Batwing 0

Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Tricia Aung are discussing Batwing 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Batwing 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Patrick: I always thought it was weird that the African arm of Batman, Incorporated would spend his time the same way regular Batman does. The real world problems of the continent are catastrophic to the point that fighting supervillains seems like a waste of time for someone with David Zavimbe’s abilities and assets. What Batwing 0 does is patiently remind me that there’s more to this character than simply his unique setting. Prior to this issue, I might have disagreed with that assessment.

The issue opens on a flashback to that span of time glossed over during the origin story presented in the first 8 issues: David’s rehabilitation from his child-soldier lifestyle. He’s got mentors at ‘The Children’s Harbor,’ one we know – Matu Ba – and the other is an unknown quantity – Rene Diallo. David’s been sneaking out at night to exact a form of tough street-justice, beating evil-doers senseless but always leaving them alive. Rene recognizes young David’s desire for justice and encourages him to pursue a career in law enforcement.

But several years later, David basically hates being a cop: the entire police force is corrupt… and the work also doesn’t really satisfy his bloodlust. Rene assures him that he can make a difference, he just needs to stick with it. Such a nurturing and maternal figure in David’s life has to be doomed, right? RIGHT. Rene and Matu are attacked by a meta-human baddie named Death Jack. Rene doesn’t survive the encounter and Matu is fucked up (remember that eye patch he wears in the rest of the series? That’s how he got it). So David revives some old habits and takes to the night to reinforce his ultra-violent street-vengeance. But Death Jack is just the beginning and David fights a whole host of monstrous criminals, sometimes with the aid of other heroes and sometimes solo. Until the fateful night Batman calls on him and offers him his very own franchise. Batwing, welcome to the club.

The art duties on this issue fall to Marcus To, who’s responsible for some of the later issues of Batwing and a handful of issue of The Flash. To has got a gift with characters in motion, and his ability to lend objects a certain kineticism  proved particularly useful drawing the Fastest Man Alive, but maybe a tad under-used in Batwing. But there are enough scenes of scrapping and brawling in this issue to show off his strengths. There’s a spread in here that I like a lot that has David bursting into a room, once as himself and again as the knight of vengeance he’s about to become. There’s a nice symmetry here.

There’s even a clever bit of writing accomplished here. My biggest problem with the whole concept of Batwing is stated in my first paragraph. If David Zavimbe is so well connected and so capable, why doesn’t he focus his efforts on public health issues? Or at the very least, he could tackle that police corruption he’s so upset about. But instead, he spends so much time battling dudes with horns or Dragons or whatever. David diagnoses himself as “a creature of rage,” but that’s only part of the story. The Zavimbe brothers were made to do some horrible violent things under the service of General Keita, so David’s primary motivating force is to atone for that sin. But his only means of asserting himself is through violence. If an issue requires a more delicate solution than “beat it with a baseball bat,” Batwing doesn’t have the proper tools.

Speaking of not having the proper tools – Judd Winick’s dialogue throughout this issue bears all of his clumsy hallmarks. Including a superfluous use of the word “literally.”

“The police in this town are literally laughable.” I don’t know how to use “laughable” metaphorically, so I can only assume Winick is using it as a generic superlative here. Also, it sounds like someone trying to be too clever, and that just doesn’t jive with my perception of Matu – even back in his carefree(ish) younger days.

One thing I thought was really intriguing about the first 8 issues of this series was the concept of ‘The Kingdom.’ The Kingdom was a group of superheroes that played a pivotal role in some big war and who disappeared at the top of their game. They were inventive, mysterious characters and I hungered for more information about them. This issue is similarly populated with sundry heroes and villains, but none of them have the elegant flair of those seven members of the Kingdom. I mean, come on – look at these boring dudes.

What’d you think Tricia? Were three panels of police corruption enough to make you think David was ever interested in accomplishing any good? And does that bother you the way it bothers me? I likes me a good blood soaked revenge story as much as the next guy (Kill Bill for life) but I guess I apply a little extra altruism to someone wearing a bat on their chest.

Tricia: When you first told me about Batwing, Patrick, I was really intrigued. I work in international health, and my familiarization with health systems and sociopolitical issues in African countries fed into my curiosity. The premise of a former child soldier and AIDS orphan superhero is an unparalleled opportunity for unique and emotional storytelling. While I’ve been catching up on Batwing 1-12, I’ve held pesky hope that David would evolve into a more complex character befitting of his childhood trauma. My enthusiasm waned after the departure of the Kingdom storyline, but I was eager to see what type of depth Batwing 0 could contribute on David’s ascension to Batwing. Batwing 0 was an unsatisfying exploration of David’s unquenchable thirst for revenge. Bold statement alert! I think Batwing is a little selfish. Is there more to Batwing than a Batman Incorporated recruit hopping around a generically portrayed Africa continent? I’m not yet convinced.

Maybe it’s my professional bias, but The Children’s Harbor appears to be a bit dodgy. David keeps running away to deliver his own brand of justice-a sleep beater! You need to beef up your security, Rene and Matu! Taller fences! But more seriously, the rehabilitation center frustrates me because I get the impression that young David never receives any real counseling on his trauma-one of the most pinnacle aspects of any type of rehabilitation. I feel that it would have been a more compelling story if this issue had showcased David getting psychotherapy at The Children’s Harbor, thus presenting a chance to really delve into the emotions of David’s childhood (and de-stigmatize mental health services!).

Furthermore, why does young David seem so confident in retributive justice? I get the impression that his nighttime escapes to Tinasha to deliver “justice” are more so an opportunity for him to release pent up energy and atone his sins, rather than sincere interest in improving the community. As heads of a rehabilitation center, it would have partly been the responsibility of Rene and Matu to address David’s obsession with revenge, rather than Rene encouraging him to pursue police work. A better rationalization of this could have benefited some real world research. Given the volume of studies conducted on former child soldiers and psychological trauma, it would have been interesting if this research was applied in Batwing in an emotional journey into David’s mental state at the rehabilitation center. A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association documents a statistically significant association between former Ugandan and Congolese child soldiers and feelings of revenge. You’re already on the right track, Winick.

But why does Rene even believe that David becoming a cop is the best environment to channel his rage? Is that really the best route for an incredibly violent former child soldier? That makes no sense to me. Now, I’m not a psychiatrist but David’s behavior suggests symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is prevalent among former child soldiers. Why encourage David to be an environment that would just continue to trigger his rage?

Patrick, I’m glad you brought up David’s repeated dissatisfaction with police corruption, because it continues to bother me too. In this issue, he seems particularly whinny about it to Rene, but perhaps my impression is skewed by my dwindling patience for David. Good grief! If you’re dissatisfied with the situation, do something to change it instead of solely complaining about it. Every. Single. Time.

Is our mutual interest in seeing a more altruistic Batwing even valid? Am I just being selfish because I work in public health and in my wildest Batwing fantasy, Batwing goes to South Africa to combat an ugly villain that steals antiretrovirals for street drug resale? (Antiretroviral supply chain corruption is a real problem, y’all!) David’s parents did both die of AIDS, something that is never played out in Batwing. (P.S. BATMAN-I hope you offer HIV testing under whatever Batman Incorporated health insurance scheme you provide to the Bat family. Who knows if there was a Prevention-of-Mother-to-Child-Transmission program in place when David was born!)

It may not be fair to expect Batwing to be a humanitarian relief champion, but it would make a more compelling story. Since I’m new to DC comics, I can’t attest to whether Winick would have been able to carry out more inventive storylines. In both of the interviews I’ve seen of Winnick talking about Batwing, he mentions that he was not able to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Maybe this immersion was what the story would have needed to establish Batwing not as “African Batman,” but as a distinct entity and storyline that could truly attest to the DRC and region.

Tricia is originally from Illinois but now lives in Washington DC. Her favorite comic artist is Minty Lewis, whose anthropomorphic terriers and fruit are a creepy parody of her life. She formerly helped run, but is now (unofficially) retired. Her favorite activity at the moment is playing “Killing Me Softly” on the ukulele.

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?

10 comments on “Batwing 0

  1. But Tricia, if David got the therapeutic help he needs, he would run the risk of not wanting to run around beating the shit out of people, and we can’t have that in a Batman book! But seriously, I agree with both of you, there are a lot of missed opportunities for a really interesting character in this book.

  2. It’s funny, I guess I thought having David fighting poachers or medicine-smugglers would be exploitative, but having him fight generic super-villains completely ignores his setting. Tricia’s right to point out all the things that could be interesting about David, as well as how the fact that they’re more-or-less ignored is incredibly frustrating. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but I’m starting to think Winick would do better to err on the side of real interest in the setting.

  3. Yes-if David had actual treatment maybe he would have been less of a rage grump, but if that meant I wouldn’t have to see him beating a boring gorilla monster, i’d be even more suportive. Instead it seems to me that David scouts out criminals to satisfy his own need to fight anything, rather than a real motivation to contribute positively to his surroundings. He reminds me of annoying people who just go out and get into bar fights for the thrill of a bar fight. Ha. Batwing in a bar fight.

    • Agreed. Watching someone run around getting into fights in the name of vengeance is fine, but it could be so much more interesting than that!!!

      • That was another part of our initial complaints about this series; it’s not doing much to distinguish itself from other comics on the shelves. This has the potential to be the only book out there featuring a hero fighting real on-the-street crime and corruption in Africa, instead, it’s just another story of a guy in a costume fighting other guys in costumes.

        • And in one of those two interviews Tricia mentions (either with ComicVine or Marco Werman, I forget), Winick mentions that this is still a superhero comic – still a dude in a costume fighting another dude in a costume. But yeah, that clearly begs the question: what’s the point? There are 51 other books just like that. it might be unfair that we ask more of Batwing – but god damn it, sometimes it’s worth it to reach for something better.

        • Well, yes, but other titles do attempt to distinguish their heroes based on abilities, location, personality, etc. The only thing Batwing really has to distinguish him from Batman is his location, which would need to manifest itself in the crimes he fights, or it won’t really ever come up.

  4. Pingback: Batman and Robin 0 | Retcon Punch

  5. Granted, I’m two and a half years too late to this party, but in my obstinate refusal to let this gold mine of a character die, I stumbled onto this very insightful review of this issue, and this concept in general.

    As a Black comic fan (and a vocal proponent of the de-stigmatization of the African continent) I was thrilled to pieces to see a brown face in the Bat family who was fighting crime in the too-often-ignored milieu of Africa, in the DR Congo specifically. I wanted to see a Batman-styled hero who was trying to make a difference in a dangerous and unstable environment; his former child soldier backstory was priceless, and I couldn’t wait to read more about him.

    It is difficult to overstate my disappointment.

    The effort was valiant –Winick and To were great talents– but it ultimately felt undercooked to me. The eventual dumping of a considerably interesting person in David Zavimbe to the brown-for-no-reason Luke Fox hurt even more. I sometimes wonder how this title would have fared with a writer from the DRC, or even from the African continent in general.

    • I totally agree with you: Batwing — and specifically David Zavimbe — is a hugely wasted opportunity to explore themes, cultures and people that aren’t normally part of DC’s stable. I remember Drew and I having a conversation at the time we were reading this about how refreshing it was that David is from a real country (not like Black Panther being from Wakanda and not a goddamn princess like Storm — actually, they’re both royalty: how weird is that?) He’s a cop in the DRC, the city may be fictional, but so is Gotham.

      It was nice and grounded, if a little overly reliant on piles of torsos for shock. The fac tthat David gives up the cowl speaks to some of the cooler themes the series never really got to – namely that Batman’s tactics don’t really work when levels of corruption are this high, and the value of human life seems to be so low. Taking Batwing out of Tinasha totally hurts the series – he’s not just an international member of Batman Incorporated.

      And the second they put Luke in the costume, I feel like the specificity of the character disappeared completely. He just became a Batman/Iron Man hybrid, and like: who cares?

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