As those who’ve been reading my reviews know, I’ve been loving this series since the first issue. It’s been a fantastic blend of Irish folklore, murder mystery and superheroes that really manages to transport me to another realm. And while this isn’t a typical setting for Batman, Sharpe nevertheless embraces the character’s detective roots, an element that I think has been neglected for a long time. Furthermore, Sharpe got to know Wonder Woman well when he was still on pencils duties on the character’s solo title, and portrays her as a compassionate, caring woman that’s always striving to do the right thing. With such powerful main characters and gorgeous artwork, I was as much looking forward to the ending as I was dreading it—I’m so into this stuff that I didn’t want this to end. And so I’ll say this right now: #6 is not the end. It’s only the “end of Book One.” This is important to note, because while I do criticize this issue a fair bit, knowing that this is but the closing of a first act does change some of my criticism somewhat.
Let’s get right to it. When I reached the halfway point of this issue and there still wasn’t a focus on Batman and/or Wonder Woman, I was getting concerned. In my opinion, the main protagonists of a series should be in the spotlight during the conclusion, or at least get a decent amount of panel time. It’s their book, after all. Instead, the focus here is mainly on King Elatha, and the story builds toward a confrontation between him and his adversary, Balor. Now, there are a couple points I’d like to make.
As we learned in #5, Elatha has been the narrator of this series from the very beginning. But despite having read so many of his words, concerns and ideas, I can’t say I really feel like I got to know the character. This is probably due to the fact that I had no idea it was Elatha speaking earlier on, and so I wasn’t able to attribute these words to anyone yet. Perhaps, with newfound knowledge, a reread of the entire 6 issue miniseries will change my perspective on this. But this is not a reread now. So, as it stands, I think there’s a bit of a problem here, because I’m not feeling as much sympathy for Elatha as I should at this point, and therefore his hero moment doesn’t have a lot of impact for me. Moreover, I feel like I’ve been reading a Batman/Wonder Woman comic for 5 issues, with a slow pacing, an intriguing murder mystery and well written heroes, but in this episode the tone completely switches. Suddenly, things are kicked into gear; a king that I think deserves more character development steps into the spotlight; a villain comes out of nowhere and is meant to be this horrible threat; and Gotham is invaded by said villain’s army. That’s a lot of story to cram into a 20 page issue. In other words: we switch from a calm narrative to a bombastic, fast-paced, fiery skirmish without much of a transition, or build-up, and I don’t think this benefits the overall story.
To elaborate on that skirmish, while it’s absolutely phenomenally illustrated, to me it feels like it ends about as fast as it starts. We get about 2 double page spreads that show the battle in Tir Na Nóg, and that’s it. Had there been more room to expand on the fight, it might have carried more weight. But now there’s barely time to worry about Diana, Cernunnos, McCool or any of the others, because rather than showing a sequential battle that lasts a few pages, we only catch glimpses of it via double page splashes. As for Gotham, while Balor’s army invades the city as well, I think they are defeated much too conveniently in a single double page splash that immediately shows the outcome. I never get the sense that Gotham is in danger because we barely see anything of it. So I get that this book only has 20 pages, and the miniseries only 6 issues, and that Sharpe therefore has to think very economically about what to show and what to leave out, and that all of this is easier said than done. But all that really means is that perhaps extending these events over 2 issues might have helped balance out the story some more.
Yet, while I think that the pacing is off, I also think there are some things that are excusable and, in fact, turn out to be pretty effective when read differently. Bearing in mind that this is not the end, my perspective on, for example, Balor changes significantly. Rather than seeing him as an underdeveloped character, who we only heard about through exposition and are meant to see as this big threat, we can also see this issue as his introduction. Think about it like this: a character emerging out of nowhere with an army, causing some serious damage and showing off some powerful abilities—that’s one hell of an intro, all right. It almost feels like first there was a legend established about the character (through exposition), so we could all speculate about who this guy really is and what he can do. And to then see him enter the stage and unleash inferno is quite a spectacle. I just have some trouble making up my mind here. On the one hand, I think this is pretty awesome. On the other hand, once more, it doesn’t fit the established tone of the series. But then again, maybe that is exactly the point? To shock us all out of this calm storytelling mode and seize our attention. Whereas I think Sharpe still needs to develop Balor as a character a lot more, I think he did write a convincing villain within the context of his scenes.
As for Batman and Wonder Woman, though I said earlier that the spotlight isn’t on them, they are by no means done a disservice. Wonder Woman can be seen powerhousing on the battlefield, and actually goes toe to toe with Balor at some point. She’s portrayed as a mighty warrior, unafraid and driven to protect Tir Na Nóg, and saves an important character’s life in the process. Batman of course saves Gotham City, using the Batplane and technology to overcome Balor’s foes. The epilogue is also told from Batman’s perspective and is a nice setup for “Book Two.” But, again, I’m of two minds here. On the one hand I’m disappointed that we don’t see Batman and Wonder Woman fighting side by side, or at least see more of them in action in Tir Na Nóg and Gotham respectively. On the other hand, the idea that there’s still more to come means that there’s still time for Sharpe to do all these things. As such, this turns out to be all setup, and I think that’s fine as long as the rest of the story continues to be as great. I honestly just want this series to succeed, because it almost reads like a kind of creator-owned story in the sense that Sharpe, in my opinion, really is doing something new, with a new setting and new characters that I haven’t seen in the DC Universe yet.
Moving on, the artwork is, of course, amazing. Every page, every single panel, is gold. Sharpe and Fajardo Jr are a fantastic team and as a result this issue, like all preceding installments, looks incredible. From the stylized Celtic panel borders to the creative layouts of pages; from natural body language to emotional and believable facial expressions; from the ominous searchlights on the Batplane, shining through gas in the Gotham streets, to a roaring inferno in the Tir Na Nóg skirmish that makes it seem like the actual pages are burning…visually there is so much going on in this book that with every flip of the page you should expect another jaw-dropping illustration. This art team switches from the fantasy world of Tir Na Nóg to modern, gritty Gotham and makes it look easy. Despite the skirmishes only being shown in double pagers (so no actual sequential art), these are wonderfully detailed renditions in their own right. Truly, Sharpe and Fajardo Jr are masters of the craft, and the art alone is reason enough to either buy all of these issues, or wait for the upcoming hardcover.
All you need is art—really amazing, gorgeous art!
You don’t want this series to end—because it’s NOT the end!
Overall: I am more critical of this issue than any of the previous books. This has to do with the pacing being off somewhat, in my opinion, because the switch from a slow-burn type of murder mystery to all-out war is too sudden for me. There is also never enough build up for King Elatha to make me sympathize as much with him as I should, and so his hero moment falls a bit short. However, with regards to Balor, the villain of the story, I think this actually makes for a powerful introduction. Now that we’ve seen the character in action, only time will tell what he’s going to do next, and I’m excited to see it. I just wish there was more room for Sharpe to further flesh out some of his ideas, but all in all, this is a beautiful book and totally worth a read. Recommended!