Once more into the fire, as we have another issue of Batman: Urban Legends. As I said in this week’s Upcoming Comics, there are two types of stories in this series: okay stories from great creators, and backdoor pilots for potential standalone books. This month, at least one of the stories is both of those at once, while each of the four tales presented vary in quality from one to the next.
So yeah, just a typical day among these Urban Legends. Let’s dive in.
There’s yet to be a point where I absolutely love “Cheer,” despite the interesting concept and stacked creative team. Even still, it’s become a comforting presence over the past five issues of Urban Legends, as I knew I’d get some semblance of quality right up front.
So usually, “more of the same” isn’t necessarily a great thing, but I’ll use it as praise this go around. “Cheer” might not be among the greatest Batman stories I’ve ever read, but at least it’s been consistent. The writing is competent and engaging, the artwork is genuinely inventive, and the lettering moves the dialogue along nicely. There’s nothing inherently wrong with with this story, aside from not meeting admittedly high expectations.
And so it is once again this month, though I will say that I enjoyed some of the new developments this time around. We get a better idea of who’s behind Cheer, along with how the formula was developed. There’s a nice scene between Jason and a therapist who has more ties to the story you’d expect, with some fun turnabout detective work at play. Zdarsky writes some strong dialogue, at least between Jason and the doctor.
More informative but slightly less involving are the scenes with Batman, who has been frozen in place by Mister Freeze, himself under the influence of the man who has dubbed himself Cheer. There’s nothing outright wrong with the writing, it’s just a bit dry and bland. Barrows, Ferreira, and Neves keep things interesting with their inventive layouts and sequences. It’s crazy how much of a difference a creative panel border makes, as several pages have jagged panels instead of static, straight lines. It helps to ratchet up the tension of the scene, and just makes it feel like that much more thought was out into the design of the book.
Like before, though, my favorite scenes were the flashbacks from Marcus To. Young Jason races against the clock to save Batman from one of the Riddler’s death traps, and it’s just wonderfully illustrated and a great little mini story to boot. The actual riddle is pretty clever, and there’s some great “acting” with Jason’s facial expressions. Whether he’s tormented by Nygma’s puzzle or sharing a moment of relief with Batman, this is some of the best Jason as Robin storytelling you’ll ever see.
I think the best thing I can say about this installment is that I’ve felt better about it as I’ve been writing. It’s solid, engaging comic storytelling. Sure, it could be better, but it could be a whole lot worse too. “Cheer” almost makes it worth picking up Urban Legends on its own, so here’s hoping it ends strong.
I’ll start with the positives: Sweeney Boo’s unique art style is pretty fun, even if it doesn’t quite fit the story, and Marissa Louise’s colors complement the pencils nicely. Becca Carey’s lettering is strong too, with varied fonts and some fun sound effects to energize the story.
Then there’s the actual story, and the dialogue in particular. That is less than stellar, and more often than not, outright bad.
This should be a fun little short, at least on the surface: Batgirls Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain have a girl’s night at Wayne Manor, with Oracle chiming in to give them a mission. My history with Cass isn’t as broad as my familiarity with Babs and Steph, but she’s a great character and I know she was a strong Batgirl. With Steph, I’ve read so much Robin that I can’t not have affection for her, and her own Batgirl book, meanwhile, is one of the more underrated Bat-titles to come out… maybe ever.
I mean, there’s an issue where she and Supergirl fight twenty-four Draculas. How is that not required reading in public schools?
Once you get past the promising start and art, though, things start to fall apart.
Like, three lines into the story fast.
I’ll admit, I haven’t been reading the Batgirl backup stories as they appear in other titles, so there could be some sort of precedent for Cass mixing up colloquialisms and pop culture references and saying things like “stinky cheeser.” It’s never been a trait of hers in any story I’ve ever read before, though, and it just feels wrong.
Aside from the dialogue, it’s never really clear what this story is supposed to be about. The Batgirls go out to stop a criminal that Oracle had had a run-in with before, but as much as I liked the style of the art, Boo’s visual storytelling was lacking. Panels feel like they’re cropped inappropriately, and there isn’t a great sense of flow and motion, so there’s never any sense of urgency or actual stakes. And the story just ends without any sort of resolution, which is all the more frustrating.
“Wildcard” started with promise, but ended up being a low point for this book. While I wish it wasn’t so, there’s no other way around it: this was not very good.
Sum of Our Parts
Full disclosure: I’m buying physical copies of this book specifically for this arc. When I first got into comics, I collected Tim’s Robin series for quite some time, and had every miniseries, annual, one-shot, and main series issue up until around issue #85. While I eventually dropped off and stopped collecting, I’ve kept my collection since then, and just recently decided to try and complete the entire run of Tim Drake solo issues.
Fuller disclosure: the only reason I’m buying physical copies of this series (at least for three issues) is because I’m a completist. If I’m going to consider Showcase issues and Robin Eternal as necessities, then Urban Legends here fits the bill, thanks to “Sum of Our Parts.”
Like last issue, this is very much okay. Heck, like most of Urban Legends, it’s very much okay. I think the main problem with most of these stories is that they don’t feel like they were written to be spread out over several months of issues. Or maybe more accurately, there isn’t enough material for most of these stories, so what could have been a nice, punchy single issue story gets spread out over three months and thrifty pages. The pacing for “Sum of Our Parts” is off, and too much of it feels like filler.
There’s still some good here, though. Belén Ortega has a nice penciling style, and there’s some great use of light from the brilliant Alejandro Sanchez in a few scenes. Pat Brosseau is reliable as always, with his clean captions, and the fun stylized word balloons for the otherwise bland Chaos Monster.
And that’s the main problem there: the lack of a viable threat. Fitzmartin’s script isn’t terrible by any means, even if it leans too much into Tim questioning his purpose and whether he’s cut out to be a hero. The ideas behind the plot are interesting, it’s just the execution is lacking. There’s a final page twist about the Chaos Monster that might turn things around, though, so I hope it pays off.
When it comes down to it, I’m just glad to get a Tim Drake story. After too many years on the back-burner, if he was present at all, it’s nice to see him doing something in a comic book. I just wish it was in a story worthy of the best Robin, and not one that I feel the need to read and own out of necessity.
The Long Con
Oh, how I wish the title of this story had not been prophetic, and that I didn’t have the opportunity to make an obvious, easy, hacking joke about it being a long con.
But alas, here we are.
“The Long Con” has been at least sporadically entertaining, to be sure, with some genuinely hilarious humor sprinkled throughout its meandering story. In the end, though, it’s yet another “back door pilot” for another series, rather than its own, stand-alone story. That makes spending the previous four issues saying “I don’t know where this is going, but hopefully it will end up being satisfying” a fool’s errand, as reading this whole series is getting to be a progressively more and more frustrating experience.
Really, though, it’s not even worst story in this particular issue, and isn’t without its own charms. The strengths present in each previous installment are still present here, from some snappy writing to exciting action scenes to crisp lettering. In fact, there’s a line about “magic” that is the funniest thing I’ve read in a comic this year, and I laughed so hard my family looked at me like I was crazy.
They… might not be wrong, but that’s a debate for another time.
After five issues, I still really don’t know Grifter any better, which may not be the point, but it would have been nice. Once it becomes clear what he’s after and why he’s after it (and that only becomes somewhat clear in the final page, and even then only just so), the story just ends.
Barely, because like I said, this just tees up another book that might be coming down the line sometime in the near future.
Sorry if this doesn’t feel like much of a review. I’ve just said all I can about this story in previous issues, and I’m disappointed that my fears about it were realized. It’s a prime example of my two biggest pet peeves with this whole book: a ridiculously stacked creative team turning out a very average story, and a teaser for something else that’s yet to come. It isn’t a story, but a sampler, and I was expecting more from this title.
- You’re on board for this book.
- You want some quality Jason Todd content.
- You want some decent Tim Drake content.
- You’re down for a big laugh from Grifter.
Overall: Urban Legends continues its holding pattern as a pretty average Batman book. Despite some bright spots, it’s getting harder and harder to analyze this series, because even the best stories feel like they’re stretched too thin. I wish I could even say that it’s worth it to pick this up as a fan of the individual characters, but with incredibly mixed results and quality that varies wildly, it’s a steep investment at $8 an issue.