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Sunday Slugfest: Blackest Night: Batman #1

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009
By: Thom Young

Peter J. Tomasi
Ardian Syaf (p), John Dell and Vincente Cifuentes(i), & Nei Ruffino(colors)
DC Comics
Boston "Deadman" Brand can't shut out the cries of the Rising Dead as he comes to the aid of the Dick "Batman" Grayson as the two former trapeze performers face a circus of zombies that include the Black Lantern Flying Graysons!

Christopher Power:
Jason Cohen:
Chris Murman:
Stephen Joyce:

Christopher Power:

With any crossover event, there is always a danger that we will see the entire thing break down under the weight of itself as too many side stories detract from the main story and cause the entire project to lack focus.

It used to be the case that these crossover events drew attention to series that had low circulation numbers in order to attract new readers to those titles. However, these major events are now largely used to highlight company properties by creating miniseries that "tie into" the event. As a result, both DC and Marvel have a habit of spreading their events over a lot of miniseries--some of which are clearly related to the main event while others are on the periphery of the core story--all for the cause of selling several books to readers who want to feel that they are getting a greater epic and "the whole story."

Blackest Night: Batman is the first tie-in series to the current main event. However, it is the latter type of tie-in--i.e., it's peripheral to the story.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to see Batman on the list of the event crossovers. My feeling was that the Batman concept had enough done to it last year.

So why did I bother to read this miniseries?


Boston Brand remains an interesting character with tons of potential to be used in interesting ways. However, whenever he shows up the story always seems to fall short of fulfilling the character's potential. The only recent story that used Deadman effectively is Dwayne McDuffie's Justice League Unlimited television episode. Thus, I really wanted to see a great Deadman story in this comic.

Actually, the Deadman parts are quite good. Each of his scenes--his reaction to his body rising from the dead, his dread of his body being desecrated, and his interactions with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne--all ring true for me. His dialog sounds like Boston Brand should sound--especially the sarcastic remarks about Damian.

I also think that the scenes involving the Black Lantern rings are creepy--as they should be. The scene raising some of the B-list and C-list villains from recent memory is also well done--with sufficient tension to make the command for the dead to rise be dramatic and a great "Whoa" moment.

However, the scenes with Dick and Damian fall well short of holding any really convincing moments. For example, given his daredevil tendencies, the comment about Dick's lack of fear of death doesn't ring true. The entire conversation about his parents serves to only remind us that Dick's parents are dead. Finally, similar to the other Batman titles where he appears outside of Grant Morrison's hand, Damian's dialogue falls flat; it doesn't have the same prosody or vocabulary that Damian should have.

One clever thing that Peter J. Tomasi does in this issue is that he inserts into Blackest Night the concept that it is the people who are connected to Bruce who are at risk. Dick specifically says that it is "our dead, powered and non-powered." For some reason, the placement of that line, and the scenes that follow it, drove the point home as to why Black Hand chose Bruce's skull for his plan. Who else would have intimate knowledge of all of the dead heroes and villains in the DCU?

Adrian Syaf does an admirable job with the pencil art. I am unfamiliar with is work, but his anatomy is really quite good--as is his attention to detail in the background scenes. I will be keeping an eye for his name in the future. However, the inkers and colourist--John Dell, Vincente Cifuentes, and Nei Ruffino, respectively--all deserve special credit for beautiful use of shadow and colour. The art was exceptionally creepy looking on the whole, but the scene on top of the mountains with Deadman was gorgeous.

Overall, this book is not as strong as Tomasi's other entries into the Blackest Night story; Green Lantern Corps outshines it. Hopefully the following issues will result in a satisfying series.

Jason Cohen:

First of all, Peter J. Tomasi handles the new Batman expertly. He is more than just Batman Lite, he is Dick Grayson as THE Batman. However, I am beginning to feel that Morrison may be the only one who can write Damian well. It's close here, but there's a lack of arrogance in his dialogue that leaves his threats meaningless.

There is a sense that Damian is a troubled soul that is learning the ways of a hero, however he's too nice. That being said, I think I will always remember what Damian says when he comes face-to-face with the open graves; that scene peels back a layer of Damian not seen anywhere else: sentimentality.

Though the title indicates that Batman is staring in the book, Deadman seems to steal the show towards the middle of the issue. He gives us an insider's view of what it's like to become a Black Lantern--and how the ring effects the body separately from the soul. His fight to stay "dead" is an interesting one, and the outcome holds some potential. He comes face to face (using somebody else's face) with Damian, and he learns the hard way about the new Batman. I can see that Deadman has promise to play an important role in the grand scheme of the Blackest Night story.

The biggest problem I have with this issue is that, despite the ghastly things happening here, everything still seems to be under control. There is no WTF moment as has been seen elsewhere in Blackest Night, and I feel that without a believable reaction from the characters this story holds no weight.

Blackest Night is a story about emotion, so without emotion or reaction, there is nothing of interest here. Batman is too calm, and he somehow knows who to call (Red Robin) and what to do with two exhumed bodies (creepy). It all seemed pointless.

Adrian Syaf draws a good Deadman--creepy, mysterious, yet bold. However, his Batman simply looks like Bruce Wayne got a new belt--and I can't even tell who Robin really is.

The Black Lanterns are truly scary with a deep rich black--keeping up the level of quality to be expected from this event so far. The plethora of villains to come looked truly intimidating, and I continue to be amazed at just how creepy the Black Lanterns are.

While the issue has a good plot, the lack of a key element to the Blackest Night formula made the issue seem less significant. Hopefully, the next issue will be able to capture the emotion that is needed to make something like flying space zombies truly believable. With Deadman there to spice things up--and more zombie goodness to come--the next issue should be a must have.

Anyway, to get the set up and a truly terrifying look at the parents of the Bat family, check this issue out. It's definitely worth a look.

Chris Murman:

Overall, the Blackest Night story seems to be a tale of two volumes. On the one hand, I continue to be surprised at how intriguing the main story is coming together after two issues. On the other hand, the tie-in issues have been an utter disappointment; this issue being on the top of that list.

For being a miniseries with Batman's name on the cover, this was more of a story about Deadman than the "reborn" Dark Knight. Sure, we have dead Bat-Rogues rising--as well as Tim's and Dick's respective parents--but this issue revolves around Boston Brand and how he is handling the notion of the dead rising (his body being one of them).

The icing on the cake, however, does involve the new Dynamic Duo. However, even though there are parts of the story that actually include Dick and Damian, the characterization doesn't really make it feel like it's them. Granted, we really have only seen two issues of Grant Morrison's take on the new Dynamic Duo, but with the profile of Batman and Robin being so high, Pete Tomasi would have been better served to have at least skimmed the pages of Morrison's scripts before penning this one.

Notice the way Damian cowers with a queasy look on his face at the sight of his father and grandparents. We all know the boy came to respect his father--he was the reason Damian decided to don the tights--but I fail to see why this kid would be cowering at anything at this point. We last saw him storm off from his "mentor" in the Batcave, full of pomposity at the notion that he had a thing or two to learn before being a real crime-fighter. Part of me wonders if he would even think it to be worth his time to be at the cemetery--even if it involved a lead.

He also shouldn't have given a second thought to the sight of Thomas and Martha Wayne. If he barely cared about his maternal grandfather, whom he's actually met, why in the world would he get all mopey about Bruce's parents? He would have walked off no doubt--but mostly because he had better things to do other than carry bags of bones.

One interesting idea that was brought up by this issue was how the rings are choosing their targets. It's one thing to have the dead members of the Justice League come back with their stretchy limbs and metal wings, but what in the world would the man behind the Black Lantern curtain want with four regular Joes? Sure, two if them are acrobats, but that only helps add to their costume.

When the Martian Manhunter flew up to Hal and Barry and informed them they should be dead in issue one of the main story, I sort of wondered if someone would do the same thing to Grayson. If anything, having the dead Rogues roll up to Dick and tell him he should be dead would not only be poetic, it's the joke Dan Didio has been telling us since Infinite Crisis came out. We all know the original Robin was on the chopping block, I think a story of the current Batman running for his life (literally) while trying to unite the Bat-family in Bruce's absence would have been a much better read.

I was not previously familiar with Ardian Syaf's work, and I enjoyed his pencils here. He seems to have a knack for drawing action (there are a number of comic book artists who don't have the knack, but who nevertheless get action-oriented work today), and his splash page of Deadman entering Batman's body for the first time was very well thought out.

If I were Syaf, I would have taken the job of penciling this series just for the chance to draw the pages where Deadman takes over someone's body. The three instances in this issue of Deadman possessing someone were worth an extra bullet in the rating by themselves.

Initially, I told myself I would get all the tie-ins for Blackest Night event because of how much I'm enjoying the story so far. However, after this issue, I can no longer say that's a definite.

I wasn't very fond of the Tales of the Corps series either, mainly because the stories were boring and self-serving. If I had my choice, though, I'd rather have a great parent-story over impressive tie-ins.

At this point, I'd settle for mediocre tie-ins.

Stephen Joyce:

I have to be honest and admit that I was scared to see what the tie-in miniseries for Blackest Night were going to be like. Luckily, Blackest Night: Batman #1 is on par with the main series.

Peter Tomasi crafted a great story that intertwines with the event we were given hints of in Blackest Night #2. The choice to have Deadman interact with Dick was a good one due to their past experiences with one another. I enjoyed Deadman's reaction when he realized who Batman is now.

One of the best moments actually happens in the opening pages of this issue. As Batman and Robin look at the decimated graves of Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne, Damian shows that he is still just a kid. The boy acts as any child would when seeing the remains of his family--he freezes.

Death is something that he's known all his life, but the fact that these people are family hits him. Of course, Dick steps up as he should and handles the removal and protection of the bodies himself. This is also Dick's way of stepping up as the older brother dealing with the things Damian is too young to have to deal with.

Deadman's interaction with Damian is great. I loved the scene of Damian punching Batman as they are driving, and Deadman is trying to figure out why Dick is Batman and who this new Robin is. As far as humor goes, this issue tries to have a few spots of it. I have to say that doing so has to be hard when handling a gruesome story like this. I'm not sure how serious this was supposed to be, but I found myself chuckling at the scene of the new Black Lanterns flying off and The Ventriloquist is using his ring to control his dummy.

I'm sorry to admit, but I'm not as familiar with all of DC's artists, and seeing Ardian Syaf's art for the first time is great. Syaf has a style that fits not only Batman in general, but is perfect for this dark story. I'm definitely going to be looking forward to the rest of this series as far as the art goes. I'd also like to see Syaf move over to the main Batman book once this is over. He works well with this darker tone of storytelling. He also seems to have a good feel for the city of Gotham as well.

If you are a Batman fan, this issue is definitely worth picking up just for the Batman story. If you are following Blackest Night, I think it would be worth your time and money to pick this issue up as well. Not only are you going to get a well-crafted story, but it also fills in some of what was going one in the background of Blackest Night #2. Unfortunately, if you're not following either Batman or Blackest Night, then this book probably won't do much for you--but it is still a well-crafted book.

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