Comics // Inchoate Review // Batman Rebirth #1 & #2

Here’s some very quick thoughts on issues 1 & 2 of Tom King’s Batman Rebirth book. I’ve not been a regular bat-reader for quite some time, but after the brilliance of The Omega Men I have been quietly excited about this book since it was announced. And I wasn’t disappointed either, the book is interesting, has some nice characterisation and whilst a little generic in places is certainly compelling enough for me to stick around.

Spoilers follow

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// Alfred the great

Tom King writes a wonderfully acerbic Alfred. And there is a lot of warmth in the mockery he dishes out to Bruce, that katana birthday line is absolutely marvelous! Much like the brilliantly lived in feel of the relationship between Bruce and Alfred was literally, literally, the best thing in BvS, I have a feeling that the relationship will be a funny, touching, heart to this series too.

// Gotham-Man & Gotham-Woman, surely?

OK, so we don’t know the background on these characters, let alone their ages, but it struck me as really odd that the dude is called ‘Gotham’, but the woman is called’Gotham Girl‘. Gotham as the name for a suspicious new super hero is cool, but when you pair him with a woman and then default her to Gotham Girl it just comes across as retrograde tackiness. Maybe this’ll be a thing, part of their relationship dynamic or something (at the very least it is an obvious manifestation of the ‘we get the heroes we deserve’ speech from issue 1), but I suspect we’re ultimately looking at traditional and unfortunately gendered comic book naming conventions that ought to be put away now.

// Save that bum, but don’t help that bum

So Batman takes Mr. Gothman to task for failing to stop Solomon Grundy quick enough to prevent injury to a homeless man in the park. As a result Batman stepped in (in a pretty great smoke-covered entrance) to save the bum from trampling. Except then Batman just swings off into the night. Like, he cares enough that a homeless man shouldn’t get crushed to death, but he’ll be damned if he helps that filthy hippy out with some hot soup or a place to stay for the night or a bloody Bat-blanket to keep warm in the park or whatever. This is a common complaint about Batman, but it rarely feels so starkly illustrated as it is here. Thanks for the assist millionaire Batman.

// Batman takes NZT-48

I must admit, as ridiculous as it ended up being the maths-laden-rocket-seat-surf-a-plane action of issue 1 was a real delight. Even though I am sure it makes no physical sense I love the idea that Batman and his team can parse complex maths in seconds in order to create theoretical plans to save a plane and then carry them out perfectly. This is a Batman I can get behind. Batman is awesome. This is one of the smartest people in the DCU using his formidable mind and his perfect body and his iron will to do whatever it takes to save the people of his city. Batman’s willingness to sacrifice himself was perfect. His final words to Alfred were touching and noble. And, and, and, we get to see an action scene in a superhero book that isn’t just people punching one another! Why is this so rare? Especially when the construction of a scene like this can evoke so much tension and excitement through almost every page of the issue.

// Tim Sale Variants

Super picky and personal one this. Although I picked these up for both issues something felt off to me about Sale’s art. The art is a perfectly fine example of Sale’s work, but unfair as this may seem it comes across a as if he was a little bored whilst drawing them. After thinking about it awhile I think it is because whilst the book itself represents this bold new starting point for Batman’s adventures with a nod to the past (much as Rebirth is the same for the entire DCU), Sale’s art feels like it is literally from the past. Either cover could have come from Long Halloween or Dark Victory, neither cover embraces the content of the issue itself. Sure Solomon Grundy is in #2, but not in this sympathetic sewer man way he was depicted in LH. And the issue #1 cover, that depicts Batman’s rogues in something of a pile-on, well that feels like it is purposefully looking back at all these villains of yore rather than looking forward at the new adventures and stories to come. Maybe this is the point, a bit of Tim Sale/Long Halloween nostalgia whilst you bed in the new book, but it just came across as a uncomfortable juxtaposition for me.

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Review: Detective Comics #37 & #38

Concise –

Solid art and a few nice ideas can’t stop these issues from being messy, derivative, and lacking in focus. The tangle of plots isn’t helped by some unfortunate page composition and poorly handled political flourishes (Occupy, Anonymous, and recent police controversies are thrown into the mix). Although this story isn’t finished, it’s first two parts aren’t been compelling or polished enough to warrant further commitment.

Grade: C-

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Spoilerful –

Drawing from a diverse range of inspirations, both subtly and painfully obviously, these two issues set up the initial stages of Anarky’s plan to throw Gotham into chaos in serviceable fashion, but fail to engage as they should. The overarching Anarky plot is set against a stack of B plots including the discovery of several childrens’ remains, the Mad Hatters obsession with a mysterious ‘Alice’, a new politician in Gotham, and the Christmas graveyard shift at the GCPD. These supporting stories are all lacking sufficient page time or exposition to be anything other than water-muddying diversions from the core story at this point. There is clearly more to be revealed for each mystery, but the foundations they are built upon lack effective enough writing to be compelling on their own.

As a reader we are bounced between many scenes and plot threads with little to no structure; the move from an interesting cold open with Anarky murdering a very suspect man, to Batman fighting the Mad Hatter, to discovering and investigated five bodies, to a Christmas walk in the snow, to the GCPD crime stats, back to the crime scene from the start, then to the Wayne Tower offices for some hacking, explosions, and a cliffhanger, is quite disorientating. There is a lack of natural momentum, I know Batman should be investigating this stuff, but in this particular story it is hard to understand how and why he is doing what he is doing. Ultimately nothing is satisfactorily setup or explained in these issues (including how Batman became able to wall crawl?!). A good mystery needs more than just keeping readers in the dark about everything. This disjointed narrative also suffers from a strong sense of deja vu – many plot elements and scenes feel distractingly familiar, including some very strong echoes of The Dark Knight Rises, resulting in an unfortunately flat reading experience.

The biggest problem with these issues, however, comes from a couple of very confusing page compositions. The first part of the story features a scene where Harvey Bullock seemingly attempts to shoot Batman in the back of the head, apropos of nothing, while his partner and a witness look on (made even more confusing by the fact Batman is in the middle of trying to save Harvey’s life). As Harvey attempts this cold blooded murder an off-panel character shouts ‘Harvey!’ (whether to stop or encourage him is unclear), Batman does some gun punching kung fu and then a whole load of alarms go off for some reason. Ignoring Harvey after this completely Batman then immediately launches into an indescipherable monologue about ‘smart buildings’. I read these pages so many times and could not for the life of me work out why Harvey does this or what, indeed, is going on at all. I literally had no idea what I had just read. I assume there is some Harvey/Batman back story tension at play here, but even besides the sloppy panel work it seems strange that there is no explanation or acknowledgement of it in this story. There is a similarly confusing scene when Batman intervenes in a bank heist that offers no sense of movement or time that I could follow – cars are inside buildings, then they’re not, then everyone is on foot. It wasn’t hard to piece together what I was supposed to be seeing, but it certainly wasn’t as easy as it ought to be either.

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Seriously, what is going on here Harvey?!

All of the above is not to say that these issues are without merit. The chance to see Batman doing some actual detective work is always welcome as he dons a disguise to go undercover. This is a classic Holmesian-esque device and it is good to see that Batman doesn’t limit his ‘investigating’ to beating people up. Sadly this scene also serves to set up a rather cruel emotional gut punch for the cliffhanger, so there’s that. Anarky’s high-tech/low-tech ‘clean slate’ is a nice plot point, one that could be a more effective storytelling tool than it’s TDKR equivalent, however, it needs considerably more time to breathe than it has been given this far. I think this could lead to a far more organic and natural chaos in Gotham than Bane’s movie plan did, and the idea that the mask sets you free is a compelling one for a character like Batman to be facing into. I am sure that the frayed strands of Alice, the dead children, Anarky’s first victim, lonely Batman, the politician, Anarky’s plot, the lonely GCPD, and an accidental shooting will all come together by the end of this story, but based on the evidence so far I am not confident that they will actually satisfy.

Detective Comics #37 & #38 // Writer – Buccellato & Manapul / Art – Manapul // DC Comics

Notes and Observations

  • Batman stops the Mad Hatter from harassing a homeless man and states that the man has “been through enough” – it is a shame Bruce doesn’t have millions of dollars and no day job to prevent him from helping the homeless out, huh? Batman also correctly identifies the Hatter as being “mad”, in this case literally, so I guess the right thing to do would be beat him up?
  • The ‘Bruce time’ walk with Alfred was a nice humanising moment, if a little on the nose (Christmas is family time!).
  • I’m not a big fan of Wayne Tower looking like Batman’s head!
  • Someone should tell Harvey that a loading screen is not a ‘count down’.
  • This version of Anarky feels a little like a cut-rate Amon from Legend of Korra.
  • As ever the Tim Sale variant cover is excellent.

All art belongs to the copyright holder