Drew: Art is repetitive. Analysts like Joseph Campbell and Heinrich Schenker acknowledge that, if you zoom out far enough, most works of art resemble each other. This is true of most narratives, and especially true of superhero comics, where the beats of secret identities, costumes, fighting crime, etc. are near-universal. What makes them interesting are the details around those universals, the details that make Superman different from Batman or the Flash. What drew us to Batwing in the first place was it’s potential for interesting details — as a new title, it had yet to establish just what those details might be. Ten months in, I’ve yet to see those details effectively explored. In fact, this issue turns the focus so sharply from those details that I’m starting to think they just aren’t coming.
The issue opens with David flirting with coworker Kia Okura (apparently having changed her surname from “Okuru” since we were introduced to her). He invites her to get drinks with him after work. She’s the only female character in the book so of course she’s a potential love interest. Anyway, later that night, Batwing catches up with some pirates he’s been trying to locate. He chases one of the pirates into the ship, where he discovers Hui Deng, a Chinese nuclear scientist. Then the ship blows up. Batwing heads to Beijing to investigate Deng, whose appearance on that boat was kind of weird. He’s assisted by Nightwing because why not? They find nothing in Deng’s apartment, but are then ambushed by a bunch of armed goons and a guy who turns into a dragon. Meanwhile, Matu’s family is killed when a party at the estate of the Nigerian Governor is blown up. Oh, and it turns out the Penguin has something to do with the pirates and the dragon guy.
Ugh. Almost everything is wrong with this issue. Why can’t Winick remember his characters’ names? This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this problem on this title. That Winick is apparently unwilling to read-through his work is telling of its readability, and I’m inclined to agree with Winick: this title isn’t worth reading. Also, where is editor Harvey Richards? Isn’t it his job to catch this shit? Anyway, I think I’m more upset that Kia’s friendship is so arbitrarily made into a romantic relationship, but there is so much more wrong with this issue, I have to move on.
The dialogue throughout is clunky as shit. At one point, a pirate insists that they “are not going to literally pass on this opportunity,” referring to the yacht they’ve come upon. Never mind that “literally” just might (literally) be the most overused word in the English language (literally), it has actually no meaning in that sentence. It’s pointless filler that just makes the writing sound dumb, and this issue is full of it. The most painful example is when the dragon-man introduces himself.
Winick reveals the name like it’s supposed to mean something to us, the retroactively acknowledges that it probably doesn’t, so we get this kind of simpering explanation. It feels like a sad explanation of a failed joke — one that everyone understood, but just didn’t find funny. By the time he’s done explaining that his name is “Dragon,” it’s pretty clear that he’s a dragon. It’s redundant and awkward, and it actually angers me how dumb it is. A dragon who calls himself “Dragon?” Don’t use up all of your good ideas at once, Judd!
The whole thing with the Governor is equally stilted and weird. That scene opens with enough awkward exposition to detail specifically how much of the world’s oil comes from Nigeria (three percent!), in addition to broadcasting that the Governor is a total sleazeball. We’re given nothing to care about when the explosion hits — it’s not until much later that Matu mentions his family was there, and even then, we don’t dwell on it at all. I’m sure it has something to do with the Penguin, but I don’t really care enough to try and think about it.
Speaking of the Penguin, what is with all of these cameos? Nightwing and Batwing both have experience investigating crimes on their own, so why fly the two of them to Beijing just to poke around an apartment? Between that and the conference call Batwing has with Batman and Robin, you get the impression that he doesn’t really do anything on his own, which makes him incredibly boring. The thing that appealed to me about a Batman in Africa was how different it would be from the Batman we know. Having so many issues feature Batman prevents any differences from really developing, and makes Batwing out to be a kind of mindless minion. It’s a mistake this title keeps on making. Plus, the Penguin reveal is meaningless. Oh, the person behind all this stuff has a name and a face? We still don’t know what it is he’s trying to import.
Patrick, I’m ready to drop this title. We’ve been hard on it in the past, but we’ve always found reason to hope that it might improve. I’m no longer so optimistic. We’ve given it a fair shot, but I think it’s time to admit that this is no longer a new title struggling to find its voice; it’s an established title content with not having one.
Patrick: What is up with all these Penguin cameos? He shows up in Catwoman, he’s got the most confusing arc in Detective Comics, he hangs on to Mr. Freeze’s gun in the Batman Annual, and here he pops up again in the pages of Batwing. Who keeps making this decision? When I first encountered the New 52 version of the Penguin in DetCom, I noted that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a compelling take on the character. But he keeps showing up, as though the Penguin’s presence is somehow going to improve whatever adventure I’m reading. Heads up, DC: I don’t like the Penguin. He’s dumb. Why the fuck does the character squawk like a bird? But importantly, in a city (and in a world) full of characters that are more rich, more dangerous, more charismatic – why do we waste time with this one?
My own Penguin-rage aside, I’m going to have to agree with you about all the other problems in this series, and this issue in particular. Since Batwing went to Gotham in issue 7, we’ve both been hesitant to welcome the rest of the Bat-family into this series. It’s never been Batwing’s similarity to Batman that’s sold us on the series: it’s the differences. The series even sells itself as a comic book adventure set in an exotic African locale. But we barely get any time in Tinasha at all in this issue – just long enough for David to ask Kia out for a drink. Cool.
But like, Beijing? What the hell is Batwing doing there? It seems insane that both he and Nightwing would fly there (I assume separately, because they’re both SO FAR from Beijing that they’d travel DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS around the globe to get there) to ultimately steal some digital information – which could presumably be stolen remotely. And then what? They don’t know that they’re being tailed? What is Matu doing that he can’t sweep the area for other radio communications? These are petty, plotty complaints, and I could forgive them is there was unifying conceit that convinced me that this series is worth reading, but there just isn’t.
I know you already pointed this out, but Matu’s reaction to the explosion in Nigeria is laughable.
Unless his family literally is the Governor’s compound, he’s just jumping to the grimmest conclusion ever. He’s not saying “My family was there!” or even “My family could be hurt!” – he’s jumping right to “My family is dead.” Also, what family? Like the torso heaps in issue #1, Winick is trying to leverage a personal tragedy without doing the leg-work to earn any of the gravity that such a tragedy should convey. We have never heard Matu even talk about his family before. I mean, christ, they’re in Nigeria and he’s spending all his time helping out a Batman-knock-off in Tinasha. Not exactly a committed family-man.
It’s unfortunate: I can see the wheels of narrative spinning to set up a whole new story for this character, but each new premise is wearying. David can’t just fight crime in Tinasha? We still have no real sense of who David is, what his relationships are like and what Batwing’s role is supposed to be. Winick seems to want Batwing to be an international hub for Bat-family – someone who can do Batman’s bidding anywhere in the world (even Gotham). It’s telling that Batwing never does anything on his own because the character doesn’t have enough personality to be interesting on his own. I mean, right? The only reason Nightwing is in Beijing is so he can make a few smartass jokes and trigger my affection for Dick Grayson. That’s just not good enough. I need to love David Zavimbe for this title to matter at all.
There are other things that bug me. Why are Kia and David sarcastically calling eachother “officer?” Doesn’t Batwing have a better plan to attack the pirates than just “fly right in and get shot at?” If the bad guys are so prepared for Batwing and Nightwing (the Wings) to investigate Deng’s apartment, why isn’t the apartment wired to explode like the boat was? Why would young David have to “hack active accounts” out of cell phones (i.e. that’s just called removing the sim card)? What the fuck does “30 miles off the coast of Africa” mean?
Drew, you say drop it? I’ll drink to that. With rumors flying about what other titles will be cut from DC’s line-up to make way for the 4 new series launching in September, I could see a really compelling case to be made for killing this one. Batwing got a sizable sales-boost from the Night of the Owls, but I can’t imagine that anyone read that issue and thought to themselves, “boy, I’d like to read more of 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?