“Sometimes, less is more.”
That’s the phrase that kept repeating in my head as I read I Am Batman #9 – and indeed, issues #7 and #8. While I went into this new arc with excitement, all three of these issues have brought the same problem with them that the book had before: try as I might, I cannot bring myself to find this very interesting.
Let’s start with the good, because I think there’s plenty to compliment here before I get into my fundamental critiques. Ever since issue #6, the art has taken a drastic turn for the better: primarily because we’re finally dealing with less artist rotation on the book! Jace Fox has had a slew of phenomenal artists working on him, yet his stories have consistently suffered from messy presentation, jumping from artist to artist between and during issues. That’s not exactly solved here, but it’s certainly a lot less noticeable. Christian Duce handles most of the pencils for issues #7-9, and while Stephen Segovia also worked on the latest issue, the styles are close enough to seamlessly transition into each other without seeming too noticeable. What’s most important remains constant, which is that every character looks unique and identifiable. Each character feels like a real person, and scenes that would normally be somewhat dull are elevated because of the art’s efforts to make them seem heartfelt.
Rex Lokus should be given major credit for his work here, too. Colouring is a major part of keeping a comic’s identity stagnant despite constantly changing artists! It’s why I didn’t even notice a change in artists between issues #6 and #7, aside from the fact that I’m generally a big dumb stupidhead. I think his best work in issue #10 in particular comes in this depiction of Chinatown. There are a lot of colours and shades intermingling here, and Lokus does a good job of blending them all together to create grimy, lived-in scenery, the characters dimly lit by the neon around and buzzing streetlights overhead.
The art would be a whole lot better if the illustrators were given something cool to draw, though. We have now spent four issues in New York – a pretty cool city, I’ve heard! – and I can count the number of interesting fights Batman has been in since his arrival, which is a grand total of one. His personal nemesis, Manray (not the spongebob villain), does have a cool introduction in Issue #8, where he beats the living hell out of Batman with a spiked iron. It was cool to see Jace suddenly out of his depth, even if it was against a villain I don’t have much interest in. It’s bad timing, really: a serial killer who mutilates the elite of the city and thinks he’s just like Batman? Pretty sure we just got that in a movie. If I want more of that, I’ll probably just read the Riddler’s upcoming comic.
Let’s get back to “less is more”, though. What I’m referring to, specifically, is the dialogue. I’ve been watching a lot of Better Call Saul lately, and a great thing about that show is that it’s very effective at having scenes that show what the character is feeling without telling us in so many words. That’s a difficult thing to accomplish, but it’s very rewarding to read when done right. Compare that to this scene between Jace and his sister in Issue #8, where the two are discussing some family drama.
…That’s a lot of dialogue. But okay, let’s cut Ridley some slack. Tiffany is supposed to be this talkative and smart – it’s been established as such since Batwing. Let’s look at the next immediate page and see if the style has changed between two completely different characters.
There’s no room for interpretation in these scenes. Any nuance you could gain from these four characters is lost when they spout exactly how they feel, all the time, no matter where they are. This was the case in all of I Am Batman before New York, and it’s still the case in Issue #9, as you can see from another example below.
To me, my bigges problem with I Am Batman is that it feels like it wants to be “risk-free”. It wants to be realistic enough to ground Jace in a world Ridley understands, but not realistic enough to commit to any benefits of a gritty noir. Jace is in New York, because in Gotham he might step on some toes. He has one new villain that’s halfway interesting, who first appeared 6 issues into his book. He can’t be a Batman who’s wealthy, but he has Lucius’ Fox’s money as a backup, just in case. He’s as rich as Ridley wants him to be, as poor as Ridley wants him to be, as clever and as skilled as Ridley wants him to be, and as foolhardy and sloppy as Ridley wants him to be – and all of this is retold in the dialogue of each issue, just in case we get lost. It feels as if there’s a fear to make Jace too much of anything, so instead he feels almost like nothing.
What are you afraid of! Jace is going to be hated no matter what, because he’s a new character in the role of Batman. People hated it when Commisioner Gordon did it, and Superheavy is one of my favourite Batman stories ever. Embrace it! Ridley may not have a choice in the matter, but I’d like Jace a whole lot more if his stories were a lot less about compromise. Have him be a lone wolf taking down the entire corporate machine, or have him be some super-cop to create a better image for the maligned police of New York (I wouldn’t enjoy that, but it’d be something). When Batman started his career in Year One, he was a sloppy mess of a man who made a lot of mistakes – but he had a clear and focused vision, which only became more refined as the story went. Jace seems lost, and when your characters are without direction, so is the book.
- You’re more interested in the idea of this new Batman than you are in its delivery.
- The Fox Family’s storyline is one you’re invested in.
- You want to see more New York in DC… even if it seems like a very shallow interpretation of it.
I’ve been more than fair with I Am Batman, I think. It’s a book I’ve really wanted to succeed, and I think it’s because it has all of the pieces in place to do just that. But I think enjoying this book requires a lot of concessions: accepting a new location, completely new characters, and a new villain on top of an entirely new Batman. I am fine with every single one of these things – what I’m not fine with is a book that’s afraid to accept what makes it different. If the book keeps going at the pace it’s going, it will continue to recieve a middling response. I want to see it be bold, take risks, try new things… but a part of me worries if it’s already too late. Let’s hope Jace can change that when he meets more characters in the world of DC, and starts to accept the universe he’s a part of.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch