By: Judd Winick (writer), Chrisscross (artist), Ryan Winn (inker), Brian Reber (colorist)
The Story: I think we have another candidate for a Horrible Boss: man-slaughterer.
The Review: Back when I was still churning out comedy sketches on a regular basis, I had an idea to write one about those shady old Vietnamese dudes who don’t have jobs and spend all their time hanging out in seedy cafes in Little Saigon. But I had a strangely hard time writing it. I couldn’t quite figure out how to render the characters’ voices without being stereotypical, and I wasn’t sure how to make it funny without being one-note, narrow, or, frankly, racist.
That sketch taught me the difficulty of writing about cultures and people you don’t actually live with, so I always find it a little dicey when other writers do it. That said, I always fall back on the only rule in writing: you can write whatever you want as long as you do it well.
In this case, Winick’s portrayal of David’s boyhood—one where his parents died of AIDS, leaving him and his orphaned twin brother to become child soldiers for a ruthless warlord—feels neither false nor all that complex. At the very least, he doesn’t fall prey to ugly, oversimplified perceptions of Congolese society or history, though it might seem that way given the general flatness of the plot and characters themselves
Take General Keita, whose affiliation with a facsimile of an African homegrown army, however, tends to give his dialogue and characterization a socio-political commentary, whether Winick intends so or not: “I decide what is wrong on this Earth, soldier…I have been chosen by God Himself to lead this campaign. Blazing a trail of blood and—”
Had these lines come from your typical comic-book villain in a dopey costume, we’d qualify him a garden-variety sadist. But because Keita is meant to reflect a specific kind of real-world figure, the lines feel shallow and underdeveloped. No one, of course, expects comic-book writers to be fully versed in foreign affairs, but if you’re going to tackle this kind of sensitive material, you should be responsible for bringing greater depth to it than what comics usually go for.
Besides that arguable flaw, Winick otherwise delivers a sound origin story for Batwing, giving it angst quite on par with his Gotham counterpart. I can’t say it pans out very surprisingly, as in my review for last issue I mentioned how often “dead/missing sibling syndrome” plagues fiction, but at least it has enough drama to remain readable. Unfortunately, once you guess correctly on the first link on the chain of events, predicting the rest is almost child’s play.
Meanwhile, in the present day, we can cross yet another member of the Kingdom off the hit list. You still know frustratingly little about their importance to the story, so their deaths, gruesome as they appear, have very little impact on you. And while David’s flashbacks of his past do add a few sympathy points in his favor, they don’t exactly make him relatable, so he remains a largely cold, distant protagonist for this series.
Chrisscross delivers much livelier art than we’ve gotten thus far on the title. The action sequences have great snap and spark to them, and the violence actually feels a bit painful to watch. But unlike the restrained, expressive work he delivered in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2, Chrisscross goes much more over-the-top here, like boy-David’s reaction to his brother’s beatdown from Keita; with his mouth open that wide in horror, it’s a surprise it doesn’t unhinge entirely. It’s actually a bit disturbing to look at, which may be the whole point.
Conclusion: An improvement over the last issue, to be sure, but not such a one to keep this title from getting Dropped.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the kids at the Children’s Harbor, and I lived in a country of prevalent violence, and I saw a guy walk up with a huge gun on his back, I wouldn’t be running up to him with open arms as they do here; I’d be high-tailing it in the other direct as fast as my scrawny legs can take me.