Batman: The Merciless 1: Discussion

by Michael DeLaney and Mark Mitchell

This article containers SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Michael: Remember when Superman and Wonder Woman were an item and how boring that was? Same. As a fan who was raised on the DCAU, I’ve always preferred the Trinity pairing of Batman and Wonder Woman. And since the events of Batman: The Merciless 1 hinge on Bruce mourning the loss of his beloved Diana, I’d say Pete Tomasi agrees with me.

Batman was born of many things, but key among them is tragedy. Just as the tragic death of his parents lead him to become Batman, the death of Wonder Woman leads him to become “The Merciless.” Francis Manapul opens the story with a familiar image: Batman on his knees in anguish, holding the body of a fallen comrade. For the majority of the issue Tomasi and Manapul lead us to believe that Batman’s rise to godly power — his possession of Ares’ helmet — was due the loss of his love, but that’s not exactly true.

At the conclusion of Batman: The Merciless 1 we discover that Wonder Woman wasn’t as dead as she appeared on that first page, after all. The Merciless reveals via internal monologue that he killed Diana as she tried to prevent him from taking Ares’ power.

That means that the true tragedy of the story is actually that Bruce’s quest for power was stronger than his love for Diana. As evidenced by the various members of the Bat-family, Batman has a lot of love in his heart. But I don’t think that he will ever let his love for a woman get in the way of his mission — another reason I’m skeptical of his impending nuptials to Selina Kyle.

Given that this Dark Knight’s moniker is “The Merciless”, Tomasi makes sure that his script is full of references to what is “merciful.” I like the idea of Bruce thinking that the type of justice he doles out is “mercy.” There’s definitely merit to the fact that he doesn’t kill criminals, but at the same time he does beat the holy hell out of masked goons every night. Mercy indeed.

The modern-era Batman is characteristically a control freak, so it’s no surprise that Bruce takes the opportunity to up his vengeance/justice game. It’s never really stated as such, but Bruce has become the God of War. Likewise, it’s completely within character that he believes that he can wield Ares’ power in a righteous way — making war truly “just” and “fair.” Only Batman could have the hubris required to think that he could single-handedly “solve war.”

He ends up embracing the god part a little more than he anticipated. It’s possible that his influence — combined with a whole bunch of panic — causes the representatives of DCU’s fictional government agencies to turn on one another. These agencies also try to stop The Merciless by dropping their ultimate bomb “Valhalla” on him, — shout-out to GL character Tom Kalmaku — but the payload only makes him stronger. After the dust settles we see the aforementioned government agents bowing down and worshipping The Merciless as their new god.

I admire the attention to detail that Tomasi and Manapul  take as The Merciless wanders the wreckage of “The Temple.” Manapul draws cave paintings on the wall that depict every major event that has taken place during Scott Snyder’s Batman run. Scenes from “Zero Year”, “Endgame” and “Superheavy” are shown as key stages of Barbatos’ “mantling” of Batman. This epic yarn plus the particular tragedy of The Merciless makes this one of the more stand-out tie-ins to Dark Nights: Metal.

What do you think Mark? Did you find this issue to be as powerful as I did? Do you think that this is an essential read for Dark Nights: Metal? Does that matter? Do you know why Father Time is a little girl?

Mark: I have to admit the intricacies of this issue’s plot kind of passed me by, Michael. I don’t have much emotional interest in any of the characters, and in my first try reading through the issue, I found myself running up against Tomasi’s almost impenetrable walls of expository text. Still, I found Batman: The Merciless 1 wholly engrossing thanks to Manapul’s incredible flair for visual storytelling.

Holy moly, this is a good looking issue. A character with a moniker like “The Merciless” immediately conjures up images of enormous, bloodthirsty Vikings rushing battlefields and taking no prisoners. Manapul’s Beast-Mode Bruce perfectly captures the imagination. When The Merciless removes his helmet for the first time towards the end of the issue, his visage is surprising but inevitable — we’ve never seen Bruce look quite like this, but what else would Beast Mode Bruce look like? — and that’s the hallmark of good design.

Likewise, I’m really taken with Manapul’s rendering of the strange Joker/Batman character who flies in to tempt The Merciless into war. It’s a Clive Barker creation meets Michonne from The Walking Dead, and it’s strangely beautiful. Very possibly this character has already made an appearance in Dark Nights: Metal, but I quickly checked out on that series, so he’s new to me. Here, Manapul does a brilliant job of capturing the character’s captivating menace from the moment he appears on the page.

But it’s more than just Manapul’s characters that make the issue stand out, it’s the care he puts into every aspect of his art. Notice the way the clouds in the sky of this panel echo the shape and style of the cave paintings in The Temple.

It’s this attention to detail that makes Batman: The Merciless 1 feel special, even when the plot didn’t move me.

When Walt Disney had his Imagineers designing Disneyland’s seminal work of themed entertainment, Pirates of the Caribbean, the financial folks at his company questioned the need for so much extra propping and details in every scene. Surely, most riders wouldn’t even notice most of it. But Walt explained the details weren’t there for the first ride, but for the second, the third, and the fourth. The layering on of details in Batman: The Merciless 1 — between the vibrant color work and Manapul’s intricate pencils — rewards the reader for returning to its pages for closer inspection. It’s a gorgeous reminder that for as disposable as comic books can feel, a tremendous amount of work and love goes into the crafting of each and every one.

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?

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