This week’s “Hell and Back” installment of the “Mythology” arc continues the trend of Peter J. Tomasi using rather cliché titles for what’s so far been a fairly stellar arc. But maybe this time the title is rather apropos as the story stumbles a bit now that Batman is closing in on his prey.

We all know Strange was never going to endgame for this throughline, but I really loved how Strange, despite his status as a nemesis, is also a person who served as a stepping stone along Batman’s development–and therefore is as much at risk as any of the previous players along the way.  I also think my favorite panel in the whole book is the one below: Batman dragging Strange by the scruff like an unruly child as he stalks toward demanding more answers.

And yet, I admit I’m a little disappointed that the portion of this book which contains Strange is actually quite brief–once Batman has ascertained that Strange is not the mastermind behind the attacks, he’s off and running to the next point and person of interest….

Come along, Doctor, it’s story time

…which happens to be Jason Blood, who happens to share his body with the rhyming Demon Etrigan, who happens to be under attack from yet another inexplicable and powerful creature–this one from another dimension and not easily defeated by a mere mortal like Barman.

Fortunately Batman is always prepared to meet whatever challenges the fates throw in his way, and there’s a great sequence where he talks us through how he’s going to fight off this threat with a suit designed exactly for this purpose.  

On the one hand this is an exciting ramp up where we get to see Etrigan’s fight with the creature intercut with Batman suiting up for the battle. On the other hand, the narrative is a little inexplicable. Who is Batman talking to? Himself? Why does he need to tell himself where the suit came from and what it can do? It’s an uncharacteristically awkward monologue that would have been better served as straight narrative boxes or else more subtle clues. And honestly, I don’t know that any of the explanation is even all that necessary. We get to see what the suit can do when Batman arrives on the scene. We could have had more subtle cues about the suit’s origin, or even some throwaway lines to Etrigan after the fight if Tomasi felt it absolutely needed to be explained, but I don’t think the exposition added anything to the dramatic point of Batman fighting with a demon, nor to the fact that the suit is not invulnerable.

Which leads us to the great high moment of the comic: Batman refusing to give up the fight despite the regular reports of the increasing risk to the effectiveness of the suit and the mortal peril to Batman’s life.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. And I know I gave a score of 10 to a book in which Batman fought sharks and piranhas by shooting his ear off, but it was a little harder for me to reconcile the enormity of the risk he takes with this suit and engaging with the demon. It might seem to some an indication of the degree to which Batman is desperate to put an end to this thing, but on the other hand, 95% chance of death seems like it ought to be a deterrent for any reasonable person.

Of course Batman isn’t going to die, but perhaps the over-the-top extent to which he pushes himself feels a bit overkill. And worse, it makes the rest of the book pretty anticlimactic.  From there Bats follows a somewhat conveniently placed lead to the office of Silas Stone and there some sleight of hand involved there toward the final reveal, but somehow that last splash page doesn’t really compare to Hell Bat tackling the giant glowy progeny of Lovecraft and Geiger.

Way too much color in the speech bubbles for me, but it’s well enough done

Doug Mahnke’s, Jaime Mendoza, and Mark Irwin for the win once again. This is such a stellar team and there’s so much fun material to work with in this issue–everything from Batman’s Hell Bat suit to the strange xenomorph-looking creature, to the complex coding environment of Dr. Stone’s domain. Such a huge range of styles from scientific to technological to antiquity.

If I had to quibble about the look of the book (aside from my comment about Rob Leigh’s speech bubbles having too much texture and color), I also didn’t particularly care of the green supernatural bolts used to restrain Etrigan. There’s something weirdly flat about them which colorist David Baron tried to improve on with some ectoplasmic glow, but they still feel strangely more solid than energy. As a result they obfuscate the action–partly because of the randomness of their flow, but also because of the way they tend to blend with the creature and with the creature’s speech bubbles. It’s a minor thing, but compared to otherwise pristinely clean action throughout the arc under Mahnke thus far, it feels a bit messy.

Recommended If…

  • You’re into the more supernatural elements of Batman’s associates.

  • You like the big scary monsters.

  • Technology is one of the biggest, scariest monsters of all.

Overall

To say that this is my least favorite issue of the “Mythology” arc thus far sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book, but Tomasi set the bar really high in the preceding issues, so it’s hard not to hold to that standard. This is still a solid, fun book, even though it takes a radically different direction than what you might be expecting, and the emergence of the Hell Bat suit is sure to please fans of that particular piece of powerful equipment in Batman’s arsenal. But overall this feels like a bit of a slouchy kitchen sink of ideas trailed out toward the millennium climax in a run that had otherwise been escalating by crisp degrees thus far.

 

SCORE: 8/10

 

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