I really liked this comic. It was interesting and well-written and had just enough mystery to keep me guessing. That being said, I have a serious problem with the way it’s branded/marketed in trade form. Between the front cover image and the back cover synopsis, the trade makes the story seem as though there is going to be some sort of epic confrontation between at least half a dozen individuals vying for (or at least being considered for) the role of Batman. This is, quite frankly, completely not the story this trade tells. Why on Earth are half of these characters even pictured on the cover? Wildcat and Batwoman don’t even have any speaking lines in the entire trade, and Black Canary and Huntress have about one each. Yet somehow Stephanie Brown/Spoiler, who has numerous scenes dedicated to her, isn’t shown?? I don’t understand the logic in this, and it really bugs me when there seems to be little to no communication within the company to make sure a cohesive trade is released. Do the cover artists and synopsis writers even read the comic before completing their work? There are a handful of trades that make me believe they don’t.
Okay, mini-rant over. If you ignore the completely incogruous cover and summary, this is actually a really great story. In the wake of Batman’s death, Gotham is plunged into a crime-filled rage. Batman’s allies and proteges do what they can to stop the violence from escalating, but without the symbol of Batman around to strike terror in the criminals’ hearts, there’s just no stopping them. A new “Batman” appears on the scene, but this one is unstable and shows no restraint, brutally murdering any criminal that crosses his path.
The comic sets this up as a mystery. Who’s the new Batman? At first I didn’t have a clue, but it became pretty clear as the story went on. By the time of the big reveal, it wasn’t much of a revelation to learn who was donning the cowl and posing as Batman.
Jason’s always been unhinged, so it wasn’t a stretch to see him assume a perverse version of Batman. It was a good element in the story, but as a “mystery” it didn’t quite have me sold. It just seemed a bit too obvious.
The real mystery that kept me enthralled (and that has yet to be solved) is who is this new Black Mask on the scene?
The comic doesn’t give that bit of information away, but the mysterious reappearance will no doubt be followed up on in future comics. Is it going to be revealed to be the same Black Mask as before, with his death at the hands of Catwoman being retconned? Or is this an entirely new villain, adopting the title of a criminal mastermind he admires? The story does a good job of setting this up as a potential long-term mystery, as well as making Black Mask seem like a viable threat to Gotham.
The real “battle for the cowl” isn’t much of a battle at all. Yes, Tim, Dick, and Damien each come up against Jason as they try to take him down, but it never feels like they’re fighting for the mantle of Batman. It just feels like Jason’s an imposter and they’re trying to stop him. As for the real Batman cowl, there’s talk of who (if anyone) should don it. Tim wears it briefly after Dick refuses, while Damien whines in the background about how he’s better than everyone (sit down and shut up kid, you’re really not). Ultimately, Dick begrudgingly takes up the mantle of the bat, recognizing that Gotham needs the symbol of Batman more than anything else. There may be plenty of other vigilantes out fighting crime in the city, but none is as effective of a symbol as Batman himself.
A surprising twist occurs at the end of the trade, when the recently reappeared Vicki Vale makes a rather remarkable discovery.
She’s pieced together the secret identities of basically every major Bat vigilante in the city. Without proof she can’t do much with this information, but I’ve no doubt that she’ll be poking around in the background, looking for evidence in future storylines.
Also, I am trying like crazy to not rant about the fact that for SOME UNKNOWN REASON she had to be shown from behind, in her underwear, in this scene. They don’t even try to hide their catering to the male gaze anymore, do they? I could write an entire post about this (and probably will at some point). But for not, all I’ll try to overlook this and focus on the storyline implications of a civilian (a reporter, no less), learning the identities of Batman and co.
As I mentioned before, I really liked this story. There were a few moments that didn’t fully sell me, but overall it’s a solid storyline with an interesting explanation of what becomes of Gotham when Batman leaves (although they don’t mention this having happened during 52 when Bruce, Dick, and Tim left Gotham for an entire year… go figure). It’ll be exciting to see how Dick handles the role of Batman, and what it’ll mean for Gotham as a whole. I’m sure tensions will rise as he tries to adjust to this new title, but I look forward to reading about how it all plays out.
Also, bonus points to the story for giving us what is quite possibly my favorite response to the old, “But you’re a girl” line EVER.
Girls: Boys taunting you? Turn it into a “your mom” joke. Squire, I love you.