I so rarely write full-length reviews on graphic novels. This is a rare exception cuz…well, I got a lot to say.
I’m not a fan of most modern day DC/Marvel graphic novels. They all have familiar story lines, twee dialogue, and conclusive narratives. I’ll grant that I don’t go too deep in the weeds with them but when I do venture out of my Batman/Daredevil comfort zone (like Hawkeye for example), I’m almost always disappointed.
While I do enjoy a decent diet of Batman tales, modern ones have to find ways to put a new spin on things. How many ways can his origin story be retold? How many more duels with the Joker are left? Almost every one has to have a fresh take, some of which I enjoy (the Year One series being a shining example).
This probably takes the cake for most original one I’ve read so far.
This story functions as so many things: a questioning of Batman’s motives and psyche, an examination of the Joker, a bird’s eye view of Gotham City, a deep dive into Bruce’s relationships with his former wards/peers…
It’s probably just easier to do bullet points from here on out…
-I LOVED the Joker/Harley stuff here. Who among us doesn’t dream of moving to a big city, only to having our hopes and visions wildly disappointed? Unlike the Psychiatrists-are-Hitler view of mental health spoonfed to us almost 40 years ago by Frank Miller, Sean Murphy takes a good look at what makes his version of the Clown Prince of Crime tick, how his behavior impacts relationships (between this, the movies and the HBO series, it’s great to see Harley Quinn’s character become reimagined), and what he would do if he could possibly break against it.
-It could’ve used more Two Face but this is as good of an examination of how Batman works vis-a-vis the criminal justice system since The Dark Knight. That Batman, despite consistently rounding up super villains, may be seen as a destructive presence to the city he is supposed to guard, a city that still has a corrupt (and in this version, racist) police force, was refreshing.
-I don’t really care much for Batman working with others but this was a good look at how his behavior negatively impacts relationships, both with and without the cowl.
-I groaned at references to Jason Todd and Mr. Freeze, two characters I don’t have much use for. But Murphy’s look at them is so clever and weaves perfectly into the story he wants to tell. Won’t say more due to spoilers.
-If I have one beef, it’s an “A for effort” at the introduction of Duke’s character and the Backport neighborhood, which is portrayed as a lower class community of color. It’s likely true that Batman would be the hero of the white working class (who envies him), as well as upper crust Gothamites (whose order he preserves). It’s also true that corporate overlords would use Batman’s crime fighting spree to enact “blockbuster” real estate laws and profit off of them. I like that the book tries to grapple with the fact that Gotham still exists in a white supremacist America. But I think Duke’s character is a bit too broadly presented, the issues of race too simplified, and the ending a bit too pandering. There’s probably more to say here; I’m not sure Murphy could have teased this out while also carrying the weight of the rest of the story. But as Black people and their views of Batman are so underrepresented in comics, it felt like somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Despite that shortcoming, I really liked this. I audibly groaned when I saw there was a sequel; this is a perfect standalone. But I’ll still be checking it out.