This is not the first time that Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso have handled Batman, but it seems like the most natural. Gotham City has always had that dark, cynical, downright nasty edge to it, and that’s something that Azzarello and Risso always brought out in their trips there. However, something often felt off; things were a little too dark and cruel for the DCU. There’s a fine line and they seemed to cross it. They still made some entertaining and good comics, but something wasn’t right. Here, though, they seem right at home with an old bastard like Thomas Wayne.
We first see Wayne as a looming figure, scowling face in the shadows, hair graying, an unseen voice saying “You seem to have some anger issues,” while he mumbles “Mmmrrr…” He mumbles a lot in this issue, never happy, never satisfied, living out a life he almost certainly never wished for: Gotham’s protector, both as Batman and the owner of the privatized police force, and owner of a casino that allows him to keep tabs on criminals. There’s a lot packed into this issue and little of it is spelled out. The reader is expected to pick up on the details that are dropped into conversation. The status quo of Gotham is clear and this genuinely feels like the beginning of a new story arc within the ongoing world of this Batman.
There’s an emptiness to Wayne’s mission here. His discontent is different from the darker versions of Batman we’re used to: he seems like a man who’s backed himself into a corner and is stuck there. He allowed grief and vengeance to rule his life and, now, he’s a bitter old man who went from a philanthropic doctor to a casino owner that’s getting threatened by a judge. And, yet, when he finally dons the cape and cowl, that worn down bitterness isn’t present. He’s a vicious thug that takes on a monstrous Killer Croc with a violent streak that would make the regular Dark Knight hunt him down and toss him in Arkham.
Risso and colorist Patricia Mulvihill create a bleak, almost washed out look for Gotham. It’s not so much dark as colorless. The few spots of color from the casino seem garish by contrast, while a discussion between Wayne and Jim Gordon at dusk is vibrant with orangey browns. Gotham reflects the mood and inner state of Thomas Wayne, a place that keeps functioning, but finds itself mumbling a lot.
Risso’s characters are so expressive: Wayne in his lack of expression, Oswald Cobblepot in his simpering creepy looks, and Harvey Dent in his frantic, over-the-top rage at his twins being kidnapped by the Joker. Risso’s art is so clear in telling the story that it’s easy to say there’s a disconnect between the writing and art, but it’s more of a duet that sometimes falls into harmony, each playing off one another, accentuating certain parts, while remaining apart.
It’s a shame that “Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance” is only three issues long. Already there seems enough depth in this Gotham and its protector that it could easily carry an ongoing series.