“Shadows of the Bat” is on a downward spiral. With each issue, the quality seems to drop further, and it wasn’t that great to begin with. It’s also overpriced—you’d end up spending a minimum of $60.88 if you were to pick up every single issue of this event, and that’s just the cover price (see my review of #1047 for a brief breakdown of the price point). Honestly, we’re past the halfway point and we’ve still barely had any plot progression. It just isn’t worth it.
This issue opens with some dull courtroom drama, which feels rather out of place. A reason why we’re getting this opening sequence is so that the writer can establish a couple more characters, but the problem is that this event is already overcrowded, to a point that characters literally get in each other’s way and remain shallow. At this point, the writer desperately needs to start focusing on the actual Arkham Tower plot and she needs to give our heroes something useful to do. Instead, she’s spending too much panel time on trivial matters. This hurts the story.
I don’t feel like any of the things that we see here carry weight. Things are just kind of happening. The Party Crashers never were intimidating or threatening, but after Batwoman and the Batgirls beat the crap out of a large group of them with ease last week, they’ve really turned into a joke. So when some of the Party Crashers threaten Dr. Wear in this issue, I’m not buying it. At the same time, Dr. Wear hasn’t seen much development at all. He just comes across as a generic con man. So who cares about what happens to him?
What’s more, this story’s structure is a mess. The mystery is very simple, and because the mystery has mostly been explained to the reader already, it’s not very compelling anymore, either. And yet the writer is still trying to make it seem like it’s a very complicated situation. This results in a convoluted, rambling narrative, where the Bat Family is more or less playing catch-up with the readers. It’s frustrating to read. Any challenges that the Bat Family comes up against, from their attempts at being detectives to them taking fire from gun-toting goons toward the end of this issue, seem completely arbitrary and disingenuous. The Bats should be smarter than they are in this story, and they should have no problem taking out those goons at the end. These are obstacles for the sake of having obstacles, but they don’t create drama, hinder plot development, and don’t contribute to any character arcs whatsoever.
The dialogue isn’t great, either. Take for example the scene shown above, where we see Dick disguised as Arkham staff running into two female staff members. Nobody talks like this. If this is meant to be funny, well, it just isn’t. It’s cringe. It’s awkward. It’s wooden. And the dialogue throughout the rest of the issue relies on a lot of exposition again, which sucks the drama right out the story.
A final point about the writing is that all of this feels like a repeat of past stories. I reread Arkham Manor the other day, and was reminded that, in 2015, Bruce lost his fortune, moved out of the manor and into the city center, and that Arkham Asylum got blown up and the inmates were moved into Wayne Manor. While the plot specifics are different and we get a tower instead of a manor this time around, it still feels very derivative. Come on, writers at DC! Do better.
As for the artwork, it’s not very good, either. I appreciate that the artists use simple layouts, because those tend to be the most effective in these types of superhero comics, and the action is pretty dynamic. However, I still think the coloring makes everything look pretty flat, as if the colors are compressed and lacking in definition. Compare this to, for example, Jordie Bellaire’s work in the backup feature, and you just see a world of difference in how colors can enhance a comic’s visuals. In general, the art looks kind of rushed once again, which should not be the case in an event book this expensive.
I’m starting to really like the backup, though. The art continues to be great and the writing is very solid now. I still have no idea who our main protagonist is, although I have a theory. A name would be nice at this point, but I’ve gotten used to the mystery of his identity and I respect that the creative team is committing to it. What I like especially is how the protagonist continues to travel through Gotham, and is witness to major events that occurred throughout Batman’s publication history. That’s a nice touch that grounds this story in Batman continuity. The downside to this is that readers who are new to Batman or just not as familiar with certain parts of the history might be wondering why things are playing out the way they do, but that’s only a nitpick, because this story really doesn’t ask that much from readers in order to understand and enjoy it. All in all, it’s a fun read. A shame that this is tucked in the back of a comic with a terrible main story.
- You are just picking this up for the backup.
Overall: Once again, only the bare minimum in plot progression is achieved in this issue’s main story. This is a very simple, straight-forward story with an unnecessarily convoluted execution. It’s not entertaining. It’s not intriguing. The only good stuff here is the backup, but even that good backup can’t save this mess. You deserve better.
If you’ve come this far you’ve spent at least: $35.93 (or $41.92 with the 2021 annual.)
(It would’ve been a 3/10, but I’m taking away a full point due to the price.)
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.