A couple weeks ago, I took a look at an early issue of Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics, a critically acclaimed run virtually right out of the gate. However, the sister title Batman stumbled initially, until a writer who would rightfully be considered one of the greats joined the creative team. This week, we’re going to take a look at the first arc of that run!
Immediately after No Man’s Land, the Batman line refocused. Shadow of the Bat would be cancelled and replaced by Gotham Knights which took a full Bat-family approach. Legends of the Dark Knight continued its anthology style storytelling, but broke away from the “early days concept” and generally told continuity free stories. Detective Comics was the gritter crime book, and Batman was intended to be the superhero-y series.
To do that, the latter series brought in comics legend Larry Hama, who was still fresh from his acclaimed GI Joe and Wolverine runs. However, the book flopped. Hama’s approach was campy and completely tonally off from Rucka’s Detective. After less than 9 issues, Hama left, and DC made the best decision they possibly could have – they hired Ed Brubaker to pick up with the existing creative team of Scott McDaniel, Karl Story, Roberta Tewes, and John Costanza.
In the first two issues of his run, Brubaker introduced Zeiss, a killer for hire capable of learning the martial art skills of anyone he watches fight, as well as a feud between Bruce Wayne and the Penguin. And it all starts with a job gone bad. As Zeiss watches, Batman pursues an old friend who had snapped after life dealt him an incredibly bad hand, leading to a life of crime. A life that could cost him his life…
Brubaker instantly draws the reader in. Though he stuck to the idea that Batman is a bit more superhero than Detective, he grasped that it could still be a bit more mature and played straight. Zeiss is a ridiculous concept but he shows how dangerous he is quickly. I also love his take on the Penguin, making the character more of a genuine threat than he had been in years. A lot of writers need an arc to get their footing, but Brubaker gets Batman right away.
McDaniel and Story are a pretty big artistic change from what most people expect from Batman. Their compact figures are extremely fluid and always in motion, giving every page an energy that Batman had never had, carrying that from their starmaking turn on Nightwing. The characters are expressive, helping with the connection that Brubaker’s script forms.
It’s not a perfect story, or the most memorable part of Brubaker’s run. However it’s a great introduction to this run. These issues are readily available digitally and in-print, and in Batman by Ed Brubaker Volume 1.
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