Writer: Tom King
Artists: Mikel Janin & June Chung
“You know,” I say, bleeding out on the ground, “I’ve quite liked the last couple of issues of Batman.”
“Really?” You ask, also bleeding profusely. “Do you really like that kind of long, drawn-out conversational style?”
“Oh, not all the time.” I spit out a tooth that matches a notch in your knuckles. “But I think the approach he’s taking is actually fairly unique, don’t you? I mean, how many comics have you read lately that were just a single conversation?”
You wince as you try to make a fist. Something’s gotta be broken in there because your fingers won’t curl all the way. “A unique approach isn’t enough to make something good or even worth reading. Just because it seems different on the surface doesn’t mean that the way it works has changed. You’re going to need to give me some more evidence than just ‘it’s a conversation.’”
I start coughing up something a little darker than blood should be. “Okay, fine. But we’re starting with the art.”
Wavering on the edge of consciousness, you manage to croak out “Not this again.”
The new Batman is out! The art is still being done by Mikel Janin and June Chung, and I’m sure that you, as an avid comics fan, have already heard plenty of opinions on the particular 3-D style of illustration that Janin is known for. But, fool that you are, you’ve never heard mine! My main problem with this form of illustration is that it has some very pronounced strengths and some very pronounced flaws. The strengths are that it can be extremely expressive and extremely cinematic – Janin has a great sense for camera angles and moment-to-moment transitions both in and out of combat situations, and his sense of composition and panel work is excellent. (See this issue’s inset panels!) His facial expressions are, while a little more static than some artists’, very readable and clear. His style is, on the whole, one of the more realistic ones you’ll find in comics. But all of this comes with several hefty prices. First, Janin has trouble communicating movement. He uses an absolute minimum of movement lines and motion blur, almost always abstaining from them entirely. It’s unique and at times nice to look at, but also gives this very strange sensation that you’ve paused a video game and could rotate the camera around freely if you wanted. There’s also an “uncanny valley” aspect to some of his panels, but he does an all right job of covering up the 3-D more often than not. There’s also a lack of texture in his backgrounds and his character models. Some artists make clarity of texture a strength – in Janin’s case, I feel justified in calling it a well-handled weakness. In this particular issue, the main problem is simply a lot of close-up face shots – not exactly Janin’s strength. In his defense, though, I don’t think it’s much of anyone’s strength, and it would have been hard to make anything else considering the issue’s story. So let’s talk about the story!
This issue is a direct continuation from last one. Batman’s knocked out, and so Catwoman shows up to do battle with the Joker. They both end up with wounds that aren’t fatal – so long as they keep them closed. With their hands. So that’s kind of the main plot hole for me: the entire thing relies on two people not bleeding out purely because they are holding the wounds closed. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think that’s how fatal wounds work. So there are some points off for that. As for the story itself, it’s just… One big conversation between Selina and Joker. There’s some cute points, some sad points. It’s character-driven, which anyone who’s read, like, any of my reviews knows I like. The issue is essentially character development and psychological background for the characters and how they act. But what this issue really is is a codex to how Tom King personally views these characters and their motivations.
So if you’re into that, then great! There’s a couple of major issues, though. The first one is if you want action, you’re not going to get it. I personally don’t need action in all of my comics, reading as many of them as I do, but I would understand if you wanted a bit more punching in your issue of Batman. Another problem is the pacing. The comic is broken up by narrative boxes saying “later.” But then the characters just pick up the same conversation they were having! What’s with that? Did they just stop talking for a while?? I find it very odd, and what’s more, I find it completely unnecessary. The pacing is actually wonderful without the “later”s, but with them, it makes the whole thing stilted. My advice: Just try to ignore them. There’s also the fact that you might just not like this take on these characters. It took me a moment to get used to them myself. They’re definitely not the versions of Catwoman and the Joker that we’re used to, but they’re recognizable enough that I don’t have many complaints with them. Though I’d like it if King stopped making Selina say “Meow.”
This is a good, solid issue that does a lot of character-building. It doesn’t exactly move the plot forward, but I don’t think I can say I disliked it at all. I would have preferred that it was a spin-off issue rather than being placed in the main title, but I don’t think its inclusion derails the pacing of the larger plot too badly at all. If you like character-building and King’s versions of these characters, I recommend it.
Batman #49 has a lot going for it, there are just a few odd decisions that hold it back.