by Michael DeLaney and Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: As Drew and I suggested in our discussion of this series’ first issue, Batman/The Shadow is absolutely a Batman-centric book featuring The Shadow and not the reverse. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just proves how strong Batman’s hold is on the heart and mind of Scott Snyder. The finale — Batman/The Shadow 6 — underlines that statement as the fantastical elements of The Shadow’s world only strengthen Batman’s very human legend.
It’s the grand finale, which means that our heroes must battle against near-impossible odds to save the day. The Stag and The Joker are trying to destroy the sanctum-sanctorum that is Shamba-La, while Batman receives yet another offer to take The Shadow’s place as supernatural crimefighter.
Batman is inside the heart of Shamba-La discussing this proposal with its unnamed entities, which will henceforth be referred to as “The Celestials.” Maybe it’s their dark red eyes, their green hues or their cosmic influence, but the Celestials really remind me of Swamp Thing’s Parliament of Trees. It’s as if artist Riley Rossmo got a specific note that said “Swamp Thing squids.”
The Celestials tell Batman that since he honed and perfected the skills that The Shadow taught him, he would be an even more successful version of The Shadow. I find this part to be a little contradictory, however. Throughout Batman/The Shadow, the two titular heroes have the classic — albeit predictable — debate over Batman’s no killing rule. Given the promise that they give Batman, does this mean that the Celestials believe that Batman will be a better Shadow because of his no killing? Or are they just shining him on, making him empty promises?
Rossmo’s glimpse of the future shows Batman in The Shadow’s flowing red cape firing off pistols, implying that Batman would have to give up the very discipline that the Celestials were praising him for. That’s not what stops Batman from accepting their offer, however. What comes next is probably my favorite moment in this entire miniseries: Batman is given the chance to continue his one-man war on crime for the rest of eternity as the immortal Shadow. The Celestials are trying to tap into Batman’s vanity, his single-minded determination that he is the only one who can punch crime in the face. And yet he refuses.
Batman will always be Bruce Wayne for the rest of our eternity, but in the 2-D world, we’ve become familiar with the idea of Batman living on through his legacy. Batman knows that he will eventually fall and one of his disciples will take his place. But more importantly:
A lot of the time the greatest Batman moments are the ones that are so damn obvious yet simultaneously revelatory. You could argue that part of Batman’s constant struggle is to beat back death one day at a time, but at the same time he respects death. Death is what bore the Batman, as the Waynes bled out in Crime Alley in time immemorial. Batman may run in the same crowd as aliens, gods, and Plastic Men, but ultimately, one of Batman’s most defining character traits is that he’s only human. He will die. At least for a while.
Later on, The Shadow laments how Batman could’ve freed him from his eternal prison by taking over that flowing red cape. But I get the feeling that none of us really feel bad for The Shadow, right? Just to reiterate that this is primarily Batman’s story, I’ll point to one of their last exchanges. As The Shadow tries to have one more philosophical battle with Batman, he changes his face to many of the important people in Bruce Wayne’s life including Superman, Jim Gordon and even Martha Wayne. It’s the rare occasion that Batman walks away from a story being the optimistic one, but we are dealing with a vengeful gun-toting man-demon after all.
While I think Batman/The Shadow 6 was easily the best issue of the series, I was a little disappointed with The Joker. While Joker is hardly the focus of the issue, I couldn’t help but notice how one-note the Clown Prince of Crime was. He was merely there as “the bad guy” and had little to offer besides aiding The Stag in his quest for revenge against The Shadow. Joker doesn’t do team-ups without throwing in a little personalized anarchy, which was missing here.
Mark, how did Batman/The Shadow 6 treat ya? How did you feel about the revelation that Shamba-La was a trap for the worst humanity had to offer? Did you like that Stag’s origin tied into the foundations of Shamba-La or is that kind of circular connectivity overused? Did you care about The Shadow in any way or were you more cold to him like me?
Mark: It’s difficult to care much about The Shadow because there’s so little humanity in him, but if the idea behind Batman/The Shadow 6 is to have Batman blossom in comparison, I can’t say Orlando’s script fully succeeds.
For example, to my mind, Batman declaring “There is no Batman without death” as a kiss-off line of sorts feels like a misjudgment of the character. Yes, Batman was born from death, but, more precisely, he was born out a desire for justice in reaction to death. That he would reject the offer of immortality because he feels like it’s important for the mantle to be passed on after him…I just don’t know that I’m buying it. It’s true that one of things that makes Batman unique in the meta-world of DC superheroes is that he’s merely human, but inevitable death is not historically one of his strong internal motivating factors. Additionally, while Scott Snyder has never portrayed Bruce as being particularly weighed down by the cowl, there’s certainly not a lot of joy in being Batman. That’s what tertiary characters, like Robin and Nightwing, who can actually enjoy the awesome aspects of being a superhero, are for. Bruce resolving himself to carry the weight of being Batman forever so his loved ones can live their lives free of the responsibility feels more in-line with what I expect from his character.
There’s a similar hollowness to Batman’s “Up With People”-esque pep talk to The Shadow at the end of the issue. “There’s more to life than being a tortured superhero,” Batman declares, before dashing off into the night to…go do what exactly? Family and friends are rarely a lasting concern for Snyder’s Batman, with Snyder regularly choosing to ignore the fact that Batman has a son at all. And while an argument could be made that the Batman of Batman/The Shadow isn’t that Batman, even then I’m struggling to think of what Batman has to teach the Shadow. That fighting crime in search of an ellusive sense of total justice can be its own unattainable reward?
So if the goal of this story was to illustrate how The Shadow and Batman are superficially similar, but fundamentally different, it ultimately fails in making the contrasts convincing enough. Snyder and Orlando project a version of Batman here that often feels at odds with the current portrayal of the character, but isn’t distinct enough to consider on its own.
However, I am enamored with Riley Rossmo’s art and Ivan Plascenia’s colors. Rossmo employs unique framing devices throughout the issue, with pages being wrapped in the Swamp Thing Cthulhu tentacles of The Celestials or the Joker appearing in playing card-like panels within a page. Rossmo also incorporates the idea of the The Shadow and Batman being reflections of each other into the way he poses the characters.
Batman/The Shadow 6 is a beautifully rendered issue, filled with enough action and a story that earnestly aims for the heart to be considered a success, even when it doesn’t all add up.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?