Sunday, September 11, 2011

Batwing #1 - A Review

As long-time readers of mine are well aware, Judd Winick and I have a long, sordid and disreputable relationship. It may surprise you to know that I’ve enjoyed much of his past work, including much of his run on Green Lantern and the vampire mini-series Blood And Water. Despite this, many of my past Green Arrow reviews focused upon Winick’s failure to research the basic history of established characters he wrote for DC Comics and his apparent inability in recent years to write any series without Batman being a guest-star. But that was all in the past and I am fully prepared to let bygones be bygones. New universe. New start.

Batwing #1 introduces us to one of the newest recruits for Batman Incorporated – a public company organized by Bruce Wayne that sponsors local heroes on a global level, providing them with equipment and resources. Batwing’s secret identity is David Zavimbe; a rare honest cop in the notoriously corrupt police department of Tinasha – a fictional city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This central concept of the Batman name and equipment being out-sourced has been carried over from Grant Morrison’s pre-Revamp Batman book. So if all of this sounds needlessly complicated or confusing, don’t worry – none of that is mentioned in this book. Indeed, there’s no explanation exactly why Batman is in Africa offering assistance to a newbie vigilante who is using the same motif. I fear this may be confusing to new readers whose vision of Batman is not well known for being gregarious toward other heroes and for limiting his activities to Gotham City.

Another thing that may confuse new readers is the book’s timeline. The issue opens with Batwing fighting a masked villain called Massacre, before flashing back to six weeks earlier as Batwing (with Batman along to assist) investigates a series of brutal murders. The issue ends on a cliff-hanger while still in the middle of the flashback. This does little to aid the sense of suspense Winick seems to be crafting as we know our hero has already survived what the last page throws at him.

At least Winick seems to have rid himself of his old habit of having Batman do all the work whenever he’s a guest in someone else’s title. Indeed, Batman defers to Batwing, asking him how he wants to handle his case and sticking to the background, save for one action scene where he handles the clean-up as Batwing confronts a local warlord the locals call Blood Tiger... for some reason.

The artwork by Ben Oliver is all-around amazing but it is colorist Brian Reber who deserves special praise. The use of color on this book is wonderful, with the palette used giving Oliver’s pencils the feeling of a painting in every page. My one complaint is that many of the action sequences suffer for being zoomed-in. There are several panels that might have benefited from a wide-angle shot rather than the close-ups we get.

Sadly, good artwork is not enough to allow me to recommend this book. The action sequences are good but the mystery isn’t engaging enough to make up for a strange timeline and an underdeveloped hero. Batman Inc. fans might enjoy it but everyone else will likely walk away from this book confused.

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