Well, thank God for Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch for delivering a well-thought, meticulously planned Batman story that has actual stakes and consequences, and focuses on telling a good story rather than relying on shock value and gimmicks.
The Batman’s Grave has definitely been a slow burn, and there have been moments where I’ve found myself wondering, “Where is this going?” But over time, we’ve been fed characters and plots that have slowly started to fall into place. This issue, in particular, does a lot to reveal the connection of the pieces and the various threads, while also setting up a push for the title’s climax.
And this push towards the climax isn’t something that Warren or Hitch waste time with here. Following the conclusion of last month’s issue where Batman took Colonel Sulfur to a secret location to get some answers, I thought this issue would indulge in the moment a bit. It doesn’t. Instead, Warren hastily gets Batman the information that’s needed and moves on to reveal the main villain here – or what we can expect to be the main villain anyway. The creative team has done a solid job in subverting expectations by revealing more and more layers to their plot, so it’s definitely been an interesting ride.
Anyway, with the real threat finally revealed, Batman can finally focus and work to determine his motive, his intentions, and how to stop him. We don’t get a code name for our antagonist, but we do learn that it’s Robert Anthony… I inserted a dramatic pause as if this is a big reveal, but it isn’t. That’s not a bad thing though. It creates an inherent mystery for the character, and it’s revealed that his father, Lee Anthony, was a famous serial killer known as the “Good Thing Killer.” As GTK, Anthony was believed to be responsible for over seventy-five murders… So, what’s the motivation for his son?
Well, after Lee Anthony was discovered to be the GTK, he ended up dying in a firefight with police. He wasn’t the only casualty either though, as his wife ends up being an innocent bystander who is killed as well. And, if you haven’t started to put the pieces together, this whole story, so far, is about Robert Anthony exacting revenge against law enforcement.
The great thing about this book is that Ellis and Hitch never paint their villains or heroes as simply “black and white.” There’s moral ambiguity in every character – with the exception of Gordon, maybe – but the extent of the moral ambiguity ranges drastically. For example, when Anthony comes face-to-face with Batman, he admits he’s a murderer, but praises Batman for not calling his victims “innocents.” This is a throw-away line, but very telling in regard to the mindset of this individual. This also falls on the heels of two police officers corroborating a story that will provide a “reasonable excuse” for them to kill Colonel Sulfur… So, I can somewhat understand the villain’s motivations. I don’t agree with them, but I understand his anger and hatred.
Anyway, as the plot threads fall into place, it does create some questions as to what Arkham Asylum has to do with all of this? Also, how, exactly is the cult from previous issues involved? They’re great questions and ultimately create an even greater sense of urgency for some answers and resolution.
The book ends with a relatively surprising twist, and it definitely has me looking forward to the next chapter… Especially considering the task that Batman signs himself up for!
As I referenced earlier, the pace is slow, but the actual craft of Ellis and Hitch is so good, that it more than makes up for it! It’s clear that The Batman’s Grave will benefit tremendously once it’s collected in a trade. This is a story that’s meant to be read within a short period of time, as opposed to reading a small portion of it each month. That’s not to say it’s a bad read monthly, but I imagine many people dropped the title because they didn’t have much patience for the book to lay its groundwork, whereas that problem wouldn’t be as prevalent when you have every issue at your fingertips.
I honestly wish I were an artist so I could speak to the details and techniques, specifically, that makes this book so good! I mean, Hitch is absolutely killing it! Without even getting into technicalities of actual technique, the mere look and presentation of this book are incredible. There’s so much detail in every page and setting, that he creates a realistic, lived-in world. There are so much texture and personality to the environments that it elevates the script in many ways.
Also, the “acting” that Hitch executes is top-notch. I’ve come to cherish these scenes with Alfred – especially since he’s gone in main continuity – but getting to have such a class creative team deliver here only makes it better. It’s incredible art with an incredible script. What more could you ask for?
By the way, Hitch has been sharing the inks of some of these pages on Twitter. I highly recommend you check them out because they’re breathtaking. He also sells his original art, and I fully plan on buying some… I had my mind made up, but then I saw other pieces he had for sale, and now I’m trying to determine which one(s) I like the most.
- You want a well-written story.
- This is a slow burn with actual payoffs.
- Characters are front and center here, and the plot is there to fill the gaps.
The Batman’s Grave should be used as a reference point when looking to identify good writing and good art. I often discuss the craft of writing and how it’s more than just telling a story, and this book helps make that case. Ellis and Hitch have developed such an incredible piece of work, and I often find myself reading he issue two or three times, soaking in the pages and panels because there’s so much that can be mined from it. As always, excellent work all around!