I’m not getting all that much from the New 52 first wave, and so far much of it has not been all that great. Having read and LOVED Scott Snyder’s Batman, I had high hopes for this volume. I was not blown away by this book.
It is not bad really, just nothing special. If I take the Snyder book away and let this one stand entirely on its own, it does not really succeed. It is not a complete story, and does not even read as a complete first chapter of a story. After the first chapter of the book, with an amazing last page, the Joker is gone from the book. There are small hints and that is it. From there the story focus shifts to a character called the Dollmaker. He is a very interesting villain, that may become something really special, but just as that story starts really flowing, the focus shifts again. The Penguin is the bad guy for the rest of this book. There are just too many things that seem to be competing for the story. As monthly issues this may have flowed better, but in a single sitting, it was actually capable of distracting me from itself! Maybe I am missing the point, but I don’t think so. If the New 52 was launched to bring in new readers as much as entertain existing ones, I think this book fails on both counts. For a new reader to enjoy this monthly, it needs to flow from issue to issue. For a new reader to pick up this complete volume, it needs to work as a complete narrative, or at least as the opening to one. This fails at both.
The transition from one villain to the next works well, but why? This is a little like climbing a ladder, reaching a certain point, then moving to another ladder slightly to the left of you for no real reason. This book felt like the first chapter to 3 separate stories that should run simultaneously, not be cut back and forth between them. The interlude with Hugo Strange–and no, I am not really spoiling anything–is just stuck in there and has only a fairly tenuous connection to the rest of the book. So now we are up to four antagonists, none of which get any kind of resolution in this volume, and that does not count the sub plots and villains from those. Story wise, I’m sorry to say, this book is a mess. It is clear writer/artist Tony S Daniel is playing the long game. The book has been selling well, so I imagine he will be allowed to continue, but if it doesn’t narrow the focus just a bit it will continue to read like an anthology title.
The art is another matter, and it fares quite well. Having very little familiarity with Daniel’s art in the past, I cannot say if this is something new or not. His style seems like the bastard love child of Frank Miller and Kevin Nowlan, and that makes it something very nice to look at indeed. The inkers changing from issue to issue hurts the visual flow of the book (DC still emphasizing schedule over anything else, it seems), but taken separately, they are very nice to look at. The first issue is the nicest to look at, while the others have a polish to the line that does not really suit the art. There are panels in issue 2 that look like Mark Farmer inked them. I like Farmer, but not in this book. The art changes blend away after a while and things settle down visually once you are a few issues in. The panel layout is reader friendly, but the dark on dark with very little panel border can cause you to lose the panels at times. I know that it is done to give a certain feel and save time, but without some clear way to differentiate between one panel and the next, it can be very hard to see the flow. The glossy paper compounds the issue at times.
This is a decent, if not great book. I was hoping, based on the cover and the first issue, that we would see the start of a redefining Joker story. Instead I feel a little cheated. We got a taste of several different ideas that start a group of plots, none of them coming to any kind of climax. I think a more firm editorial hand might have been needed here. If you are looking for the Batman of the New 52, I have to say that so far, it is in the main Batman title by Snyder and Capullo. Give this book a miss for a while. I would like to hope that it will settle down into a more cohesive story, but I’m not hopeful.