We’ve reached the third chapter of “Ghost Stories” by James Tynion, and this is probably my least favorite issue in this arc. To be clear, I already wasn’t crazy about this arc or this run, so… yeah…
The previous issue ended with Clownhunter going after Harley. Ghost-Maker going after Clownhunter. And Batman going after Ghost-Maker. Ghost-Maker ends up coming out on top by incapacitating all three. If you read “Their Dark Designs” or “Joker War” that you know that having Batman pass out is kind of Tynion’s thing. An editor should call him out on this… No, seriously. At this point, it’s the only way for him to create a “sense of danger” with Batman and it’s overdone.
Anyway, Batman, Harley, and Clownhunter are being held captive in Arkham Asylum, and Batman comes to before anyone else. As it turns out, Ghost-Maker purposely used a lower dose of anesthetic on him so he and Bruce could talk. Both of these developments are fine, but I did roll my eyes at the execution to explain them. I’ve accused Tynion of trying too hard before, and this is a perfect example of him doing so. Everything is just so overwritten. How he reveals that they’re in Arkham and the way he has Ghost-Maker explain why he gave Batman a lower dose on purpose is just way too much. Less is more, James. Less is more.
And to be well-rounded in my criticism by providing an example of what I’m talking about, a simple, “Where are we?” “You can’t tell? Hm.” “Arkham…” would’ve been way more impactful and less wordy. We don’t need the whole bit about the concrete and when this addition was built. It’s too much. The same goes for the whole dosage conversation. It really should’ve just been, “Good. You’re awake. I gave you a lower dose because we need to talk. Privately.” And honestly, if the writer doesn’t identify this, then the editor should. It is part of their job.
Now, look. I know this is nitpicking, but these are opportunities that pop-up time and time again in Tynion’s comics. It’s something that readers complain about time and time again as well, so if there are simple fixes that are this easy to correct, then correct them. It’s only going to elevate the book. Comics should be an efficient form of storytelling, and I always feel as though Tynion takes the longest possible way to get to his point. It’s almost as if he gets paid per word instead of having page rates.
As the story progresses, I find myself growing less interested in its developments. Tynion brings more of the Bat-family into the picture by inserting Nightwing and the Batgirls. Oracle is freaking out because Batman has been M.I.A. for six hours. Dick is fighting goons in Bludhaven but committing to come to Gotham immediately after (which Babs doesn’t seem to want for some weird reason), and the Batgirls are… Umm… Are we really calling them that? The Batgirls? This is definitely another scenario where DC decided to run with something without actually thinking it through, and Tynion tries to infuse some cutesy, meta dialogue that honestly just makes the situation even worse. I mean, it’s bad…
Anyway, as it turns out, Dick has actually seen Ghost-Maker before and he takes Babs down memory lane. I’ll go ahead and tell you now, this flashback serves no purpose. Dick has seen him. That’s all we really get out of this. But with Tynion being Tynion, he has to take pages to reveal this, while also regurgitating information that we already know – for example: Ghost-Maker trained with Batman, they have similar missions but different ideas of heroism, they don’t pee in each others’ territory, etc. The thing I absolutely hated about this is that Tynion actually tries to set it up as if Batman and Ghost-Maker are really close friends and always have been. Why is this terrible? I don’t buy it… at all. Nothing we’ve seen between Ghost-Maker and Batman defines what a friendship should be. Acquaintances? Sure. Adversaries? Absolutely! Friends? Hell no! It makes me want to ask if James has ever had a sincere friend. And I’m not asking in a mean way, but if you think the relationship these two have is a friendship… Then I actually feel sad for you because it becomes quite clear that you don’t have an understanding of what a true friendship is.
The scene only gets worse though. Yet again, Tynion overwrites and adds in context that Dick eventually went looking for Ghost-Maker later in life because he viewed Ghost-Maker as Bruce’s true “first partner.” He wanted to find him so he could “beat him up” and prove that he’s the better of Bruce’s proteges. What in the actual *beep* is this? Dick would never act like this. It’s… bad.
And this isn’t the only example of poor characterization. I mean, I’m still over here wondering why Batman is coddling Clownhunter! The guy is a mass murderer. Yeah, he’s killing bad guys, but he’s still killing. Batman doesn’t put up with Jason doing it and he feels responsible for Jason being and acting the way he does. So, why is he allowing Clownhunter to keep operating. He should have and – if written correctly – would have stopped him from the start.
The book wraps with Harley and Clownhunter coming to in Arkham. Their exchange with each other is grating, and it makes me wonder who actually likes Clownhunter as a character at this point? There are no redeeming qualities to him. It also just so happens that Ghost-Maker didn’t actually tie Clownhunter down like he did Batman and Harley, and he left his weapons so Clownhunter can do what he’s been wanting to do… Kill Harley. Is this exciting or suspenseful? Absolutely not because there are no stakes here. We know Harley won’t die. We know Batman will free himself and stop Clownhunter. Or… based on the way Tynion is writing Batman, Harley will free herself, stop Clownhunter, and then free Batman. Either way, it’s bad. And if Ghost-Maker feels that both of these characters should be dead, then why not just kill both of them himself? Tynion keeps writing Ghost-Maker so that he completely contradicts the logic that he’s created for the character.
*Sigh* I’m honestly ready for a good writer to take over Batman. We’ve had questionable storytelling for a while now.
There are way too many artists on this issue considering it’s DC’s flagship title. Consistent art is incredibly important, and acting as if it isn’t can be damaging to a story. Guillem March, Bengal, and Ryan Benjamin all deliver pencils for this issue, and none of their styles are similar. To make matters worse, all of their work looks rushed and messy. This isn’t the quality we’ve come to expect from the art on Batman, and considering this is a story that will continue past Future State, DC should have made more of an effort to deliver one artist for the arc.
I would speak to Bengal and Ryan Benjamin’s art specifically, but I honestly don’t know which artist covered which pages. One of them has panels that are somewhat reminiscent of Kubert, so I appreciated that from a nostalgia standpoint. The other’s art just didn’t look to be up to par. As for March, I tend to really like his work, but he’s been on a kick lately to see how grotesque he can make his male characters unless they’re young. I’m still trying to figure out what’s up with all of the lines are on male faces. There’s also some really weird action that he draws here. I don’t want to continue to beat a dead horse, but nothing about this is great.
- I mean, if you’re liking this, I’m not going to take that away from you. I think the run is riddled with brand-damaging problems though.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Tynion is not a good writer. He has a few tricks that work well for him, but mostly he just falls into patterns of gimmicks, overwriting, and relying way too heavily on exposition. He’s also proving that he’s not great at plotting a story. There are some core ideas here that are actually good. They’re definitely not original, but, thematically, they’re worth exploring… He just can’t seem to execute those ideas in a meaningful way, and that’s resulting in a lackluster product that DC is banking on.