Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Shadow/Batman #4 Review and Spoilers


Written by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Giovanni Timpano
Colours by: Flavio Dispenza
Letters by: Taylor Esposito
Published by: Dynamite Entertainment/DC Comics
Price: $3.99

Another issue of Orlando-scripted vigilante goodness? Nice! Will last issue's admittedly rather tense cliffhanger be adequately resolved? Will Damian resolve his granddaddy issues? Will Orlando manage to continue his current writing-an-issue-without-any-noticeable-dialogue-problems streak? Will Giovanni Timpano's art continue to impress and surprise? The answer to these and other burning questions can be found below…

This issue starts with Damian doing Damian things – in this case, tracking down the dead puppets of the Silent Seven in an effort to work out what they've been up to. What they've been up to is, it seems, retarding human progress by hoarding inventions and technological discoveries, thus making humanity easier to control and, presumably, deceive. This is not an exactly new idea in popular fiction, but it makes a certain kind of sense here. The big (and fairly obvious) question, I suppose, is just how stunted is the human race because of the Silent Seven's actions? Should we all be living on Mars by now? Or forever? The issue doesn't really tell us, because, quite frankly, it's simply not the focus of this story. The revelation is solely there to provide Damian with further motivation for confronting his grandfather. Which he goes on to do later on in the issue.  First, though…

That cliffhanger. You know, it's annoying when writers deliberately undercut the established continuity of other writers. It feels kind of… disrespectful. I'm not sure how I feel about Orlando undercutting his own work, though. Maybe 'disrespectful' isn't the word. Maybe it's… stupid? At the end of the Batman/The Shadow series penned by Orlando and Scott Snyder Batman dies and experiences an extra-terrestrial (and possibly extra-dimensional) encounter with three bizarre-looking Lovecraftian entities who give him a choice to become The Shadow as an effectively immortal agent of vengeance or to be resurrected back in Shamba-La healed of his wounds, but still susceptible to mortal injury. Bats chooses the latter option and the rest, as they say, is history.

Until Orlando gets his revisionist paws on the whole thing this issue and renders everything – Riley Rossmo's astonishingly weird and yet somehow dignified creature designs; the long, largely engaging speech Batman gives as he makes his decision; the dramatic weight of the decision itself – utterly irredeemably pointless. Because, in order to justify his shock cliffhanger ending from last issue, Orlando has Shiwan Khan explain that he can control Batman as one of his undead puppets because everything that happened in that extra-dimensional encounter is an illusion, implanted in Bruce Wayne's head so that he can have him point a gun at The Shadow in the middle of the night in Wayne Manor.


For one thing, Shiwan Khan's own reaction last issue undermines this. Khan seems to be genuinely annoyed by Bruce Wayne's interference with Silent Seven investments on the stock market. If he was able to control Wayne that easily, surely he'd be much more relaxed about the whole thing? The notion that the world's greatest detective wouldn't have some clue that he was actually dead and being mystically manipulated by a psychic criminal mastermind is also difficult to take. (As difficult, actually, as that sentence was to write.) But, the main issue for me is just how pat and crass and horribly thoughtless it all is.

That isn't to say that it's not dramatic. To be fair to both Orlando and Timpani, both art and dialogue come together very well here to make the revelation suitably suspenseful and powerful. It's just a shame that that power is undermined by the writer's fast and loose approach to his own continuity.

Speaking of Timpani, his art here seems to me to be more assured and certainly more dynamic than at the start of the series. His sequence of Damian entering a Silent Seven hideout, for example, highlights his acrobatic skill beautifully and is genuinely exciting. I'd love to see him on a regular DC title.

But probably not one written by Steve Orlando. On the plus side, Orlando's plotting here is, the nonsensical negation of last series' dramatic conclusion notwithstanding, okay. Arguably too much of the issue is taken up with the fight between the Shiwan-controlled Batman and The Shadow and then, later, The Shadow and Shiwan. Although well-drawn, these confrontations don't particularly advance the plot. Neither does the inevitable confrontation between Damian and Ra's Al Ghul which principally consists of the two characters declaiming gnomically at one another.  The tension established effectively last issue in the partnership between The Shadow and Batman, and Damian finding out that his grandfather is behind the Silent Seven's operations is frittered away here, lost in a morass of posturing, glib revelation and not entirely successful melodramatic dialogue. ("Bitter fruit" makes a comeback here accompanied by a glaring grammatical error.)

I haven't even talked about the destruction of Wayne Manor either. And I'm not going to. There's only so much gratuitous grandstanding a reviewer can take, you know. After an encouraging installment last issue, it would appear that things are back to a confusing and overwrought normality. The issue's final page exemplifies both the flaws and triumphs of his series perfectly – Timpani's impressive art shows Ra's reflected in Damian's sword which is held up close before his determined face, while Orlando's tired dialogue floats overhead. After last issue's improvement in quality, I had hoped for something better this time around. Sadly, it was not to be.

Bits and Pieces:

Timpani's art is improving quickly and, in some sections here, conveys a fluidity of action that is breath-taking. The plot is stalling, however. The intriguing implications of last issue's revelation that the Silent Seven's criminal empire has been woven into the very fabric of the modern world are here ignored in favor of fights that, deprived of wider context, feel like the book is treading water. Throw in some pointless destruction and mediocre dialogue and you end up with a disappointing installment in an otherwise promising series.


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