J. M. DeMatteis and Matthew Dow Smith's "Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Batman" #1 collects the first three chapters of the digital prologue to Bruce Timm's upcoming "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" direct-to-video film. Presenting an interesting take on the Batman mythos, the debut issue also delivers a nice change, inserting a stand-in for Bruce Wayne.
The new Dark Knight, Kirk Langstrom, not only has ties to the Batman legend but also tracks along a "what-could-have-been" path that makes alternate realities memorable and immersive. In this re-imagining of the Justice League, however, the core trinity -- Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman -- are not as noble as they are traditionally interpreted. This is especially the case for Batman, who tracks very closely to Marvel's Morbius but is constructed with enough nuance to stand independently.
A variety of type treatments help to tell the tale, from Langstrom's perspective to the media following the actions of the Batman to the voice that drives Langstrom to make some worrisome decisions. Temofonte balances the word balloons nicely, measuring out the conversation in doing so. The sound effects bring a diverse range of fonts and add seasoning to the visuals.
Matthew Dow Smith's art is detailed and dark, gritty and rough, but populated with very stiff characters sporting minimal emotional range. Yes, it is a dark story and Smith provides evocatively dark characters and settings that virtually melt together in shadows, but expressions should vary and be somewhat less rigid than those depicted in this story. Jordie Bellaire's colors add some vibrancy to the story, while Temofonte bolsters the storytelling, making the issue a true example of collaboration.
For completists, "Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Batman" #1 is going to be indispensible. For readers in search of a good story with an alternative take on Batman, this isn't a bad story but it also isn't the greatest alternate Batman tale ever. J. M. DeMatteis, Matthew Dow Smith, Jordie Bellaire and Saida Temofonte deliver a solid story with some resonance, but the story itself needs a little more heart and the visuals, a little more snap. For now, this did what it had to do: it told the tale of Batman's beginning and offered a tease of things to come.