Like Brendan McCarthy’s “Spider-Man: Fever,” this arc of “Batman Confidential” features a distinctive artist doing a distinctive take on a couple of corporate characters. Sam Kieth’s Batman and Commissioner Gordon don’t look like, or act like, the current versions of the characters that we might see in another DCU book this year. But because this is an out-of-continuity kind of series, that doesn’t matter at all. What matters is whether or not Sam Kieth’s unique version of Gotham City is interesting enough on its own to warrant a read.
It surely is.
This is Sam Kieth’s Batman. You get exactly that.
Unlike some of Kieth’s other work on the character, this is a more introspective story. It’s as dreamlike (or nightmarish) as his other stuff, but there’s no grand, monstrous villain at the center of the tale. Even if there is a villainous force for Batman to oppose, that’s not what the story is really about. It’s about Batman protecting a vulnerable young woman, it’s about making an intimate connection in a chaotic world, and it’s about luck, both good and bad (but mostly bad).
Issue #43 is the conclusion of this Sam Kieth written-and-drawn-and-partially-colored arc, and we see the turmoil of Batman as he guards young Callie’s door, protecting her from the boogeyman. The opening pages recall the pain of Batman’s origin, depicted via Sam Kieth’s own brand of mixed-media superhero art. (Throughout the issue, the artwork alternates between fully-painted distorted Dave McKeanesque imagery, scratchy pen and ink, and what looks like manic crayon drawing — all in the service of the story’s emotional impact.) In that opening, the bat-logo on Batman’s chest looks less like a bat and more like taut barbed-wire, razor sharp, a mark of a suffering.
The suffering here is about the failure to protect the one he loves. Even if that love seems less-than-fully-established, the surprising death of the girl he had vowed to protect circles back to the beginning of his career. He’s never been able to save the people he truly cares about, even he that’s all he’s ever wanted to do.
The way Callie dies in this issue, an act of absolute randomness, is so absurd as to almost undermine Kieth’s message about the role luck plays in our lives, or in Batman’s life. But the death is so random, so absurd, that what it does instead is to make the case that Batman, try as he might, cannot plan for everything. He can’t plan for anything, ultimately. No matter how much he tries to shape his destiny and make the world a safer place and inflict his fists of justice on an unrelenting world, it’s still all a mess of chaos and chance and bad, bad luck.
It’s a bleak vision of the world, and a bleak vision of Batman’s life. But it’s closer to the truth of the character than most other Batman tales. It looks, and feels, raw.