Batman: Fortress #1 review

Batman: Fortress by Gary Whitta and Darick Robertson essentially poses the question “what would Batman do if the Earth was under attack and Superman was missing?” While I’m reserving judgment on whether it succeeds with this idea until we get a bit further into the series, I do have a lot to say about the context behind this series and how it affects what we see here. Let’s get into it!

I’ll be honest. I was never particularly  excited for this miniseries. That isn’t to say I completely dismissed it out of hand, though. Here’s the thing: When DC publishes a Batman miniseries, it comes with the implication of being special in some way. There is so much Batman content out there on a regular basis, that to add another book to the pile should mean something. Acting true to form, Fortress is a book meant to sell on the identities on its creators. Darick Robertson is a popular artist who has done little work for DC in the past while Gary Whitta is the latest in a line of “poached Hollywood writers.” Knowing his background causes me to become skeptical of the book.

I don’t want to claim that this type of move is inherently wrong because it’s not. Simple as that. At the end of the day it’s another way to tempt new readers. There is real evidence of potential here. Just last year Mattson Tomlin found great success with Batman: The Imposter (check out Casper’s review!). However, I have no problem with saying it’s a major risk. The reason it remains a risk is the difference in mediums. A screenwriter does not necessarily understand how to structure a comic. We’ve seen it before as a blatant problem in Sam Hamm’s work for DC. Both Blind Justice and Batman ’89 read very poorly as a result of an unfamiliarity with the medium (despite being a good writer). In the case of Gary Whitta’s writing, I’m going to hold off revealing my opinion just yet. First I feel the need to address another behind the scenes element.

Bringing up The Imposter again, I’d like to highlight one of the biggest differences in presentation. The Imposter was a DC Black Label book. Fortress is a standard DC Universe title, despite being outside continuity. This sends a signal to the reader in the worst way. Without realizing it, I believe DC has told everyone that this title is worth less than the Imposter and that Gary Whitta is worth less than Mattson Tomlin. I don’t think they meant to do this but as a reader it looks that way from afar. Now that all sounds very dramatic but I do believe it matters. If I had to guess, I would say the majority of people are not familiar with either Whitta or Tomlin by name. Before I was offered a chance to review this book, I had decided I wasn’t even going to read it just because of a lack of familiarity with the writer. There are so many options out there that something has to be passed by. Now I have to question; would I have reacted differently if they had simply placed the black label logo on the cover? Quite possibly. 

I’m not only interested in talking about the background, of course. It wouldn’t make a very comprehensive review if I forgot to talk about the comic itself! I’m not going to delve into the plot at this point, given how early on we are. Instead my focus for now will be the more surface level elements. Kicking that off, I’ll circle back to how well Whitta makes the transition to comics. My verdict: Well enough. It isn’t perfectly smooth by any means. There were several conversations throughout the issue where I could feel the influence of screenwriting getting in the way. For example, Batman’s rooftop chat with Gordon is far too comprehensive and overwritten.

In a film, you can get away with a bit more extraneous dialogue without damaging the pacing. In a comic you can’t. The reader is called the reader for a reason! They have to read every word the writer puts on the page. “Oh, by the way, could you expand on that point you made earlier, Gordon?” is probably not a good move even on film. In a comic it grinds all momentum to a halt. This has a particularly negative effect on the art. Many of these conversations are stagnant enough that Darick Robertson is unable to flex his sequential muscles.

First, we see them talk from the front. Then we see them talk from the back. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was a single instance but unfortunately it is extremely common. Very little physical character interaction with others or with their environment can be found here.

There is more to a story than pacing though. How about characterization? Well, I’m not convinced here either. Near the beginning of the issue, we are treated to an interaction between Gordon and Bullock in which Bullock is portrayed both as an idiot and a coward. Later on Bruce monologues about looters “not being his problem” before going off on some vaguely political tangent about the American dream. The tangent aside, I can say that, as a character, Batman would absolutely consider looters “his problem.” Perhaps most egregious is the Penguin’s portrayal. Generally portrayed as cool and collected aristocratic criminal, who refuses to get his hands dirty, Penguin is seen here attempting to choke a civilian to death with his bare hands and singing a traditional ballad like he was written by Tom King himself!

With the exception of a few characters these are all very much Whitta’s interpretations and unfortunately rather than feeling like fresh new takes, they usually come across as mischaracterized versions of the traditional. I don’t think this breaks the comic by any means but it is something to keep an eye on. 

Regardless of some of the dull sequences of art, I enjoy the visuals overall. Character’s all have recognizable and consistent appearances. The backgrounds are rendered with accuracy and detail. Best of all, Robertson’s art is very moody which fits perfectly for Batman. Interestingly, I found that it was Diego Rodriguez’s colors that really brought it all together and stood out. From the wrinkles on Gordon’s forehead to the brick walls, the coloring perfectly emphasizes Robertson’s inks and blends to create the gritty atmosphere that is so important to Gotham.

Recommended if…

  • Darick Robertson is your man!
  • A continuity-free Bat book is what you need
  • You’re willing to take a risk on Gary Whitta

Overall

This is a marginal Batman story. I felt this review would best serve as an exploration of some of the context behind the series and what that could mean for it. Having also pointed out what I consider to be the potential deal breakers, I think the quality of this issue can be assessed. Going forward, we will see if the actual plot line can break out into something truly intriguing.

Score: 5/10


DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.