Afflicted by blindness after his encounter with Abyss, Batman must navigate his mission in the dark... including a fraught encounter with his former allies from Batman Incorporated. It has been some time since he last encountered them in person, so the question is, what has happened to them, why are they working for Lex Luthor... and what if anything can they tell Batman to help arm him in his fight against Abyss?
And in the backup story, “The Make Great Pets,” Maps finds herself in the strange position of knowing more about a case than Batman does. Can she get him the information he needs to survive the next few minutes?
When last we met with Batman, he had encountered Abyss, whose recent “death” put Batman Incorporated behind bars for murder. Of course, given that Abyss isn’t actually dead that murder charge just became more complicated. What’s more, during their encounter, Abyss managed to blind Batman, whose eyes have become solid black orbs.
That brings us here, to the beginning of Batman 120, which finds Batman being smuggled out of the morgue in a body bag by his new police friend, Detective Cayha. The two quickly end up at Cayha’s apartment to recuperate, as Batman needs a dark place to examine his wounds and analyze the situation with his eyes.
Cayha proves to be trustworthy, resisting the urge to sneak a peek at Bruce’s unmasked face for example, and the two connect on their mutual missions and priorities. It’s a reminder of how well Batman can work with the less corrupt police when given a chance – something he’s had precious little of in the past few years. I’m reluctant to get invested in Cayha – as what amounts to a townie NPC in a country Bruce doesn’t spend much time in, she’s unlikely to reappear anytime soon. Nonetheless, Williamson spends enough time establishing her background, personality, and motivations to make her feel like a character and not a plot device. It helps that she has a charming design.
Meanwhile, Luthor’s presence in the story begins to show its significance – beyond just his financing of Batman Incorporated. I doubt anyone would be surprised to know that Lex is not wholly on the up and up. I won’t spoil the specifics of his questionable dealings… but I will say Joshua Williamson writes a masterful Lex Luthor with just the perfect amount of smug condescension mixed in with his cold intellectualism.
I am kind of wondering what is with Lex and dressing up as various superheroes in recent years – first, it was the Superman armor during the last days of the New52, and then his pseudo-martian shtick. Now he’s Iron Man-meets-Batman. It’s interesting to see how the character has evolved with the current version being a kind of perfect melding of that Post-Crisis business tycoon and the classic mad scientist take from the silver and bronze age. It makes him an excellent foil for both Superman and Batman, and just generally works…. especially in a story like this which seems to play on his recent infusion of relative moral ambiguity. Lex wants to save the world, but he wants to do it under his terms and without using aliens and gods as a crutch – from that perspective, it makes sense that he would turn to Batman and Batman Incorporated to achieve… whatever it is he’s trying to achieve.
As for what that is, we’ll have to wait until next issue to find out. I believe next issue is, in fact, the final of this arc before Bruce’s return to Gotham in late February and into March for Shadow War. For the moment, there remain a number of unanswered questions – most notably who Abyss is and what it is they’re trying to do – assuming there’s something beyond just the one line reveal at the end of the issue. Indeed, for a story that is named after Abyss, the character themselves has been surprisingly sidelined. I recognize that it is intended to preserve their mystery, but it does make them less interesting at least in the short run.
That may not matter, since the emphasis is decidedly on the Batman-Lex dynamic above all, or it may be the gateway to a return for this character, but either way, I’m interested to see where it goes.
Now, I say this every month and I have been saying it since the early Tynion days – Batman remains one of the most visually powerful books on the stand, and Tomeu Morey is a treasure who can render the transition from Molina to Janin from section to section nearly unnoticeable. Janin’s Lex Luthor sequence may be my favorite moment in the book, as the highly structured panel layout reflects Lex’s measured approach, only to collapse into jagged edges when danger presents itself. Right behind that is Molina’s section of Cayha and Bruce in her apartment – the heavy shadows and the moody colors are striking… as is the use of warm tones on her side of the apartment bleeding into the cold blue of Bruce’s corner haven.
Altogether, the penultimate issue of the Abyss arc is a strong setup for the finale, although I am curious about how complete the tale will really be by the end and whether we’ll be seeing some of these characters again in the future. Here I’m thinking primarily of Lex and Abyss, although I would be pleasantly surprised to see Cayha again, as well.
Moving to the backup – as of last issue, our young heroine in the bootleg Robin costume Maps had encountered Batman while investigating the fate of her missing friend Lindsay. She had an inkling that Lindsay’s disappearance might be linked to corpses in the river, and here we see how right she was as Karl Kerschl brings some Japanese folklore to Gotham City. It’s just as beautifully charming as the first chapter, and also has the benefit of allowing me to use my extremely rudimentary Japanese reading skills in an American comic book. I absolutely cannot wait for the next chapter.
Batman #120 is a heavy hitter with a clever, atmospheric lead and a magically charming backup. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that Abyss is a compelling character thus far, the story that surrounds them is, and Abyss themselves is likely to follow once we know more about them.
Batman #120: Justice is Blind
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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