One year in, and "The New 52" has now shifted to "The 52." How's it been? Steve Morris investigates in a series we're calling "One Year Later."
Not to make Batwing into a catch-all, but DC tried with several of their titles to promote black characters. Static received a series, which became mostly famous for behind-the-scenes goings on, while Mr. Terrific and Cyborg also received pushes. Yet for the most part, it was only really Batwing who managed to catch on and raise his profile. Why? Because of the Bat.
Cyborg was pushed to be the most prominent black character at DC, as he was introduced into the Justice League and featured more or less in every issue. Yet the title became his albatross. Being the only member of the team without his own book meant that readers only got to see him as part of a team, functioning next to characters like Batman and Superman, who typically stole all the limelight. In contrast, Batwing’s year in the New 52 signed him up onto two teams alongside his regular solo book, and both memberships served to push him into focus.
The first team he appeared in over the year was Justice League International, which was perhaps the most disappointing title of DC’s year. Dull, plodding and lackluster, the book had a cast of ringers but never used them properly — Guy Gardner, Booster Gold, Batman and more were all part of the team, and yet the series still couldn’t muster any energy. By the time Batwing joined the team, the series was on the verge of cancellation, and he became the inadvertent high-profile bailout for the book. Rather than be another bit of scenery, he became a central focus for the book, which suggested to readers that here was a character more interesting than all the other great characters already on the team. For months, they hadn’t been interesting. As soon as he appeared, Batwing had been.
Of course, Batwing then appeared a third time every month in DC’s Second Wave, as Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated series returned. Again a featured player who stood alongside Nightwing, Damian Wayne and others; the book didn’t feel like it was pushing a C-List character — instead it felt like it was naturally including a character who fit effortlessly inside the Batman mythos. Batwing was not only part of the family now, but that family made him as important at DC as somebody like Booster Gold. His status had risen massively.
Which wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if the solo series had been awful. But instead, the series proved to be… well, let’s call it "decent." It was never an incredible, amazing title, but it was solid read each month. Batwing came across as a likeable, inventive central character — not as dynamic as Nightwing, but more empathetic than Tim Drake; and the storylines attempted to deal with political and adult ideas. The one complaint is that writer Judd Winick did struggle to make the book something appealing to all-ages, but sandwiched between two fairly dark Batwing-centric stories came the big "Night of the Owls" crossover thing. This threw Batwing over into Gotham City for a few issues, pretty much at random, in order to gain a sales boost.
These were probably the weakest issues of the run, in honesty. Taking Batwing out of Africa meant reducing his originality and inviting readers to compare him to all the other Bat-characters. Rather than more stories establishing a supporting cast (he has a pretty weak set) and central character, the "Night of the Owls" story gave an identikit villain for him to fight, and didn’t offer anything you couldn’t see in any of the other 12 or so crossover books. It also didn’t help that the storyline as a whole was a flop, either.
Having waded out of the crossover storyline, however, Winick managed to create a few threads which he could follow through into the final arc, which pitted Batwing against a really fun villain called Lord Battle. After a short run of average comics, this final arc managed to gather together every promotion Batwing had received over the year, and culminate them into a single story. He was there, in Africa, helping people. And he was backed up by the JLI and Nightwing (who assisted on behalf of Batman Incorporated). Here it became clear just how smartly DC had navigated the character, as he stood side-by-side with a group of more established characters, and still claimed the limelight. While Cyborg can be seen standing just a little bit behind Superman in all the Justice League splash pages, Batwing was here, front-and-center all year round.
The book still isn’t offering spectacle like, say, Nightwing series has been. But for a book which seemed doomed for cancellation, the creative team have managed to take the character and push him up into a firm B-List position. If Winick can build on this for Year Two, then by this time in 2013 we might well be thinking of Batwing as part of the establishment, stood equally alongside Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman… and Bruce Wayne himself.
For more not-so-new-52 coverage, check out Steve's other One Year Later essays:
- One Year Later: Animal Man/Swamp Thing
- One Year Later: Demon Knights
- One Year Later: Suicide Squad
- One Year Later: Catwoman
- One Year Later: Batwing
- One Year Later: Aquaman
- One Year Later: Wonder Woman
- One Year Later: Birds of Prey
- One Year Later: Justice League Dark
- One Year Later: The Flash
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.