Batman: Reptilian #1’s dark aesthetic doesn’t match the amount of fun within its pages. Garth Ennis has…mixed views on Batman and his less than reverent attitude toward the character is apparent, but Ennis’ sense of humor mixed with Liam Sharp’s striking art combine for a truly unique reading experience.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the story at hand and is by far one of my favorite Batman scenes I’ve read in a while. Right from the start, Sharp’s unique style is on full display, with gorgeous, larger than life environments often dominating his figures. The style isn’t for everyone and most readers will know immediately if it will resonate with them, but the fundamental storytelling is there with expressive figure work, clean page layouts, and atmosphere to spare. If Dave McKean’s art in his and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth worked for you, this will too.
Ennis’ dialogue is crisp, easy to follow, and incredibly funny. Anyone familiar with his work will find a home here. Ennis’ script opens with a shady looking lawyer (hunched back, long mustache) as he announces that all charges against his client (a comically large mountain of man) have been dropped. The visual storytelling is fantastic, with two types of evil on display between the scheming, victim blaming lawyer and the brute who laid violence upon two women. Even the enormity of the courthouse they stand in front of hints at the lack of power even huge institutions have over those with the means to circumvent consequences for their ill deeds. When Batman arrives, the lighting changes from cold blues and greens to having everyone backlit with red light, foreshadowing the conflict to come. Sharp colors his own work here and doesn’t disappoint in setting the mood. Ennis’ Batman is blunt, doesn’t mince words, and goads the woman beating boxer into taking a swing at him. The sequence ends on an astounding splash page with the boxer knocked out and Batman leaving, simply stating “Self-defense”. This Batman is a bit of a jerk but a righteous one, even if his attitude toward Alfred is more flippant than the norm.
It doesn’t take long for the actual narrative to take shape, and it’s incredibly intriguing despite the title of the series essentially spoiling who the main villain will be. Bruce hears the news of Scarecrow and Mad Hatter being mutilated to near death and sets off to investigate. As Batman slums it in some less than desirable dive bars in Gotham, Sharp gets to show off his prowess for creating environments, with a Gotham City that is equal parts impressionistic and wholly lived in. The way light bounces off the wet Gotham streets to the layer of smog that fills the sky and obscures the upper levels of the city’s skyscrapers is stunning to behold. Even Sharp’s interior settings come off well, armed with the appropriate grime and dark lighting you’d expect in a Gotham bar with cheap beer. The interrogation scenes are extremely well written too, with Ennis’ Batman holding no patience for those who don’t play along. He calls people “cheap”, feigns surprise when he deems someone to have an “I.Q. In double figures”, and reassures the goons he interrogates that his goal is to “preserve human life” as he dangles them over a rooftop. This characterization and glib attitude may turn some readers away, but I found it incredibly compelling and amusing. Additionally, Rob Steen’s lettering does a great job of leading the reader’s eye, especially in the smaller vertical panels where the character’s mouths are not fully visible. I was never confused as to who was saying what, even in the more obtuse compositions.
The second half of the book is made up of these interrogation scenes, where Batman learns that Penguin and Riddler were also found near death, mutilated. While there’s an argument that there’s a lot of telling, not showing, the art never lets up even when we see the aftermath of most events rather than their actual depiction. A page where we see Mad Hatter and Scarecrow find the injured Riddler is eerie, with Sharp’s rendition of Batman’s rogues incredibly unique and simply fun to look at. While the plot doesn’t progress much beyond the set up of someone is on a warpath of destruction, the way it unfolds is gripping on every level. While some page layouts filled with long vertical panels take time to decipher, Ennis’ dialogue ensures that the meat and potatoes of the plot is never unclear. With an ominous final page, it’s hard to imagine readers not wanting to check out the next issue.
Lastly, it must be mentioned that this book was originally intended to be drawn by the late Steve Dillon. There’s a touching tribute from Liam Sharp on the first page that is sure to tap into the emotions of Dillon’s fans. The story behind the production does lend an extra layer of humanity to the series and shows that the creative team really cares about what went into it.
- Liam Sharp’s unique art style appeals to you.
- You don’t mind Garth Ennis’ less than reverent take on Batman and his villains.
- A dark sense of humor mixed in with some truly dark subject matter doesn’t turn you away.
Batman: Reptilian #1 is my favorite Batman comic I’ve read in a while. Garth Ennis is a master of balancing dark subject matter with a sense of humor and his take on Batman is highly entertaining. Liam Sharp’s intricate art style pairs well with the stripped down narrative that follows Batman as he interrogates a couple of goons in a refreshingly to the point manner. While it likely won’t hold mass appeal, those who are on the same wavelength as Ennis and Sharp will find themselves wanting the next issue as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.