The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman #1 is the start of a 6 issue mini-series both written and drawn by Liam Sharpe. The premise of the series (and I’m paraphrasing the solicit here) is that when a Celtic god is murdered, a war erupts between the fairy folk. While Wonder Woman is trying to solve this murder, Batman is back in Gotham City trying to uncover a mystery of his own. Now, it is widely recognized that Liam Sharpe’s artwork is nothing short of phenomenal, and so the question to ask is: how is his writing?
This comic is first and foremost a fantasy comic. While we certainly see Batman in Gotham City, the focus in this first chapter is mostly on Wonder Woman and the magical realm of Tir Na Nóg, the fairy kingdom. In fact, Wonder Woman and Batman do not actually have any interaction yet in this episode, and their stories, for now, are still fairly separate from each other. Neither knows what the other is up to, and they have not realized yet that their cases are connected. Furthermore, Wonder Woman is definitely in the spotlight here, and so reading this issue, to me, felt very much like I was reading a Wonder Woman comic, with some Batman scenes sprinkled throughout. Personally, I don’t see this as a bad thing, because it seems Liam Sharpe just had to make some choices as to how to start off his story. Considering that he is introducing Tir Na Nóg to us, and that there is quite a lot of relevant history to relay to the readers, it is logical that the focus is more on Wonder Woman. After all, she is the one who is invited by a deity to accompany him to the fairy kingdom to help him restore peace. Additionally, Batman’s portion of the story is set up in such a way that it can converge with Wonder Woman’s fairly easily, so we should see the two of them teaming up sooner or later.
Returning to the question of the artist’s writing capabilities, I see Liam Sharpe doing several things when it comes to technique. First of all, on page 1, he employs an archaic, lyrical tone of voice that matches the high fantasy artwork very well. Both the narrator who speaks in the captions and the deity who takes center stage in the opening scene have this somewhat similar tone of voice. Yet it is clear that they are not the same speaker, because their narratives run parallel to each other and have opposing points of view. Where the speaker in the captions talks about freedom and doing his/her bit to keep the people of the kingdom angry, the deity asks the people to remain calm and calls for peace. While it is revealed early on who the deity is, it remains a mystery throughout the issue who the speaker in the captions is.
Next up we are presented with a very sweet and heartfelt character moment shared between Diana and Steve Trevor. The tone of writing shifts first to playful and happy as Diana and Steve have just made love and are talking about wanting to spend the rest of the week together. Then they delve into more serious subject matter, and the tone shifts yet again, while the characters’ voices still sound exactly right. Clearly Sharpe has gotten to know the characters well during his run as artist on Wonder Woman. Diana is caring and compassionate, and yet to the point, opening up to Steve and keeping no secrets in her honesty. And Steve shows a romantic side of him, perhaps going a little overboard, but I think it fits the character because if there’s one thing that he is, it is passionate. Both on his missions and in his love for Diana. Liam Sharpe successfully writes the couple’s dynamic, and it is a great scene, especially with the narrative twist halfway through, which draws the focus back to the main story in a wonderfully trippy fashion.
Furthermore, on the subject of writing, tone and character voices, I think Sharpe just about nails Alfred’s voice as well. The way he delivers his lines (“If I might be permitted an observation, they appear…haunted”) is very characteristic of Alfred. What I am missing, however, is that little bit of English sarcasm and dry wit that Alfred is known for. He seems to simply state obvious facts here and it feels to me like he is only talking to Bruce so Bruce in turn can provide him—and by extension us readers—with some exposition as to what is going on in Gotham at the moment. As for the way Bruce himself is written: he is analytical, observant and vigilant, just as I’d like Batman to be. He doesn’t instantly rush into the situation either, but stays in the Batmobile first to scan the environment for any toxics that may be in the air. However, there is one moment where Bruce walks up to a man in the street. This man appears to be paralyzed and haunted, and has a dazed look to his eyes. Bruce stops right in front of his face and screams at him, “You! What do you see?” The panel that Sharpe draws depicts a very angry looking Batman, like he is trying to intimidate the man in front of him. But, frankly, I think this is unnecessary, because the guy that he is shouting at is just standing there, doing nothing. There is no actual reason for wanting to scare the crap out of him, as far as I can tell, and especially not if this man is indeed haunted and therefore a victim. Bruce, in my opinion, should approach victims with care. It is the crooks and villains that he growls at instead, not the innocent citizens.
What’s more, in this comic Sharpe makes heavy use of exposition. When Diana is visited by a deity and asked to accompany him to Tir Na Nóg, this deity tells her of the past. The function of this historical account is of course to bring the audience up to speed. Sometimes, reading a comic book, I get annoyed when I read too much exposition in the same place, but what works in Sharpe’s favor is that he once more uses a lyrical writing style befitting of a fantastical character, and so manages to keep this at least interesting to read. What does not work out so well, however, is that many names (Fomor; Dé Danann, Faerie Folk, the whispers of Danu, Morrigan, and more) are dropped and it’s quite a lot to remember. I am not sure if all these names and references are strictly relevant for the plot later on, but it still seems like, in places, the exposition could be more concise so that the information is easier to digest. Personally, I had to read all of this twice before it full well registered with me.
Considering the writing as a whole, it is rather dense and at times strives to be poetic, and therefore this comic is not a light read. Except for a double page spread early on in the book, there also isn’t any fighting going on. For the most part, we simply follow characters that are engaged in conversation, or are trying to understand a situation that they find themselves in. As such this issue is solely devoted to setting up the story and building the world, and whereas this much conversation and exposition, coupled with a slow pace, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it still effectively gets the job done. Reaching the end of this episode, I get a sense that we now have all the necessary information that we need so that we can dive into the story proper with issue #2 and onward. You could then say that this first chapter reads more like a prologue than the actual beginning of the story. In my opinion, I’d rather have all of this here, at the start, than suddenly get it all dumped on me halfway through or even near the end when the story is supposed to be wrapping up. So I think Sharpe made the right choice in that regard.
Moving on, what comes through very well is that Liam Sharpe is telling this story with confidence. “There are not words enough to describe the ethereal beauty of the Faerie realm,” he writes on page 18. What we see in the panel is a gorgeous rendition of a high fantasy-themed castle on top of a hill, with an enormous mountain in the background. The castle’s towers rise up in the sky, the flags on top of the towers waver in the wind, and the castle stands firm and mighty. If you look closely, you can see the castle’s walls continuing in the distance, showing us that it is much bigger than it seems on first sight, and thereby creating depth and layers to the image. There are natural rocks up against the mountain as well, and a winding road that leads to a draw bridge that seems utterly tiny in comparison to the behemoth of a structure, so there is even variety to the way the castle is built up.
More generally speaking, on the opening page the panel layout is eye-catching, and it makes me feel like I’m about to read an illustrated fantasy novel. Then the double page spread, on pages 2 and 3, shows 41 uniquely rendered characters (assuming I did not miscount) and most of them are locked in battle. As I was counting the characters, I started seeing smaller ones that are hidden in deeper layers of the art that I had not spotted on first reading the comic, which means that Sharpe’s work is definitely worth giving a closer look before flipping the page. His art is also dynamic, and there is movement in every single panel on every page. Even if it is just a few strands of hair. This movement helps to set scenes as well. For example, the love scene between Diana and Steve is tender and romantic and intimate, but then when the surprise twist comes there is an explosion of visual effects that swirl across the panel and create the illusion that they are rising up from the page.
Furthermore, the visual range that Sharpe has is just unbelievable. He seamlessly switches from high fantasy, to the warmth of the bedroom where we find Steve and Diana, to the high-tech but dark aesthetic of the Batcave, to the modern urban environment of Gotham City. And while all these various locations look so distinct from one another, a visual consistency is still maintained throughout with Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s high quality color work, which elevates the already phenomenal work done by Sharpe to an even higher level.
Fajardo’s palette is varied. The opening pages, for instance, have a slightly more muted color scheme so as to fit the archaic, high fantasy aesthetic. The bedroom scene with Diana and Steve has a lot of red and pink tones, warm colors closely associated with love. The Batcave is dark, and the screens of the Batcomputer glow green in the background, creating an air of mystery and intrigue, and affirming the notion that Batman is always watching his city, even from his headquarters. Then there is the colorful neon in Gotham City, the metallic look of the Batmobile and the dark colors of Batman’s outfit, making him look menacing and yet valiant. Truly, in terms of visuals we have quite a special book on our hands here, and possibly the most beautiful book on stands this week.
You love Liam Sharpe’s artwork, and especially when it is enhanced by Romulo Fajardo Jr.
You are into murder mysteries set against a high fantasy backdrop
You are into Irish folklore
You like books with more emphasis on world building and character moments than flashy superhero action sequences
Overall: I love it! Buy this comic! Even though there is a lot of exposition here, emphasis on world building, and therefore a ton to keep track of, this issue is still an entertaining read and a true sight to behold. Whereas Batman and Wonder Woman’s paths have not actually crossed yet, and Batman hardly had as much panel time as Wonder Woman, this issue definitely does a good job at laying the foundation of what could be an incredible and exciting fantasy mystery. That said, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous and makes for a fine addition to your collection. Especially if you have enjoyed Sharpe’s run on Wonder Woman and would like to see a visual and spiritual continuation of that. Enthusiastically recommended!