Batman: Universe #5 review

You’d be forgiven for thinking that an issue of Batman: Universe that featured Nightwing would be my favorite installment of the series.  I mean, I thought it would be too.  It’s Dick, back in costume!  Fighting alongside Bruce!  The Dynamic Duo, together again, trading pithy barbs while they punch ninjas!  What could go wrong?

Well, the issue itself is… it’s fine enough, but I do feel a bit of fatigue setting in.

I’ll start off with the overwhelming positive, though: Nick Derington continues to absolutely kill it on this title.  There’s not a page that doesn’t feel like he gave it his all, and his visual storytelling alone would give this a passing grade.  From the opening splash page, where you can smell the rain in the air and feel the droplets of water hitting Bruce’s body, to Bruce and Dick’s infiltration of Maxwell Lord’s nautical hideout, Derington and Dave Stewart completely sell the action scenes and quieter moments in equal measure.

No, my fatigue is not with the visuals, which continue to succeed in making this one of the purest pieces of adventure storytelling that Batman has been involved with in ages.  What I am growing weary of is the writing.  Bendis’ dialogue, in particular.

Which is strange, based on how much I praised it over the past few issues.  I’ve loved the lighthearted banter between Bruce and Hal and Jonah Hex and Alfred and any other combination of character’s he’s run across.  Far from the typically dour and morose Dark Knight that is normally seen in modern comics, this was a Caped Crusader who felt more akin to the globe-trotting adventurer of the 1970s.  It was refreshing and fun to read, to say the least, and went a long way to sell the “adventure serial” vibe of the overall story.

But then came other books, like Event: Leviathan, and even today’s Legion of Super-Heroes relaunch.  Dialogue that read as fairly natural at first glance is now circuitous and, frankly, exhausting.  That shouldn’t impact the experience of reading Batman: Universe, but it does.  The style is starting to feel very samey, and more twee than sharp and pithy.  Take the opening scene, for instance: Bruce– decked out in cowboy garb– is lying in the street after having been blasted in the chest by Vandal Savage.  He laments about how he is dying in the same alley where his parents were murdered, and how he initially thought a “full circle” kind of death would be poetic.  Instead, he’s just annoyed and upset.

It works, I suppose, and there are some decent lines and ideas in there.  Where it really falls apart is the fact that Bruce isn’t taking this seriously, so why should we?  Why should we feel like there’s any danger here when Bruce isn’t acting like the situation is dire?  There’s a difference between bravery and flippancy, and this feels like the latter.

If nothing else, this writing style fits a story like this more than it does an espionage-centered mystery, or a foray into the 31st Century.  As I said before, this may just be because of overload from other stories where Bendis writes in the same style, so when I read something where it actually works it still feels old hat.

I love the stylized look of “Nightwing” there, along with all of Troy Peteri’s lettering in the issue.  But this is just further proof that Dick needs to have his own set logo again that isn’t tied to Batman.  It looks cool, yeah, but Nightwing is his own man.

But anyway.  What also helps is that there’s still some really great dialogue throughout.  Bruce’s lamentation about a poetic death notwithstanding, he has some nice lines about his admiration for Alfred.  Smaller comments land really well too, like Bruce correcting Alfred to tell him that he is a real cowboy, at least today.  There’s some great banter when Dick shows up as well, made all the better for the fact that he and Bruce aren’t at each other’s throats.  You can tell they have a long history together, and that they truly care for one another, no matter what.

This is a weird book to write about with concern for spoilers, because technically it’s been accessible for months now, so any events could be common knowledge at this point.  I’ve not been reading it through the Walmart periodicals, mind you, but I have seen the cover for one of the volumes that… kind of spoils the big twist in this issue.

It’s kind of like when I would cover Arkham Knight or Batman ’66, where the digital chapters came out long before the single-issue hit stands.  So really, is it actually a time-sensitive spoiler if the information has been out there for months?

Why yes I am stalling, why do you ask?

Really, if you don’t want to know the “big twist” with the egg, then skip to the end or, better yet, read the issue first.  Despite my qualms, it’s still plenty of fun and you’ll probably enjoy it.

For everyone else, well, there’s MasterCard.

And this too, I guess:

But where, I ask, is Rot Lop Fan?

Yeah, Batman’s a White Lantern now.  Turns out that weird energy emanating from the egg was a primitive version of the Power Rings used by the various Lantern Corps.  That’s why it reacted strangely when Hal was around it, and why it could heal, you know, a gaping chest wound in Bruce Wayne’s torso.

It’s an interesting development, to be sure, and there’s a lot of crazy potential here.  Like the beginning of the issue, though, it’s hindered by some awkward dialogue, though I do love Bruce’s attitude here.  Rather than being super-confident that he knows exactly how this will all turn out, he’s pretty much working off a hunch and letting things roll as they will.  Again, it’s refreshing to have a Batman who isn’t prepared for literally every single situation that he encounters, one who needs to improvise and makes mistakes.  That’s much more interesting than “I knew what this was the second I laid eyes on it.  I was just waiting for the right opportunity to utilize that knowledge.”

At least it is to me, anyway.

So, yeah, I’ve been enjoying this ride throughout these five issues, and can’t wait to see how the series ends.  Even though this is definitely my least favorite issue so far, it’s still immensely enjoyable.  The pros outweigh the cons, and seriously, I cannot reiterate enough how gorgeous it looks.  Check it out, chums.

Recommended if:

  • You like Dick being Nightwing.
  • And you like Bruce and Dick working and relating well with each other.
  • You love Nick Derington and Dave Stewart’s work.
  • So many ninjas.
  • And Green Lanterns.

Overall: My least favorite issue to date, but it’s still plenty good.  Some of Bendis’ dialogue is starting to sound the same across every book he writes, not just this one, and it’s… kind of twee.  Still, there are some great lines here, and I love how he characterizes Bruce as a swashbuckling adventurer as opposed to a grim and dour creature of the night.  Throw in the resplendent visuals from Derington, Stewart, and Peteri and this is one of the best-looking Batman books out there right now.  And that’s really saying something.

SCORE: 7/10