Batman #120 review

Josh Williamson has achieved a hat trick, with his third outing on Batman maintaining the quality of the previous two issues.  Without trying to sound to critical, I don’t know if this is going to go down as One Of The All-Time Great Runs, but I don’t think it needs to either.  It’s just good, competent storytelling with great art, some interesting twists, and strong use of a number of DC characters.

Most importantly, it’s a story that treats Batman respectfully, putting him through the wringer without making him seem weak or ineffectual.  Having a Batman who has contingencies for his contingencies and is always eighteen steps ahead of his adversary is silly and boring, but being constantly bested by his foes and allies isn’t the way to go either.  Williamson strikes a good medium here, with a Batman who knows what he’s doing and how he needs to solve a case, but can still be taken by surprise.

This Batman is a master of adaptation, reminding me of how Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle would portray the Dark Knight: confident and stalwart, but still able– and willing– to improvise and troubleshoot his obstacles as they occur.

Which is refreshing, because a Batman who just happens to have the right gadget or foresaw the need to prepare for everything to the Nth degree isn’t interesting to me.  This Batman went into a case thinking he had a lead, only to be ambushed by an opponent he could not possibly have anticipated.  That resulted in him being rendered blind at the end of the previous issue, but when has something like that ever stopped Batman?

Indeed, it leads into possibly the coolest sequence so far in Williamson’s run, with Batman using his lack of sight to his advantage when he tries to spring the members of Batman, Inc. from prison.  Even that leads into another development that Batman didn’t see coming… but maybe he should have?  After all, when someone like Lex Luthor is involved in anything, he’s got to be the right hand you pay attention to while the left hand is doing something else, since Lex knows he’s smarter than everyone and will use that to his advantage.

Having mentioned Luthor, it’s no surprise that he’s written really well here.  Smug and slimy, Lex is a joy to read when he has nothing but contempt for everyone, and seeing him practically dangle Batman, Inc. over Bruce’s head is deliciously despicable.

Like issue 118, Jorge Molina and Mikel Janín’s pencils weave and blend together spectacularly, looking almost like the work of a single artist.  I mean that in the best way, as Janín is brilliant, and Molina can more than hold his own while still having a unique style.  That they’re able to complement each other so well is nothing but a boon for the book, as it makes the subtle changes in style feel organic rather than jarring.  You don’t get many books with multiple penciler that feel consistent, let alone like the different artists were even meant to work together, but Molina and Janín are are stellar combination.

Surely some of the credit should go to Tomeu Morey, who knows how to color each penciler so as to highlight their strengths.  Since he’s such a consistent artistic voice, Morey no doubt consciously colors each panel and page so the book has a uniform, distinct style and feel.  Besides managing to make blacks and other dark shades still pop off the page, Morey uses some brilliant lighting effects throughout.  I particularly loved a surprise Lex power suit reveal that had some bright yellow “glowing” accents, and some like green lights coupled with Clayton Cowles’ sound effects in the aforementioned “prison break” scene looked really cool.

There’s a twist late in the proceedings that might not pay off, and could ultimately tarnish the story if it isn’t handled well, so I’m docking a few points because of that.  As the third part of an ongoing story, this issue doesn’t really stand on its own either, as it’s dependent on the preceding chapters and those that will come after.  Even still, I like reading Batman again, and that feels good.

More than that, it feels right, so thanks for the solid comics, Josh Williamson.

SCORE: 8/10

I would be loathe to say that my excitement around seeing Maps in the previous issue blinded me to the actual quality of the story.  Flipping back through it, the first chapter of Kerl Kerschl and Dave McCaig’s “They Make Great Pets” is still a well-written little short.  An interesting mystery is introduced, and we get lots of fun little character beats with Maps.

And that’s to say nothing of the beautiful visuals, which make Batman in particular look better than he has in years.  That blue and gray suit with the yellow oval?  Pure perfection.

So I came into the second chapter with some pretty high anticipation, and it ultimately falls a little short of the first.

But just a smidge, as “They Make Great Pets” continues to be a breezy, fun backup feature.

While Kerschl used the first chapter to load up the actual plot, this chapter is mainly an extended hunt through Gotham’s sewers.  It’s gorgeously illustrated, with same stylistic flourishes that evoke Manga, especially in the panel layouts.  Maps is a great foil for Batman, we learn a bit about impish creatures called kappa, and it ends on a surprise cliffhanger.  With the main story, this backup helps Batman attain the level of quality that we’ve gotten over the past several months, so please, give me more.

SCORE: 8/10

BONUS: This variant from the inimitable Dan Hipp is the coolest, and knocks the overall score up a half point.


Recommended if:

  • You like strong Batman stories.
  • You’re interested in the mystery surrounding the Abyss.
  • You like Maps.
  • Seriously, that Dan Hipp cover?  Nothing short of excellent.

Overall: The highest praise I feel I can give this book is that even if I weren’t reviewing it, I’d still be reading this run on Batman.  It’s not a game-changer, and isn’t trying to be one either.  This is just solid, entertaining comics, and that’s all it wants to be.  The writing is engaging and, even moreso, interesting, the art is all around great, and the backup is pretty stellar to boot.  Batman is a good comic, and I’m glad I can say that without hesitation.

SCORE: 8.5/10