Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Batwing 9, originally released May 2nd, 2012. This issue is part of the Night of the Owls crossover event. Click here for complete NotO coverage. Not caught up on Batwing? No problem! Get up to speed with our video Cram Session.
Drew: Last month, we took Batwing to task for its bat-family cameos; when the hero is still winning over an audience, placing him alongside one of comicbookdom’s biggest draws will necessarily divert our interest. As I looked ahead to reading this issue, I wondered how removing Batman from the equation would work. Batwing is still in Batman’s city, and is now fighting one of Batman’s villains, but without Batman’s presence, would the issue feel lacking?
The short answer is “no,” but just how writer Judd Winick maintains our interest is quite interesting. The issue opens in 1856, as the Court of Owls discusses retiring their current Talon, a particularly sadistic killer named Alexander Staunton. Staunton has lost either the ability to or interest in maintaining the ninja-like stealth the court values so much in that assassins. Of course, “retiring” for a Talon means being stored in a coffin until they are needed again.
Back in the present day, Lucius Fox is helping David and Matu update the Batwing armor at the Batman Inc. R&D Lab. Lucius invites them to a gala that night, which Matu accepts in spite of David’s objections. At the Gala, the two meet Matthew Kalu, a warlord-turned-internationally-accepted-prime-minister. When a fire breaks out in the next room, David goes to investigate, but quickly realizes the fire is merely a diversion. As David runs to retrieve his Batwing armor, Matu receives Alfred’s APB. Batwing shows up just in time to save Fox from Staunton’s Talon. The fight escalates and moves outside. Talon grabs Prime Minister Kalu (who, since we last saw him, has changed his name to Vanul and has been demoted to Ambassador) at knife point, offering to spare him if he can have Fox. David hesitates, but Fox steps forward. Batwing uses his explosive rounds to blow off Talon’s arms. While David hog-ties the Talon’s remaining limbs, Ambassador Vanul (or whatever title/name combination he’s using now) offers his very enthusiastic thanks. Batwing’s response? A stiff elbow to the jaw. Fox looks on approvingly.
Winick’s decision to focus a little on this particular Talon makes a lot of sense. Giving him a history rather than just casting him as the masked bad guy Batwing has to beat up this issue should build much more interest. Unfortunately, his characterization as a loose cannon didn’t really end up playing a role in how he acted at all. It’s arguable the body count could have been lower, but about as many people died in last month’s Nightwing, and that Talon didn’t even have a gala full of people to slash through to get his target. Maybe we’ll see more of this Talon play out as Snyder closes the Owls arc, but that seems like a remote possibility.
To Winick’s credit, he does a great deal to reveal more of David’s character in this issue — the only downside is that almost everything we see is pretty damn similar to Bruce Wayne. Winick starts by focusing on David’s relationship to Matu. The two know each other well, and their longstanding friendship does a great deal to humanize David. Unfortunately, their dynamic is quite similar to the one between Bruce and Alfred, even down to Matu telling David to loosen up as he chafes at his social responsibilities outside of the suit. In the end, it’s even Bruce’s advice to take any opportunity to end a fight that guides David’s hand — even without Batman present, we’re still in his shadow.
Maybe that’s being unfair — all members of Batman Inc. are necessarily living in Batman’s shadow — but this title seems particularly slow in giving David a voice independent of that influence. The only moment that comes close is when David finds the irony of Kalu’s head being on the chopping block. This mirrors the moment last month where it seemed like David might kill Kone, and is a theme that is distinctly un-batman-like. It is kind of like Red Hood, though, which means Batwing is going to need to be more than a Batman-trained crime-fighter who just might kill a bad guy if he’s going to establish his own voice.
I get it, part of that distinction does come from his base of operations, but this issue slips into a bit of the “Batwing: Continental Crusader” buzzword-heavy talk that made me uncomfortable with the early issues. David is asking for aquatic upgrades to combat Somali pirates. Did you catch the buzzword in there? Now, I suppose Tinasha, as a fictional city, could be located anywhere in the DRC, but the DRC only has 25 miles of coastline — I can’t imagine even the most aggressive pirates would really warrant his attention. Unless, of course, he’s not just worried about Tinasha, or even the DRC, but all of subsaharan Africa. When Kalu greets Matu, he even comments on how good it is to see Africans. Not Congolese. Africans. The fact that the editorial staff can’t keep Kalu’s name straight adds to the impression that they view all African’s as interchangeable.
Okay, that was almost certainly a low blow. To the issue’s credit we do see a cast of strong black men displaying all kinds of admirable values. There are all kinds of intentional racial overtones here, too, as the Court of Owls is depicted as a bunch of stuffy rich white folk (and most of their dialogue takes place right at the end of the Civil War). Race is never referenced once, but it’s hard not to read into things as David takes the Talon prisoner. (We never see the Talon’s skin, but with a name like Alexander Staunton, I’m okay assuming he’s white.)
I guess that’s still my biggest issue with this title; it doesn’t know what kind of book it wants to be. Is it a cheap Batman knockoff, or one with a strong lead that exists beyond Batman? Is it a smart satire of race here and abroad, or is it glibly ignorant on such matters? I can see that my answers to this questions could easily be tipped in the other direction if I had more faith in Winick as a writer. As it stands, I’m not so sure.
Patrick: Oh man, you and I have different reactions to reading the words “Somali pirate.” I can see where that may come off as Winick tossing around ill-informed Africanisms, but I’m only conceding that because you’re making me think about it a second time. Batman fights gangsters, a real-life criminal force, why can’t Batwing fight pirates? Also, it doesn’t seem like empty posturing: the next issue is called Dark Waters. And if this series want to promise me Batwing fighting pirates on the high seas, I say SO BE IT.
Other than that, I have most of the same complaints you do. There’s a nice little bit of action-detective work at play during Batwing’s fight with Talon. Not unlike the velociraptors and the electric fence, Batwing tests his opponent systematically for weaknesses. Also just like the raptors, he doesn’t really unearth a weakness. There’s something very satisfying about the way he cracks Talon’s arm for the sole purpose of seeing how long it takes for him to heal. As you point out – it’s cool in a very Batman sorta way – which may not do too much to establish a strong unique voice for Batwing, but it is still objectively cool.
There are little blips and glimmers of who David really is under all of the Bat-trappings. Some of these glimmers are too Bruce-y, that’s definitely true. But David also mentions how uncomfortable he is at the big Batman Inc. reception – not because he finds these rich people insufferable, but because he finds these people morally objectionable. I always got the sense that Bruce was aloof, unable to connect with normal people because his mind is always on his Batman-ness. David’s probably got more pride in being a DRC citizen than being Batwing. There’s very little national pride associated with Batman, but the same cannot be said of David. Again, just glimmers of this stuff, but I was happy to see it.
I was also happy to see a Batwing story that wrapped itself up in a single issue. You know I likes me a good long-form mystery, but 8 issues was a long time spend on one story. Especially when you and I called the ‘twist’ from like the second issue. I’m still hoping that David and Matu can get their asses back to Tinasha so they can have one-off adventures on their home turf. Gotham is such a weird place to maroon this character. I get that he had to be here because this is where the Night of the Owls takes place, but Christ, All-Star is going to get some Owl action and it doesn’t take place in the same century.
So, I haven’t read any of Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated, but does it seem at all strange to you that the organization is able to throw a big fancy party with diplomats (and/or prime ministers)? I’m just saying, you’re going to have to go to great lengths to conceal where that money is coming from, plus THERE’S A FUCKING GUEST LIST – doesn’t seem like fundraisers help the anonymity of the group at all.
This issue also saw another artist shake-up. Which is fine. While Ben Oliver’s dusty art is super arresting while the characters are in Africa, it doesn’t much make sense to carry it over to the stateside action. Marcus To’s penciling has a lot more in common with Dustin Nguyen’s classic-comic-book style from the last two issues of the Massacre arc. Only, it’s even more standard comic book fare. There’s really nothing innovative or stylized about the visuals in this book, but they do depict some pretty fluid action throughout.
I do, however, like this heroic image of David standing in front of his armor:
This image, coupled with David’s insistence on keeping the armor light and maneuverable, emphasize David’s raw strength outside the the Batwing costume. It’s sorta interesting that even when he’s not a superhero, David Zavimbe is primed and ready to fight crime (I mean, in his day job he’s a cop). Again, this isn’t thematic material that his actual story touches on directly – but it does suggest that there’s somewhere to go with the character. Somewhere other than just African Batman in Africa. Africa Africa.
Also, that’s two-for-two of Night of Owls books making me grin like an idiot when I read Alfreds APB. Sometimes the simplest components of the cross-over are the most satisfying.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?