First announced in 2004, “Batman: Europa” has literally been over a decade in the making. A four-issue miniseries promising to move across Europe, the original plan was for Jim Lee to draw the entire series; now, he’s just providing pencils and finishes over Guiseppe Camuncoli’s layouts for the first issue. Ultimately, that seems more than a bit unfortunate, because Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello’s script for “Batman: Europa” #1 feels like it barely gets moving.
“Batman: Europa” #1 is very oddly paced right from the start. The process of Batman discovering that he’s been infected with a deadly virus named Colossus is so perfunctory and quick it almost feels like a joke at first. Based on those first few pages where Batman and Alfred decide the threat is real, one would think this is a race to get Batman into Berlin so the comic can stop and linger on what makes this city stand out as a unique place. You would be half correct in that assumption.
Once Batman is in Berlin, there’s nothing that makes this story stand out as being anywhere other than Gotham. There are two pages where Lee and Camuncoli have drawn some Berlin landmarks to help set the scene, but — while Casali and Azzarello’s script muses on the nature and history of Berlin — we never actually see any of the city itself come to life within the comic. Part of the problem is that Batman never encounters more than two Berliners in the entire comic, and one of them is merely being spied upon and then chased. A city’s personality is as much its people as its structures; after two pages transition us to the city, it’s nothing but alleyways, apartments and cars on roads. Nothing here says Europe, much less Berlin, and it feels like “Batman: Europa” #1 is missing its own point for existing. The twist at the end of the issue, where Batman has to team up with one of his foes, isn’t a bad one (although it certainly feels like something we’ve seen plenty of times in the past), but this entire first issue comes across as terribly generic; there’s nothing about this debut that needed to be in Europe, much less Berlin.
Camuncoli and Lee’s collaboration, then, is the selling point for reading “Batman: Europa” #1. I think most readers are so used to seeing Lee inked by Scott Williams that they might be a little surprised by this sketchier, scratchier version of Lee’s pencils. It’s at its best when it comes to the two city splashes we get, first of Gotham and then of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The two serve as excellent contrasts to one another with the help of colorist Alex Sinclair. Gotham feels dark and cramped, the buildings all on top of one another, and with the only light entirely manmade: lights from windows, spotlights shining up into the cloudy sky. Compare that to the Brandenburg Gate, where sunlight pours through the open gate so brightly it almost (but not quite) obscures the details, and the sky is lit in brilliant reds, oranges and yellows. The basic layout for each of Camuncoli’s pages is eye-catching, and the finished details from Lee are meticulously drawn and entrancing.
The characters in “Batman: Europa” #1 are interesting, feeling almost not quite real because of the scratchy nature of Lee’s art (which feels like it never went to an ink medium but was colored right off of his pencils). The action is most solid when it breaks out; Batman swinging into a window is full of energy and Lee poses Batman perfectly so you can tell which foot hit the now-shattered glass first, to say nothing of the startled expressions on the characters’ faces. When everyone is still, though, characters seem almost wispy and not quite there; they’re lacking a solid line to keep them from fading into the background or looking a bit fragile. It’s still an intriguing look and it makes me regret that Lee wasn’t able to draw the rest of the upcoming miniseries, but — considering the delays up until this point — it’s probably just as well, so that we could at least see what Lee did create here.
“Batman: Europa” #1 looks interesting thanks to Lee and Camuncoli, but Casali and Azzarello’s story falls flat. There’s nothing special or unique here; perhaps just as importantly, there’s nothing from any of the handful of characters that feels compelling. I love the idea of a Batman miniseries hitting major cities within Europe (the next issue is set in Prague), but — if the end result is going to be this generic — it’s a missed opportunity. This is worth picking up to see Camuncoli and Lee’s collaboration, but that is ultimately the only draw.