Batwing is firmly back to playing with its strengths, which revolve around exploring the Africa of the DC Universe. The tragic death of Matu Ba’s family leads to him visiting the isolated state of Tundi, run by a dictator who has dubbed himself Lord Battle. Obviously, Matu’s plans for his family’s funeral do not go as originally intended.
This kind of material is why I enjoy Batwing so much. I love it when books take a relatively untapped region of their comic universe and make with the world-building. It’s why over at Marvel I liked Brian Michael Bendis’ Moon Knight and Chris Yost’s Scarlet Spider so much. And with Batwing, Judd Winick has done a remarkable job at developing Africa as a tangible part of the DC Universe. In the first story arc, he developed the Kingdom, the premier superhero team of Africa and likely one of the DCU’s early teams. This time around he is giving us the state of Tundi.
Arguably, the name Lord Battle is a bit silly in its straightforwardness. But to be fair, a guy who nigh single-handedly carries out a coup and installs himself as head of state is unlikely to feel the need to be subtle. There’s also a nice element of believability to him. In the context of the DC Universe, it’s harder to believe that some metahuman in Africa wouldn’t become a warlord and managed to carve out a little county of their own.
Batwing’s one-man support staff, Matu Ba, is the genuine star of this issue. It’s his character and his background driving this new development with Tundi. Winick has done an excellent job of developing Matu into someone more than simply black Alfred. Oh, he’s certainly in that same role, but he has been given enough unique features to stand out on his own. This issue really develops out of some of those features of the character, specifically concerning his background as a member of an influential family and his personal rebellion of them.
Nightwing does have a substantial guest appearance in this, but it’s not terribly relevant to him or the plot. Still, it is nice to see Batwing interacting with another member of the Batman family. We didn’t really get enough of that in the character’s visit to Gotham City. It’s a good portrayal of Nightwing too, showing him backing up Batwing’s play all of the way along. You would think of any character in the DC Universe would be a natural at working with others then it would be Dick Grayson, the original sidekick. So while Nightwing is the more experienced player here, he clearly lets Batwing call the shots because it is not his case that they are working.
There is surprisingly a lot going on in this story arc with seemingly two separate plots going on. We have Batwing’s investigation of the sale of a nuclear weapon by Penguin to someone in Africa, and we have the death of Matu Ba’s family leading him to trouble with Lord Battle in Tundi. I have to think that Winick plans to tie these two plots together at some point, likely revealing that Lord Battle is the one who purchased the nuke. Otherwise, the story risks getting too cluttered bouncing back and forth between two different plots.
Marcus To seems to have taken over for Ben Oliver on the book, and while his art doesn’t have the same soft style of Oliver’s, it is quite good in its own right. I especially enjoy how he choreographs and depicts action scenes. He manages to easily keep the excitement level up. I really appreciate the skills he shows off with facial expressions too.
Far as I’m concerned, this is business as usual for Batwing. Not many of DC’s titles have stayed as consistently good as this one has, and Winick has found his winning formula for the book. He has found the balance of portraying Batwing as a member of the Batman family but also as our leading hero of Africa. Meanwhile, To has come in and made himself at home in the series without disrupting the flow of the book. I understand Winick will be leaving Catwoman and writing a creator-owned graphic novel. I hope that has no effect on Batwing, because I want to see him here for the foreseeable future.