In this month’s chapter of The Shadow/ Batman, things get explosive, but even that can’t prevent the plot from stalling a little.
I’ve been pretty vocal concerning my admiration for this book! Steve Orlando has crafted an incredible story that is written well, and the art by Timpano is also quite spectacular. That being said, this is probably my least favorite issue of the series. That doesn’t mean the issue is bad – quite the contrary – it’s just not my favorite.
The previous chapter set a bar that, if I’m being honest, is hard to top. There were so many shocking reveals in those twenty pages that I found myself exhibiting an audible reaction at least three times while reading. This issue attempts to go for similar moments, but they don’t feel as inspired or warranted.
The Shadow/ Batman picks up following the events of Batman/ The Shadow, and causes both titular characters to cross paths again. The threat this time is a man named Khan – a descendant of Genghis Khan who studied the same arts as Shadow and has actually mastered more abilities than him. Along with the help of Ra’s al Ghul, and under the moniker of a team called the Secret Seven, the two men begin their mission to exact revenge on the Shadow and Batman for destroying Shamba-La.
What I really find interesting is the lengths in which the Secret Seven can reach. Clearly, Khan and Ra’s are a physical threat, but learning that the Secret Seven essentially control the working world was a huge reveal! Unfortunately, that aspect is practically ignored in this issue and hinders the momentum of the story a bit as it takes away from how dire the threat is. I’m worried this thread may fade into obscurity as the story wraps, but I hope that isn’t the case.
Speaking of revelations, nothing is as shocking as the reveal that Bruce is actually dead. We were led to believe that he was brought back to life at the end of Batman/ The Shadow, but now know that he’s really just a puppet of Khan, who has been controlling him since his death. This chapter picks up in this moment, with a fight between Batman, Khan, and Shadow, as Khan attempts to force Bruce to shoot Shadow.
As excited as I was going into this moment, I feel like the plot fumbles a little here. A good chunk of the issue consists of fighting – both through means of will and hand to hand – but none of if it feels as though it leads anywhere. In fact, I’d say that this chapter feels quite transitional overall. Orlando seems aware that he only has two issues to wrap his story after this, and we’ve still been building the plot. For the overarching story, this is clearly the smart move, but for those reading monthly issues, it feels as though the momentum slows. There’s a moment that attempts to inject some energy into the narrative, but I wish it had just been left out because I don’t think it was handled as well as it should have been.
By the time I reached the end of the issue, I felt as though little had happened. Yes, we have a solid set-up for the final two chapters and an incredible tease at the end of the issue that pays homage to a historical Batman moment, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Where the plot falls a little short though, the character work excels. Bruce and Alfred have a great scene together, and it results in one of my favorite exchanges of all time between these two men. Then, on a separate front, there’s an equally great moment between Damian and Ra’s, and I’m left eagerly (and anxiously) awaiting the next issue!
Initially, I wasn’t a fan of Timpano’s art because I thought his pencils were messy, and the look of his characters were rough, particularly their faces. Now that I’ve grown more familiar with his work, I’ve come to absolutely love it! While the definition of his characters may not be my favorite, the rest of his execution is superb! He has multiple pages in this chapter that captures movement beautifully. Most of these scenes feature Damian, and add to the idea that this kid is a total badass! Beyond that though, his layouts are cinematic, and the man can tell an unspoken story incredibly well. I hope DC swoops him up for some projects because they could use an artist like this on their roster!
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Damian. The character that I praise each month is Damian. That has to say something. Orlando writes him in a way that takes me back to how he was handled under Morrison’s pen, and I’m loving every panel of it! It’s nice to be reminded of how much of a badass Damian is. Don’t get me wrong, I love the humanity he’s been given over the past few years, and I especially love the light-hearted nature of him in Super Sons, but it’s nice to be reminded that he has this side to him as well.
Relationships. Relationships have textured The Shadow/ Batman to a level of greatness. The plot is strong, but it’s these subtle moments that help elevate Orlando’s script to that next level. We finally get a few pages of Bruce and Alfred, and Orlando takes advantage to expand on that which he’s teased in single panels before now. The respect and admiration these two have for one another is inspirational, and the conversation of “thanks” warms my heart. The fact that Alfred says, “Thank you” to Bruce after Bruce tends to injuries Alfred gained because of him shows a lot of humility in Alfred – especially when you consider how much Alfred does for Bruce. Bruce’s response that Alfred never needs to say thank you is a way for him to acknowledge everything Alfred does for him, and that he’s aware of the tole of it all. It’s an incredible moment and one that Orlando should be happy to have under his belt.
On a separate front, there’s a similar exploration into Damian and Ra’s relationship. Much like Bruce and Alfred, you get a clear sense of a father/ child role for each character, but unlike Bruce and Alfred, there’s no warmth or emotion. The cadence of Ra’s and Damian’s dialogue is cold and strictly business. The contrast makes for an interesting read, and sets up a moment that I’m eager to watch unfold!
Stakes. There’s so much at stake here. For Bruce, it’s a matter of his life, and what his future means now that we know he’s actually dead. The fact that he was able to will himself not to shoot Shadow is a promising and hopeful sign though. Damian also has a lot at stake in the way of legacy as he prepares to go toe-to-toe with his grandfather. And then to tie all of this together, is the Shadow, the aftermath of Batman/ The Shadow, Kahn’s desires, and the Shadow’s true intentions for all of this! I have no idea what Orlando has planned, and I’m waiting with baited breath to read the final two chapters!
Boom. Aside from the plot stalling a little, my only issue with this chapter was that Kahn blew up Wayne Manor. For one, I feel like Wayne Manor has been destroyed a few too many times over the past few years, so it numbs the impact to see it again. In addition to this though, the reason for Kahn to do this isn’t very clear, and the aftermath doesn’t play out. There’s no emotional reaction, it just happens and the plot moves on. While I would’ve preferred it didn’t happen at all, there should have been a moment of acknowledging the tragedy of the manor’s destruction.
- You want a solid Batman story.
- You like when Damian is a badass.
- You like exploring the subtle differences of father figures in relation to their sons.
Overall: Orlando and Timpano deliver another strong issue of The Shadow/ Batman. The momentum of the plot stalls a little here, but the character work remains top-notch, which prevents the issue from slumping much in quality. In addition to this, there’s an abundance of set-up that has me extremely excited for the final two chapters!