The first story arc of Batwing concludes with the predictable revelation about Massacre’s identity. Yet, that doesn’t prevent the story from coming to a very strong end as David Zavimbe teams up with the Bat-clan in Gotham City to bring some justice to Massacre’s killing spree. Judd Winick’s usual strengths as a writer carry through here as he does a great job at balancing superhero action with some really well developed character drama.
I won’t spoil the reveal about Massacre, but chances are that you have it figured out already if you have been reading this series. This is something that has been fairly obvious for a few issues now. Honestly, it is kind of a cliche. This fact had me feeling mixed during the build-up to this issue, knowing what was probably coming but not being sure how I felt about it. It’s not much of a swerve when you see it coming from a mile away. On the other hand, its a really good move for the character of Massacre, because it makes him a far more substantial foe for Batwing.
So here we are at this issue and the official reveal. ...I’m a fan.
No, it doesn’t work as a swerve for the readers. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to when it works so well as a swerve for the character of Batwing. He doesn’t know he’s the main character in a story. He doesn’t see the obvious set up. For him, this is a deeply emotional journey that surprises him, and that makes up for the predictable nature of what happens. Predictable isn’t always bad. We know the good guys win and that certain characters don’t ever really die. But if done well, we enjoy it anyway. This is done well. The emotion carries it well, and the fact that is so predictable even elevates the tension when we know what Batwing is about to realize.
To be brutally honest, Batwing’s team-up with the Bat-family doesn’t offer much. The only real interaction you get is between Batwing and Batman, which is a very good scene toward the end. Besides that, there’s really nothing. Only Nightwing and Robin appear, and you could omit both from the story without losing much. It’s disappointing, but it’s also understandable. It would have screwed up the pacing of the story to slow it down to allow for Batwing to hang out with the gang. And fortunately, he’s going to be in Gotham City for a little while longer. I hope it means we will get some interesting between him and characters other than Batman.
The tragedy of the Kingdom is some pretty compelling stuff. We learned last issue with how they were put into an impossible situation and fell apart as a result. But this issue furthers their punishment. I don’t believe anyone reasonable really blame them for what happened, but it is easy to see how someone less reasonable could, which is what has happened here. The real swerve for readers in this issue is who is behind Massacre. Obviously, someone had to be in order for him to know the truth about the Kingdom. It just wasn’t who Winick left as a possible suspect.
I like Dustin Nguyen’s art, but it really is a shame that he was schedule to illustrate that final two issues of this story. The fill-in issue by ChrisCross managed to do a good job of meshing with the style established by Ben Oliver and the regular art time. The same really can’t be said for Nguyen’s issues. I’m someone who likes consistent art in a story. It helps hold it all together, and that aspect fell through in this issue and the previous one. I would be happy to have Nguyen’s art on a Batwing story of its own, because I do always enjoy his art, especially when it comes to Batman’s world. But I really would have preferred this story to finish with art more in line with Oliver’s, if not Oliver’s art itself.
With Massacre and the Kingdom, Winick has goes a long way toward establishing a world exclusively for Batwing while maintaining his status in the Batman franchise. Massacre works great as Batwing’s own Joker, and much like Batwing is to Batman, Massacre is different enough from the Joker to be his own character while still occupying that role as Batwing’s main adversary. Massacre’s psychological trauma pairs well with his deeply personal connection with Batwing to make their conflict unique to them. And as for the Kingdom, they’re just great world-building. It may seem like Winick is now done with them, but I really doubt it. Enough pieces are left for Winick to play some more with them, and I really hope that he does. It’ll be fun to see Batwing hanging out in Gotham City for a little while, but I am really looking forward to him returning to the Congo. It’s an impressive feat of Winick’s that I feel that way.
With eight issues now released, I can’t really say that Batwing is one of the best surprise hits of the New 52 anymore. It’s no longer a surprise and has moved into the realm of being one of DC’s consistently best books. With Static Shock, Mr. Terrific and -- let’s be honest -- Voodoo all failing, Batwing stands as DC’s only quality attempt to push a non-white character as a series’ lead. I know that’s harsh to say, but is anyone going to honestly argue the case for those other books? Judd Winick and everyone else behind Batwing have something to be proud of here, and I hope to be able to review this book for a long time.