Batman Beneath: Batwing #29 Review

tmp_batwing_29_cover_2014-1086982275So I haven’t written about Batwing for a while. Even though it has remained on my pull list, I had kinda tuned out of Batwing for a while. It survived my first cut of books from the initial New 52, unlike real stinkers like Hawk & Dove and The Savage Hawkman, and it never really got bad, but the whole former child soldier of African warlords angle never clicked all that well with me. Not because it was badly executed, but because it always reminded me of Joshua Dysart’s The Unknown Soldier, and that was a comparison that, when it comes to harrowing drama, a book about a guy in a Bat suit was going to lose.

Since writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti took the book over, those issues have vanished. We’ve got a different guy in the Batwing suit, a Batwing suit that is basically the Batman Beyond suit, and we’re back in Gotham City, giving us a little distance from the whole Batman Incorporated conceit that almost forced the international feel. And what we wind up with is a version of Batman Beyond, with a young, brash guy being mentored by Batman in the most dangerous city in the world. And that works for me; I don’t have an original Bruce Timm Batman Beyond sketch and the Batman Beyond Black And White statue on my mantle because I don’t like that kind of story.

And in Batwing #29, Gray and Palmiotti put together a mix of tones that is a little weird, but generally pretty fun. There is urban horror and real terrible stakes to what’s happening to Luke Fox and his family, horror befitting a modern Batman family comic. And yet it is tempered with big, silly comic book-y ideas, like an unknown underground city beneath Gotham, populated with homeless geeks in Egyptian costumes and giant monsters. It’s a weird mix, but it generally worked for me, and I found it really pretty entertaining.

Provided I turned some parts of my brain off.

Luke Fox’s sisters are missing and he, as Batwing, has been tearing up the underworld and making public displays of force to try and chase down whoever has them. He’s been acting out to the point where Batman is beginning to get concerned about his level of violence and is ready to have a long talk about his apparent growing instability, when some kids come across Luke’s sister Tamara, so ripped on designer drugs that she has sustained permanent brain damage. Luke responds to this news just as you would expect a young man with a high-tech Batman suit to respond: by following the trail, finding a massive underground city of homeless building an army under the banner of the Egyptian god Anubis, and starting to bust heads. Luke then learns that one must make the choice to singlehandedly take on an army of homeless goons with nothing to lose with the appropriate gravitas, as he loses ground more quickly than he might have hopes… and discovers just what kind of aquatic life grows in a sewer system that is the preferred waste disposal system for Joker Venom, Scarecrow Fear Toxin and Poison Ivy’s… whatever the hell Poison Ivy throws away.

So make no mistake: despite the fact there is a mystery homeless city under Gotham that no one’s apparently ever seen (at least one that no one who’s ever read Jim Starlin’s and Bernie Wrightson’s The Cult has ever seen) that’s populated by sea monsters, there is a lot of serious darkness to this story. Tamara’s fate is actually pretty dark considering some of the comic book tropes going on here; a family member getting permanent brain damage because of some supervillain is a pretty dark and serious set of circumstances for a book with a giant sea monster, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that should motivate a Batman character. And it adds some real stakes to the story.

But Palmiotti and Gray temper the darkness – and again, the chemical lobotomization of a teenaged girl is pretty fucking dark – by going straight on comic book. An underground city full of loons, high-tech weaponry and fucking sea monsters adds enough big action levity to mellow out the fact that a nice, middle-class girl was found a drooling, ulcerated mess in a place where apparently even carnies are afraid to go. And it provides an opportunity for some big, broad action and simple heroic action, which feels right for Luke Fox. The story doesn’t downplay the level of frustration and anger Luke is feeling – the busted arm of the guy he questions proves that – but by broadening things up, it kinda takes the edge off of things, which worked for me.

The biggest issue I had with the issue was that, when a family member gets attacked in such a personal manner, it stinks of a personal supervillain attack. There’s still time to see a mastermind behind all of this, but this issue makes Tamara’s mental maiming seem a little random and impersonal. Which is fine, and can work, but in my opinion, the only member of the Batman family who should experience a tragedy that personal, completely at random, is Bruce Wayne… and yes, I’m one of those guys who thinks that the Batman mythos suffers by having the killer of the Waynes be Joe Chill as opposed to just some random goon. It’s better when it’s just crime that killed Batman’s parents as opposed to a specific criminal… but again, that’s just for Batman. you’re gonna kill a family member of the Batman Family? You’d better have superpowers, a silly costume and a personal axe to grind.

Eduardo Pansica’s art really works for me in this story. He works in a fine line with a ton of detail – he sells the hell out of a giant underground city that descends deeply into the bedrock – and his facial expressions are solid. There are sequences in this book with high, high emotion, with family members falling apart based on Tamara’s condition, and the art needs to sell that to balance out the more standard comic book big action, and he sells it very well. It’s good looking art.

Batwing #29 is an interesting book. It has some serious darkness going on, with personal enough stakes for Batwing, Lucius Fox and Batman himself, to get the reader engaged, while it keeps the action and fun levels high enough to keep things from becoming a relentless revenge tale. It mixes the lighter fun of Batman Beyond with the hard revenge-style tone of a classic Batman story. It should be a mess – and I’m hoping to see a mastermind behind Tamara’s maiming- but it’s a really pretty interesting mix. I liked it… and found it, sea monster and all, far more relatable than Batwing fighting African warlords.