Telltale Games, purveyors of cinematic, choice-driven video games, graced us with their first Batman season in 2016 and it was very well-received so it’s not surprising that a second season followed and DC have now launched a comic series to bridge the gap between the two (especially if you consider how successful the Injustice spin-off comic series has been). The first issue of Sins of the Father does pick up on plot points that began in Batman: The Telltale Series so if you haven’t played it or need to be reminded, I’ve provided a summary of the plot in the spoiler tag below (of course, if you’ve played the second season, then you also know where the story is headed, which is kind of a turn-off! Then again, that’s true of every prequel and there’s no end of those).
Batman meets Catwoman for the first time and stops her stealing a data drive from Mayor Hill, but fails to capture her. The next day, Bruce meets up with his friend Harvey Dent, who he’s backing to supplant Hill and clean up the corrupt city. Harvey’s new girlfriend is Selina Kyle and both she and Bruce instantly identify one another from the night before (without raising Harvey’s suspicions). Bruce finds that the drive contains damning evidence against mob kingpin Carmine Falcone. Batman confronts Falcone who confirms the rumours that Thomas and Martha Wayne were also complicit in his criminal activities, which involved drugging and incarcerating anyone who stood in the way of them or Mayor Hill. Alfred later backs this story up. Officer Renee Montoya kills Falcone under the influence of a drug which increases aggression. The drug was supplied by Oswald Cobblepot (skinny and English in this continuity). Cobblepot sends thugs after Selina for failing to get the drive; she and Bruce kick their asses. Cobblepot assumes the name ‘Penguin,’ takes over Wayne Enterprises, kills Hill and reveals evidence of Thomas Wayne committing Cobblepot’s mother to Arkham Asylum. New Mayor Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face and gives into his split personality when he visits Selina’s apartment and finds Bruce there wearing only his underpants. Reporter Vicki Vale injects Bruce with the aggression-heightening drug and reveals that Cobblepot is working for her. She has assumed the name Lady Arkham and runs a group called the Children of Arkham. Bruce attacks Oswald and is sent to Arkham Asylum. There, he meets John Doe (the nascent Joker) who helps get him bailed out. He stops Cobblepot and Dent, who has become corrupt himself and has implemented martial law, and is reinstated as Wayne Enterprises CEO. Vale kidnaps Alfred but Batman tracks her down and defeats her. Gordon, the new Commissioner, gives a speech and is almost killed by a guy in a truck with a ridiculous moustache. John Doe watches from a bar and laughs to himself.
The first thing that’s apparent when reading issue #1 are the efforts made to incorporate details from the Telltale series; Wayne Enterprises is emblazoned with a big golden ‘W,’ Alfred uses the Bat-drones, and Batman is as brutal as his portrayal in the game. Ienco’s replication of the characters’ faces (especially Gordon’s and Bruce’s) is particularly good- so much so that when I read the story, I heard the actors’ voices in my head (though that could also be attributed to Gage’s understanding of the characters. There’s only a single terrible line in this issue; everything else rings true to the speaker in question).
Also like the game, the focus of the story shifts more onto Bruce Wayne than most Batman tales. This seems to be a series concerned with the actual story and the choices we make, which is refreshing. Obviously the reader doesn’t get to make any choices (an idea which just puts me in mind of those game-books that were popular in the 90’s) but scenarios are presented which remind you of the game because there’s not a clear answer to the problems that our hero faces.
One of the chief problems Bruce must overcome is his father’s terrible legacy (which you may have gathered from the series title). It shocked a lot of players when it was revealed in the original game that in this continuity, Thomas Wayne was a despicable, corrupt man who sent people to Arkham just to get them out of his way (Alfred describes him as ‘a monster’ in this issue, which makes me wonder why his picture is still up on the wall). Thomas and Martha Wayne are important paragons of virtue in the Batman mythos -they gave Bruce his sense of social responsibility and their deaths inspired him to become a dark creature of the night – so some people are understandably upset at the idea of Thomas being evil (Jor-El was recently revealed to be evil in the pages of Action Comics. It’s not a good time to be a superhero’s father). Anyway, if you didn’t know already, you’ve been warned now.
The references made in Sins of the Father don’t all pertain to the Telltale game- this issue also prominently features the Bertinellis (the Gotham mafia family which Huntress was born into), the Zuccos (the mobsters who brought you Tony Zucco, who famously killed Dick Grayson’s parents) and ‘Officer Aparo’ (named for comics legend Jim Aparo). Also, Bruce Wayne is served a subpoena by a disarmingly beautiful woman which is eerily reminiscent of Kate Mara and Robert Downey Jr playing out the same situation in Iron Man 2, a similarity which I assume is accidental. That last one notwithstanding, it’s comforting to know that Gage has been given the liberty to play with more of the Gotham toybox than the elements we’ve already seen on screen.
This issue marks Rafaele Ienco’s DC Comics debut and he doesn’t disappoint. His figures are heavily textured like the work of Chris Burnham and Ian Bertram, the grooves are visible on the tyres of the Batmobile, the tiny thumb claws of passing bats can be seen, flowers and bottles of wine adorn every surface at a Wayne Manor party, even the back of a computer monitor is painstakingly recreated in a scene where Bruce vaults a desk at Wayne Enterprises – the attention to detail is astounding. One of the most dramatic reveals of the book involves a figure standing perfectly still but the scene isn’t static- three white birds fly by as if startled (suggesting that Mr Ienco has been enjoying the films of John Woo). Guy Majors’ moody palette lends gravitas and the glow from Batman’s white lenses looks pretty damn cool as well.
- You’d like to read a Batman series that’s (mostly) free of continuity constraints.
- You enjoy the Bruce-centric approach of the Telltale games.
- You like good, detailed artwork.
Overall: Although the pains of being a high-profile billionaire slightly outstay their welcome, this is a promising first issue. A story that takes itself seriously, an appropriate amount of reference to the property that spawned the series and first class visuals make Sins of the Father’s debut worth checking out.