Two weeks ago, Batman: Rebirth #1 planted the seeds for a new status quo for the Batman books of DC’s latest publishing initiative.
Written by Scott Snyder and Tom King, with art by Mikel Janin, it served as both a transition from Snyder’s previous Batman series to King’s current volume, as well as a “zero issue” of sorts that sets the stage for what’s to come without moving the plot forward too much. It was an entertaining, well-drawn issue, but with this week’s proper Batman #1, King kicks off his run as this series’ sole writer, joined by penciller David Finch, inker Matt Banning, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer John Workman. Is it good?
Batman (2016) #1 (DC Comics)
At this point, many Batman fans seem to have accepted the fact that the New 52 Batman run, written almost entirely by Scott Snyder (with a few guest co-writers here and there), with art primarily by Greg Capullo (and a number of talented fill-in artists for when the famously workhorse-like penciller took a much needed break between arcs) for 52 issues (not counting some annuals and other special issues) since September 2011, will go down as one of the greatest, or at least, most definitive, creative teams to ever work on the character.
And though Snyder’s tenure with The Dark Knight will continue, albeit without Capullo, in the upcoming All Star Batman (not to be confused with Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s infamous All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder), I too was apprehensive about a new team taking on the main Batman title. That’s why I’m pleased to report that The Caped Crusader is still in good hands…for most of the hands involved, at least.
Tom King, now DC exclusive, is one of the hottest new writers to break into comics in recent memory. Everything he writes, from Marvel’s The Vision to Vertigo’s The Sheriff of Babylon, seems to be showered with praise. Plus, he’s an ex-CIA agent! How cool is that? But most importantly, he slides comfortably into the role of Batman scribe with a story that’s exciting, tense, and emotional, as Batman attempts to save a plane from plummeting into Gotham City.
The dialogue is a bit expository, and the attempts at meta-commentary and symbolism may be a bit too obvious for some readers’ taste, but you know what? It works. It’s not subtle at all, but neither was Snyder’s Batman. Nor Grant Morrison’s, Frank Miller’s, or Bill Finger’s. Batman’s never been particularly subtle, because Batman doesn’t need to be subtle. I’m not saying that we have to return to Silver Age styles entirely, but it’s a relief to know that King doesn’t fall into the trap of making things overly “grim and gritty.”
I could practically go through a checklist of things that I want in a Batman comic to demonstrate how far up my alley this issue is: Big, bombastic action? Check. A sense of humor? Check. A seemingly impossible challenge for our hero to overcome? Check. Themes of personal sacrifice, family, hope, and inspiration? Check. Scenes of genuine emotion? Check. Moody, expressive art? Umm…
So yeah, we’ve got to talk about that David Finch art. When the book was announced, it was revealed that, since a new bimonthly schedule would presumably be a nightmare for any artist to keep up with, Batman, like DC’s other newly bimonthly books, would have two rotating pencillers: David Finch and Mikel Janin. Janin, who previously worked with King (and co-writer Tim Seeley) on Grayson, shined in Batman: Rebirth #1. His work was smooth, clean, moody, and exciting, with one of the dreamiest, sexiest depictions of Bruce Wayne that I’ve ever seen. I look forward to seeing more of his work on this series in the future.
David Finch, on the other hand…look, I’m not saying that he’s objectively a “bad” artist. I actually know someone who considers Finch to be one of his favorite artists. Hey, art is subjective. And I actually think that Finch does some interesting things with layout and composition in this issue. But for the most part, I find his figures, faces, and backgrounds to be a bit bland. Maybe I’m just used to his style, which, in all fairness, considering his experience in this industry, is probably a style that he helped originate. But he doesn’t seem to do much with it that Jim Lee and Doug Mahnke don’t do better.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, I didn’t like Greg Capullo’s art initially. But once I got to that issue where Batman is trapped in the Court of Owls’ lair, and as Batman struggles with his sanity, the reader has to rotate the pages around to the point where they’re not sure where to turn next, mirroring the character’s disorientation? That was the moment that I knew I would be following the run through thick and thin. So maybe Finch will have an issue like that soon that changes my mind about him.
But in the meantime, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping, as I was reading this issue, that Finch would have to leave for another project after this arc, being the in-demand artist that he is.
Matt Banning, for his part, seems to smooth out some of Finch’s rougher edges, which the loose pencils of the cover, done without Bannings’ inks, seem to be evidence of.
Jordie Bellaire, meanwhile, is an extremely capable colorist, but she seems to be playing it a bit safe here. Sure, she still seems to love the color orange, but I’d like to see how her work develops as she continues with this series (if she continues with this series, which I hope she does). Again, I don’t recall there being anything particularly special about FCO Plascencia’s colors during the beginning of the New 52 Batman run, but by the time they got to “Zero Year” he was drawing Gotham skies hot pink.
Finally, John Workman, perhaps best known for his work with Walt Simonson on Thor, hasn’t gotten much of a chance to do anything special with his letters yet. I can’t wait to see some of those trademark Workman sound effects, but in the meantime, a good letterer doesn’t need to show off. His main job is to make the comic comprehensible, and with that, he does just fine.
Is It Good?
While the art holds it back, Batman’s latest debut issue remains promising thanks to Tom King’s confident, capable hand. I plan on buying the next issue, and the issue after that. So should you.