This month’s The Shadow/ Batman #5 slows things down a little as Steve Orlando and Giovanni Timpano set up the story’s climax and conclusion for next month!
I’ve given The Shadow/ Batman quite a bit of praise over the past five months, and it deserves every bit of it! Orlando and Timpano have setup and delivered an incredible story that is executed with superb precision. As a Batman fan, I’ve enjoyed this run because it reminds me of classic Batman stories. There isn’t a crisis that’s immediately threatening to end the world. We’re not getting a “Bat god” that can endure shootings, stabbings, poison, being thrown from a train, etc, just so he can keep fighting as if he were only punched. No, this is a grounded Batman that uses his mental ability as much as he uses his physicality… Which is kind of surprising considering so much of this story deals with the metaphysical nature of some of these characters.
Following up on the equally entertaining Batman/ The Shadow, The Shadow/ Batman brings the two titular characters together again to thwart the threat of Khan. Both students of Shamba-La, Khan and Cranston have a history with one another, and it’s been clearly established that Khan is the more capable of the two. If anything, Khan’s arrogance might serve as his downfall – a theme that is touched on specifically in this issue. With Ra’s al Ghul in his corner though, our heroes don’t appear to have much of a shot at success.
Batman’s inclusion in this story ties directly back to the Batman/ The Shadow series, as he also has ties to Shamba-La now. After a rocky reconnection with the Shadow early on, the two quickly join forces to oppose Khan. Unfortunately, every move they make is countered and overcome with ease. Whether it be a physical attack, or an attempt to cut Khan’s financing, our heroes have come up unsuccessful each time. In fact, each attempt only leaves them with more loss.
Going into this issue, Batman has lost his home and Batcave, and has learned that he’s a puppet of Khan’s. With such a personal loss, as well as the belief that he’s incapable of beating Khan, Bruce is left to go back to square one, and he’s doing it on his own. Meanwhile, the Shadow, who is now truly alone in the world, is being held captive by Khan, enduring endless emotional torture. Both heroes are defeated and without much hope.
Thankfully, there’s an x-factor in this story, and that’s Damian Wayne. Operating independently of Batman and the Shadow, Damian has actually made more progress than his father every step of the way. Without any personal conflicts to cloud his judgment, Damian has been examining and following patterns since the first issue, and it’s what has led us to this point. These patterns play a key role in this issue as they set up every character for the finale. Damian used these patterns to discover his grandfather’s role in all of this, which is where we start this issue – Damian holding his own against Ra’s in a sword fight in the desert. Damian, unlike his father in the past, opts to keep his shirt on for this bout.
Like every scene and issue that has preceded this one, Orlando and Timpano have superbly crafted their story with excellent precision. Execution is, undoubtedly, the key to The Shadow/ Batman’s success. Whether it be Batman, Shadow, Khan, or Ra’s, each character reacts and responds in distinct ways, and those reactions are explored in great detail in this chapter. Orlando delves into the characters, their motivations, and their mindset, and it does nothing but add fuel to the narrative, before striking a match on the final page.
There’s so much internal exploration in this issue that it won’t resonate with everyone, but for me, it helps ground the story. Investing in the characters and their stake in all of this only sets us up for a stronger conclusion. A conclusion that I’m greatly looking forward to reading!
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I can’t praise Timpano enough. Before reviewing comics, I never really gave artists the credit they deserved, because I didn’t look at books critically enough to see their value. I noticed the end result, I just wasn’t aware that it was the art that was making such a dramatic difference. I viewed art with an eye that looked only at the execution of the actual pencils. My opinion depended on whether I thought the technique of the artist looked appealing, and didn’t really think much about the artist’s ability to tell a story.
That’s changed for me. On a technical standpoint (the aesthetic of the pencils), I wouldn’t say that Timpano is the best artists. His pencils leave a little to be desired, and there are some consistency issues… But the guy knows how to tell one hell of a story! He crafts his panels in such a way that it accentuates the script, and brings the story to life. There’s an energy to his work that enhances the characters ability to “act.” Orlando tells an incredible story with his script, but Timpano delivers an equally satisfying story with what’s unsaid! That takes talent!
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Characterization. One of the aspects that carries The Shadow/ Batman is Orlando and Timpano’s understanding of the characters, and their ability to deliver this characterization. For five issues now, Batman, Shadow, Damian, Ra’s, and Khan all feel as if they are completely and fully themselves. The plot appears to be dictated by the characters involved, rather than having this book fall victim to a problem that plagues a number of comics today where characters are forced into plots for the sake of the plot. Every decision or reaction that is made feels natural. Nothing feels like a means to an end or a convenient plot. The story is what it is because the characters are represented accurately and explored appropriately to provide a believable and natural outcome. Kudos.
The Action. Timpano deserves a lot of credit for executing so many elements incredibly well. His action sequences are some of my favorite due to the fluidity of his art. The panels feel like a natural progression of movement, and beyond that, the movements feel concise and planned. There aren’t random punches or kicks here, there’s a story in the body language of each character, and that’s not an easy task to accomplish.
The Truth About Moriarty. Moriarty’s death was covered in the first issue, and we all knew there had to be more to the story than, “He was murdered.” As it turns out, it was Khan and Ra’s that staged the coup to kill Moriarty and take over the Secret Seven. Now, while this may seem insignificant, it also means that these two have been working together for nearly a century, slowly enacting their plan and taking over the world. That’s… kind of awesome. And scary. Terrifyingly scary.
Theatrics. Ra’s proves why he’s a badass, and it’s because he understands taking an opportunity when it’s given to you. Seeing him scold Khan for not killing The Shadow while he has the chance is a minor, yet satisfying, moment. It also speaks volumes to my original point that Orlando and Timpano understand these characters. Khan is arrogant, and Ra’s is well aware that that arrogance could lead to their downfall. Considering he predicted this, and that he has a tendency to plan for contingencies, I’m curious to see what action Ra’s will take in the final issue, because we all know he has something up his sleeve.
The Set-Up. Everything feels as though it’s coming full circle, and that has me excited for the conclusion of this series! The same tricks that Khan used on Bruce, he’s now using on Damian. This might seem like it’s a “been there, done that” type of scenario on the surface, but there are different circumstances with this example. For one, it will give Bruce a little confidence in fighting Khan after their last encounter (plus, the last page of this issue proves that he’s pissed and ready to beat the snot out of Khan), but the Shadow has improved his skillset out of desperation, while Ra’s is also creating an unpredictable x-factor element. The final chapter looks to be a high-octane thriller with a lot on the line. I can’t wait!
A Slower Pace. Some readers may be turned off by the slower pace of this issue, but that is a matter of preference. I personally prefer issues such as this because it typically allows for a stronger payoff. Beyond that, shaping the characters, their desires and motivations, only helps add weight to the story overall. You may dislike the pacing of this issue as a standalone story, but it will help the collection read better.
Overall: The Shadow/ Batman #5 doesn’t have the flare of previous issues, but it’s not void of worthwhile content. Orlando and Timpano slow down their narrative to focus on the characters and their mental state before racing to a climax in next month’s finale. Yes, the story takes a breath in this chapter, but it only solidifies and increases my expectations for what’s to come!