Since issue #1, there has been a mysterious narrative voice speaking throughout the series. This voice has been addressing Diana directly, delivering ominous messages along the lines of, “If only you had known sooner, but now it’s too late,” implying that a certain doom is coming to Tir Na Nóg. The question that has been on my mind all this time is who this voice belongs to. It is in this issue that we finally get the answer.
The Brave and the Bold #5 is the penultimate issue in this miniseries. Its main function is to set up the final conflict, which is to take place in #6. This is achieved as Batman finally solves the death of King Elatha, and the story takes an unexpected turn right before the series’ conclusion. It is a turn of events that I did not see coming. While surprise twists can sometimes actually bring down the overall quality of a story, especially if such a twist deviates too much from what the main narrative was perceived to be about, I think Sharpe made exactly the right call here. Rather than dragging out the investigation into the death of Elatha, Sharpe has given the definitive answer to the mystery and makes all necessary preparations for the final battle.
What strikes me as odd, however, is that Batman and Wonder Woman are actually separated by the end of this issue as each sets out to fight in a different location. Batman returns to Gotham to keep his city safe; Wonder Woman stays in Tir Na Nóg to help defend its inhabitants. There are two reasons why I think this is a strange creative decision. First and foremost, this series is titled The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman. This is a team book, and therefore I expect the starring duo to work as a team to solve the final conflict. I can imagine that many readers out there have the same expectation, and perhaps have the wish to see the characters fight side by side at the end. Therefore I’m bringing this up, I feel like you should know regardless of your stance in this. Secondly, the implication is that the final conflict will be set in two different locations rather than keeping it focused in one. While I have faith in Sharpe’s story-telling capabilities, I do wonder if it’s the right decision to divide the focus with only one more issue left. However, at the same time I realize that I can’t judge this now because, obviously, I haven’t read #6 yet. That doesn’t mean, though, that I cannot raise some concern. Lastly, if there’s anything to be said for this creative choice, it does actually underscore the enormity of the danger that Batman and Wonder Woman are faced with. Not only is Tir Na Nóg threatened: Gotham, and by extension the rest of the DCU, as well. But again, is the scope too big to achieve a proper resolution in the end? Only time will tell.
Speaking of the characters, both are written really well, as I’ve come to expect from Liam Sharpe. Batman in particular has a great scene where he visits Donal, the boy who was found near King Elatha’s dead body, and questions him about what he heard and saw. Not to determine if Donal is really innocent—Batman already knows this because it’s what Wonder Woman’s lasso established early on in the series—but to find out more. Once again Sharpe embraces Batman’s detective roots and has him ask follow-up questions until he has enough information to deduce what exactly must have happened to the king. In a world where almost all current Batman comics focus on him punching villains (or getting punched by villains) 90% of the time, it’s refreshing to read a series that consistently portrays Batman as the skilled detective that he is. We barely see him fight throughout the series, and he doesn’t raise his fists in #5 at all, and I don’t mind. My favorite Batman is the wise detective, the one who thinks first and breaks jaws later. The mindful Batman. And that’s exactly the Batman that Sharpe writes.
Wonder Woman is as powerful as ever. She delivers strong speeches to the people of Tir Na Nóg and manages to win them over with logic and reason. At the same time, it’s evident in the way that she speaks and the way that Sharpe draws her that she is deeply concerned, and cares about Tir Na Nóg’s people. While less panel time is devoted to her this time around, the panels that are devoted to her once more confirm that Sharpe thoroughly understands the character. She’s smart, caring, wise and compassionate. I especially appreciate that, rather than writing her as the sword-swinging warrior princess (as she has been depicted in recent comic books), Sharpe focuses on her intellect and empathy. Her main concern is to save innocents, and as such she’s written as a prime example of the superhero.
One more character that I want to talk about briefly is Balor of the Evil Eye, the villain teased on the issue’s cover. While the character looks very ominous and has a powerful pose (both on the cover and in the issue itself), I don’t really feel all that intimidated by him yet. While I don’t think there’s much I would’ve added to Sharpe’s build-up throughout this series, I do think that more focus on the character of Balor would’ve helped to firmly establish him as a threat. True, we have received some information about him, and his looks alone scream bad guy, but I do think that the character is still missing some qualities to really turn him into the one evil force that our heroes have to overcome. Perhaps next issue will accomplish this, but that would be a missed opportunity. Especially considering Balor’s awakening in this chapter is meant to inspire awe in us readers. As it stands, I’m not yet feeling it. Hopefully this will change next month. Better late than never.
Having said that, one more complaint that I have about this installment once more has to do with the amount of narration. While the narrative voices in and of themselves are consistent, intriguing and very entertaining, there are times where there is too much narration happening at once. This time, however, my problem is not so much that there’s too much exposition (like I’ve commented on in my previous reviews on this series), but rather that too many different voices are speaking at once. For example, throughout the scene where Batman questions Donal, the mysterious narrator also speaks. The true power of the narration in this scene can only be understood once we’ve read the entire issue, and then go back to reread, meaning that there’s another layer to the narration here. However, it’s also easy for readers to get confused, because Batman and Donal’s conversation and the mysterious narrator’s voice run through each other, and therefore it can be hard to follow along with what exactly is being conveyed to the reader. I think this could have been solved by writing shorter sentences for the mysterious narrator, and placing the narrator’s captions differently in the comic to leave more room for Batman and Donal’s conversation. That way, the story might have flowed somewhat better. While not a deal-breaker, the current way this is structured does mean that the flow of the story is interrupted.
As for the art, of course it’s amazing. What else can I say anymore? It’s Liam Sharpe we’re talking about here. What especially amazes me about the man is the consistency of his art. From issue #1 through #5, the book has always maintained the same aesthetic so well, it’s impressive. When this is collected in trade, I suspect that this will be one of the most beautiful books on the shelf. But where Sharpe especially excels this time around is in the way that he draws characters’ faces. Just by looking at them we can tell how they are feeling. Diana is concerned; Bruce is focused and calculating; Cernunnos is angry and worried; and Donal looks honest and confused. Sharpe’s renditions of characters are stories in themselves, and contribute so much to the overall narrative that it elevates this tale to a whole other level. Besides this, there is also a page where we see how Tir Na Nóg is in peril. Seeing how the creatures living in this wondrous fantasy land react to this imminent doom makes the world feel alive, even under these dire circumstances. It makes me care even more as to what happens to this strange but wonderful realm, and although I’m pretty sure our heroes will save the day, I just hope that these creatures will remain unharmed.
Of course, let’s not forget Romulo Fajardo, who beautifully colors this issue. His palette is extensive and yet the colors seem to match and the aesthetic is maintained throughout. He adds definition to the halls of Elatha’s castle; colors a dark and foreboding atmosphere in the prison cell; renders a colorful neon-lit Gotham by night; and exposes us to bright psychedelic colors when a mighty spell is cast. There’s so much variety to this book’s art that you can expect refreshing eye-candy on every single page.
You love high fantasy blended with superheroes
You want more of the World’s Greatest Detective
You want to see a powerful Wonder Woman, even if she doesn’t get as much panel time as usual
You want to find out who the mysterious narrator is
Overall: Yet another fantastic chapter in the Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman miniseries. Batman steps into the role of detective, Wonder Woman uses smart rhetoric, and by the end of this issue the stakes are extremely high. While the book sometimes suffers from too much narration all at once, it is the overall story and the gorgeous art that truly makes this a comic worth buying. Enjoy!