Best Shots Review: DC's BATMAN #1 - Follow-up To Snyder-Capullo Feels 'Ambitious, Unsteady'

Batman #1
Credit: DC Comics

Credit: DC Comics
Batman #1
Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Matt Banning and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“This is my city. I’ll save it.”

Superman might be more powerful than a locomotive, but when a plane comes hurtling down over the streets of Gotham, can the all-too-human skills of Batman save the day? Tom King and David Finch put the Dark Knight in particularly dire straits in their fast-paced first issue, and while the stakes are wonderfully high, these creators don’t come up with a convincing conclusion to stick this most precarious of landings.

Of course, when you come on the heels of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's landmark run - a consistent bestseller of the New 52 that delved deep into the history of Gotham City - you can either ape their approach and remain stuck in their shadow, or try something dramatically different and trust in Batman’s elasticity as an icon. With that in mind, King’s high concept is an arresting one, with Batman having to save a plane full of civilians after they’ve been shot down by a Cobra assassin’s missile launcher. With only six minutes to stop an “exceptional” loss of life, King has put Batman in his element, the pinnacle of human intelligence and achievement pit against a 450-ton deathtrap of fire and steel.

And getting Batman to that point is absolutely an exercise in thinking under pressure. It’s ironic that King, who has recounted his time as a CIA counterterrorism officer in The Sheriff of Babylon, winds up doing his best impression of James Bond with this first issue set piece, having Batman juggle calls from Alfred and new sidekick Duke Thomas to coordinate getting from the top of GCPD headquarters to high above the skies of Kane Plaza, using an engineer’s precision to determine their razor-thin margin of error. 

But while King starts off with some breathtaking action choreography - honestly, watching Batman time a jump with the Batmobile and use his ejector seat to get on the plane is a great bit of hyper-competency - he stretches the suspension of disbelief past the breaking point by the end of the issue. After stacking the deck against his hero, King winds up giving Batman not one, but two way-too-convenient outs - one of which is Bat-Shark Repellant levels of situationally specific, and the other being a deus ex machina that undercuts all the previous drama. Given what an exciting introduction King was working with, it’s just a shame that the finale of this issue doesn’t feel like an earned conclusion.

This issue also marks the return of David Finch to Batman, following his brief tenure on Batman: The Dark Knight and his oft-maligned run on Wonder Woman. Out of all the characters in the DC stable, Batman is the one that is the greatest fit for Finch’s style, with the character lending himself well to Matt Banning’s lush, shadowy inks. Yet while Finch excels whenever Batman is clearly on the page - that splash page of Bruce in his ejector seat is some straight-up gold - his page layouts do feel a bit suspect, like a page that’s split down the middle between a shot of Batman swinging down an alleyway and an easily-overlooked column of panels stacked on top of one another. 

That said, while I don’t necessarily find King’s solution to this downed plane to be believable, Finch does do some pretty great work showing off Gotham as an urban landscape, with the plane’s trajectory coming off like some sort of blockbuster summer film. Colorist Jordie Bellaire also deserves some special praise here, using orange as her signature accent color here - it’s a fairly unorthodox choice, but it’s one that really makes Batman look different than most books on the stands. 

Tom King and David Finch are in a unique position with Batman #1, as this series was one of the few that didn’t need retinkering with DC’s Rebirth initiative. Coming off an artistically singular, critically praised run like Snyder and Capullo’s, it isn’t surprising that there might be further hesitance to fully embrace King and Finch’s debut issue. This isn’t nearly as polished as King’s stellar bibliography thus far, but this is also the highest stage he’s operated upon, with his most divisive artist yet - and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind readers that even Scott Snyder had a run of Detective Comics under his belt before they gave him the flagship book. While this first arc feels unsteady, with a pair of creators not nearly as bulletproof as their predecessors, the sheer ambition behind Batman might pay dividends down the road. 

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