Batman #103 can be deceiving. The front half of the story contains some fast-paced entertaining action, which can make you think this is a solid book. But the moment you actually pay attention to what’s taking place, you realize that there’s a quality issue that will ultimately become pretty damning to the remainder of the arc. That’s never good, and Tynion is, unfortunately, creating a trend of doing this…
This issue opens in the past. A young Bruce is meditating – or brooding, whatever – because it is the anniversary of his parents’ murder. He’s in the desert, and has clearly been training. Ghost-Maker soon joins him and what follows is the cliched rivalry that we’ve read far too many times. Ghost-Maker accuses Bruce of being too emotional and soft, challenges him, blah, blah, blah. It’s been done and it’s tired in every sense of the way.
To be clear, I don’t hate retreading territory in comics. When a character has had endless stories told about them for over 80 years, you’re going to see certain ideas resurface. Usually, you see a slightly different take or focus though, and that gives a sense of freshness to what you’re reading. But you don’t get that here. In fact, if you’ve read Batman comics from roughly the past 20 to 30 years, then you’re probably going to realize that so much of what we get here is a direct lift of what’s come before, but this story isn’t written or executed nearly as well.
This story, and Ghost-Maker in particular, isn’t fresh. I start reading this, and I immediately think of stories like “Tao” from Legends of the Dark Knight or Batman & Robin: Born to Kill. Both stories feature people from Bruce’s past that he’s trained with – or who are tied to his training – who are looking to get revenge on Bruce or Gotham. It often involves the antagonist feeling that they’re the worthy student. And that’s exactly what this story is. So, this, for me, fails to grab my attention in any meaningful way.
Moving on… In the present day, the story picks up where the last issue left off. Ghost-Maker is going after Clownhunter and Batman steps in to stop him. This is a part of the story that I actually enjoy. The action is stellar here, and it creates undeniable energy within the book. I also appreciate that Tynion makes it very clear that Clownhunter is completely out of his league with Ghost-Maker. It sets a tone, and I think it’s the right tone. Unfortunately, Tynion will completely fumble the idea of Ghost-Maker being a threat in just a few pages, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
As Batman battles Ghost-Maker, he tells Clownhunter to run. Oracle – who has been assisting Batman with a separate mission concerning Joker’s followers – begins to lose it because she can’t identify Ghost-Maker. By that, I mean that there’s no trace on her computers that anyone is even in Batman’s proximity. She begins to do her Oracle thing, but Batman shuts her down. It’s… a questionable choice.
Look, at this point, we’re used to Batman shutting the family out. If there’s anything that’s a tired trope in Batman comics, this is it. Beyond that, though, we just got Oracle back, so I find it an odd choice to completely discredit her abilities when we should be reaffirming them. This is Oracle. This is Oracle. She’s supposed to be one of the best. Portraying her as someone who can’t hold a flame to Ghost-Makers tech is a poor move. And this isn’t new under Tynion’s pen. He has a bad habit of making characters look worthless, just to make another character look good. It’s cheap storytelling and is often damaging to characters long-term. And while this specific example doesn’t necessarily damage the character, the fumble that I referenced earlier can… Again, more on this in a bit.
Ultimately, Tynion’s attempt to highlight Ghost-Maker’s abilities is an example where less is more. If Tynion hadn’t gone so far to say that Oracle can’t come close to stopping Ghost-Maker, and had he just had Ghost-Maker serve as a legitimate challenge to Oracle, it would’ve been way more effective. Instead, he makes Babs incapable, then act like a lunatic because of it.
As the battle between Ghost-Maker and Batman continues, the “too soft” argument resurfaces. This leads to the stereotypical “your emotions make you weak and inefficient” concept. Again, it’s nothing new. And, honestly, it’s been done much better nearly every time before. Whether it’s Ra’s, Huntress, Red Hood, or whoever… This has been done.
A subplot is introduced that Ghost-Maker stopped a handful of crimes. He brags about stopping corrupt politicians, abusers, etc in no time, with hardly any effort. I already know where this is going and dread it. Cue the “I’m better than you speech,” and yep… My dread is validated.
Batman eventually fires back revealing that he knows of each of the criminals Ghost-Maker stopped, and that everything he did will now prevent the legal system from actually putting them away. Again, this trope is old. But beyond that, I want to call out a huge problem Tynion creates here with this subplot. Ghost-Maker’s entire argument with Batman is that he’s inefficient because he doesn’t take permanent measures to stop criminals, which only puts criminals back out on the street. Every example Ghost-Maker gives of stopping criminals is an example of him doing exactly what he’s criticizing Batman for doing… If Ghost-Maker’s entire schtick is that killing criminals actually stops them, then why didn’t he kill these criminals? I’ll tell you why. He’s inept. And that ineptness only continues.
As the action between Batman and Ghost-Maker continues, there is a point where Batman says he’s beaten Ghost Maker every time they’ve met since Batman was 20 years old. So, not only is Ghost-Maker inept, but he’s also failed to ever beat Bruce in ten or fifteen years? When you’re trying to make a character seem like a legitimate threat, why would you do something like this? Do you know how to take away any feeling of a threat from your antagonist? You make it blatantly clear that they’ve never actually beaten the protagonist… If Tynion had left out that single line, then I would’ve actually felt like Ghost-Maker was a genuine threat, but now… He just comes off as some chump who desperately needs a reality check.
And this is where these decisions become damaging for characters. We just had Ghost-Maker completely make Babs look worthless, and now we have two examples of Tynion making Ghost-Maker look completely inept and incapable as well. This is damaging to your brand and IP! Where are the editors? These should be the notes that editors are giving their writers. Books are suffering because people aren’t doing their jobs and calling attention to minor flaws. It’s so frustrating.
Believe it or not, the book actually goes downhill from here. Tynion decides to shift his focus to Harley. Initially, I was kind of excited to see her, because Harley was my favorite part of “Joker War,” but she fails to live up to that quality here. We get a great little bit of Harley talking to some poison ivy hoping Pam will somehow hear it. This is a nice touch… but it goes on way too long, only to transition into a fight between Clownhunter and Harley.
For me, this is where the book really starts to spiral. I greatly dislike the fight between these two because there’s so much talking that isn’t needed. And the fact that Clownhunter still decides to go after Harley despite having someone trying to kill him feels odd. Characters are allowed to make bad decisions, but they should still feel like natural decisions, and this didn’t feel natural. This progression feels forced. More than anything, it comes off as if Tynion just wanted to throw his new toys in with Batman and Harley, so he just made this encounter happen – everything else be damned. And of course, Batman and Ghost-Maker’s brawl sends them hurdling into Harley’s apartment as well… Yeah… Super forced. Then, to end the issue, Tynion – after spending an entire issue showcasing how inept Ghost-Maker is – has Ghost-Maker standing victorious over Batman, Harley, and Clownhunter.
Look, this could have been good, but for me it isn’t. It’s in the details, and Tynion never seems to really think through his plot points. He doesn’t work his stories, and he doesn’t ask critical questions. Editorial doesn’t seem to be doing this either. So, while you may be satisfied with mediocre-at-best work, I am not. This arc started off with promise, but it’s quickly fizzled out for me, and I can’t help but wonder how long it will take the majority to decide that Tynion doesn’t really deliver on expectations for a title as prestigious as Batman.
Guillem March and Carlos Pagulayan deliver the pencils for this issue. If there’s one thing that I felt was a relative high-point in this issue, it was the art. There are plenty of pages that are engaging, and the fight between Batman and Ghost-Maker is a pleasure to read. The fight between Harley and Clownhunter, however, was quite clunky. There are too many panels with weird transitions, and it felt as though the focus was on how tongue-in-cheek the creative team could be rather than just delivering good work.
I’m also still not sold on the design of Ghost-Maker. It’s just odd and doesn’t seem to fit the Batman mythos. I also thought it was an odd decision to have Ghost-Maker wear a mask in the flashback. In fact, it forced me to ask a number of questions that pulled me from the story. From, “Why is he wearing a mask?” to “Am I the only one who is reminded of Daredevil?” and even “Wait… Is Ghost-Maker supposed to be blind? Is this a blatant Daredevil rip-off, just presented as a villain?” It’s never great when minor elements like this pull you from the story…
- If you’ve never read a Batman story where Batman faces off against an old ally/ training partner, then I guess this is for you.
I’m reaching that broken record period where I feel like I repeat the same core problems with a writer/story over and over again. Tynion appears to have solid ideas, but his execution of them is quite poor. I honestly wish I were an editor at DC Comics because there are so many minor notes that could have been made that would have elevated this issue. It’s almost as if the industry has adopted this mentality that comics can’t be as great as other mediums when it comes to storytelling/ quality, so they don’t even bother to try. It’s a shame…