Batwing is brought to us by legendary writer Judd Winick and artist Ben Oliver. And by “legendary,” I really mean “extremely hit-or-miss.” Winick is one of those guys that comes along and writes a very thought provoking story – the resurrection of Jason Todd and his new mission to cause as much grief as he possibly can to his old mentor – and then rides the waves of that story’s success for most of his career. I can’t really say that Red Hood: The Lost Days was particular awe inspiring, nor was his take on Grant Morrison’s take of the Red Hood in Batman and Robin #23-25 (he somehow managed to avoid everything that Morrison did to reinvent the Red Hood as a villain and brought him back to being a guy who trolls Batman). When asked about his Catwoman series for the New 52, he said “sexy” so many times I forgot what the story was about to begin with. So, Batwing did not look to be very inspiring.
But how could I say no? I am a self-proclaimed Grant Morrison lover, waiting for Batman: Leviathan to be released and I have to read something, so why not start with an off-shoot character of one of my favourite Batman arcs ever – Batwing!
For those that missed his introduction in the DC old Universe (DCoU from here-on out), Batman has established a global initiative, paid for by his good friend and benefactor, Bruce Wayne. Batman travels around the world, solving crimes with local heroes and then recruiting them to his cause – to combat the secretive “Leviathan.” Leviathan is all over the place, brainwashing kids in Africa for example. In the final pages of Batman Incorporated #5, we get to meet David Zavimbe, the Batman of Africa!
Yes, he gets the entire continent of Africa to himself. It hardly seems fair for the poor guy. England gets two Batman Inc operatives, yet David has only himself and a suit of armor to fight continental corruption. And to Winnick’s credit, he makes David a very compelling character.
Batwing #1 opens in a fashion I believe all Issue #1’s should start off – in the middle of some action! Indeed, despite the fact that writers such as Morrison have really amped up the intellectual angle of superhero comics, there’s still a reason we like to read them over, say, a legal drama novel. We want to see some dudes (and dudettes) punching each other out. Batwing is fighting “Massacre,” an entirely unrelated character to the forgotten Superman villain Massacre. This Massacre wields a machete and likes to stab things with it. We’re off to a great start.
Before I get into the story at all, firstly, I’m going to mention the obligatory SPOILERS AHEAD. Secondly, let’s talk a little bit about the art.
I’m no art expert, but I can say that there are definitely styles I like much more than others. Yanick Paquette is one of my favourite artists, for example (and it’s not because he draws on a tablet!). And I just want to come out and say it now: Ben Oliver’s art for Batwing is absolutely dynamite. There’s a sense of fluidity here that I don’t really get in a lot of the New 52. The characters’ faces have the right amount of shading and the colouring is fantastic, if a bit lightened. I don’t really feel like I’m reading a comic, but instead watching a painting come to life. It’s just visually stunning.
The story for Batwing #1 is fairly standard superhero fare, although I can tell that Winick had a lot of fun with the general Batman tropes. David Zavimbe is an officer for the Tinasha Police Department (as far as I’m aware, Tinasha is a fictional location, much like Gotham City, but don’t quote me). David is swimming in corruption, with only him the truly legitimate officer. He has a friend inside the force, one Kia Okuru, who is trying to stay clean, but only just. David plays an interesting gamble in the issue, finding a room full of massacred bodies (heh) and blood written on the wall. He leaves a piece of evidence for Kia to find, knowing full well whether or not she’ll collect it – he’s working both the angles! It’s an interesting take on the mythology of Batman, and calls back the idea of Earth-2’s Batman, who became the Police Commissioner.
Batwing has his own Alfred in the form of Matu Ba, an eye-patch wearing child soldier rescuer. Batwing’s armor and “batcave” (with super computers) are supplied by Batman Incorporated, and Batman himself appears in about four panels in the comic itself, setting up the established continuity from the DCoU. Batwing appears to be DC’s answer to Iron Man, another billionaire character self stylized into a crime fighter (although, I find Batwing’s armor to be much, much cooler). Batwing tracks down one of the dead bodies’ I.D. and finds him to be an old African superhero by the name of “Earth Strike,” a member of “The Kingdom.”
Just as David returns to work, he finds the Police Station butchered. He only gets half way through blaming himself when Massacre shows up and shoves a machete through David’s chest. At least his characterization is consistent.
What can be said about Batwing’s first issue? Well, for one, this is definitely Judd “I wrote the ‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’ animated movie that everyone loved” Winick, and not Judd “I wrote the ‘Batman and Robin #23-25’ comic arc that everyone hated” Winick. Ben Oliver delivers a fluid art style that is very surreal. Batman Incorporated’s ties are very apparent, and Batwing kicks some ass. He also blows up a drug runner’s jeep, which is all kinds of cool. You know how Batman can fly dudes up with his Batplane to scare the crap out of them? Batwing does it all by himself.
Finally, to quell some rumour floating about on the media: there appears to be a small group of people who claim that Batwing emphasizes some sort of master-slave relationship with Batman and Batwing. I find it an interesting notion, and by “interesting,” I mean “absurd,” much like the panic that broke out from right-wing nuts about the Batman of France, Nightrunner, being a muslim. Look, there’s no slavery in this story. Batman himself shows up for maybe 5% of the comic. Yes, he gave all this equipment to David Zavimbe, but he does not, in one single panel, command David of anything. In fact, he almost exclusively asks questions. There’s nothing to worry about here.