Batman: Universe #1 review

There’s just something about a good old rollicking adventure.  That’s part of the appeal of movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Raiders of the Lost Ark, with their high-stakes chases, exotic locations, stalwart heroes, and conniving villains.  Rather than trying to say something about the human condition or exploring the psyche of conflicted, grounded characters, adventures exist for essentially one purpose: to entertain.

Think back to the first time you saw this scene:

The score, the shadows, the claustrophobic confines of the temple.  Each of those elements combine to create one of cinema’s most famous action set-pieces, and it’s rightfully well-regarded.  Besides introducing us to one of the greatest action heroes of all time, this sequence is just plain fun.  You can’t help but be swept up in the thrill of Indy stealing the idol, dealing with the betrayal of a treacherous guide, outrunning that infamous rolling stone and a group of hostile natives, and then escaping via seaplane.

It’s that same thrill and exhilaration that I felt while reading Batman: Universe #1, which is as classic and old-school an adventure as you’re likely to find.

This feeling is evident on the very first page, literally putting us in Batman’s shoes as he heads toward adventure.  The first two pages of the issue are rendered in a nine-panel grid, all told from the perspective of the Dark Knight.  So, in a sense, we are going on this adventure, not just Batman.  It’s a brilliantly simple piece of visual storytelling, and artist Nick Derington uses it to his advantage.  There are some great shots within the Batmobile, with Batman’s hands coming up from the bottom of the frame to grip the steering controls or push a button.  Derington even throws in some pretty effective comic relief, as Batman startles a citizen who is camped out on her balcony, all while an apologetic Caped Crusader is visible in the reflection of her window.

Props to letterer Josh Reed, too.  Most of his lettering is clean and unobtrusive, but touches like Alfred’s future-tech word balloons over the radio are welcome flourishes.  Great lettering like this supports the written word more often than not, yet isn’t afraid to do something a little crazy to suit the story.

Right from the start it’s evident that this isn’t just some throwaway story, a “second-string” adventure that was packaged among a bunch of reprints just to make a quick buck at Walmart.  No, it’s clear that Bendis, Derington, Stewart, and Reed are giving it their all, as this opening sequence culminates in the brilliant title page above.  Seriously, even if you know it’s coming, it’s hard not being captivated and left a bit breathless with that shot of Batman in descent.

Given that this material was compiled from two separate installments in the Batman Giant line of Walmart-exclusive comics, it’s pretty clear where one part ends and the other begins.  Still, it’s not a distracting divide, with Bendis giving the story a natural segue.  It helps that the forward momentum never lets up, right from the first page, and that Nick Derington is… he’s just… so good, guys.  So good.

Just look at that sequence.  He alternates between the two perspectives so smoothly that you’re never confused about what’s happening, and the “acting” in the Riddler and Batman’s facial expressions is just uncanny.  I love how the backgrounds change between panels as well, with a detailed restaurant when viewed from Batman’s perspective and those shades of orange when looking at Bats head on.  Don’t be surprised if I spend all six issues talking about how great Derington and colorist Dave Stewart are, because I will totally do that.

With a title like Batman: Universe, you kind of expect this to go big, and while Bendis tends to keep the action on Earth (for now), he’s not afraid to get a little crazy.  There’s a whole ordeal about the Riddler trying to steal a Fabergé egg, which is as good a MacGuffin as anything.  I don’t mean this to say that Bendis’ writing is weak, not by any means, but he’s clearly just wanting to have fun and tell a globe-trotting adventure.  Throw in some late in the game appearances from a familiar face or two and you can see that they’re building to something pretty big here.

There’s a quick detour where we’re introduced to Jinny Hex, who I’m still really digging in the Young Justice title, and Bendis makes her likable from the start.  For the most part, though, this is all about Batman chasing the villain, with some really great action beats to get there.

I mean, really, if you like seeing Batman punch the Riddler, then this is the book for you.

Because he punches a lot of Riddlers.

A lot of Riddlers.

This comic is popcorn entertainment of the best sort, and in the best possible way.  There’s snappy dialogue, dynamic visuals, and a sense of energy that’s evident from the first page to the last.  It never feels like it’s too much, nor does it feel like it’s lacking in many areas.  While it may not be perfect (nothing is), it’s perfectly entertaining, and what more could you want?

Recommended if:

  • You love Batman.
  • You like crazy adventure.
  • You love brilliant, dynamic visual storytelling.
  • You, too, would like to punch the Riddler in the face.

Overall: A grand entertainment of the best sort, Batman: Universe is off to an incredibly strong start.  This book is so much fun that I re-read it several times, I got so caught up in the action, and I don’t know that there’s any better endorsement than that.  Bendis’ plotting is strong and paced marvelously, with some snappy dialogue and genuinely funny gags.  Then there’s Nick Derington and Dave Stewart’s brilliant visuals that could practically sell the book itself.  This reminds me of Indiana Jones in everything but the details: it has memorable characters, a sharp script, big, swashbuckling adventure, and a propulsive sense of forward momentum.  It’s as fun a comic as you’re likely to find, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.

SCORE: 10/10