I haven’t been a fan of Zdarsky’s run and, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to get any better. The current arc so far is derivative and filled with melodrama, and the action hasn’t been particularly good, as you can see in my fight breakdown in my previous review. I always want creative teams to succeed, but there comes a point where I just feel kind of hopeless. Is this the issue that makes me reach that point? Let’s have a look.
Well, I’ll just be upfront about it: I think this is the worst issue in Zdarsky’s run so far. Last month I thought that Red Mask was getting more interesting, but this month the character gets ruined for me. When Batman confronts Red Mask, the guy immediately reveals his secret origin through a rather dull info dump. So he was a chemist and had a freak accident, which completely upset his life—we’ve seen this kind of stuff a million times already. However, it gets worse, and I’m going to spoil it. If you absolutely don’t want this spoiler before reading the book, you should stop reading this review right now. But the reason I’m openly talking about it is because I expect this to be a big turnoff for a lot of readers, and I want people to be aware.
You see, it turns out that Red Mask wants to become Joker, because he’s seen Joker’s face in a chemically induced vision, and for some reason he thinks that becoming Joker will set him free from his own limitations. Before this, Zdarsky had a great opportunity to write an interesting and powerful villain. The buildup was there. But just having him be some kind of Joker clone is really uninspired, and not very entertaining for me. Unfortunately, Zdarsky doubles down when he has Red Mask/Joker infect the entire city with poison gas, because that’s not something we’ve seen a million times already, either. Of course it’s hard to come up with new stuff after a character’s been around for 80+ years, but it’s like Zdarsky isn’t even trying sometimes.
The comic continues to get more problematic as it goes on. For example, Batman’s plot armor is pretty inconsistent. We’ve seen him falling from the moon, crashing on Earth, and walking away without so much as a scratch. We’ve seen him falling from a skyscraper through a roof of a lower building, and walking away just fine. In this issue we see him getting stabbed through the shoulder and shrugging it off like it’s nothing, even grabbing the sword and using it to fight his opponent—it’s barely an inconvenience. Maybe the point of these scenes is to make Batman look badass or something. But what’s really happening is that Batman can now walk through any dangerous situation, simply because the creative team needs him to be alive for the next plot beat. Because of all these shenanigans, the cliffhanger of this issue completely falls flat. Batman actually gets severely injured for a change, but this looks silly when we know that falling from the moon and crashing on Earth doesn’t even cause him to sprain an ankle!
One last thing before I talk about the art: Batman confronts an alternate universe, hostile Superman. The way in which he defeats this alternate Superman is by rolling his eyes back and doing his Batman voice really hard as he basically tells Superman that he’s really scary. Superman then absolutely panics and flies away as fast as he can. This scene made me laugh, and not because I thought it was funny, but because of the cringe. I’m not even sure what the creative team’s trying to do here, but I wish they had cut this passage.
As for the art, I’m still not a fan of Hawthorne’s work. His character’s faces always look off to me, like all of them have had plastic surgery. The backgrounds aren’t all that interesting: they’re mostly just plain walls. The only time Hawthorne draws backgrounds that hint at him being capable of so much more than what he’s asked to draw in this issue, is when he draws the cityscape of Gotham, which is significantly more detailed than pretty much anything else we get this month. The fight scene is only marginally better than the one we saw last time, with yet again panels that don’t line up very well and characters having the worst fighting poses ever, where they’re not balanced and strike in weird, ineffective ways. However, that being said, Hawthorne does maintain a pretty good pace throughout—even if I don’t think sequences flow well, the layouts make sense and the story is conveyed in an easy-to-understand way.
We also get Part 4 of “The Toybox.” I’ve praised this backup in the past, and I still think it’s a much more entertaining read than the main story. This month, though, it’s not doing anything for me because what happens here feels like a distraction rather than an organic continuation of the story so far. For example, I kind of like that we get a scene where Tim makes sure people think Batman’s still around by asking Superman to wear the suit. But with only so many pages available for a backup, I don’t feel like the story even needed this scene. If it got cut, it wouldn’t have changed anything.
Tim also meets his mom in an alternate universe, which is the main focus of the backup. I’m okay with taking a slight step back from plot to focus on character work, but the stuff that happens here gets kind of dragged out. Previously, the stakes revolved around Tim having to find Bruce at all costs. Now, he takes a detour so he can hang out with his mom, which, for me at least, removes the sense of urgency. The scene itself also just isn’t very interesting to me because of the sugarcoated dialogue and unrealistic interactions between the characters.
- Joker is your all-time fave and you can’t get enough of him!
- All of Gotham City should be poisoned all day, every day!
Overall: As you can probably tell, I do not like this issue. The main story is bad, and the backup isn’t doing anything for me. As such, I don’t recommend spending any money on this comic, and it’s much too expensive anyway. Instead, you could check out Waid and Mora’s World’s Finest—not only is that an incredible book, but a new arc also started in March, and it’s a great jumping-on point. But Batman? Well, this just ain’t it.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.