So far, I’ve given this book pretty much nothing but praise. Unfortunately, Batman / The Shadow #4 is about to break the stellar streak this book has been on (for me at least). It’s not that anything in here is bad (well, maybe one little thing). It’s just that, compared with the previous issues, this felt very standard. Up till now, everything has been about world building, setting a mood, presenting a mystery, and examining intriguing concepts. But this issue is pretty much a cover to cover action scene. And it’s that sudden and complete shift away from everything that I’ve so adored about this book that has me looking at it and thinking that it just doesn’t measure up.
It’s funny, because I was just talking with Steve Orlando at Comic Con (link to interview) about how much I appreciated the fact that his book was so much more cerebral than a lot of the other stuff out there right now and applauded that it didn’t focus so completely on blockbuster action sequences. So, to open this issue and see the story it told….I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed.
If you read my last review, you’ll remember that while I enjoyed the Joker’s performance, I somewhat thought his inclusion overshadowed the Stag. So I’m sure it will come as no surprise to many of you that throwing dozens upon dozens of members of the Rogue Gallery into the book didn’t sit too well with me. I’m not arguing the sense behind it. Joker is definitely the kind of guy that would invite everyone he knew to a “Death of the Batman Party”. It’s just that, beyond that, they didn’t serve too much of a purpose. And ultimately, they just felt like cannon fodder in a fight that unfortunately felt more like filler than anything truly relevant.
It also seems that every time two franchises meet, the powers that be feel the need to throw everything each of them have into the meat grinder. Kind of like, this might be the only time these two characters meet, so if we don’t put it all in now, we might never get another chance. Reminds me of the way all the Bat-villains showed up in Tynion’s Batman/TMNT. With Batman / The Shadow, it just feels like overkill in a book that was doing such a good job at staying focused and presenting a much more subdued narrative.
But that doesn’t mean I disliked everything here.
The Shadow scolding Batman was totally awesome. And I just loved that line about the weed of crime. It’s totally a riff off of one of The Shadow’s famous lines: “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.” This idea that Batman won’t kill but The Shadow will led me to consider something I’d never thought of before. Towards the climax of the fight, The Shadow guns down one of the villains. And after he does, the rest of them just retreat. It made me realize that the game that all these villains play with Batman is safe. If Batman wins, the worst that happens to them is a stint in Arkham or Blackgate, and then they live to play another day. The idea that if Batman killed, he’d have less rogues, is nothing new. But I’d never considered it from their perspective. If Batman did kill, not only would he have fewer enemies, but I’d also imagine less people would spring up to contest him. In a game where the wagers are so high, you’d definitely have fewer players.
The book also includes a bunch of known police officers who have graced the pages of Batman over the years. While I thought the villain cameos were a little over-the-top and ultimately unnecessary, the inclusion of Harvey, Renee, and Crispus just felt more natural to me. Instead of having Gordon with random cop A, B, and C; we have him with established characters. It’s not important that you know who they are for the sake of the story, but nevertheless, it’s nice to see them. It always bugs me when characters are introduced during a writer’s run, and then they just disappear without an in-world explanation when said writer leaves. Even if their unique personalities and perspective don’t contribute to the driving force behind the story at hand, things like this just add an extra layer of realism. To put a real world perspective on it; it’s like working at a job where you don’t necessarily interact with all your coworkers on a daily basis, but you do see them. And if one of them all of a sudden just disappeared, you might wonder what happened to them.
Now, lets talk about the one thing I didn’t really care for. I’m throwing it in a spoiler since it might ruin the story for you if you haven’t read it yet.
I love how The Joker’s laugh fades out and The Shadow’s replaces it. Kind of like Shadow was laughing more quietly underneath The Joker’s laugh and it didn’t spring forward till The Joker’s trailed off.
- The story makes two references; one to Dr. Gotham and the other to Rupert Thorne. The second reference is a complete throw away that’s just there to make people like me, that actually remember him, smile. Rupert Thorne is from the 1977 Steve Englehart run. You might also recognize the character from Batman: The Animated Series.
- The Dr. Gotham one is actually tied more closely to the story at hand. It’s not necessary for you to have read the Dr. Gotham story from Shadowpact to understand what is going on, since Joker gives up all the pertinent details anyway, but it’s a really obscure character to have included. I honestly hadn’t thought about him in over a decade.
- You like when a story has plenty of action.
- You love seeing tons and tons of character cameos and references.
I feel like this is Batman/The Shadow’s first misstep. At the end of the day, it just feels too far removed from the previous issues. Those opening stories spent so much time establishing character, building the world, setting a mood, presenting a mystery, and examining intriguing concepts. Now that all the groundwork has been laid, is this issue indicative of what I can expect from the rest of the run? I hope this just ends up being a small hiccup in the larger narrative, and that the story veers back towards the elements I so adore.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10