Batman ’89 #4 review

We have reached the point in Batman ‘89 where I have run out of things to say.  Unless something drastically insane happens in the final two issues, then the reviews will consist of many of the same platitudes and comments.  Is issue 4 better than the other three?  Not the first, for sure, but there’s a definite possibility that it is better than the sophomore effort and it’s immediate predecessor.

But is that a testament to its actual quality, or does it speak more toward my own sense of complacency?  Am I more impressed with this installment than I was with issues 2 and 3, or have I just kind of settled into a feeling indifference?

Maybe a bit of the former, but there’s definitely a lot of the latter as well.

To Sam Hamm’s credit, there is a bit more story and forward movement here than in previous issues, though he still never manages to nail the voice and tone of the films.  At this point, we might as well wash our hands of hoping that this series will feel like a Burton Batman, and realize that Hamm is trying instead to say something about civil unrest with his narrative.

It’s not entirely successful, though Hamm isn’t as heavy-handed as he could have been, so I can at least appreciate what he was going for.  We open with unrest in the streets of Gotham, as the citizens and business owners of Burnside come head to head with the police.  The common folk feel betrayed by a system that failed even their “knight in shining armor” Harvey Dent, and the police are… just the absolute worst.

Usually, I like Harvey Bullock and his prickly attitude.  Here, though, he just straight up sucks.  There’s a pretty funny little moment where Commissioner Gordon has just had enough of Bullock’s foolishness and just completely unloads on him.

Which comes shortly after the Burnside marchers unload a bunch of paint and gas on the police.

What has Clayton Cowles taught us here?  That the sounds of gas emitted from a canister and that of an explosive tank of gasoline are separated only by a few Ws.

The main problem with this scene is it feels like it’s trying to say something, but it doesn’t have any dramatic weight behind it.  We get why people are upset because there are real world analogues to their plight, and because the script tells us that they’re oppressed and trying to rebuild a corrupt system.  It’s never more than arms-length, though, because the only characters that make an impression are the cops– since we know a few of them by name– and the new Robin.

Who, I’ve got to admit, has a pretty cool look.  Would I have preferred an established character in the role, rather than the newly-created Drake Winston?  Of course, for the same reason I want to see a Catwoman named Selina Kyle or a District Attorney-turned villain named Harvey Dent.  Even still, Joe Quinones’ design is really cool, even if the character is still a bit of a cypher.

Which sort of changes here, though not necessarily to the point that he becomes fully fleshed out.  His personal mission to protect his neighborhood is strong and admirable, and an aspect that could have been explored a lot more had the story been restructured to allow that.  Instead, we get Winston perched atop a roof (in a pretty sweet shot), and then an extended scene between him and Bruce Wayne that feels remarkably similar to the “orphan vision” scene in The Dark Knight Rises, at least in the broad strokes.

Think this, but more breaking tables and pretending a vial of water is acid.

If I’m being a little too glib, it’s just to poke a bit of fun at the shortcuts taken at the expense of real character growth.  That this extended scene ends with two lines that speak more to Bruce and Drake than their entire “fight” in the preceding pages did shows you just how good this book could have been had it had a different focus.

Keeping consistent with the rest of the series, the best part of the issue dealt with Harvey Dent’s ongoing descent into madness and villainy.  Not just from a writing standpoint, because Hamm still proves to have a really good handle on this version of Harvey, but on a visual level as well.  Some of Quinones and Leonardo Ito’s best work in the entire series is contained in this issue, from the different uses of shadows and light during Harvey’s escape from the hospital, to a clever visual trick with an abandoned subway station that perfectly reflects Dent’s duality.  There’s one shot in a dark, mirrored window that is genuinely frightening and grotesque, which again, shows how brilliant this book could have been with a different focus.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the issue just fine, thanks to its strengths.  The weaknesses are the same ones that have been present from the start, though at this point I’ve just about made peace with them.  What should have been one of the best books of the year has instead become a strange exercise from a talented creative team, with a few sweet shots of The Best Batmobile sprinkled in here and there to keep our interest.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve stuck around this long.
  • You want some character development for Drake Winston.
  • You want to see some genuinely terrifying images of Two-Face.

Overall: I began the review saying that I’ve almost run out of things to say about this book, and here I am, almost 1000 words later, still discussing it.  My point stands, though, that Batman ’89 has had a general consistency over each issue, in that it is consistently just fine.  There are decent ideas that could have been explored more, but instead the narrative goes in a different direction that leaves its most interesting aspects untapped.  It’s a pretty good Harvey Dent comic, but not a great Burton Batman comic, and I’ve just about come to terms with that.
SCORE: 7/10