Batman: Urban Legends is back, and its fourth issue might have the widest range of quality so far. One story is the best installment of anything this series has seen to this point, and another almost gets there, but the other two have to settle for those words that I don’t want to have to use: “fine” and “average.”
That I’m not exactly on fire for this book– and haven’t been since day one– is a disappointment, but hey. There’s some great stuff this go around, and the issue starts and (mostly) ends with a bang. Read on, true believers.
Things get off to a promising start as we’re treated to a flashback to Jason’s early days as Robin, courtesy of Marcus To’s gorgeous pencils. I’m not kidding when I say that there needs to be a series called, like, Gotham City Chronicles that tells out of continuity, one-and-done stories about Batman and Robin’s early adventures, and To needs to illustrate it. Put someone like Tom Taylor or Paul Dini on scripting duties, a colorist like Adriano Lucas or Jordie Bellaire, and a great letterer like Pat Brosseau or Taylor Esposito and you’d make a gajillion dollars.
But I digress.
It’s kind of weird, because there doesn’t seem to be as much forward movement with the plot this time around, but it might be my favorite chapter of “Cheer” so far. There’s a lot of focus on Jason’s time as Robin, with some devastating recreations of scenes from “A Death in the Family.” More flashbacks means more from Marcus To, which is always a good thing, as he and Adriano Lucas breathe new life into even the most familiar of images from the iconic Starlin and Aparo story.
The story in the present, meanwhile, picks up where the previous issue left off, as Red Hood is ambushed by Mister Freeze. Zdarsky, Barrows, Ferreira, Lucas, and Carey (there’s a Batman ‘66-esque sound effect that filled me with utter delight) ratchet up the tension with a race against the clock, as Batman tries to apprehend Freeze after Victor gets the upper hand on Jason. On their own, the sequences are frenetic and paced really well, with some great action beats and layout choices. It’s all intercut with To’s flashbacks, though, so we see Bruce trying to prevent Jason’s doom in two different time periods… one of which where we already know the outcome.
It’s really, really well done, both from an action and character standpoint. The fact that the whole Cheer plot is on the back burner didn’t even cross my mind until after I finished it too, so less forward momentum this go around wasn’t a particularly damaging flaw.
I mean, sure, I want to care about the main story here. That’s been my main complaint with this whole arc, that I’m not really invested in Cheer. But then, maybe it’s all a MacGuffin. With entertaining chapters like this, and a consistently good take on the characters, this team has almost earned that. With two chapters left, let’s see if it pays off in the end.
Here we have a case of a story whose title may catch the eye, but probably wasn’t the best one to use in the long run. Yeah, there is a “Superman punch” that’s referenced in the story, but its relevance becomes clear so late in the proceedings that it almost feels tacked on, and not an organic line that fits in with the presented themes.
And that’s another problem: I’m not sure what this story is supposed to be. Broadly speaking, it sees Batwing following some clues left by the Riddler, with a climactic confrontation that involves Killer Croc, and a flashback sprinkled in that shows us Luke and Tim Fox’s relationship in their younger years.
Individually, those ingredients could add up to a compelling short story, but that’s not the case here. The mystery isn’t very interesting, and the brief flashback is fine, though the tie to the solution of a riddle is pretty contrived. I’m not sure if Camrus Johnson– best known as Luke Fox on Batwoman— has many other writing credits to his name, so I can’t compare this to his other work, but it’s a mixed bag at best. Some of the banter between Batwing and Riddler is kind of fun, with a few good verbal jabs thrown in, and on its own the flashback scene is a nice, albeit brief look at the Fox boys and their repartee. I never really got that involved in the story, though, which made the ten pages kind of drag on and on.
The visual storytelling fares better, for the most part. Troy Peteri uses a nice variety of fonts and word balloons to differentiate the various characters and their methods of communication, and there are some really fun sound effects in the fight with Croc. Like Johnson, I’m not familiar with Loyiso Mkize’s work, but I like his style quite a bit. The fight scene with Killer Croc in particular is a highlight, and without question the best sequence in the story.
Trevor Scott’s inks are serviceable, and while Andrew Dalhouse is a great colorist, I’m not sure if his style fits with Mkize’s. The latter half of the story looks pretty good, but there are some pages early on that are just awash in monotone hues that weren’t very appealing. I get that it was supposed to evoke light coming from a single source, but it just made those sequences look bland. Weird, because I usually like Dalhouse’s work.
Overall, this is very much an average, forgettable story. Some components worked, some didn’t, but there was enough good here that I’m looking forward to what each member of the team does in the future. Here’s to hoping that they’ve nowhere to go but up.
Sum of Our Parts
If anything could reignite the fires of interest, it’s a new Tim Drake story. As we all know, Tim is one of my favorite characters of all time, and he is The Best Robin™️ without question or argument. It’s a fact.
Sadly, Tim’s not had the best representation in the last decade, either being off the board entirely or being in stories of such dubious quality that he may as well have been. It’s high time for Tim– who is the first Robin to have his own ongoing solo series, and one that ran for almost two hundred issues at that, not to mention multiple miniseries, annuals, and a follow up series to boot– to get some time back in the spotlight. His recent appearance in Nightwing was great, sure, and Young Justice… well, it was better than nothing? I guess?
So seeing that Tim would have his own story in this month’s issue of Urban Legends got me excited.
Seeing that it’s from the writer of the Future State: Robin Eternal arc… gave me pause. Nothing against Fitzmartin, as I’m only familiar with her work in those two issues and nothing else, so it’s not fair to judge her skills based on a short arc that probably had a lot of restrictions and editorial oversight, to make sure it fit in with the Future State mold.
Still, going into a new Drake story with tempered expectations isn’t where I wanted to find myself, but even so… new Tim Drake! Yeah!
…alright, enough beating around the bush. The story’s fine, like most Urban Legends shorts have ended up being. Fine is better than bad, but still not what I would have wanted.
We find Tim (he says he’s going by Robin, so that’s good) effectively wasting the night away, trying to keep himself distracted. Rather than think introspectively, to see how recent events have impacted him, Tim would rather just… do anything else.
Anything to keep from being Tim Drake, I suppose.
His main focus is on a rash of kidnappings that don’t have any common factors other than the age of the victims. That, and his refusal to deal with personal matters, could make for some really good drama. In fact, it’s the kind of story you can find in those old Robin issues from yesteryear, where what goes on when Tim isn’t wearing the mask is just as important and compelling as what he does when he’s suited up. To be fair, Fitzmartin’s script is fairly engaging, and Tim is focused without being brooding or standoffish. His internal monologue reads more as he is trying to keep himself distracted and barely succeeding, rather than pushing people away and being a jerk because he doesn’t want to deal with it.
It’s a subtle difference, but I think Fitzmartin struck the right balance.
The main reason this short didn’t entirely work is that it trades on some tropes that were pretty unnecessary. There’s a literal Chaos Monster running around Gotham, and its design is as uninspired as its name. That the same monster ends up kidnapping an old friend of Tim’s is just another… cliche might not be the right word, but it definitely feels like a boilerplate story beat. Granted, this is part one of a three part story, so maybe it will pick up next month, but I never felt a sense of urgency or danger at any point. It just felt like the expected progression of the story, given how it was set up.
Belén Ortega is another new artist to me, and I quite like her style. It reminds me a bit of Javier Fernandez, who I’m quite a big fan of, and the great Alejandro Sanchez’s colors complement her pencils nicely. The opening scene in particular is quite striking, with the very first shot showing Robin standing in front of a clock tower. Ortega’s sense of motion is strong, with a really cool sequence on the second page where Tim flips off the tower and lands in front of some perps he needs to question. She really nails Tim’s sense of insecurity, with a slightly furrowed brow on his face and his hand cradling the back of his neck. Fitzmartin’s script tells us that Tim has a lot on his mind that he’s trying not to deal with, but Ortega and Sanchez show us what’s going on just beneath the surface.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pat Brosseau’s skillful lettering. It’s clean and unobtrusive when it needs to be, with several fun flourishes sprinkled throughout. The Chaos Monster might not be my new favorite villain or anything, but Brosseau gives him striking, jagged red word balloons with white lettering and scraggly outlines. It really gives his lines like “I am not to be defeated. I am chaos” a real sense of menace.
Like a lot of Urban Legends stories, “Sum of Our Parts” is not… ha, well. Greater than the sum of its parts. It could be better, but there’s plenty here to like and to remain optimistic about. And really, for fans of Tim Drake, it’s been way too long since we could reasonably feel that way.
The Long Con
Alright, this almost had me loving it. For about 9/10ths of its page count, the penultimate chapter of “The Long Con” is an absolute blast. It’s as funny as the story has ever been, with some surprising cameos, great action set-pieces, and some more hints as to what the endgame is for Grifter.
Then there’s the final page that has an exchange between two iconic heroes, with a closing line that made me groan. And not in a “that’s a terrible joke” kind of way. No, it doesn’t end on a light note. It ends with a line that I’m tired of hearing from Batman, because its only purpose is to perpetuate the “brooding loner” shtick that doesn’t make sense for a guy who has a butler, friends on the GCPD, eighteen different sidekicks, and membership on like five separate super teams at all times.
But again, and for different reasons, I digress.
Like I said, save for the ending, this is the most fun installment of this story yet, and the most entertained I’ve been by this title to boot. Whether it’s Grifter hiring Deathstroke to not kill him so he can cause a massive distraction, or a hostage situation where an altruistic and self-sacrificing Bruce Wayne isn’t the actual target, Rosenberg has a ton of fun with his script. As before, Benjamin, Fabela, and Temofonte keep stride with the outlandish and ridiculous situations Cole Cash finds (and puts) himself in, wether it’s through portraying exciting action or great comedic beats.
That’s not even mentioning a genuinely shocking appearance from an unexpected character (when you read this, if you think it’s him that I’m talking about, keep reading. It’s an even bigger surprise), even if they’re a bit inside baseball. Still, I laughed out loud with their reveal, even if I don’t have much attachment to the character. That’s the sign of a good cameo, I’d reckon.
And then there’s the ending, which I admit I might be judging too harshly because of my own baggage. Still, I’m just… tired or Batman being a jerk to everyone who wants to help him. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. But Jerk Batman is old hat.
Either way, I mostly had fun with this, thanks to some hilarious bits and great set-pieces. Like with “Cheer,” I’m not sure if the actual story will have much of an impact, but I’m mostly enjoying the ride.
- You like some great art.
- Tim Drake.
- The idea of Deathstroke and Grifter “fighting” as a gag is appealing.
- You really, really want to see a new classic Batman and Robin series, preferably with Marcus To on pencils.
Overall: With high highs and… well, middle lows, this is maybe the most inconsistent issue of Urban Legends to date. Given the quality of the best material here, though, there are also points where this is the absolute best issue of the series too. Even the lesser installments are readable and have enough pros to give at least a soft recommendation. I’ll still hope for better going forward, but I’d hate to have to be content with occasional greatness among the exceedingly average.