THIS WEEK: Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths restored DC Comics’ full, unlimited multiverse, and now in Batman #131, the publisher’s flagship title is making use of it. Plus, Gotham City: Year One #4 continues an excellent superhero noir, and Sword of Azrael #6 is a revelatory finale.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Pencils: Mike Hawthorne
Inks: Adriano Di Benedetto
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Back-Up Art: Miguel Mendonça
Back-Up Colors: Roman Stevens
Last month, DC Comics’ excellent 2022 event, Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, wrapped up, leaving the publisher’s shared superhero world with a fully-restored infinite multiverse, just like the one it had until the original Crisis destroyed it nearly 40 years ago. Throughout the event, I was so caught up in the packed story and absolutely killer artwork, that I didn’t stop to think too much about what this could mean moving forward. Well, with this week’s Batman #131, we already have a high-profile DC series making interesting use of the new (old) infinite multiverse.
The end of the last Batman arc saw Bruce seemingly eviscerated (though if you believed that, c’mon) by Failsafe, a robot he built to stop him should he ever break bad. This issue picks up from the moment of Bruce’s faux obliteration, showing us that he’s actually been dropped into a Gotham City where no one recognizes him. Indeed, where there is no Batman at all. Essentially, all indications are that Bruce built a robot to send himself sprawling through the multiverse, to an Earth we’ve never seen before.
And Batman #131 plays this idea out as well as any alternate world story. We see some familiar faces, we see some of our hero staggering around in search of something to help him, and we see a city that is recognizably Gotham, just tweaked by the absence of a Batman. It’s all great, and, perhaps more importantly, it’s an exciting indication that all creators working with the DC Universe have the greenlight to go to whichever infinite earth their story calls for. I mean, if the all-important flagship Batman title is doing it, what’s to stop anyone else?
At the same time, though, part of this issue is also dedicated to the prime Earth, where the Tim Drake Robin was left behind at the scene of Bruce’s defeat. In the main story, it’s just a quick two panels — one that shows Tim alarmed; another that shows Failsafe shooting the red ray that did this — but that’s augmented by an absolutely crucial back-up story that delves deeper into what’s happening in the wake of Bruce’s disappearance. This, to me, is the ideal what to use back-up stories, supporting but not feeling redundant with the main plot.
All that aside, the question is then whether Batman #131 is entertaining on its own merits, and for me, the answer is a yes. There’s a device used in this comic where Bruce — his head scrambled by “some sort of Multiverse poisoning, like a decompression sickness” — is imagining that he’s talking to the pipe-smoking, red mustachioed skeleton of Jim Gordon, clad in his signature trench coat. It’s a great device that adds a fun wrinkle to the usual guide through the multiverse that shows up in this type of comic. Kudos to Chip Zdarsky for how he scripts Commissioner Skeleton, and to Mike Hawthorne, Adriano Di Benedetto, and Tomeu Morey, who absolutely crush the design and expressions.
Most importantly, though, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next issue of the Batman flagship comic, which is always a fun place to be.
‘…This is Gotham.” — The Round-Up
- Phew, I sure am enjoying Gotham City: Year One, which releases its fourth issue this week. First and foremost, this is just a well-executed noir detective story that feels evocative of the Old Hollywood in everything from its dialogue to the perspective choices. Secondly, it’s a really fascinating look at urban decay, one that doesn’t let Gotham City’s most famous wealthy family — the Wayne’s — off the hook. No, it instead directly implicates them. Four issues in, the narrative framing device — Slam Bradley at the age of 94 is writing a letter to presumably current day Bruce Wayne — is slowly unfurling in a really satisfying way. This book is also an interesting curiosity for long-time Batman fans. While it doesn’t incorporate too much lore and it certainly doesn’t rely on it, it does have some truly excellent small details, including in this specific issue, the origin of Crime Alley. It all adds up to a series that is close to the top of my list of favorite things at DC Comics right now. I’m also interested to see how this series reads in full, especially as it pertains to Batman: Year One, which it borrows part of its name from. I have a hunch this book may be aiming to be a companion piece. Gotham City: Year One is written by Tom King, with pencils by Phil Hester, inks by Eric Gapstur, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Clayton Cowles.
- Sword of Azrael #6 is the finale for a miniseries that’s about as good as superhero comics miniseries can get. Through the course of these six issues, this story has doubled down on what has long made the character interesting, fit neatly into ongoing shared continuity, incorporated interesting and sensical elements of the wider DC Universe (the Angel box!), and left the lead in a more interesting place than where we first found him. Simply put, this one checks all the boxes for me, and I highly recommend picking it up in trade if you missed it.
- So, it’s probably difficult to think of new disturbing things for The Joker to do after all these years, I get that. But this week’s The Joker: The Man Who Stopped Laughing #4 has him bouncing around a cancer ward for children, making jokes at their expense (he calls one kid undergoing chemo “a potato” and tells them all to ask for better toys because parents can’t say no to dying children) — and I personally didn’t care for it. I get that The Joker is evil, but, man, I sure do not want to read someone (even a dastardly villain) making light of dying kids in a superhero comic book. I’m not going to decry the creators for taking a risk here, even if I found it tacky and distasteful, but I will say that for me the execution didn’t ultimately justify the choice. Ultimately, those jokes took me out of the story. This issue was written by Matthew Rosenberg, illustrated by Carmine Di Giandomenico (with a back-up drawn by Francesco Francavilla), colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Nick Filardi, and lettered by Tom Napolitano.
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