Peter J. Tomasi just accomplished in less than a single issue of his “Mythology” arc all the same angst and drama, questions, fears, and craziness that has been pounded on for the last six months in the Batman title book. And he did it in a way that’s thrilling and heart-wrenching and absolutely crazy-making: by taking real chances and playing to both nostalgia and the current need for big action and fun.
And no question about it: there’s some nutty good-old-fashioned comic-booky insanity in this issue. Where’s the Shark Repellent when you need it, Bats?
“Waiting for a Miracle” re/introduces Thaddeus Brown to new and old readers alike: he’s been largely out of comics for nearly fifty years. And to be clear: this isn’t the Mister Miracle who’s been trotted around the DCU as one of the New Gods during the New 52, this is the original Kirby-created magician who was allegedly killed by Intergang all those years ago. So his role as one among many mentors for Batman is new, but makes perfect sense as he has a very particular escape artist skill that someone like Batman would covet.
Tomasi does a great job of getting all this exposition out of the way in a series of panels that shows our heroes bound in a room filling with water (we literally watch the water rising around them as they quickly hammer out what’s going on). This is critical because in a moment they’re going to be underwater and unable to communicate. To further enrich the dialogue, Tomasi gives our Miracle man a few funny quips. We get information, tension, character development, and humor in six panels that are basically profile shots of two men talking. It’s an excellent use of both tight dialogue and focused visuals to convey everything the audience needs to know in as tight a space imaginable.
If you have a fear of drowning, the terror here is palpable
What then follows is a lengthy escape sequence that may, for some, stretch credulity. The water is full of sharks, and their restraints are conveniently made of leather. And if this isn’t already a ridiculous “trap”, a window pops open to let in a whole school of piranha–in a feeding frenzy.
The way in which Batman talks himself through what to do as he’s doing it is reminiscent of a very similar comic we just read by another writer featuring the caped crusader, and the similarities between the two circumstances are pretty interesting. It’s starting to boggle the mind how these two titles are running alongside one another on the stands–it can’t be unintentional at this point. If it is, it’s mind-numbingly bizarre that editorial would just let this duplicative storytelling roll. If it’s intentional somehow, however, I can’t wait to see what in the world the payoff might be. The whole thing has the vague makings of some secret editorial pissing contest going on that DC is just letting it play out.
But let’s focus on Detective Comics; Batman and Mister Miracle are in quite the predicament and only Batman’s keen ability to…uh…strategically make sharks chew on his restraints…can save the day!
Look, it’s ridiculous. I didn’t exactly bray a laugh, but it was close. And you know what? I’m okay with it and here’s why: there’s some serious silliness in the whole scenario. This whole arrangement of being tied up and having to escape an overly complicated death trap is such a throwback to Batman’s golden age. I’m almost disappointed that Tomasi didn’t have Bats whip out a can of shark repellent, to be honest.
It’s not all laughs, though: Mahnke knows when to punch up the drama
From there the issue just gets crazier, but also goes straight to the heart of the matter. That creepy creature we thought Ducard took out in Paris? Yeah, it’s not going anywhere any time soon, and the gnarly iterations of Batfoes that it’s been spewing are now joined by Batfriends who aren’t being any more friendly. And if that’s not enough, Tomasi gives Batman some of the best one-liners we’ve had in I don’t know how long. Batman takes on this revolting creature and every negative, ugly thing it represents with the kind of control and panache and heroism that fans can absolutely revel in. And coupled with Doug Mahnke’s art, the whole sequence is phenomenal.
Mahnke’s pencils are incredible to begin with, but the added inks from Christian Alamy and Mark Irwin provide a particular contrast between the underwater portion of the book and the action that happens once our heroes are grounded again. Colorist David Baron contributes to this as well, with the water sequences being somewhat muted, the dispersing blood nicely pale and drifting, and a sort of murky haze to the overall effect: like we’re looking in through the density of the water or from the other side of a glass dividing us. But once the characters escape the shark and piranha pit, the colors are a bang-on assault on the senses. The blacks are deep and rich, the reds and yellows scream for attention, and the book really feels alive and trashing.
I read this book and then immediately wanted to read it again. Both for the words, and the art. This is the sort of comic that is largely action-based, but has just enough forward thrust on the story, character exploration, and genuine heart to make it well worth owning and re-reading.
Some parting notes on the conclusion:
I was sad, as I was in the last issue with Sensei Kirigi, that Mister Miracle was told to stay put. I really wanted these two to advance on Strange together, especially because their chemistry was so fun in even just the brief little time we have with them together. But I also get that Batman is deliberately trying to keep these people out of further danger.
Finally, I just want to say that there’s a beautiful tiny moment in this book where, after Batman shoots off his ear to wound one of the sharks, he actually retrieves the ear on his way up, hauling Mister Miracle to the surface. It’s such a tiny detail, and yet you really have to appreciate that Tomasi and/or Mahnke made sure to include it in the visuals: otherwise we would have either had a continuity gaffe or, maybe worse, poor Bats would have continued on his mission with one ear too few!
- You want to learn something new about Batman’s past!
- Batman vs. shark vs. piranha squad sounds like a good time.
- Decapitations for everyone!
Tomasi’s “Mythology” arc goes for the gold! The golden era, that is, as Batman finds himself trapped and fighting man-eating sharks with an aging Mister Miracle. And if that’s not enough old-fashioned Dark Knight adventure for you, he brings back the mutating monster and all of it’s nightmarish projections. There’s a level of camp here that Tomasi embraces so unapologetically that you have to just sit back and enjoy the ride: part roller coaster, part underwater safari, and every bit of it just big noisy fun. This is a comic book that doesn’t worry about serving up grit, just a big ol’ delicious ham steak. Dig in!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.