When I first saw the cover for this issue a few months back, I braced myself to go on a tirade. Ghost-Maker? Really? I thought we were done with that guy.
I’d hoped we were done with that guy. But no, there he is, right on the cover with Batman.
Always striving to be as fair and professional as possible, I went into Batman #121 wanting to give it the fairest shake possible, even if one of the worst new characters of the past few years– or any year– could sully my enjoyment at any second. Thankfully, Ghost-Maker is only in a single panel of the issue, so he’s not in it as much as you’d think.
Unfortunately, his appearance sets up possibly the worst decision to hit the Batbooks in recent months, if not the past several years, as he and ClownHunter (also an awful, uninspired character) will soon be leading Batman, Inc. I won’t go on a tirade here, though…
…because I already did a few weeks ago. Even looking at it objectively, I cannot enjoy anything related to Ghost-Maker, because he’s just such a non-entity of a character that was clearly only created for the sole purpose of new I.P. He’s written with the same voice as all the other characters introduced in that run of Batman, has a silly name, and really doesn’t have any business being part of the Batman books. He hasn’t earned it. He can’t earn it at this point, because he’s been force-fed to readers as a “cool, edgy counterpoint to Batman,” when really he’s beyond lame.
And even without his presence and the… “promise” of his continued prominence, this issue still falls short of the bar set by Williamson the past few months.
Where the issue ultimately comes up short is in its overall pacing. It feels like an extended epilogue, and not a particularly exciting one at that. Everything is wrapped up too neatly and quickly, be it the involvement of Batman, Inc., the origins of the Abyss, and how Lex Luthor fits into it all. There’s lots of telling, and very little showing. Not even the reliable visuals of Jorge Molina and Mikel Janín are strong enough to overcome the decidedly abrupt conclusion.
To their credit, Molina, Janín, Morey, and Cowles turn in some great work. I particularly liked the interesting panel layouts in the early half of the book, and there’s a cool fight between Batman and the Abyss that makes great use of a stark white background. I’ll let you discover it for yourself, in context, but Cowles’ choice of font for the word “alone” on a certain page is as sinister and oppressive as the scene requires, and a great example of the lettering showing what type of mood and tone the scene should have, rather than outright telling us through a bunch of dialogue.
Honestly, the biggest detriment to this issue is that it’s all setup. Yeah, it technically resolves the arc running through the past few issues, but it’s capped with multiple epilogues. The first relates to the current “Shadows of the Bat” story going on in Detective, and there’s a page turn resulting in a time jump that is so jarring I laughed out loud.
Then we get the one scene with Ghost-Maker and Clownhunter, and yeah, I’ve said what I needed to about that. These characters just aren’t good or engaging, and the very thought that they should be leading a team when complex, established, and beloved members of the Batfamily languish in aimless obscurity is outright insulting. The sooner we never hear from these two again, the better.
And then the issue ends with a teaser for “Shadow War”, which… look, I’ve mentioned how much I dislike Deathstroke in the past, so this does not excite me in the least. Williamson earned a lot of goodwill from me over the past few issues, so this was definitely a drag. It ultimately feels like a filler story before upcoming crossovers, which is a shame, because it could have stood on its own just fine. Now, I’d be surprised if I remember this arc a year from now.
The final installment of “They Make Great Pets” is more satisfying than the main story, to be certain, but it still feels like a bit of a letdown. The art is wonderful, as you’d expect, and the dialogue and storytelling aren’t exactly lacking. It just… I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what the story was trying to say.
I do love the elements of Japanese folklore, which are wonderfully rendered by Kerschl’s steady pen. The lettering in particular is a highlight, particularly Kerschl’s choice of fonts and word balloon styles when switching between spoken English and Japanese. The villainous kappa looks appropriately creepy, and there’s a short fight scene that’s nonetheless gripping.
Even still, it ends on a rather melancholy note. It’s one that isn’t unearned, as it’s pretty tonally consistent with the subject matter, but the bubbly exuberance of Maps almost seems at odds with everything else. There’s not a point where I disliked this story, mind you, I just wish it was longer.
Come to think of it, maybe it should have been the main story instead?
BONUS: Some variant covers, including this pretty sweet Lee Bermejo piece for The Batman.
- You’ve been enjoying this title.
- You like Ghost-Maker for some reason and want to know where he’ll pop up next.
- You like Maps, because she still manages to make things a ton of fun.
Overall: Quite the letdown after the really strong preceding few issues, Batman #121 took “The Abyss” from being a solid Batman story to a forgettable one. Parts of it work– mostly due to the ridiculously skilled art team– but the story wrapped up way too abruptly. Even worse, with its multiple epilogues, it feels like nothing more than setup for future stories, and ones featuring characters that I’m not particularly interested in ever seeing again. The backup fares better, but even it could have used some more room to breathe. Thankfully, once “Shadow War” wraps, Chip Zdarsky, Jorge Jimenez, and Tomeu Morey will be on board for the long haul, so hopefully this is a momentary speed bump on the road to Batman excellence.