Issue #135 is not only the finale of Zdarsky’s second arc, but it’s also the 900th Batman issue, and it’s oversized. More pages doesn’t automatically mean better quality, though, and it’s not a secret that I haven’t been enjoying this run. I hope that this issue will be good, but I’m not feeling optimistic about it at all. Let’s have a look.
What I dislike the most about Zdarsky’s run is the recurring problem of Batman’s plot armor. Zdarsky has actively worked to remove any sense of danger or stakes from his story. When Batman falls from the moon and lands on Earth, he walks away without a scratch. When Batman falls from a skyscraper through the roof of another building, he simply gets up and carries on. We see Batman taking hardcore beatings, we see him getting stabbed straight through the shoulder, and we even see how someone severs his hand! And none of this matters! He just casually cauterizes his wound and continues to fight. Losing his hand has zero emotional impact on him, like he doesn’t care at all. I guess he has a robot hand now or something. Honestly, this entire thing is kind of dumb—had Zdarsky not included this nonsense, the story wouldn’t have changed at all, so it just remains pointless. It makes for a boring reading experience where we’re just going through the motions without any sort of emotional investment.
Unfortunately, the main villain in this arc isn’t all that interesting, either. At first, it seemed like Zdarsky was introducing a new character in Red Mask, with his own hidden agenda. The character was intriguing and intimidating…until Zdarsky revealed that Red Mask is just a Joker wannabe. Red Mask’s motivations for wanting to be the Joker are underdeveloped and boring; there’s just nothing to hook me as a reader here. On the contrary, I’m rather put off by the idea that Red Mask is really just the Joker, because instantly the creative team moves away from an interesting plot and just sticks to old clichés, such as the Joker trying to poison all of Gotham, except now it involves the Multiverse. But a complicated backdrop such as a Multiverse means absolutely nothing to me when I’m not invested in any of the characters.
Moreover, the final confrontation with Red Mask isn’t working for me, either, because it’s so anticlimactic. After all the Multiverse shenanigans and Red Mask’s antics, Batman kind of hops between dimensions until he happens to run into Red Mask again, and he knocks Red Mask out with a single punch, and that’s that. To me it reads like the creative team has no idea how to end this conflict, so they choose the most lazy way out, without any payoff.
The overall structure isn’t anything to write home about, either. The first half still adheres to a more straightforward plot structure, as it picks up where last month’s issue left off, and basically remains narratively linear until about halfway through. It’s kind of a boring read, but at least Batman is still being a hero by actively trying to solve problems. During the second half, however, Batman is being thrown from one corner of the Multiverse to the next, and this continues until the final page, and there is barely any story here. To me, it’s just a collection of random fan service moments and references to other stories. The worst thing is that Batman has no agency here—things are happening to him instead of him setting things in motion. While it’s certainly possible to write an exciting scene where the hero is trapped like this, I think the creative team was indulging too much and forgot to tell a compelling story in the process.
It really is a shame. This could have been a cool adventure, but nothing here feels earned because things are just kind of happening. Case in point: toward the end of the issue Batman and Tim Drake are reunited and they hug it out. This could have been a great, heartfelt moment, but since there is hardly any buildup for Tim Drake—save for the handful of backups where we caught glimpses of him trying to look for Bruce—it looks like he just appears out of nowhere. This scene could’ve carried a lot more weight if the creative team had taken the time to show us the emotional side of Tim’s journey and how much effort he has to put into this. A couple backups where we see him fight Toyman or talk to his mom just doesn’t cut it.
As for the art, it’s a mixed bag. I’m not a fan of Hawthorne’s work because his character’s facial structures always seem to change and Batman looks kind of ridiculous in this outfit (thankfully he gets a new outfit at the end). Most of the action is fairly solid, but a lot of the locations and backgrounds look uninspired and dull. We turn the page and suddenly Mikel Janin draws a couple pages, but since these two artists have such vastly different styles, it’s a jarring switch. Janin’s art looks clean and the colors mesh well with the pencils and inks, but it makes no sense to me that he is drawing four random pages in this issue. The second half is drawn by Jorge Jiminez, and it’s fun to see him approach Batman in so many different styles, paying homage to other artists and depictions of the character. It’s a neat showcase for Jiminez’s range, but at the same time, all these different styles, including Hawthorne and Janin’s styles, make for a disjointed aesthetic, and I struggle to find a good story reason as to why the art has to change so much. After all, even the coolest visuals in the world can’t save a poorly written story.
- The fact that this is also the 900th issue of Batman means something to you.
- You like books with a lot of different art styles.
- You’ve been looking for a jumping-off point.
Overall: I do not enjoy this issue at all. Pretty much nothing resonates with me. The story is weak; the villain is uninteresting; nothing’s really at stake for Batman; and the ending feels unearned. I don’t recommend spending any money on this, not when there are so many other books on stands that deserve the support.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.