With the second chapter of The Batman’s Grave, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch speed things up while also slowing things down. How is that possible? Find out below!
Last month, I showered Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch with endless praise because of the quality of their debut for The Batman’s Grave. Seriously, they crafted one hell of an issue, and that made me extremely excited for this chapter, but if I’m being completely honest… I feel a little let down by this issue after my initial read.
The Batman’s Grave #2 is anything but bad, but it does feel like a step down from the debut. Where the first chapter really packed a punch and threw us into a story, this issue spends a majority of its page count exploring a fight or establishing threads for future plots. Because a majority of pages are silent or are spent setting up future plots, I can understand why readers may not respond as positively to this issue on its own. Once collected though, I imagine this will all flow incredibly well.
Last month, Batman started investigating a murder mystery. When aspects of the murder didn’t appear to be adding up, he revisited the scene of the crime to investigate a suspicion, and ended up finding the murderer hiding in the victim’s apartment. From here, violence ensues, which is where this issue kicks off.
As it turns out, the murderer, Eduardo Flamingo, is a character Bat-fans should be familiar with – he just happens to look very different here compared to previous depictions. Yes, in case you’re wondering, this is Flamingo, the flamboyant cannibal introduced in Grant Morrison’s run. He’s a lot less flamboyant here, but he’s way more creepy under Ellis’ pen thanks to his psychotic ramblings about being “lonely,” wanting to “feel something,” or, the cherry on top, “keeping their (his victims’) faces with him.” Because… You know… He eats the face of his victims. Fun. Also, are we sure this isn’t taking place in Florida?
Anyway, the first eleven pages of this book are dedicated to the brawl between Batman and Flamingo, and I wasn’t a fan of the action at first. I tend to read digitally in guided view, and for whatever reason, the transition from panel to panel felt awkward on my initial read. The flow felt off. However, on my second read-through (which I read in standard view), the brawl played much better from panel to panel. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. Maybe it helped create an overall energy in each panel, or perhaps it was because I’d let go of my initial expectations I had going into this issue, but, whatever the reason, the exchange played out much better and more intense the second time around.
Thanks to Hitch, Flamingo’s animalistic brutality really comes through on the page. In fact, one of the issues I had with the fight during the first read-through was that Batman spent to much time on the defensive. Again, on my second read-through, everything really fell into place. There’s no strategy to Flamingo’s violence, just erratic damage. I thought the panels where Flamingo slams Batman’s skull into the wall, takes a punch, then asks Batman to try again so he might feel something were especially effective. As expected though, once Batman assesses Flamingo, he manages to take him out rather quickly.
It’s from this point forward that Ellis really homes in on setting up plot threads for future issues. This is also another moment where expectation may have let some readers down. I know I came into this chapter thinking that Flamingo would carry forward into future issues, so to have resolve this early – for now at least – it really threw me for a loop. We get an exchange between Bruce and Alfred, where Alfred regrets all of his drinking from the previous issue, as well as a nice scene between Batman and Gordon.
While the exchange between Batman and Gordon starts us down a path of more detective work and investigation, what I really like about their scene is the way Ellis writes the two men and their relationship with one another. Too often, writers write Batman as the definitive answer, and Gordon as the meandering police officer desperately needing answers. Instead, Ellis writes them as peers working and bouncing ideas off of each other rather than just having Batman swoop in to “save the day.” It’s a nice change of pace, and also a nice reminder that Jim Gordon is damn good at his job – something we really don’t get to see enough of.
The real win of this issue is Bryan Hitch’s art though. Where the script for this chapter reserves any major punches as far as the narrative is concerned, Hitch continues to deliver incredibly beautiful pages and excellent world-building. His ability to create such a lived-in world, and the way he manages to progress the narrative through sequential storytelling easily makes him one of the best artists in the industry. I know people have expressed dislike for how he draws characters (particularly their faces) or action, but you can’t deny his ability to tell a visual story.
Just look at these two pages introducing Jim Gordon into the story!
Take a moment to really look at the way his panels guide you through the story he’s telling. While you’re at it, take in the incredible cityscape. Everything here looks and feels believable and lived in. Gordon, his mannerisms and body language, as well as Batman’s entrance. Each panel is very specific and the angle or point of view is also very specific. This is what makes Hitch’s art so incredibly. The smallest details can create the greatest impact.
For instance, look at the panel where Batman drops Flamingo off with the police. No dialogue is needed to express what each of the characters are thinking, or the tension between Batman and the police. All of this is established by having the police officer reach for his gun. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the smallest detail but makes a world of difference!
This, ladies and gentlemen, is masterclass work! Alex Sinclair’s colors are also stellar here. Again, we gain so much context and mood from the art. The way Sinclair captures the dinginess of the apart where the murder occurred, as well as the glow from Gotham’s lights during the rooftop scene between Batman and Gordon, helps elevate the script to something quite spectacular. So, yeah, while this chapter doesn’t knock it out of the park like the first issue did, there’s still plenty here to sink your teeth into!
- Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch should be reason enough.
- You prefer “classic” Batman stories.
While Ellis may have pulled his punches a little for this issue as far as the script is concerned, Bryan Hitch does quite the opposite. With the first half of the book featuring a mostly silent fight, and the second half focusing strictly on setting up new plot points, I suspect some readers may feel let down by this issue. I also suspect that expectations may get the best of some readers, so I’d like to remind everyone that this is only the second chapter of a twelve-issue story, and the technicality and quality of this book is top-notch! Just stick with it!