Last month’s debut issue of Batman: Urban Legends was one of my most anticipated titles to the year, at least so far. An anthology series, showcasing some great talent? Sign me up.
While the first issue wasn’t bad by any means, it was a bit underwhelming, especially for a single issue with a hefty price tag. Still, there was some good stuff there with lots of potential for greatness, so my anticipation for the second issue was muted, but still there. With three of the four stories continuing, this time joined by a short Oracle feature, how does the second issue stack up? Read on and see.
It’s weird: you spend most of your life actively disliking a character, wishing that they would have stayed dead, thinking that their demise was the best thing to ever happen to both them and other characters. When they’re brought back from the dead, you hold each story at arm’s length, with even the most heartfelt of praise having the caveat “but I still wish they had stayed dead.”
Then a story comes along where you think “okay, yeah, I still wish they were dead, but this is still a really good story.”
That scenario is both very specific and contains only a subtle shift in meaning at the end, but that’s precisely how I feel about Jason Todd.
That’s precisely how a lot of us feel about Jason Todd.
As a mystery, “Cheer” is good, not great. Zdarsky is great at both plot and characters, though the latter gift shines through more than the former. The hunt for distributors and manufacturers of an illicit street drug is just kind of okay so far, and it isn’t what’s keeping me coming back.
What is making me come back is how well Zdarsky writes Jason in particular, as I’ve honestly never felt more for the character.
Whether it’s in the present, as he’s taken on a mentor and protector role to a possible orphan, or as we see another traumatic episode from his past, you just… can’t help but feel bad for the guy. Even though he makes some huge mistakes– one of which happened, you know, last month– and is wracked with guilt over his shortcomings, you want to see Jason be better.
It’s a weird feeling, and I applaud Zdarsky, Barrows, Ferreira, Ferreira, To, and Lucas for that.
So yeah, this story hit me more on an emotional level than I was expecting, and I’m grading it on that curve. It’s plenty entertaining with some gorgeous page layouts and scenes, particularly the jarring beauty of To’s pencils and Lucas’ colors in the flashbacks that juxtapose against the grimy events that are depicted.
But it’s that emotional core that makes me want to come back. Time will tell if this ends up being a great Batman story, as you’d expect from this creative time. For now, it’s a moving Jason Todd story, and one I didn’t know I needed.
Ghost in the Machine
Like the Harley story from the first issue, this Oracle-centric short isn’t listed as “Part 1” of a longer story.
Unlike Harley’s story, this is truly a one-and-done, with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. For that, I’m thankful, and it definitely made me appreciate this one more than some of the other stories.
That said, it still isn’t great, but it’s not without its charms.
Clocking in at a lean 12 pages, “Ghost in the Machine” follow Oracle as she tests out some new threads and tech. Marguerite Sauvage has a great visual style, so even with pretty much every panel having a sort of flat, “static camera” composition (think Wes Anderson, shooting things up and down, symmetrical, and with the camera pointing straight ahead), the bright colors and great expressions bring a lot of personality to the story.
Which is good, because there isn’t a lot of action to go along with Cecil Castellucci’s script. Again, that’s fine, but the visuals do pick up a lot of the storytelling slack. Oracle tries to track down a malicious hacker named Vi Ross (get it?) and enlists the aide of Nightwing and the Batgirls, and even with some stilted dialogue (Dick, Cass, and Steph checking in reads like when you go around town in an RPG and talk to every non-playable character you can be find, just to see if they have anything interesting to say), it’s breezy fun. I particularly liked some of the portable tech Barbara has, like using an actual chessboard to visualize Nightwing and the Batgirls’ locations. Becca Carey uses some really cool caption boxes and word balloons, leaning into the cybernetic and technical aspects of the story. I’m always going to like a page that breaks down a character’s outfit and gear, and Sauvage and Carey work together to make Oracle’s “mobile unit” prototype fun and memorable.
As much as I love Oracle, Nightwing, and both Batgirls, I couldn’t bring myself to love this, as it’s just a little too slight and twee. Still, it’s relatively inoffensive and easy to read, which is better than the alternative.
You know what I came away thinking after reading the first chapter of “The Caretaker”? “That was fun, but it needed more Metamorpho.”
Well, friend, sometimes comics smile upon us, as we get a lot more Metamorpho this month.
Which is good, because Metamorpho rocks. Literally and figuratively.
…because he can morph into different elements, see. Like… like rocks. And minerals.
So he rocks and… is rocks.
You get it.
We continue with the ongoing saga of Katana and Black Lightning’s “will they/won’t they” relationship, which I’m not totally on board for. Worse, that’s what a lot of this story is devoted to, and while it’s not blatant and up front about it– as in, that’s not all this story is about– I still don’t totally buy those two characters having genuine, romantic feelings for one another. Undying respect? Absolutely. A physics attraction? Sure, why not. But an actual romance just feels wrong to me, though that could just be me.
Thankfully, there’s a ton of ninjas for them to fight, which is the true American pastime. Indifferent feelings toward the romance angle notwithstanding, I really like Brandon Thomas’ writing, like the fun back and forth between Black Lightning and Metamorpho. Max Dunbar and Luis Guerrero have a ton of fun with Metamorpho’s powers, and even manage to make hordes of identical ninjas interesting. Throw in some nice sound effects and unobtrusive lettering from the always reliable Steve Wanda and baby, you got a stew going.
The Long Con
I’m enjoying a Grifter story.
Like, really enjoying it.
Even if I’m not a huge fan of a character, at the very least I try to stay open to a new take or good story when it arises (see also: “Cheer”, in this very issue!) But man oh man, I am having a blast with Rosenberg’s writing here. The second chapter of “The Long Con” is more focused than the first, and a lot funnier too. I laughed out loud at least four times while reading it, which is… well, not unheard of for me, but still. You get my point.
The previous installment left us with a lot of questions, and we really don’t get too many answers here, but that’s okay. The story is tighter and more focused this time around, with some truly great back and forth banter between Grifter and Lucius Fox. Cole Cash is doing what he can in the job he’s been given, and while you can tell he doesn’t necessarily think he’s above bodyguard duties and employment with a major corporation, he’d still rather be out doing his own thing. Having Lucius serve as the straight man to Cash is a great move, and there’s some really great chemistry between the two characters.
It’s weird, because there’s quite a bit going on here, but it doesn’t feel like there’s that much story progression. The shocking ending scene from the previous issue is barely mentioned in passing, and even with a bunch of dialogue and banter between the characters I never really felt like there was forward momentum with the plot. Thankfully, Rosenberg is getting more and more comfortable with these characters with each passing panel, and Ryan Benjamin and and Antonio Fabela deliver some great set pieces. There’s a jarring car crash that leads right into a gun fight that’s deftly executed, and some great visual comedy sprinkled throughout as well. Saida Temofonte joins in the fun too, with some great lettering and visual gags too. I love how she elects to use some smaller print to signify the fading vocals coming from an earpiece that’s dropped in water. Great stuff.
With three installments left, there’s plenty of time for the big picture to come into view, but I hope it happens sooner rather than later. Yeah, I’m definitely enjoying the ride so far, I just hope this story has some substance in the end.
- You want multiple solid Batman stories in one place.
- You like Jason Todd.
- You’re willing to like Jason Todd.
- And also Grifter.
- Metamorpho? Yes please.
Overall: A stronger collection of stories than we got last month, Batman: Urban Legends #2 strikes some more emotional notes than the first issue. Time will tell if the longer arcs amount to great stories in the end, but for now, each creative team is approaching the characters through different lenses. You have a sympathetic look at Jason Todd, a quirky celebration of Barbara Gordon’s genius, some romantic tension between two Outsiders, and about two degrees removed from a buddy comedy starring Grifter and Lucius Fox. It’s an odd combination, but it works, so here’s hoping the stories just get better going forward.