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We interrupt Tom King’s “Nightmare” arc to bring you the first of a four part story from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Guillem March. So just put the King digression on hold for a fresh digression about the Justice League taking on the Amazo Justice League in a battle of brawn that not only has nothing much to do with any of the current main Batman storylines, but crosses over suddenly with Heroes in Crisis. If you haven’t been following that particular book, Williamson provides enough exposition to catch you up, but it still might feel like a whack upside the head with Hawkman’s mace.

And that’s just the start of what’s going to feel like whiplash as you read this collection of scenes that jump from one event to the next without very thin transitions in between. It’s the present, it’s the past, it’s a flashback. You may have to read this multiple times just to get the flow of time and information, but the essence of it is an exploration of the rocky relationship between Batman and the Flash.

It also takes up right back to the first arc after Rebirth, Batman: I am Gotham, complete with those two crazy kids who wanted to out-Batman the Dark Knight, Gotham, and Gotham Girl. For those of you don’t remember or skipped it, Gotham and Gotham Girl were a brother and sister whose parents were saved by Batman and grew up wanting to emulate him. They got their hands on some metahuman powers and became superheroes, after which Batman took them under his wing. Unfortunately, they lost their minds in an attack from Psycho-Pirate and shortly thereafter Gotham lost his life. But you know, in the way all characters do in comics.

Nothing says teamwork like…not being a team

The Flash and Batman interactions are kind of fun; the two characters have personalities that are so diametrically opposed, they make for good banter throughout. Batman persists in being mired in his concerns and doubts and guilts, and Flash is like a spastic golden retriever, replete with slobbering grins. It works for the most part, but the book is literally just establishing those interactions on its way to set-up what’s to come.

Probably the most exciting thing in this book is an attack on the Flash museum in Central City. Visually it’s a feast of the contradictions of a carnival atmosphere ravaged by an unknown assailant. Williamson places a huge deal of emphasis on the civilian victims, which is great; it’s especially nice to have Flash argue that it’s more important to look after the civilians and make them feel safer than to immediate start the pursuit of the attacker. I question March’s choice of showing Flash bringing the survivors pizza, but we get the point: he’s offering comfort to frightened children, etc., while Batman is scowling and brooding.

Flash questions how Batman happened to be on hand in Central City to help and the makings of the story unravel. Batman knows who’s behind the attack, though of course he’s not going to show all of his cards at the outset. Both characters are somewhat distrustful of one another due to recent events in Heroes in Crisis, and Batman is still just generally a mess, though fortunately we don’t dwell on that but for one line in which he admits to being distracted with “other issues”.

But he changes his mind a few pages later, I guess

We get the briefest of brief flashbacks to happier times with Batman and Flash teaming up along with Robin and Kid Flash. The two boys are having fun, being pals, and there’s an air of tragedy around the whole scene, so although Williamson doesn’t exacting explain what’s happened, we know there’s skeletons to be revealed. And again, if you’re following Heroes in Crisis, you already know what all the mysterious trauma is about.

March’s work is solid, but has some quirks. Batman occasionally looks more bat than man, and Flash’s giant turkey legs are a bit distracting. There are also moments during the Flash Museum sequence where it’s hard to track the action because of the exhibits. In a way that’s effective because you’re not always sure whether what you’re seeing is real, but it’s needless confusion: the artifice of the exhibits work better in contrast to the “real” Flash actually working the site. The one statue that Batman contemplates of Flash lying on the ground is an interesting bit of foreshadowing (or backshadowing, really), and overall that whole action sequence is very nicely rendered. Other bits and pieces are less effective. March’s rendition of the Batcave and the Batmobile are some of the weirdest in recent memory, and the final big splash page reveal is one of those laughably awkward anatomical incidents, which characters bending weirdly, and too much emphasis on every muscle and vein being visible despite being under a costume.

On the one hand this book is a welcome respite from nightmareland, but on the other it’s not much of a stone’s throw from the sort of emphasis on brokenness and despair that’s come before it. Fortunately Flash is there to bring some light to this darkness, but the story so far seems poised to be going down another rabbit hole of mea culpas for the World’s Greatest Detective. If we’re lucky, Williamson will avoid that and focus on healing the relationship between Bats and Flash, and giving purpose to the action-to-come beyond just more “heroes” trying to pulverize one another.

Recommended If…

  • You have been following Heroes in Crisis and want to see these characters off the ranch.
  • You were a big fan of King’s arc Batman: I am Gotham
  • You just like the Flash and his jolly nature.

Overall

Joshua Williamson kicks off a four-part arc about the cost of doing justice for superheroes. In this first issue, we learn all about the tension between Batman and the Flash and get hints as to the cause: a recent tragedy involving one of their own has both characters cautious about their roles as defenders of the people. We’ve seen a lot of guilt and self-flagellating between the pages of Batman lately. By introducing the Flash, there’s a strong opportunity for Williamson to work with his powerfully positive personality to shine some light into Batman’s deepest and darkest recesses. Let’s see if he takes advantage of it!

SCORE: 7/10

 

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.

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