Sometimes a good comic is harder to talk about than a great comic or a terrible comic. I’m sure this is true for any medium. Everything about this first volume of Batman in DC’s new Rebirth status quo is well done; art, script, story, pacing, it’s all constructed really well and I enjoyed the story. But at the same time, nothing really jumped off the page and grabbed me either. The book does set up some interesting stuff, so I imagine I’ll keep reading, but that doesn’t do this specific volume any favors either.
Set in the middle of a conflict with Calendar Man, Batman, Alfred and his newest protégé Duke Thomas (from the I am Robin comic book, which I remember liking quite a bit) are confronted by something not often seen in Gotham; supermen. Specifically, a masked man named Gotham and his equally masked and powerful sister Gotham Girl. I know, the naming convention is not great here. After saving a crashing plane, the siblings cooperate and learn from Batman how best to use their powers to truly and with lasting effect, help Gotham. Now, this is a Batman story, so things do not go well. A combination of Amanda Waller’s meddling, Hugo Strange shenanigans and the Psycho-Pirate’s emotion control powers takes the siblings down a dark, weird path where Gotham Girl must confront her brother one final time.
The thing I don’t like the most about this is that I’m asked to care about characters that I’ve never seen before, which seems like a very specific problem that has plagued comics for decades. Gotham and Gotham Girl are interesting ideas, if not that greatly developed characters. Having long term, semi-permanent Superman level allies in Gotham, who are just as dedicated and focused on the city as Batman, is actually an interesting idea. And while I’m not sure if it’s never been done before, it’s certainly is rare. But by the fourth issue, he’s been driven insane and she is out of her mind with fear and is almost catatonic till the climax of the story. Everybody can tell the story they want, and I’m sure Tom King, David Hitch and their editors know what they are doing, but it would have been nice if these two had stuck around as this version of themselves for a while longer before Gotham eats them up and spits them out broken and deranged just like everybody else who lives there. We the audience could have gotten to know them a bit more and their eventual fall would have had that much more of an impact. That being said, their story arc works well here. I enjoyed most of their back story, except where they just buy their powers; that’s a really, really, contrived set up for later issues. And I liked how Batman fought Gotham by throwing various Bat themed vehicles at him. I also thought it was a nice touch when Batman finally was forced to call in the Justice League to back him up. It is very unclear what Waller’s plan here is though, though I suspect that will be answered later in the series.
That all being said, there are great moments throughout the book; Batman using the Batjet to save a bridge, the initial plane crash sequence where the siblings show up is beautiful and Alfred buying Bruce some time by masquerading as Batman are all really nice touches that add a lot to my enjoyment of the story. I’m not that familiar with Tom King, but he really does bring a lot to this book; I definitely want to read more. The homage to All-Star Superman took real confidence and shows how bad things are going for young Gotham. And the last issue, which serves more as an epilogue, is really gut wrenching as we are shown just how broken Gotham Girl is after being forced to kill her brother. I really want to read more about her.
If the art continues to be as good as it was here, all the more reason to keep reading. David Finch and Ivan Reis both do a great job here, though Reis is only around for the last issue, but still, I really like his art. I might even have enjoyed it a bit more than Finch. Regardless, Batman looks great throughout, and I actually really do like the sibling’s costumes; they evoke a retro, slightly Gothic are even steampunk feeling that works really well in Gotham City. While he has a hard line to his drawings, it never looks too harsh or too rigid. I did think Superman looked weird though; without the red shorts over the blue pants, he looks under dressed, like he’s not decent enough to be in the public. I don’t know, it was weird. Both artists create gorgeous cityscapes; Gotham is a packed in, vertical city and really does look cool throughout the book.
The first story arc of a long term run often have to do a lot of leg work, and this one does that pretty well while still giving us a fun, interesting story. Personal preferences aside, I really enjoyed this book a lot; the struck the right balance with just about every character here and I’m looking forward to where the newer characters like Due and Gotham Girl will go from here. Batman probably strikes many as a loner type figure, but I’ve always thought he worked best when he has a diverse, interesting crowd around him and we get plenty of that here.