I was really disappointed when all the new dark knights got killed off in Death Metal #2. I liked some of those characters and wanted to see more of them. I think it’s cool that this anthology is devoted to some of those characters, but I also think it’s a bit odd that their origin stories are presented after they’ve been killed off. That said, what really matters is the quality of these stories, so let’s get down to business and have a look.
The Darkest Knight in “I Am Here”
The first story presents the origin of The Batman Who Laughs, and shows how BWL gains Dr. Manhattan’s powers and turns into The Darkest Knight. Now, I’ll just be honest here: I don’t like this story. The main reason is that this boils down to a mere recap of events that I’ve already seen unfold elsewhere. As such, it feels like backtracking, instead of pushing the story forward. Of course that is by design, and I think that this can even be useful for new readers who have not read the original Metal series, the Batman Who Laughs miniseries, and even Hell Arisen. In that sense, this story does a good job of bringing newcomers up to speed. However, the writing is so dry and factual and filled with cliché phrases that I’ve read in countless Batman comics that it becomes quite the struggle to get through this. The fact that it consists of mainly double page splashes and exposition isn’t doing this piece any favors, either. It barely reads like a comic to me, because there are hardly any panels and therefore not a lot of sequential art. This story gets more interesting once The Darkest Knight talks about how he turned a Bruce Wayne into “Batmanhattan” so he could use him to gain Manhattan powers himself, but we don’t actually see this unfold: at best we catch mere glimpses of this scenario in both the art and the writing. Perhaps this story would have worked better if it actually showed how this other Bruce Wayne was messing around with the Manhattan powers, and then got killed by BWL, instead of just giving us a highlight reel.
As for the art, I find it somewhat disappointing. The compositions of the double page spreads are all right, some even really good, although some are just cluttered with characters. What strikes me, though, is that the inking is a bit hit or miss. The shadows are rendered well, but sometimes characters’ faces end up looking wonky because of thick inking. Speaking of which, Daniel draws long, thin faces as well, which makes some of these characters look even weirder. That said, Maiolo has a beautiful color palette; his work is layered and makes every page shine—he truly is the saving grace of this first story. Outside of his colors, there just isn’t a whole lot here to enjoy—at least not for me.
Robin King in “King of Pain”
The second story starts with a monologue from Alfred, and for a moment I was worried that this would turn out to be another drawn-out piece of exposition like the previous story, but that’s not the case. This story has okay pacing and a clear, solid structure. It starts with a cold open where we find Alfred preparing for a battle with the Robin King in Wayne Manor, and then shows the past events leading up to the present. Those events show us the origin story of the Robin King.
I like most of the dialogue and Rossmo’s art is creepy and fits the tone of the story really well. However, I’m constantly wondering if the events depicted here are meant to be taken seriously or if it’s meant to be dark humor. Everything that happens is so edgy, over-the-top and twisted to a point that I find it really hard to take any of this seriously, whereas the story (mostly) succeeds if I read this as a dark comedy or satire. It’s like this story wants to be horror, but since the Robin King comes across as a caricature rather than a well-developed villain, nothing here is actually scary.
Moreover, what I dislike about this story is that it’s just another variation on the Batman origin. Granted, this particular variation I haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t make it original or interesting. Elements such as Crime Alley, the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and Joe Chill are still present. Even though these elements have been used a little differently, the fact of the matter is that there are now so many variations on the Batman origin story that the act of creating yet another variation in and of itself isn’t original anymore. At this point, I’m honestly really tired of these origins because it’s rehashing the same old concept over and over again. That isn’t good writing. That’s just repetition.
B-Rex in “Batmanasaurus Rex”
This one is perhaps the most disappointing of all. When I saw the first page for the first time, I was into it. The setting is Arkham Asylum. The layout and the panels create a sense of claustrophobia, and the gruesome imagery sets the tone for a good slasher/horror story as Igle knows what to show and what to leave out. For example, he draws only one of B-Rex’s legs in one panel and renders it ink-black, which is then followed by a panel where we see only blood splattering on the floor. The panic on the characters’ faces adds to the scary tone, and it’s great. But then I flipped the page, only to find that the story ends there. Yes, the final image of B-Rex looks really cool, and Sotomayor’s polished colors are excellent, and I like most of the lines that Bennett writes, but there just isn’t much of a story here. It reads like the setup for a story, which then immediately gets cut off, and it’s very unsatisfying. This comic ends up feeling pointless, especially since there’s not much context surrounding the events depicted here. It’s just B-Rex stomping through Arkham, killing everyone. That’s literally all this is, and unfortunately it’s entirely forgettable.
Castle Bat in “This Man, This City”
This has to be the best story in the anthology. Since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll just talk about some of the technical aspects, although a little bit of context is warranted. Basically, this is the origin story of Castle Bat—it shows how this Bruce Wayne becomes Gotham by performing a sinister, magical ritual that involves human sacrifice.
I absolutely adore Francavilla’s artwork here. The colors are beautiful and vibrant and yet still fitting the tone of the story. Francavilla knows when to use lots of color, and when to stick to a main color scheme. The variation in color becomes a story device, in a sense, as the colors are more muted and less varied at the start, and become brighter and more varied toward the end. The artwork itself makes great use of close-ups on characters’ faces at the start, and zooms out more and more as the story progresses so as to show how Bruce becomes one with the entire city. Tieri’s writing is also on point: the dialogue isn’t as over-the-top or edgy as previous stories, and it’s crisp and concise and emotional all at the same time. This is just a damn good comic strip, and definitely worth your time!
Batmobeast in “Road Warrior”
I have mixed feelings about this one. I enjoy the artwork a lot: the layouts are clean, and the art style is perfect for a dystopian future type of scenario. I also admire how detailed the art is; for example, the cars and robots in the Batcave, as well as the cave itself, are designed really well and Spicer’s colors blend seamlessly with Johnson’s pencils and inks. However, a world in which Batman acts like a control freak who wants to protect and control Gotham by using big, armed robots, which then leads to people rebelling against him, isn’t the most original scenario, either.
It’s similar to the B-Rex story in terms of structure as it’s also a two-page strip. But, contrary to the B-Rex story, this one actually feels like a setup for a cool adventure comic. In fact, I wish this was longer, as the idea of a monster truck batmobile with the mind of Bruce Wayne is so weird and offbeat that I can’t help but like it.
Baby Batman in “I Shall Become…”
The final story in the anthology is about Baby Batman. While I think the one about Castle Bat is the best, this one is actually my favorite because it’s the most unique of all of them. The premise is that Bruce Wayne’s mind ended up in cyberspace after his body died, and at the very start of this strip it’s being downloaded into a new body that Bruce had prepared for this exact situation.
Ennis writes a witty, funny, almost slapstick two-pager about Bruce Wayne’s mind getting stuck inside a baby. The inner monologue is pulpy and there’s some good comedic timing here. Jones draws an adorable baby, and she enhances the comedy by focusing a lot on close-ups on the baby’s confused expressions. Bellaire’s colors, as always, are top-notch and a great fit for Jones’ art. In the end, this final story is nothing more than just a two-page gag, but it’s great and the most unique of all the stories in this issue.
- You love anthology comics.
- You must own every Death Metal.
Overall: Most of the stuff here is lackluster and some of it is outright boring and a chore to get through. These aren’t must-read stories at all and can easily be skipped. But the story about Castle Bat is a real gem, and the story about Baby Batman is a lot of fun, so at least this issue ends on a high note.
Total score: 6.5
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.