I want to start off by saying that I’ve read a lot of Batman comics in my life. In fact, I’ve probably read most of them by this point… A number of those more than once. And… James Tynion’s Batman is probably the least enjoyable run I’ve ever read. I’m not joking. I’m not exaggerating. There is just so much bad here, that I don’t find it redeemable.
I’ve talked about damaging brands in the past, and DC needs to be very careful that they’re not doing that here.
Before I start diving into specific plots, I want to address the elephant in the room. Exposition. Tynion is notorious for delivering pages of exposition – I can’t tell you how many of us at the site have criticized “show, don’t tell” while reviewing his books – and this issue is chock full of it. In fact, that’s essentially all this issue is. Exposition. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that this is the only way Tynion knows how to write. Technically, structurally… it’s bad. It’s lazy.
If you write something and you get the same emotional experience reading it as you would if someone just summarized what happens, then you didn’t write the book very well. And this issue does just that. It reads as if someone is summarizing everything that has happened and is happening. There are so many different plot threads moving forward or getting introduced, and I don’t care about any of them, nor do I think they’re executed well.
The main plot involves Scarecrow and spans two different time periods – the present and the recent past. Since relaunching, both issues of Batman have kicked off with a scene in the present where Bruce Wayne is tied up and being tortured by a newly designed Scarecrow. Why? We don’t know. Scarecrow is trying to learn or uncover something, but it’s unclear what that is at this point. This isn’t a knock. I’m just addressing a fact, and we’re only two issues into this story. There’s still plenty of time to explore this.
Most of the story unfolds in the recent past. There’s an entire subplot about “A-Day.” What is A-Day? Well, there was a gas attack at Arkham Asylum that killed hundreds of people. We never get to see this unfold – we just hear about it. Because of this, the city is apparently in a panic. Nobody is leaving their house. Citizens are buying gas masks in record numbers. And things are apparently worse than they were with City of Bane and Joker War.
Naturally, I have a few gripes. First off, the story itself seems intriguing, and I wish we’d actually gotten to experience it. Had the events of A-Day unfolded in last month’s issue, I’d probably be pretty hyped for this story. But no, we glossed right over it and were told, “Oh, hey, by the way, this happened. It was awful. Tragic. I know it doesn’t seem so bad because I’m just telling you it’s bad, but it was bad… Really… Hand to God/ swear on my mother’s grave – all of that. Just take my word for it. I couldn’t execute it well, so I need you to just trust me that this is the worst thing that has ever happened in Gotham.” And I feel cheated because of that.
This isn’t a new trend either. Tynion has done this with every single arc he’s written thus far, and King did it with City of Bane. For the life of me, I don’t understand why writers don’t/ aren’t allowed to just tell their story properly. If the writer is to blame for this, then the editors need to step in and course correct. If the editors are to blame, then they need to get out of the way and let creators create. Regardless, this is a terrible strategy for storytelling because it prevents readers from getting invested. If you can’t invest in your own story, then why should we?
Also, the fact that you’re trying to convince me that an attack on Arkham Asylum is more traumatizing than both City of Bane (where the city was literally controlled by villains) and Joker War (where the entire city was on fire and people were getting murdered just for walking down the street)…. Yeah, I don’t buy it. If you want to say the compounding of events has the city on edge like never before, then sure. But to act like this is worse… Come on.
And one final thing… This whole, nobody is leaving their homes, gas masks are being grabbed up in record numbers bit… It’s a clear allegory for Covid-19. Personally, I’ve lived this reality for the past year. I don’t want my form of escapism to rely on the same concept for its narrative. I get the sense that Tynion thinks he’s being super clever here, and it all feels quite rudimentary.
Concerning Scarecrow, specifically, in the recent past, he’s working with Mr. Saint to help push the Magistrate into existence. Again, as I said last month, I think the majority of readers didn’t respond well to the Magistrate in Future State, so going all-in here – on top of many other questionable decisions – is a bad idea. But… That’s what we’re getting and DC doesn’t seem to care.
To help stir fear and push this “need” for the Magistrate though, Scarecrow is leaving actual scarecrows in people’s homes. This is also an interesting plot that’s getting trampled over by poor story structure. Jonathan Crane was found dead after the events of A-Day – again, another plot point that would’ve been great to actually experience – and because the scarecrows that are being left in people’s homes don’t contain any traces of fear toxin, the police and media believe it’s a copycat.
On one hand, I like the idea of leaving these scarecrows. I think it’s a nice change of pace to have Scarecrow create fear without having to resort to chemicals or toxins. I find it refreshing. Unfortunately, Tynion has such a heavy-handed “strawman” slant to this, that I can’t help but roll my eyes.
There’s also this entire narrative told through exposition where A-Day is explained, that Crane died during the attack, Batman investigated Crane’s body after scarecrows started popping up, and ultimately discovered that the body isn’t actually Crane but a look-alike that had prosthetics…
I… I can’t. There are so many things wrong with this. Not to beat a dead horse, but let these events actually unfold. There was no set-up. We didn’t get any detective work. There were no actual discoveries. And even if you look past the technical and structural problems of the issue – because I know some of you don’t care, but some do – the worst police officers or dieners would’ve caught this. It’s so bad. I understand suspending disbelief while reading comic books – I mean, I’ve read comics for over thirty years at this point – but some things are so bad that I have to call it out as crap, lazy writing. This is one of them.
We also have the subplot concerning the Unsanity. Aside from the God-awful name, once again, everything is just glossed over in exposition between Batman and Oracle. There’s also this whole bit about the mayor being anti-vigilante, so the Bat-signal isn’t on the roof of the GCPD anymore. Babs feels that there needs to be a signal so that the citizens of Gotham know Batman is still out there (Hey, I really like this!), so Steph and Cass will be assembling bat-signals on top of buildings to shine them at night, then immediately disassemble them and move to another location for the next night (And now I &@#%!*$ hate it.).
There are four pages of pure exposition dump between Batman and Oracle where get the rundown of the Unsanity, their leader Mr. Wyze, their plan, and how they’re going about their mission. You know what would’ve been better? Show don’t tell. Show Mr. Wyze recruiting people. Show him trying to convert people’s beliefs. Show him using the Mad Hatter tech. Hell, you could have all of this running throughout the first arc as single scenes before taking off later in the plot. But the biggest hang-up for me here is how Babs feels the need to rundown everything terrible the group is doing, then try to write it off by claiming they have “utopian intentions.” I… Again, I can’t… I can’t stress how much this book pushes the limits of my sanity.
And we’re not done! There’s still an entire subplot where Renee Montoya is revealed as the new commissioner. She’s suddenly anti-vigilante. There’s a tongue-in-cheek comment made by Batman about her being the Question. Which… she hasn’t been the Question in this continuity, but all continuities are cannon now because it’s the linear verse, but we’re not dealing with characters remembering different versions of themselves, so just like with the New 52, we, as readers, don’t know what is or isn’t accurate for a character, so we don’t know does or doesn’t hold weight concerning a character’s motivations, intentions, or trajectory, and (takes a deep breath because this is a very long run-on sentence)… that’s crap because context is important when it comes to storytelling.
Oh, and we have an awful scene featuring Harley that plays into her new role as Batman’s sidekick. I hate how this is being handled. I’m all for Harley reforming. I think it makes sense for her character. But I don’t buy her being part of the Bat-family for one second – much in the same way that I can’t believe Batman would let Ghost-Maker join the team. There’s also a heavy lean into excessive police force, and rather than feeling justified, it just feels forced. It could have been a worthy moment, but the execution is clunky at best.
That’s what everything really comes down to, though. Execution. There are some solid ideas here, and the execution is just ruining every bit of it. If DC moved forward with these plots, but had a better, quality writer on Batman, it would make a world of difference.
Jorge Jimenez continues on the art, and, as always, does a stellar job. What’s worse, is that I think that he is so good – even if I think he would fit better with other characters – and I don’t feel like he’s getting quality scripts to work with. I mean, when you have a talent as versatile and strong as Jimenez is with storytelling, don’t provide issue after issue of exposition. Aside from cheating readers out of actual stories, you’re also giving your artist the crap end of the stick in a visual medium.
This issue of Batman features a backup highlighting Ghost-Maker, and it is awful. Where I at least can find potential in the Batman story, I, unfortunately, find nothing redeeming about the Ghost-Maker story. The character is so over-the-top and so unlikable, and the elevation and use of his feels like nothing more than self-indulgence on Tynion’s part.
In fact, the entire Ghost-Maker story is nothing but Tynion trying to cram the idea that “Ghost-Maker is the coolest!” down our throats, when he is anything but. What’s worse, is that I can’t help but feel that Ghost-Maker represents so many things that James Tynion is/ wants to be/ or loves… And just like with Batman, there are some character elements that are ok. But Tynion is so desperate for you to like him (which, again, I think parallels both him personally and the character of Ghost-Maker) that he tries way too hard. I know I’ve said he tries too hard on Batman and that his books reek of desperation, but I had no idea how bad it could get until I read this.
From the opening scene revealing Ghost-Maker is bi by having him cut short a threesome, to the over-the-top lines trying to make us believe that he’s the best new thing since sliced bread (“You’ll be pleased to know that I solved six crimes during the last two hours of carnal bliss.” – He says this, randomly, to the people he was having a threesome with…), to the Skeets knock-off and the terrible exchanges between it and Ghost-Maker (“Don’t worry, Kon. I programmed you to fear because I, myself, cannot.”), to the God-awful villains… This is bad. Really bad. It’s a complete dumpster fire. Like, if I were buying this book, I’d go ahead and pay the higher price-point just for you not to include this story.
But, mainly, this doesn’t feel like a Batman character, or as if it should be connected to the Batman universe in any way. It feels like Ghost-Maker – as well as his villains – were for a completely different property, but Tynion got the keys to the kingdom and decided to just bring everything over. I hate it.
The art by Ricardo Lopez Ortiz isn’t much better either. There are some panels that look solid. He draws Ghost-Maker well when he’s in his costume, but everything else is either highly inconsistent, or it comes off like a corny, Saturday morning cartoon. I’m certain some people will love it, I am just not one of those people.
- If you like James Tynion as a writer, I’m sure you’ll love this.
- All you Ghost-Maker stans get a backup story.
Batman, written under James Tynion’s pen, is not good. Some of the plots sound awesome, but to say that the execution is question would be incredibly kind… Because the execution is terrible. And, I know… I’m an asshole. I’m not a real fan. I’ve heard it all. But I am a Batman fan, and I want to see this title succeed. That’s why I present the arguments that I do. I’m not going to kiss-ass with publishers for the sake of favorable treatment or for the sake of being politically correct. I’m not like other reviewers who think every book I read is worthy of an 8-10 score… Because they’re not. I’m going to share my honest opinion on why something does or doesn’t work. That is the reason I’m here.
Comic book characters are getting a larger, grander profile than ever before in media, and the source material – the things that general fans of the movies should be turning to – is regressing in quality unlike anything I can remember. Unfortunately, comics have a certain reputation, and despite decades of trying to change that opinion by providing quality books, publishers now don’t care and have an attitude of, “You’ll be it anyway because we’re DC/ Marvel.” Books like James Tynion’s Batman damage the quality work that’s been done over the past decades, and, in my opinion, only drive the stereotypes and narratives that non-comic fans have… And that’s a shame.