I’ve never read any comics with Mike W. Barr and Michael Golden’s creation the Wrath in it, but I’ve known of this “anti-Batman” character by reputation. With John Layman and Jason Fabok introducing the Wrath into the New 52, all I have to go on is what readers have seen in “Detective Comics” #22. Based on that, there’s definite potential for this storyline.
Layman quickly sets up the probably alter-ego for the Wrath in the form of E.D. Caldwell, an owner of a global empire that both creates weaponry as well as pumps money back into the community. Layman gives Caldwell a certain level of arrogance — something to set him apart from Bruce Wayne — and it’s easy to see him as a reflection of where Bruce could have gone if not for the drive to become a hero.
That reversal is even more apparent when it’s Batman, the Wrath and the Wrath’s sidekick Scorn. Layman quickly drives the difference between the two home; Batman does everything in his power to keep the police out of the line of fire and safe, while Scorn is instructed to only shoot police officers and to make sure it’s always a kill shot. It’s a little heavy handed in that regard, but the story is also just getting started and there’s still a lot of places that it can go. For now, though, it’s a perfectly reasonable opening. More importantly, it feels like this is the start of a story which is about what makes Batman tick, and based on Layman’s run on “Detective Comics” up until now, he’s welcome to draw from that well.
Fabok’s art is up to its normal clean standards. Lots of good facial expressions, and the scene where Batman and Strode are peppered with bullets is especially well done. Fabok and colorist Emilio Lopez take what could have been a confusing or hard to follow scene and instead make it flow quite well from one panel to the next with a strong graphic progression. In terms of character designs, the one-eyed look of Scorn is strange but appealing, and the Wrath reminds me a lot of the armored Batman suit that Azrael wore during the “Knightfall” storyline back in the day.
I almost hate to admit that this month it’s the back-up feature by Layman and Andy Clarke that has grabbed my attention more. Layman’s having fun with this story about the Langstroms and Man-Bat, and I appreciate that Layman both follows some of the original source material but also isn’t afraid to branch off and make changes both large and small. Clarke’s art is as drop-dead gorgeous as ever, with its delicate lines and haunting expressions. Blond’s colors accentuate some strong moments too, with the unnatural glow of the serum or the glint in Francine’s eyes when they leave the police station. I like the main story, but I’m adoring the backup.
“Detective Comics” #22 has a nice start to the Wrath story, and I’m curious to see where it goes and to learn more about this character. But the Man-Bat story is where the pay dirt is being struck. If only all back-up stories were this much fun.