Batman and The Shadow are in a race with The Joker and the Stag to the mystic realm of Shamba-La. But who will arrive first, and what are the ramifications of failure?
Personally, I’m not enjoying the tail end of this story as much as I was enamored with the opening to it. We started with something very slow paced, full of mystery and intrigue. The pages were dripping with atmosphere and everything centered much more around ideas and investigation. But with the release of issue 4, things took a turn. It became much more about the action elements. And I think this issue is carrying that sentiment forward. I suppose I was just hoping for it to maintain more of a psychological thriller kind of aspect instead of going for the whole “race against time” motif. But alas…
The story opens with Alfred attempting to save Master Bruce’s life. Unfortunately, the wound proves to be beyond Alfred’s medical expertise, and as such, Bruce is slowly dying. Despite facing what is likely to be certain death, Bruce pushes on, stating that they have to finish the case. That’s a very Batman thing to do. Bruce is always pushing himself beyond the limitations of his body, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would opt to die in the field rather than wasting away in a bed somewhere.
I think it’s kind of funny that they try to play up a moment of tension, because who in their right mind is going to believe that Batman is going to die in this story. Nonetheless, I did think it was remotely funny. Not necessarily in the sense that I think I was intended to find humor in it, but more so because of the use of this particular cliche.
During their previous scuffle, Batman attached a homing signal to Stag, so it becomes elementary to find and catch up with him. When they arrive at the island/cave, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a little bit of pandering going on simply for the sake of giving us a surprise of sorts. Upon exiting the BatPlane, we see Batman lugging around this big shiny metal suitcase. Shadow and Batman make their way through some caves, and only once the moment is critical and they are face to face with the enemy do we see Batman leap forth into action (in what I am sure was meant to be a dramatic moment) wearing a fancy high-tech suit he’s donned to help him cope with his injuries. Obviously, my opinion on this is clear. I wasn’t a fan. But the thing that bothered me wasn’t that he was wearing this suit, but the fact that he didn’t put it on sooner. I mean, why lug the thing around? Why not put it on before leaving the plane? How could they have known he wouldn’t need is sooner? They could have been ambushed anytime before he actually decided to put it on. It just doesn’t make sense to leave it off for any other reason than to give the audience a shock. And I don’t like when a comic does that. When they present something that only plays to an audience’s perspective and not an in-comic perspective.
I also noticed that this issue retreaded over some material this series had already examined. Specifically, the way in which The Shadow thinks Batman is too easy on his enemies. When they first brought this up, it felt fresh. At least fresh within the confines of this story. But Shadow reiterates this point again, and not just once, but twice. I’d be fine if he brought it up again for the sake of adding more to it, but at this point, he is just harping. To me, it feels like it was placed there solely to allow Batman a lead-in to counter Shadow’s philosophy. Not only does it make the conversation seem less natural, but it gives me the feeling that they only had so many ideas they wanted to approach within this series. They didn’t really need 6 issues to explore these ideas, but since that’s how many they were given, they simply spread the same notions out thin over too many pages. If it had just been this idea that got rehashed I wouldn’t be bringing this up, but there are other pieces of dialogue from this story that are also rehashes from previous issues. I mean, it’s one thing if something is a callback meant to remind you of something that already happened. But this doesn’t feel like that to me. It just feels like it’s replicating itself at this point.
Art for this issue is once again handled by Riley Rossmo, and since I’ve already spent time in previous reviews discussing his work, I thought it might be nice to concentrate on one specific element that I quite like. The stylistic choice to sometimes draw Batman and Shadow’s capes/scarf at unrealistic proportions. This is something that I’ve not just been enjoying in Rossmo’s work, but something I’ve noticed over the years when looking at a various number of artists. Sometimes when you look at Batman, it’s just the tips of the scallops of his cape that hit the floor. And other times, it’s dragging behind him all over the place and pooling about his feet. Still, other times, it’s billowing about him to an extent that is far greater than it has any right to be able to do. I just love these kinds of images. Completely unrealistic, but ever so evocative.
Here is one by Marshall Rogers that sprung to mind while thinking about this.
- Bruce points out that the Stag is simply a man because he is in more than one place at any given time, and that Shadow has been fighting an army of Stags over the years, not just one guy. That is how Stag keeps coming back from the dead. However, I don’t really think that’s enough evidence to rule out the possibility that the supernatural is still at play. Why couldn’t it be that the dead version of himself is simply a husk, and that when he dies he is reborn? I mean, it just seems to me that Batman is drawing a pretty hard conclusion from limited information. I mean, when all those glowing Stags show up, they seem very magical. But maybe that was the point. That they seem magical because that is the impression they wish to convey. I guess I just feel that it could have been more concretely defined. Perhaps slipping off a mask or two to see that they all had different faces of something.
Favorite line of dialogue:
Holy Moly! Would you just look at this variant cover by Francesco Mattina. I mean….HOLY MOLY!
- You’ve been following the story, so now you simply have to know how it ends.
Batman/The Shadow has taken a turn from a psychological noir thriller to a somewhat generic beat’em up, and I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed. In my last review I asked this question: “Now that all the groundwork has been laid, is this issue [action oriented] indicative of what I can expect from the rest of the run?” Well, it definitely looks like we have a pattern forming now, because that’s what I got from this story. Action. On top of that, I’m starting to get a feeling of deja vu. For me, too many of the elements from this issue felt like they were being recycled from previous installments instead of being true callbacks. Mix into that some overused cliches along with what feels like pandering to broader audience expectations, and I can’t help but feel that this book has lost the magic it started out with.
SCORE: 6.5 / 10