Today: Batman’s run-in with the Justice League during Identity Crisis, sort of.
Seven years ago: Batman attempts to solve the disappearances and murders of women in Gotham City
A few years before that: a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne is tracking a mysterious figure who has laid waste to a Chinese village.
A couple of years later: the early Justice League of America tussles with a moisture vampire.
May I say, phew! There’s no lack of ambition in Mark Guggenheim and Jerry Bingham’s story for this anniversary issue, as they skip around Batman’s past to tell one large tale explaining why a loner like Batman would join the JLA. The book is split into two, with a lead-off containing the Batman business, and ‘a lost Silver Age classic’ detailing the villain of the piece’s first encounter with the World’s Greatest Superheroes.
The JLA story is a cute callback back to the Silver Age tales of Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, with the team – at this point, only Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and J’onn J’onzz – splitting into sub-teams to solve a series of murders. There wasn’t a lot of characterisation in those stories, but we get a little in ‘The Case of the Vampire From Outer Space’, as Wonder Woman brings up gender at every opportunity and J’onn is regarded with a little more suspicion than back in the day.
The grisly deaths that kick off the plot wouldn’t have been presented in the Sixties, but this story scores with the omniscient narrator’s tone, foregrounding of teamwork and scratchy, simplified art of Bingham and inker Mark Farmer. There’s also spot-on colouring (dig those dots!) and lettering courtesy of David Baron and Ken Lopez, and page ‘weathering’, for which we should probably thank the production department. There’s a mystery or two left over by story’s end, to be addressed in the Batman serial over the next few issues.
As for said lead, ‘Super Powers’, I found this less fun. That’s more my fault than anything, I suspect, as I’ve never been a fan of stories in which Bruce wanders the world, especially when he winds up in the Far East. Any bringing up of the Identity Crisis series brings up my lunch. Plus, the scripting device by which we transition from scene to scene by having sentences drop off and be …
… completed by someone else, somewhere else, has long ceased to be nifty and become an irritating cliche. That’s used a lot here.
That said, Guggenheim knows how to set up a mystery, and his pacing is sharp. I’m not sure how I feel about his suggestion that in the early days Batman wasn’t averse to stealing the odd body from the hospital to allow him to practice his autopsy skills. I suppose it would fit with the Batman who carried a gun, but still, talk about dodgy.
The artwork of Bingham, too rare a visitor to comics these days, is all-out excellent. On top of ye olde JLA artwork, he’s using two other modes – what I think of as his regular comics line, and a more painted style. It’s a visual treat.
I can’t see myself hanging around for five issues, though, to see how one story ties into another. I prefer my anniversary tales to be done-in-one, rather than lingering on, and the back and forth nature of ‘Super Powers’ didn’t grab me, so I’ll likely buy the rest of this run as a collection. But I’m glad I tried this first issue – it’s certainly one of the most interesting experiments in a superhero book of late.