Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blackest Night: Batman #1

If it's not exactly a zombie invasion, it's at least the next-best thing. Inspired by the presence of Black Hand, nearly every fallen hero in the DC Universe has begun to rise from the dead, each wearing a shadowy imitation of a Green Lantern's ring. The plague seems almost universal, affecting everyone from Hawkman to the Martian Manhunter, and the heroes who still draw breath seem powerless to stop it. And what's perhaps the most disturbing revelation of all is the skull Black Hand has carried with him from the beginning – that of the recently buried Bruce Wayne.

As an irregular DC reader, it's nice to see a major crossover that doesn't require a full encyclopedic knowledge of a decade's worth of back-story to understand. Peter J. Tomasi's writing embraces that spirit and benefits from it. He keeps the cast of this issue very manageable, save a pair of pages near its midpoint, and focuses on character development and interaction, rather than explosive revelations and empty special effects. That makes this less of a generic tie-in and more of a unique perspective on a common series of events. There's no way Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne could have enjoyed this much time to themselves in the primary series, and Deadman may have been little more than a footnote, so it's great to see their unique points of view a bit more fleshed out by someone with a feel for their unique quirks.

Ardian Syaf brings a rich, expressive sentiment to the issue's artwork. Although the book's tone is quite morose, as I'd expect given the subject, he still manages to convey a broad range of appropriate emotions without upsetting the mood. From the unsettled grief of Dick and Damien at the site of the Wayne family's disturbed graves to the power-mad giddiness of Black Hand himself, Syaf is asked to cover a lot of ground and he's mostly, if not entirely, successful. The sharp contrast of his shading and the dynamic nature of his splash pages give his work a look that's more in keeping with what I expect of a Marvel book than something from DC, but after Andy Kubert and Mark Bagley's recent secessions, that isn't such an unusual thing to see any more. His work strikes a nice balance between crisp simplicity and incisive detail that's occasionally reminiscent of Jim Cheung, although Syaf's compositions aren't quite at that level.

If you're after instant action, this won't be your cup of tea. It's largely a setup issue, putting the right pieces in the right places and preparing for the moment the games really begin, but it does that job well and remains constantly relevant to the main story. It's easy to jump in and enjoy, even if you've never seen Deadman in action before, and keeps the lengthy monologues to a minimum. It's good writing paired with good artwork, moves a bit slower than I'd like for the first of a brief, three-part tie-in, but generally turns out better than I expected. This isn't essential to ensure your enjoyment of the crossover, but fans of Batman and Robin will want to stop in for the strong character development and strange personal trials they're about to endure. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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