So this is going to be a bit off the cuff. It’s a Saturday morning…sue me.
DC has been doing some interesting things with company crossovers. They’ve teamed with IDW Publishing for two Star Trek/Green Lantern miniseries, as well as uniting with Boom! Studios for Justice League/Power Rangers. (Don’t get your hopes up for any reconciliation between DC and Marvel though…that ship has sailed). But without much fanfare, DC has released a new crossover miniseries that, while not as flashy as the aforementioned, is still a grin-inducing read.
Between DC and Dynamite Comics, we have the first issue of Batman/Shadow, uniting two classic vigilantes in a caper that neither can solve alone.
First off, the credits are deceiving. Bat-writer Scott Snyder gets top billing in the credits, leading to the belief that he may have had a major hand in the crafting of the story. But by his own admission, he is only a story consultant for the series. That leaves the actual writing in the hands of co-plotter Steve Orlando. Which, in hindsight, is a good thing.
The book doesn’t take the traditional route of having an interdimensional portal/time travel spell/other comic book plot device bring the two heroes together. Instead, Orlando has Batman working to unravel a mystery involving the famed vigilante of the early twentieth century. So while there isn’t a traditional “heroes meeting up” scene in this first issue, it plays with the structure of these kinds of fun crossovers, adding another level of adventure to the plot.
Said plot involves a grisly murder of a worker at Arkham Asylum late one night. Upon investigating, Batman finds himself under attack from a mysterious villain claiming to be Lamont Cranston, The Shadow. Digging into the case, Batman discovers that other associates of Cranston’s were spurned as he went down a dark path, adding weight to the belief that the killer might, in fact, be the man who once walked the same path Batman now does. But only the investigation will yield the truth to Cranston’s innocence or guilt.
Orlando runs wild with being able to play in both sandboxes here. Beyond having fun with the typical structure of these kinds of crossovers, he also doesn’t hold back on bringing in fun cameos from both heroes’ casts. The opening scene begins this with seeing a former mentor of Bruce Wayne’s reappear in the French Alps, and quickly dovetails into seeing characters as famous as Mister Freeze and Two-Face and less well-known like Maximilian Zeus and “Matches Malone.” Orlando also brings in many of Shadow’s supporting cast, such as Clyde Burke and Margo Lane, showing their age after their time had passed long ago.
This is where the script trips itself up a bit for me. While I do know a bit about The Shadow as a character, some of the names mentioned here passed me by without any recognition. A handful of his characters don’t even get their names mentioned (such as Harry Vincent and the daughter of Shrevvy). It’s not an impossible hurdle to overcome, as these appearances are essentially glorified cameos and don’t have any weight on the overarching narrative. The book does seem to be more of a Batman story as of now, anyway.
After this first issue (and, hopefully, once this miniseries wraps up), Orlando should be put on the short list for writers who could take over the ongoing Batman book. His Bat is calculated and cool under pressure, pulling off some of the hokey and cliched lines that people would associate with Batman (one example: “I need time with the body. Alone.”) Orlando does lean towards having a more openly talkative Batman, talking through some of the things he discovers instead of utilizing narrative captions like other writers have. It adds a different flavor to the character that makes this a fresh read compared to some of the other Bat-books DC is currently publishing.
As much as Orlando plays with Batman’s dialogue and personality, it is artist Riley Rossmo that contributes perhaps one of the key elements to who Batman is as a character – his fighting style. In the scrapes Batman finds himself in during this issue, he leaps and jabs across the panels like a pugnacious fighter. He handles himself well, obviously, but Rossmo brings more beyond just drawing him fighting. From brooding over a crime scene to being shocked at a certain comment Shadow makes, Rossmo draws Batman in a way that isn’t just a superhero carved from marble, but has real emotion and weight.
Rossmo also brings a level of creepiness to the setting that some artists miss when it comes to Gotham City at night. This comes across in the scene taking place at the Monolith Building. The people inside, gleefully serving The Shadow (or as he is known there, “The Master”), are shown having sallow skin and deep purple bags under their eyes, as if they’ve forsaken the sun. That’s to say nothing of the final shot in the scene, evocative of a certain hall in Game of Thrones. It’s terrifying and Rossmo brings his best to the scene.
Batman/Shadow might not be for everyone, especially those that aren’t fans of this kind of goofy, fan-service-y stories that aren’t as probing into the psyches of their heroes or have any lasting change to the overarching mythology. But it does work as more than just a mindless festival of punching and handshakes. It’s a fun book that, while not the greatest thing ever published, is fun enough to definitely be worth a look at some point.