daddy of detectives is pretty awesome. Over the years the Shadow’s mysterious persona has confounded villains and been an avenging angel for countless people who have had the good (or bad) fortune to cross his path. That supernatural connection made superheroes like Batman in particular not only possible, but popular.
So let’s talk about how these two writers do it.
First, there was the Ducard tease: was Henri Ducard really the Shadow? You’ll find out in this second issue that things aren’t quite what they seem: don’t trust your eyes and don’t trust the words of tricksters. I generally pride myself on typically being in-step with the story if not a step ahead, but this book kept me guessing and held some real surprises in the climactic confrontation at the clinic of our good friend Dr. Leslie Thompkins.
With regard to both the Stag and the Shadow, Batman is wrassling with powers he thinks he understands, but maybe not as well as he wishes.
The Shadow does, indeed, know!
And maybe that’s what Snyder and Orlando have done best so far with this story: given Batman an honest-to-God challenge that isn’t manufactured out of some narrative convenience. The Stag is an inscrutable killer and the Shadow an inscrutable ally, with Batman stuck between in a way that’s organic and compelling.
We get a little backstory, but Orlando glides through it with a spareness and poetry that was, in my opinion, gravely lacking in Snyder’s own recent Batman outings. In lieu of long monologue of exposition, we get a nice montage to flavor the Shadow’s past exploits: a bit of intrigue without heavy explication. Where in the past Snyder on his own has leaned heavily on complex granularity of metaphor, here he and Orlando just have black and white to work with and there’s something beautiful about the starkness of that. They’re not trying to rewrite the Shadow or explain him; they just allow the character to exist–unknowable and aloof, but powerful in his actions.
And Riley Rossmo’s rendition superbly accentuates those qualities. I have always been a big fan of Rossmo, but the marriage of the subject matter and the art here is one of the best I’ve seen in terms of collaboration–in particular with regards to the Shadow. The fluidity of his red scarf, the angles of his sharp features–from the tips of his shoes to the beak of his nose: he looks dangerous and calculating and elusive from every angle. Rossmo was born to draw the Shadow.
What gorgeous composition here!
With regard to the art, if I may quibble, I wish I liked Rossmo’s Batman a little more. I think the body type he’s chosen is interesting (he gave Batman a lot of meat, which is atypical of his style). But I think the cowl is a bit lackluster and the ears are too small. Seems like Rossmo should be able to pull off a much more stealthy-looking long-eared shadow-dweller, but he went with squat and pugnacious (probably in direct contrast to the Shadow’s svelte silhouette). It works, ultimately, but I did find myself a little distracted by Batman’s tiny nub ears.
The environment works for both characters, though: long crazy angles, lots of broad action with long flying limbs juxtaposed with great cinematic details. Like the splotch of Bruce’s–what is that anyway?–dumpling soup? The fact that it’s indefinable is irrelevant; it’s the effect that matters. Just like a later rather splotchy effect after the dislodging of a certain bullet by a certain character not likely to be wielding one in the first place.
Yes, I’m being intentionally vague. You don’t get spoilers here: read the book! It’s well worth the cost and even though we’re only two issues in, I feel like this is going somewhere you want to be when it lands.
I want to say something about Clem Robins’ letters because I think they are very interesting. At first I was distracted by the heavy-handed way he dealt with the Shadow’s dialogue: the ornamental dialogue balloons (squarish with orange drop shadows), and the large heavy bold-like all-caps text itself. To be honest I can’t tell whether this was 100% intentional because it’s not consistently employed throughout the book. Not sure if this is just an issue in the digital copy or if the print suffers this curiosity as well. Maybe someone can report in the comments below.
Either way, by the end of the book, I kind of liked the quirkiness of it. It gave the Shadow a sort of overbearing operatic quality. So I hope it was intentional and that the places in which it was dropped (or toned down) were incidental or accidental. It’s not often you get to comment on the lettering–when letterers do a good job the dialogue and effects are often invisible in a paradoxical way.
Anyway, all right, one spoiler (but probably not really): You already know from the solicits that Snyder can’t write a Batman story without bringing the Joker into it, and you’ll see him here (if only briefly). But right now Stag as an elusive killer is plenty intrigue enough, and the Shadow winding Batman up is both perplexing and delightful.
- You need a refreshingly antagonistic not-quite yet team-up that isn’t just about two superheroes punching each other in the face over some basic failure to communicate (and nobody’s going to be calling “Martha” here).
- The big questions about good and evil are what you come to comic books for.
- Nostalgia is only part of the name of the game. Both Batman and the Shadow have a very long storied history, but Snyder makes them feel so fresh off the page without sacrificing their essential natures to meet some grimdark and/or hipster ideal of the 21st century superhero. This is classy stuff, folks.
Steve Orlando’s script has exactly the right balance of classic serial melodrama and gritty cinematic edge. He and Scott Snyder are weaving a story that feels completely timeless, but always timely: the cosmic battle of good vs. evil heavily draped with questions of justice and revenge. Already the story feels destined to sit on the shelves among other giants of Batman lore. While the Stag is an intriguing enemy (as I’m sure the Joker will prove as well), it’s the conflicted dynamic between the Shadow and Batman–two creatures duty-bound–that makes this book outstanding!