Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Batwing 19 and 20, originally released April 3rd and May 1st, 2013.
Patrick: We’ve seen a lot of creatives shifts in the DC line-up in the last couple of months — and there are a few more up-coming — but none have been quite so bold as Batwing to explicitly toss out the old version of the character for a new one. Not only does the Batwing costume change, but the man behind the costume changes, and there’s nothing to connect one Batwing to the next. And that’s the real problem: the concept of Batwing is one that require justification and understanding. Through this transition, new series writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do nothing to explore that for either the venerable David Zavimbe or the newbie Luke Fox.
Realizing that he’ll never be able to pursue the kind of justice he believes the DRC requires as Batwing, David Zavimbe calls up Bruce Wayne to turn in his cape. David actually details his struggle not to kill his enemies, but Batman more or less blows him off with a “K THANX BI” because he’s already got someone new in mind to be the African Batman: American, Luke Fox. Luke is the impossibly-ripped son of Lucius Fox and he’s been trying to get Batman’s attention for months (months, I tell you!). Luke’s first mission is to investigate a cabal of African arms dealers, which eventually leads him to the shady diamond mine which funds the whole thing. There, he encounters a handful of half-man, half-animal monsters and gets his ass promptly handed to him.
Let’s start with David, because that’s where I personally feel the least satisfied. David’s beef — from the story he tells Batman — is principally that he was unable to execute a serial killer as Batwing. But this seems like absurdly small potatoes when immediately compared to the issue of the arms dealers that Batman and Luke are prepared to deal with in the next issue. Which is the more systematic problem in the DRC — arms dealers and protracted manufactured civil war or one serial killer? David taps out because “the methods, the symbol, it doesn’t mean the same thing here,” but it seems like he’s the one being oddly myopic in choosing his targets. Also, arresting the guy might not be as satisfying as murdering him, but like, David, that ain’t nothing. I’m happy to see David make such a principled stand, I just wish it made sense.
Speaking of not making sense: Luke Fox. Luke may have been courting Batman’s favor for a while by beating up bad guys in his spare time, but it seems 100% outside of Batman’s purview to select a new superhero. If anything, Batman Incorporated has been consolidating heroes under the Batman brand name. Handpicking a regular dude — albeit a sort of violent dude — feels like Batman’s going out of his way to put people in harm’s way. And on top of that, it’s not as though he’s recruiting Luke to affect change in his own community — lord knows Gotham needs all the help it can get — but he sends him to Africa. Palmiotti and Gray recognize and acknowledge how strange this is, but that’s not the same as justifying it.
That exchange ends up typifying how dumb the new version of this series is. I hate hate hate how frequently and cavalierly Batwing’s territory is stated to be “Africa.” Batman’s got to keep an eye on Gotham City, and he has help doing it, but Batwing, you can just patrol the whole fucking continent, okay? I mean, look at that globe — the WHOLE CONTINENT is red. How’s one superhero — a n00b without superpowers who has no personal investment in the continent, mind you — supposed to make a meaningful difference?
But seemingly every inch of Luke Fox’s story is fraught with stupidity. There’s so much faux-drama around Luke’s decision to “travel the world” instead of starting his career right away, but it’s achingly obvious that Lucius built the new Batwing suit for his son. “It’s like he was born to wear it!” the other characters marvel as though it’s just an amazing coincidence. Further, why would Luke even attempt this lie? His dad works for Wayne Industries which publicly funds Batman Incorporated — wouldn’t telling your dad that you’re accepting a position working for Batman Inc. actually be transparently in line with Lucius’ wish that Luke work for Bruce Wayne?
Then there’s the actual crime fighting, which is also stupid. Maybe “stupid” is a little harsh, but there are a lot of poorly understood and poorly articulated concepts in Luke’s adventure. Here’s a good example:
Technically, using drugs and causing hallucinations is torture. Also, this tactic doesn’t work — even though he looks like a monster, she can still hear his young American voice. It ends up being a totally pointless panel and a totally pointless explanation of interrogation methods that have zero bearing on anything.
And I’m actually sort of offended by the special guest appearance by the man-eating lions of Tsavo.
The man-eaters of Tsavo are super interesting — they were a pair of maneless male lions that attacked and killed dozen of railroad laborers in Kenya around the turn of the century. They were the subject of the 1996 film Ghost in the Darkness (not a great film, but I’ll always love it for introducing me to the concept). But there were only two of them, one time a hundred years ago, and no one knows why. Batwing has to fight three times as many, for basically no reason — these could easily just be lions trained to attack intruders. NOPE — gotta be Tsavo lions. Also, I get that the “well fed” line is supposed to convey the information that they eat a lot of people, but it would also mean that they’re not that hungry, and therefore not that much of a threat.
Drew, I always like to say that there’s no such thing as bad characters, just bad writers, but Batwing may prove me wrong yet. I like Palmiotti and Gray, but their work here gives me very little reason to follow this new take on a character that’s been rebooted too many times in his short life. Is there something here you’re able to grab on to, or is the Batwing renaissance over before it began?Drew: I do think there’s potential in Luke’s outsider status — more than once, the fact that he’s a westerner is brought up by the criminals he’s hoping to stop (which is quite obviously a manifestation of Grey and Palmiotti’s clear discomfort at the thought of writing an African character). Unfortunately, I think that potential is nowhere near as interesting as what David Zavimbe represented.
Patrick, I think you’re a bit unfair regarding David’s objections to — and ultimate reasons for leaving — Batman Incorporated. Sure, he wants to kill this particular serial killer, but it’s not because he loves killing, it’s because he knows turning him over to the police won’t even slow him down. Police corruption is every bit as systemic as any civil war, and ultimately much more insidious. It means Batman’s famous “no killing” rule is an act of futility, and I think that conflict is fascinating.
We’re used to accepting Batman as a dark, elemental force of justice, but in a world where the notions of “dark,” “elemental,” and “justice” all mean very different things, you can’t hope to just port over the same system. This leaves two possibilities: David could either smash his head against the wall, trying to apply methods that just don’t work, or he could go rogue, breaking Batman’s own rules in pursuit of the greater good. Either one of those options sounds interesting — and very much unlike anything we might see with Batman — but Grey and Palmiotti go with secret option C: dump the whole operation and start over with a Bruce Wayne clone.
Don’t get me wrong — I love Bruce Wayne — but one of the things I found so refreshing about Batwing was its unique take on the Batman mythos. It applied Batman’s belief that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot to a world where the criminals are perpetrating much more ghastly horrors than a man in a bat costume could ever hope to threaten them with. That’s an interesting idea — one that more or less neuters Batman of his elemental scariness — which made for distinctly unique stories. Sure, it was still problematic (would it have killed DC to find a writer from Africa? Seriously, it’s like they set out to specifically answer “what’s twice as bad as one white writer attempting a story about an African hero?”) but at least it was doing something different. This solution basically rehashes Batman Beyond, only with a hero that’s even more similar to Bruce Wayne. Also, doesn’t Batman have anything better to do than talk Luke through his trials? Also, why does Bruce conveniently stop helping Luke right when he actually needs his help? Grey and Palmiotti go out of their way to show that Bruce can always lend a remote hand if Luke really needs it, which effectively robs every future scene of this series forever of any real sense of danger. It must not be that bad if Batman hasn’t called in his ridiculous bat-foggers.
But yeah, beyond his total lack of agency, it’s pretty fucked up that Batman picked him for this job. There’s pretty much no non-racist justification for assigning the one black dude to all of Africa. Is it because he reminds Bruce of David Zavimbe? Racist. Is it because he presumes he’s conversant with the culture (of an entire continent)? Racist. Is it just a matter of giving the black guy the shittiest job? Still racist. I suppose Grey and Palmiotti can use Batman’s choice here as an exploration of racial quotas and affirmative action, but it seems like they aren’t interested in dwelling on the specifics of Luke’s selection, which is weird, given how on-the-fence Batman seems about the whole thing.
He’s not sure he chose his first choice? He continues to have reservations about who was always, unequivocally, his top pick? I guess good on Luke for winning the turd pageant, but that sounds like terrible praise. This is basically Batman shrugging and telling us that he had to pick somebody.
Unfortunately, that’s the noncommittal justification we seem to get from Grey and Palmiotti. Patrick’s right to suggest that Batwing doesn’t stand for anything. He’s a Batman clone that has just gotten even more similar to Batman, which means — at best — he only stands for mediocrity. I haven’t followed this series closely enough to know if that’s a step forward or back, but it’s not one that has me excited to return.
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?