Aha! You thought it was Josh reviewing this book, but it was me, Nick!

I’ve been given the opportunity to review Batman’s biggest comic, and I have instantly let the power go to my head. Look forward to extensive plugs for my twitter, random non-sequiturs about how great The Last Jedi is, and-

Okay, no. Calm down. It’s 3am and you’re tired enough as it is.

To clarify, this is not a permanent switch. Josh is currently indisposed with work – the coronavirus is taking a significant toll on everyone here in different ways. We’re all doing our best and reaching out to support each other, so this week you’ll be hearing a slightly different perspective on this run! Josh will likely chime in with his thoughts in the comments, if you’re looking for his opinion on where and how the story is developing.

I, personally, have a slightly more forgiving take on how Tynion has been tackling Batman so far. Of course, I understand a lot of what Josh is saying: I myself have mentioned in previous reviews that I find Tynion to be a little too verbose for his own good, often to the detriment of the issue’s effectiveness. That said, this comic’s direction intrigues me. While I did read comics before the beginning of the New 52, that reboot was when I was really able to get my foot in the door; it’s strange to think of that event being nearly ten years ago now. Since then, we’ve only had three writers on Batman: Scott Snyder, Tom King, and James Tynion IV. Both Snyder and King, whether you love them or hate them, have arguably left incredibly powerful impacts on the character during their tenure… but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they have been products of two authors with completely different intentions for the character. Tynion’s issues may seem a little generic by comparison – and to some extent, I do feel they are – but they also do a good job at bridging both runs into a logical continuation (and possibly conclusion) of their stories.

To give a little example of what I’m talking about, I refer to Bruce Wayne’s current initiative to revitalize Gotham, and how it links back to a scene from the very first pages of Scott Snyder’s Batman:

Combining that with treating Catwoman as essentially the story’s Robin, carrying through the relationship that King spent so long establishing and defining, it feels like Tynion has been able to connect both runs, which helps to make this feel like the next step in a larger story. That’s why I’ve been enjoying the arc so far! I’m interested in seeing where it goes, and if it’s going to lead into this mythical 5G reboot I keep hearing is on the horizon.

Oh, you want my thoughts on this issue? Sure!

Eh.

I know, I know, kind of underwhelming after praising Tynion like that. Still, the nature of this issue doesn’t lend well for anything particularly spectacular: the characters themselves state that this chapter is meant to set the chess pieces in place for a larger game. If I’m honest, you’d kind of think when you’re six issues into a story, said larger game would begin revealing itself by now. Most of the book, however, is dedicated to following along the action set up in the previous issue, with Batman continuing a fight with Deathstroke that feels like it’s gone on forever, with Catwoman and Harley Quinn outsmarting and escaping the Designer’s trap.

I have to say, while I actually do like the Designer – he reminds me of something out of a Zorro or The Shadow story, a villain that’s been around for longer than Batman has – I still don’t think he’s earned the severity that Batman approaches the situation with. The stakes are high, sure: Batman could lose his fortune (again), his relationship with Catwoman (again), and his life (again). But there’s a level of anxiety that Batman has about the Designer that doesn’t feel like its completely justified. Bruce speaks to thinking outside the box to outsmart this new villain, yet that’s hard to do when it feels like Designer has a copy of Tynion’s script. Sure, when you have the ability to know what plot points and clichés will happen in the next issue, you seem smart and threatening… but I have yet to really see a demonstration of what that means for the characters, outside of Catwoman being kind of scared of the guy.

There’s a lot of talking in this issue, yet there’s not a lot to say. Harley manages a few funny one-liners, and Deathstroke attempts to take a moral high ground against Batman, as if to imply Batman is in any way the same problem that Slade represents. The fact that Batman agrees with this assessment is all the more baffling. Finally, there’s a prologue regarding the Joker as he continues to prepare for the upcoming Joker War story arc, which actually does seem promising! Joker is well-written, and his presence on the wings of this plot gives an ominous aura to his actions and dialogue. I actually am looking forward to Joker War as a result… but this isn’t Joker War. This is His Dark Designs, and until we actually see those designs and what they mean, I doubt I’ll be blown away.

The art, however, does blow me away, because this is that good shit.

I understand why Josh has complaints about rotating artists – not to mention new artists entirely – but for me, it’s hard to mind all that much when each artist brings such style and quality to the table. Wisely, each artist follows their own group of characters: Rafael Albuquerque handles Batman and Deathstroke, Carlo Pagulayan handles Catwoman and Harley, and Jorge Jimenez tackles the Joker prologue. This is a great call, because it gives each penciller the opportunity to play to their strengths! Albuquerque’s angular and blocky style gives impact to the fight between Bruce and Slade, while Pagulayan’s smoother and more streamlined art fits well when we watch the two Gotham City Sirens pouncing around the page. Meanwhile, Jimenez is setting himself up to be the face of Joker War by tackling the prologue. I’ve been told he plans to draw every issue of that book, and I hope he’s up to the challenge: I love his style, and I hope he’s able to pull it off under such a tight schedule!

I spoke in my Justice League review that great art can really elevate a story beyond what it was in script form, and that continues to be the case here. I’d argue that the art is even better in this issue, with a vibrant display of three pencillers bringing their A-game to this book… yet the story frustrates me enough for it to only provide me entertainment on a visual level. It’s not that it’s bad, by any means, but I’m ready for us to hurry up and get to the point.

Recommended If…

  • You want a book that does a good job of bridging the gap between Snyder and King’s work on Batman.
  • Artists at the top of their game in a mainline action book are enough to keep you entertained.
  • You’re looking forward to where this is going – so am I!
  • Punchline is your favourite character, for some reason. No, she isn’t seen in this issue, but she does get a cameo over the phone, which I imagine must be important for whatever galaxy brain is buying the Punchline issues for such a high price on ebay. We don’t even know her personality guys, calm down.

Overall

Yes, I did just spend my one chance reviewing the mainline Batman comic to be negative – but I promise my intentions are constructive! I like this book – genuinely like it – and want to see it keep momentum, and to see it improve as it continues. While Tynion’s Justice League could get a bit exhausting from the constant high stakes, I’m hoping he can take the lessons he learned from that book and apply them here: if it pays off, we might have something special on our hands. Thanks so much for paying attention to me for a little while – back to Josh!

Score: 6.5/10

——————

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.