For his sophomore outing on Batman, Josh Williamson utilizes a critical storytelling tool that is all too often forgotten: pacing.

This is not an issue containing constant escalation or mounting stakes.  There are no left turns or revelations that make the case of the Abyss anything more than a creepy, intriguing mystery.

No, this issue is relatively low-key, aiming to build tension through dialogue and character beats rather than making Everything The Biggest Thing Ever™️. It’s refreshing in that regard, because while it isn’t quite as engaging and exciting as the previous issue, it’s exactly what it needs to be for this story.  Because of that, I’d consider it a great success.

After his surprise appearance at the end of Batman #118, Lex Luthor gets quite a bit of this issue devoted to showing just how much of a scumbag he can be.  After a brief overview of all the weirdness Lex has gone through in recent years, there’s a great extended dialogue between him and Bruce.

And friend, I am not kidding when I say this Luthor straight up sucks.  He wastes no time in demonstrating just how much contempt he has for everyone he deems to be lower than him (which, to be fair, is everyone in Lex’s eyes).  He tells Bruce about a bottle of wine that a family had held on to for a hundred years, after their vineyards were burned down.  Only a single crate survived, and the bottle in question was the last of that family’s legacy.  Lex bought the bottle for $20 million, poured a glass for himself and one for Bruce…

And then dumped the rest on the ground.

It’s such a cartoonishly evil thing to do, a flex of power and contempt in equal measure.  Yeah, you could say it’s over the top, but this Lex is perfectly in line with the Luthor from Superman #2’s “Metropolis 900 Mi.”  In that story, Luthor visits a diner and offers a waitress a million bucks to spend a month with him, yet drives off before he can see if she wanted to take him up on the offer.  That’s bad enough, but as he leaves he viciously mocks the waitress and takes delight in the fact that even if she didn’t make an attempt to accept the deal, it would eat her up for the rest of her life.  As with the “story” he purchased with the bottle of wine, he takes pleasure in being cruel for its own sake, for what benefit does someone else’s happiness have for the smartest and richest man in the world?

As much as I can (and do) enjoy a super mad scientist Luthor who engages in battle with Superman via a purple and green power suit, I’m more into reading about a Lex who is everything Superman is not: greedy, selfish, and arrogant.

It also helps that Batman isn’t having any of it either, which makes the fact that Luthor decided to bankroll Batman, Inc. so deliciously ironic and smugly contemptuous.  It’s a fun dynamic that is a blast to read, which makes the fact that this probably won’t be a new status quo all the more upsetting.  Really, who wouldn’t want to read Batman, Inc. stories where Nightrunner and El Gaucho complain about having to work for Luthor?  It’s like printing money.

This confrontation of sorts between Bruce and Luthor is the highlight of the issue, to be certain, but the ongoing investigation into the Abyss contains a few interesting twists.  They’re relatively predictable twists, I won’t deny, but not everything needs to be unpredictable for its own sake.  How many movies have we seen or books have we read where a twist or shocking turn of events occurs for seemingly no reason other than to subvert expectations?  If it’s earned, then sure.  Go for it.  If it’s just so the audience won’t predict what’s going to come next?  That shows a lack of confidence in the story.

And as it stands, “The Abyss” is shaping up to be a pretty good story, so I’m glad that Williamson is letting things breathe and move at their own pace.

Jorge Molina and Mikel Janín are back on pencils, with Adriano Di Benedetto inking Molina’s pencils, Tomeu Morey providing colors, and Clayton Cowles lettering.  Save for a brief fight scene toward the end, there isn’t a lot of action this issue, so Janín in particular gets to flex some great emotive muscles during the Bruce and Luthor scene.  His Bruce looks appropriately annoyed and contemptuous in equal measure, while Luthor has an almost overbearing smugness.

And it works beautifully.

In the previous issue, I could hardly tell their were two artists, their styles blended together so well, and that’s not really the case here.  They both out in some fine work, for sure, but there’s more of a disconnect between their pages.  I’m not sure if it’s the different inker for Molina’s pages or what, but the page turn from the final scene with Luthor to seeing Bruce back in his cowl makes it pretty obvious.  Again, neither style is bad, they just don’t mesh as well this time around.

Even still, I’m on board with this run, which is a pleasant surprise.  After spending so much time away from the title, I needed something completely different than what we’d been getting in recent years, and so it’s proven to be what I wanted: a good Batman book.

SCORE: 8/10

Maps, as we all know, is the best.  The under-appreciated Gotham Academy was a great title in so many ways, not the least of which for introducing us to the plucky and infectiously enthusiastic Mia Mizoguchi.  Her loyalty to her friends was commendable, and her unending drive to become Batman’s newest sidekick is relatable.  She was a fun character in a unique series, and I’m glad to see her back in the saddle.

Maps’ co-creator Karl Kerschl is on board to write, illustrate, and letter her latest adventure, and it’s nothing but fun from beginning to end.

At least, as fun as a mystery about missing body parts turning up in a river can be.

What makes it so entertaining is that Maps is so sure she’s stumbled upon a case, while everyone around her thinks she just has an overactive imagination, and we as the audience aren’t really clued into who’s correct.  We’re going along for the ride, seeing highlights like a stuffy dinner party, unintentional law-breaking, and Batman in that beautiful blue and gray suit.

Classic.  Thank you, John Rauch.

I won’t lie and say that I didn’t wish this was just a one-and-done backup, but hey, that just means more Maps next month.  That isn’t a bad thing at all.

SCORE: 9/10

Recommended if:

  • You’re on board for this arc.
  • You want a solid Batman comic.
  • You like a Lex Luthor who is so smug you can’t help but love to hate him.
  • #MapsIsTheBest

Overall: A strong lead story and a strong backup make for a strong issue of Batman.  There’s great character work all around, especially for a back-to-basics Lex Luthor, and the mystery at the heart of the main arc is genuinely interesting.  The art in the backup is phenomenal, as you’d expect from Kerschl, and while Janín and Molina both turn in some great pencils, their styles don’t gel as well this time around.  Even so, I’m back to recommending the flagship title for the Caped Crusader, and it feels good to be saying that again.

SCORE: 8.5/10