Thursday, July 27, 2017

Batman/The Shadow #4 Review and Spoilers

Tell It To My Heart

Written by: Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando
Script by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Riley Rossmo
Colours by: Ivan Plascencia
Letters by: Clem Robins
Price: $3.99

Well, we’re half way through this pairing of two of popular fiction’s most famous vigilantes (or a quarter of the way through considering the recent announcement of this series’ follow-up mini) and things are heating up nicely. Last issue saw a couple of significant revelations about the nature of The Shadow’s relationship with Batman, and it also left Batman tied up in an underground cavern surrounded by a gathering of his most vicious enemies. (Well, most of them. Where’s Kite Man?) This means we’re probably due a huge fight in this issue, doesn’t it?

Yes. Yes, it does.

In some respects, this issue is very easy to review, because virtually its entire length is devoted to The Shadow rescuing Batman and, with the caped crusader, fighting the assembled villains in the cavern in which, we find out, Doctor Gotham’s tomb is located. This last point is another nice little touch from Snyder/Orlando, who are determined to root this tale in established Batman lore and do so in some very interesting ways. It’s a shame, then, that their use of established Batman villains here falls a little flat.

Now, a super-villain team-up undoubtedly poses some challenges for a writer, a full-on free for all like the one we get in this issue even more so. Part of the problem is that the writer is implicitly expecting the reader to suspend his disbelief that a number of villains, who individually are challenging enough to give the hero one or two regular issues of trouble, are still manageable for the hero, albeit, as here, with some help. Another issue is that of characterisation and threat. In this issue, there is more focus on Kai/Hellhound than there is on Scarecrow or The Riddler, both of whom are not only noticeably underpowered (Scarecrow never deploys his fear toxin, for example) but also curiously silent. It's tempting to suggest that their presence is entirely tokenistic, a visual ramping up of the level of threat Batman is facing that the creators can't really be bothered to develop properly. I’ve said elsewhere that with crossovers the reader just has to ‘go with it’ as far as continuity is concerned, but there are limits and seeing Batman menaced by Penguin and Magpie (they’re both birds, geddit?) wielding knives might be one of them.

The problems with the cornucopia of villains notwithstanding, there are some interesting things going on here. The fight has a moral as well as physical dimension. Batman will not kill but The Shadow will and it’s actually quite hard not to agree with the latter when he says “We’d be facing two instead of twenty if not for your childish rules.” This division between the two vigilantes’ moral views is taken to extreme lengths when The Shadow attempts to shoot the Joker and Batman flings himself in between them, a move that results in the Joker only suffering a flesh wound. Proving the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished, this leaves the way open for The Stag to stab Batman in the chest and then, a wounded Joker in tow, to make good his escape.

The fight is entertaining enough and there are plenty of ‘cool’ moments and, refreshingly, engaging lines of dialogue to keep the reader involved. That The Shadow is by far the better written of the two main characters is perhaps a little disappointing, but there’s enough action and fun here to enjoy all the same. The moment when an unseen Shadow carries on the Joker’s laughter is a very nice bit of suspense-building, for example, as is Alfred ringing Jim Gordon to ask for help. The Shadow’s “Yet you bring me such gifts” might be the line of the issue and Rossmo’s art is, for the most part, very effective here.

That’s not to say that the issue doesn’t have its problems. The ending is a little anti-climactic, but, with not one but two, issues to go, that’s perhaps to be expected. The mythology of how the Stag gets to Shamba-La is also a little wonky. Does Batman need to be dead? Or will just his blood suffice? Hmmm…  Oh, and why is Clayface part of the group of villains when he’s been working with Batman in Detective Comics for quite a while now? Double hmmm… These issues are niggling but…

Bits and Pieces:

The story is well-paced, well-drawn and, on the whole, well-written. Four issues in, the creative team finally deliver on the implicit promise of the series’ title and show us Batman and The Shadow in tandem and the subsequent fight, although not quite an unqualified success, doesn’t disappoint. Several questions remain unanswered, which, after four issues, is as it should be. At the heart of the story, however, is an examination of who Batman is, what his values are and what the potential cost of those values might be. This series remains both intriguing and entertaining and there are far worse ways a comic fan might spend four bucks.


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