Bruce’s adventures in an alternate universe continue. The first two issues of the current arc weren’t very strong. I remember still enjoying the first chapter, but the creative team started to lose me with chapter two. Going into #133, I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. Will the creative team be able to get things back on track? Let’s have a look.
Zdarsky writes an interesting Catwoman this month. It’s clear that she has her own agenda and that she’s not exactly fond of Red Mask, but Red Mask essentially bullies her into working for him. What makes her interesting is that we can’t know for sure whether she’s actually helping Bruce, helping Red Mask, or just helping herself. Catwoman leading Batman into an underground cave system makes for a great cliffhanger.
Red Mask is also getting a little more interesting. This time it’s revealed that he has a superpower. On the one hand, I like this because it means that he isn’t just a smart and intimidating dude, but he can also seriously wreck someone if he wants to. On the other hand, the idea of him being powerless and still being in control of Judge Dent and Catwoman was pretty solid in itself, and would potentially work better for him as a villain. Giving a character powers to make him a strong opponent is easy writing; but writing the character in such a way that his very aura and presence inspires fear in the people around him—now that’s good writing. I’m slightly disappointed that Zdarsky doesn’t decide to do the latter, but if he can justify Red Mask having powers by actually having those powers say something about the character and how he interacts with others, then this could still be really cool.
However, I am just not a fan of Zdarsky’s dialogue. It’s just so overcooked. For example, lines like “I’m everyone you’ve ever hurt…I’m their vengeance,” or “I’m everywhere, I’m Gotham,” really aren’t that great. It just makes it seem like the writer is trying hard to sound cool, and it just doesn’t work for me. Zdarsky also loses points for simply pulling well-known riddles from Google and attributing these to the Riddler. Not only have I seen these riddles a lot in general, but many writers before Zdarsky have used these same riddles in Batman comics already! It might not be that big of a deal for some readers, but to me it’s hella annoying.
The story gets more questionable when Batman digs up the dead body of the alternate Bruce Wayne. Alfred interrupts Batman, and Batman acts rather cold around Alfred as he drags away the dead Bruce. At the end of the scene, we see Alfred sitting in the rain, crying. Sure, seeing a live Bruce dig up a dead Bruce should be traumatic for him, but the way it’s presented reeks of unnecessary melodrama. The rain, Alfred’s pose as he’s on his knees, covering his face in his hands, and the moody colors…it’s just too much, tone it down, please.
Batman then takes the dead Bruce to some kind of machine in some location. The comic does a very poor job of establishing place, but that isn’t my real problem with this scene. What I think is hard to buy is that there’s this machine that can scan the dead body, inform Batman that dead Bruce died due to poisoning, and on top of that inform Batman that there are traces of multiversal energy inside the dead body. At this point it’s already getting pretty convoluted, but then Judge Dent shows up and Batman immediately abandons dead Bruce to beat the crap out of Judge Dent, and doesn’t look back. It’s getting a little ridiculous at this point.
The artwork by Hawthorne is not fantastic but also not outright bad; it’s just very dramatic throughout. Sometimes that works; for example, when Batman stalks Riddler and his henchmen in an abandoned warehouse. Riddler and his men get visibly scared, and I like how Batman slowly starts to appear and then leaps into the fray. The different angles, closeups, wide shots and the straightforward layout make for a well-paced and fun scene. Other times, it doesn’t work for me. I’ve already talked about the Alfred scene, but then there is the fight with Judge Dent, which…well…it’s bad. Let’s break it down:
On the page where the fight starts, we see three panels. In panel 1, Judge Dent charges Batman—this is whatever. In panel 2, Batman (on the right) awkwardly stops Dent (on the left) by putting his hand to Dent’s shoulder. Batman is completely unbalanced here—it’s an awful fighting stance—and he awkwardly brings back his leg so he can kick Dent. For the record, he should absolutely not have been able to stop Dent like this; Dent should have knocked Batman to the ground with ease. In panel 3, Batman has kicked Dent so hard that reality glitches and Dent warps to the other side of the panel. There is no way that Batman can go from his position in panel 2 to his position in panel 3—the sequence is already broken.
We turn the page. Suddenly Dent is back on his feet and he…I’m not even sure what he’s doing here. Is he trying to tickle Bruce’s armpit or something? We go to the next panel on this page, and for some reason Bruce is on the ground while Dent lifts a car. Granted, we did see a car in a panel before the fight started, but the creative team has failed to establish where the fighters are in relation to the car during the fight. The way Batman defeats Dent is also rather silly, because after such a wonky fight scene, the victory feels unearned. This fight gives me a headache.
“The Toy Box: Part 3” is more to my liking. The dialogue is short and snappy; the layouts and the art are easy to read; and the action, as drawn by Mendonça, is fun to see. Toyman’s minions look creepy and Tim is heroic and badass. What I dislike is that there’s so much emphasis on the no-killing rule. It doesn’t really make sense to me that Tim would actively think about that so much, because I don’t think it should be something that he’s struggling with. I feel like Zdarsky is trying to make a point with this, but not only is it unnecessary, whatever point Zdarsky is trying to make also isn’t quite developed. That said, the backup is a fun little story that presents a great adventure with a well-written version of Tim Drake.
- Tim Drake is your favorite character.
- Broken fight scenes don’t bother you.
- You like pain.
Overall: Honestly? I don’t recommend this comic; it just isn’t very good. The backup is fun, and Zdarsky certainly has a good voice for Tim Drake, but I’m not about to recommend spending $4.99 on just a short backup. There are better books on stands this week that are worth spending your time and hard-earned money on.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.