Hands down, this is the most forgettable week for Batman fans in the month of March. Literally three-quarters of the ongoing books on the shelves this week have already been cancelled. For two of those three, this is the final issue. The other has one more month to go. So, effectively, the only book that “matters” is Batman Beyond which isn’t even set in the “present” of the DCU.
Over the past two months, Adam Beechen has woven a solid, entertaining opening story arc for the ongoing Batman Beyond. We’ve had melodrama, as Terry has to balance his love life, family life, and superhero life. We’ve had a creepy new villain, as a disgruntled scientist unleashed a device he didn’t understand, much to the chagrin of a whole mall full of innocent shoppers. And we’ve had friction between Batman and the Justice League of the future that did a nice job of echoing the sometimes contentious relationship the original Dark Knight had with the League of his day.
Finally putting aside their tactical differences to take down a common foe (and in turn rescue Terry’s family, who is trapped in said mall with the aforementioned crazy scientist), the League and Batman crept through abandoned sewer tunnels, showing that some things in Gotham City never change, no matter what time period our story is set (next stop: the Abandoned Warehouse District, located conveniently on the waterfront). Unfortunately, they arrived in the mall finally to found (to paraphrase the Emperor) a fully armed and operational Matter Master.
This month, we get the inevitable throw-down between the heroes and the out-of-control villain and artistic inconsistencies aside, the track record so far suggests that it’ll be a fun read that’s well worth your three bucks.
Batman Confidential #54 (Final Issue)
This book, at least in its final arc, was not cancelled for the absence of quality talent. In this case, it’s being written by Marc Guggenheim and penciled by veteran artist Jerry Bingham. In both instances, we’re talking about creators who are quite good, if not exactly superstars that are known by every comic fan.
At the end of the day though, this book is being cancelled for the same reason that its thematic predecessor, Legends of the Dark Knight, was: a perception, for right or for wrong, that the book doesn’t matter in terms of the ongoing continuity of the character and hence, is not required reading (much less buying). Like LotDK, Batman Confidential has been a rollercoaster of quality, seemingly varying on an arc-to-arc basis. It would be nice to think that the comic book industry is healthy enough to support a book like this, which was essentially a Batman anthology, but it just isn’t. The business as it stands today is, no matter how much fans complain about it, driven by events and a “what’s hot this month” mentality and that means books like Batman Confidential are not going to succeed in the long run (although lasting four and a half years is no mean feat).
Having said all that, it would be a surprise if the end of this book was not met sooner rather than later with the launch of a copycat title, albeit with a different name again.
Azrael #18 (Final Issue)
Similar to Batman Confidential, Azrael is meeting its run despite having two good writers and solid art (both on the cover and inside) throughout the year and a half it’s been published. Perhaps this title was a miscalculation on DC’s part from the get-go: it sprang out of the Battle for the Cowl event, but in all honesty, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, as the sales simply were never there for this book. That critique can be taken a number of ways, not the least of which is that fans generally perceive Azrael to be a poster child of the heady “boom years” of the ‘90s (even though this isn’t even the same Azrael as back then)…and the ‘90s are not exactly remembered with the rosiest of glasses these days.
However, when you consider the big picture, this might be a case of Azrael being DC’s Sub-Mariner (or Black Panther or Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange), a character that certainly has his uses in terms of story and undoubtedly has a loyal fan-base, but simply does not draw readers in sufficient quantities to ever justify an ongoing book in the current climate. Having said that, let’s keep in mind that the Marvel characters listed above (with the exception of Doctor Strange) have had multiple attempts made over the past decade, none of them successful…but Marvel just keeps trying. And while DC does not generally bang its head against that wall quite as forcefully, it has so far been able to beat the odds on Booster Gold and has twice tried to revive the Doom Patrol in the last ten years or so.
Again, like Batman Confidential, it would be somewhat shocking if Azrael didn’t reappear somewhere in the near future, even if it isn’t in his own book. But you heard it predicted here first: the next time the Avenging Angel graces the pages of a DC comic, it’ll be Jean-Paul Valley again…because YOU demanded it (of course)!
Batman: Streets of Gotham #20
Man, if there was ever a case for a strong editorial hand, it’s the ancillary Batman books these days. Paul Dini’s “House of Hush” story, published sporadically in this book over the past six months or so, has been billed as a follow-up to his “Heart of Hush” story that took place during the “Batman R.I.P.” crossover. But reading it today, it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t originally intended to be an immediate follow-up to that story, simply because it would have worked so much better then. Theoretically, this could all wrap up nicely and finally resolve some dangling issues with Hush, who has sort of languished in limbo for some years now, a villain without a niche…but given how little has actually been happening in this book, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
If this seems overly critical, it’s only because Paul Dini (the book’s writer) is a genuinely great comic writer, as well as someone who really “gets” Batman as a character…and this book just isn’t very good.
Also on the shelves are two trade paperbacks: Batman: Time and the Batman, collecting Grant Morrison’s return to the title after Batman R.I.P., and Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, collecting the mini-series that lead into the current monthly title.
Next week is much more fun-looking, with Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Batman Incorporated, Birds of Prey, and The Outsiders. See you then.