Three chapters into The Batman’s Grave, and I’m beginning to think this book is completely intended to be read as a trade because Warren Ellis’ scripts don’t seem to be structured for monthly consumption.
First off, I want to apologize for my delays over the past month. I’ve been working six-day weeks at my day job since the beginning of November, and lately, those days have been twelve-hour days. I’ve been squeezing my work for the website whenever possible, but with the holidays and normal day to day requirements (cleaning, cooking, running errands, etc) it’s been a bit of a struggle. So, again, apologies for the delays and thank you for your patience.
Now, if you’ve been reading The Batman’s Grave, then you’ve probably had similar reactions and responses as I have. The debut issue was stellar! The second issue was a slight drop in quality, and this issue also left a little something to be desired. In fact, when I first read this issue on Wednesday, I didn’t care for it. Thankfully, some time passed that warranted a second read so I could finish this review, and I’m happy I did because I enjoyed and appreciated this chapter much more on the second read.
The title debuted with a murder that brought Batman toe-to-toe with Flamingo in a gruesome, intense fight before wrapping up nicely to lead into a new mission. Currently, Batman is working a new murder mystery, that is webbing out into other crimes and mysteries. It’s hard to determine what the central plot-thread is at this point, because it’s honestly not clear. Rather than tell a driving story, it appears as though Ellis’ intention is for this to be a character study above anything else, with a heavy focus on detective work. This might sound off-putting to some, but in a world where Batman is almost nothing but huge, bombastic, action stories twenty-four, seven – many of which looking to deconstruct the character in absurd ways… This is honestly a nice change of pace.
As I mentioned above, this issue involves Batman investigating another murder, while delving deeper into his process and psyche, while also exploring his relationship with Alfred. There is some decent action here with an unknown villain – seriously, your guess is as good as mine as to who this is since Hitch is changing character designs – that takes up a good chunk of the issue. The amount of action in the issue results in a quick read, but it gives the book a needed energy boost to help balance the conversations between Bruce and Alfred. The only problem is that it doesn’t feel as though anything substantial actually happens in this issue. We got a lot of information that will clearly be important at some point, but the context and payoff of that information doesn’t hold any impact here.
This is one of the major opportunities for The Batman’s Grave. Ellis is delivering smart, well-crafted scripts, but as I mentioned above, I’m not convinced they’re written to be consumed monthly via floppies. Part of my reason for saying this is the structure of the story for each issue. While there are some interesting things going on, there’s not necessarily a driving plot that’s pushing me to turn the page or even wait anxiously for the next issue.
Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily a fault. While this can hinder the monthly reading experience due to perception/ expectations, I genuinely believe that if one were to consume the issues consecutively or as a trade, the “opportunities” presented here wouldn’t necessarily be noticeable. I believe we feel there are shortcoming because the monthly publications force us to look at each issue as a complete or incomplete story, rather than a rising narrative.
Outside of this mere, potential problem, I love The Batman’s Grave. One of the highlights of this book is the relationship between Bruce and Alfred. Especially considering the state of Batman at the moment, nothing makes me happier than to see these two work together, banter, and ultimately, subtly care for one another. There are occurrences where I read an exchange on my initial read and it comes across as awkward, but the second read usually clears up in misinterpretations I may have had.
The character work continues into Bruce and how introspective he is when working – specifically how he places himself in the mindset of the victims or criminals he’s trying to stop. Now, I commented on my distaste for the extreme desire to deconstruct characters in a number of titles right now, and while this is deconstructing Batman to a degree, it’s more about understanding Batman’s process as opposed to “how dark, layered, and flawed can we make our hero?” Batman is simply looking at situations from every angle to ensure he’s considering every possibility and outcome… and, well… That’s what Batman’s supposed to be about: the detective work.
Ellis even goes out of his way to make this point multiple times in this issue. There are comments about how over 90% of Batman’s work is spent trying to research and figure things out. Many people probably find the idea of this uninteresting, but if you craft a strong mystery and journey through that mystery properly, it creates for an exciting, suspenseful, and engaging read.
This leads to the highlight of this issue for me – the actual work. There’s a throw-away line early in the issue that the suicide being investigated wasn’t actually a suicide because the gun fell from the victim’s right hand, but the victim was left-handed. This was an observation made by Gordon off-page, and something Batman runs with, but ultimately circles back to when determining whether the incident really was a suicide or a murder by suicide. I never have to question how Batman gets from point A to point B, it’s right there for me, creating an interesting string of clues to follow, leading to the potential of a much grander story down the road!
I can’t praise this book without praising Bryan Hitch’s art as well! I’ve been a fan of Hitch’s art for some time now, and while I’ve seen some people complain about his character designs, faces, etc, I wholeheartedly disagree. Hitch works in a way that maximizes the storytelling, and that’s easily seen on every page of this issue. If he’s not having the characters deliver a performance to enhance Ellis’ script, then his creating a story with his scenery, backgrounds, and the framing of his panels and layouts.
I will admit that some of the action didn’t feel as though it flowed well for me on my first read, but it was much better on my second attempt. Even then though, there were moments where I had to figure out how events unfolded to transition from one panel to the next, and stopping to figure this out ultimately takes away from the story… initially. Once I did realize what was actually happening, I appreciated the panels, so I can’t really say if this is an opportunity in the artwork or just a sign that I need to slow down when reading and really take in what the artist is trying to deliver. With a talent like Hitch, it’s most likely the latter.
I also need to praise Alex Sinclair’s colors here. While I’m a fan of the muted, darker tones he uses, I’m most impressed with his use of lighting. The shadows he creates, for certain scenes, make the panels feel more dramatic, but also add to the sense of environment that Hitch is attempting to create. Look at the page above with Bruce and Alfred. It’s a minor detail, but look at how the wash of light from the computer monitors bleeds onto the characters, but also how it creates a blueish filter for the entire room. It’s small details like this that lift books from good to great, and it’s one of the many reasons I’m enjoying the title.
- Batman doing detective work sounds like your cup of tea!
- You want to take in as much Bruce and Alfred exchanges as possible.
- It’s freaking Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch! Read the damn book!
The Batman’s Grave is the definition of a slow burn, and a story that is most likely hindered by a monthly release schedule. If you can get past the impacts that publication schedule has on the story at large and remember that this is still the rising action of a larger story, then you’ll most likely appreciate this book for the detective work, exploration of relationships, and overall character study of Batman, Bruce, and Alfred. If you’re not able to look past this, then you’ll probably want to trade-wait this title because the monthly issues will only feel slow and unimpactful for those seeking instant, bombastic gratification.