James Tynion’s Batman continues with the fourth chapter of “Their Dark Designs,” and the best way I can describe the book is “safe.” It’s an enjoyable read, but despite some nice moments, the book fails to focus and deliver on its core story.

Spoiler

The Story

Since Tynion took the reins of Batman, we’ve been on a bit of a journey chasing down a mystery involving four Gotham rogues (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Joker), a decision they made in the past, and the consequences of those decisions today. The man behind all of this? The Designer. In response to his return, each of the rogues reacted in various ways to confront his presence. Penguin has hired assassins to wreak havoc on Gotham, Riddler is holed up in an old hideout, and Catwoman has tried her best to get ahead of everything to prevent Batman from learning about this “dark design.” What is this “dark design?” We don’t know. All we know is that it’s supposed to be the “perfect crime.”

Yeah, I know… That alone is worthy of an eye roll. Anyway, while the mystery of everything has been intriguing, I can’t say that it’s necessarily been done well. As expected, we’re getting quite a bit of dialogue and exposition – Tynion really does like to fill up these pages with balloons and boxes – but we’re not really getting any information or substance. He’s attempting to build a mystery, but he’s also trying to be coy, and rather than showing us events to force us to wonder what’s going on, he just keeps writing exchanges that are intended to build intrigue… but they fail to do that.

This chapter, unfortunately, follows that trend. While we finally get the reveal of the Designer (he looks weird), but we don’t really learn anything else about what was done in the past or what he plans to do in the present. We’ve literally gotten four issues of rogues freaking out, Catwoman panicking because she’s done something terrible in the past, and warnings of something bad coming. But that’s it. Even by the end of the issue, we’re still clueless. At some point, you need to give readers something to hold on to, and Tynion has failed to do that.

It’s a shame too because while I’ve already grown tired of the core plot, there are plenty of moments textured throughout the story that are excellent. For example, I loved the opening pages! Tynion made the decision to feature citizens and devote a full page of them just discussing Gotham, the state of Gotham, and what’s to come. I know this might seem minor, but I gladly welcome any chance to feature civilians because it helps ground stories and makes the city feel more realistic and lived in.

These specific civilians happen to be nurses at the Gotham hospital, and their rantings about the city are quickly interrupted when Penguin bursts in with his throat slit. This results in another strong moment for me. Penguin is written deliciously here by Tynion. It’s just a page, but it has everything that I want in the Penguin – manipulation, bribery, threats, and insults. I mean, having Penguin call the staff “imbeciles” was honestly the cherry on top of the entire scene.

The action here is also great, and exactly what I want from a Batman story. We get to see Batman hunt down and stop Gunsmith and Mr. Teeth – two of the assassins hired by Penguin. While the role of the assassins in this story isn’t necessarily clear – other than to be someone for Batman to punch – they do allow for some solid opportunities to feature Batman doing what he does best. The chase and fight with Gunsmith is near perfection, and the encounter with Mr. Teeth isn’t far behind. If I have one complaint, it’s that the battles are a little exposition-heavy as Lucius Fox gives Batman a full history lesson on each assassin while fighting them… And considering Batman has encountered them on a few occasions now, the timing of this just feels odd. But the action… Damn that’s some good work from Carlo Pagulayan! And while I’m on the topic of artwork/ fight sequences, March delivers some incredible work as well featuring Harley and Selina.

If I’m being completely honest though, Harley’s inclusion feels like nothing more than an attempted cash grab, because there’s not a reason for her to be involved at the moment. I get that Tynion is trying to set-up for the Joker War and a confrontation between Harley and Punchline (Joker’s new girlfriend – I’ll save my commentary on her for the next issue), but now isn’t the right moment. Regardless, she’s here, and she joins Catwoman on her journey to get ahead of the Designer to try and resolve… Well… Whatever it is she’s hoping to resolve.

As I said last week, the book’s biggest problem is that Tynion is trying to do too much at once. I get that he’s most likely on a short run until 5G, and I know he probably wants to make as big of an impact as possible, but he’s going about it the wrong way. He’s throwing everything and the kitchen sink into this story, but in the process, he’s failing to focus on the actual story. It’s almost as if he’s throwing shiny distractions our way to hide the fact that at the core of his mystery… He hasn’t actually established a mystery.

The Art

Guillem March and Carlo Pagulayan share art duties for this issue. I’ve frequently expressed my dislike for multiple artists on a run – much less a single issue – so I already find this issue a bit irritating. As readers, we deserve some consistency unless it’s a stylistic choice (as we’ll see with Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Doc Shaner in Stranger Adventures). This, however, is nothing more than poor planning on DC’s part. Also, with so many artists calling for more recognition of their work, DC needs to understand that setting that standard starts with them as a publisher.

Anyway, aside from my irritation of multiple artists, both men contribute excellent work. I’m not familiar with Pagulayan be he really surprised me! He was able to show off so many elements and techniques within a few pages, and it has me excited to see more from him. Whether it’s the opening scene with Penguin, the battle with Gunsmith – look at those speed lines and blurs (blurs might need to be credited to Tomeu Morey) – and the horror-themed confrontation with Mr. Teeth… It’s all excellent! I also feel as though he delivered the panel of the book! If you ever want to know what I hope to see in a Batman book, just look at the panel of Batman standing over a defeated Gunsmith! So good!

March also delivers, as expected. Whoever decided which artists would oversee which pages smartly chose for March to deliver the pages with Catwoman. March has done some creepy, horror-themed choices with Penguin and Riddler, while he’s drawn Catwoman – and females in general – in a more standard format. This decision allowed the book to flow a little better and helped the art match to a degree… for this issue. Unfortunately, once the trade is released, the art is going to feel as though it’s all over the place.

I can’t discuss the art without talking about Tomeu Morey. Colorists, I feel, are often the unsung heroes of comics, and Morey proves that here. He makes excellent decisions with his colors, and these choices help change the mood and tone of the book from scene to scene. From the darkness of the city, to the warm glow of the panels with Lucius Fox, to the jarring red wash of the encounter with Mr. Teeth… There’s so much to praise here!

Recommended if

  • You want a Batman story that feels like a traditional Batman story.
  • The more characters, the better.
  • Penguin calls nurses imbeciles.
  • March, Pagulayan, and Morey’s art.

Overall

There are a number of things that James Tynion is doing right with Batman, but in his attempts to provide fan service, characters, and some fun nods, he’s failing to deliver on his core story. Is the book bad? No. Definitely not. Could it be better? Absolutely. A little more focus and an approach of show versus tell could lift this book from decent to great. Thankfully, we get incredible work from Pagulayan, March, and Morey, and that really helps elevate the book to solid standards.

SCORE: 6.5/10