When last we visited with Gotham City, Bruce had just come to terms with his longtime frenemy, Ghost-Maker. Now, months later, Gotham’s first vigilante family has settled into a new status quo with Ghost-Maker, Spoiler and Orphan all at the heart of the team. We can only hope that will be enough to deal with the rise of a new criminal faction -- the Unsanity Collective -- and the return of an old foe, Jonathan Crane… The Scarecrow!
Meanwhile, Gotham City itself has not yet come to rest. Unsettled by having been subjected to numerous tragedies in quick succession, Gotham is frightened and in pain… and those things together are fertile ground for tyrants. Or, perhaps, Magistrates.
Elsewhere, Damian Wayne seeks out his mother, Talia al Ghul, with a mind toward rejoining the League of Assassins as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir.
The second I opened Batman 106, I knew I was about to read something special, and I’ll tell you why. In a second.
First, let me say it feels like longer than it has been since the last issue of regular old Bruce Wayne Batman operating in the regular old present. I think it’s been evident that I really enjoyed The Next Batman, but after a two month side trip I’m thrilled to be dropping in on Bruce’s life in media res once more. Immediately, we find Bruce strapped to a chair being mentally tortured by one of his enemies and I think, Ah sweet familiarity!
That isn’t to say that nothing has changed. In the aftermath of Death Metal and its establishment of a DC Multiverse more expansive than ever before, you could say that everything has changed. But it’s a subtle difference, largely irrelevant to the current plot and revealed carefully and between the lines – a mention of an old story here and a new story there. What’s more immediate is that there seems to have been a minor time skip. I couldn’t say whether that’s universal to the line yet, but what I do know is that when Batman 106 opens, it has been some months since 105.
During those months, the Batfamily seems to have stabilized into a new status quo. Batman 106 addresses lingering questions like what Barbara Gordon will be up to for the foreseeable future, and how Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown fit into the mix now that they’ve come home. It also does some preparatory heavy lifting, introducing new characters like the previously announced Miracle Molly and the organization to which she belongs, the Unsanity Collective; both make their debut here, along with the voice and face, but not physical presence, of Unsanity founder Master Wyze.
Also settling into the new Status Quo is diagnosed psychopath, and arguably Bruce Wayne’s best non-Superman friend, Ghost-Maker. He has been hooked into the backbone of the Batfamily, though he remains something of a wild card and needs to be reminded to neither kill nor maim. Bruce and Ghost-Maker’s dynamic is sheer perfection – a bit of rivalry, a bit of playfulness (more from Ghost-Maker’s direction than Bruce’s), and a lot of shared determination. Ghost-Maker has an intensity of a completely different flavor than Bruce’s own obsessiveness – for him, crimefighting is half art and half play, and it’s easy to lose track of the fact that we’ve got a ruthless killer on our hands because he’s so likeable.
As a side note, I also appreciate the addition of a “villain” style character that Bruce cares about enough to work with without it being a romantic issue. It’s long been a running joke among Batman readers that Bruce’s attraction to Catwoman and Talia al Ghul keeps him from apprehending them despite their criminality, but between Ghost-Maker, Harley Quinn and Harvey Dent I think we can make an argument that it has more to do with loving them than being in love with them, and more to do with seeing their potential as a force for good than his hormones.
All that said, as nice as it is to get caught up with what the (bat)fam has been up to (and what they’re about to stumble into), it may not be as pleasant for them as it is for us. You see, there is one more major plot point that Batman 106 brings to the forefront: the rise of the Magistrate. Here, we meet its founder, Simon Saint, and witness his initial proposal, and the depths to which he’s willing to sink to get the program implemented. If you found yourself wondering how the heck something as extreme as the Magistrate got started – or why Mayor Nakano, who seems like a pretty good guy, would ever approve it – this is where you start to get your answers.
I should say here that Infinite Frontier #0 is, while not mandatory, highly recommended before diving into Batman 106, as it will make Saint’s plan easier to follow.
Now, all of this brings me back to my initial comment about the “specialness” of the issue. Here’s where I’m coming from:
James Tynion IV is, at heart, a horror writer. You know this if you’re familiar with his creator owned books. Aside from that, if you think back a little over a year ago to those early Tynion newsletters where he posted bits of his initial proposal, you may remember his intention was to write Batman as essentially a superhero version of a morality-flipped Michael Meyers in a terrifying city where the villains are as frightening outside as they are monstrous inside. Now, we’ve seen bits and pieces of that vision over the past year – there were horror moments in Their Dark Designs, for example, and a bit in Joker War. But now, after a year of just trying to produce a fun ride while navigating a constantly shifting sea of company-wide editorial changes, this is where we finally start to see that vision realized.
Now, as an artform that lives and dies on the strength of collaboration, comics are at their best when members of the creative team are all firmly planted on the same page. It’s not dissimilar to the kind of magic that appears on the page when a writer or artist is exactly, precisely, in the middle of their strongest spot – when a romance-centric writer is forming that specific kind of love that makes their toes curl up and their heart grow three sizes, or an action-centric artist is planning and drawing the final confrontation between hero and villain.
With the current Batman run, I genuinely believe that we have a perfect storm of both factors. Tynion and Jimenez have this incredible creative chemistry – I could easily see them becoming one of the super teams we see popping up sometimes, traveling from project to project together and elevating each other’s work as they go. It’s in their mutual love of horror and manga and superheroes and horror manga and manga-influenced superheroes, and the dark energy crackling under the skin of their best work. Jimenez’s Batman looks like a supernatural creature, all shining white eyes and billowing cloak, and it’s the perfect mesh of superhero and the thing that goes bump in the night… and that’s without even getting into the genuinely terrifying redesign he’s given the Scarecrow. For the first time maybe ever, Jonathan Crane looks someone I wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley – an embodiment of terror, as he should be.
Then we have Tomeu Morey whom I unironically refer to as the kingmaker of colorists because of his ability to elevate even the best artwork several levels. His work has been magnificent since day one on the book, but with Gotham transitioning from a Gothic nightmare to a neon one, his saturation-heavy style has an even greater chance to shine.
And, rounding out the team, Clayton Cowles is an expert in managing tone and pacing through variations in font, colors, bubble shape, etc to the point where you can visually discern whether Bruce’s thoughts are or are not disturbed/affected by external factors.
All told, it’s just a great coming together of voices and as much as I’ve enjoyed Batman for the entire Tynion IV run to date, I’d wager that the best is yet to come.
Finally, we also have a 10 page backup tracking Damian Wayne’s journey from his break with Bruce to his solo title, debuting in May. This short and mostly-sweet tale by Josh Williamson and Gleb Melnikov finds Damian returning to Talia to reclaim his position as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir.
Now, I happen to be a huge fan of Damian and Talia, both as individual characters and as mother and son. That can be a rough way to live. Even so, I’ve had nothing but love for the idea of Williamson taking on the al Ghuls since Batman/Superman, where he wrote some of the best Bruce-Ra’s interactions I’ve ever seen. His take on Damian is similarly spot on so far. Talia can be a thornier topic, but for now I’ll just say that her portrayal is a promising and nuanced take on her recent characterization.
Melnikov’s work here is perhaps the best he’s done so far as he shows off his skill with body language, facial expressions, and character design – I’m unsure about the demon ears on Damian’s mask, but his features and the designs on Talia and the assassins are striking. He also colors his own work, and does a phenomenal job with it.
Ten pages isn’t much to go on but based on what I’m seeing in the story itself as well as from the creators, there’s a lot of promise here, and a great deal of love as well. I can’t wait to see where it leads.
Dark energy runs through this one, my friends, and it is beautiful. A strong – and sometimes unsettling – opening to a new chapter in Batman’s life and adventures with a corresponding new beginning for Damian in the backup.
Batman #106: Unsanity and the Rise of Tyranny!
Writing - 9.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/10
Art - 9.5/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 9.5/10
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