The Batman’s Grave #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
An all-star creative team delves deeply into the psychology and methodology of Batman in the debut of The Batman’s Grave. Spearheaded by the team behind The Authority, along with the immaculate inks of Kevin Nowlan and the evocative colors of Alex Sinclair, The Batman’s Grave looks to present a mystery tailor-made for Gotham City. But beyond the creepy and dense mystery driving this issue, writer Warren Ellis also works double time to flesh out his leads Bruce Wayne and Alfred, using the stalwart butler as a mouthpiece to deliver some hard, long-unspoken truths to the Dark Knight. Gorgeously rendered by artist Bryan Hitch and graced with tight plotting, The Batman’s Grave #1 is anything but dead.
Once a year, Alfred Pennyworth engages in a deeply personal, semi-macabre ritual — since Thomas and Martha Wayne had the foresight to plan out their and Bruce’s final resting places before their untimely deaths, three marble plots rest on the grounds of Wayne Manor. And every year, Alfred cleans and tends to them, knowing full well that he will live to see the third plot filled.
And therein lies the emotional bedrock of The Batman’s Grave. Though Ellis quickly upshifts into a darker mystery, as Batman stumbles across a strange mystery inside an unassuming Gotham apartment, the writer delivers far more pathos than one would expect. After Bruce takes in the scene, in which a man, seemingly obsessed with his alter-ego, is killed in a “loving, respectful” way, he returns home to find Alfred… in somewhat of a state.
Emboldened by drink and classical music from a former black magician, Alfred confronts Bruce about this self-destructive crusade and how it is affecting him in particular. “I’m an old soldier,” he tells Bruce, likening his support of the Batman with complicity and calling him out for the cycle of violence the Batman perpetuates on the poor of Gotham. While this isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking idea, Ellis’ take on this argument is all heart, framing it more as an argument between a father and son and less like an ideological debate. Some fans might cite this sequence as out of character for Alfred, as we usually see him as the stalwart right hand of Bruce Wayne, but Ellis and Alfred have clearly had these thoughts waiting in the wings for a while now, and it is nice to see this valid criticism coming from someone so close to Bruce and not a villain for once.
But that isn’t to say The Batman’s Grave is just a 20-plus-page civics lesson. Far from it, thanks to the consistently gorgeous and cinematic artwork from Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair. By now, the powers of Hitch are well documented, but there is something about Nowlan’s inks that bring out a whole new level of power in Hitch’s pencils. Maybe it is the wide brushes Nolan lines the pencils with, especially in the opening action sequence, or the small expressive detailing he brings to the sets and scene between Bruce and Alfred. But whatever it is, I am hard-pressed to think of a time that Hitch looked better when paired with another inker.
Colorist Alex Sinclair then brings it all home. Eschewing his usual bombastically bright colors, Sinclair takes a more low-key approach, both to the “lighting” of the issue and to the fill-ins. With the lighting, Sinclair bathes the whole of the issue in a sort of downshifted, peach scrimmed lighting that highlights each character model with a pointed pin light. The mood of the colors then shifts to warm autumnals once the sun goes down and in the fire-lit study of stately Wayne Manor, framing the characters and their emotional states very well.
Armed with a mystery ripped right out of his Image Comics works and an unexpectedly heartfelt and clear-eyed take on the Alfred and Bruce Wayne dynamic, The Batman’s Grave #1 is a big statement of Warren Ellis’ intentions for Gotham City. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a truly activative art team that is moving in lock-step with his take and aiming to make it look as good as they possibly can. Cinematic, well-thought out, and pointedly written, The Batman’s Grave #1 is a stellar debut for the reunited creators behind The Authority.