Last time on The Brave and the Bold we saw that Batman and Wonder Woman made some progress with their investigation, and it was especially of interest to me because Sharpe wrote a smart Batman that’s a detective first and a fighter second. This time around there isn’t as much focus on Batman specifically. In fact, where previous episodes were somewhat more character-driven, this issue focuses more on plot, raising new questions and yielding mere clues as to who killed the king, keeping us guessing for the time being. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the review!
It is clear to me now that Sharpe is definitely taking a “slow burn” approach, and seeing as we’ve passed the halfway point I think the remaining parts of the series will be like this as well. This means no big explosive superhero fisticuffs or the destruction of entire cities. Instead, this is a full-on murder mystery, where the truth is slowly being unraveled. In fact, I’d classify this as a murder mystery first, and a fantasy story second. It’s true that the fantasy aspect is on the foreground, and everything is based on Irish folklore, but the emphasis is still very much on Batman and Wonder Woman solving the murder of king Elatha. And as I said last time, I’m just so glad to be reading an actual detective story starring Batman again—and Wonder Woman’s presence makes it even better. I’ll explain.
So yes, this is a slow story, but that’s because Sharpe is taking the time to flesh out the mystery, giving us tiny pieces of a puzzle one by one. To keep things interesting in the meantime, Sharpe writes Batman and Wonder Woman as a dynamic duo; these two are great friends, they have each other’s back, and complement each other perfectly. Where Batman excels at the detective work itself, examining scenes and questioning suspects, it is Wonder Woman who mostly handles the political talks and intrigue. Truly, Sharpe has managed to balance these two heroes in such a way that it never feels like either Batman’s or Wonder Woman’s book, but it belongs to both of them at the same time. Moreover, when it comes to their skills and powers, there is also a nice balance, because clearly Batman is better than Diana at certain things that are necessary to advance the plot, and vice versa. It’s always a joy to see a writer develop his characters with such care.
But not only Bruce and Diana are being taken care of so well. Liam Sharpe also continues to develop the rest of his cast. First of all, the people who are in Elatha’s castle, waiting for Bruce and Diana to complete their murder investigation, each have a voice. In particular King McCool and Captain Furf are at odds with each other, blaming each other basically for what they might very well be guilty of themselves: a lust for power. Granted, Sharpe never delves deep into the relationship between these two characters, nor does he truly explore their psyches, but what’s effective about the way that he writes these minor characters is that it really shows us the tension that’s always present in the background. Obviously, everyone has an agenda at this point, but it’s not exactly clear who’s up to what, and to me it seems that’s precisely what makes the story so intriguing. It’s hard to point toward a character and say, “I think that’s the killer!” Everyone is somewhat suspect now, if you ask me, except for Batman, Wonder Woman and Cernunnos (although I don’t actually have evidence for Cernunnos’s innocence; it’s mostly just an assumption on my part because he’s the deity that asked Wonder Woman for help).
Furthermore, still on the subject of character work, Sharpe introduces a new character in this issue: Queen Ethné. She is King Elatha’s wife, and is mourning the loss of her husband. She seems helpful enough in that she’s cooperating with the investigation, but at the same time there is a deep sadness in her heart, and Sharpe conveys this beautifully both visually and textually. Visually, she looks mournful in every panel, and her sad demeanor informs me of what her voice might sound like: soft and calm because of her grief, but still composed because she’s the queen. What I mean is that Sharpe draws facial expressions so well that I’m convinced these characters are feeling what they are feeling, and it helps to understand them better. Additionally, it helps to understand how to read their lines, and those lines, in turn, help to further establish the context of the situation that these characters find themselves in. In other words, Sharpe has found a way to marry the text to the artwork, and it makes for a convincing, powerful story.
More specifically on the dialogue, I’ve noticed an improvement this time around. Previous issues tended to be overwritten in the sense that there was too much exposition, all at once. As a result, it was often hard to keep up with all the names that were being dropped, and all the additional information that was being provided. Though all of that was necessary to build the world and the story, it was, at times, too much. It never stopped me from enjoying Sharpe’s writing, but he could definitely have kept it more concise, because I had to reread some dialogue multiple times until it finally registered with me.
This time around, though, I feel Sharpe has actually made it more concise, to an extent. For example, Queen Ethné has a rather big scene about halfway through the book where she’s telling Batman and Wonder Woman about Tir Na Nóg’s past and her late husband. Although all of what she says is exposition, Sharpe has found a way to make it fit the character’s voice and personality. The dialogue sounds rather formal, fitting for a queen, although her eyes convey a deep sadness. What’s more, it really seems like Sharpe has found a balance between that sadness and the formality: Queen Ethné seems to be struggling to keep up her formal, royal demeanor.
As she continues to tell her tale, she leads Batman and Wonder Woman through a hall, showing them old paintings that depict Tir Na Nóg’s past. Yes, again, it’s all exposition, but it makes sense to have it here, as she’s mainly describing the paintings, and then explaining the stories behind the paintings. It’s all important information, story-wise, and Sharpe has managed to keep it a lot more focused. I think the paintings in particular might have helped Sharpe to really focus on what his character is supposed to say in that moment. That said, he still drops Irish folklore names rather easily, and I find myself having to reread certain parts to make sure I understand who they are talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all these Irish folklore names, especially when you’re being introduced to them all at once. I guess it just takes some getting used to—or maybe this is just me. After all, I’m not that familiar with Irish folklore myself, so it probably takes a bit for me to memorize all the names.
As for the artwork, seriously, what can I say that I haven’t said already? Liam Sharpe and Romulo Fajardo unite once more to draw a gorgeous book. Especially the level of consistency is amazing; Sharpe always stays true to his character designs, making sure that they are instantly recognizable and fun as well, aesthetically. Though angles and panels change, the designs of the characters are always the same (with the few exceptions where Batman is wearing a fur cloak, or where another character is wearing a slightly different outfit, for example). I haven’t seen Sharpe making a single mistake yet. Furthermore, as I said, the facial expressions are very convincing. These characters really look like they are struggling through this ordeal, and it’s easier to relate to them because their expressions are portrayed so well. And of course the landscapes and backgrounds are on point too! When you get this book, please take a moment to carefully examine some of the panels—the more you look, the more details you will discover, as his been the case throughout the entire series so far. Queen Ethné’s castle, for example, rises into the sky, and there are so many towers, walkways, stairs and buildings that the place is the size of an actual city. On top of that, aesthetically it looks like a grim and sad place as well, which mirrors Queen Ethné’s mood, as well as—thematically at least—Batman’s hometown (hence Diana’s joke: “Gotham-by-the-sea.”)
Fajardo also does an excellent job again. Since the overall tone of the comic is rather sad, it is very fitting that most of it is set at night. Colors are dark, and moody, and atmospheric. Especially the paintings that Ethné shows to Batman and Wonder Woman are colored beautifully. Fajardo uses watercolors, and it’s really quite amazing because these seem like actual paintings to me. It’s great to see artists being capable of handling multiple styles at once, because it adds an extra visual layer to the book that enhances the overall experience.
You love murder mysteries!
You love high fantasy!
- You love careful world-building!
You love Liam Sharpe!
Overall: This is another great chapter in Sharpe’s Brave and the Bold series. Slowly more information is revealed to us, bringing us closer to the conclusion inch by inch. In fact, I think the strength of this book lies in its slow pace. Sharpe is taking his time to create the world, the characters, and develop the mystery with care as opposed to a fast superhero fight comic that ends as quickly as it started. I like Sharpe’s “slow burn” approach, and I’m glad he chose this style. In a world where every comic needs to be bigger, crazier and wilder than the last one, and always changing the status quo, it’s refreshing to read a story that plays out on a much smaller scale while putting the characters front and center. So be sure to pick up this comic, and enjoy. Highly recommended!