Be prepared, Batman #13 is a difficult issue to follow. There are apparently three separate stories here, but I struggled to find one single, cohesive narrative that was done well… And, honestly, when you take the time to break everything down, there’s actually an attempt to tell five different stories… So that alone might clear up some of your confusion before you jump into this chapter.
I like Bernard Chang. I think he’s an incredible artist, and after seeing him at SDCC, I know he has some solid ideas for stories. But just because you have good ideas for stories, does not mean that you’re a good writer… And that is unfortunately proven here.
There’s so much going on in this issue, and the narrative jumps from one story to the next without any finesse. I found myself spending more time and energy trying to figure out what was going on, than actually enjoying the story. So, when I finished the book, I begrudgingly worked my way back through the issue trying to connect the dots, then did so again, and finally flipped back and forth between pages to make sure I understood everything correctly.
At the core of the story, someone has taken control of Gotham’s defense system and is using it to attack the city. Thankfully, there’s a manual shutoff for the system, but three switches need to be implemented for the shutoff to take effect… And of course, the switches are located in three different parts of the city. I guess we can’t let something this easy to resolve actually be this easy. So alas, Barbara and the GCPD have partnered with Batman, who is bouncing around town to kill the switches before Gotham’s debut of the Gotham Games.
Woven throughout this story, are three additional, mini-stories that focus on three characters that Terry encounters while on his mission: Shriek, a new character named The Hacker, and Freon. Each of the mini-stories features these characters at the time of Brother Eye’s takeover, and explores how they dealt with their new reality. Of the three mini-stories, Shriek’s is the most interesting, while The Hacker’s provides a welcomed origin story. Freon’s feels the most disconnected to the issue, which is ironic when all is said and done.
Now, I know this sounds simple enough to follow, but the issue jumps from one narrative to the next without any subtext, set-up, or clarity. Beyond that, the mini-stories only capture mere moments of each character’s story. It’s a lot to take in on an initial read, and the art doesn’t help identify one from the next. The main story is one color, and each of the supporting flashback stories are a separate color from the main story… but they’re not separate colors from each other. They just flow from one character’s story to the next, illustrated with the same color technique.
But get this… There’s another story in this issue! It’s the actual Gotham Games, and it features Matt and Max. This narrative is also intertwined between the other plots as Matt and Max’s challenges parallel the struggles that Terry is facing while attempting to save the city. If I’m being honest, this entire “plot” should’ve been cut. It did nothing for the story, and was just a lazy excuse to include Matt and Max.
Based on my review, you might be asking yourself why it took me so long to identify what was actually going on, and I blame the cover for claiming this issue contains three stories, as well as the fact that I read digitally using Guided View (just a heads up, this issue is much easier to follow if you read it regularly). During my initial read, I kept reading Terry’s mission and the Gotham games as a single story (Terry was, after all, trying to save the day so the Gotham Games could continue), and I kept reading the flashbacks as a single, separate story since they shared the same color distortion. This left me confused because I couldn’t find the “third story,” and I couldn’t make sense of the flashbacks as a single, logical story… Thankfully, I finally did make sense of everything.
Even with the confusion out of the way, this script still had some opportunities. Character motivations weren’t presented well, and there are a number of convenient plot points. The dialogue also suffers quite a bit as many clichés are ever present from page to page. All of this, together, creates a disastrous read despite some interesting character moments. In the end, those moments can’t prevent this issue from being what it is… Skippable.
The Art: Chang’s art always looks good, but his layouts weren’t as strong in this issue. I feel like this is all a symptom of trying to do too much in one issue. He tries to tell portions of his story through his art, and while this is usually a welcomed approach, it’s hard to accomplish with the script isn’t written well and is confusing enough on its own. The jump cuts were also quite disastrous and resulted in the quality of this issue suffering across the board.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Shriek. I like what Chang did with Shriek here! Since Brother Eye’s invasion, Shriek escaped from prison and has been living underground. He’s spent his time since serving as a type of protector to refugees who escaped their city and came to Gotham during the invasion. It creates an anti-hero dynamic for the character and could lead to some interesting and entertaining stories in the future.
The Hacker. The Hacker is Bernard Chang’s original character, and conceptually, I think he’s great. His origin stems from him gaining or discovering abilities to hack and control electrical systems during Brother Eye’s invasion. The abilities allow for some cool moments, and the character is textured culturally with an Asian background. Much like Shriek, there’s a lot that can be done with this character in the future, and I look forward to seeing him again.
Script Structure/ Layouts. Practically my entire review is in regard to the script structure and layouts. As I mentioned, if you read comics digitally and use the Guided View, you’re going to have a hard time with this story. Just read it in a standard format. You’ll notice that the stories are essentially separated into three sections: The top third of the pages contain Terry’s mission, the middle section contain the Gotham Games, and the bottom section contains the three flashbacks.
Motivations. I found myself confused by motivations on a couple of occasions. For one, you’ve got Shriek and the Hacker who both attack Batman, but there’s no explanation for why. Sure, I can kind of understand Shriek attacking Batman because they have a history… But at the same time, he’s basically reformed. As for the Hacker, he has no reason for attacking Batman other than he doesn’t want Batman in China town…. And that’s it. There’s no explanation to why he doesn’t want Batman there, he’s just being territorial. In the same respect, it doesn’t add up that these two would seek Batman out to help him either. Shriek mentions that a girl he protects told him what Batman did for them (which all he literally did was hit a button to stop an attack that wasn’t affecting them), and Hacker just shows up out of the blue with no stake in the game… It’s stupid.
Gotham Games. Gotham Games was more like Gotham Game… And even then, they didn’t finish the game. This story was a complete waste of time and space that could have been delegated to the other stories.
- You want to learn what some other villains have been up to since Brother Eye’s invasion.
- You like the idea of Shriek being an antihero.
- You want to meet a new, original character.
Overall: I had to read Batman #13 multiple times, and flip back and forth through the issue trying to connect the pieces together. My outlook on the story shifted from: “God this was a hot mess!” to “I mean… I see what he’s trying to do, but he failed miserably.” Then finally, “Alright, now that I’ve identified and followed each individual narrative, it’s not as bad as I initially thought it was.” So, prepare yourself before you dive into this chapter… It’s going to take some effort, and quite frankly, most casual readers won’t pick this issue up a second time (or more for that matter) to try and puzzle the plots together. They’re going to read it once, form their opinion, then move on to their next book.