Oh wow, this is an honour!!! After working as hard as I could to get through the selection process, I finally get to write my first review for Batman-News. Sure, getting the job wasn’t easy – writing a review for Batman: Odyssey as part of the audition process was particularly difficult – but if I can handle that, I think I can handle just about any comic that’s thrown my way!
So, what’s my first review? I’m sure it won’t be as tricky as-
Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul. By Neal Adams. Creator of Batman: Odyssey.
It’s okay, Nick. You’ve (quite literally) trained for this. If any of you are interested in my review of Odyssey, my mentor reviewer Jay has been wonderful enough to put it up on Comics-Now, if you want my thoughts on Adams’ more recent work. What you need to know is that I have a deep respect for Adams – a giant of the comic book industry – and that my criticisms of the work aren’t meant to devalue his art or disrespect him, but to express what I enjoy and struggle with in his recent endeavours as a comic book auteur. With that in mind, you’ll likely be happy to know that, so far, Batman vs Ra’s Al Ghul has been an easier read than Odyssey – while still keeping the insanity and confusion that made the latter book so fun.
But make no mistake, it IS still confusing.
There’s a lot that carries over from Odyssey (and possibly Adams’ recent Deadman book, which I plan to read soon) into this new comic, regarding Adams’ writing: it’s off the wall, crazy, and all the better for it… when you can understand what’s going on. Fortunately, this story is currently only following one series of events, rather than jumping between several different stories at once, like Odyssey did. Granted, improving on Odyssey’s story structure isn’t high praise, but it gives you an opportunity to enjoy some of the crazier moments in the story with greater ease. There’s even diegetic narration within the story, in the form of a news reporter recounting live events, along with the context of the story! It’s a useful mechanic that helps set the scene, especially on account of Adams jumping straight into the action.
It’s still rather clunky – especially in a few moments where Adams essentially speaks through the reporter to tell you what the moral dilemma of the issue is – but it keeps you grounded for half the issue.
And then Deadman shows up and everything goes wild.
Really, it’s my fault for NOT expecting Deadman to show up out of the blue in a Neal Adams comic. Deadman appearing out of nowhere to gawk at the scenery is one of my favourite Adams tropes, next to “Batman acts like a murderer just to f*** with you”; something that happens WAY more than I ever anticipated. It’s still the case here – watch as, in the first few pages of the comic, Batman pretends to yeet [Editor’s note: I had to look up what this word means. -Jay] an exploding dog.
Of course – SPOILER ALERT – the dog is fine.
How did Batman do it? Where was he hiding the dog? Who cares! Moments like this are what I’m here for in a Neal Adams Batman comic.
The confusing banter? Not so much.
There are a lot of examples of clunky dialogue in this issue, so I won’t show you any more examples here – but there are a lot of dated expressions being flung around throughout the issue, and it creates a very “Silver Age” vibe (for better or for worse). As for the more “confusing” elements of the story… we’ll get to that after discussing the art.
In my Odyssey review, I was harsher on Adams’ art than I might typically be – and I think I had good cause in doing so at the time. While Adams has undeniable talent seeping from his pores like a sponge, there was a lot to be desired regarding the panel composition, its coherency, and the transitions between scenes. Fortunately, a lot of these gripes aren’t as prevalent in this issue. This is a great thing! As long as the art is there to confidently tell a story that you’re able to follow, then you have yourself a comic. I’ve found more often than not that it’s MUCH easier to read a comic with poor writing and quality art than it is the other way around.
And not only is it coherent, it’s really quite good.
There are a lot of little touches in the comic that add to the pulpy style of the book, like this shot where you can ever-so-slightly see Batman’s shadow linger over the old man – not something new, of course, but a welcome addition to a small panel that shows to the reader that there’s a level of care going into this book. Another good example is this atmospheric silhouette shot. The characters here are all clear and well-defined, even without their faces in the frame, and it’s another great small addition that adds to the final product.
I’m not going to show some of the best panels here, because a big part of why you’d pick up this issue is for the art – but while we’re here, I do have a criticism (that isn’t about Adams’ questionable character design for Kaos, the purple cyborg you saw earlier). Adams puts a lot of effort into his comics: this guy is writing, drawing and colouring the whole thing, and this is a six-issue miniseries. That’s nothing to scoff at, and a lot of work cut out for the guy. However, writing aside, I think there is a slight detriment to the art through this process too. While the style is abundant from panel to panel, there are moments that feel a little rough or sloppy, which could have been mitigated with a different inker or colourist.
For example, moments like this:
…become a little difficult to distinguish, especially with the blur effect on his feet, a lack of contrast between the colours, and without clear lining between the figures. You can see colours smudging past the lines a fair few times in this book, and while it’s not a huge complaint, I think fixing this would bring the art in this book up to a more consistent and impressive level of quality.
Now, I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the confusing elements of this book, as I’ve already written enough – so I’ll be trying to put these in a short list under a spoiler tag each issue, for brevity’s sake (and so I don’t go TOO insane). I won’t bring up everything, because I’m sure there’s a mystery to explore here, but I’ll bring up my main points of confusion.
- Why are there two Robins?
- Who straps TNT to a dog? Was it a random terrorist? Did they just happen to have a leash that ends with a collar on each side? Did one of the terrorists raid a sex store?
- Why does Deadman just keep showing up to shake his head at stuff going on in Gotham City? Is he bored? I guess you would be in his position.
- Seriously, why are there two Robins? One looks like Tim Drake’s costume, and the other… Jason or Dick’s New 52 costume? But Nightwing’s already there… and it’s definitely not Damian’s costume. They all have the same hair, too. It even seems like one or two of them don’t recognize Bruce Wayne, whose appearance I won’t question yet.
- There’s a note in this comic that compares the state of the city to Cataclysm and No Man’s Land, and it really threw me off because a.) There’s no associated asterix in the text, and b.), I had no idea why the comparison was necessary. For half the issue, I was wondering if he meant for the story to be set during that timeframe.
- Why are the terrorists on drugs? What does that add here?
- SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE THERE TWO ROBINS.
- You enjoyed Batman: Odyssey…?
- You like Neal Adams’ art style, which still has a lot of impressive and nostalgic qualities to this day.
- You want some wonderful out-of-context panels.
- You want to talk about this comic with me in the comments; there’s a lot I haven’t even touched on.
It’s hard to score a comic like this, because I DEFINITELY enjoyed myself reading it (despite my issues). It’s a fun book, and definitely easier to swallow than its predecessor so far (hence my positive slant in this review) – yet that virtue doesn’t make it a great book. The problems with this comic aren’t small in any respect, but the art and wackiness factor are enough to keep me invested enough to stick around. Look forward to my sanity slowly deteriorating over the next few months, yeah?