Another ongoing Bat book…. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. As unenthused as I am about the prospect in theory, I do have to admit there is something about this series I’m looking forward to and that is Damian. Specifically, Josh Williamson’s Damian. The best thing I’ve ever read from Williamson’s pen is his Robin series from 2021, so seeing him come back to this character is pretty exciting to me. That said, some of his recent work has been very disappointing so it’ll be interesting to see how this book plays out. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
If I had to sum this book up with a sentence, I’d call it enjoyable but flawed, with the potential to become something great.
We usually talk about scripting before art here at Batman News but there are cases like this where I have to mix things up. That’s because the art is the biggest complaint I have about this comic. When art is acceptable (or great) it serves the story and becomes invisible to some extent. When it isn’t working it becomes the most difficult thing to get past in a comic. Now, I don’t want to imply Di Meo is a bad artist because he isn’t. In fact, he has a lot of skill and it’s on display here. The problem is Di Meo’s quality of work as a sequential artist. The storytelling here is very weak. This is a result of a few things. To begin with, the panels are cluttered and overcrowded.
Di Meo’s art leans heavily on contrast through exceptionally bright highlights, dark shadows, and heavy blacks. When you combine that with how full every inch of every page is it becomes very difficult to read what is happening. On a cover (Di Meo’s strength) this isn’t a problem. Filling the space creates visual interest in that case because there is only one image and it’s supposed to be attention-grabbing. You also don’t want to see everything the image has to offer in a short glance. It should draw you in as you explore the piece. (Although admittedly, a minimalist cover can be equally intriguing; covers are a complicated business.) However, on an interior, this is all reversed to some extent. Clarity is essential for following the narrative. Clarity doesn’t mean simplicity but readability and when all you can see is a flurry of… stuff, it’s painful to try and interpret. The colors contribute to this as well. Di Deo colors his own work (which is impressive on a monthly book) but his palette does not do well to help separate elements. Everything kind of blurs together and contributes to the difficulty of reading this comic.
I also find there are times when the panels don’t clearly show all the events that are happening and we get weird jumps forward that don’t feel smooth.
I shared this whole page because with context you can see how little any of this makes sense. Fox shows up nowhere on the page until his mask pops off which disconnects the bottom two panels. I know Damian is kicking Fox but it isn’t obvious. I have to make the leap that that’s what happening. It really looks like Damian is trying to kick the shark, missing, and the following panel is a floating Fox head with a guy standing in the background. The red arrow looks odd as well and I’m fairly certain it was added to make the unclear sequence read better. Besides all that, can anyone tell me what Batman is doing in the two small panels?
This could be a script problem but I don’t have any way of telling and regardless, as a sequential artist Di Meo should have the prerogative to make small changes to help it read better. To me, the technique of the art here is strong but if Di Meo doesn’t do something that will help these pages read better, the art will always be the main element holding this comic back.
In contrast to the art, the writing is pretty simple. I don’t mean that in a bad way either. It’s just straight to the point and does a good job of being engaging and getting me excited to see where this story will go in future issues. My biggest complaint is the numerous references to the Gotham War. Ignoring how much I dislike the event (check out my review of Catwoman next week for more on that or my Battle Lines review with Casper) I still don’t think the references have a place in this story. As a comparison let’s take a look at Robin #1 from 1993. This issue picks up from where a recent Batman issue leaves off. Jean-Paul Valley has taken over as Batman and we reach a point where he decides he no longer needs Robin and essentially attacks him, telling Tim Drake to stay away for good. Thus, Robin has no place in the main Bat titles anymore, which is the perfect place to introduce his spinoff book where he has to learn to operate on his own without support. When Bruce Wayne comes back, they start working together again, but Robin has already established himself as a competent hero on his own and justified the existence of his solo book which is used for plots that wouldn’t have a place in the Batman books. Now, I bring this up because it’s a great example of inter-title continuity done well. There is a good reason for the titles to reference each other and since Robin spun out of the plot events of Batman, they remain relevant for a while. Eventually, they weren’t so intertwined and Robin’s book references the events in Batman far less. I know Williamson grew up on these stories and I’ve heard him talk about how much he loves continuity. That is evident in his writing. DC’s continuity is a complete mess but any book Williamson writes lines up perfectly with all his other work. I appreciate his dedication to making the line consistent (even if the other Bat writers don’t). So, coming to my point, Batman & Robin’s Gotham War references don’t work. This title in no way spins out of or relates to the main Bat book. The events taking place here are entirely unrelated and don’t cross over either. A line referencing the rest of the bat family being on the outs with Batman and Damian doesn’t fit within the context of this plot and it’s clumsily shoved in via Killer Croc. His dialogue here just makes me feel like Williamson is talking to me rather than the character.
Continuity references should be natural and here they feel forced. Why would Croc refer to these guys as family and why would he even care about Batman’s familial trouble? Well, he wouldn’t. In the end, it only serves to take me out of the narrative. In five years when someone picks up a trade and reads this story they won’t know what’s being referenced if they haven’t already read The Gotham War. I’m all for references if they enhance the story and world, this just feels like an irrelevant product placement for a comic I don’t want to read.
Now, the good news is, I had a great time otherwise. I don’t have any other complaints at this point. The mystery is intriguing enough for a start (though maybe a bit too familiar), the character work is spot on, and Batman isn’t a jerk in this book; huge points for that. Despite the length at which I talked about my problems with the comic, this is a good series so far. That’s just the nature of first issues. Glaring problems stand out while the good things haven’t had time to develop yet. Hopefully, if next month continues the positive trends, I’ll be able to get deeper into the good stuff.
- You’re a fan of Williamson’s Damian
- Batman isn’t a dick here; That’s gotta count for something
- You want an alternative to the big event that’s going on
I had a great time with this issue, though the quality of sequential storytelling and aesthetics sometimes made it a difficult read. Despite that, I’m interested enough that I’d pick up the second issue if I was buying monthly (If I enjoy a comic that I’m reviewing, I trade wait). The characters are well-written and treated with respect. The plot has me interested as well, but the second issue is the key. That’s where I know if I’m going to like a series going forward. So, we’ll see how I feel next month but for the moment, I recommend giving this a shot!
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.