Batman: No Man’s Land Vol. 1

Batman just keeps getting better and better.

There’s a real sense of cohesion between these recent Batman stories, with each flowing seamlessly into the next as a broader storyline is maintained.  Compared to the stilted and often disconnected stories seen in other comics, it’s a welcome relief to finally read a title that so widely treats its stories as part of a larger narrative.

No Man’s Land follows up the events of Cataclysm.  Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse for Gotham, the city is denied any sort of government aid and is cordoned off, not allowing anyone to enter or leave the city.

Gotham is on it’s own.

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The city’s infrastructure deteriorates as the remaining residents struggle to find the most basic necessities.  Rival gangs form, many lead by former Arkham inmates, battling one another for food and ammunition.

The remaining members of the GCPD are doing their best to maintain order and keep people safe, adopting the now widely-used gang method of tagging to delineate their territories.

It’s a new Gotham with an entirely new set of rules.

For the first few months, Batman is noticeably absent.  Commissioner Gordon has given up all hope of ever seeing him again, believing the Bat to have abandoned the city like the rest of the world.  Embittered by this seeming betrayal, Gordon throws himself into his work, determined to do everything he can to save his city.

Of course, Batman eventually returns, but he must adapt to be effective in this new environment.

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He too begins tagging buildings to let people know that he’s back, but many believe it to be false, a ruse meant to scare others away.

In this new world, there is simply too much for one man to do, and so Batman must rely on other people to help save the city.  Huntress and Azrael are put to use searching for food and maintaining order, though doing so in a lawless city proves to be quite difficult.

Most surprising is the sudden appearance of a new Batgirl, a mysterious figure who has adopted the Bat persona on her own because she believes the city needs the symbol.

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Her identity is still a mystery at this point, although I can’t help but wonder if she’s a new or existing character.  Batman only begrudgingly accepts her help, but she seems to be holding her own as a symbol of the Bat, although truth be told she’s a bit more volatile.

The appearance of a new Batgirl doesn’t go unnoticed, and brings about one of my favorite scenes in this trade.  Surveying a fight from her base of operations, Oracle (aka the original Batgirl) is shocked to see another woman donning a Bat costume.

Angered and upset, she doesn’t hold back when Batman shows up to speak with her.

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She’s upset not only that there’s a new Batgirl in town, but that Batman himself didn’t tell her about it.  Her emotions in this scene feel raw and powerful, and are the first time I’ve seen her truly get upset about her situation.  It added a lot to her overall character, and while she forgave Batman and admitted that she still trusts him implicitly, it was important to see that Barbara has not forgotten her past and to a certain extent still clings to it dearly.

Barbara’s story was perhaps my favorite in this first trade.  Having relied so much on technology in the past, she is now forced to make due with less advanced means of gathering information.  Somehow she still thrives, using informants and low-tech methods of communication to learn as much as she can about the city.  Her ability to survive in these conditions, all the while staying focused and mostly positive, shows just how strong she really is. It’s no small wonder that she became such a fan favorite; she’s undoubtedly one of the toughest characters to ever grace the pages of a comic.

This is only the first of four No Man’s Land trades, but I’m already hooked. I’m hoping there isn’t a lull in the story with such a drawn-out plot (as there was with Nightfall) but I have a feeling there won’t be.  There are plenty of characters here to enrich the story, and various angles that can be used to expand on Gotham’s misery.  We see the city through the eyes of its heroes, its villains, and its ordinary citizens, becoming so immersed in the goings on that one can’t help but want to read more.  It’s difficult to guess just how Gotham can possibly survive, but as this comic proves, it’s a city of survivors.  It’s people will endure as only they know how.

-Jess

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