So far in Batman: Universe, we’ve seen the Dark Knight (or, rather, the Caped Crusader, as he’s more swashbuckling adventurer than grim avenger of the night as presented here) fight a crapload of Riddlers over a Fabergé egg, meet the descendant of a cowboy, beat up Deathstroke, and be polite to a citizen on a fire escape.
And that was just in the first issue.
The second issue doubles-down on the craziness and adventure, with some snappy dialogue, high-tech gadgetry, and a journey to a city populated by gorillas.
If you’re thinking of that city, you are correct. Everyone knows there’s only one, no matter what Batman might try to get you to believe.
Yes, Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington’s Batman: Universe continues to be a rollicking adventure serial, completely unafraid and unashamed of even the goofiest of comic tropes. That it leans so hard into an unabashed sense of adventure and fun is its greatest strength, and what makes this series quite the breath of fresh air.
In the best way, this is “more of the same” as the previous issue, though it does feel a little more episodic in its pacing. The first issue felt like a singular piece of storytelling, with a defined beginning, leading into rising action, and culminating in a cliffhanger of an ending. Even though it was two shorter chapters put together to make reach a standard issue-length page count, it didn’t necessarily feel like it. Issue two, however, does show the seams quite a bit, as the two halves of the story are pretty clearly marked.
While that does keep this issue from feeling as fresh and exciting as the first, it’s still a ton of fun. It’s made pretty evident that Bendis and Derington have a groove that they’ve set and settled into, and if the rest of the series can maintain this momentum, I’ll be a satisfied reader.
The action picks up shortly after the ending of the previous issue, with Batman and Green Arrow working the Riddler over for some answers. Nygma’s typical M.O. of answering questions with pretentious conundrums feels particularly… uninspired, which has not escaped the notice of the Dark Knight and Emerald Archer. The normally overly-confident conman seems distracted, even scared, which holds Batman’s attention almost as much as the MacGuffin of the Fabergé egg.
Some of Bendis’ dialogue can get a little twee at times, but I still really enjoyed the back and forth between Batman and Green Arrow. They take playful jabs at each other in between their interrogation of Nygma, so while you can definitely tell that there’s a bit of a rivalry between them, it’s built on respect and friendship rather than outright animosity. Take their final exchange, after Ollie has been gassed after triggering a booby trap and proceeds to attack Batman. Bruce is on the defensive, warding off Arrow’s attacks while trying to talk sense into his ally so he can administer an antidote. Once the “spell” has been broken and Ollie is back in his right mind, he asks if he attacked Batman and, more importantly, if he won.
“Of course,” Batman replies. “I feel shame.”
Like the opening scene of the first issue, with Batman being polite to one of Gotham’s citizens, it’s a nice little beat. He and Arrow may have different methods and lifestyles, but they’re both heroes. They’re on the same side, so what does Batman gain from being a jerk?
Now, I haven’t read ahead in this series, but without getting too spoilery I do know that it goes to some pretty… interesting places, let’s say. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that Batman’s investigation takes him from the rooftops of Gotham to the mountain stronghold of Gorilla City. And, guys, Nick Derington has already proven to be an all-time great with his storytelling over the past issue and a half, but man oh man does he up his game here. Before Batman even gets to Gorilla City, we see him in a “Batcave simulation” where he is running tests on the low-level radiation the egg was giving off. Derington’s visuals, along with Dave Stewart’s colors and the various word balloons Josh Reed uses to distinguish different speakers, give the sequence a welcome sci-fi vibe. I mean, I’m as much a fan of a “grounded” Batman as anyone, and love it when he uses his wits and deductive skills to fight crime, rather than being overly reliant on technology. This completely fits with the decidedly old-school “adventure serial” vibe they’re going for, though, complete with a giant, computerized diagram of a brain.
And then we get to Gorilla City. Friends, it is gorgeous.
Batman’s arrival is depicted across a double-page splash, and my goodness it is stunning. Derington’s clean line-work and Stewart’s simple color scheme work wonders, proving that simplicity can be just as effective and awe-inspiring as complexity. I absolutely love the shot of Batman standing on the wing of his jet, overlooking Gorilla City, with a full moon rising over the scene. Stewart mainly uses grays, blacks, and full purples and blues, yet it is so crisp and clear that it may be one of my favorite spreads of the year. The distant cloud formations and faint speckled stars are details that are easy to overlook, and could have easily been excised, but they just add to the resplendent beauty of the scene.
From cover to cover, this is a comic that’s unafraid to be what it is: a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure. In the best way, ideas are just thrown out there to see if they stick, all before Batman heads off on to the next stop on his quest. There may not be any such thing as a “perfect comic,” but Batman: Universe is a perfect entertainment.
- You love Batman.
- You love a grand sense of adventure.
Overall: From front to back, Batman: Universe is a winner. The writing is snappy, with some great dialogue and character interactions, and the plot is an insane ride that barrels through each stop with barely any time to catch your breath. It’s the art of Nick Derington, Dave Stewart, and Josh Reed that really sets this book over the top, though. Much like Bendis’ plotting, the visual aesthetic is fairly simple and stylized, but perfect for the rollicking adventure that’s set forth in the narrative. Truly, I do not want to see the day where I don’t find any joy in reading a Batman story where he sass-talks Green Arrow before jetting off to Gorilla City.