The Multiverse is all the rage these days, for better or worse, but it’s really not difficult to see why. With an endless supply of characters comes an endless supply of variations on those characters. It’s great reading stories where Batman teams up with his fellow heroes, but you know what’s better than Batman? Two Batmans.
Why, the only thing that would make that better is if one of those Batsman was a pirate or a cowboy, and friend? I have good news for you.
Granted, the use of alternate dimension, variants of different characters, and a Multiverse of different worlds can be used as a narrative cheat. Successfully using this narrative device requires a creative team who are deeply knowledgeable about the characters they’re writing, yet have a deft enough touch to keep a story entertaining without getting bogged down in exposition. For every Into or Across the Spider-Verse, there’s a… well, I won’t name names, but just fill in the blank and you’re probably right.
Batman feels a bit different, though. He’s one of the most versatile characters in all of fiction, working just as well in street level noir as he does in wacky intergalactic adventures. My “Batman and other Batman who is also a cowboy pirate” scenario might not be a common occurrence, but stories focusing on both of those concepts are compelling enough to stand on their own.
With all of these different takes on the Caped Crusader, there’s enough content to fill an entire book chronicling all sorts of multiversal shenanigans… which is exactly what the good folks at Insight Editions have done. Batman: The Multiverse of the Dark Knight is an illustrated guide through the history of Batman, and more specifically, the history of different variations of Batman.
Written by Matthew K. Manning– who is no stranger to great Batman content— the book is presented as a chronicle of different files Oracle has amassed through her study of different Crisis events and the Batmen she’s encountered through them. I always like when books like this have a sort of narrative throughline, so it feels less like a dry presentation of information you could find on Wikipedia and more like an actual case log from a beloved character. Manning’s voice for Barbara is pretty strong, if a tad clinical. That’s perfectly fine, though, when you look at this as being led by Oracle, not Babs.
Focusing on the Batman moniker, and less on the extended Batfamily, the book is pretty comprehensive in regards to how many different takes on Batman are presented. There is one pretty egregious misstep that I’ll get into later, regarding the lack of Batfamily representation, but overall I was impressed with the different stories and comics Manning references in the character entries. Each Batman “Oracle File” has the Alias, Identity (if known), and the Universe that Batman comes from. The main Bruce Wayne Batman is from Earth-0, for instance, as were Dick Grayson, Jace Fox, Jean-Paul Valley, and Jim Gordon when they each wore the mantle. The entries are accompanied by illustrations from Flaviu Pop, using a pretty basic house style that fits each of the characters presented, with certain artist’s styles emulated to pretty good effect. Each Batman gets at least a full body image to show off his costume, and some accompanying text to describe his origin and what sets his world apart from the others. Some Batmen even get multiple pages devoted to their history, like the Gaslight Bat-Man of Earth-19 who gets a lovely double-page spread followed by several more pages detailing his adventures.
The one thing I feel is missing from a writing and visual standpoint is a little more information about each different Batman, specifically a direct reference to the comics they appeared in and an illustration from the source material as well. The way everything is presented is relatively clean, easy to read, and straightforward, and some of the entries are pretty obvious. The Batman of Earth-23 is drawn to look like a Darwyn Cooke character, and is even labeled New Frontier, so it’s clear where he’s from. There are a few entries that gave me pause though, like a Jason Todd Batman from Eart-15’s “Perfect Universe” and a group labeled “Inspirations” full of characters I’d never even heard of. Manning’s text is always readable and informative, but it would have been nice to have some footnotes so I could read the comics the characters were taken from.
It’s the sheer volume of Batman variations that are represented that’s truly impressive, though. You’ve got the usual suspects, like the Batman from The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, Holy Terror, and Speeding Bullets, newer creations like Batsaur of Jurassic League and Prince Bruce Wayne from Dark Knights of Steel, and oddities like Batmanga and Batmouse from the Zoo Crew. Even books I’d totally forgotten about like Gotham City Garage and Justice League 3000 are represented, sandwiched between much more the much more popular Flashpoint, DCeased, and the White Knight universe.
As alluded to before, I have one major complaint, less about what characters aren’t included than which characters are. Very little is written about the various Robins, Batgirls, and other Batfamily members, which is fine. I do find it completely bewildering that Ghost-Maker and Clownhunter are present with Batman, Inc., though, when Tim Drake doesn’t even get a single mention. Tim has even been Batman in an alternate timeline, as well as Batman Beyond, and Terry McGinnis is present here. Now, it’s no secret that I despise those two characters, so I won’t turn this into a screed about how creatively bankrupt and cynical forcing Ghost-Maker into prominence has been. Nor will I go off on Batman, Inc., which is a concept and team that I actually like, minus the shoehorning in of the two characters that don’t belong. If this is meant to be a look at different Batmen from the multiverse, though, and you leave out two instances that carried some pretty popular stories in recent memory, yet include even more recent creations that have not received a warm response from fans and who may not even continue with those identities any longer, it’s bewildering and insulting. I do not put this on Manning or Insight at all, but on editorial who are trying to make something that nobody likes a thing for reasons that are well beyond rational thinking.
It’s that editorial short-sightedness that has also rendered this book out of date before it even hits stands. Exclude the Batman, Inc. section– or only focus on established members of that team, not new additions– and this would be relatively timeless, at least until more alternate Batman identities are introduced. Being forced to include this iteration of that team when the title has just ended and the two offending members have seemingly (thankfully) discarded their identities is just bizarre, though.
Even still, it’s a nice, thorough book with good writing and pleasant, versatile art. The design work is great too, with the interior cover pages having some stamped bat shapes to give it nice texturing. It’s little things like this that make it clear that thought and effort went into the book, which is nothing less than what I’d expect from Insight Editions.
Retailing for $34.99, Batman: The Multiverse of the Dark Knight will hit stores on October 31, and is available for preorder now.
Disclaimer: Insight Editions provided a copy of this book for the purpose of this review.
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