Drew: At the end of issue 6, I had mixed feelings about this title. I liked the stylized art, particularly Brian Reber’s atmospheric, almost dusty colors, and I appreciated the idea of distilling the idea of Batman down to it’s essence and seeing how it plays in different cultures. At the same time, I wasn’t sure I actually liked the approach writer Judd Winick had applied to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I complained that the title was exploitative, but it really isn’t guilty of doing anything any frank (or, more importantly, action-focused) depiction of subsaharan Africa wouldn’t do. I’m still not convinced that this title isn’t exploitative, but this month’s issue comes a long way in making me more comfortable with the world David Zavimbe inhabits.
Part of this comfort comes from the fictionalized history of DC’s DRC, as told in this issue by former Kingdom member Steelback. This issue promised to reveal the reason Massacre is hunting down the guilt-ridden Kingdom members, but since the “atrocity” he blames them for was simply their failing to prevent a battle there was no way they could conceivably stop, I was much more interested in just learning about the Kingdom. Alas, a portion of a single issue (albeit, a large portion) is not much space for character development, but that’s not really the point of this issue. We now understand why Massacre wants the Kingdom dead (assuming he is Keita, which may still be debatable), even though they’re intentions were always noble. We spend a few moments weighing the morality of killing an exiled despot in cold blood, but the point of the flashback is that the Kingdom didn’t really do anything wrong, but they still kind of feel guilty for failing to prevent the machinations of said despot.
It’s probably clear that I think the guilt here is a bit of unnecessary hand-wringing, as even Steelback admits that the Kingdom “…could do nothing to stop…” the slaughter. I can appreciate why they might hold themselves accountable, but I’m really not sure why Massacre would blame them; none of the situation was their fault. They didn’t pull any triggers, and they didn’t create the situations that put other people in front of the guns. I get that Massacre may not have the best sense of right and wrong, but holding a group of people accountable for a situation they were powerless to prevent still seems a little unfair.
Still, I liked much of this flashback, especially that it established a longer history for DC’s fictionalized DRC. Somehow, the fact that the Kingdom was involved in shaping this world makes me more willing to accept Batwing’s current exploits there. The Kingdom also looks like a neat group. It’s strange that I think a team formed specifically to overthrow a genocidal despot sounds like fun, but none of the other titles we’re reading have such well-defined long-term goals. I can’t imagine we’ll be spending much time exploring the Kingdom once this arc is over, but I kind of wish we could (third wave, anyone?).
The things that I’ve been liking about this title are also still at work in issue 7. I was a little bummed to see Ben Oliver go — not because of any failing on new penciller Dustin Nguyen’s part — I was just curious how his idiosyncratic style, so well-suited for the dusty plains of Africa, would deal with the damp streets of Gotham. Of course, much of that dusty feel comes from Reber’s colors, and he manages to move into Gotham seamlessly. The Gotham action is mostly limited to the exploits of Dick and Damian (and a few quick shots of Babs and Alfred sitting in front of computer screens — which Reber lights beautifully). D and D track the two missing Kingdom members to a secret warehouse, but are too late — Massacre has already killed both of them with the help of Steelback’s decommissioned armor suit.
I might chide Winick a bit for losing Dick and Damian’s voices (they’re so great together, why not give them a little space to banter?), but the point I really want to make is how good the action here looks, and more importantly, how much it looks like a Batman book.
It’s dramatic touches like Dicks gritted teeth and red eyes set against all-inked shadows that excuse the kind of rubberiness we see in the faces elsewhere. Nguyen’s art is decent, but it’s at its best when he’s sliding a little more into the style Oliver has already set, like in Massacre’s final page reveal.
There are a lot of things I like about this title, but I’m still not sold on it. I’m realizing that the problem I’m having is that I still feel like I don’t know Batwing. We spend so much of this issue in flashback and with Dick and Damian that he barely gets any screen-time. It’s telling that the only decisiveness Batwing shows in this issue is said in unison with Batman:
I like Batman as much as the next guy, but with so many titles devoted to him as a protagonist, I’m not sure why we need a clone. I think I could really like this title, but David is going to need to find his own voice in order to justify his existence. I dunno, Patrick, I think I was a little unfair to Batwing last go-round — am I doing it again?
Patrick: The first thing I was struck by in this issue was how inactive Batwing is. It’s a strange damn choice for a title that bears his name, but it’s also dramatically unsatisfying. The seventh issue of an 8-issue arc is bound to feel this way as it necessarily moves all the pieces into place. I think I would have rather seen the entire issue devoted to the Kingdom’s flashback. As it didn’t tie into Batwing’s motivation at all, it seemed strange to also get a little bit of action in the present. Plus, I loves me some Kingdom.
Your little joke about “the third wave” made me giddy considering the possibilities of a Kingdom series. The group line-up is just so varied and neat, I obviously wish I could spend more time with them – not only within the pages of Batwing, but also in their own book. Like all good superhero teams, they’ve got a regular dude with super-advanced weaponry, some jerks with powers, and one god-like figure. Not one to fuck around, The Kingdom’s god-like figure is simply named Deity. She’s made of gold and when asked about her whereabouts, Steelback explains: “[Massacre] will never find Deity. When she left us… she left the modern world. I have heard that she is living in the wild.” How cool is that?
We’ll put that on the list of stories to pitch to DC, along with the adventures of young Henri Ducard: it’ll be a handful of books from the recent history in the DC Universe. Hey, if there’s room for a Red Lantern series, there’s room for The Kingdom.
But back to both the series and the issue at hand. Can I tell you how much I like seeing all these Bat-family characters working together? It may be strange how meager a slice of the pie Batwing gets, but the other characters at the table make me excited by their mere presence. You mention that neither Dick or Damian’s voices are really struck here – I’ll add Babs to that list. We saw her deployed so artfully in Birds of Prey that it’s a little weird to see such a stiff version of her here. Also, it seems to me like Winick really misses Oracle, because that’s the role Barbara takes here. Yeah, she’s on a motorcycle in the first panel we see her, but she’s not being particularly active.
So, none of the unique personalities popped like they’re supposed to. Why was I still so excited to see them? Weird Pavlovian response, I guess. You know, it’s possible that somewhere between the seven members of The Kingdom and the six members of the Bat Family (Alfred totally counts), this 20-page issue is over-stuffed. Insane – I know. See my earlier note about committing the entire issue to Kingdom flashback.
But over all, I really am enjoying the series. It’s strange, I feel like you’re noticing things you like, but still being luke-warm on it anyway, while I’m finding things that bug me, but liking it anyway. As Razorwire and Staff (which… that’s got to be the worst superhero name) were the last two killable Kingdomers not in Bat custody, it seems like the Massacre saga is heading into its final chapter. It bothers me some that the stakes that are being raised are more audience-stakes than character stakes (it’s not more important to Batwing, it’s more important to the reader because we like Gotham’s heroes and don’t want to see them in danger), but I sense that there will be some revelatory moment in the next issue that will stitch these emotional threads more tightly.
When we did the first 6 issues, you mentioned the We Can Be Heroes campaign and I was confused. See, I read everything digitally, so the only ads I see are the dated Superman Hotwheels ads at the end of like 90% of these issues. This one has a We Can Be Heroes banner on the cover. And that got me thinking. Maybe the exploitation we were reading earlier isn’t so bad if they’re using that attention to actually raise money to fight hunger in Africa. They’re even matching donations (up to a million bucks, but still, that’s a million dollars they don’t have to donate). Branded corporate charity always feels strange to me, but if it’s doing actual good, I suppose I have to shelve my objections.
Oh and this:
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?