Writer/illustrator Francis Manapul and writer/colourist Brian Buccellato begin their run by introducing a new woman into Bruce Wayne’s life. Elena Aguila is smart, attractive, a suitable new business partner for Bruce and perhaps eventually, more. She arrives on page 1. Guess what happens to her by page 22?
And it was all going so well … There was a new social project for Bruce Wayne to get behind, a fresh version of an old villain, some fine interplay between Bruce and Alfred and a very cute sleeping dog. So it’s a shame that health campaigner Elena’s story goes in a rather predictable direction.
I’m giving rather a lot away, but I’m disappointed that Manapul and Buccellato should fall back on fridging in their first issue. It’s not like Batman needs further motivation to do the right thing. He hasn’t a slot for Elena’s daughter Annie, a sassy speedway whiz, to become a Robin. So couldn’t Elena hang around awhile, join the cast rather than the cliches?
I may be judging too soon, perhaps Elena will survive. Or return via a Lazarus pit. Become a ghost. Who knows, maybe the Icarus drug she’s apparently been dosed with will transform her, make her an important Gotham City presence. But I doubt it.
The new villain is the Squid, who’s out to swamp the city streets with Icarus. His idiot brother Jonny’s attempt to rip him off is foiled by Batman but Jonny escapes back into the arms of his unusually forgiving brother.
Another new player, unnamed, is not happy that Bruce is throwing his lot in with the Aguila Healthy Families Initiative rather than backing a lucrative waterfront development. He tells his pet congressman to pile on some pressure.
Bruce, meanwhile, is busying himself tricking out lost son Damian’s beloved motorbike, while Alfred is checking out Elena’s credentials.
Visually, Manapul and Buccellato impress with their handling of Batman, once they get the inevitable sole-in-your-face kick out of the way. Their dark knight is a spooky figure, a blur as he swoops across the page. They write him well too, giving public Bruce the dry sense of humour you’d hope a playboy-type would have, and private Bruce the sorrow appropriate for a grieving father.
The dialogue looks a tad heavy on the page at times, but I like a good conversation; it makes the story meatier, and the comic – $3.99 for just 22 pages – feel a little more worth the spend. The gangster-speak sounds convincing, in that I barely know what they’re on about (and as a Hawkeye reader I am so sick of ‘bro’), and the Bruce/Alfred exchanges are excellent. The scene transitions are a little bumpy, though – some time stamps would be helpful.
It’s the art that truly grabs the attention – the visuals are less about speed than the creators’ popular Flash run (in which they introduced Icarus), and more about mood. They create a convincing Gotham for Batman to inhabit, and pace out the action well. The Squid isn’t in the least arresting visually, but neither was the Eighties guy; perhaps that will change. Given how many of the big name villains look set to be tied up in the coming Batman: Eternal weekly, kudos to Manapul and Buccellato for actually finding someone to use, someone they can develop into a credible threat. The range of facial expressions could be larger – the default seems to be a sideways pensive look – but hopefully Manapul will get there. Buccellato’s colour choices are wholly Gotham-appropriate, and he’s especially good at lighting a scene. The overall visual impression is great, and refreshingly far from the current DC house style.
DC are letting Manapul create the whole cover, from composition to execution to logo and lettering placement, and the experiment pretty much pays off. There’s too much stacking of image components, and it looks as if there’s been an explosion in a font box, but the boldly coloured Saul Bass homage is sharp and makes Detective Comics look different from the 57 varieties of Bat-book released each month.
So, not a perfect first issue, but still an above average superhero book, and one with bags of potential for improvement. Manapul and Buccellato are talented, they’re hungry to make their mark, and they’ve been given a marquee character to play with. I think good times are ahead.