By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray & Keith Champage (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: There were never such devoted sisters—in prison.
The Review: One of the storylines that really left an impression on me when I was just getting into comics was Mark Waid’s Divided We Fall arc on JLA. It was the first time I saw the superhero genre as capable of real psychological explorations from characters who seemed to be little more than their costumes. How hauntingly fitting, then, that splitting Bruce Wayne from Batman left the hero faceless and mute beneath the mask.
Waid was obviously trying to make the statement that Bruce, the man himself and not just his skills and abilities, was an essential part to Batman. This was harder to believe in earlier days, when Bruce used his plainclothes identity solely as a daytime placeholder until his nightly activities. Tomasi has reversed this trend, making Bruce Wayne the true center of this series, and Batman the tool—a highly effective one, mind—he uses to accomplish his goals.
This Bruce doesn’t just impatiently tap his toes, waiting for his next costume-change; his personal life is as much a part of his makeup as what he does as Batman, and he grapples with those complications as unflinchingly and rigorously as he does with his rogues. His relationship with Erin has just as much turmoil and even greater complexity than the antagonism between her and Batman. There’s a humanity in Bruce and Erin’s exchanges you can relate to, which you don’t get when it’s Erin shooting a rifle at Batman from a moving vehicle. When Erin attempts to justify her crimes, Bruce shoots back, “You were around when my parents were murdered, so don’t talk to me about suffering, okay? We all make choices. I made mine. You and Shannon made yours.” This isn’t just some act he’s putting on; this is really Bruce talking, and that makes him far more relatable than he usually tends to be.
Tomasi has always had great skill in crafting relationships that carry a dimension of truth, despite the soap opera contexts they often operate in. It’s the only way you feel even a shred of sympathy for Erin, though she doesn’t deserve it. As Bruce points out twice, she chose to continue the family’s criminal legacy, which she doesn’t deny. But that doesn’t make the love between her and Shannon, and the sacrifice Shannon made to save her, any less tragic.
It’s also worth pointing out that Harvey may not be completely blameless in this sordid history, though Tomasi leaves the point tantalizingly ambiguous. We’ve seen Erin refer to Harvey’s two-faced actions before, but it’s Shannon who identifies it bluntly (“We both know you subverted attorney/client privilege…”), albeit with some caveats (“…proving that has proven difficult.”). Given Harvey’s condescending response to this accusation, there’s a strong possibility the claim has some merit. Tomasi leaves it to us, however, to decide whether the truth matters; do we stand by principle enough to care if Harvey really did do something underhanded to get his conviction?
There aren’t too many artists who can draw identical twins in identical outfits and still give you enough subtle cues to tell them apart. Just as Tomasi’s dialogue choices set Erin and Shannon apart, Gleason gives each sister a unique body language. Erin’s face is always tight, pointed, ready to attack; Shannon’s is calm and placid, though no less sullen. Erin’s bearing and movements are open, chaotic, one trigger away from flying into violence; Shannon holds herself upright with all the dignity of her finishing school training. Kalisz has become a monochrome expert, knowing which palette to use to create what kind of mood. The red-oranges of the early pages highlights both the coziness of the dinner setting at Wayne Manor, but also reveals the barely contained rage festering underneath.
Conclusion: It’s not often that the civilian part of a superhero’s life is the most interesting, but Tomasi makes it more than that in this case. Bruce’s personal problems are part and parcel of his problems as Batman and even more compelling in many ways.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – And the award for Most Inappropriate Choice of Mood Music goes to the prison worker carting away what is supposed to be Shannon’s body on a gurney and whistling the “[t]heme from M.A.S.H., ‘Suicide Is Painless.’” That’s a rough joke, buddy.
– As Erin hands over prison clothes to Alfred, she tells him, “Here, souvenir of our time together.”
“I’ll cherish these rags always.” Oh, Alfred. I love you. Never change.