The mixed bag that DC’s new publishing initiative of adding two back-up stories and raising the cover price hits hard on this issue. If these back-up stories had been included in the initial issue, I would have never given the series another chance. I still feel that the “feature” story is somewhat lacking, but the back-up stories at downright terrible. $7.99 for a comic book is a tough sell for retailers in today’s market, but in no way is this issue worth it.
Writer John Ridley still hasn’t given us any reason to see Tim Fox as a new Batman. Whereas Bruce Wayne dedicated his entire life to avenging the death of his parents, Tim became Batman because… his sister did drugs, or something? It’s still not entirely clear why he became Batman or even how he’s able to do the things that Bruce did without Bruce’s lifetime of training a dedication. It’s because of technology, I guess? It’s just so unsatisfying to see a fill-in character without any justification for it.
The story this issue follows Tim as he investigates the murder of man found in a dark alley. His assailants kept their faces covered well enough to defeat the rampant facial recognition technology in Gotham City, and while he’s concerned with finding the murderers and their motivation, The Magistrate is hunting him down and attempting to kill him. We’re also shown a little more of Tim’s mother who is working with the mayor to fix the “kill all masked vigilantes on sight laws” because it’s unconstitutional, though she supports the idea because “…Batman… my daughter… something… something…” I can’t tell if Ridley is just putting a placeholder idea in here because he has no idea how to flesh out the story, or if he thinks it makes it feel more like a real story from another timeline by not having them rehash the details, but as a reader, I need something more to keep me invested in these characters.
Art chores have changed hands, which is odd because they’ve been working on these stories for months and should’ve had plenty of time to work in advance, but we find Laura Braga, Nick Derington, and Arif Prianto taking over this issue and I feel like it’s a better overall fit than last issue. Together they bring more of a traditional superhero style that at least helps to make the story fell more that a traditional Batman comic book, even if the story still feels like it needs a little more of anything to tie it into the Batman mythos.
If the issue ended here for $3.99, I’d probably still be unsatisfied, but more likely to give it a pass. However, the following two stories are downright terrible. I can’t fathom who gave these scripts and artwork a pass but considering how many people have been fired and shuffled in the editorial offices at DC Comics in the past two years, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that these made it through the process, but I certainly feel like the idea of sticking extra stories on a “headliner” title and charging extra came about because they realized what stinkers they had to deal with.
The first story, simply titled “Batgirls,” finds former Batgirl Cassandra Cain being tossed into a Magistrate prison facility where both heroes and villains are interred until they can be processed for long-term holding. Her cellmate is Spoiler, former Batgirl (maybe, depending on what continuity this is) Stephanie Brown, who turned against the heroes at some point in the past. Stephanie waxes on and on about the prison: the hierarchy, the technology, the guards, the friends she’s made, the way to get ahead… and you can’t help but wonder why she’s explaining all of this. I know that complained in the Next Batman story that we weren’t getting enough details, but these details are so poorly presented within the narrative that you wonder if writer Vita Ayala even knows how to structure a basic story.
Eventually Spoiler and Batgirl spar leading them to time in solitary confinement where they each come clean and reveal their secrets. Spoiler went undercover as a villain but was caught before she could make a move against the bad guys and had to maintain her cover. Batgirl has been getting secret messages from within the prison that “The Bat Lives” and has discovered a secret chamber underneath the holding cells. Batgirl believes Batman may still be alive down below and asks Spoiler to help free him. Unfortunately for us readers, Ayala gives away the fact that it’s actually Barbara Gordon (former Batgirl and daughter of Commissioner Gordon) being held below, not Bruce Wayne. I can’t fathom why this important plot point would be revealed here, again except for the ineptitude of the writer. Spoiler agrees and when released from solitary, she calls in every favor to start a prison wide riot.
Despite the structural problems with this story, there are plenty of other problems with it as well. All of the heroes and villains are allowed to intermingle freely during the day like a normal prison with no signs to any steps taken to dampen super-powers or stop archenemies from confronting each other. Also, during Spoiler’s informational monologue, she discusses how the prison is wired for sound and there’s no safe space to talk freely unless you have a “nullifier” which gives you a safe radius of a yard. She says this openly without fear of being overheard, so I’m guessing she has a nullifier, but Batgirl is far enough away that anything she says would not be covered by it, so there’s a pretty big problem with the way it’s being handled here.
On top of all of these story problems, the art is barely serviceable. The linework by artist Aneke is stiff and unexciting. There’s very little fluidity to the layouts and the character designs are just enough to claim their existence. I had no idea that Batgirl’s cellmate was supposed to be Spoiler until Batgirl called her by that name 11 pages into the story. I had just gone forward with the assumption that this was a new character who had risen and fallen in the future. The bland art alone wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the flat and lifeless colors by Trish Mulvihill. Almost nothing has shading or any sense of form. Spaces have no sense of depth, and even when presented with a blank background space (which is certainly more than most colorists probably would be by today’s artists) she takes no opportunity to fill in the area with texture or shading. It feels very much like she knows the basics of a computer coloring program, and nothing more.
I wish this was the end of the issue, but there’s still one more story to slog through and while I will admit that I am not the target demographic for this story, it’s still being forced upon me by being included in the $7.99 cover price. This entry into the Gotham City Sirens world of stories of obviously tailored for female readers with Sex and the City references and a female android who feels betrayed when her creator gets engaged to be married. It’s certainly not as bad as the last story, but Paula Sevenbergen’s tale is still not very well structured with a by-the-numbers flashback that does little other than fill space before oddly warping back to the present with no proper transition.
The artwork isn’t great, but it is certainly better in this story than in the last. It just took four people to make it happen this time with Rob Haynes providing breakdowns, Emanuela Lupacchino on pencils, Wade Von Grawbadger doing the inking, and John Kalisz as colorist. The look is lighthearted and cartoony which fits the simplistic tone of the story, but at least there’s more action when there needs to be, and the colors add to the feel of each scene instead of just filling the spaces between the lines. However, the final product is still a story that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Batman comic book, much less a flagship title like this one.
Future State: The Next Batman #2 feels like the proverbial switch after issue #1’s bait of not being so bad. In no way does this collection of stories justify the $7.99 price tag. If these back-up stories had been published in the first issue, there’s no way it would’ve returned for a second printing and I now question if I’m going to even bother buying the fourth issue in this series that continues these awful chapters. Can the main story in the third issue be good enough to bring me back for the finale?