Monday, June 22, 2009

Batman #687

Dick Grayson is Batman. After Bruce Wayne's heroic death in the line of duty, a series of imposter Batmen and the inevitable decision that he was born for this moment, the original Boy Wonder is now the one true Dark Knight. But, as he's beginning to learn, the responsibilities of a Caped Crusader go far beyond the decision actually don that famed grey and blue uniform.

The flashback that starts this issue has noble, appropriate intentions – reminding us of Dick's constant yearning to learn from, impress and become more like his mentor, then revealing just how close he's come – but the timeframe is all wrong. Robin had been around for seven years before the infamous giant penny first decorated the cave, and even if the scene in question was meant to take place later in the duo's career, I can't imagine the phrase "you got served" was yet a part of the public vernacular. I'd shudder to overhear the current Robin using that phrase, let alone the guy who's now wearing the cape and cowl. Are these little things to be picking at? Sure. But I have to imagine the goal of this little scene was to add a touch of legitimacy to Dick's new job role, and such authenticity lies primarily in these details.

Fortunately, that opening scene is just a small bump in the road for the book's author. Judd Winick spends the rest of the issue more or less in the present, dealing with the countless ramifications of Bruce's death and the impact it has on the DCU as a whole. He takes a long, hard look at Dick's reservations about taking over, at Alfred's forced resolve amidst trying circumstances, and at Damian's restless impatience for someone to take charge. While many of these characters have been explored quite thoroughly over the years, Winick is using the special circumstances to unveil new facets of their personalities. As he should. As the situation demands.

I don't have nearly as many good things to say about Ed Benes, the issue's artist. A DC regular, Benes has made the rounds with many of the publisher's best-known titles: he followed Jim Lee on Superman, spent some time with Supergirl and Birds of Prey, and has most recently contributed to Justice Leage of America. This is my first exposure to his work, however, and I'm not especially impressed. For one, Batman, Robin, Gordon and even Alfred are usually posed in such stiff, uncomfortable positions that I felt compelled to overemphasize my own posture, like I was the only one slouching at a funeral service.

I like a nice balance between detail and restraint in an artist, but Benes brings an overload of the former. The excess of crosshatch shading, paired with the obsessive folds and creases he brings to each visible bit of fabric make the pages feel heavy and cumbersome. There's often just too much going on at one time, although some pages are much worse off than others. Benes does enjoy a few rare moments of clarity, where he displays an ability to pull off that elusive balance, but they're regularly outnumbered. He can't decide if he wants to be Jim Lee in the '80s, Joe Madureira in the '90s or something different for today.

There's a lot of pensive, bottled excitement brewing around the books in the Batman family right now, and rightfully so. Although the promise of Bruce's imminent return is already hanging ominously above this whole house of cards, for the time being it's a new day in Gotham, both for the characters and for the creators. As far as Winick and Benes's run on the flagship title goes, this is a mediocre start. Flip through it and enjoy the occasional moments of brilliance, then hope they're a bit more frequent in subsequent chapters.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4.5

1 comment:

Shamus said...

I've never been a fan of Benes. In fact he's one of the few artists that have made me drop (Justice League) or avoid a book (anything he's pencilling).