Hey guys! Welcome to the highest-scoring review I’ve ever given a Batman comic book.
You heard me right. My boss – Andrew, for those who’ve been following our reviews since “the old days” – has often told the rest of the team that if you’re not capable of giving a 10/10 to a comic, then there’s no point in having the score at all. He’s absolutely correct, though it’s one thing to say he’s right and another to follow through on his advice. In my two years of reviewing for this website, I’ve only given a 10/10 to a select few short stories; the closest a full comic came to it was my 9.5/10 review for the first issue of Three Jokers.
Well, today I’m following through on Andrew’s advice. I doubt many people are going to agree with me, but I don’t particularly care: for me, the Miracle Molly one-shot is a 10/10 comic.
(Me when my supervisor tells me to stop eating glue.)
I will say, it almost feels like cheating to give this book a perfect score – especially when, really, it’s not a Batman book at all. Aside from the mention of specific locations exclusive to Batman’s world (Gotham City and the Narrows), there’s no other connective tissue that bridges this story with anything outside of Miracle Molly and the Unsanity Collective. Indeed, if you haven’t read a single issue of Tynion’s run, this would feel like an independent comic: a short story that provides something far beyond the usual spectrum of the caped crusader’s world.
Good. I like it that way, and I think it stands all the better because of it. Gotham City is a big place, and not every story needs to include someone we know for it to be relevant – especially when the story does just fine without them. This is a character piece about someone losing themselves to a life of parasitic monotony, and their tragic yet freeing quest to break away from it.
Miracle Molly is the story about who the titular character was before she became her “true self”: Mary Kowalski, a robotics expert trapped in a low-level desk job, belittled by her employers and stifled from exploring and sharing her inventions with the world. Molly’s life before her “transition” – a literal event that happens when she erases her memories, and an analogy I’m almost certain was intentional – is the focus in the book here, and it’s hard to frame someone stuck in the lifestyle of a burgeouning nuclear family as any more depressing than this.
I’ve often said that Tynion’s best work is in his independent scene, and it feels like that same level of attention and care was brought to this issue in particular. There’s a degree of polish to the story – Tynion scripting Molly’s former lifestyle as a depressing loop of the same dreary events over, over and over, with even the things she loves feeling diluted by a supreme lack of passion. There are moments here that remind me of Office Space, or the beginning of Breaking Bad – a medocrity that creeps in throughout a person’s life like a rot, tainting everything it touches. One could argue that it’s nothing new, but stories rarely are entirely original anyway (go look into The Seven Basic Plots for more on the subject).
This story also goes into detail as to why and how Molly met the Unsanity Collective and erased her memories. I’ve heard some discussion about this, and despite it being built on consent, I understand the moral concerns of it: it’s very easy to imagine the shady ethics of taking in the desperate and downtrodden, and erasing their memories to help them serve their cause. I have to imagine that’s the kind of thing a writer may explore should the Unsanity Collective stick around, though – I see a lot of potential in a cyberpunk new-wave criminal group that exists within a more traditional Gotham. Besides, if we were against morally shady actions made in good faith, Robin wouldn’t exist.
Let’s get this out of the way, because I’m sure there will be some comments to this effect: no, Miracle Molly is not a “traditional” Gotham character. It’s definitely hard to imagine her lurking in the shadows of a traditional Gotham landscape, or even in the halls of Arkham Asylum (not that she belongs there). Of course, if you put her in a Batman Beyond story, you’d have the opposite problem: she might seem so normal that there wouldn’t be a thing that distinguishes her. It’s that juxtaposition, I think, that appeals to me about the character. Making her design so distinct from the rest of Batman’s world gives her an edge that I think really shines in a setting that isn’t used to characters like her. Plus, while Gotham will always have a timeless aesthetic to it, I don’t think it’s a crime to have the city advance with our growing technological age. If you’re dead set on Miracle Molly not working in the world of Gotham, then I doubt I can convince you otherwise – but the great thing about this book is that I don’t think I have to. This is its own beast, and you can treat it as such if all you want is a good story. And this one, I think, is damn good.
All that being said, I doubt you’d hear me singing this book’s praises if it weren’t illustrated by the phenomenal Dani, who you’ll soon find illustrating Arkham City: The Order of the World (which I’ll also be reviewing). There’s a lot to praise about Dani’s work here, but I think she excels in two categories in particular: first of all being her depiction of Molly herself. There’s a wonderful sense of sorrow to her rendition of the character, from her moments of dismay and dissociation to those ever-so-brief moments when her passion and enthusiasm shines through the clouds of her life. The final panel below is one of my favourites in particular, where Molly desperately attempts to put on a brave face, latching onto the final remnants of hope in the life she’d boxed herself into. It’s a really sad panel, especially knowing it’s one of her last moments of quiet before her life begins to crumble around her.
Sometimes, you’ll see this sadness represented in a more explicit sense. Throughout the book, Miracle Molly’s reflection shows up sporadically, appearing as her current self and judging the life of the woman she once was. I’m sure most people have seen this trick before, but that’s because it works like a charm, and adds to the contrast of Molly’s life before and after she becomes person we know today.
Now, let’s talk about the panel composition. One thing that always gets comic on my good side is when an artist plays with borders, such as Xermanico’s work on his Justice League books. Dani does something similar here, but the style is exclusive to certain scenes: when Molly enters the digital world of the Unsanity Collective, you’ll begin to see mechanical lines and dots littered around and beneath the borders of the panel, like the digitally transmitted words of their leader, Master Wyze, slink around the page in order to embed themselves in Molly’s head.
But that’s not even the half of it. On average, a comic panel tends to have around about six panels per issue – give or take a few, depending on how the book is laid out. Some books might want to focus on splash pages, while others will adopt a nine-panel grid in order to cram more content onto the page. All of these methods are perfectly fine, because so long as it’s in service of the story, you can lay out your comic however you please. That being said, consider how much work you’re giving your artist when you do this, because it’s no picnic to flood page after page with smatterings of panels, all while still asking your artist to do their best.
Dani does fifteen panels on this page.
Oh, and twenty-eight on a double-page spread too. I think you can see why that’s worth mentioning.
Finally, I think I’d be committing some sort of crime if I didn’t talk about Lee Loughridge on colouring duties for this one-shot. He does a lot of good work here, managing to capture the mood of each scene through different filters: soft, drab pinks and browns for Molly’s office work, a lonely blue light for her nights by a television or computer screen. There’s more, of course, but the work I want to mention in particular is his colouring in the present-day moments of the story… mainly because I think this creative team finally managed to make Frank Miller’s style from The Dark Knight Strikes Again look visually appealing. That, I think, is to be commended.
Look, if you don’t agree with me about any of this, that’s fine – but I think there are a lot of reasons to love this story on a technical level, and I think those reasons are enough to warrant a strong recommendation. But it helps that I love the content here: the themes of transhumanism and breaking from traditional norms, searching for something beyond what the world tells you is the only way. Put simply, I like books like this! More than anything, I’m happy I finally have the chance to review one.
- You’re interested in a book that’s willing to flesh out a new and very different Batman character, while still managing to stand on its own.
- You like Tynion’s run, and you’re open to giving some of his more unique characters a chance.
- Cyberpunk is your jam! Now that I’m about to get my PS5 (finally!), I’m hoping to play 2077… presumably without the bugs that it had at launch.
A 10/10 doesn’t have to be the Mona Lisa. It doesn’t have to change your life, or make you orgasm holy water, or remind you of the taste of your mother’s homemade cooking. To me – by the standards of a Batman News website, at least – a 10/10 is a comic that does exactly what it wants to do, in exactly the way it should be done, with a subject that’s exactly the kind of thing I like. This book hits all of those standards for me, and I honestly can’t think of anything to critique it for. Reading a book like this is exactly why I love comic books, and I can’t give a better reason than that.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch