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Batman #1 may be a DC Rebirth title, but that’s something of a misnomer. In fact, you don’t need much knowledge of current Batman continuity to follow the events of this inaugural issue. The story itself is straightforward: a plane flying into Gotham is shot down with a missile and Batman races against time to prevent it from crashing into a heavily populated area, as well as save the lives of its passengers. However, this banal recap doesn’t capture the panache with which the creative team of Tom King, David Finch, Matt Banning and Jordie Bellaire tell their tale. They manage the somewhat superhuman feat of offering a complete story while also sowing seeds of intrigue that will undoubtedly bear fruit during the five-issue arc.
DC scored a major coup signing the talented King to an exclusivity deal; under his pen, The Vision has been among Marvel’s most captivating books. As with that title and Grayson, King leverages his background in counterterrorism in Batman #1 to deliver a story steeped in verisimilitude. We learn in a rooftop conversation between Batman and Commissioner Gordon that a mysterious antagonist stole three surface-to-air missiles. Two of them were found in the possession of Kobra, a cultish organization that is effectively DC’s answer to Hydra. Despite the intervention of two new superheroes at the end of the story—more on them later—the script makes a point of making the Justice League unavailable to Batman so that he’s forced to land the plane on his own.
By the same token, King doesn’t let prosaic notions of realism prevent him from providing superheroic thrills when necessary. This sense of derring-do is epitomized in the sequence when Batman attaches rocket boosters to the hull of the plane and steers it like an ersatz Major Kong. The moment doesn’t seem any more probable despite the scientific jargon, but it is redeemed by the creativity of the solution and the tender moment shared between Batman and Alfred when it is believed that the former will perish in the crash. Indeed, King does an especially good job of nailing the voices of Batman and his supporting cast so that the ways he interact with each member of that cast is unique.
As a counterweight to King’s understated script, the art team of Finch and Banning offer dynamic and hyper-detailed renditions of Batman and his supporting cast. To be sure, Batman #1 has its fair share of flashy splash pages, but Finch and Banning don’t sacrifice storytelling in the process either. For instance, the issue’s opening sequence presents the reader with two parallel narratives, the plane descending into Gotham and the rooftop conversation between Batman and Gordon, that explosively collide (both literally and figuratively). The action is depicted clearly on the page—an underappreciated virtue in today’s comics landscape—which allows the reader to follow along when, for instance, Batman maneuvers around the exterior of the plane to attach the rockets.
If there is a complaint about the art, it’s that depicting facial expressions isn’t Finch’s particular strong suit; the faces of the character appear to be mostly impassive or sometimes deranged, as is the case in the reaction shot from Gordon when the plane is hit by the missile. Such quibbles aside, the art is more than suited to this action-filled tale. It is further complimented by the sublime work of Bellaire, whose muted and subtle colors are an ideal match for a Batman title.
As previously mentioned, Batman #1 introduces two mysterious figures: the improbably named Gotham and Gotham Girl. To be fair, their reveal at the end of the issue isn’t too much of a surprise given that they appear prominently on the cover. Also, the fact that the arc is entitled “I Am Gotham” signals that these characters will play an important part in the title. While keeping in mind that this is the first issue of a longer arc, their presence at the end as a deus ex machina to save Batman is a bit jarring. Moreover, their ridiculous code names—what superhero in comics history ever named themselves after the town in which they lived?—and generic costumes make them seem disposable, at least on the surface. With that said, the creative team surely anticipated that readers would react skeptically to these characters and may have even crafted them with that thought in mind. We won’t know until the arc has run its course, but in the meantime there’s enough intrigue here to whet the audience’s appetite for more.