By: Gregg Hurwitz (story), David Finch (pencils), Richard Friend (inks), Sonia Oback (colors)

The Story: Bruce, you should be glad your girlfriend doesn’t have the hands of Rachmaninoff.

The Review: While I like to think of myself as a mostly objective person, I’m not free from making a purely subjective decision once in a while.  My choice of fiction, for example, is frequently based on whether I ever read or watched the creator’s previous work, and whether I liked it.  Doing this poses some risks, admittedly.  Sometimes a person only has one great work in them, and once that work comes out, all they have left are the dregs.

Hurwitz really impressed me with his work on Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, which despite its stupendously awful name was a tightly written, affecting series.  Apparently, quite a few people shared this opinion, so it was natural for him to transition from writing Batman rogues to writing the Dark Knight himself.  Yet there’s a huge difference in the two subjects, however related they may be.  Hurwitz had a lot of leeway in crafting a lesser-used, underestimated character, but with Batman, he has to deal with a collective of classic interpretations, both old and new.

You can see his struggle in various parts of this issue, where it feels like he either has only a cursory knowledge of Batman mythos or he desperately wishes he can revise it according to his own vision.  This really comes through in Damian’s page-long scene.  While the Boy Wonder’s gruff attitude and pissed reaction to Bruce’s distraction keeps in character, his all-American dialect definitely does not.  Every other writer, from Grant Morrison to Pete Tomasi to Bryan Q. Miller has given Damian a highly cultured voice.  It seems a huge oversight to have him say, “About me trying to be less, I dunno, angry.”

Other times, Hurwitz obviously has a definite direction for where he wants to take a character or plotline, but doesn’t quite know how to square it with the material he works with.  Depicting Commissioner Gordon as a lover of order (and subsequently chess) is interesting, if a bit simplistic, but this bit really needed more stewing time before Hurwitz could pull off a delusion where Barbara and James Jr. guilt their father for being such “blemishes” on his life.  That might apply to the inherently psychotic James, but Babs’ admonishment feels unsold.

Against these implausible portrayals, you also have moments where Hurwitz genuinely gives you something new.  Natalya isn’t meant to be a major character, but she’s developed enough to lend some dimension to Bruce’s revolving door of society girls.  And Batman crouching beside young, catatonic Clair, each studiously avoiding each other’s gaze as she places her little hand in his, shows a connection between two trauma victims that sells this rare display of sensitivity.

Once upon a time, specifically during the initial launch of New Avengers, I was a fan of Finch’s work, but I grew disenchanted with his highly superficial work over time.  It seems he’s evolved somewhat here.  Characters no longer look like carbon copies and facial features are far less exaggerated, though Bruce’s pronounced, pouty lips are unsettling to look at.  But it also seems like he’s as vulnerable to moments of complete illogicality; when Gordon turns on his shower, the gas spouts almost entirely behind him, even though his head comes right under the spigot.

Conclusion: Redeemable in places, but a very, very disappointing debut from a writer who seemed so much more capable of greater things.  Let’s hope this issue is a sample of growing pains more than anything else.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Okay, how does putting a maternity ward, with huge glass windows, at the dead end of a busy thoroughfare make any sense?

– Hurwitz succinctly sums up the reason why the GCPD need Batman around: in response to a thug’s accusation of police brutality, Batman corrects him, “No, it’s vigilante brutality.  If you want to sue…serve me a summons.”