Alright, this is getting silly at this point. Justice League #52 is now the third pseudo-sequel to Alan Moore’s work that I’ve reviewed in a row! With this, Three Jokers and everything going on with Watchmen, you’d think DC is just desperate to milk every dollar they can from the jaded magician after hurting him with their shady business practices—
…Anyway, I bring this up because I wanted to take a moment to check myself. Both Justice League #51 and Three Jokers #1 received two of the highest scores I’ve given a book on this website – I wanted to consider if this was because of their merits alone, or on account of any nostalgia I might have for Moore’s work. I wouldn’t change anything I wrote in either review, but analyzing one’s biases is an important part of assessing the work you critique, and why you like or dislike it. So, has anything changed? Is this book – part two of “The Garden of Mercy” – as good as its previous issue, and does it stand on its own without considering what Moore wrote?
Well, no. But it’s still quite good! And its decision to focus entirely on Batman gives me something productive to talk about, regarding the nature of the character.
Because the meat of my review will be the message Jeff Loveness is trying to convey, I wanted to mix things up and begin my review with the art. Penciller Robson Rocha, inker Daniel Henriques and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr return from the previous issue, which is nice in and of itself; having a complete story across multiple issues without a major change in the art team is always a pleasant sight, especially when it’s of this quality. While I didn’t see as many panels that blew me away in this issue – and the horror of #51 certainly isn’t anywhere near as significant here – it’s clear that there’s a lot of talent going into these pages. Rocha effectively represents the power the Black Mercy holds on this planet with some seriously awe-inspiring imagery: visualized through the walking corpse of Bruce Wayne’s mother, Martha. Martha is a great vessel for the Black Mercy to manipulate Bruce – delivering honest truths for him to consider, rather than the usual lies that Batman will always see through – and Rocha realizes this to full effect. Honestly, some of the best moments in the book are simply the vulnerable looks Martha shares with her son. When you read this, you honestly get the sense that the Black Mercy truly empathizes with Bruce… and perhaps it really does.
This being said, I do think these pages reveal a weakness in Rocha’s art as well. While it’s nothing major compared to the quality of the rest of the issue, I think that his younger version of Bruce seems a little inconsistent, and makes some strange facial expressions throughout the issue. I think Rocha has an excellent idea of how the Justice League proper look, but young Bruce has features that are a little too malleable and awkward to go unnoticed – especially contrasting with the wonderful depictions of the rest of the cast.
That aside, you can really see the art team working their magic on some of the larger pages. While there are plenty great examples of clear and well-choreographed action from the League later in the issue, I still find myself drawn most of all to the imagery of Martha Wayne. It’s hard to portray cosmic horror and gentle sympathy in the same panel, but Rocha delivers it to an incredibly effective degree in the following panel. I also love the more subtle touch in the panel below, where the Black Mercy’s shadow looms from Martha’s figure. Overall, this issue has a wonderful collection of beautiful and well-constructed pages, even if they don’t always follow through with the foreboding tone of part one.
Of course, then we get to the crux of the issue, and the only thing that I’ll be talking about regarding the writing: the character study of Batman. While the issue has a few other plot points – it’s a shame that Wonder Woman’s escape from the garden was relegated to the sidelines – Batman’s dilemma is by far what the issue spends most of its time on. Loveness clearly took some time to ask himself what Bruce’s ideal life might look like, and his response is one that’s obviously well-thought out. While we’ve seen Batman’s ideal world before – many times, as a matter of fact – not every interpretation leaves Bruce’s parents dead. I think this is Loveness’ greatest strength in the issue: When the Black Mercy talks to Bruce, it portrays an understanding of him that not everyone has: all of Batman’s principles and values hinge on that loss, whether he likes it or not. It’s an interesting question – Bruce’s parents may have been good people, but would Bruce really be the bleeding heart he is in this universe if his parents stayed alive? Would he care as deeply for those who have been through the pain of loss, trauma and disenfranchisement? Loveness posits that this is vital to Bruce’s character, and that he wouldn’t truly accept an ideal world where that isn’t a factor.
Where the interpretation becomes a little more controversial – not that I’m actually mad about it or anything – is the implications the Black Mercy raises about Bruce’s life without Batman. Throughout the story, there’s an underlying theme that the existence of Batman may be flawed, at least in Bruce’s eyes. We see “Martha” presenting Bruce with a world where he’s able to lay down the cowl, and dedicate his life to solving Gotham without the guise of a mask. In this world, he’s able to reform villains – put characters such as Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy and Two Face on the path to reform and happiness, while enabling the Joker to be put away for good. In this world – unlike the worlds that Bruce sees if he continues to be Batman – he can end his life on good terms with everyone around him, happy with the work he’s accomplished in his life.
I’m not sure I agree with this.
I understand that this is meant to be Bruce’s fantasy – a world that might not be real, but is conceivable enough to make him happy and content with himself. This hasn’t sailed over my head – but it relies on the concept that Bruce inherently doesn’t like being Batman, which I’ve always had objections with. More and more lately, I’ve seen writers put forth the question of Batman’s purpose – his existence creates the villains he fights, drives Gotham deeper into crime and misery, and perpetuates everything he’s sworn to defeat. Is Batman destined to be a flawed concept? Is the best ending for Batman one where he steps aside, turning to using his money for public rehabilitation and restoring Gotham City?
This logic, to me, is inherently flawed. Putting aside the fact that he already does this in-universe, I take issue with the need to tie Batman’s effectiveness with real-world interpretations of vigilantes. The fact of the matter is, villains in comics exist because they need to exist to put books on shelves; and heroes will always be the only effective deterrent to these antagonists that companies like DC need to peddle, in order to make their money. It’s okay that this isn’t how the real-world works! Superhero stories aren’t real – they’re meant to be analogous, to provide people with messages and ideas that they can apply in life, without being 1:1 reflections or comparisons. Batman doesn’t need to put aside his cowl because in the real world, Batman doesn’t exist. Bruce Wayne lives in a world where the concept of the superhero is the solution – because the heroes of the DC Universe aren’t in control of the arbitrary conflicts that writers need to throw at them. In my opinion, Bruce knows this to be true. Of course, the ending of the story doesn’t make it clear that this is the solution – which is why I still very much like what Loveness has done here. But even so, I think the metacommentary about the cyclical nature of comic books is only effective to a point – just like an ending to Batman’s story would only work if DC allows it to be an ending. With this in mind, I don’t know if I love the thesis of “The Garden of Mercy” – but I respect its presentation, and the thought process behind it. At the end of the issue, Superman discusses the importance of change; if nothing else, he’s incredibly right about that. I don’t know if I welcome the ending to Bruce’s story that Loveness suggests here, but I’m more than happy to welcome some change.
- You don’t feel the need to read into a good story like I just did.
- Seriously, it’s a really good story! Check it out if you like an atmospheric look into what one writer might think about the state of comics, as well as Bruce Wayne’s mind.
- Martha Wayne is a character who you feel deserves more attention, as opposed to Thomas.
- You’re looking for an all-around interesting Batman story, masquerading as a Justice League
I think that these two issues have been my favourite Justice League issues in a long while – up there with some of my favourite moments with Snyder and Johns’ runs. That might be a little unfair, considering this is essentially a comic about Batman hidden within a team book – but it’s a story that commits to its message, and is confident in what it wants to say. I honestly wish we had more of it, and saw what each of the member of the Justice League experienced under the effects of the Black Mercy. I hope to review more from this team, who made an excellent first impression on me by calling out the tiresome nature of endless comic book conflicts.
Sorry, did you just say I’m about to review a Death Metal tie-in?
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch