Before we jump into the actual review: DC has confirmed that this is now a 7 issue miniseries so that Snyder and Jock can wrap up the story properly. I think this is exciting news because I have been enjoying this series a lot and if the creative team feels that they need a few more pages to do this story justice, I’m all for that, as long as the quality is still there. At the end of the day, I believe in quality over quantity. Speaking of which, what about issue #5 specifically? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between? Let’s have a look. MINOR SPOILERS!
Well, of course it’s good. This creative team is on a roll, putting out strong issue after strong issue. However, I do have to say that there are a few questionable moments in this comic that I didn’t enjoy as much. I’d like to discuss these less successful moments before talking about what makes this comic worth reading, just to get that criticism out of the way.
This issue picks up where we left off with #4. Batman is in Blackgate Prison. He has found the Batman Who Laughs, who is disguised as a security guard. There’s a glass panel in between Batman and BMWL so they can’t get to each other. Two security guards are behind Batman, and they are firing at Batman, but since our hero’s cape is made out of kevlar the bullets don’t seem to hurt him. This entire situation seems rather odd to me, because not only do the security guards shoot like stormtroopers (even though they are not that far away from their target), it also looks like they’re not even trying. They pretty much have Batman pinned down at this stage, so why doesn’t one of them provide cover fire while the other moves to a better position to take Batman out? Or, better yet, why don’t they immediately call for backup and surround Batman and take him out that way? Yes, they bring up Armor Piercers, but they are awfully slow to do so. Now, of course I realize that Batman can’t and shouldn’t die in this story, but it seems to me that it’s not just his kevlar cape that is keeping him safe from harm—the plot armor that he’s wearing is pretty thick as well. Additionally, I wonder why Batman is able to leap through the glass panel but the bullets can’t shatter it?
Moreover, the scene leads to a moment where Batman grabs the alternate reality Bruce Wayne (who got killed in issue #4 and was lying on BMWL’s side of the glass panel), and Batman uses this Bruce Wayne as a meat shield. While this looks pretty badass to me, it is setting up another moment that I dislike. At this point there are more security guards and Batman is essentially overwhelmed and outnumbered. What happens is that Batman starts screaming at the security guards, telling them that he knows everything about them, that he knows where they live, that he knows their names, that he knows their fears when they try to sleep at night. This results in the guards ceasing fire, but I am unable to justify why they don’t fire anymore. I get that they are afraid, but if you ask me, fear would be a good motivation for taking aim and shooting the thing that scares you. In other words, I’m just not convinced that Batman’s attitude, behavior and speech are enough to stop these guards from killing him—not in the way it’s presented in the issue, at least. Once more I find myself wondering just how thick Batman’s plot armor is.
And one more thing I want to add is that the scene concludes with Batman actually ripping off the dead Bruce Wayne’s head, and he declares that he is the “#$%^&*$ BATMAN WHO LAUGHS!”, and he starts laughing, and finally he escapes through a hatch in the floor. Now, I see how this scene hammers home that Batman is turning into another BMWL, but the way that this scene is executed is so over-the-top that it’s more hilarious than terrifying and therefore hard to take seriously. If this was a book with more campy elements and dark humor, perhaps this scene would’ve worked. But now it’s so edgy and in-your-face that it takes away from the horror and it makes me feel like this is only here because it’s cool, and not because it really adds to the story or the horror, which makes it look rather shallow. Perhaps, had this been executed or timed differently, or had it been slightly less over-the-top, it would’ve worked as a horror element, but unfortunately the opposite is true for me. That said, maybe it’s just me and you guys will love this moment when you see it in the book. If you’re so inclined, do let me know what you think in the comments.
However, this is still a really cool comic, and there’s one scene in particular that more than makes up for its flaws. We see BMWL himself standing before the Court of Owls, and not only is it great fun to see Jock and Baron’s rendition of these masked creeps, I also love how Snyder writes the exchange between the Court and BMWL. I’m not going into the specifics of what happens in this scene, because I think you should experience that for yourself, but I do have a few things to say. What makes this scene great is how the members of the Court are so arrogant and overly confident as they talk to BMWL, assuming they have everything under control. They refer to various torture chambers and contraptions, which spark my imagination and successfully add to the horror vibe of this scene. As the scene continues, the dynamic between the Court and BMWL is shifting as well. At first it seems like the Court has BMWL outmatched; then it seems they are an even match; and then…well, buy the book and find out! In any case, it’s safe to say that this scene kept me on the edge of my seat, and even though it’s over-the-top, everything that happens here just fits with the narrative. BMWL is a creepy dude who seems to have way too much fun doing what he does while also being a true mastermind that’s planned for every contingency. This is what makes him a strong and scary villain in this story.
But it’s not just the writing that makes this scene—and most of the issue—so good. I’ve said in my previous The Batman Who Laughs reviews that I think Jock’s greatest strength as an artist is drawing horror stuff. This book is an excellent example of that, especially with Baron’s colors added onto Jock’s pencils and inks. The artists not only create horrific monster-Robins and scary-looking Batmen, but especially their use of shadows is powerful. The best use of shadows is in the Court of Owls scene, where the shadows obscure certain characters and backgrounds; with horror, I find that it’s usually the things that we can’t see that make the story scary. For example, the white, emotionless masks of the Owls emerging from the shadows, or the bright-yellow glowing goggles of the Talons in the darkness before they step into the light. We know something is coming, but we don’t know for certain how it’s going to unfold…
But what I admire most of all are the compositions, page layouts and angles that Jock chooses. We get to see environments from multiple angles, which makes even the most static scenes dynamic. The various shapes and sizes of the panels also adds to the dynamics and creates a steady pace. The panels work well in sequence, too, revealing little by little what’s really going on in any given scene until the final panel truly hits home. The facial expressions of the characters also contribute greatly to the story-telling. Take for example the panic on Gordon’s face as he tries to escape BMWL’s Robins while swimming against the sewer’s current. All in all, I’m a big fan of the artwork and I think that Jock and Baron are exactly the right artists for this book. It’s intense. It’s gripping. It’s scary.
- You want to see more of BMWL himself, who has a lot more panel time in this issue compared to previous issues.
- You dig the idea of Batman ripping off a dead body’s head.
- You are really into horror, and you want fantastic horror artwork in your collection.
Overall: Another strong chapter in this now 7 part miniseries. The artists are at the top of their game, delivering great horror visuals throughout the book. And even though I think that Snyder took a few missteps here and there with his writing, he also writes some amazing scenes with entertaining dialogue in this same issue. Despite these missteps that I mentioned, I still recommend picking up this book, especially if you’ve been following along since #1. The final showdown between Batman and BMWL is on the horizon, folks. Just two more issues to go!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.