Batman: Urban Legends #3 is fine.  All the way through.  In my entire time reading it, my feelings didn’t waver strongly one way over the other.  I liked some things, disliked others, but didn’t really move far past “that was still okay” either way.

The ongoing stories?  Yeah, they’re fine.

The new one-and-done chapter?  Yep, it’s (mostly) fine.

It’s these reviews that are the hardest to write, because if you love something you want to continually gush about it, and if you outright hated something you can find things to critique.  When it’s just okay, though?  It’s tough.

But for you, dear readers, I will try.  Valiantly, even. For that is my task, as a reviewer of comic books, and that is what I shall do.

…okay, enough of that.  Let’s get this done.

Cheer

It goes without saying that this arc is the headliner of the series, and with good reason: it has a great writer, great artists, an interesting premise, and what could amount to be a defining Jason Todd story.  So that it’s the strongest chapter this month isn’t really surprising.

I just… I don’t know.  There’s something missing with this whole title, and not just the “Cheer” story in particular.  Even at its best, nothing in Urban Legends has amounted to anything more than “pretty good,” despite the potential to be some truly innovative comics.

That’s how it goes this month, too, as Zdarsky, Barrows, Ferreira, Merino, To, Lucas, and Carey deliver a good chapter in a story that doesn’t really feel like it’s taken off yet.

I’m wondering if it might be due to expectations of what the story is trying to be and what it’s actually become?  Rather, “Cheer” was pitched as a Batman and Red Hood team-up where they try to bring down the drug trade, but instead it’s at its strongest when it focuses on character.  Because really, I think it works much better as a Red Hood character study– both in how his past shaped him and how he’s choosing to live in the present– than as a gritty, street level thriller.

The team-up aspect works, to be sure, as Zdarsky portrays Batman as a man of many layers, reacting to his circumstances in some often surprising ways.  He knows about Jason’s murderous streak in the past, along with his quick temper and impulsive side, yet still wants to believe he can be set on the right path.  Even when Jason kills a man, Bruce isn’t angry, or necessarily even disappointed.  Instead, he’s sad that his surrogate son keeps falling into the same traps and habits, with righteousness never more than an arms-length away.  It’s a welcome portrayal of Batman, who is too often harsh and quick to dismiss those closest to him, and makes Jason’s continual falls from grace all the more heartbreaking.

Even still, there isn’t enough there yet to make this a truly compelling arc.  The joys are found in the smaller moments, thanks in no small part to the visuals, which are frankly the best they’ve been the entire series so far.  Barrows, Ferreira, and Marino use some incredibly cool layouts, utilizing different panel shapes to give the story a distinct identity. I love the recurring motif of the Batsymbol panel in particular, and even when they use standard shapes, the flow never feels static thanks to some creative sequencing.  More than that, it’s the character work that really stands out, like a sequence where Batman gives a sucker to the kid Jason has been watching so he doesn’t get scared.  The gentle, caring look on Batman’s face is great, as is the look of joy and elation Tyler has upon receiving a treat (and the continued opportunity to “be a hero”).

Marcus To turns in some great work in the flashbacks, too, with some great, classic Batman and Robin looks.  Bruce has the yellow oval, while Jason is in the old school “pixie boots and shorts” combo, which looks absolutely fantastic under To’s pen.    Adriano Lucas’ colors really shine here as well, with Robin’s bright reds and yellows and greens popping out against the dirty, grimy alleys.  Couple that with some great sound effects from Carey, like a hard WHUD after Robin kicks a thug in the back, or a light TAK as Bruce blocks an angry Jason’s blow, and that’s further evidence that this is a truly top notch group of artists.

While my score may seem low, I can’t bring myself to raise it any higher.  This story is fine.  It shines in smaller moments, but like too many multi-part arcs, it has started to feel like it’s spinning its wheels.  It’s not that I don’t recommend “Cheer,” because I do, but I can’t give it the overwhelming praise that it should deserve, and that I want it to receive.  Maybe it will read better in trade.

SCORE: 6.5/10

Death Wish

If you want to get on my good side, then start your story off with a scene at an Asian food stand where some pork belly or noodles are being prepared.  To that end, “Death Wish” starts off on the right foot, with that very image.  There’s just something humble and romantic about food stands that appeals to me, and Asian cuisine in particular never fails to get my stomach rumbling.

That’s more than you wanted to know, I’m sure, but still.  Pork belly.  Rice.  Noodles.  Delicious.

If only the rest of the story was that good, because here’s that word again: it’s fine.  With what amounts to a duel of both words and fists, this story sees Batman and Lady Shiva go head to head to… you know, I’m not totally sure.  Like the title would leave you to believe, Shiva has a death wish, but why she comes to Batman to realize this, I don’t know.  She knows by now that he will not kill, yet she still tries to get him to take her life.  All because she feels that Batman has taken her daughter Cassandra, and doomed her to the life that she and the Dark Knight lead: one of endless battle, fighting, and pain.

That theme is pretty clear, to be sure, and Grayson makes the history between Bruce and Shiva believable, but there’s just something wrong with the way Shiva is written here.  Her voice just seems off, which muddies the waters quite a bit.  What she wants is clear, why she wants it is as well, but I never really felt like it was actually her end goal.  It felt like a plot convenience, not a true motivation.  A case of “show, don’t tell” it was not.

But still, it’s fine.  Despite the shaky narrative, I will admit that I was moved by the ending, and it has a really interesting visual style.  Albuquerque, Baron, and Abidikar contribute to an engaging, fairly exaggerated, but still clean aesthetic, and the story moves along at a decent clip thanks to the art and clear flow of lettering.  Despite the frequent action beats, though, the most engaging moments were the quieter scenes, where Shiva and Batman just sit, eat pork, and talk.  I would have taken eight to ten pages of that, and I might have loved this little short.  Instead, it’s merely okay.

SCORE: 6/10

The Caretaker

Here’s another story that has some good ideas, some great art, and some incredibly likable characters, yet it never really gets off the ground.  For the Outsiders, that comes down to one simple, obvious fact: this is a prelude to another story, coming later this year.  So while we’ve had three issues now where Black Lightning, Katana, and Metamorpho fight off a bunch of ninjas (which should push a million copies on that premise alone), we have the backdoor pilot for a new Outsiders book.  Or maybe it’s another arc, or a miniseries.  I’m not sure, because all we’re left with is “Continued in the Fall of 2021!”

It’s a case where I try to judge it based on what it is, and not what it should be, yet even then it’s not the sum of its parts.  Brandon Thomas throws in some nice banter between Lightning and Metamorpho in particular, though once again, I’m still not sure that I buy the Lightning and Katana romance.  This installment addresses it head-on, with both characters saying that they don’t feel what is obviously meant to be an attraction, but it doesn’t ring true.  I get that this has been building for quite some time, going back to the most recent Outsiders series, but I’m not sure that it’s actually needed.  While I’m willing to be proven wrong, a romance between Lightning and Katana doesn’t really add anything to either character.

Still, Dunbar and Guerrero give us a bunch of Metamorphos, and letterer Steve Wands proves why he’s one of the best in the business with some unobtrusive balloon placement and spectacular sound effects, and where “Death Wish” started at a food stand, this one ends at a noodle shop.  Nice bookends, intentional or no.

SCORE: 6/10

The Long Con

For the first two issues, “The Long Con” served as a pleasant surprise, a great way to end this book each month.  Now that we’re in the third issue, though, the same problem that plagues “Cheer” applies here as well: it’s starting to feel like it’s spinning its wheels.

Nachos aren’t on the same level as noodles and pork belly, but good effort.

After a wonderfully gross opening sequence where Ryan Benjamin and Antonio Fabela illustrate an amazingly disgusting men’s room, Grifter’s story tries really hard to move the plot forward, but instead feels like it’s going in circles.  Frequent mention is made of plot points that were previously revealed, like the unexpected deaths of several villains and Grifter seemingly being framed for the crimes, but nothing’s really done with it.  Instead, we have a lot of conversations between Grifter and Lucius Fox, and Grifter and Bruce Wayne, and Grifter and Chance, the tough-as-nails head of Wayne Enterprises’ security.  Credit to Saida Temofonte, as she makes even the most crowded pages and panels work with Rosenberg’s dialogue, which itself isn’t bad, just… a lot.  Maybe it was just my state of mind while reading it, I don’t know, but it just felt like a whole lot of talking without saying much.

The scene with Bruce and Cash is a definite highlight, with Bruce saying more in the words he’s choosing not to use, and Cash being kind of oblivious to it all.  Rosenberg makes Grifter a likable scumbag, which definitely helps this story move along, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s moving fast enough.  Like “Cheer,” it’s the smaller moments that make this arc work, like when Batman and Grifter fight some baddies, Grifter pulls some guns, and Batman dismantles them without missing a beat.  It’s an incredibly funny scene that speaks to both Batman’s hatred of firearms and Grifter’s general attitude.  The fact that I laugh multiple times in each installment makes each chapter of “The Long Con” feel somewhat worth it, I just wish it had a more evident sense of direction.

Last time: it’s fine.

See you, Space Cowboy.

SCORE: 6/10

Recommended if:

  • You’re willing to hunt for isolated moments of greatness among works that haven’t reached their potential.
  • You love to read Batman comics.
  • You want all the Metamorphos.
  • You like tasty, tasty food.

Overall: Batman: Urban Legends could yet be great, even though it’s not risen above “pretty good” in its first three issues.  I don’t dislike this book, and it isn’t exactly a chore to review, but it’s difficult to write about because it could be so much more.  With some truly amazing creative teams banding together to tell stories about Gotham’s heroes and villains, this should be a grand slam.  Instead, it’s merely okay, just a fine book.  Nothing less, and nothing more either, sadly.

SCORE: 6/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.