Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Batwing #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Ben Oliver
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

On the plus side, this isn’t the train wreck I was expecting after reading the advertising copy and creator interviews, which dished out a lot of hoary old clich├ęs. “Africa, a land of beauty—and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict,” the first two lines of the solicitation copy for issue #1 read.

The story is somewhat better than that would suggest. Rather than in some mythical and exotic place called “Africa,” it’s set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the city of Tinasha, to be precise. Which is fictional, of course, but that falls under creative license. Depending on what Mr. Winick is up to, it may make sense not to have the protagonist set up shop in a real town. There’s a neat twist ending, too, if I’m interpreting this right.

That said, it’s still a pretty bad comic, unfortunately. First up, the art doesn’t deliver. It more or less communicates the action, a few ropey panels aside. But beyond that, the figures never quite seem alive or in motion, also thanks to the colors. Everything in the book has an odd, sometimes lava-like sheen that seems at once murky and metallic. More importantly, there are virtually no backgrounds in this book—it’s all vast blank spaces instead. As a result, there’s a static and antiseptic quality to the whole thing that never quite lets you buy into the characters or their surroundings. Just looking at the artwork, the story might as well be set in some abandoned warehouse in New Jersey.

The writing isn’t able to compensate for that, and it adds its own share of issues. Batman keeps lurking around in the shadows, for instance, but does little more than provide clunky excuses for the protagonist to deliver exposition, because Winick couldn’t be bothered to write a proper scene with two properly fleshed out characters. “How do you want to proceed, Batwing?” Batman asks. “And his file?” he wonders. “What did you find?” he prompts. And off he goes. Also, the plot is probably more complicated than it needs to be. It throws a lot of characters with names like Massacre, Blood Tiger or Earth Strike at you, but doesn’t dwell long enough on any of them to make them distinguishable, let alone interesting.

Ultimately, this seems terribly half-cooked and underwhelming. Rather than to do proper world-building from the ground up, the creators are adding some exotic window-dressing to existing superhero tropes. At the end of the day, I don’t buy any of these characters, and I don’t buy that this is a story that plays out in Africa—or anywhere else, for that matter.

Grade: D-


Richard Bensam said...

Of all the reviews I've seen of the relaunched DC titles online, yours are consistently the ones that best correspond to what I've actually seen on the page. I have nothing to add to your reviews, but merely wanted to express my appreciation that someone else was actually saying what I'd been thinking.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

Thanks for the kind words, Richard, and thank you for reading.