Batman #91 review

Lots of bars have comedy nights, but few get to host the Joker. Barman Brent is less than thrilled, though, as the Clown Prince of Crime is spouting expository dialogue so vague that it’s not really very useful.

On the streets of Gotham, crime tourist Deathstroke is finally free of bat-drones sicced on him by Harley Quinn on behalf of Batman, only to have to face the Caped Crusader himself.

And in a hideout formerly occupied by the Riddler, Harley and Catwoman are mocked by the lovechild of Liberace and a sheepskin rug.

Oh all right, it’s new bad guy the Designer. Take a better look at him, courtesy of issue #89.

Does that look not inspire… nervous incredulity? It is ridiculous, from the Gothic typeface mask to the camo pantaloons via the corset-loincloth, tie-with-bling and, of course, the shoulder rug (did we learn nothing from the Creeper?)

But apparently he’s a big deal. The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler all let him get into their heads years ago because he’s a legend among crooks, a Keyser Sozë of the supervillain set, able to steal anything without leaving a trace he was there. Joker killed him and the others covered up the crime. And now he’s back to wreak havoc in their home town.

I’m not convinced. The veteran goons of Gotham City should be laughing this style disaster off the streets.

Yet even Batman turns nervous Nelly at the mere thought that the Designer is in Gotham to enact the Plan of Plans

Ye gods. I’ve become used to writer James Tynion IV’s verbosity – I was a big fan of his Detective Comics run – but the self-regarding melodrama of this Batman is unbearable.

Tynion’s Detective Comics shuffled half a dozen complicated lead characters across a long, well-wrought storyline and the whole thing was terribly enjoyable. In Batman, though, he seems to be favouring a video game aesthetic, with coolness trumping internal logic. So here’s ditzy murderess Harley Quinn charged with keeping Deathstroke busy when Batman has around a hundred trusted sidekicks. Here’s Selina Kyle, suddenly a genius computer hacker. Here’s Lucius Fox giving us his Alfred because it’s been weeks and still no one’s brought the trusty manservant back to life. Here’s Batman, zooming through the streets of an apparently empty city on his new mini-Batplane thingie. Here’s the Designer, ever-ready to pop up on a random giant screen to assure you he’s one step ahead because, plans.

It’s non-stop action, with glossy visuals from artists Rafael Albuquerque, Jorge Jimenez, Carlo Pagulayan and colourist Tomeu Morey, and it leaves me cold. Gotham feels not so much like a place as an empty playground, where heroes and villains can do whatever they want, pulling whatever new big toy is required from their gaudy arse like Wile E Coyote and his Acme deliveries.

I commend Tynion for being additive, bringing in new villains such as the Designer and visiting assassins Mr Teeth and Gunsmith, and new tech, but do we need everything at once? There are currently about ten baddies running around, with the so-overhyped-I’m-already-sick-of-her Punchline showing up next issue, so no one makes an impression. As for the Joker, he’s no longer so much a threat as green and white wallpaper.

I do like Tynion’s Harley, she’s more amusing than annoying, her guess as to what Selina does in her down time raising a smile.

Whichever artists did that pleasantly expressive scene deserve a pat on the back. Mind, I suspect they prefer a pat on the bum. Whichever artist tweaked the armpits away from Catwoman’s costume deserves to have their pencil snapped – it makes a tacky costume even worse.

The opening scene featuring Joker has some stunning moments from, I think, Albuquerque. Just look at this.

Morey deserves a lot of credit for evoking an urban nightscape with well-observed tones, while letterer Clayton Cowles keeps things readable. The cover illo by Jimenez and Morey is pretty good, though Harley looks a tad mannish, and she isn’t actually there when Batman does fight misty-mouthed maniacs.

This issue features a lot of talented creators, and the splitting of the pages between artists doesn’t hurt it; nevertheless, I wish this book were monthly again. I’d like Tynion to have the time to consider what makes a great Batman story… I don’t think it’s a matter of throwing everything at the Batcave wall to see what sticks.

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