With the recent death of Damian Wayne in “Batman Incorporated” #8, all of the different Batman Family titles have taken the opportunity to show how this character’s passing is affecting Batman. While some have felt a little more forced than others, “Batman” #18 from Scott Snyder, Andy Kubert, James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev is a comic that had clearly planned for this moment from the issue’s conception.
As with an earlier issue also focusing on new supporting character Harper Row, Snyder has structured the comic as a single story, but it’s actually two separate ones in terms of creators; the first 20 pages by Snyder, Kubert, and Sandra Hope, and the final 8 pages by Snyder, Tynion, and Maleev. In terms of a script it’s a smooth transition; Snyder and Tynion work well together and if you hadn’t been told that Tynion was pitching in on those last eight pages, I doubt you would even notice. In terms of the art, though, it’s definitely something that jumps out a bit.
It’s ultimately a difference in styles; Kubert’s Batman is big and bulky, a Dark Knight rippling with muscle. If you look at Kubert’s final page in the issue you can see that on display perfectly. As Batman zooms up into the air, there’s distinct definition of every single muscle within a group; even though they’re in the background, for instance, it’s hard to miss Batman’s calf muscles. Kubert’s square-jawed Batman is a guttural bruiser, someone who works best when he’s beating the tar out of criminals. Batman should look like a real terror when he stands over the orange-shirted bad guy on page 8; with his fist cocked back and the eye slits in his mask narrowed as they glare at his victim, this is a Batman that ends up looking a little scary. The one problem with that depiction is that it’s hard to see what Harper is talking about at times in regard to Batman’s physical and mental well-being. Kubert draws a Batman who is always in complete control of his surroundings, and that’s slightly at odds with what Snyder is trying to tell us on those pages.
By way of comparison, Maleev draws Batman (and Harper) in a much leaner, slender form. Maleev’s drawings of Batman in his outfit aren’t a powerful superhero who can crush you with a punch; they are ultimately an average man in a costume. While it’s hard to keep from wishing for some sort of happy medium between the two for an overall depiction of the character, in the context of “Batman” #18 it’s Maleev who has the interpretation that clicks together with the script. Maleev draws a vulnerable Batman — that final image of Batman in particular — and that works with the aftermath of Damian’s death and how Snyder and Tynion are writing the character reacting. A little more heft might have been nice (if only to sync up with everything that Batman does in the first two thirds of the issue) but considering that Bruce Wayne appears a bunch on those pages, it makes sense to have Bruce and Batman drawn in a way that keeps a narrative through line between the body of the character in and out of the suit. Harper, likewise, comes across more realistic under Maleev’s pen. Her catsuit is still designed the same way, but it fits with more compression and stability (something you’d want for that sort of outfit), and I found myself taken by how Maleev draws the tufts of hair peeking out.
As for the story itself, it’s one that is going to be under increased scrutiny due to the potential of Harper Row eventually becoming a new Robin. That was an idea mooted by readers even before Damian Wayne died, and it’s one that feels more likely now. Even if she isn’t going to be the new Robin, it’s a similar path that she’s traveling down. Like Tim Drake’s original introduction, she’s a character offering support in a way that Batman needs (even if he doesn’t admit it) with a skill set that would be useful. Some of the story feels a little heavy-handed (the repeated references to Harper’s deceased mother without every fully explaining what happened) but I like the relationship that Harper has with her brother Cullen; in many ways it’s the high point of the issue. In some ways her interplay with the members of her family is what grabbed my attention more than her shadowing Batman; the latter is something we can get in all sorts of comics, but the former is something that I appreciate because new characters often don’t get well-defined quite so quickly.
“Batman” #18 ends on one of those moments that doesn’t quite have the bang I expected, but I’m not sure why. I like what Snyder and Tynion are building to, and the idea of that final word put in place sounds nice. But it’s only good, not great; it doesn’t crash into place with the force that I think it was meant to. Ultimately, that’s how I feel about “Batman” #18. It’s good, there’s no question about that, but it’s not great. It probably doesn’t help that Snyder, Tynion and company are ultimately writing a comic that reacts to something that happened elsewhere, so a certain amount of lead-up is missing as a result. Still, I think they do well with the directive they’re given, and I like that they manage to make it also work with pre-existing “Batman” storylines and move them forward as well. Ultimately, I enjoyed “Batman” #18, but I think it’s the next few issues that I’m looking forward to more with the title moving under its own steam once more.