(w) Brian Michael Bendis (a) Nick Derington (c) Dave Stewart
When It was previously announced that Brian Michael Bendis was making his way over to DC Comics I turned and told my friend, “Bendis could probably write a damn fine Batman.” Which he replied with, “Who is Bendis?”
“You mean you don’t know who Brian Michael Bendis is?”
“As in Brian Michael Bendis?”
“Yes, Brian Michael Bendis!”
“Oh, yeah! The man behind `Bendis-Speak`.”
Little did I remember I had shown him examples of this “Bendis-Speak” a few weeks prior. Thing is when Bendis gets his flow it flows perfectly, but when he starts juggling more than a few series his comics start to falter. Growing up I loved his Ultimate Spider-man, it was the first TPB I owned and I’ve read through the series a few times. So when I saw he was taking on one of my favorite characters I was overjoyed, it helped that he got his start in Noir, and Detective stories (that’s where Bendis-Speak comes from). Only problem was, I don’t shop at Walmart, which is where Batman Universe originally released.
Batman Universe #1 contains parts of Bendis,and Nick Derington’s story that was originally published in BATMAN GIANT #3 and #4, but now as a six issue 4.99 floppy. It’s a little pricey, but worth every penny, and more. Within three pages Bendis’ Batman already feels vastly different than his other interpretations, this is due to Bendis’ great dialogue and Derington’s smart use of Batman’s POV transitioning to a beautiful splash title-page. In just the first two pages Bendis’ sets up a few on going story beats; Batman and Alfred’s great back and forth (a must), a humble and polite Batman that still easily scares Gothamites, and the running joke of Bats talking to Alfred but another character asking, “Are you talking to me?”
Alfred and Batman have a long shared history, as they should since Alfred raised Bruce, but some writers seem to skip him altogether or not have a good sense of their playful banter. Bendis hits it on the nose, having the duo (via headset) go back and forth with each other and Alfed at one point explaining who Deathstroke is to Bats annoyance. We will get back to Deathstroke in a minute. Now this next point might sound weird, but I’ll explain it as best as possible.
The Batman in Batman Universe feels like an older version of Batman from the past, one that has gained enough notoriety from his many years that just his shadow instills fear in his foes. Not once in this first issue does it seem it has gone to his head, instead we are shown a Batman being polite to the citizens, people he is questioning, and even his villains. Bendis keeps his dialogue short, tight and to the point, wasting no bubbles on unneeded words. This characterization of a humble and polite Batman still fits the idea of who and what he is while making this feel like one of the better characterizations we have seen in a few years. As Kingsman said, “Manners maketh man.”
Bendis keeps a fun feeling throughout the issue with nothing going to dark or unnecessarily dreary. Where he could’ve done his usual gritty street level hero angle for Batman and still make a good story he instead went with a more basic plot mixed with colorful moments, fun dialogue, and great interactions between characters. One of the best interactions is the simplest, that hasn’t been brought up that often. The fact that when Batman talks on his headset it would be hard for others to know if he is talking to them, which a few even bring up and ask him. It’s great because it’s so simple. As promised, let’s get back to Deathstroke, who may only be in it for a few pages, but damn is it great. Having snuck behind Batman Deathstroke announces his sneakiness with, “I got real up close this time. That’ll haunt you.” This has gotta be the most badass thing said or done by Deathstroke. It may seem insignificant but as someone who isn’t much of a fan of Deathstroke I thought it was a stroke of genius.
I first saw Nick Derington’s art in Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol and loved it, then I read Batman Universe #1 and it adored it. The man knows how to draw, like really great. While keeping his characters cartoonish but still human-like Derington pencils makes the comic book world feel real. Paying attention to the small details he can see the love and admiration that Derington puts in each panel. In one of the scenes with Batman in a bar you can see his reflection in the mirror, which seems unneeded, yet shows how much care he puts into each moment.
With each fight scene we have the words of the action popping on screen like POP, KRAK, WHUMP, SLICE, and many more. This works great with the story and feel Bendis is going for. The duo work great, playing off each others ideas that make the pages flow well with dialogue while making nothing feel stiff. Even when it’s just Batman talking to another character you can feel a sense of movement that makes even two or more characters feel more lively than just people talking. Then when you mix in Dave Stewart’s sometimes grey gloomy colors, and other times bright poppy cooler you get amazing works of art.
Yes Derington’s art is fantastic, but Stewart’s coloring adds to the pencils making the dark stay dark and hidden and the bright moments pop out of the page. Stewart is known for his great colors in dozens of other comics, and he keeps it up in Batman Universe #1.
It feels like DC took a chance with Bendis writing Batman, however he wanted but in a side story that reads different than any of the mainline Batman titles. So good on DC for letting him have his way. If the rest of the five issues keep this momentum I may have to mark this down on one of my favorite Batman stories.