By: Tony S. Daniel (writer and artist), Sandu Florea with Norm Rapmund (inkers)

The Story: Life After Death, Part 4: Smoke and Mirrors: Batman pursues a complex mystery, peeling back layer after layer: the Gene-Corp murders, the Penguin, the Falcone mafia, the Penguin, Catwoman and a stray Falcone sister. He has to rough up a few people on the way, but the path he uncovers leads him into more danger than before.

What’s Good: Daniel’s art worked for me. The layouts were clean, the camera angle choices were evocative, and his Batman is menacing and dark. Check out Batman walking away from the house he just burnt down! One thing that I also respond to in Daniel’s art is the level of detail. The Reaper’s wrinkling face, the texture of Arkham’s flat, mousy hair, and the wrinkles in Batman’s cowl evoke sensation.

I know some of my colleagues at WCBR have criticized Daniel as a writer. Maybe I haven’t been with Batman long enough, but I really enjoy his take on Dick Grayson being the Batman. Dick is obviously growing into the role and is scaring the crap out of bad guys. I wouldn’t cross him.

What’s Not So Good: While Daniel delivered on the draftsmanship and layout, there were two pieces of his art that disappointed. Sometimes he gets faces in a super-realistic light, but at other times, they just come off as plastic. In this issue, most of Dr. Arkham’s and Falcone’s faces seemed made more of wax than flesh. Secondly, while Daniel delivers some dynamic drawings, from time to time, the action is not clear. Check out the Reaper trashing Falcone’s car. What direction is everything moving in there? It’s a confusing panel and after trying to puzzle it out, I had to just move on and accept that “x” happened and the car was destroyed.

On the writing side, there was a plot turn that quite obviously served the writer’s convenience rather than the story’s: Batman’s decision to enter the funhouse, despite it being an obvious trap. This was just plain dumb by any standard and I know it sets the stage for next issue, but aren’t we talking about the rightful heir to the cowl here? The apprentice of the Dark Knight? The genius who can command the respect of all of Gotham? Daniel could have achieved the same setup for next issue without making me feel smarter than Batman. Lame…

Conclusion: A good little book. I doubt this issue would be kind to a new reader in mid-arc, but Batman is definitely a series to pick up.

Grade: B-

-DS Arsenault