My final comic review for the week is the follow-up to Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul #1 by Neal Adams – which is, in and of itself a follow-up to his other recent works, such as Batman: Odyssey and Deadman. On one hand, it’s nice to be tackling a book this week that isn’t related to Harley Quinn and the Joker. On the other, I now relate to the Joker more than ever, as reviewing this series will likely take me down the path of madness. I’m going crazy trying to comprehend what’s going on, but I can’t deny how much fun I’m having along the way.
I honestly must count my blessings every day that Neal Adams isn’t doing time jumps and flashbacks in this story. The narrative constantly shifting in Odyssey was really the main aspect that stopped me from enjoying it to its fullest extent, while here I have a far better time of reading the story. Not understanding it, mind you, but the lack of time jumps makes sorting through each scene a little easier. We open with Ra’s al Ghul at a statue of Batman – possibly a memorial? – speaking to a witch who he has bartered with to ensnare Batman in a trap. The witch’s name is Chiaroscuro, and Ra’s doesn’t exactly upsell her abilities at first.
Chiaroscuro, according to the internet, is “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition”. The word is mainly related to art, and it’s an interesting word that could connote a kind of elemental balance, if it were the name of a character. Okay, Adams, you have my attention. What does this new character of yours look like?
…Oh! Okay, um. Sure, I guess. It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the issue – surprises that you just can’t help but double-take at. This ranges from secret robots to surprise guest appearances, to characters doing things that just seem completely out of left field! It keeps you on your toes, even if it is… endlessly frustrating to think about. We finally know why we see two Robins in the first issue: these are revealed to be Tim and Damian, respectively. It seems that Adams was told that they were both using the Robin moniker for a time, but Adams seemed to have just… put them in just about the same outfit. I certainly wouldn’t have recognized it was Damian from lines such as this.
He’s not wrong, though. Alfred is indeed da man.
Adams seems to be continuing a trend from the first issue, in which characters in the story speak to Ra’s al Ghul about the nature of being a liar. In the first issue it was Batman, and in this one it’s Doctor Langstrom.
While you’d be hard pressed to call Ra’s a man of honor, it seems like an awfully strange through-line to be bringing from issue to issue. It’s also really the only deeper element this book seems to be offering when it comes to the story.
But hey, who cares? You’re not here for depth! You’re here for typical Adams insanity, and this book delivers; perhaps not as much as the first, but enough to be entertaining. The same can be said for the quality of the artwork. The pulpy, sketchy style remains, with all its pros (lending a very nostalgic flair to the books) and its cons (sloppy inking and coloring, along with some questionable faces). In this issue we are thankfully able to distinguish from Nightwing and the two Robins, as their outfits and silhouettes are a little more distinctive. We also get a couple of wonderful set pieces in the issue; this double-page spread is very pleasing visually.
Unfortunately, issues I had with Batman: Odyssey are beginning to creep back into this book as well, where we’re beginning to see a disconnect between the characters on the page and their respective dialogue boxes. In this scene, Tim and Dick are leaving Wayne manor, and Dick has called Man-Bat to quite literally pick them up. The pun is… I mean, I giggled, but it’s a little hurt by the fact that the previous panel makes it seem like Tim called “the uber”, not Dick.
This coherency was an issue I had with Batman: Odyssey, and it kept me from enjoying the book for the zany ride that it is. I’m hoping that it’s not as significant an issue in the coming issues of this book, and that the artwork and the writing can continue to work together effectively… or at least, as effectively as this book can be.
Finally, it’s time for this issue’s list of confusing things! I’ve actually found that Adams often explains most of the major elements of confusion in his story… but since he doesn’t really signpost any of them as mysteries, I feel quite comfortable including all of the baffling things he writes into this list I’ve tucked away behind the spoiler tag below.
- We now know why there were two Robins in the first issue… except now, Damian no longer recalls being Robin, despite still being Robin in the first issue. What happened to him? Was it offscreen between issues?
- If Alfred was kept tied up in the house and replaced by a robot double, does that mean Damien is tied up too? Or is his mind just wiped?
- How did Alfred escape?
- Why are the Man-Bats acting as taxi drivers for the Robins? Does Dick own an embarrassing photo of Kirk at the Christmas party?
- What the hell is Deadman doing? Here he is, showing up out of nowhere for no reason yet again!
(I’m not mad, obviously. Look at him, he’s adorable. I cracked up laughing at seeing him randomly appear in only this panel.)
- The insanity of Neal Adams’ recent work is your cup of tea.
- You need something a little easier to read than Batman: Odyssey (not that that’s a high bar).
- You’ve got about 20 minutes of free time to read it, and 20 more minutes to understand it.
- A classic, nostalgic style appeals to you, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.
I have to say, the score of this book is a little arbitrary. It’s a low score because I don’t think the quality of the writing or the artwork is particularly high. Not to mention, figuring out the issue and then piecing those thoughts together for this review was aggravating. But… I’m smiling as I write this conclusion, and I was smiling an awful lot as I read the comic. And isn’t that what these books are kind of about? Either there’s something to enjoy here, or I really am losing my mind.
Either would make sense to me.