THIS WEEK: Batman: Fortress #1 brings us inside a new story of a global blackout event from writer Gary Whitta, artist Darick Robertson, and team. Also, in the round-up section we look at whether Action Comics ongoing War World Rising storyline continues to be freaking awesome (hint: it does).
Note: This piece contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Writer: Gary Whitta
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colorist: Diego Rodriguez
Letterer: Simon Bowland
There is something going on at DC right now with the Batman comics. Yes, as the many jokes in online comics circles will tell you, there are quite a few of them, and if they’re not straight-up Batman comics, there are plenty of Gotham-set or Bat-family comics. Within this expanded line of all things The Bat, there have cropped up a series of excellent stories set outside the main DC continuity, sort of evergreen adventures that anyone familiar with the character (which is basically everyone) can just pick up and run with. This week’s new miniseries, Batman: Fortress, falls squarely into that group.
The premise as revealed by Batman: Fortress #1 is that the entire world has lost power. This reveal starts, of course, in Gotham City, and then slowly as Batman investigates, we learn that the blackout is also happening across the rest of the planet, due to a culprit that is perhaps alien in nature. For most of this comic, this means Bruce is scrambling about Gotham City, meeting with Commissioner Gordon, putting away rogues that escaped due to suspiciously cheap electronic doors at Arkham, and frequently wondering, where is Superman in all of this?
I note all of that, because I think the last bit is going to be key to whether this series ultimately works. Batman battling villains in a blacked out city is certainly not anything new. In fact, DC is currently publishing another comic right now with that premise, that one being Batman: One Dark Knight, which is written and illustrated by Jock and is well-worth picking up. Given the title and cover art here, it seems like this comic has some surprises in it for us, and I think Superman (and, really, the rest of the Justice League) not showing up here is going to be central to what ultimately unfolds, although I don’t have a serious guess about the specifics. So, I found that captivating enough to entice me back for the rest of this series, given that for me tension between Batman and the rest of the DC heroes (even if it’s tension due to their absences) almost always works.
The other main strength of this book is Darick Robertson’s artwork, colored here by his frequent collaborator, Diego Rodriguez. Robertson recently did a series of digital-first Batman comics that were published under the classic Legends of the Dark Knight banner and ultimately collected for print. Robertson’s aesthetic is so well-suited for Gotham City that it’s almost puzzling that he hasn’t previously done a major Batman story, and this comic certainly makes me glad that’s now changing. His take on Batman’s villains is especially excellent, walking a fine line between cartoonish and deranged that delivers an exaggerated take on characters like Penguin and Joker that I absolutely love. Combine that with Rodriguez’s colors and letterer Simon Bowland’s eye-leading work, and this is one of the better-looking Batman comics in a field of very good-looking competitors.
All that said, Batman: Fortress #1 will still draw instant comparisons to Batman: One Dark Knight, especially from the crowd that’s already grumbling about there being too many Batman comics. The scripting in the book also feels a bit divorced from recent Batman comics, or at least unconcerned with it. The book is written by Gary Whitta, who layers in nods to the most casual bits of long-time Batman continuity, from an odd mention of Jason Todd being murdered to not one but two appearances of Martha Wayne’s pearls, the instant invocation of Batman’s well-tread origin story.
All that said, for me the dual appeal of Robertson’s absolutely killer Gotham artwork and the mystery of what’s going on with the other heroes on the planet are enough to make this book a success.
- This week also brought us Action Comics #1043, the latest in the ongoing Warworld saga, and you know what? This storyline continues to be one of my favorite Superman tales in recent memory. I’ve written about this story in the past, but I continue to be heavily engaged with this one. Written by Phillip Kenney Johnson; illustrated by Riccardo Federici and Will Conrad; colored by Lee Loughrdige; and lettered by Dave Sharpe; Action Comics #1043 pushes this all forward by unraveling even more of the background behind what’s going on, specifically about the United Planets roll in this, the fate of Manchester Black, the origin of the new Mongul, and — most interestingly — why there are very high stakes. Kudos to all involved by doubling down what’s made this run so good — the gritty, space gladiator action — while moving ahead at the same time.
- We get two new chapters from the Shadow War crossover this week with Deathstroke #9 and Robin #14, which essentially delivers the big reveal this whole thing (which also involves issues of Batman) has been building toward. And you know what? I’m a big fan of this whole thing. I think this crossover works to draw from all of the titles involved, really obscuring the usual crossover problem of being able to feel which book was thrown in to juice sales. It’s action-heavy, fast-paced, and — not to spoil anything — pretty fun when we get to the aforementioned reveal of who orchestrated the thing from the start. Deathstroke #9 was written by Joshua Williamson, illustrated by Paolo Pantalena, colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr., and lettered by Steve Wands. Robin #14 was written by Williamson, illustrated by Roger Cruz, inked by Norm Rapmund, colored by Luis Guerrero, and lettered by Troy Peteri.
- Finally, if you like touches of horror in your DC Comics, wow was this a great week for you. You’ve got the cerebral excellence that is The Swamp Thing #13 Ram V., Mike Perkins, Mike Spicer, and Aditya Bidikar. You’ve got the in-continuity (somehow!) zombified Gotham City romp that is Task Force Z #8 by Matthew Rosenberg, Jesus Merino, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes, Adriano Lucas, and Rob Leigh. And you’ve got the absurdist out-of-continuity also romp that is DC Vs. Vampires: Hunters #1 by Rosenberg, Neil Googe, Antonio Fabela, and Peteri. Lots of variety, but all fun.
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