James Robinson does like to let his characters talk. Last issue they talked non-stop through the whole book. This issue, called “A Fighting Man”, does a little less talking, but maybe still not enough fighting; we just can’t seem to get away from long ongoing explanations in this story. Here especially you’ll get to read about all sorts of exciting things that happened outside of the action of this comic, whole swaths of adventure and thrills, particularly undertaken by the Outsiders, and reported in very specific detail–as if the people telling those stories aren’t all on the same page with who the major players are.

Seriously. Prepare yourself for some of the thuddiest exposition ever gracelessly plopped into a comic book.

And if you feel like this book  devolves into just a big stomping advertisement for Outsiders, you’d probably be on the money. Worse still, even If you like Outsiders, you might be frustrated to get just some cool action shots and not much depth to what’s going on with that crew that we left in the dust some issues back. If you’re here for Harvey Dent and Batman, you might likewise be disappointed to find half the book recap of other storylines and other characters.

And all the Armies of Benetton

There’s definitely action, though. One of the things Robinson does manage to pull off is that all this expositional yammering is mostly happening off-panel. We’re simultaneously getting Two-Face and Batman chatting it up on the way to their museum rendezvous while also seeing them arrive and take on Kobra. It works: Robinson effectively kills both birds with one stone. Just not sure it makes for the best sort of storytelling overall. And it’s distracting in that way that makes the fight seem like it’s over rather quickly and has no specific tension: the almost casual conversation juxtaposed with a lot of flying kicks keeps the book from being boring, but I found my attention drifting quickly. I’m not always an impatient reader, but I definitely felt impatient with this one: all right, yadda yadda, what is this leading to?

What it’s leading to is a reveal that’s not terribly shocking.

Spoiler
Yes, it’s yet another city-wide-destruction plot such as we’ve seen countless times. Worse still, it’s basically 2005 again except instead of Ras al Ghul poisoning the water supply, it’s Kobra–and maybe someone bigger than Kobra because these guys aren’t exactly top of the line (as is painfully explained to us in great detail).

The good news is that there’s still a chance for this to get interesting between Batman and Harvey. The bad news is the cover blurb “…who will he kill first?” is just pure marketing effluvia straight from the post-nasal drip of DC editorial. Honestly, they need to give us that story. If they can think up that blurb, then why can’t we get some action to match? Something a bit fresher than just an odd-couple cat-and-mouse vigilante vs. the evil organization that we’ve seen hundreds of times at this point?

While it’s too far to say Robinson doesn’t trust the reader enough to “get” the underpinnings of the Two-Face/Batman dynamic (and that’s why we get so much of it at the sacrifice of anything else), I do think he seems to forget that the characters have been designed as really broad-brushed archetypes who don’t need this kind of explication. And all the time he spends defining and explaining them (including the Outsiders) winds up wasted on the majority of the audience. It’s effort perhaps better placed on constructing a more interesting mousetrap in which these personalities don’t just do what we expect them to, but can actually surprise us.

Batman is thinking of starting his own can-can troupe

Carmine Giandomenico renders a good book and it seems like this must have been a fun issue to draw: not a lot of static shots, plenty of Bat-action, and a full cast of other characters for whom to produce glory shots. I like Commissioner Gordon in his flak vest, and there are some nice moments with the museum pieces. That said, the dino-geek in me says: nope, sorry, that flying Pterosaur is entirely too big (the largest known flying creature was Quetzalcoatlus, which was probably half that size). But I relent: this is a fantasy in which bigger birds may have indeed prevailed. Let’s not get too finicky about things like real science, right?

Even so, I feel like Giandomenico runs out cool poses for Batman pretty early on and we get a series of weird dance-like postures and awkward kicks. I do like the very batty bat wings going on with this costume, but they also seem rather cumbersome to work with (both for Batman and the artist!).

Recommended If…

  • You’re not actually here to see Batman and Two-Face have a love-hate team-up.
  • You want some brief Outsiders action.
  • You like dinosaurs? Even made up ones?

Overall

Somewhere in this just-average beat-’em-up smackdown in which Batman and Two-Face put the kibosh on Kobra’s attempt to create mayhem at the Gotham museum, there’s possibly an interesting story about internal conflict, moral ambiguity, vigilantism, and the dichotomy of good and evil. Sort of. The problem thus far with Robinson’s “Deface the Face” is that it lapses continually into an exposition (sometimes to the point of preachiness) about what’s happening and what it all means, rather than tells a story to let us draw those conclusions ourselves. It’s not too late for this overladen zeppelin to gain airspeed and altitude, but at the moment it’s still feeling grounded by the weight of its words.

SCORE: 6/10