In the pages of the Batman/Superman ongoing the titular protagonists are up against The Batman Who Laughs, who has infected several heroes. To go along with the current Batman/Superman arc, DC is publishing one-shots to explore what each infected hero is going through. The fourth of these one-shots is The Infected: The Commissioner #1. The main questions I have going into this are whether these issues will actually add anything to the Batman/Superman story (either in terms of plot or character) and if these issues will be able to deliver a solid story that can stand on its own (even if it’s open-ended to tie into Batman/Superman). In this review I’ll answer those questions based on my own subjective views. Let’s have a look!
I’ve disliked nearly every Infected tie-in, so I had low expectations going into this final issue. But I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised. For starters, I think this issue has the best artwork out of all the Infected related comics, including the Batman/Superman issues. I can’t remember having seen Jack Herbert’s pencils and/or inks before, so this high level quality art comes out of nowhere for me and I’m very impressed. Herbert strikes a good balance between street level aesthetics and bigger, city-wide disaster visuals, and his art overall has a real cinematic feel to it.
Herbert is able to effectively zoom in on Gordon and Detective Conley talking on the GCPD rooftop. Even though it’s just a conversation between two characters, the way he frames panels from various angles, how he shows each characters’ body language, and how he alternates between close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots makes an otherwise static scene come to life. But not only does he frame his scenes incredibly well and does he draw realistic-looking characters with consistent anatomy and believable expressions, he also illustrates beautiful, detailed backgrounds. Gotham City looms large in the background; its skyscrapers tall and ominous in a massive storm; its roads busy with traffic—it feels like an inhabited city. I appreciate this, because a lot of artists don’t pay as much attention to the backgrounds, thereby neglecting to build an immersive world around their characters. Herbert accomplishes this, and gives the city character, and draws me into the story.
There aren’t only dialogue scenes, though. Batgirl is in this comic and there is a big fight scene between her and a few villains, including Anarky. However, as nicely sequential as the previous scenes are, I can’t help but notice how Herbert foregoes this artistic approach with the fight scene. Essentially, the fight is compressed in three panels across two pages, where we see Batgirl striking at her enemies and eventually getting hurled away by Blockbuster. It’s more of a collage approach, where Herbert opts to present us with snapshots of the fight. These snapshots don’t necessarily flow into one another, but are separate illustrations. Had the fight scene been fully sequential, this comic would’ve received extra points from me, because I always prefer fights to be executed in that way. Otherwise you end up with just a collection of characters in cool poses, which, contrary to the dynamic art that has preceded this scene, actually makes that fight scene look static. That said, the art is still of such high quality that the creative team gets away with this, and I understand the need to compress this into two pages seeing as the creative team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room what with their limited page count.
Adriano Lucas’ colors are as amazing as ever. This colorist is definitely worth paying attention to. His work is layered and adds definition and a gritty feel to the overall aesthetic—which is very fitting for a story that seems to draw inspiration from pulp and noir style storytelling. I especially enjoy the way he renders lighting—it looks realistic and vibrant and adds to the sense that Gotham is a big inhabited city. His colors also blend in with Herbert’s inks seamlessly, striking the right kind of balance with dark shadows. All in all, the art team renders a grim vision of a rainy Gotham City, and I would love to see these artists work on more Gotham-related comics in the near future.
The comic is written by Paul Jenkins, and while I certainly enjoy the writing overall, I think it does have its shortcomings. For example, the way that this comic opens is somewhat questionable. We see a group of villains that’s taken over Arkham Asylum, and while each of these villains looks intimidating and like they have a bigger role to play in this story, some of them, for some reason, never make another appearance. This makes me wonder why the creative team has included those characters in the first place. The same can be said for Black Canary, who only appears in a single panel.
Another problem that I have with this story is that it seems to want to be both a Batgirl comic as well as a Commissioner comic. I think it ends up spending not enough time examining Gordon’s infection because the book also wants to highlight Batgirl’s awesomeness and superheroism. I feel like this book only scratches the surface of what’s going on with Gordon, and so his ordeal remains somewhat superficial. Basically, Gordon is infected and wants to destroy Gotham because the infection is making him believe that the city can’t be saved anymore. Had the creative team taken the time to flesh out Gordon’s descend into madness by showing how the infection is taking over his mind, I think the narrative could have been a lot more impactful, but to accomplish that, the creative team might have had to sacrifice Batgirl’s inclusion, or at least cut it down significantly.
I want to bring up one last point of criticism before I end this review with some praise. Gordon has in his possession a “unicorn key,” which is “only to be activated for humanitarian reasons in case of earthquake, fire, or other acts of God.” There’s a button on this key that opens all doors in Arkham Asylum. Gordon has pressed that button and has freed the Arkham inmates. This ties in with the opening scene in Arkham, of course, but I don’t feel like this stuff is properly integrated in the story. We never return to Arkham. We never see the actual consequences of opening all those doors beyond what happens in the opening pages. Yes, it does underscore how Gordon has lost his mind, but, all things considered, it’s like the creative team has introduced a plot point that they don’t commit to, and it kind of gets lost along the way. Besides, why does Gordon have this key in the first place? How did he acquire it? Should the police commissioner have that key? Shouldn’t it be locked away somewhere safe? The comic never answers any of these questions and so it doesn’t feel justified that Gordon has this key and, by extension, has some control over Arkham Asylum.
That said, I like the dialogue a lot. It’s very pulpy, and that works well for a story about corruption and heroism. I also think that Jenkins succeeded at writing a corrupted version of Gordon that still more or less sounds like Gordon, rather than making the same mistake that most other writers working on this event have made, which is making each infected hero sound like a whiny, teenage edgelord that’s lost their unique personality. The conflict between Gordon and Batgirl is also a good way to end this comic with. No, there is no resolution here, but leaving it open like this hammers home that Gordon has turned to the dark side and that Batgirl is unable to do anything about it. This would have been an even stronger finish had the creative team spent more time fleshing out Gordon’s state of mind, but I think it still makes for an interesting, poignant ending.
- Batgirl is your favorite Gotham hero.
- You’ve been waiting for an Infected tie-in that’s, besides Scarab, actually worth buying.
- You are looking for stellar artwork to add to your collection—Herbert and Lucas knock it out of the park!
Overall: I really like this comic. The art is of high quality and even better than what’s in any of the other Infected related issues. From the pencils to the inks and the colors—this isn’t just eye candy, the visuals really shape an immersive Gotham City that draws you in. The writing is mostly good, even though there are some odd creative choices throughout that I end up disagreeing with, such as Gordon having this unicorn key and the lack of Gordon’s transition from incorruptible hero to infected commissioner. That said, I still recommend this comic.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.