Batman: No Man’s Land Vol. 4

After a week of almost non-stop reading, No Man’s Land is officially over.

For the most part I really enjoyed the story, and yet there were a few key moments that left me a bit dissatisfied with my overall reading experience.

Most of No Man’s Land was well-paced and interesting.  Although the stories were revealed slowly, the emphasis was on character experiences rather than non-stop action, and I found that this created a much more intriguing  basis for the story.  Multiple comics are included in these collections, allowing the story room to breathe and grow without cramming a year’s worth of events into a single series.  The Batman comics were allowed to focus on the central storyline, while other trades tied in and enhanced the overall understanding of just what was going on in the NML.

That is, most of the other titles.  I must admit I found the Azrael comics to be a bit underwhelming.  Maybe it’s just because I don’t find Azrael to be a compelling character.  He’s whiny and unsure of himself, and spent essentially all of No Man’s Land  wishing he had a better understanding of what type of man he is.

Plus there was the constant jilted conversations.

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I get it. Azrael is supposed to be the typical awkward guy, raised in an abnormal environment and not knowing how to respond in typical situations.  It’s a standard enough concept.  The execution is grating, though.  Azrael lacks any interesting qualities.  His former appearances in Nightfall cemented his role as a truly unlikable Batman wannabe, and the attempts to make him seem more relatable fell flat.  His storyline was uninteresting, and quite frankly often felt as though it could have been removed from the entire No Man’s Land trade with little to no affect on the overall story.

Those moments aside, the majority of this rather massive story arc was fun to read, and this culminating trade was no exception.  After three trades of a slow build, I figured it had to be leading up to whatever cataclysmic finale would occur here, right?

Somehow, the story managed to achieve this climactic ending while simultaneously feeling just a tad anticlimactic as well.

The story itself ends on a rather benign meeting between Luthor and Batman.  Batman bursts in, intimidates Luthor, and leaves.

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It wasn’t any sort of real conclusion.  Yes, the No Man’s Land ban has been lifted, and Gotham is once again a part of the United States.  There is still plenty to be done to rebuild the once-great city though, and while plenty of efforts are being made, there’s even more still left to be done.

I suppose the point is that the story of an abandoned Gotham has come to a close.  The city may not be whole again, but at least they stand a much better chance at surviving now.

The true climax of the story wound up being a storyline that only loosely tied in to the No Man’s Land plotline.  The Joker had been relatively silent for quite some time, and Batman knew that this meant trouble.  The Joker had decided to kidnap children from across Gotham, all helpless infants.  As Batman and essentially everyone else attempts to find the missing babies, we are met with explosion after explosion at various decoy sites.

The comic then shifts to Lt. Sarah Essen finding the Joker with the children.  Sarah has a gun poised on the madman, but as he tosses a child at her she drops her gun in order to catch the falling baby.

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This winds up being a fatal mistake, as the Joker shoots her in the head, killing her.

As if this scene wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, we’re then greeted with the follow-up of Gordon being informed that Sarah is dead.

Poor, poor Gordon. This man has suffered way too much at the hands of the Joker.  First his daughter Barbara is paralyzed, and now his wife is shot to death.  It’s enough to drive any man to the brink, and Gordon even pulls his gun and aims it at Joker’s head.  Batman uncharacteristically does not try to intervene, instead telling Gordon that he won’t stop him.

At this point, no one would really blame Gordon for putting a bullet in the Joker’s head.  Instead, he drops the gun and shoots him in the kneecap.

It’s a strange and heart-breaking scene, yet it says so much.  Was Batman actually allowing Gordon the opportunity to kill the Joker once and for all, or did he have such faith in him that he knew Gordon wouldn’t take a life, no matter how horrible his grief might be?  The fact that Gordon doesn’t kill the Joker speaks volumes to his character as well.  This man has been through torture at the hands of this psychopath, and yet even now he can’t bring himself to commit murder.  If the past five decades haven’t cemented Gordon as a perennial good guy, this scene most certainly did.

I enjoyed No Man’s Land a great deal more than the similarly epic Nightfall storyline.  Fewer issues here felt like filler, and the changes to the status quo made for a comic I actually wanted to read.  Although Gotham is far from being back on its feet, at least they seem to be headed in the right direction.  If this story taught us anything, it’s that even in a society that has devolved into anarchy, Batman will be there to ensure that some semblance of order is restored.

-Jess

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