James Robinson follows up his solitary man with “An Optimistic Man” in part two of his “Deface the Face” arc.  In case anyone is wondering up front, the events of Batman no. 55 do not touch this story–yet. Batman is still trying to figure out who is behind the dual-Firefly mischief. Who could it be? I can’t even ima–oh, maybe it’s Harvey Dent, judging by the cover.

In a way it’s hard to be angry at comic books that pull this nonsense of spoiling reveals before you even open the book: they have literally been doing it for pushing on 100 years now. I also think there’s entirely too much emphasis on spoiler-culture and stories should just be good enough that spoilers don’t actually matter in the first place. At the same time, it’s certainly frustrating to watch the World’s Greatest Detective puzzle through an entire issue of clues only to have:

Spoiler
the book end on the spoiled reveal itself!

I mean seriously.

I don’t care about the spoiler itself, but when the cover basically tells you how this one ends (in such an exaggerated fashion no less), it’s going to be a disappointing read when we not only merely get what we’ve already been given, but it’s not even that stakes-driven dramatic.

But let’s try to move on, shall we?

Doused out? Does this guy understand how fire works?

Ignoring the cover (which is nevertheless well-rendered by Stephen Segovia and Ivan Plascencia), there’s an interesting puzzle emerging as Batman and Alfred examine the case. I love this interaction! Batman isn’t the ten-steps-ahead loner just pouncing from the shadows: he’s methodical, working through the evidence, bouncing ideas off his his trusty, wry, and equally adept butler (do you all remember when Alfred Pennyworth actually solved crimes in his own supplemental stories? Okay, it was goofy, but Alfred is still a cool cat).

Robinson also spends quality time with our fugitives flambé, in a nice character-building moment where we learn about what our original Firefly and his apprentice are up to, including an acknowledgement of their own status in the tier of Batman villains, which was kind of fun to see play out: these guys know they’re bottom-rung hopefuls, but they are convinced that there is a way up–and a hungry villain looking for upward mobility is a good villain. In this case, x2.

It’s the x2 that is our first hint, of course. Later we’ll meet a pair of Tweedles in a further attempt to put Batman off the scent, but he sees through it easily. By then, cover or no, it’s obvious who the Dark Knight is tailing, though there remain plenty of questions to unravel.

My other favorite part of this book is Batman’s broody rooftop meeting with Gordon. While this story hasn’t caught up with the events in Batman’s title book, here again Robinson layers in a small connection to the wider ‘verse as Bats confesses to Gordon that maybe he needs to rethink his approach on some things. It’s perhaps redundant, but I rather like this humbled Bats, this cooperative Bats, this more-man-than-monster Bats who is emerging from the shadows to be a hero instead of a nightmare.

Just two awesome dudes hanging out, looking cool

Stephen Segovia’s Batmobile racing toward the signal is a big highlight in this book: amazing how easy it is to please the eye with the right combination of staple images: Batman and Gordon chatting it up over the beacon, Batman getting the (literal) drop on Firefly and his apprentice, Batman and Alfred with his tea in the Batcave. That said, other aspects of this felt like they didn’t get much attention: Duotone Records, for example, is only identifiable because Batman names it. In the final panel we see some framed records on the wall, but that’s the only detail that gives the location any sort of character. It otherwise might as well just be another big warehouse. Nitpicks aside, most everything here is a delight to look at: Gordon’s tousled hair, Batman’s wind-whipped cape, Bridgit Firefly’s great big purple patootie (okay we could have done without that last one: it’s a weird shot and a good example of how a single element in a frame can completely and destructively pull focus–not because it’s her butt, even, but because it’s the only thing on the right side lit well enough to draw our eye in that moment. It doesn’t help that Ted Carson is at that moment holding a giant orange phallic booster pack.

Is it just me? Please tell me it isn’t just me. Sigh.

Recommended If…

  • You won’t be surprised to see Harvey Dent, but who doesn’t love Two-Face?
  • Robinson justifies the inclusion of Bridgit Pike in a clever way.
  • That batmobile! (along with so much other eye candy).

Overall

There are enough things in this book to love that overlooking its fairly standard storytelling approach seems justifiable. James Robinson may be a “safe” writer, but now and then the less divisive, the better. He handles the characters well, is adept at serving up fan-favorite scenarios and interactions, and so far he’s focused on grounded questions and challenges for Batman, which already put him ahead of the class for me personally. Slow and steady wins the race; sometimes you just don’t need to change the formula to stay relevant.

SCORE: 8/10