Every time DC shakes up its universe with a major crossover event, the festivities usually spawn a few brand new titles. Most of these end up getting canceled within a few months as they fail to grab the attention of readers, but every once in a while once of them emerges from the pack to become a major ongoing series.
I’m sure the folks over at DC are hoping Batwing will be such a breakout hit. Commercially, the comic has a lot going for it. It’s got the Batman tie-in, which obviously doesn’t hurt. Of the 14 comics DC put out this week, Batman appears in about half of them, including this one. It’s also clear that one of DC’s goals in this relaunch is to introduce some genuinely cool ethnic minority characters. Now that I think about it, I suspect we haven’t seen this many black leading men since the old Milestone imprint in the early 90s (about which we’ll be saying more when I review Static Shock #1).
I’m all for it. Static Shock looks promising, and I’m really interested to see what they do with Mr. Terrific, if only to find out what role (if any) the Justice Society of America will be playing in the new DCU.
As far as black superheroes go, Batwing definitely fits the “cool” factor, but he does fall into a trap that a lot of these characters can’t seem to avoid. The first wave of black superheroes were pretty much cliches, stereotypical characters who almost invariably had the word “Black” as their first name. Many of these characters have been redeemed and made more three-dimensional over the years, but it wasn’t always a pretty start. Both Marvel and DC later tried to introduce brand new black characters with middling success. A lot of these characters, being new creations, lacked the gravitas of a Superman or a Wonder Woman, so the publishers decided to cheat by simply putting a minority character in a costume traditionally worn by a white guy (or girl).
This has resulted in some very interesting characters over the years, like Steel (who wears Superman’s S on his chest), the Jon Stewart Green Lantern, and others, but those characters have always stood in the shadows of their forebears, slightly diminished by being a copy of an earlier character.
Batwing is thrown right into this sort of situation, but in this case (and frankly probably in most of the ones I mentioned above, too), I think they’re doing it purely for sales reasons. I’m only a week into this DC relaunch, but it’s already clear to me that Batman is the company’s moneymaker. He’s all over books this week like Ghost Rider and the Punisher in the 90s. Viewed through that lens, the Batman connection will probably stave off the cancellation hounds, at least for a few months.
Here’s the deal: Batman has decided to franchise his identity and image to vigilantes all over the world, so that international criminals can fear the night. After all, it’s not just American criminals who are a cowardly, superstitious lot.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s David Zavimbe, a city cop by day, is recruited and teched-out by Batman to be “the Batman of Africa.” The concept of one costumed dude protecting an entire continent has already been roundly mocked elsewhere on the net, so I won’t bother with it. Suffice to say, nothing about Winick’s script suggests that the writer is particularly familiar with African politics, or Africa in general, so you’ve just got to go with it. Plus, Zavimbe’s Batsuit is more like the sort of power armor Azrael wore when Bruce Wayne broke his back 20 years ago, so he can fly and stuff. Which will come in handy when trouble breaks out way down in Cape Town.
Anyway, Batwing opens the issue fighting the villain who will become his arch enemy, Massacre, who looks almost exactly like Rob Liefeld’s old Youngblood character Chapel. Basically a mercenary with a half-skull mask covering the top three quarters of his face.
Then we get a little on Zavimbe’s life at the police station, his own version of the Batcave (“the Haven”) and Alfred (Mata Bu). There’s also an intriguing mystery about a missing African hero called Earth Strike, who may or may not be tied up in the drug business currently plunging the city into chaos.
I’m calling it right here. If Earth Strike turns out to be Massacre, this book is really telegraphing its punches.
Oh, and lots of people get their heads chopped off in graphic scenes of dismemberment. Hey kids, comics!
Ben Oliver provides realistic pencils that give Batwing a more photographic look than any of the other New 52 Week 1 titles, and in general it serves the story well. With the assistance of colorist Brian Reber, Oliver draws a cool Batwing (indeed, I suspect this costume might look really lame in the hands of many artists), including a nice two-page splash title page that shows the hero and villain duking it out in style.
Oliver’s approach is a major space hog, though, and most of the pages in Batwing #1 contain only four panels. Since it’s an action-heavy book, that means that not a whole hell of a lot happens in this issue, even though at least a dozen people get their heads chopped off and Winick adequately introduces the premise and cast of background characters.
I’m not terrible interested in fifth-string Batman Family characters, and I’m not fully enamored with this series or the creative execution on the title, but I’ve got to give the creative team credit for setting out the parameters of the story in the first issue. Batwing feels like a title you can get into with no strings attached, which seemed to have been the entire point of the New 52 exercise in the first place.
I’m interested to see what happens next, but this book is probably the least satisfying of the titles I’ve reviewed so far.
But don’t you worry. It will very soon look quite good by comparison, because the weakest titles of the relaunch are right around the corner!
Status: We’ll See.