Anthology comics revolving around Batman have always been fascinating and, sadly, infrequent. Books like Batman: Black and White and now Batman Secret Files give a slew of artists and writers who might be fairly new to working with the character a platform to express their rendition of the Dark Knight. They also give writers familiar with the hero a chance to get a little weird or, at the very least, produce some punchy, character-driven short works that can add to the ever-growing Caped Crusader mythos.
While very few anthology comics are filled with only stellar entries, Batman Secret Files #1 is pretty close. Of the five stories that make up this issue, there isn't a bad tale among them, and, in fact, a couple are actually quite brilliant. Instead of just telling you why you should go ahead and pick this book up (which you should) let's take a little time to briefly go over each story within Batman Secret Files #1 without getting into spoiler territory. After all, a ton of great creators come together to put this thing together, and it wouldn't be fair to glaze over any of them.
The lead story is written by Batman comic guru Tom King and his frequent collaborator, artist Mikel Janin, which is one hell of a way to kick things off with regard to name recognition. "True Strength" is a punchy, yet deeply introspective tale about the the toil of being Batman and if taking the easy path to justice is the right one. It's a great story, but that should come as no surprise considering on team behind it.
"The Nature of Fear" by Ram V. and Jorge Fornes reads more like an story form an issue of Vault of Horror, which is a good thing. Batman always lends himself well to genre fiction, especially noir and horror. Ram V.'s plotting is solid and the final reveal is extremely effective. Jorge Fornes' art is also fantastic and works incredibly well in the world of Batman in the same way art by Lee Weeks or Michael Lark does. It bridges that gap between classic comic book line work with pulpy modern noir styles. We love it.
"One" is a great street-level Batman story in the same vein as works by Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello by the writer Cheryl Lynn Eaton and artist Elena Casagrande. This one is a real standout for a few reasons: first the writing is natural and never feels forced when using colloquialisms and slang. Eaton gets her point across and the moral conundrum of how technology should be used in a mere eight pages. Secondly, the art is great. One bit that really stands out to us is how Casagrande loves to focus on how Batman's mask fits on Bruce Wayne's face. The fact we see the bottom bit of his nose or how his upper lip looks weird (like Christian Bale's in the Dark Knight Trilogy) is the kind of attention to detail we love.
"Enough" by Jordie Bellaire and Jill Thompson is, strangely, the weakest story in the issue, but that doesn't mean it's bad (it's like saying it's the weakest guy a strongman competition). In fact, it's a cool little aside that focuses on Bruce Wayne's self-deprecating nature. Thompson's art is great here, as always. We love her take on Batman's winter wardrobe, but we question why Bruce thinks a cape is an ergonomic fashion choice in wind storm. The plotting works well and again is more introspective in terms of story telling. This is a bronze medal story, and that's still worth something.
And finally we have "The World's Greatest Detective, and Batman," by Tom Taylor and Brad Walker, which is a great story to showboat your way to the finish line. The story focuses on Batman and Detective Chimp teaming up on a case. To no surprise, it is easily the funniest tale of the bunch, but it's also one of the more heartfelt. It's a bittersweet story to end this first issue.
In the end Batman Secret Files #1 is a great bang for your buck. They varied stories are all really good. None one quite feels like its dragging things down even if some are marginally better than others. Even the lesser of the five stories is still really good, which is something that can't be said for a lot of anthologies (in comic form or otherwise). This is one is highly recommended for anyone who remotely likes Batman or has an affinity for anthology comics. Here's hoping this takes off and revitalizes anthology books in a big, bad way.