Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch are an iconic duo in comics, having rejuvenated the entire medium with their seminal work, The Authority. Both creators have had stellar careers on their own, but their work together created a drastic shift in the medium, the likes of which have not been felt for quite some time. Now Ellis and Hitch have reunited to create The Batman’s Grave, a new 12-issue maxiseries about a character that neither one of them has worked on in a significant capacity.
The cold open to this premiere issue sets the tone for the entire series going forward: Alfred tends an empty burial plot intended for Bruce Wayne, knowing that before he dies he will see it filled. It’s a somber opening, juxtaposed with the very next double page spread of Batman surveying his city from above. Ellis and Hitch depict what a “standard” night out for Batman is, starting with preventing a group of thugs from mugging a couple in an alley, and leading into a murder that he can’t solve immediately. Batman’s investigation of this murder also reveals more about Ellis’s take on the character: “I can’t think like a killer, Alfred. I can only think like a victim.” The murder investigation includes a high tech virtual reality rig in the Batcave, in an obviously Warren Ellis dose of science fiction. Bruce digs into the life of the victim, his perspective and struggles, and learns what Batman meant to this completely random person. The issue ends with Bruce figuring out the killer’s motivations, and locating the murderer. It’s a bit of an awkward spot to end the first issue of a limited series, but is a good, satisfying conclusion to this issue.
Ellis’s take on Batman in this issue is a bit odd. Bruce himself is written incredibly well, as a compassionate man actively working to create a better Gotham. But Alfred and Bruce’s interactions with him feel very off. Alfred’s knowledge that Bruce will die before him is already a far more dour take than has been the norm in recent years, and in addition there’s a scene where Alfred just repeats the basic talking points that people bring up to put Batman down – that he just beats up poor people, and it’d be easier to spend his money to make the city a better place. This scene feels incredibly out of place in an actual Batman comic, especially coming from Alfred, the man who raised Bruce and sees him for what he is. While it’s quite likely that Ellis dispels these notions as the series goes on, to put them in Alfred’s mouth in the first issue of the series is a strange, jarring choice.
Bryan Hitch is the penciller for this issue, with Kevin Nowlan on inks, Alex Sinclair on colors, and Richard Starkings as the letterer. Hitch is best known for his work on The Authority and Ultimates from the late 90s/early 00s, and he’s only improved since then. The art is spectacular throughout the issue, especially in the double page spreads that Hitch has made his signature style. Gotham is vibrant and dark, with the whole city feeling alive. Starkings’ letters also provide an intangible quality to the book, making it visibly different from every other book DC is publishing. The typeface used makes everything feel like it is from a different era, despite looking incredibly
modern. The book is visually appealing yet nostalgic, and the entire art team is able to balance that incredibly well.