I’m just going to cut to the chase here: Do you like Scott Snyder? Are you enjoying the Dark Multiverse and prior Metal tie-ins? Then you will love this as well! So just go out and buy it (in fact you probably already have).
The other truth is that I am not enjoying the Dark Multiverse and the Metal tie-ins, so if you decide to continue reading this review, you do so at your own peril and on the understanding that this book was going to fight an uphill battle to win me over no matter what.
Interestingly enough, it came out of the gate like gangbusters. The opening splash of elderly Bruce in his study is wonderfully warm, cozy, and the introduction of his little granddaughter Janet has a kind of delightful and easy tone about it. I love that here Bruce has retired to become a writer of old tales, just as the veterans of old wars did at the turn of the century did when the nickel weekly and the dime novel were kings of the newstands. These stories eventually gave way to comics, and Snyder slips in that ever-necessary homage to the inspiration that birthed the bat: Zorro!
But once Bruce starts relating to Janet a tale of old, things rapidly fall apart. Bruce is launched in the the “wonderland” of the Dark Multiverse, falling through time and space from one point in his centuries-spanning life to another to glean small details about his mission and his origins, with particular attention paid to the infamous bat at his study window–the one that inspired him to take on the mantle of Batman.
We start with a potent image, but it quickly spirals right out of control
The problem with a story like this is that the narrative logic and thrust is arbitrary and passive. Bruce just slips through wormhole after wormhole without having any say in the matter. There’s very little attempt to engage the audience in the action because there’s no rhyme or reason to the leaps and Bruce is at the mercy of an unseen force guiding his journey. It’s a little like watching a Rube Goldberg machine play out. It can be tedious or fascinating and the perpetual motion of it gives little time to savor. Also, Rube Goldberg machines don’t really have narratives. And to a certain degree, neither does this.
Stuff happens, sure, but whether we care about it is an entirely different matter.
While I don’t find myself caring enough about the characters in this book, I do care about the art. Because it’s really good art and it saved this issue from a pretty bad rating from me.
Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, and Jorge Jimenez (with an extra ink assist from Jaime Mendoza) fill every page with Bats and Batmen and whole worlds yet unseen: Gotham in every era under every imaginable shade, and a cosmos littered with more Bat-variants than you can shine a Batsignal on (including our Metal multiversants). There are also lots of very (very brief) cameos from the likes of Wonder Woman and Damian and Harley Quinn and the Spectre–and more. Snyder and Tynion throw the whole kitchen sink of the mythos into this book and the artists positively revel in the details of it all.
Look for fun details like Batman’s purple gloves or the evolution of Batman’s cowl. And even if the story is an incoherence of overwrought bloated exposition dripping with self-indulgent “meaning” that takes itself way too seriously, the action has genuinely fun moments: like Bruce running out into the street in his bathrobe.
And the drama and tension is definitely palpable. As Bruce is dropped through one time and place together you get the sense of his vertigo as he tries to adjust and adapt to the latest crazy scenario before he’s ripped through another hole into the next. The story may not be all that much by the final page, but the pictures do take you on a journey that I think might be worth the cost of admission, even if it is far too in love with its own erratic symbolism.
It’s almost-not-quite-there BvS in this moment
I get it: everything is connected and it’s all as it should be since the beginning of time, carefully orchestrated by a destiny, a fate, a scary creeper in the cosmos who waves his hand and arbitrarily makes legends of men.
My question is: this is interesting, why?
The thrust of this narrative basically tells the story of how the bat at Bruce Wayne’s window was no simple augury, but an intricate plant to bring out his “true” nature and set him down the path carved out for him in the war of the bird and the bats. This is basically the equivalent of plumping up cattle with water injections for the auction. It adds nothing of value to the story of Batman, but confuses the scales nevertheless.
Worse yet, it’s another chip at free will, cleaving away more and more of Batman’s agency and grafting onto his persona more supernatural and cosmic Teflon. The Bruce Wayne we see in that opening moment is just a man who lived an extraordinary life fighting crime. Many of those other Batmans across the multiverse and the way Snyder and Tynion are stitching them together? I honestly don’t know who that is, don’t want to know, and he’s not the least bit interesting to me as a hero.
- You like see writers try to create cohesion across a century of Batman incarnate.
- Time and inter-dimensional travel gives you a thrill.
- Who cares about the word soup: pretty pictures!
I’m sure many people like this sort of thing, but I’m not one of them. Even objectively while I can admire the art and I very much enjoy the storytelling framework of Bruce and his granddaughter Janet, the rest of this just feels like a hot mess of “greatest hits” spackled together with a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo about the meaning of it all. It’s pretty to look at in places; the use of a variety of artists to separate the “eras” is a lovely piece of piecemeal that actually works, but otherwise it’s boring. The long slow trickle of frankly predictable reveals is so full of bombast that I found I couldn’t really care before the characters were even done speaking. Harsh words, I know, but this is not my Batman and never will be.