By: John Layman (story), Jason Fabok (art), Emilio Lopez (colors)

The Story: For once, someone fought the law, and the law did not win.

The Review: While I appreciate the maxim, “Your own worst enemy is yourself,” in an abstract, trite sort of way, I can’t say I support writers who take that statement too literally in the superhero genre.  Of all the villain types you can think of, the evil clone probably requires the least thought and imagination.  It’s a cheap way to come up with a “new” character: take your superhero, tweak the background a bit, slap on a new paint job, and set affiliation to Evil.

Thus you have E.D. Caldwell and Wrath, each the parallel of Batman’s civilian and vigilante personas, respectively.  Given their near-simultaneous introduction, it’s pretty obvious there’s a connection between the two, although Layman avoids confirming them as the same person for now.  Either way, they’re thoroughly uninspired characters, with Caldwell being the excessively wealthy entrepreneur without Bruce’s scruples, and Wrath the night-haunting warrior who stalks cops instead of criminals.

Perhaps I’d enjoy the conceit of these figures more if they weren’t so…I suppose unsubtle is the word I’m looking for.  Before we even catch a glimpse of Caldwell, Bruce already takes a dislike to the man, and once he starts aggressively throwing his money around (“Not ready to accept my offer for Wayne Enterprises? Fine.  Let’s make it simple—add another zero.”),* all of Alfred’s references to Caldwell’s charitable impulses become meaningless smoke.

And what about Wrath?  Although the issue focuses more on his “sidekick,” the poorly named Scorn, it’s pretty obvious what game the mentor’s playing here.  Whatever injustice they’ve apparently suffered at the hands of the police (and there’s really no evidence thus far that they didn’t deserve it), taking a vendetta against all of Gotham’s finest seems like overkill, to say the least.  This seems more like Layman’s way of insisting that Wrath isn’t just bad, he’s very bad.

Honestly, though, it’s not as if the GCPD couldn’t use some thinning in their ranks.  Tradition paints them as a largely corrupt and incompetent institution, and from what we see of the cops in this issue, it seems like that tradition is continuing strong.  For once, I’d like to see Gotham’s police be capable supporting players in Batman’s mission, instead of resentful buffoons like Officer Wallace or well-intentioned distractions like Officer Strode.  On the other hand, I don’t need them to be intense Bat-fans either, like Commissioner Gordon here, who goes from fawning in one scene (“Batman doesn’t kill. Especially not cops…  I, for one, am grateful to have him.”) to becoming practically a yes-man in another (“Understood, Batman.  Will do.”).

This issue is a good example of how a different colorist can really affect the overall look of the art.  Fabok’s essential style hasn’t changed from previous issues; it’s still perfectly formed and almost academically functional, the type of attractive, non-radical, all-rounder art that works so well in mainstream books.  But Lopez adds extra layers of dimension and texture to the figures; instead of Jeromy Cox’s mild, flat colors, the look of things is almost glossy—which might not necessarily be an improvement, frankly.  You do wind up with art that has that photorealistic appearance which feels very static.

It turns out that this Man-Bat storyline, though extremely straightforward, ends up more engaging than any of the Batman material.  Partly this is because Layman writes Kirk’s conflicted feelings of self-horror and addiction so well, and partly this is because Andy Clarke (colored by Blond) sells every beat of it with great expressions.  Kirk is a relatably flawed, not evil, character, which makes him more subtle and complex a character than, say, Wrath or Scorn.

Conclusion: It’s never a good sign when the back-up feature is a better draw than the main attraction, but unfortunately Layman takes a rather formulaic route to deliver his latest plot.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I was under the impression that Wayne Enterprises was a multi-billion-dollar corporation and not something that one, no matter how rich one is, just “buys.”  Otherwise, wouldn’t have Luthor bought out Bruce by now?

 – I’m pretty sure that it’s not appropriate to let someone else alibi for you…