Tony Daniel has drawn plenty of Batman stories over the past few years, but this is the best-looking one so far. It doesn’t have the same geometric consistency as his previous best — that would be the short from “DC Universe” #0 — but it has a texture that’s been missing from so much of his work in this series. It looks more tactile.
Surely Sandu Florea deserves the credit for this stylistic shift, although Norm Rapmund comes in to provide inking assists here. But few of the pages look like Rapmund’s pen-and-ink style and many look like Florea’s more illustrative European-style work. Florea has mostly used a second-rate Scott Williams style on much of Daniel’s Batman work, but this issue has shades of Al Williamson and Alfredo Alcala. Batman’s cape and cowl, in particular, have added weight here. And while some of the folds look more ornamental than practical, it’s visually interesting in a way that Tony Daniel’s work hasn’t always been. There’s finally a sense of depth to his figures, and it helps to make the story work more effectively.
The story is fine: typical superhero fare, with mind-control toxin, minion-punching, clues to the secret identity of the mysterious masked villain, and some banter. Daniel keeps things hopping along by cutting back and forth from the present to the recent past. We begin now, with a nice opening page of squawking seagulls and a tattered Batman face down on the shore, and we cut from that sequence back to earlier in the day, and each incremental flashback shows part of the series of events that led to Batman’s inglorious opening pose.
The opening page is interrupted by the cringe-worthy comment of “Epic Fail,” from Robin, but Damian Wayne is smart enough to know that the term has been so overused as to become ironic, and his “on your feet soldier,” shows that he enjoys ribbing the too-serious Dick Grayson. When Batman’s in action, there’s no sense that this is the Dick Grayson version — and that’s a complaint I’ve had about Daniel’s run overall — but the interplay between Dick and Damian has some effective moments of characterization. This is the new Batman, even if he doesn’t always act that way once the cape and cowl are on.
The story ends with the promise that Dick knows who the Black Mask really is, and the villain’s use of an Aristotle quote is surely a clue, if you’re interested in trying to figure out such things. But this issue, like Daniel’s run so far, isn’t about subtlety or narrative gamesmanship. It’s about telling a gung-ho, punchin’ and kickin’ Batman tale, and it’s not a bad one.