DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman review

Batman is a man of plans.

As the World’s Greatest Detective, Batman has built an entire crime fighting career on diligence, fact-finding, and almost obsessively studying situations.  The idea that, given enough prep time, Batman could beat anybody in a fight is a debate for another day, but there’s at least a kernel of truth in that statement: Batman succeeds, and he succeeds because he plans.  He may not have super-strength, invincibility, or a magic ring, but he does have a keen mind and near-superhuman observational skills.

If he heads into a fight, he’ll always have a contingency.  A way out.  A way to win.  Look no further than the Sixties Batman television series for proof of this: the first two seasons in particular used a two-part episode format, with the first episode ending in a cliffhanger that was resolved the following night in the second half.  Oftentimes the escape was miraculous, frequently ridiculous, and always amazing.  After all, victory is in the preparation, chums.

While his attention to detail has led him to victory against countless foes, it’s also had an adverse effect on his relationships with other heroes.  Mark Waid, Howard Porter, and Steve Scott’s “Tower of Babel” arc, which ran in JLA issues 43-46, had that idea at its center: in case of an emergency, Batman has files on every member of the Justice League.  Were any of his teammates to go rogue or need to be taken down, he would have a plan.  These files were kept secret until Ra’s Al Ghul stole them, debilitating the entire team so he could confuse the world’s languages and further his goals of “environmental purification.”  In the course of the attack, Green Lantern was blinded, Plastic Man was frozen and shattered, and Batman himself was manipulated when his parents’ coffins were stolen.

What Bruce meant as a last-ditch contingency, one of his greatest foes used to his own ends.  This fractured the trust of the League, and Batman left before they could decide whether to keep him on the team.  It was a dark day for the Dark Knight, with the repercussions felt for years thereafter.

Even with its nefarious purpose within a comics narrative, the idea of a casebook of superhuman files is an appealing one.  After all, we like reading about these characters; why wouldn’t we want to know how their powers work?  Thanks to the folks over at Insight Editions, we have a chance to look into what those case files might hold, but without the threat of the information falling into the hands of a genocidal maniac.  Your relationships with your friends will probably be intact too, so win-win.

The new book DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a stunning hardcover collection of illustrations and different notes, organized and written like it was from the mind of the Caped Crusader himself.  Instead of being a collection of studious, sterile files, though, this book evokes an actual journal of material that Batman has compiled over the years.  The subjects contained within aren’t just relegated to the Justice League, either: in addition to allies like Superman and Cyborg, the text also studies villains like Killer Croc, Cheetah, and even Darkseid.  Not every member of the Justice League is featured, but there is a note at the end that promises more subjects if another volume is published.

The first thing you’re likely no notice is that the illustrations here are absolutely gorgeous.  The pages are brown and slightly weathered, much like an old journal, and Doyle’s illustrations evoke the look of Gray’s Anatomy and other similar medical texts.  In the very best way, they look like actual sketches in a notebook, as if they were drawn free-hand by Bruce as he’s huddled over his papers in the Batcave.  I particularly liked the artistic renderings of Batman’s speculations, like how Superman’s eyes might be able to generate x-rays or if Darkseid has more epidermal layers than a normal humanoid.

Doyle has a great eye for details, giving each subject their own specific anatomical features.  Bizarro’s insides would obviously look different than Swamp Thing’s, and Cyborg’s mechanical components would differentiate himself from most everyone else.  I was reminded of the various children’s encyclopedias and reference books put out by the likes of DK Publishing, with their easy to read text and clear and engaging photos and illustrations drawing young readers into the world of learning.  The visual layout of this book is similar, with main paragraphs giving overviews of each subject while smaller notes and asides are “scribbled” in various places on each page.

And that’s another thing that makes the book appealing: it’s written as if it was from the hand of Batman himself, with some great prose from Matthew Manning and S.D. Perry.  The volume opens with Bruce taking an introspective look at his own body, making note of the various injuries he’s had over the years and what sorts of “enhancements” he may need to make to stay in the game.  Even then he brushes those ideas aside, though, thinking more hypothetically than anything.  The “stream of thought” style is engrossing and immensely readable, making learning about each subject’s biological makeup as exciting as reading about them, you know, punching each other and stuff.

The book is quite large, measuring 9.25″ x 12.75″.  It’s truly a coffee table book in the truest sense, with its size making a great centerpiece and the binding allowing the pages to lay flat for ease of reading.  With its beautiful illustrations, clever writing, and engaging concept, DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a great gift for any and all DC Comics fans.

DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman will be available in stores on September 18, and will retail for $50.  Special thanks to Insight Editions for the advanced review copy.  This review was originally published on Comics Now.